Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lloyd C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsession

Introduction

Opening Passage:

It had lately become common chatter at Brightwood Hospital -- better known from three hundred miles around Detroit as Hudson's Clinic -- that the chief was all but dead on his feet. The whole place buzzed with it.

Summary: The highly successful neurosurgeon, Dr. Hudson, is overworking himself, but this seems likely to change because he is marrying a young woman, Helen, and going on his honeymoon. Unfortunately, not very long after the marriage a terrible accident happens and Dr. Hudson dies. What is worse, he could have lived, but the machine that would have saved him was being used at that moment to save someone across the lake: rich and largely useless playboy, Robert Merrick.

Merrick, however, is affected by the fact that his life has come at the cost of a man who did, and would have continued to do, extraordinary good to others, and, making friends with a nurse at Brightwood, Nancy Ashford, he sets out to make the sacrifice worth it and learn about Dr. Hudson. With Nancy's encouragement, he sets out to get a degree in medicine, and with her help he decodes Dr. Hudson's secret journal, in which the surgeon claims to record a secret of extraordinary power. In the meantime, he meets Helen Hudson and falls in love with her; a relationship that is more than slighly complicated by the fact that Bobby is the reason Helen's husband is dead, as well as by the fact that Joyce, Dr. Hudson's daughter and Helen's stepdaughter (but only a few years younger than Helen), is in love with Bobby.

This is a gimmick book. That is, one's interest in the plot is kept up in part by the fact that it is organized around a gimmick. Gimmicks can be handled extremely well -- Umberto Eco writes gimmick books, for instance, and good mystery novels are very often built on gimmicks -- or much more weakly -- The Da Vinci Code is an example of story that is moved along almost entirely by gimmicks. The trick to a gimmick is that you want it to be something that the reader can puzzle over but also could in principle solve (whether they ever actually do or not), without making it obvious that the author is dumbing down a story to the reader's level. I would say that the two-level gimmick is used here is somewhere in the middle: there is a reasonably clever cipher for the journal, not difficult but not obvious, and the deciphered journal provides clues for Dr. Hudson's secret. The clues basically amount to veiled and incomplete allusions to a particular page in a Bible, and fully understanding what is going on requires being able to tell what the alluded-to passage is. Since the Bible is one of those books that is both very familiar and very unfamiliar, this is a balancing act: readers who know the Bible well could find the allusions obvious and repetitive, while readers who don't know it very well need to be able to find it. The novel reduces the danger of the former problem by making its main characters exactly the sort of people who are not going to be familiar with the Bible and by repeatedly stating theological claims in terms very different from what you would expect, as if they were being translated into a different language. The latter, on the other hand, are certainly given enough clues to figure it out, although we have to keep in mind that as this book was written in 1929, its original readers would not have had a search engine and would have had actually to take a Bible off the shelf and flip through it to try to find out Dr. Hudson's secret -- which, of course, would have been part of the point. I'm not sure it ends up being wholly successful, but it's a clever enough attempt that, with everything else going on in the book, it doesn't need to be wholly successful, just enough to keep things moving along.

This is also a spiritual secret book. Most spiritual secret books (The Celestine Prophecy, for instance) sacrifice story to message. I don't think that this is the case here. You can hardly miss the message, but arguably it sacrifices the clarity of the message to the story; it involves no spoilers to say that the secret has something to do with voluntary giving, but much of the story makes the voluntary giving seem quite selfishly motivated. This is not the full story, but a great deal of the problem arises from what would perhaps have recommended it to its original readers -- it's a religious story in which religion is deliberately played down and into which anything obviously religious makes only occasional and minimal entrance. This makes the spiritual secret come across more like a kind of attempt to manipulate things by magic, de-sacralized religion precisely coming across as a kind of magic. Again, this would recommend it to a lot of readers, in the same sense that there are plenty of people who are allergic to discussions of prayer who will nonetheless eat up books like The Secret, which substitutes something pseudo-naturalistic to do loosely similar things. Douglas does a few things to prevent religion from becoming only a kind of magic -- like most modern fiction, 'science' is the word the book actually uses for 'magic' -- but the book doesn't really avoid it, or even try very hard, in part because its characters are not the sort of people who could make that distinction very well in the first place. The story leads the message, which overall makes it a better novel than most spiritual secret books.

The romantic side of the story I found somewhat wearing, but it's not awful. Part of this is that the characters have their plausible weaknesses and strengths, even though it is sometimes difficult to find oneself fully sympathizing with Bobby and Helen as the structure of the romance really requires. Possibly the books is doing too much to develop the romance plot entirely as it should have been.

In addition to the book, I also listened to two radio versions -- the one by Lux Radio Theater with Irene Dunn and Robert Taylor and the other by Screen Guild Theater with Myrna Loy and Don Ameche. As I suspected, there is heavy movie-influence here, and the romantic story is played up. I liked how it was played up in the Lux Radio Theater version more than in the other, although I think the psychology of the characters was in some ways more plausibly expressed in the other. The cipher, of course, doesn't carry over, so the secret itself is played down in both cases. One strength I think the radio versions had over the book is that romantic love is a more obvious -- and less potentially problematic -- proxy for religious love of neighbor than science is. That is because we have actually adapted to romantic love to be religious in tone. People joke about Christian pop music being Jesus-Is-My-Girlfriend music, which is occasionally funny because true; but they often fail to grasp the fact that the reason it sounds this way is because there is a long tradition by now of poets and singers talking about their girlfriends as if they were Jesus. Indeed, you can trace this very easily, since it has often been done deliberately. Golden Age Hollywood, TV, and Radio are especially guilty of this. But because the religious tone of romantic love has become such a staple, the radio program's focus on romantic love rather than science and technology makes the story seem considerably more religious in character, despite the fact that the religious elements play even less of a role in the story. A very interesting comparison and contrast.

Favorite Passage:

"At all events, you have the scientific outlook -- the scientific approach," insisted Doctor MacLaren. "Perhaps you noticed at what pains I was to avoid the old stock phrases of theology."

"I fear I wouldn't recognize them as such," confessed Bobby. "But -- what's the matter with the old terminology?"

"Obsolete! Misleading! We'll have to evolve a new vocabulary for religion to make it rank with other subjects of interest. We've got to phrase it in modern terms; don't you think so?" Doctor McLaren was eager for his guest's approval.

"Perhaps," agreed Bobby tentatively. "I don't know. Whether people could learn any more about religion by changing its names for things of concern to it, I'm not sure. It just occurs to me -- casting about at random for a parallel case -- that the word 'electricity' means 'amber.' All that the ancients knew about electricity was that a chunk of amber, when rubbed with silk, would pick up a feather. Now that it has been developed until it will pick up a locomotive, electricity still means amber. They never went to the bother to change the name of it. Maybe they thought there was at least a pleasant sentiment in retaining the name. More likely, the never thought about it, at all. Too busy trying to make it work, I suppose." (pp. 291-292)

Recommendation: I don't know that you need to go out of your way to read it, but as light pop reading it is certainly better than many other books that became bestselling popular sensations; and when it pretends to get in deep water, it at least gestures at genuinely deep waters rather than at some shallow stand-in made up in its author's head, like so many books of this kind do. Taylor Caldwell could have done, and later would do, better, but I would give it a Recommended, if it happens to come your way and you want something light.

*******

Lloyd C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsession, Collier & Son (New York: 1929).

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent X

You wish to ascend to Heaven, and to receive that Kingdom, communion with God, the consolation of the spiritual goods of yonder blessedness, the fellowship of the angels, and immortal life, and you ask if this path requires toil? Great is this marvel! Those who yearn after the things of this perishing world pass over the terrible waves of the sea, and they brave journeying on rough roads, and for all that, they never ask whether there is any labor in this, or any affliction in what they desire to do. But we search everywhere after comfort! If, however, we always keep in mind the path of crucifixion, we shall think that every other affliction is lighter to bear than this.

Homily 72.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

Leonard Simon Nimoy has died at the age of 83. He had suffered from lung problems for some time. He served in the U.S. Army, had several excellent movie roles (especially in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake), and apparently was in some sort of science fiction franchise or other. I've always liked the breadth of his artistic interests: acting, directing, photography, poetry, music.


His last tweet on Twitter, from Sunday: "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP."

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent IX

Fear is necessary for human nature in order that it might keep within the bounds of obedience to God. But the love of God incites a man to desire the works of virtue, and through love he is caught away to the doing of good.

Homily 3.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Music on My Mind



Joni Eareckson Tada, "Alone, Yet Not Alone". The song itself begins about 0:45; it was the theme for a small independent movie, which accounts for much of the video. (I haven't seen the movie.)

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Book II

Book II

While nothing about the genre or format of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations requires that there be any organization, Books II and III do some to have at least some integration of theme. We might summarize that of Book II with the phrase "Day by Day". We begin with a suggestion for morning reflection, a very Socratic reflection that no doubt had a great deal of significance for a Roman emperor: We will meet people doing all sorts of wrong because they do not understand good and evil, but the person who does understand good and evil cannot be harmed by them. We are all family, and thus it does no good to get angry at them:

We were born to labor together, like the feet, the hands, the eyes, and the rows of upper and lower teeth. To work against one another is therefore contrary to nature, and to be angry against a man or turn one's back on him is to work against him.

Pierre Hadot (The Inner Citadel, p. 264) notes that the book is pervaded by the theme of mortality. Death is possible today, and, even if it doesn't happen, the time one has is short. We must not waste our time with anything, even books, given that we have already delayed so much. Today is the day to act according to reason and nature; we must avoid being distracted and wandering from this.

The proper response to the recognition of our mortality is philosophy. Hadot has a good summary of the conception of philosophy involved in the book:

Only one thing counts: philosophy (II, 17,3), which consists of the three disciplines. First, it means keeping the guiding principle of the soul (hegemonikon; II,2,4), or--another way of expressing the same thing--the soul (II, 6) or else the inner daimon (II,17,4; II,13,2), free from the slavery of false thoughts (II,2,4). This is the discipline of thought or judgment. Second, the soul must be kept pure of all irritation against events, and accept the portion which has been attributed to it by destiny (II,2,4; II,16,1-2; II, 17,4); this is the discipline of desire. Finally, it must be kept pure of all egoistic action, or actions which are undertaken lightly or without a goal (II,2,4; II,17,4); this is the discipline of action. (p. 264)

Distractions of this world tend to take us away from philosophy, which is problematic because it is philosophy, this discipline of thought, desire, and action, that helps us to distinguish what is really real from what is merely our imagination or passional bias. Without it, we do not evaluate things as they really are, nor do we have any true sense of their place in the order of the world. Thus, for instance, we are constantly treating things as bogeyman that are, in fact, just the way the world works -- and to fear something that is just part of the natural order of the world is to be a child. Even death itself is precisely this sort of thing: a monster of the imagination that in reality is just a natural happening, and, what is more, a natural happening with any number of benefits for the world at large.

In addition, philosophy allows us to cultivate ourselves properly. Without it we are inclined to any number of forms of self-harm:

The human soul violates itself most of all when it becomes, as far as it can, a separate tumor or growth upon the universe; for to be discontented with anything that happens is to rebel against that Nature which embraces, in some part of itself, all other natures. The soul violates itself also whenever it turns away from a man and opposes him to do him harm, as do the souls of angry men; thirdly, whenever it is overcome by pleasure or pain; fourthly, whenever it acts a part and does or says anything falsely and hypocritically; fifthly, when it fails to direct any action or impulse to a goal, but acts at random, without purpose, whereas even the most trifling actions must be directed toward the end; and this end, for reasonable creatures, is to follow the reason and the law of the most honored commonwealth and constitution.

The most honored commonwealth and constitution, of course, is cosmopolis, the world as commonwealth. Everyone with reason, by virtue of their reason, is capable of acting as a citizen of the world itself; indeed, if we do not, we hurt ourselves. Through philosophy we avoid this, protecting our inner guide (daimon) and avoiding each of these five kinds of self-harm.

to be continued

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent VIII

When we wish to give a collective name to the passions, we call them world. And when we wish to designate them specifically according to their names, we call them passions. the passions are portions of the course of the world's onward flow; and where the passions cease, there the world's onward flow stands still. These are the passions: love of wealth; gathering objects of any kind; bodily pleasure, from which comes the passion of carnal intercourse; love of esteem, from which springs envy; the wielding of power; pride in the trappings of authority; stateliness and pomposity; human glory, which is the cause of resentment; fear for the body. Wherever these have halted in their course, there, in part, to the extent that the passions are inactive, the world fails from its constitution and remains inactive. Thus it was with each of the saints, that while they lived, they were dead. For living in the body, they lived not according to the flesh.
Homily 2.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent VII

Remember the fall of the mighty, and be humble in your virtues. Recollect the grievous transgressions of those who of old trespassed and repented, and the sublimity and honor of which afterwards they were deemed worthy, and take courage in your repentance. Be a persecutor of yourself, and your enemy will be driven from your proximity. Be peaceful within yourself, and heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Be diligent to enter into the treasury that is within you, and you will see the treasury of Heaven: for these are one and the same, and with one entry you will behold them both.

Homily 2.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Prayer from Gregory of Narek

For those who are interested in the recent confirmation that Gregory of Narek will be made the 36th Doctor of the Church, the following is a reading of a prayer, translated into English, from Gregory of Narek's Book of Lamentations:



You can read the translation online, as well.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent VI

Let whatever good or evil things that befall the flesh be reckoned by you as dreams. For it is not only with death that you will have release from them, but often before death they retire and leave you alone. But if any of these things that befall you should have communion with your soul, then consider them to be your acquisitions in this age, and they will also go with you in to the next. If they are good, rejoice and give thanks to God in your mind. But if they are evil, be grieved and sigh; and as long as you are still in the body, seek to be set free of them.

Homily I.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Poem Draft

Lent 2015

How dark my heart is, Lord,
like a night without moon,
like a shadow of death,
like cave-eating blackness,
and, empty of splendor,
I ache for the sunlight.

Long have I walked, O Lord,
my shoes worn thin like gauze,
my feet aching and cold,
my breath in short, hard bursts;
my heart is weary, sore,
with longing for your gates.

Too long, too far, I strayed;
too much, too oft, I erred.
Coward I was in fight,
foolish I was in plan;
at times for strength, I fled,
and endurance I shirked.

How long your patience, Lord,
I foolishly tested,
how long have you waited
for me to take each step,
to cross each small divide,
and come home as I should!

Long in ice I have lived,
frozen in heart and hope,
a shade by icy streams,
complaining of the sun,
moaning about its heat.
I shrank from you, O Lord.

But you, Lord, have waited;
your mercy has endured.
And with your love my hope
in promise is made warm.
I walk with aching steps,
slow -- but to you I walk.

But how my old ways haunt,
how they hide in ambush,
setting traps, liming twigs,
lying in wait for blood!
Harassed like fox in hunt,
I tire of endless contest.

How tired is my soul, Lord,
how weary is my heart.
The longing lays me low,
the ache will not abate,
I hurt inside with hope,
and drag myself to you.

Do not tarry, O Lord!
But let not wolves catch me,
nor roaring lion devour,
nor dark betrayal break,
nor cold blade sever life,
before glory pours down.

Doctors of the Church

Pope Francis is adding St. Gregory of Narek to the list of Doctors of the Church, so this is an updated post. All the news outlets are saying that Francis has already declared him Doctor of the Church, but as far as I am aware he is not yet on the Universal Calendar, although he is on the calendar of the Armenian Catholic Church, and people can only actually get the title when they are actually on Rome's Universal Calendar because it's a liturgical designation for that calendar, not an arbitrary title. (None of the reporting on this, in fact, makes much sense. The reporting on these kinds of events is regularly atrocious, and I ran into similar journalistic confusions with Juan de Avila and Hildegard von Bingen. It's even worse this time around, though.) What seems actually to have happened is that the Plenary Session for the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints put forward the proposal that he be named Doctor of the Church, and Pope Francis confirmed it. That would mean that the official declaration is yet to come. I will update again when new information comes up. Gregory of Narek will make the 36th Doctor of the Church.

'Doctor of the Church' is a special, officially given, liturgical title in Rome's Universal Calendar: it indicates (1) saints in the universal calendar who (2) were doctors (i.e., theological teachers) and who (3) have left theological writings that (4) are of extraordinary quality and considerable value for the whole community of the faithful. It originally grew up on its own as applied to a small group of especially important theologians (Athanasius, Basil, Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great). It was later conferred on Thomas Aquinas, and shortly afterward, Bonaventure, in order to recognize that these theologians were, in their own ways and according to the formats of their time, teachers of the Church of the same caliber as the prior Doctors of the Church. It has since been extended outward by official recognition of a theologian as being in the same class. Because of (2) it is traditional not to consider martyrs for the title, despite a number of notable theologians in that category who fit all of the other criteria, because 'martyr' is a higher liturgical title than 'doctor' -- martyrs would never be liturgically given a Mass for doctors, only for martyrs, and thus the title would be otiose. Likewise (3) is pretty restrictive; there have been some excellent theologians who don't qualify because we know of their work only indirectly and not from any writings they left (Saint Macrina comes immediately to mind). And, of course, there are extraordinarily important theologians who aren't saints in any calendar (Tertullian, Origen, Theodore Abu-Qurra, Leo XIII). What follows are various lists in which kinds of theological periods and overlaps can be observed.

I. By Death Year
(sometimes approximate; year in parentheses is the year they were officially recognized as Doctor of the Church; to show gaps, asterisks indicate approximate length of intervening interval between death years, each asterisk indicating approximately a decade)

368 Hilary of Poitiers (1851)
373 Athanasius
373 Ephrem the Syrian (1920)
379 Basil of Caesarea
387 Cyril of Jerusalem (1883)
390 Gregory Nazianzen
397 Ambrose of Milan
407 John Chrysostom
*
420 Jerome
*
430 Augustine
*
444 Cyril of Alexandria (1883)
450 Peter Chrysologus (1729)
*
461 Leo the Great (1754)
**************
604 Gregory the Great
***
636 Isidore of Seville (1722)
*********
735 Bede (1899)
*
749 John Damascene (1883)
**************************
1003 Gregory of Narek (2015?)
******
1072 Peter Damian (1828)
***
1109 Anselm (1720)
****
1153 Bernard of Clairvaux (1830)
*
1179 Hildegard von Bingen (2012)
*****
1231 Anthony of Padua (1946)
****
1274 Thomas Aquinas (1568)
1274 Bonaventure (1588)
1280 Albert the Great (1931)
*********
1379 Catherine of Siena (1970)
*******************
1569 John of Avila (2012)
*
1582 Teresa of Avila (1970)
1591 John of the Cross (1926)
1597 Peter Canisius (1925)
**
1619 Lawrence of Brindisi (1959)
1621 Robert Bellarmine (1931)
1622 Francis de Sales (1877)
****************
1787 Alphonsus Liguori (1871)
**********
1897 Therese of Lisieux (1997)

II. By Birth Year
(often approximate, especially for earlier figures)

293 Athanasius
300 Hilary of Poitiers
306 Ephrem the Syrian
313 Cyril of Jerusalem
*
329 Gregory Nazianzen
330 Basil of Caesarea
337 Ambrose of Milan
*
347 Jerome
349 John Chrysostom
354 Augustine
**
376 Cyril of Alexandria
380 Peter Chrysologus
**
400 Leo I
**************
540 Gregory I
**
560 Isidore of Seville
***********
672 Bede
676 John Damascene
***************************
951 Gregory of Narek
*****
1007 Peter Damian
**
1033 Anselm of Canterbury
*****
1090 Bernard of Clairvaux
1098 Hildegard von Bingen
**********
1195 Anthony of Padua
1206 Albert the Great (although perhaps as early as 1193)
**
1221 Bonaventure
1225 Thomas Aquinas
************
1347 Catherine of Siena
***************
1500 John of Avila
*
1515 Teresa of Avila
1521 Peter Canisius
**
1542 John of the Cross
1542 Robert Bellarmine
*
1559 Lawrence of Brindisi
1567 Francis de Sales
************
1696 Alphonsus Liguori
*****************
1873 Therese of Lisieux

III. By Year of Recognition

[Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great all received it by organically developed custom]

1568 Thomas Aquinas
**
1588 Bonaventure
*************
1720 Anselm of Canterbury
1722 Isidore of Seville
1729 Peter Chrysologus
**
1754 Leo the Great
*******
1828 Peter Damian
1830 Bernard of Clairvaux
**
1851 Hilary of Poitiers
**
1871 Alphonsus Liguori
1877 Francis de Sales
1883 Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Damascene
*
1899 Bede
**
1920 Ephrem the Syrian
1925 Peter Canisius
1926 John of the Cross
1931 Albert the Great, Robert Bellarmine
*
1946 Anthony of Padua
*
1959 Lawrence of Brindisi
*
1970 Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila
**
1997 Therese of Lisieux
*
2012 John of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen
2015? Gregory of Narek

IV. By Number of Years from Death to Recognition
(Color Code, very rough: Patristic Era, Scholastic Era, Counter-Reformation)
[Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great all received it by organically developed custom]

1547 Ephrem of Syria

1496 Cyril of Jerusalem
1483 Hilary of Poitiers
1439 Cyril of Alexandria

1293 Leo I
1279 Peter Chrysologus

1164 Bede
1134 John Damascene

1086 Isidore of Seville
1012? Gregory of Narek

833 Hildegard of Bingen

756 Peter Damian
715 Anthony of Padua

677 Bernard of Clairvaux
651 Albert the Great
611 Anselm of Canterbury

591 Catherine of Siena

443 John of Avila

388 Teresa of Avila
340 Lawrence of Brindisi
335 John of the Cross
328 Peter Canisius
314 Bonaventure
310 Robert Bellarmine

294 Thomas Aquinas
255 Francis de Sales

100 Therese of Lisieux

84 Alphonsus Liguori

V. Various Miscellaneous Lists

Because of the split between East and West, for most of the history of the title there have been no Eastern Doctors after Damascene. However, Gregory of Narek, you will notice, is later than Damascene by a couple of centuries, and as an Armenian he would be counted as an Eastern Doctor, bringing the total to nine (Hilary, Athanasius, Ephrem, Basil, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Cyril of Alexandria, John Damascene, Gregory of Narek).

There are three Carmelites (Teresa, John of the Cross, and Therese), two Jesuits (Canisius and Bellarmine), three Dominicans (Thomas, Albert, Catherine (Tertiary)), four Franciscans (Anthony, Bonaventure, Lawrence, Francis de Sales (Tertiary)), one Redemptorist (Liguori), and six Benedictines (Isidore [it is thought], Bede, Anselm, Bernard, Hildegard, Peter Damian). There are four women (Hildegard, Catherine, Teresa, Therese), three of whom were nuns (Hildegard, Teresa, Therese). There are nineteen bishops, of whom two were Patriarchs of Rome (Leo, Gregory), two Patriarchs of Alexandria (Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria), two Patriarchs of Constantinople (Nazianzen, Chrysostom), and one Patriarch of Jerusalem (Cyril of Jerusalem). That's actually very nice balance, although notably Antioch is missing, with no plausible candidate (interesting, given how important the See has been theologically). There is one deacon (Ephrem).

Some notable and influential theologians who possibly meet all the criteria but haven't received the designation: Gregory of Nyssa (whose absence is very noticeable), Epiphanius of Salamis, Jeanne de Chantal, Jean Eudes, Louis de Montfort, Bernardino of Siena, Veronica Giuliani, Birgitta of Sweden, Gertrude of Helfta, John Bosco, Lorenzo Giustiniani, Antonino of Florence, Thomas of Villanova, Ignatius of Loyola, Vincent de Paul.

Some notable and influential saints who possibly meet all the criteria except being on the Universal Calendar: Clement of Alexandria, Isaac the Syrian (Isaac of Nineveh), Gregory Palamas, Symeon the New Theologian, Nerses Shnorhali.

Some notable and influential theologians who will possibly at some point be given the designation if their canonization process is ever completed: John Duns Scotus, John Henry Newman, Antonio Rosmini, Julian of Norwich.

Some notable and influential saints who would perhaps be good candidates except that they are technically martyrs: Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Boethius, Maximus the Confessor, Thomas More, Edith Stein.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent V

Could there be, perhaps, anyone at all who is unconvinced of the following? -- that no one has ever gained victory in war, or received a fading crown, or had his heart's desire fulfilled (even in things unworthy of praise), or ministered in things divine, or achieved any of the glorious deeds of virtue, unless he has first set at naught labors and afflictions, and has driven away from his proximity the thinking that impels a man toward repose, which thinking begets heedlessness, sloth, pusillanimity, from which comes laxity in everything.

Homily 72.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

That Man May Hope to Rise yet Feare to Fall

Tymes Goe by Turnes
by St. Robert Southwell


The lopped trees in tyme may growe againe;
Most naked plants renewe both frute and floure;
The soriest wight may finde release of payne,
The dryest soyle sucke in some moystning shoure;
Tymes goe by turnes and chances chang by course,
From foule to fayre, from better happ to worse.

The sea of Fortune doth not ever floe,
She draws her favours to the lowest ebb;
Her tide hath equall tymes to come and goe,
Her loome doth weave the fine and coarsest webb;
No joy so great but runneth to an ende,
No happ so harde but may in fine amende.

Not allwayes fall of leaf nor ever springe,
No endlesse night yet not eternall daye;
The saddest birdes a season finde to singe,
The roughest storme a calme may soon alaye;
Thus with succeding turnes God tempereth all,
That man may hope to rise yet feare to fall.

A chaunce may wynne that by mischance was lost;
The nett that houldes no greate, takes little fishe;
In some thinges all, in some thinges none are croste,
Fewe all they neede, but none have all they wishe;
Unmedled joyes here to no man befall,
Who least hath some, who most hath never all.

On February 21, 1595, Robert Southwell, major poet and Jesuit missionary, was hung by the neck at Tyburn; his corpse was then drawn and quartered to finish his sentence. He was canonized as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, whose feast-day is October 25. Times do indeed go by turns.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Book I

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) was, of course, the Roman emperor, and we find this reflected in his notes to himself, which were written while on military campaign in the last decade of his life. When the emperor Hadrian began to take thought for succession, he formally adopted Aelius Antoninus (usually known as Antoninus Pius), but on condition that Antoninus also adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his heirs. Marcus had considerable difficulty adjusting to his position; he never seems to have particularly liked either the duties or the pomp that his adoption gave him, a fact that was probably aggravated by the fact that he was never in very good health. Through much of his reign the northern borders of the empire were in serious peril, and dealing with the tribes to the north took a considerable portion of his last years. His campaign was successful, but was never completed as he fell ill.

The work that has come down to us has no definite title and may never have been intended to have any. The earliest title in the manuscripts seems to have been "To Himself" (ta eis heauton). There are two indications in the text of location and time ("Written in the land of the Quades, on the banks of the Gran" and "Written in Carnutum"); we do not know if they are original or not. The book is usually divided into twelve books, but the divisions seem artificial and are certainly later; Hadot notes that the Vaticanus manuscript only indicates the divisions Book I, Book II, Books III-IV, Books V-VI-VII-VIII, Books IX-X-XI, and Book XII. As a set of notes that seem to have been written on different occasions, it involves a great deal of repetition; but one way to look at the work is as Marcus's constant refining of Stoic ideas in light of his practical experience. (This is, I think, the appropriate answer to claims of Marcus Aurelius's not being a work of 'original' philosophy, which I find come up amusingly often. In fact, the philosophical work here could hardly help but be original: it is a case of a philosopher writing in unusual circumstances -- not many philosophers have had to struggle with ethical issues while on military campaign as emperor -- in a format that itself is relatively uncommon, and he is trying out various ideas from different directions and looking at them in different lights. It is true that many of the central ideas are from Epictetus and other Stoics; but he is doing very different things with them. And while one might claim that Marcus Aurelius is not of the intellectual influence and significance of a Plato or Aristotle, it is an atrocious intellectual habit to talk as if the good were the enemy of the best.)

You can read the Meditations online in English in George Long's translation at the Internet Classics Archive.

Book I

Book I, being more coherent and organized than the other parts of the work, is often thought to have been written last. In it Marcus goes through the resources he has received from the people in his life -- usually their example, but occasionally other thing as well. Some comments about the people mentioned (several of them are people about whom we otherwise know little):

Verus and Annius Verus: Marcus's father, Annius Verus, died when he was an early teenager, so his grandfather, Verus, had a significant role in his life, and he did not know his father except through some limited memories and by reputation.

Domitia Lucilla: Marcus's mother; from an extraordinarily wealthy family, she seems to have been quite capable, and, of course, she raised Marcus herself for a considerable portion of his late childhood.

Quintus Junius Rusticus: A Stoic philosopher. Outside of his association with Marcus, he is best known for probably being the judge who condemned St. Justin Martyr to death.

Apollonius of Chalcedon: Another Stoic philosopher.

Sextus of Chaeronea: Another Stoic philosopher. He seems to have been related to Plutarch, and also seems to have been a later rather than earlier acquaintance of the emperor, since we have stories of Marcus as an old man studying with him.

Alexander of Cotiaeum: A grammarian. Outside of his association with Marcus, he is best known for being the teacher of Aelius Aristides, one of the greatest orators of the Second Sophistic.

Marcus Cornelius Fronto: Born in Numidia, he became very wealthy and was appointed tutor to Marcus by Antoninus Pius. He had a very close relationship with Marcus, and some of their extensive correspondence has survived. Minucius Felix in the Octavius briefly mentions a speech in which he attacks Christians for incestuous orgies.

Alexander the Platonist: He was one of Marcus's secretaries.

Claudius Severus: We don't actually know who Marcus intends, but he likely means Claudius Severus, whose son married one of Marcus's daughters, and who might possibly have been a Peripatetic philosopher.

Claudius Maximus: He seems to have been another Stoic philosopher.

Antoninus Pius: Marcus's adopted father and, with Marcus, one of the Five Good Emperors. Famous for his dutifulness, he had a relatively peaceful reign, during which he patronized philosophy and the arts, and seems to have had a relatively hands-off approach to governing the empire, preferring to handle matters through the local authorities.

Note that Marcus's last note, on what he has received from the gods, sums up the rest of the book.

to be continued

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent IV

There is nothing so capable of banishing the inveterate habits of licentiousness from our soul, and of driving away those active memories which rebel in our flesh and produce a turbulent flame, as to immerse oneself in the fervent love of instruction, and to search closely into the depth of the insights of divine Scripture.

When a man's thoughts are totally immersed in the delight of pursuing the wisdom treasured in the words of Scripture by means of the faculty that extracts understanding from them, then he puts the world behind his back and forgets everything in it, and he blots out of his soul all memories that form images embodying the world. Often he does not even remember the employment of the habitual thoughts which visit human nature, and his soul remains in ecstasy by reason of those new encounters that arise from the sea of the Scripture's mysteries.

Homily 1.