Friday, June 24, 2011

Weil on the hammer-and-nail of affliction

"When we hit a nail with a hammer, the whole of the shock received by the large head of the nail passes into the point without any of it being lost, although it is only a point. . . .
"Extreme affliction, which means physical pain, distress of soul and social degradation, all at the same time, constitutes the nail.  The point is applied at the very centre of the soul.  The head of the nail is all the necessity which spreads throughout the totality of space and time.
"Affliction is a marvel of divine technique.  It is a simple and ingenious device which introduces into the soul of a finite creature the immensity of force, blind, brutal and cold.  The infinite distance which separates God from the creature is entirely concentrated into one point to pierce the soul in its centre.
"The man to whom such a thing happens has no part in the operation.  He struggles like a butterfly which is pinned alive into an album.  But through all the horror he can continue to want to love.  There is nothing impossible in that, no obstacle, one might almost say no difficulty.  For the greatest suffering, so long as it does not cause fainting, does not touch the part of the soul which consents to a right direction.
"It is only necessary to know that love is a direction and not a state of the soul.  If one is unaware of this, one falls into despair at the first onslaught of affliction.
"He whose soul remains ever turned in the direction of God while the nail [of affliction] pierces it, finds himself nailed onto the very centre of the universe.  It is the true centre, it is not in the middle, it is beyond space and time, it is God.  In a dimension which does not belong to space, which is not time, which is indeed quite a different dimension, this nail has pierced a hole through all creation, through the thickness of the screen which separates the soul from God.
"In this marvellous dimension, the soul, without leaving the place and the instant where the body to which it is united is situated, can cross the totality of space and time and come into the very presence of God."

Simone Weil, "The love of God and affliction" (1942), in Waiting on God, trans. Emma Craufurd (London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1951), 78 (63-78) = "L'amour de Dieu et le malheur," in Attente de Dieu, ed. Joseph-Marie Perrin (Paris:  La Colombe, 1950), and Pensées sans ordre concernant l'amour de Dieu (Paris:  Gallimard, 1962), 104-105 (85-105).  I quote this knowing full well that I am among those who haven't known even pain (douleur) and suffering (souffrance), let alone affliction (malheur):  "those who have never had contact with affliction in its true sense can have no idea of what it is, even though they may have suffered a great deal."  For this reason, "compassion for the afflicted is an impossibility.  When it is really found we have a more astounding miracle than walking on water, healing the sick, or even raising the dead" (65).  Indeed, "Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent" (67, italics mine).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Carey on "Alexis de Tocqueville's prescient Democracy in America"

"I dedicate this account of our lives and travels to Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Garmont in pretty much the same spirit that his mother, or more likely the Abbé de La Londe, offered him comfort during the fearful nights of his childhood.  To him I say, in the fullness of my heart, sir, your fears are phantoms.
     "Look, it is daylight.  There are no sansculottes, nor will there ever be again.  There is no tyranny in America, nor ever could be.  Your horrid visions concerning fur traders are groundless.  The great ignoramus will not be elected.  The illiterate will never rule.  Your bleak certainty that there can be no art in a democracy is unsupported by the truth.
     "You are wrong, dear sir, and the proof that you are wrong is here, in my jumbled life, for I was your servant and became your friend.  I was your employee and am now truly your progenitor, by which I mean that you were honestly made in new york by a footman and a rogue.  I mean that all these words, these blemishes and tears, this darkness, this unreliable historyalthough written pretty much as well as could be done in Londonwas cobbled together by me, jumped-up John Larrit, at Harlem Heights, and given to our compositor on May 10, 1837."

     Parrot (Perroquet), in his Dedication to Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America (New York, NY:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 381.  As for any irony, or at least studied ambiguity, "This novel began when I read Alexis de Tocqueville's prescient Democracy in America" (Acknowledgements, [383]).

Grumpy old men

"It is a rare thing to come across a man of sixty, living on the threshold of a great change, who had already come to regard a unique culture and a unique political institution as replaceable, in theory at least."

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo:  a biography (Berkeley, CA:  The University of California Press, 1967), 266.  A bit later, though, Brown takes Augustine to task for having deliberately forgotten "that a culture requires a framework of rules and organized teaching" (268).

"steeped too long in too few books"

"We cannot help noticing the extent to which the 'Divine eloquence' of God is the eloquence of a Late Roman writer.  For no one else would have made such a cult of veiling his meaning.  Such a man lived among fellow-connoisseurs, who had been steeped too long in too few books.  He no longer needed to be explicit:  only hidden meanings, rare and difficult words and elaborate circumlocutions, could save his readers from boredom, from fastidium, from that loss of interest in the obvious, that afflicts the overcultured man.  He would believe (with André Gide, among others) that the sheer difficulty of a work of literature made it more valuablea sinister way of thinking in an age when educated men tended to form a caste, rebuffing the outsider by their possession of the ancient authors.  Above all, the narrow canon of acknowledged classics had been charged with a halo of 'Wisdom':  an intellectual agility quite alien to modern man, would have to be deployed constantly to extract the inexhaustible treasure that, it was felt, must lie hidden in so cramped a quarry."

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo:  a biography (Berkeley, CA:  The University of California Press, 1967), 259-260.  Unfortunately, I can't think otherwise than with Augustine here:  "such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures that, even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else, from boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and with talents greater than I possess, I would still be making progress in discovering their treasures" (263, citing Ep. 137.3).

St. Thomas Aquinas on those "who never take the sacrament, and yet receive its effect on account of the devotion they have to [it], which [sacrament] they have in wish or desire."

"Fault in the recipient can be an obstacle to the effect of the sacrament, for instance, if he receives the sacrament for outward show without his heart being prepared:  he receives the sacrament, but not its effect, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit, for 'the Holy Spirit of instruction shuns all pretense' (Wis 1:5).  Conversely, there are others who never take the sacrament and yet receive its effect from their devotion or desire."

Or, more literally, "on account of the devotion that they have to the sacrament, which [sacrament] they have in wish or desire [(propter devotionem quam habent ad sacramentum, quod habent in voto, sive desiderio)]":

"Impeditur etiam effectus sacramenti per culpam recipientis, puta, si fictus accedat, et non corde parato ad suscipiendum sacramentum. Talis enim licet sacramentum suscipiat, effectum tamen sacramenti, idest gratiam spiritus sancti, non recipit, quia, ut dicitur Sap. I, 5: spiritus sanctus disciplinae effugiet fictum. E contrario autem sunt alii qui nunquam recipiunt sacramentum, qui tamen effectum sacramenti suscipiunt propter devotionem quam habent ad sacramentum, quod habent in voto, sive desiderio."

Saint Thomas Aquinas, De articulis fidei 2, as trans. in Saint Thomas Aquinas:  theological texts, ed. Thomas Gilby (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1982), 351, via Adoration: eucharistic texts and prayers throughout church history, ed. Daniel P. Guernsey (San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1999), 64.  The Latin is from vol. 1 of the Opuscula theologica ed. Verardo & Spiazzi (Turin:  Marietti, 1954) by way of Corpus Thomisticum.

"even when it didn't raise its practice to its preaching, it never lowered its preaching to its practice."

"No matter how morally bad the Church had gotten in the Renaissance, it never taught heresy. I was impressed with its very hypocrisy: even when it didn't raise its practice to its preaching, it never lowered its preaching to its practice. Hypocrisy, someone said, is the tribute vice pays to virtue."

Peter Kreeft, "Hauled aboard the ark: the spiritual journey of Peter Kreeft."  From "Hauled aboard the ark," in Spiritual journeys: twenty-seven men and women share their faith experiences, ed. Robert Baram (Boston, MA:  Pauline Books & Media, 1987), 174-175 (165-178)But is this true (of the Church, at least)?  I must read Noonan and others on the Church that (supposedly) can and cannot change.