Saturday, January 29, 2011

Madame de Staël on Napoleon

"of the whole inheritance of his dreadful power, there remains nothing to mankind but the baneful knowledge of a few secrets the more in the art of tyranny."

Madame (Anne Louise Germaine) de Staël, of Napoleon, in Considerations on the principal events of the French Revolution IV.19 ((New York, NY:  James Eastburn and Co., 1818), vol. 2, p. 114).  I was put onto this by Ruth Scurr, "For liberty:  Madame de Staël as a political thinker," Times literary supplement, December 10, 2010, p. 15 (14-15).

"in these last days"

"But now that the faith is established through Christ, and the Gospel law made manifest in this era of grace, there is no reason for inquiring of Him in this way, or expecting Him to answer as before.  In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word and He has no more to say. . . .
"Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would [therefore] not only be guilty of foolish behavior but also of offending Him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty."

St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel II.xxii.3, 5, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez.

I have taken this out of context to be sure:  out of the context of the Spirit-led and in that sense mystic "ascent" ("God is leading them by these means" (19, italics mine)), but out from under the role of "the Church or her ministers" as well ("One should [therefore] disbelieve anything coming in a supernatural way, and believe only the teaching of Christ, the man, as I say, and of His ministers who are men" (11 and 7, both of which I would interpret as a call for submission to divinely instituted checks and balances)), among other things.

Still, the Christocentrism is very striking.

This appears in the Liturgy of the hours for the Second Monday of Advent (vol. 1, pp. 212-213) as follows (translator unspecified, so maybe the ICEL?):
     "Under the ancient law prophets and priests sought from God revelations and visions which indeed they needed, for faith had as yet no firm foundation and the gospel law had not yet been established.  Their seeking and God's responses were necessary.  He spoke to them at one time through words and visions and revelations, at another through signs and symbols.  But however he responded and what he said and revealed were mysteries of our holy faith, either partial glimpses of the whole or sure movements toward it. 
     "But now that faith is rooted in Christ, and the law of the gospel has been proclaimed in this time of grace, there is no need to seek him in the former manner, nor for him so to respond.  By giving us, as he did, his Son, his only Word, he has in that one Word said everything.  There is no need for any further revelation. 
     "This is the true meaning of Paul's words to the Hebrews when he urged them to abandon their earlier ways of conversing with God, as laid down in the law of Moses, and to set their eyes on Christ alone:  In the past God spoke to our fathers through the prophets in various ways and manners; but now in our times, the last days, he has spoken to us in his own Son.  In effect, Paul is saying that God has spoken so completely through his own Word that he chooses to add nothing.  Although he had spoken but partially through the prophets he has now said everything in Christ.  He has given us everything, his own Son. 
     "Therefore, anyone who wished to question God or to seek some new vision or revelation from him would commit an offense, for instead of focusing his eyes entirely on Christ he would be desiring something other than Christ, or beyond him. 
     "God could then answer:  This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear him.  In my Word I have already said everything.  Fix your eyes on him alone for in him I have revealed all and in him you will find more than you could ever ask for or desire. 
     "I, with my Holy Spirit, came down upon him on Mount Tabor and declared:  This is my well beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear him.  You do not need new teachings or ways of learning from me, for when I spoke before it was of Christ who was to come, and when they sought anything of me they were but seeking and hoping for the Christ in whom is every good, as the whole teaching of the evangelists and apostles clearly testifies."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kierkegaard on "the Christian like for like"

“Just one more thing, remember the Christian like for like, eternity’s like for like. . . .
“. . . Christianity is not infrequently presented in a certain sentimental, almost soft, form of love. It is all love and love; spare yourself and your flesh and blood; have good days or happy days without self-concern, because God is Love and Love—nothing at all about righteousness must be heard; it must all be the free language and nature of love. Understood in this way, however, God’s love easily becomes a fabulous and childish conception, the figure of Christ too mild and sickly-sweet for it to be true that he was and is an offense to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks—that is, as if Christianity were in its dotage.
“The matter is altogether simple. Christianity has abolished the Jewish like for like: ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’; but it has replaced it with the Christian, eternity’s, like for like. Christianity turns our attention completely away from the external, turns it inward, and makes ever one of your relationships to other people into a God-relationship—then you will surely receive like for like in both the one and the other sense. In the Christian sense, a person ultimately and essentially has only God to deal with in everything. . . . But having only God to deal with in everything . . . is simultaneously the highest comfort and the greatest strenuousness, the greatest leniency and rigorousness. . . .
“. . . God’s rigorousness is leniency in the loving and the humble, but in the hardhearted his leniency is rigorousness. This leniency, that God has willed to save the world, becomes the utmost rigorousness to the person who refuses to accept this salvation, an even greater rigorousness than if God had never willed it but would only judge the world. See, this is the unity of rigorousness and leniency; that you relate yourself to God in everything is the greatest leniency and the greatest rigorousness.
“Therefore, if you listen carefully, in what most definitely must be called Gospel you yourself will hear also the rigorousness. . . .
“. . . The Gospel is not the Law; the Gospel will not save you by rigorousness but by leniency; but this leniency will save you, it will not deceive you; therefore there is rigorousness in it.
“If this like for like holds true even in relation to what most definitely must be called Gospel, how much more, then, when Christianity itself proclaims the Law. It is said, ‘Forgive, then you will also be forgiven.’ . . . Christianity’s view is: forgiveness is forgiveness; your forgiveness is your forgiveness; your forgiveness of another is your own forgiveness; the forgiveness you give is the forgiveness you receive, not the reverse, that the forgiveness you receive is the forgiveness you give. Pray to God humbly and trustingly about your forgiveness, because he is indeed merciful in a way no human being is; but if you want to make a test of how it is with forgiveness, then observe yourself. If honestly before God you wholeheartedly forgive your enemy (but if you do, remember that God sees it), then you may also dare to hope for your forgiveness, because they are one and the same. God forgives you neither more nor less nor otherwise than as you forgive those who have sinned against you. . . .
“Therefore to accuse another person before God is to accuse oneself, like for like. If someone is actually wronged, humanly speaking, then may he take care lest he be carried away in accusing the guilty one before God. . . . if you . . . now privately want to complain to God about your enemies, God will make short shrift of it and bring charges against you, because before God you yourself are a guilty party—to accuse another is to accuse youself. . . . if you address him in his capacity as judge, it does not help that you mean he is supposed to judge someone else, because you yourself have made him into your judge, and he is, like for like, simultaneously your judge—that is, he judges you also. But if you do not engage in accusing someone before God or in making God into a judge, then God is the gracious God. . . .
“Like for like; indeed, Christianity is so rigorous that it even asserts a heightened inequality. It is written, ‘Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but do not see the log that is in your own?’ A pious man has piously interpreted these words as follows: The log in your own eye is neither more nor less than seeing and condemning the splinter in your brother’s eye. But the most rigorous like for like would of course be that seeing the splinter in someone else’s eye becomes a splinter in one’s own eye. But Christianity is even more rigorous: this splinter, or seeing it judgingly, is a log. . . . Is this not a rigorousness that makes a mosquito into an elephant! . . . How uncircumspect to judge so rigorously in God’s presence that a splinter comes to be judged—like for like; if you want to be that rigorous, then God can outbid you—it is a log in your own eye. . . .
“How rigorous this Christian like for like is! The Jewish, the worldly, the bustling like for like is: as others do unto you, . . . do likewise unto them. But the Christian like for like is: God will do unto you exactly as you do unto others. In the Christian sense, you have nothing at all to do with what others do unto you. . . . You have only to do with what you do unto others, or how you take what others do unto you. The direction is inward; essentially you have to do only with yourself before God. . . . what you do unto people, you do unto God, and therefore what you do unto people, God does unto you. . . . like for like. God is actually himself this pure like for like, the pure rendition of how you yourself are. If there is anger in you, then God is anger in you; if there is leniency and mercifulness in you, then God is mercifulness in you. . . . God’s relation to a human being is at every moment to infinitize what is in that human being at every moment.
“Echo . . . lives in solitude. Echo pays very close attention, oh, so very close, to every sound, the slightest sound, and renders it exactly, oh, so exactly! If there is a word you would rather not hear said to you, then watch your saying of it; watch lest it slip out of you in solitude, because echo promptly repeats it and says it to you. . . . God just repeats everything you say and do to other people; he repeats it with the magnification of infinity. God repeats the words of grace or of judgment that you say about another; he says the same thing word for word about you; and these same words are for you grace and judgment. . . .
“. . . just as the well-disciplined child has an unforgettable impression of rigorousness, so also the person who relates himself to God’s love, unless in a ‘soft’ (1 Timothy 4:7) or light-minded way he takes it in vain, is bound to have an unforgettable fear and trembling, even though he rests in God’s love. Such a person will surely also avoid speaking to God about the wrongs of others against him, of the splinter in his brother’s eye, because such a person will prefer to speak to God only about grace, lest this fateful word ‘justice’ lose everything for him through what he himself evoked, the rigorous like for like."

Søren Kierkegaard, Works of love, Conclusion (ed. & trans. by Howard V. and Edna N. Hong, Kierkegaard’s writings 16 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 376–86; cf. trans. Howard and Edna Hong, Harper Torchbooks 122 (New York, NY: Harper, 1962), 345–53, and trans. David F. Swenson & Lillian Marvin Swenson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1946), 303–10).  Cf. Abba Poemen:  "'At the very moment when we hide our brother's fault, God hides our own and at the moment when we reveal our brother's fault, God reveals ours, too'" (Abba Poemen 64 (PG 65, col. 337/338); The desert Christian:  sayings of the Desert Fathers:  the alphabetical collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (New York, NY:  Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1975), 175).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Polanyi on the post-Copernican call "to abandon all sentimental egoism, and . . . see ourselves objectively in the true perspective of time and space"

"Here, then, are the true characteristics of objectivity as exemplified by the Copernican theory.  Objectivity does not demand that we estimate man's significance in the universe by the minute size of his body, by the brevity of his past history or his probable future career.  It does not require that we see ourselves as a mere grain of sand in a million Saharas.  It inspires us, on the contrary, with the hope of overcoming the appalling disabilities of our bodily existence, even to the point of conceiving a rational idea of the universe which can authoritatively speak for itself.  It is not a counsel of self-effacement, but the very reversea call to the Pygmalion in the mind of man."

Michael Polanyi, Personal knowledge: towards a post-critical philosophy (London:  Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973 (1962, 1958)), 5.

Duns Scot on contingency

"I do not call everything contingent which is not necessary and which was not always in existence, but only that whose opposite could have occurred at the time that this actually occurred.  That is why I do not say that something is contingent but that something is caused contingently."

John Duns Scotus, Treatise on God as first principle 4.18, ed. and trans. Allan B. Wolter, as quoted by Alexander Broadie in his "Scotistic metaphysics and creation ex nihilo," Creation and the God of Abraham, ed. David B. Burrell, Carlo Gogliati, Janet M. Soskice, and William R. Stoeger (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2010), 59 (53-64), italics mine.
Not quite sure yet what I think of this, and especially in the light of the univocity that Broadie, an unabashed Scotist himself, everywhere quite cheerfully agrees is characteristic of his master.  What does this emphasis on free choice effect in this world?  (But then what do I know?)