A Florilegium on Education

General Apothegms

Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. [They change their sky, not their soul, who rush across the sea.]

— Horace, Epistle 1.11.27

There is a cosmos for man only when the universe becomes a home for him with a holy hearth where he sacrifices; and there is eros for him only when beings become for him images of the eternal, and community with them becomes revelation; and there is logos for him only when he addresses the mystery with works and services of the spirit.

— Martin Buber, I and Thou (1923)

Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea.

— Elder Sophrony of Essex

When al our bokes ben forth brouht, / And al our craft of clergye, / And al our wittes ben thorwout sought, / Yit we fareth as a fantasye.

— 14th century poem

Once the soul has been struck by the fiery arrow of knowledge, it can never again sink into leisure and take its rest, but it will always be called onward from the good to the better and from the better to the higher.

— Origen, Homily on Numbers

The idea of community loyalty removes the whole glamour of ambition from education, and it makes education a desperate undertaking. If you’re trying to teach people to maintain the indispensable things of human culture, you know immediately that it’s a desperate business. You’ve got to teach like fury. Most teachers now don’t want to teach very hard. So they learn to teach literature, for instance, as if it were simply a matter of curiosity—what people thought in other, less enlightened historical periods.

— Wendell Berry

Omnia disce, postea videbis nihil esse superfluum. [Learn everything; you will see afterwards that nothing is superfluous.]

— Hugh of St Victor, Didascalicon 6.3

Nemo intrat in caelum nisi per philosophiam. [No one enters heaven unless through philosophy.]

— John Scotus Eriugena, Annotationes in Martianum Capellam

Philosophy is properly Home-sickness; the wish to be everywhere at home.

— Novalis

Where there are no gods, phantoms rule.

— Novalis, “Christianity or Europe”

The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.

— G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography

Those who pursue philosophy aright study nothing but dying and being dead.

— Plato, Phaedo

Habits of Study

Read not much at a time; but meditate as much as your time, and capacity, and disposition will give you leave: ever remembering, that little reading, and much thinking; little speaking, and much hearing; frequent and short prayers, and great devotion, is the best way to be wise, to be holy, to be devout.

— Jeremy Taylor, The Golden Grove (1655)

Before I began the study of Zen, mountains were mountains and waters were waters. When I first achieved some insight into the truth of Zen through the benevolence of my teacher, mountains were no longer mountains and waters no longer waters. But now that I’ve attained full enlightenment, I’m at rest, and mountains are once again mountains and waters are waters.

— Qingyuan

Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train. Above all, enter into the Church’s liturgy and make the liturgical cycle part of your life—let its rhythm work its way into your body and soul.

— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realisation that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable towards God. The quality of attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it. It is the highest part of the attention only which makes contact with God, when prayer is intense and pure enough for such a contact to be established; but the whole attention is turned towards God.

— Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” (1942)

A person cannot grasp things. Be patient and things will grasp you.

— Henry Suso, The Life of the Servant

What use after all is hidden wisdom or buried treasure? …Is there any difference between common stones and jewels if they are not displayed to the light? It is the same with learning; when one shows it to others it bears increase.

— Hildebert of Lavardin, letter to William of Champeaux

Accurate reading on a wide range of subjects makes the scholar; careful selection of the better makes the saint. [Exquisita lectio singulorum, doctissimum; cauta electio meliorum, optimum facit.]

— John of Salisbury, Policraticus (1159)

The good student, then, ought to be humble and docile, free alike from vain cares and from sensual indulgences, diligent and zealous to learn willingly from all, to presume never upon his own knowledge, to shun the authors of perverse doctrine as if they were poison, to consider a matter thoroughly and at length before judging of it, to seek to be learned rather than merely to seem so, to love such words of the wise as he has grasped, and ever to hold those words before his gaze as the very mirror of his countenance.

— Hugh of St Victor, Didascalicon

Do not hurry too much, therefore; in this way you will come more quickly to wisdom. Gladly learn from all what you do not know, for humility can make you a sharer in the special gift which natural endowment has given to every man. You will be wiser than all if you are willing to learn from all.

— Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon 3.13

Therefore to the cry of prayer through Christ crucified, by Whose blood we are purged of the filth of vice, do I first invite the reader, lest perchance he should believe that it suffices to read without unction, speculate without devotion, investigate without wonder, examine without exultation, work without piety, know without love, understand without humility, be zealous without divine grace, see without wisdom divinely inspired.

— St Bonaventure, The Mind’s Road to God (prologue)

Virtue and Vice

It is just because the feelings that I most desire to cultivate in your minds are those of reverence and admiration, that I am so earnest to prevent you from being moved to either by trivial or false semblances. This is the thing which I KNOW—and which, if you labour faithfully, you shall know also,—that in Reverence is the chief joy and power of life;—Reverence, for what is pure and bright in your own youth; for what is true and tried in the age of others; for all that is gracious among the living,—great among the dead,—and marvellous, in the Powers that cannot die.

— John Ruskin, Lecture II on Art: “The Relation of Art to Religion” (1870)

If we there have seen power, let us bring the light of divine fear; if we there have seen wisdom let us bring the light of truth; if we there have seen mercy, let us bring the light of love. Power excites the torpid to fear; wisdom illuminates those blinded by the shadows of ignorance; mercy enflames the frigid by the warmth of love.

— Hugh of St Victor, De tribus diebus/On the Three Days

A sin that bequeathes humiliation and extreme need is better than an act of virtue that bequeathes self-infatuation and pride.

— Ibn Ata’allah, the Aphorisms

Amid the green peace, amid the rightness of nature, the violence of a lie stands out. It is so utterly wrong, a violation of the rightness of the logos. A lie is at the root of all mental distress, the discord between what humans know and what they say, or more deeply, between what humans know and what they dare to admit to themselves. A century ago, Borden Parker Bowne listed the need for truth as one of the most elementary human needs. Today, that may seem quaint. We have become accustomed to living in a world of make-believe, of artifacts masquerading as physical objects—the paper flowers pretending to be living plants, the plastic furniture pretending to be wood, the robots pretending to be humans—and humans pretending to be robots. Yet through the ages humans have known that there is no condition more basic to authentic humanity than to live in truth.

― Erazim V. Kohák, The Embers and the Stars

One sin… breeds a long parenthesis in the fruition of our joys.

— Thomas Traherne, Centuries 3.51

Love is a Phoenix that will revive in its own ashes, inherit death, and smell sweetly in the grave.

— Thomas Traherne, Centuries 4.61

If we want the divine word to ring clear, our tongue is not to leave off being human. What is human is not swept away by divine inspiration, it is only transfigured.

— Georges Florovsky, “Revelation and Interpretation”

Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer…. Cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one glow or beauty and never cease chiseling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendor of virtue.

— Plotinus, Enneads I.6.9

A thought that is almost beautiful—a thought that you speak not, but that you cherish within you at this moment, will irradiate you as though you were a transparent vase.

— Maurice Maeterlinck, “The Inner Beauty”

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts…. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

— Aldo Leopold

Abba Daniel used to tell how when Abba Arsenius learned that all the varieties of fruit were ripe he would say, “Bring me some.” He would taste a very little of each, just once, giving thanks to God.

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The way to secure, uninterrupted prayer is… to make [your] life one long prayer by works acceptable to God and always done to His glory.

— Hilary of Poitiers, Homily on Psalm I.12

A despondent person hates precisely what is available, and desires what is not available.

— Evagrius Ponticus

God loveth men not less than he loveth Himself. If thou really lovest thyself, then lovest all men as thyself; as long as thou lovest anyone less than thyself, thou dost not really love thyself.

— Meister Eckhart, Sermon IV

One of the elders said: Either fly as far as you can from men, or else, laughing at the world and the men who are in it, make yourself a fool in many things.

Some Sayings of the Desert Fathers CXXIX

Creative freedom is impossible without… self-renunciation. It is the law of the spiritual life: the seed is not quickened unless it dies. Renunciation implies an overcoming of one’s limitations and partiality, an absolute surrender to the Truth. It does not mean: first renunciation, then freedom. Humility is itself freedom. Ascetic renunciation unfetters the spirit, releases the soul.

— Georges Florovsky

Imaginary evil is romantic & varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.

— Simone Weil

The man who cries out against evil men but does not pray for them will never know the grace of God.

— St. Silouan

As God can only be seen by His own light, so He can only be loved by His own love. The merely natural man is incapable of this, because nature by itself is incapable of responding to the Divine Love and is confined within its own circle. Therefore it is necessary for Grace, which is a simple supernatural power, to elevate the natural faculties to union in God above the merely temporal objects of existence. The possibility of love to God is grounded in the relative likeness between man and God. If the soul is to reach its moral goal, i.e. Godlikeness, it must become inwardly like God through grace, and a spiritual birth which is the spring of true morality. The inner work that man has to do is the practical realization of Grace: without this, all outward work is ineffectual for salvation. Virtue is never mere virtue, it is either from God, or through God, or in God. All the soul’s works which are to inherit an everlasting recompense must be carried on in God. They are rewarded by Him in proportion as they are carried on in Him, for the soul is an instrument of God whereby He carries on His work.

— Meister Eckhart

The false, aberrant use of our faculty of love becomes the principle and foundation of an evil life.

— Gregory of Nyssa, Eighth Homily on Ecclesiastes

When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert, he was beset by akēdeia [sloth] and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, ‘Lord, I want to be saved, but these thoughts do not leave me alone. What shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?’ A short while afterward, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, ‘Do this, and you will be saved.’ At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this and was saved.

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The disinterested, selfless contemplation of things and people can be a source of incomparable delight; but we are constantly cheated of this enjoyment by our own selfcentred acquisitiveness. So long as we are concerned to get or keep a person’s favour, or his good opinion, instead of caring for the person himself, there is a poison in our liking: and it is the same with inanimate objects; so long as the fact of having them for ourselves means anything to us, there is a poison in the owning. Possession defeats itself. But the more we learn to see everything about us as so many wonderful presents, and freely give God thanks for it all without thought of private gain, so much the greater will be our enjoyment. This kind of poverty is not a special vocation; it is the universal Christian attitude.

— Jean Danielou, The Lord of History

Knowledge of God

“Concepts create images of God, wonder alone grasps something,” confessed St. Gregory. For the Fathers, the word God is a vocative addressed to the Ineffable.

— Paul Evdokimov, The Struggle With God

Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one. I do not see how the “fear” of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags. And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.

— C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

For the purpose of God whereby He made man not to perish but to live for ever, stands immovable. And when His goodness sees in us even the very smallest spark of good will shining forth, which He Himself has struck as it were out of the hard flints of our hearts, He fans and fosters it and nurses it with His breath, as He ‘wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,’ for as He says, ‘it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish’ …and again the Lord vouchsafes to bring upon us even against our will, like some most beneficent physician, for our good what we think is opposed to it, and sometimes He delays and hinders our injurious purposes and deadly attempts from having their horrible effects, and, while we are rushing headlong towards death, draws us back to salvation, and rescues us without our knowing it from the jaws of hell.

— St. John Cassian, Conference 13

The repentance of fear is caused by the vision of God’s Majesty (jalal), while the repentance of shame is caused by the vision of God’s Beauty (jamal).

— Hujwiri

Everything that the Real has given you (both) in this world and the next, of goodness and blessings, is small in relation to what He has (fa huwa qalil bi nisbati ilā mā ‘indahu), for what He has is infinite. Everything that comes your way from what is with Him is finite, through its transmission into existence (bi tahsilihi fi-l wujud). The relation of what is finite to what is infinite is unimaginably small, just as Khidr said to Moses when a bird dipped its beak into the ocean to drink from its water. He compared it to the knowledge they had in relation to the infinite oceanic vastness of God’s knowledge…. God said “He is satisfied with them” for a small act of piety “and they are satisfied with Him” (5:119) for a small reward. This is because it is not possible to obtain that which is infinite in existence, precisely because it is infinite. Thus we say that rida (satisfaction) is connected to what is small—it is satisfaction with what is present (mawjūd). One is satisfied with it, having come from God, and with God for it.

— Ibn Arabi, Meccan Revelations

If you wish to draw near to God, you must seek God in the hearts of others. You should speak well of all, whether present or absent. If you seek to be a light to guide others, then like the sun, you must show the same face to all. To bring joy to a single heart is better than to build many houses of worship… The true man of God sits in the midst of his fellowmen, and rises up and eats and sleep and buys and sells and gives and takes in the bazaars, and marries and has social intercourse with others, and yet is never for one moment forgetful of God.

–– Abu Said

This Reality [of Love] is a pearl in the shell, and the shell is in the depths of the ocean. Knowledge can advance only as far as the seashore; how could it possibly reach the depths? However, once knowledge is drowned, then certainty turns into belief…. That belief is the diver in this ocean. The pearl may fall into the diver’s hand, or (it might be said) the diver may fall into the pearl’s hand.

— Al-Ghazali, Sawanih 4.4-5

Theology at its most authentic is not a fortress of ideas, but more like a path across a landscape, a route map, or a system of signposts. It is intrinsically mystical, it is of the spirit not the letter.

— Stratford Caldecott

If the visible light is intangible, how can hidden Light be comprehended?

— St Ephraim the Syrian

O Mystery Deep, inscrutable, without beginning. Thou hast decked thy supernatural realm as a chamber unto the light unapproachable and hast adorned with splendid glory the ranks of thy fiery spirits.

Khorurd Khorin, Armenian liturgical hymn

“After this manner,” he taught his disciples, even while he was upon earth, “pray ye, Our Father which art in Heaven.” As if he had said, Do not think that I am come to make your thoughts of God less awful than those of Moses were, when he put his shoes off his feet and durst not behold; than Solomon’s were, when he said, “He is in Heaven and thou upon earth, therefore let thy words be few.” The revelation of the divine mystery in me is not given that you may entertain it better in your low carnal hearts, that you may mingle it more with the things which you see and handle; that each of you may have a warrant for the form of idolatry which is dear to him. This revelation is given that the mystery may be no longer one of darkness, but of perfect light: light which you will enter into more and more as your eyes are purged; but which, if it colour the mists of earth for a moment, will at last scatter them altogether.

— Frederick Denison Maurice, The Prayer-Book and The Lord’s Prayer (1880)

Thus it has been determined that [the Necessary Being] has no second in Being and that every perfection of being is a sprinkling of His Perfection, every good a glimmering from the radiant Light of His Beauty. For He is the Source of Being, and everything else is subordinate to Him, dependent on Him for the substantiation of its essence.

— Mulla Sadra, The Wisdom of the Throne

In this wild mountain region of the “where” beyond God there is an abyss full of play and feeling for all pure spirits, and the spirit enters into this secret namelessness (of God) and into this wild, foreign, terrain. This is a deep, bottomless abyss for all creatures and is intelligible to God alone. It is hidden from everything that is not God, except for those with whom he wants to share himself. And even these must seek him with detachment and in some manner must know as he knows.

— Henry Suso, The Life of the Servant

Deus est tenebra in anima post omnem lucem relicta. [God: the darkness remaining in the soul after every light.]

The Book of the Twenty-Four Philosophers 21

Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836)

Then He said to me, “Enter the pavilion and its fire will revert to light. Enter the flames and it will turn into Paradise. Do not enter a place except through Me and do not seek anything but me.”

— Ibn Arabi, Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries XIV

He is the Cause of all love and is diffused through all things and gathers all things together into one and involves them in Himself in an ineffable Return, and brings to an end in Himself the motions of love of the whole creature.

— John Scotus Eriugena, Periphyseon I 519D-520A

Si comprehendis, non est deus. [If you understand, it is not God.]

— saying derived from Pseudo-Dionysius

Human folly does not see the wonder lying behind appearances but admires what it beholds. Since our senses operate in a temporal and transitory medium, we learn through [Wisdom’s] noble voice that the person who sees these things sees nothing. But the person guided through such temporalities to an understanding of him who exists, grasps the constancy of [God’s] nature through transitory reality, sees with his mind him who is always the same, beholds the true good and possesses what he sees, for knowledge is the possession of this good.

— St. Gregory of Nyssa, 1st Homily on Ecclesiastes

Everywhere we seek the Absolute, and always we find only things.

— Novalis, Blüthenstaub

Make yourself a simpleton and follow the saint: You will find salvation only by being a simpleton. Hence, oh father, that king of men, the Prophet said, “Most of the people of Paradise are simpletons.” Since cleverness is your pride, become a simpleton so that your heart may remain healthy. Not a simpleton warped by buffoonery, but one distraught and bewildered in God.

— Rumi, Mathnavi

While the radiance of the mind is still all around us, when it pours as it were a noonday beam into the whole soul, we are self-contained, not possessed. But when it comes to its setting, naturally ecstasy and divine possession and madness fall upon us. For when the light of God shines, the human light sets; when the divine light sets, the human dawns and rises.

— Philo, Quis rerum divinarum heres sit

Compared to the forms man will see after death, the forms he sees in this world are like dreams. This is why the Commander of the truly faithful (the Imam Ali)—Peace be upon him!—said: “Mankind are sleeping; when they die, they awaken.” Then the Unseen becomes directly visible, and Knowledge becomes immediate vision. This is the secret of the “Return” and the resurrection of the body.

— Mulla Sadra, The Wisdom of the Throne II.6

Knowledge of the Spirit as the Comforter, the joy of the Comforter makes golden only the highest points of sorrow. Just as the roses of the sun that has become fatigued in the course of the day smile on the snowy peaks of the Caucasus. Only at the end of the path of thorns can we see the rosy clouds of purified creation and the snowy-white radiance of holy, transfigured flesh.

— Pavel Florensky, The Ground and Pillar of the Truth VI, p. 81

And he who hears the Word, knows that he hears the Father; as he who is irradiated by the radiance, knows that he is enlightened by the sun.

— Athanasius, Against Arians 3.14

Do not roam about searching for God, but sit calmly at home, and God, who is everywhere, and not confined in the smallest place like the daemons, will come to you. And being calm in body, also calm your passions, desire and pleasure and anger and grief and the twelve portions of death. In this way, taking control of yourself, you will summon the divine [to come] to you, and truly it will come, that which is everywhere and nowhere.

— Zosimus of Panopolis

When the soul begins again to mount, it comes not to something alien but to its very self…. This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, a flight of the alone to the Alone [φυγὴ μόνου πρὸς μόνον].

— Plotinus, Enneads VI.9.11

To see the beauty of the true and intellectual light, each man has need of eyes of his own; and he who by a gift of Divine inspiration can see it retains his ecstasy unexpressed in the depths of his consciousness; while he who sees it not cannot be made to know even the greatness of his loss. How should he? This good escapes his perception, and it cannot be represented to him; it is unspeakable, and cannot be delineated…. Who compares the Sun to a little spark? or the vast Deep to a drop? And that tiny drop and that diminutive spark bear the same relation to the Deep and to the Sun, as any beautiful object of man’s admiration does to that real beauty in the features of the First Good, of which we catch the glimpse beyond any other good.

— St Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity 10

There is but one vehicle on which man’s soul can mount into the heavens, viz. the self-made likeness in himself to the descending Dove, whose wings David the Prophet also longed for…. He therefore who… raises himself on the aforesaid wings above all low earthly ambitions, or, more than that, above the whole universe itself, will be the man to find that which is alone worth loving, and to become himself as beautiful as the Beauty which he has touched and entered, and to be made bright and luminous himself in the communion of the real Light.

— St Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity 11

Our intellect is conjoined with that eternal truth so that it cannot receive anything with certainty except under its guidance. Therefore you can see the truth through yourself, the truth that teaches you, if concupiscence and phantasms do not impede you and place themselves like clouds between you and the rays of truth.

— St Bonaventure, The Mind’s Road to God 3.3

Marvelous then is the blindness of the intellect which does not consider that which is its primary object and without which it can know nothing. But just as the eye intent upon the various differences of the colors does not see the light by which it sees the other things and, if it sees it, does not notice it, so the mind’s eye, intent upon particular and universal beings, does not notice Being itself, which is beyond all genera, though that comes first before the mind and through it all other things. Wherefore it seems very true that just as the bat’s eye behaves in the light, so the eye of the mind behaves before the most obvious things of nature. Because accustomed to the shadows of beings and the phantasms of the sensible world, when it looks upon the light of the highest Being, it seems to see nothing, not understanding that darkness itself is the fullest illumination of the mind, just as when the eye sees pure light it seems to itself to be seeing nothing.

— St Bonaventure, The Mind’s Road to God 5.4

If the soul is to know God, it must know him outside time and place.

God is near us, but we are far from Him.

— Meister Eckhart, Sermon II

The human mind feels shy before a reality of which it can form no proper concept. Such, precisely, is existence. It is hard for us to realize that “I am” is an active verb. It is perhaps still more difficult for us to see that “it is” ultimately points out, not that which the thing is, but the primitive existential act which causes it both to be and to be precisely that which it is. He who begins to see this, however, also begins to grasp the very stuff our universe is made of. He begins obscurely to perceive the supreme cause of such a world.

— Étienne Gilson, God and Philosophy

We pay God honor and reverence, not for His sake (because He is of Himself full of glory to which no creature can add anything), but for our own sake, because by the very fact that we revere and honor God, our mind is subjected to Him; wherein its perfection consists, since a thing is perfected by being subjected to its superior, for instance the body is perfected by being quickened by the soul, and the air by being enlightened by the sun. Now the human mind, in order to be united to God, needs to be guided by the sensible world, since “invisible things… are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,” as the Apostle says (Rom 1:20). Wherefore in the Divine worship it is necessary to make use of corporeal things, that man’s mind may be aroused thereby, as by signs, to the spiritual acts by means of which he is united to God. Therefore the internal acts of religion take precedence of the others and belong to religion essentially, while its external acts are secondary, and subordinate to the internal acts.

— St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 81, a. 7

I am as sure as I live that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my existence depends on the nearness and presence of God.

— Meister Eckhart

Love is the root of all joy and sorrow. Slavish fear of God is to be put away. The right fear is the fear of losing God. If the earth flee downward from heaven, it finds heaven beneath it; if it flee upward, it comes again to heaven. The earth cannot flee from heaven: whether it flee up or down, the heaven rains its influence upon it, and stamps its impress upon it, and makes it fruitful, whether it be willing or not. Thus doth God with men: whoever thinketh to escape Him, flies into His bosom, for every corner is open to Him. God brings forth His Son in thee, whether thou likest it or not, whether thou sleepest or wakest; God worketh His own will. That man is unaware of it, is man’s fault, for his taste is so spoilt by feeding on earthly things that he cannot relish God’s love.

— Meister Eckhart

Though God is wholly simple we must still address him with a multitude of names. Our mind is not able to grasp his essence. We have to start from the things about us, which have diverse perfections though their root and origin in God is one. Because we cannot name objects except in the way we understand them, for words are signs of concepts, we can name God only from the terms employed elsewhere. These are manifold, therefore we must make use of many terms. Were we to see God in himself we would not call on a multitude of words; our knowledge would be as simple as his nature is simple. We look forward to this in the day of our glory; “in that day there shall be one Lord and his name one” (Zach. xiv, 9).

— St. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology 24

Though the splendour of His eternal glory overtax our mind’s best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful. We must in truth confess that God is most beautiful, and that with a beauty which, though it transcend our comprehension, forces itself upon our perception…. His is a greatness too vast for our comprehension but not for our faith. For a reasonable faith is akin to reason and accepts its aid, even though that same reason is not able to cope with the vastness of eternal Omnipotence.

— Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate 1.7-8

Human desire… seeks nothing unless it be the highest good or something which leads to it or something which has some resemblance to it. So great is the force of the highest good that nothing can be loved except through desire for it by a creature which errs and is deceived when it takes truth’s image and likeness for the truth.

— St. Bonaventure, The Mind’s Road to God 3.3

God must be incomprehensible to us precisely because he is creator of all that is and, as Aquinas puts it, outside the order of all beings. God therefore cannot be classified as any kind of being. God cannot be compared to or contrasted with other things in respect of what they are like as dogs can be compared and contrasted with cats and both of them with stones or stars. God is not an inhabitant of the universe; he is the reason why there is a universe at all. God is in everything holding it constantly in existence but he is not located anywhere, nor is what it is to be God located anywhere in logical space. When you have finished classifying and counting all the things in the universe you cannot add: ‘And also there is God.’ When you have finished classifying and counting everything in the universe you have finished, period. There is no God in the world.

— Herbert McCabe

The last proceeding of reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things which are beyond it. It is but feeble if it does not see so far as to know this. But if natural things are beyond it, what will be said of supernatural?

— Pascal

Knowledge of Self

There is the example of the eye, little in comparison to all the members of the body and the pupil itself is small, yet it is a great vessel. For it sees in one flash the sky, stars, sun, moon, cities, and other creatures. Likewise, these things are seen in one flash, they are formed and imaged in the small pupil of the eye. So it is with the mind toward the heart. And the heart itself is but a small vessel, yet there also are dragons and there are lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. And there are rough and uneven roads; there are precipices. But there is also God, also the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the Apostles, the treasures of grace—there are all things.

— Pseudo-Macarius, Homily 43

I saw my lower self in the form of a rat. I asked, “Who are you?” It replied, “I am the destruction of the heedless, for I incite them to wickedness. I am the salvation of the friends of God, for if it were not for me, they would be proud of their purity and their actions. When they see me in themselves, all their pride disappears.”

— Hujwiri, The Unveiling of the Veiled

The moon as it waxes and wanes illustrates the condition of man: sometimes he does what it is right, sometimes he sins and then through repentance returns to a holy life. The intellect (or soul) of one who sins is not destroyed, just as the physical size of the moon does not diminish, but only its light. Through repentance a man regains his true splendour, just as the moon after the period of waning clothes itself once more in its full light.

–– St. John of Karpathos, Philokalia

People cling to their hates so stubbornly because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

— James Baldwin

Every human being is primitively intended to be a self, destined to become himself, and as such every self certainly is angular, but that only means that it is to be ground into shape, not that it is to be ground down smooth, not that it is utterly to abandon being itself out of fear of men, or even simply out of fear of men not to dare to be itself in its more essential contingency (which definitely is not to be ground down smooth), in which a person is still himself for himself. But whereas one kind of despair plunges wildly into the infinite and loses itself, another kind of despair seems to permit itself to be tricked out of its self by ”the others.” Surrounded by hordes of men, absorbed in all sorts of secular matters, more and more shrewd about the ways of the world—such a person forgets himself, forgets his name divinely understood, does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too hazardous to be himself and far easier and safer to be like the others, to become a copy, a number, a mass man.

Now this form of despair goes practically unnoticed in the world. Just by losing himself this way, such a man has gained an increasing capacity for going along superbly in business and social life, indeed, for making a great success in the world. Here there is no delay, no difficulty with his self and its infinitizing; he is as smooth as a rolling stone, as courant [passable] as a circulating coin. He is so far from being regarded as a person in despair that he is just what a human being is supposed to be….

Because a man is in this kind of despair, he can very well live on in temporality, indeed, actually all the better, can appear to be a man, be publicly acclaimed, honored, and esteemed, be absorbed in all the temporal goals. In fact, what is called the secular mentality consists simply of such men who, so to speak, mortgage themselves to the world. They use their capacities, amass money, carry on secular enterprises, calculate shrewdly, etc., perhaps make a name in history, but themselves they are not; spiritually speaking, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self before God—however self-seeking they are otherwise.

— Anti-Climacus/Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death (1849)

Each of us is an allegory, embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life.

— J. R. R. Tolkien, letter to W. H. Auden

The hearts of those plunged in reality are the pulpits of angels and the stomachs of those who take pleasure in carnal desires are the pits of corruptible animals.

— Mulla Sadra, quoted by Rizvi

We are unsubstantiated dreams, impalpable visions, like the flight of a passing bird, like a ship leaving no track upon the sea, a speck of dust, a vapour, an early dew, a flower that quickly blooms and quickly fades.

— Gregory Nazianzen, Orationes 7.19

Man is a shadow’s dream [skias onar], but when [a] god sheds a brightness then shining light is on earth, and life is as sweet as honey.

— Pindar, Pythian 8.95-97

The soul, receiving into itself an outflow from thence, is moved and dances wildly and is all stung with longing and becomes love.

— Plotinus, Enneads IV.7.22

Every great man I have known had something small in his make-up; and it was that small something which prevented inactivity or madness or suicide.

— Khalil Gibran

Language and Epistemology

The problem, it appears to me, is that we are using the wrong language. The language we use to speak of the world and its creatures, including ourselves, has gained a certain analytical power (along with a lot of expertish pomp) but has lost much of its power to designate what is being analyzed or to convey a respect or care or affection or devotion toward it. As a result we have a lot of genuinely concerned people calling upon us to ‘save’ a world which their language simultaneously reduces to an assemblage of perfectly featureless and dispirited ‘ecosystems,’ ‘organisms,’ ‘environments,’ ‘mechanisms,’ and the like. It is impossible to prefigure the salvation of the world in the same language by which the world has been dismembered and defaced.

— Wendell Berry

By now I have learned that philosophers should not eliminate contradictions; indeed they should seek them out, if they are not immediately apparent. Above all I now know that every system has a contradiction within itself, so that finding contradictions is not a defeat, but rather a victory for those who believe that philosophy must constantly remake itself. For philosophy always contains within itself something that is not philosophy, which can never be fully eliminated try as one may. A system must have a contradiction to undermine it, for a system is a structural model which arrests reality for an instant and tries to make it intelligible. But this arrest, necessary for communication, impoverishes the real instead of enriching it. The model is of value only if it stimulates an advance to a new level of understanding of reality, a level on which it then seems inadequate.

— Umberto Eco, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, revised edition preface

The world, a blind power, is too much for us, even for a Napoleon or a Goethe. But the same world, as an object of thought, is a wonderful theme; to understand it, virtually and mythically, as a man may, is the supreme triumph of life over life, the complete catharsis. Nonetheless, from the point of view of the animal in man, the truth remains tragic. An animal can be confident and brave only if he does not know the truth.

— George Santayana, “The Birth of Reason” (1967)

The new [Cartesian and Baconian] methods ensured that truth became something that human beings were able to manipulate by means of proven techniques. As a result, truth was equated with certainty—not the certainty of faith, but the certainty based on a neutral and universally shared human reason. Despite the accomplishments of the Cartesian and Baconian methods, the past fifty years or so have been marked by an amazing decline of confidence in them, and thus a debilitating sense that truth may be inaccessible after all…. [I]t seems clear that… a widespread skeptical relativism has affected Western culture…. Rationality, we have learned from postmodern philosophy, gets shaped by the particularities of time and place, and it is thus very much tradition-dependent; the validity of truth claims is thus limited to particular linguistic communities…. Postmodern skepticism is simply the logical outcome of modern claims of certainty…. Modernity arrived at truth by taking its starting point in “pure nature” (whether that be disembodied mathematical equations or abstract, repeatable experiments). Such a realm of “pure nature” was, in principle, shorn of any connection with the supernatural: the unity of the tapestry had unraveled and finally been cut. Truth, therefore, in the natural realm was forced to stand on its own two feet. The eternal Word of God (the Logos) no longer provided support for human truth claims. As long as the celebration of this independence from God and from the church was in full swing, everything seemed to go along well. In the end, however, a sobering realization set in that a purely natural truth was unable to provide its own support: truth was in need of at least some kind of transcendence to uphold its claims. In other words, postmodern relativism unmasked the vacuity of modern claims of certainty….

Whereas the earlier sacramental symbolism had regarded truth as participation in divine mystery, the new rationalist dialectics maintained that truth meant complete rational comprehension of propositional statements…. I believe it is a propitious time for evangelicals to turn to nouvelle theologie‘s view of truth as a sacramental reality that lies anchored in the truth of the eternal Word of God. The certainty of the Cartesian and Baconian methods may long have held sway in Western culture. More and more, however, evangelicals are realizing that the univocal view of truth implied in this methods is deeply problematic—and most certainly unfitting for theological discourse that aims at the mystery of God. At the same time, it would be a tragic mistake for evangelicals to veer off into the equivocity of postmodern skepticism. A bold retrieval of the Platonist-Christian synthesis offers a genuine way out of the current dilemma evangelicalism faces.

— Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation

All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive.

— G.K. Chesterton, The Thing

It was a medieval commonplace, taken from Aristotle and repeated by Augustine, that the human mind is related to ultimate realities as a bat’s or owl’s eyes are related to the sun; and that we must therefore choose between (a) more perfect (certain) knowledge of less perfect (noble) things—i.e., the human sciences—or (b) less perfect (certain) knowledge of more perfect (noble) things—i.e., theology. The former is more perfect subjectively, the latter is more perfect objectively. The objectively-oriented medieval mind naturally emphasized (b) over (a), while the more subjectively-oriented modern mind naturally emphasizes (a) over (b), because of the subjectively more perfect (certain) nature of this knowledge of human things.

— Peter Kreeft, footnote on the Summa I.I.5

A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.

— G.K. Chesterton, Introduction to The Book of Job

“The Church has never despised pagan teaching, but rather freed it from its errors, perfecting and crowning it in the light of Christian wisdom”…. This formula contains an excellent summary of the Christian position. The spiritual values contained in the pagan religions are not under-estimated; but they need, in the first place, to be purged of error and corruptions, especially idolatry. Conversion therefore always involves an abjuration—there is no gradual evolution from paganism into Christianity. And secondly, Christianity perfects and fulfills, in the light of Christian wisdom, the incomplete truths that are to be found in paganism. It takes over the religious capital of the natural man, and sanctifies it. In the first ages of Christianity, the riches of Greek philosophy were thus purged and assimilated. It may be that in future years Christianity will similarly cleanse and incorporate the treasures of Hindu asceticism and the wisdom of Confucius. The mission of Christianity, rightly understood, involves no destruction of pagan religious values, but liberation and transfiguration. Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfill.

— Jean Danielou, The Lord of History


Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.

— Carl Jung

People now have a painful need to be helped to be still. A church that is too noisy, too caught up in its own busyness, to answer this need is failing deeply.

— Rowan Williams

The kings and dictators and the mighty of the world accomplish their works with great noise, with speeches and drums and loud-speakers and brass and the thunder of bombers. But God works in silence.

— Thomas Merton, “The Waters of Siloe”

This restful travail [of Sabbath] is full far from fleshly idleness and from blind security. It is full of ghostly work, but it is called rest, for grace looseth the heavy yoke of fleshly love from the soul and maketh it mighty and free through the gift of the holy ghostly love for to work gladly, softly, and delectably…. Therefore it is called an holy idleness and a rest most busy; and so it is in stillness from the great crying and the beastly noise of fleshly desires.

— Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection

The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I would reply: Create silence! The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were blazoned forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore create Silence.

— Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations

The third commandment enjoins quietness of heart, tranquility of mind. This is holiness. Because here is the Spirit of God. This is what a true holiday means, quietness and rest. Unquiet people recoil from the Holy Spirit. They love quarreling. They love argument. In their restlessness they do not allow the silence of the Lord’s Sabbath to enter their lives. Against such restlessness we are offered a kind of Sabbath in the heart. As if God were saying ‘Stop being so restless, quieten the uproar in your minds. Let go of the idle fantasies that fly around in your head.’ God is saying, ‘Be still and see that I am God’ (Ps 46).

— St Augustine, Sermon on the Third Commandment

We can live with such clamor, it is true, in spite of what assails nervous systems attuned to the past, but we pay a price, and do so at our peril. I think the loss of quiet in our lives is one of the great tragedies of civilization, and to have known even for a moment the silence of the wilderness is one of our most precious memories.

— Sigurd Olson, Open Horizons

Then He said to me, “Silence is your essential reality. Silence is nothing other than you, although it does not belong to you.”

— Ibn Arabi, Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries V

Love of excitement is so far from being love of beauty, that it always ends in a joy in its exact reverse: joy in destruction.

— John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies 2nd ed. (1865) preface

In limpid souls God beholds his own image; he rests in them and they in him. As I have often said, I like best those things in which I see most clearly the likeness of God. Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.

— Meister Eckhart, Fragments

Someone said to Sisois, “I want to guard my heart.” He said to him, “how can we guard the heart if our tongue leaves the door of the fortress open?”

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Solitude, though it may be silent as light, is, like light, the mightiest of agencies; for solitude is essential to man. All men come into this world alone; all leave it alone.

— Thomas De Quincy, Autobiographical Sketches

Let him to whom the days are dreary and the time too long, return to God in whom there is no duration and where everything comes to rest.

— St Augustine

A solitary, unused to speaking of what he sees and feels, has mental experiences which are at once more intense and less articulate than those of a gregarious man. They are sluggish, yet more wayward, and never without a melancholy tinge. Sights and impressions which others brush aside with a glance, a light comment, a smile, occupy him more than their due; they sink silently in, they take on meaning, they become experience, emotion, adventure. Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous—to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite; to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.

— Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

The use of silence in worship bespeaks the mystical and contemplative dimension of religion: the depth of God experienced as transcending all categorical mediation, beyond our ability to speak and feel…. Religious silence is not simply the absence of sound but is an active attitude of attending to the encounter with the absolute Mystery in Itself, unmediated by creatures. It is a fitting symbol of the reverential awe with which we seek the utterly Holy: God as the One beyond all our concepts, desires, and feelings. Silence is also a language—that of mysticism and interiority. Both word and music occupy the mind and senses; the purpose of silence is to free them from activity and create the space for contemplation.

Even the sublimest music when it attempts to convey the deepest mysteries tends to fade to softness and silence. Silence also permits or even demands a difference kind of personal stance. Singing, speaking, and even listening all imply, to different degrees, a task to be performed: they occupy the mind and sometimes can even distract it from a confrontation with the depths of being by giving it something concrete to do. Silence invites us to contemplation—which is no doubt why reverent silence is difficult to attain, and why so many are uncomfortable with it.

— Richard Viladesau, Theology and the Arts

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, / and the grass grows, by itself.

― Bashō


We must be able to argue that the destruction of the earth’s wild species and pristine places is odious not just for its depriving certain people of recreational opportunities to which they happen to be devoted, nor is it even merely for its decreasing of the aggregate of beauty on the earth, nor for depriving scientists of species to study and pharmacists of pharmaceutical materials. It is, rather, the progressive walling of windows, windows that we did not build and cannot replicate, and that will thus be walled-over forever.

— Bruce Foltz, The Noetics of Nature

A human person requires a cosmos to sustain it: of anyone it is literally true that the whole world is her body, since the light of the sun, and the respiration of algae, are essential to her bodily survival. If there is a human person who is God, then the whole world, centered on that person, is God’s body. As further elements of that one body become obedient to God, the world is healed: we may, bizarrely, speak as if God’s body is at present maimed by human or demonic rebellion. On this account, perhaps, God renews His involvement with the world of finite things by making them His body (as once, before His limbs rebelled, it was). Only because He is more than the cosmos can He heal the cosmos. Incarnation gives us all that honest pantheists can really want: at present we are not God, but hope to join Him.

— Stephen R. L. Clark, God, Religion and Reality

One of the most important questions is the question of the symbol. The entire Medieval world-understanding was symbolic. A symbol can mean any reality that contains in its energy the energy of another reality higher in value and hierarchy; the lower reality is a window into the higher reality, and if the lower reality is destroyed, the light of the higher one fades, not in itself but insofar as the window is closed. This means not that the higher reality has stopped existing, but that the window has been closed. The window is the sensuous thing through which the higher reality is revealed.

The lower receives its name from the higher, and the lower name is in second place according to the hierarchical value of the answer. The lower rebels against the higher. For example, myrrh is both fragrance and Divine Grace, which is inseparably united with the energy of this fragrance. Anointing with it is union with grace, and therefore about myrrh it can be said: “This is Divine Grace.” But someone could object and say “it’s just oil mixed with fragrance!” Formally, that is true; but it is not true metaphysically or ontologically, since in that case the higher value would be destroyed by the lower.

— Pavel Florensky, At the Crossroads of Science and Mysticism, Lecture XIX

In this masse of nature there is a set of things that carry in their front, though not in capitall Letters, yet in Stenography, and short Characters, something of Divinity, which to wiser reasons serve as Luminaries in the abysse of knowledge, and to judicious beliefes, as scales and roundles to mount the pinnacles and highest pieces of Divinity.

— Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (1643)

Thus there are two Books from whence I collect my Divinity; besides that written one of GOD, another of His servant Nature, that universal and publick Manuscript, that lies expans’d unto the Eyes of all: those that never saw Him in the one, have discovered Him in the other. This was the Scripture and Theology of the Heathens: the natural motion of the Sun made them more admire Him than its supernatural station did the Children of Israel; the ordinary effects of Nature wrought more admiration in them than in the other all His Miracles. Surely the Heathens knew better how to joyn and read these mystical Letters than we Christians, who cast a more careless Eye on these common Hieroglyphicks, and disdain to suck Divinity from the flowers of Nature. Nor do I so forget GOD as to adore the name of Nature; which I define not, with the Schools, to be the principle of motion and rest, but that streight and regular line, that settled and constant course the Wisdom of GOD hath ordained the actions of His creatures, according to their several kinds.

— Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (1643)

He that knows the secrets of nature with Albertus Magnus, or the motions of the heavens with Galileo, or the cosmography of the moon with Hevelius, or the body of man with Galen, or the nature of diseases with Hippocrates, or the harmonies in melody with Orpheus, or of poesy with Homer, or of Grammar with Lilly, or of whatever else with the greatest artist; he is nothing, if he knows them merely for talk or idle speculation, or transient and external use. But he that knows them for value, and knows them his own shall profit infinitely…. For God gave man an endless intellect to see all things, and a proneness to covet them, because they are His treasures; and an infinite variety of apprehensions and affections, that he might have an all sufficiency in himself to enjoy them; a curiosity profound and unsatiable to stir him up to look into them: an ambition great and everlasting to carry him to the highest honours, thrones, and dignities: an emulation whereby he might be animated and quickened by all examples, a tenderness and compassion whereby he may be united to all persons, a sympathy and love to virtue; a tenderness of his credit in every soul, that he might delight to be honoured in all persons; an eye to behold Eternity and the omnipresence of God, that he might see Eternity, and dwell within it; a power of admiring, loving, and prizing, that seeing the beauty and goodness of God, he might be united to it for evermore.

— Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations 3.41-42

The entire universe is the true human body.

— Dōgen

To myself, mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenes… They are the cathedrals of the earth. The real majesty of the appearance of [a] thing to us depends upon the degree to which we ourselves possess the power of understanding it—that penetrating, possession-taking power of the imagination, the very life of man considered as a seeing creature…. Examine [as an instance] the nature of your own emotion (if you feel it) at the sight of the Alp, and you will find all the brightness of that emotion hanging, like dew on gossamer, on a curious web of subtle fancy and imperfect knowledge. First, you have a vague idea of its size, coupled with wonder at the work of The Great Builder of its walls and foundations. Then an apprehension of its eternity, a pathetic sense of its perpetualness, and your own transientness, as of the grass on its sides. Then, and in this very sadness, a sense of strange companionship with past generations in seeing what they saw. They did not see the clouds that are floating over your head, nor the cottage wall on the other side of the field, nor the road by which you are traveling. But they saw that! The wall of granite in the heavens was the same to them as to you. They have ceased to look upon it; you will soon cease to look also, and the granite wall will be for others. Then, mingled with these more solemn imaginations, come the understandings of the gifts and glories of the Alps, the fancying forth of all the mountains that well from its rocky walls, and strong rivers that are born out of its ice, and of all the pleasant valleys that wind between its cliffs, and all the chalets that gleam among its clouds, and happy farmsteads couched upon its pastures–while together with the thoughts of these, rise strange sympathies with all the unknown of human life, and happiness, and death, signified by that narrow white flame of the ever-lasting snow, seen so far [away] in the morning sky. These images, and far more than these, lie at the root of the emotion which you feel at the sight of the Alp.

— John Ruskin, Modern Painters IV

Dze-kung asked Confucius, saying, “Allow me to ask the reason why the superior man sets a high value on jade, and but little on soapstone? Is it because jade is rare, and the soapstone plentiful?”

Confucius replied, “It is not because the soapstone is plentiful that he thinks but little of it, and because jade is rare that he sets a high value on it. Anciently superior men found the likeness of all excellent qualities in jade. Soft, smooth, and glossy, it appeared to them like benevolence; fine, compact, and strong,—like intelligence; angular, but not sharp and cutting,—like righteousness; hanging down (in beads) as if it would fall to the ground,—like (the humility of) propriety; when struck, yielding a note, clear and prolonged, yet terminating abruptly,—like music; its flaws not concealing its beauty, nor its beauty concealing its flaws,—like loyalty; with an internal radiance issuing from it on every side,—like good faith; bright as a brilliant rainbow,—like heaven; exquisite and mysterious, appearing in the hills and streams,—like the earth; standing out conspicuous in the symbols of rank,—like virtue; esteemed by all under the sky,—like the path of truth and duty.”

The Book of Rites, trans. James Legge (ch. 45)

It may sound strange to say that “things” preach the dharma or speak the logos. But everything we know of rational order is from things. It is what we hear from things. All our knowledge springs from and returns to the place where, in Bashō’s words, we should “From the pine tree / learn (the koto) of the pine tree, / And from the bamboo / (the koto) of the bamboo.” The pine speaks the koto of the pine tree, the bamboo the koto of the bamboo. Our “knowing” rational order order, or logos, always beings from and ends in the place where things speak of themselves, of their own koto. Its point of departure is where things are on their own homeground, just as they are, manifest in their suchness. For, that things are as they really are and that they speak of their own koto are truly one and the same thing.

— Keiji Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness (p. 195)

Nothing is more hidden than it [ousia], nothing more present, difficult as to where it is, more difficult as to where it is not, an ineffable light ever present to the intellectual eyes of all and known to no intellect as to what it is, diffused through all things to infinity, is made both all things and in all things and nothing in nothing.

— John Scottus Eriugena, Periphyseon III 68B-C

Omnis natura rationem parit, et nihil in universitate infecundum est. [All nature is pregnant with sense, and nothing in all of the universe is sterile.]

— Hugh of St Victor, Didascalicon

[The world reveals itself as] an image and appearing of the invisible light, a very pure mirror, clear, showing a true reflection, immaculate, undarkened, welcoming, if it is proper to speak so: all the splendor of the primal beauty.

— Maximus the Confessor, Mystagogy 23 (cited in Evdokimov, Art of the Icon)

In all things there is a Within, co-extensive with their Without.

— Teilhard de Chardin, Pensées 8

The whole world of images that surrounds us is a single field of significations. Every flower we see is an expression, every landscape has its significance, every human or animal face speaks its wordless language. It would be utterly futile to attempt a transposition of this language into concepts…. This expressive language is addressed primarily, not to conceptual thought, but to the kind of intelligence that perceptively reads the gestalt of things.

— Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic

All teems with symbol [or, is “full of signs”]; the wise man is the man who in any one thing can read another.

— Plotinus, Enneads II.3.7

Of no great truth was the medieval mind more conscious than of Saint Paul’s phrase: videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate, tunc autem facie ad faciem. The Middle Ages never forgot that all things would be absurd, if their meaning were exhausted in their function and their place in the phenomenal world, if by their essence they did not reach into a world beyond this. This idea of a deeper significance in ordinary things is familiar to us as well, independently of religious convictions: as an indefinite feeling which may be called up at any moment, by the sound of raindrops on the leaves or by the lamplight on a table. Such sensations may take the form of a morbid oppression, so that all things seems to be charged with a menace or a riddle which we must solve at any cost. Or they may be experienced as a source of tranquility and assurance, by filling us with the sense that our own life, too, is involved in this hidden meaning of the world.

— Johan Huizinga, quoted by Umberto Eco in Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages

Verily, everything in the universe that is seen to be an object of sense is as an earthen wall, forming in itself a barrier between the narrower souls and that intelligible world which is ready for their contemplation; and it is the earth and water and fire alone that such behold; whence comes each of these elements, in what and by what they are encompassed, such souls because of the narrowness cannot detect.

— St Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection

The heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by Him, in no wise hindering each other. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation. The fruitful earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and beast and all the living beings upon it, never hesitating, nor changing any of the ordinances which He has fixed. The unsearchable places of abysses, and the indescribable arrangements of the lower world, are restrained by the same laws. The vast unmeasurable sea, gathered together by His working into various basins, never passes beyond the bounds placed around it, but does as He has commanded. For He said, “Thus far shalt thou come, and thy waves shall be broken within thee.” The ocean, impassable to man, and the worlds beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, peacefully give place to one another. The winds in their several quarters fulfill, at the proper time, their service without hindrance. The ever-flowing fountains, formed both for enjoyment and health, furnish without fail their breasts for the life of men. The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord. All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassions through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen.

— 1 Clement 20

Not only is there genuine knowledge in faith… but for the same reason there is also a reflection on worldly being in the light of the knowledge of faith. It is a reflection on the ‘image’—and ‘likeness’—character of created being in relation to the divine archtype, which consequently brings to light the watermark of divine love in every single created being and in the totality of nature as a whole. This sign imprinted on nature, however, comes to light only when the sign of absolute love appears: the light of the Cross makes worldly being intelligible, it allows the inchoate forms and ways of love, which others threaten to stray into trackless thickets, to receive a foundation in their true transcendent ground.

— Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible

History and the Historian’s Craft

It is, therefore, a source of great virtue for the practiced mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about invisible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether. The man who finds his homeland sweet is a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; and the perfect man has extinguished his. — Hugh of St Victor

Only by embracing this attitude can a historian begin to grasp human experience and its written records in their diversity and particularity; otherwise he or she will remain committed more to the exclusions and reactions of prejudice than to the freedom that accompanies knowledge. But note that Hugo twice makes it clear that the “strong” or “perfect” man achieves independence and detachment by working through attachments, not by rejecting them. Exile is predicated on the existence of, love for, and bond with, one’s native place; what is true of all exile is not that home and love of home are lost, but that loss is inherent in the very existence of both….

Seeing “the entire world as a foreign land” makes possible originality of vision. Most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that—to borrow a phrase from music—is contrapuntal.

— Edward Said, from Reflections on Exile

Political and Economic Life

Politics is our destiny, a cyclone, in the heart of which we are permanently stuck, even if we shelter in tiny boats of poetry.

— Aleksander Wat

The ultimate expression of this Christian attitude toward the power of money is what we will call profanation. To profane money, like all other powers, is to take away its sacred character…. Giving to God is the act of profanation par excellence…. We need to regain an appreciation of gifts that are not utilitarian. We should meditate on the story in the Gospel of John where Mary wastes precious ointment on Jesus. The one who protests against this free gift is Judas. He would have preferred it to be used for good works, for the poor. He wanted such an enormous sum of money to be spent usefully. Giving to God introduces the useless into the world of efficiency, and this is an essential witness to faith in today’s world.

— Jacques Ellul, Money and Power (1954)

The supreme goal of doing away with the struggle for existence—which was the theoretician’s dream—has not been and cannot be achieved while every man fears every other man.

— Czesław Miłosz, The Captive Mind (1953)

The real power of capitalist modernity is not its money or its weapons; its real power lies in its ability to suffocate all utopias—including the socialist utopia which is the last and most powerful of all—with its liberalism.

— Abdullah Öcalan, Civilization: The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings

Socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society. It is the solution natural to industrial workers who see no reason why production should not be regulated directly and why markets should be more than a useful but subordinate trait in a free society. From the point of the view of the community as a whole, socialism is merely the continuation of that endeavor to make society a distinctively human relationship of persons which in Western Europe was always associated with Christian traditions. From the point of view of the economic system, it is, on the contrary, a radical departure from the immediate past, insofar as it breaks with the attempt to make private money gains the general incentive to productive activities, and does not acknowledge the right of private individuals to dispose of the main instruments of production. This is, ultimately, why the reform of capitalist economy by socialist parties is difficult even when they are determined not to interfere with the property system. For the mere possibility that they might decide to do so undermines that type of confidence which in liberal economy is vital, namely, absolute confidence in the continuity of titles to property. While the actual content of property rights might undergo redefinition at the hands of legislation, assurance of formal continuity is essential to the functioning of the market system.

— Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

— St. Augustine: “The City of God,” Book IV

The presence of a wise population implies the search for felicity as well as for food…. No scene is continuously and untiringly loved, but one rich by joyful human labour; smooth in field; fair in garden; full in orchard; trim, sweet and frequent in homestead; ringing with voices of vivid existence. No air is sweet that is silent; it is only sweet when full of low currents of under sound — triplets of birds, and murmur and chirp of insects, and deep-toned words of men, and wayward trebles of childhood. As the art of life is learned, it will be found at last that all lovely things are also necessary; — the wild flower by the wayside, as well as the tended corn; and the wild birds and creatures of the forest, as well as the tended cattle; because man doth not live by bread only, but also by the desert manna; by every wondrous word and unknowable work of God.

— John Ruskin, Unto This Last (1862)

Whereas formerly it was considered a virtue to be thrifty and content with one’s lot, it is now considered to be the mark of a progressive nation that it is now filled with hustling, go-getting citizens, intent on raising their standard of living. And this is not interpreted to mean merely that a decent sufficiency of food, clothes, and shelter is attainable by all citizens. It means much more and much less than this. It means that every citizen is encouraged to consider more, and more complicated, luxuries necessary to his well-being. The gluttonous consumption of manufactured goods had become, before the war, the prime civic virtue. And why? Because the machines can produce cheaply only if they produce in vast quantities; because unless the machines can produce cheaply nobody can afford to keep them running; and because, unless they are kept running, millions of citizens will be thrown out of employment, and the community will starve…. The sin of Gluttony, of Greed, of overmuch stuffing ourselves, is the sin that has delivered us over into the power of the machine.

— Dorothy Sayers, “The Other Six Deadly Sins”

If anything is certain about the Christian view of economic and political values, it is that these are entirely relative. To treat them as absolute is a form of idolatry. The fundamental mistake in communism is the belief that communism is good and capitalism is evil; and the capitalist’s mistake lies in holding the contrary belief. Collectivism and capitalism are both half-truths. If people understood this, they would not turn policies into ideologies; for there is no such thing as a mystique of politics: mysticism belongs to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. It is the intrusion of mystical attitudes into political questions that leads to fanaticism, and to ideological wars, which are conflicts between false gods. The Christian’s duty is to denounce these group idols. There is no possibility of peace in the world until everyone recognizes that his own way is only a half-truth, so that instead of trying to exterminate other people, he must love them for their share in the truth.

— Jean Daniélou, The Lord of History

Art and Beauty

The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.

— Andrei Tarkovsky

The ambiguity of the great writer creates spaces which we can explore and enjoy because they are openings on to the real world and not formal language games or narrow crevices of personal fantasy; and we do not get tired of great writers, because what is true is interesting.

— Iris Murdoch

We read a good novel not in order to know more people, but in order to know fewer. Instead of the humming swarm of human beings, relatives, customers, servants, postmen, afternoon callers, tradesmen, strangers who tell us the time, strangers who remark on the weather, beggars, waiters, and telegraph-boys—instead of this bewildering human swarm which passes us every day, fiction asks us to follow one figure (say the postman) consistently through his ecstasies and agonies. That is what makes one impatient with that type of pessimistic rebel who is always complaining of the narrowness of his life and demanding a larger sphere. Life is too large for us as it is: we have all too many things to attend to. All true romance is an attempt to simplify it, to cut it down to plainer and more pictorial proportions. What dullness there is in our life arises mostly from its rapidity; people pass us too quickly to show us their interesting side. By the end of the week we have talked to a hundred bores; whereas, if we had stuck to one of them, we might have found ourselves talking to a new friend, or a humorist, or a murderer, or a man who had seen a ghost.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Inside of Life”

But genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will, childhood equipped now with man’s physical means to express itself, and with the analytical mind that enables it to bring order into the sum of experience, involuntarily amassed. […] I was asking you just now to think of M. G. as an eternal convalescent; to complete your idea of him, think of him also as a man-child, as a man possessing at every moment the genius of childhood, in other words a genius for whom no edge of life is blunted.

— Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life”

You confuse two things: solving a problem and stating a problem correctly. It is only the second that is obligatory for the artist. In “Anna Karenin” and “Yevgeny Onegin” not a single problem is solved, but they satisfy you completely because all the problems are correctly stated in them. It is the business of the judge to put the right questions, but the answers must be given by the jury according to their own lights.

— Anton Chekhov, 1888 letter

I consider poetry a source of innocence full of revolutionary forces. It is my mission to direct these forces against a world my conscience cannot accept, precisely so as to bring that world through continual metamorphoses more in harmony with my dreams. I am referring here to a contemporary kind of magic whose mechanism leads to the discovery of our true reality. It is for this reason that I believe, to the point of idealism, that I am moving in a direction which has never been attempted until now. In the hope of obtaining a freedom from all constraint and the justice which could be identified with absolute light, I am an idolater who, without wanting to do so, arrives at Christian sainthood.

— Odysseus Elytis

The eyes stir up the depths of the spirit, and Art can convey by colours the prayers of the soul.

— Agathias

You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method.

The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting

Beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.

— Cyprian Norwid

The poet undoubtedly describes things just as he feels them, he does not describe what he feels about the things.

— Austin Farrer, The Glass of Vision

Literature of a country is not chiefly for home consumption. Its value lies in the fact that it is imperatively necessary for the lands where it is foreign. I think it has been the good fortune of the west to have the opportunity of absorbing the spirit of the East through the medium of the Bible. It has added to the richness of your life because it is alien to your temperament.

— Rabindranath Tagore, letter to Sturge Moore (1914)

I write because poetry beings at the point at which the last word does not belong to death. It is the end of one life and the beginning of another, which is the same as the first life but goes much deeper, to the most extreme point to which the soul has been able to penetrate, to boundaries of the opposites where the Sun and Hades touch each other. It is the endless course towards the natural light that is the Divine Logos, and the uncreated light that is God.

— Odysseas Elytis, quoted in Philip Sherrard, “Odysseus Elytis and the Discovery of Greece”

Beauty is the unique ailment of our soul…. Beauty is the only language of the soul; none other is known to it. It has no other life, it can produce nothing else, in nothing else can it take interest…. Beauty is the only element wherewith the soul is organically connected, and it has no other standard of judgment…. In reality it is beauty that underlies everything, it is beauty alone that exists.

— Maurice Maeterlinck, “The Inner Beauty”

There is nothing intrinsically wrong, Eco suggests, with pure popular entertainment; all of us feel the need to read a James Bond novel or listen to pop music from time to time. The problem is that for most people bad popular entertainment has come to be a major part of their cultural experience, and its effect has been to exercise a strongly reactionary influence. The solution, therefore, is not to raise popular entertainment to the level of art… but to work for forms of entertainment that are “honest.” This means, on the one hand, entertainment that does not have false artistic pretensions; the concept of Kitsch… is defined as nonart that aspires to artistic status by borrowing devices from true artworks, devices that automatically cease to be artistic when they are used outside their original “organic” context. On the other hand, what is more important, “honest” entertainment is that which is ideologically sound, not in the sense of propagating the dogma of a political party, but by virtue of more widely acceptable qualities: because it acknowledges the complexity, the problematic character of the historical circumstances in which we live, because it allows for the possibility of change and serves as a stimulus to reflection and criticism, because it generates a sense of independence and choice instead of conformism and passivity.

— David Robey, introduction to The Open Work by Umberto Eco

To become a piece of Kitsch, a passage needs more than the linguistic factors intrinsic to the message: it also needs the author’s intent to sell it to his audience, and the audience’s intent to appreciate it. Broch is right when he says that Kitsch does not concern art so much as a certain kind of behavior, or a certain kind of person, a ‘Kitsch-man’ who needs such a form of falsehood so that he can recognize himself in it. If we agree with this, then Kitsch will appear as a negative force, a constant mystification, an eternal escape from the responsibilities involved in the experience of art. As the theologian R. Egenter used to say, the Father of Lies would use Kitsch to alienate the masses from all notion of salvation, because he would recognize it as much more powerful, in its mystifying and consoling power, even than scandals, since these have a tendency to awaken the moral defenses of the virtuous at every moment in which they are most effectively attacking them.

— Umberto Eco, The Open Work

It is precisely those artists and writers who are most inclined to think of their art as the manifestation of their personality who are in fact the most in bondage to public taste.

— Simone Weil


It is God who gives thee thy mirror of imagination, and if thou keep it clean, it will give thee back no shadow but of the truth.

— George MacDonald, Salted With Fire

All men, certainly all imaginative men, must be for ever casting forth enchantments, glamours, illusions; and all men, especially tranquil men who have no powerful egotistic life, must be continually passing under their power. Our most elaborate thoughts, elaborate purposes, precise emotions, are often, as I think, not really ours, but have on a sudden come up, as it were, out of hell or down out of heaven. The historian should remember, should he not? angels and devils not less than kings and soldiers, and plotters and thinkers. What matter if the angel or devil, as indeed certain old writers believed, first wrapped itself with an organized shape in some man’s imagination? what matter ‘if God himself only acts or is in existing beings or men,’ as Blake believed? we must none the less admit that invisible beings, far wandering influences, shapes that may have floated from a hermit of the wilderness, brood over council-chambers and studies and battle-fields. We should never be certain that it was not some woman treading in the wine-press who began that subtle change in men’s minds, that powerful movement of thought and imagination about which so many Germans have written; or that the passion, because of which so many countries were given to the sword, did not begin in the mind of some shepherd boy, lighting up his eyes for a moment before it ran upon its way.

— W. B. Yeats, “Magic” (1901)

“What,” it will be Question’d, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight. I look thro’ it & not with it.

— William Blake, “Vision of the Last Judgment”

As far as sense goes, we are solitary or, at the least, alone: that is, we might be the only sentience there is, or else, for each of us, the most important. Of course, we know this is not true… The route to a wider understanding is, in the end, through intellect—which is not to say, through abstract reasoning. It is our intellectual gasp of the real world that shows us the limits of our linear and parochial view—but to reach that intellectual moment (and it is likely only, in this life, to be a moment) we must reorder our imaginings. We imagine what we cannot ourselves sense and seek to bring our limited imaginings into line, as it were, with the universal, to join our center to the center. Because we can imagine ‘being someone else,’ or seeing from another angle, we can begin to form an image of the real things of which our senses give us only partial views.

— Stephen R. L. Clark, Plotinus: Myth, Metaphor, and Philosophical Practice

The waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.

— Heraclitus, Fragment 89

It is bigamy both to love and to dream.

— Odysseas Elytis, “Nephelegeretes” in Maria Nephele

There is a need of an imaginative response to life, a training of the imagination, not merely in a few cases of poetic talent, but as a common function in every member of society. Incalculable harm can be done to men generally by the perversion or deadening of this faculty. When society becomes entirely secular and mechanized, men’s common experience and imaginative furniture becomes secular. Divorced from nature and from a common religious experience, their minds are furnished with a stream of secular images and symbols. As the sensations flow on, the spiritual, creative forces of intellect and will are dulled. Men thus become more easily carried along in the stream of a mechanized external life.

— Sr. Thomas More Stepnowski, O.P