Think twice before upgrading your computer. Resist the urge to update the bios. It works--the gains from the upgrade are small compared to the pain of messing everything up.
Listen: it's me talking!
for studying the classics. Never before have there been so many resources for people to study Greek and Latin, and never before, thanks to Google Books and others, have so many texts been readily available. Unfortunately, interest in these subjects seems to be small. We starve amidst a banquet.
Recently I discovered the Latinum Podcast. Evan Millner has recorded the entire Adler _Practical Grammar of Latin Language as a series of podcasts that can be downloaded into an Ipod. He goes over the text with meticulously accurate pronunciation and with much useful repetition, so much that one really doesn't need to read the text. The course is primarily in Latin composition, so that the language is learned by speaking or writing it.
I am delighted to have found it. I am through six lessons, and already my Latin has improved greatly, just from hearing it spoken.
If only there were a classical Greek version.
Etenim omnes artes, quae ad humanitatem pertinent, habent quoddam commune vinculum, et quasi cognatione quadam inter se continentur.
As a matter of fact all arts which touch on humanity have a certain common chain, and as if by a certain common birth are akin to each other.
I take liberties on "continentur." The sense is that the study of any human art is the study of all of them. It is said that Abraham Lincoln only had two books, the bible and Shakespeare, and educated himself through these. If this is so, one could get a very fine education, since so much of human nature is contained within those books. Learning a few books well would be better than many books poorly.
From Donna Tartt's The Secret History
Pur: that one word contains for me the secret, the bright, terrible clarity of ancient Greek. How can I make you see it, this strange harsh light which pervades Homer's landscapes and illumines the dialogues of Plato, an alien light, inarticulable in our common tongue? Our shared language is a language of the intricate, the particular, the home of pumpkins and ragamuffins and bodkins and beer, the tongue of Ahab and Falstaff and Mrs. Gamp; and while I find it entirely suitable for reflections such as these, it fails me utterly when I attemp to describe in it what I love about Greek, that language innocent of all quirks and cranks; a language obsessed with action, and with the joy of seeing action multiply from action, action marching relentlessly ahead and with yet more actions filing in from either side to fall into neat step at the rear, in a long straight rank of cause and effect toward what will be inevitable, the only possible end.
If I tell you not to push the red button, what do you immediately want to do? Right.
Now, if the President tells you not to listen to talk radio or to a certain news organization, what do you want to do? What, in fact, in a free democracy should you do? Right
. . . tum pietāte gravem ac meritīs sī forte virum quem
cōnspexēre, silent arrēctīsque auribus adstant,
--ille regit dictīs animōs et pectora mulcet. . .
Perhaps this is the hope? But if I recall correctly, the man to whom the words probably refer gained the Pax Romana through strength, not through words.
I came across this quote from Hart, an orthodox theologian you should read, in "The Hidden and the Manifest: Metaphysics after Nicea" in the wonderful Orthodox Readings of Augustine, St. Vladimir's seminary press:
In any modern engagement between Christian East and Christian West, we begin from the long history of an often militant refusal--on both sides--of intellectual reconciliation. . . . All too often, moreover, this incomprehension takes the depressing form of a simple and a deplorable failure of imagination: an inability to appreciate that, in order to understand another intellectual tradition, rooted in a different primary language, it is not enough to translate its terms into one's own dialect and then proceed to interpret them according to the rules of one's one tradition. And the consequence of this is that, as often as not, "ecumenism" between East and West consists in little more than a relentless syncope of category errors: the drearily predictable alarm and indignation with which traditional Thomists find that Gregory Palamas, transposed into Thomas' Latin, is not a Thomis; the deep and slightly macabre delight with which earnest Palamites discover that Thomas, read through Palamite lenses, proves to be no Palamite.
I have encountered this willful misunderstanding myself, where shallow thinkers focus on a term extracted from a tradition, misinterpret it, or interpret it on purpose in the worst light, and then reject the tradition from which it comes as a heresy. This is not to say that genuine differences don't exist between East and West, or between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, but in wading through the polemics, one often finds that most of the differences are in approach. It's like New York pizza versus Chicago style: both are pizza, but approached differently, the one emphasizing the goodness of sauce and cheese, the other focusing on the crust.
Anyway, go read David Bentley Hart. It's a rollercoaster of erudition.
In Palamite debates with the Roman Church, much is made over Aquinas' statement that the true goal of human life is to see the essence of God. They argue, according to their tradition, that no-one ever sees the essence of God, but rather only his uncreated energies. This looks like a clear difference between churches, but is it?
The word for "essence" in Latin is essentia. The word for "essence" in Greek is ousia. Really, then, Aquinas says that one sees the essentia of God, but Palamas says that one does not see the ousia of God. Perhaps they don't mean the same thing.
I came across a very succinct definition of essentia in I.28.2 ST: "Everything which is not the divine essence is a creature."^[omnis res quae non est divina essentia, est creatura.] So, if St. Gregory Palamas teaches that the ousia is uncreated as well as the energeia, then both would count as the essentia of God according to Aquinas' terminology. There is a way they can both be right: To see the uncreated energies of God is to see the essentia of God.
It's a matter of language, then, not doctrine.
Incidentally, one can find the Summa Theologica as an audiobook on the wonderful Librivox.org.
Augustine receives the credit (or blame, depending on your point of view) for the doctrine of original sin, that every human being by virtue of his birth is tainted and destined for damnation without baptism. He is currently a point of contention in Orthodox-Catholic relations, viewed by some as one who sent Western theology off into its eventual heresy.
But Augustine did not invent the doctrine. As he himself makes clear in Contra Julianum, he is following St. Cyprian and St. Ambrose, whom he quotes approving his own position. It seems clear that he is following doctrinal trends in Carthage and Italy. But what of the East? Augustine attempts to enlist St. John Chrysostom as a witness to his position.
This will be difficult, since St. John says "We baptize even infants, though they are not defiled with sin, in order that there may be given to them holiness, justice, adoption, inheritance, and the brotherhood of Christ, that they may be His members." (quoted from Homilia ad neophytos by Augustine in chapter 6, Contra Julianum.)
St. John says that "Christ wept because the Devil made mortal those who could have been immortal," (Homilia de Lazaro resuscitato.) Augustine enlists this as evidence that all have a guilt of sin. "Why do even infants die if they are not subject to the sin of that first man?" If death is the result of sin, then by what right are infants subject to death if they do not somehow share in the sin?
But this isn't quite what Augustine is saying. To say that infants suffer the effects of sin is not to say that they share in the guilt of sin. Given John Chrysostom's statement about baptism, it seems that he doesn't view original sin as constituting a guilt deserving eternal punishment, but as a damage to human nature. John means mortality as that which enters the world with the sin of Adam. This is sufficient for Augustine's argument with Julian, but not to establish unanimity on original sin between Augustine and John.
The difference is whether infants inherit sin or death from Adam. Augustine agrees that they inherit death, but reasons that they therefore inherit death because of guilt, and therefore need baptism not to share in the deserved condemnation of Adam.
But, it is clear that Augustine is not an innovator. He stands in a long tradition, and it would be improper to blame for what is a legitimate and ancient Christian teaching.
Perhaps more on this as I continue reading Contra Julianum.
Good days can be hard days.
We've been homeschooling for a bit more than a year now, and we've learned that its hard. Really hard. To teach one child while trying to keep the other children happy is hard. To teach two children is harder. Many days we end up exhausted.
Perspective is needed. It is hard, but the children are thriving. Eldest girl reads all the time, and Secunda (not her real name) is starting to read at age four. We occasionally need to stop and assess our progress: we complain that Una (not her real name) is having trouble with fractions, or that she hasn't gotten the difference between the nominative and accusative case in Latin. She's six. She's doing really well.
As someone we know once said, homeschooling is the hardest best thing we've ever done.
Just came across this:
Est enim amicitia nihil aliud nisi omnium divinarum humanarumque rerum cum benevolentia et caritate consensio
From Cicero On Friendship, roughly translated:
Friendship, indeed, is nothing other than a harmony of all divine and human affairs with benevolence and love.
Just thought I'd share.
The first is proof of the second. Chesterton once famously said that Original Sin is the only doctrine of the Church proved every day on the front pages of the newspaper. Consider this:
Perhaps I am a prude, but this is not a man worthy of any admiration. Why, then, do we admire him? (By "we", I mean of course a substantial portion of the public.) We admire him because we humans are fundamentally irrational, choosing bad things in preference to the good.
It seems to me that the renewal of the Church and of the society in which she dwells will start with a recovery of the doctrine of the Fall. I know that in my case, I might as well have been taught by Pelagians as a child. We were told that God loved us, and that we were good. Confession was an afterthought, a relic of old sacramental systems that we didn't need to worry about. I was told by one earnest pastoral associate that "The Church doesn't talk about sin anymore."
Sin is all around, and needs to be fought vigorously. As evidence, see the adulation of the unfortunate and ruined Michael Jackson.
Shouldn't we act differently if we believe what we claim to believe?
A constant reproach addressed to Christians: 'Your faith has no outward effect on your way of life. If you really believed in such marvellous and astonishing things, you would live in a different way.'
Answer: 'Surely you believe that death is inevitable? Not only do you believe this but you know it for certain. And yet, does it make any great difference to your way of life? None at all.'
---Alexander Elchaninov, The Diary of a Russian Priest, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illus. by Marlee Frazee, is a delight. It is a rhymed and metrical look at the life of a young couple as they have children, each of whom only eats one thing. The mother, Mrs. Peters, works very hard to fill all of the picky requests of her seven silly eaters. We see her picking apples, making bread, straining orange juice, cooking eggs just so, and doing whatever she needs to do so her family will thrive. The children don't appreciate it enough, until the surprising happy ending.
The text is fun and memorable, allowing the reader to repeat it nearly from memory after a few times. But the real charm of the book is in the illustrations, which capture perfectly the ordered chaos of a large family, a house that is cherished but not too clean, with books and toys underfoot and children draped over every surface. My children like to pause over the pictures to see things they haven't noticed before. Little details support the story, such as the cello that the mother plays is retired to a corner of the house, recalling the sacrifices of individual interests that one has to make as a parent.
It's always one of my favorites to read at bedtime, especially after a difficult day homeschooling, when I feel rather sympathetic to the put-upon, but ultimately beloved, Mrs. Peters.
In my previous post, I think I was unclear. I am not attempting to say that productive argument is impossible, but that it is difficult, and that the fallen state of human beings must be taken into account. I take it as a given that humans do not follow what their minds determine, as Aristotle knew, as Plato knew, as St. Paul and St. Augustine knew. No one ever becomes good simply by reading a book! If you are already good, the book might help you be better, but if you aren't, the book won't do anything for you. As Aristotle says, it is like going to the doctor, listening to the healthy advice, and then ignoring it.
I know this to be the case in my own life: I know what is good, and choose the opposite. Perhaps I am being presumptuous in assuming it is the case for others? So, arguments do me know good. In fact, I know them all.
What is needed is metanoia, a change of heart (literally a change of mind). We pray "Create a new heart in me, O God/ put a steadfast Spirit within me." (Psalm 51). Look at the example of the apostles, who constantly misunderstood Jesus, despite living with him for three years. Two betrayed him, and nine abandoned him. Even after the resurrection, they weren't able to understand. It wasn't until Pentecost and the reception of the Holy Spirit that they were able. The steadfast Spirit that we pray for is the Holy Spirit, who teaches us all things.
Let me do it in math:
argument + listener = 0
argument + listener + grace = infinity
Thus the question becomes not "how do we convince," but "how do we help the Spirit?" How do we present God to the world?
I've been thinking about this for a while. Humans seem to be immune to moral argument. This was occasioned by Barack Obama's speech ostensibly asking for dialogue on the issue of abortion. There will be no dialogue, of course, since he himself said that the differences are irreconcilable. They certainly appear to be. But why?
It is puzzling for pro-life people why there has been so little movement. Why don't people change their minds? The science is clear. Ethically, it seems obvious that if man is ever worth protecting under the law, he must be worth it in the womb, since there is no substantial change. If humans acquire dignity as a result of some power of reasoning, then we never acquire dignity at all. I've been over this before, but no one ever seems to be convinced.
Because humans are not entirely rational. We make decisions on the basis of desires and pleasures, and our desires and pleasures and intellect have been disordered by sin. We have trouble thinking clearly, especially when the res is something close to us. We are fallen, and can't think our way up.
But don't just take my word for it. Look at what Plato does in the Republic. He wants to talk about justice, but can't do it, because his audience is not ready. The common wisdom about justice is so faulty that any attempt to reach justice itself is doomed to failure. It is only after the soil is prepared over the whole book that the interlocutors can attempt the ascent out of the cave.
Look at what Aristotle does in the Nichomachean Ethics: he attempts to determine the nature of happiness, and decides that it is good rational activity. Then, he avoids talking about what kind of activity it is, rather spending much time speaking of virtues. But how can one speak of virtues without knowing what they are virtues for? It doesn't make sense, unless he was tailoring the discussion to the audience, only presenting contemplation as true happiness at the end, when presumably they would be more ready to hear it.
But we don't argue that way any more. We don't even argue. There will be no debate on abortion, only soundbites and caricatures. Given the limits of our attention span, how could we convince anyone else of anything important?
I need to think about this more.