Aristotle on Friendship

“For friendship is a virtue, or involves virtue; and also it is one of the most indispensable requirements of life.  For no one would choose to live without friends, but possessing all other good things.  In fact rich men, rulers and potentates are thought especially to require friends, since what would be the good of their prosperity without an outlet for beneficence, which is displayed in its fullest and most praiseworthy form towards friends? and how could such prosperity be safeguarded and preserved without friends? for the greater it is, the greater its insecurity.  And in poverty or any other misfortune men think friends are their only resource.  Friends are an aid to the young, to guard them from error; to the elderly, to tend them, and to supplement their failing powers of actions; to those in the prime of life, to assist them in noble deeds.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics VIII. i.1.


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A Medieval Palm Sunday Sermon

“[Christ] having entered the battle, had nails affixed to his feet as shin guards, He held a reed in [his] hand for a lance, [his] hands were affixed with nails for a sword.  He had the cross for a shield, for a breastplate [He had] flowing blood on [his] entire body, [He had] a scarlet cloak for a soldier’s tunic and crown of thorns for a helmet. Indeed, conversely, the devil had as a shield, infidelity, for a helmet, pride, for a lance, wicked suggestion, for a sword the power of ruler, for a breastplate, the mob of the disloyal.  Thus, therefore, [Christ] not armed in his hand, but affixed with nails, defeated the armed strong one, and lead away his spoils, liberated his own from the prison, and thus ascending into heaven he lead captivity captive.”   Alan of Lille, De ramis palmarum in Alain de Lille, Textes inédites. ed. Marie-Thérèse d’Alverny. Études de philosophe medievale 12 (Paris 1965), p. 248. [My translation]        

In this Palm Sunday sermon, Alan of Lille, a late twelfth-century preacher and theologian in medieval France, compared Christ to a warrior who defeated the devil and sin on the cross.  He imagined that the devil had taken the castle of humanity through the temptation of Eve and Adam’s original sin and vice.  Therefore, Christ came to the castle of the Virgin Mary, fortified by her virtues, and became a human being.  Thereby, He could overcome the devil through His Passion as described above.  Having won the battle for redemption, Christ ascended into heaven and left believers as castles of virtue to resist sin and the devil through chastity of mind and body.  Alan exhorted his hearers in the following manner:

“Let us spread our clothing on the road, by punishing our bodies through abstinence, by preparing the way for Him, who is the Truth and the Life.  Let us exclaim with mind, mouth, and action: ‘Hosanna in the highest’ so that Jesus Christ might deign to save us, not in low places of earthly places, but in the heights of the heavenly places, not in the greeting of the left, but of the right, so that the Blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord may deign to bless us, in the present by keeping us in grace, [and] in the future by crowning us in glory.” Ibid., p. 249.





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The Assassination of Julius Caesar

But when, after taking his seat, Caesar continued to repulse their petitions, and, as they pressed upon him with greater importunity, began to show anger towards one and another of them, Tullius seized his toga with both hands and pulled it down from his neck. This was the signal for the assault. It was Casca who gave him the first blow with his dagger, in the neck, not a mortal wound, nor even a deep one, for which he was too much confused, as was natural at the beginning of a deed of great daring; so that Caesar turned about, grasped the knife, and held it fast. At almost the same instant both cried out, the smitten man in Latin: “Accursed Casca, what does thou?” and the smiter, in Greek, to his brother: “Brother, help!”

So the affair began, and those who were not privy to the plot were filled with consternation and horror at what was going on; they dared not fly, nor go to Caesar’s help, nay, nor even utter a word.  But those who had prepared themselves for the murder bared each of them his dagger, and Caesar, hemmed in on all sides, whichever way he turned confronting blows of weapons aimed at his face and eyes, driven hither and thither like a wild beast, was entangled in the hands of all; for all had to take part in the sacrifice and taste of the slaughter. Therefore Brutus also gave him one blow in the groin.  And it is said by some writers that although Caesar defended himself against the rest and darted this way and that and cried aloud, when he saw that Brutus had drawn his dagger, he pulled his toga down over his head and sank, either by chance or because pushed there by his murderers, against the pedestal on which the statue of Pompey stood.   And the pedestal was drenched with his blood, so that one might have thought that Pompey himself was presiding over this vengeance upon his enemy, who now lay prostrate at his feet, quivering from a multitude of wounds.  For it is said that he received twenty-three; and many of the conspirators were wounded by one another, as they struggled to plant all those blows in one body.  Plutarch, Life of Caesar 66. Loeb Classical Library VII, pp. 599-601.*.html

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History and the Truth

“Now in other spheres of human life we should perhaps not rule out such partiality.  A good man ought to love his friends and his country, and should share both their hatreds and their loyalties. But once a man takes up the role of the historian he must discard all considerations of this kind.  He will often have to speak well of his enemies and even award them the highest praise should their actions demand this, and on the other hand criticize and find fault with his friends, however close they may be, if their errors of conduct show that this is his duty.  For just as a living creature, if it is deprived of its eyesight, is rendered completely helpless, so if history is deprived of the truth, we are left with nothing but an idle, unprofitable tale.  We must therefore not shrink from accusing our friends or praising our enemies, nor need we be afraid of praising or blaming the same people at different times, since it is impossible that men who are engaged in public affairs should always be in the right, and unlikely that they should always be in the wrong.  We must detach ourselves from the actors in our story, and apply to them only such statements and judgements [sic] as their conduct deserves.” Polybius, Histories I. 14. in The Rise of the Roman Empire, trans. Ian Scott-Kilvert (London 1979), p. 55. [Emphasis added]



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Reason and Wisdom

“The creature of foresight, wisdom, variety, keenness, memory, endowed with reason and judgement, which we call man, was created by the supreme god to enjoy a remarkable status.  Of all the types and species of living creatures he is the only one that participates in reason and reflection, whereas none of the others do.  What is there, I will not say in man, but in the whole of heaven and earth, more divine than reason (a faculty which, when it has developed and become complete, is rightly called wisdom)?” Marcus T. Cicero, The Laws 1. 50. in  The Republic and The Laws, trans. Niall Rudd (Oxford 1998), p. 104-05.

In this text Cicero follows a common theme: the intellectual ability of human beings.  According to him, God created man to share part of the divine nature.  In this context, reason allows humanity to have a special relationship with God and to establish just laws. Ultimately, the nature of reason allows men and women to practice virtue and thus strive for moral perfection.  Cicero concluded:

“Since, then, there is nothing better than reason, and reason is present in both man and God, there is a primordial partnership in reason between man and God.  But those who share reason also share right reason; and since that is law, we men must also be thought of as partners with the gods in law.  Furthermore, those who share law share justice.  Now those who share all these things must be regarded as belonging to the same state; and much the more so if they obey the same powers and authorities.  And they do in fact obey this celestial system, the divine mind, and the all-powerful god.  Hence the whole universe must be thought of as a single community shared by gods and men.” Ibid., 105.


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The Suffering of the Blessed Virgin

“Therefore, this holy Virgin was a true martyr during these three days, and they were much harder for her than the external pain and torture was for any other saint.  She was in anxiety because of her Son that she could not have suffered a more bitter hell.  The greatest torture and grief, beyond all suffering, is when the heart is assailed and tormented.  Other sufferings that happen to the body are all the more bearable; the heart can even be joyful in such things when it despises all external suffering, as we read about St. Agnes and other martyrs.  This is a beautiful division and only half the suffering, since it happens only to the body, but the heart and soul remain full of joy.  But when the heart alone carries it, then only great and high spirits, with special grace and strength added, can endure it.” Martin Luther, “Sermon for the Gospel for the First Sunday after Epiphany,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 76, p. 197. [Emphasis added]

In this sermon Martin Luther used a medieval understanding of the Blessed Virgin’s ‘martyrdom’ and suffering with her Son at the cross. Luther described her as a ‘true martyr,’ since she suffered emotional distress while looking for her Son when he remained in Jerusalem in His Father’s house (the Temple).  Medieval theologians explained how Mary was greater than a martyr because she suffered in her spirit and not her body as martyrs did.*  Here Luther followed this tradition to explain how internal (emotional) pain and anxiety often brings greater suffering than bodily affliction.  He often described spiritual torment, temptation, and anxiety (Anfechtung) as a central part of the Christian’s life with the crucified Christ. (See Luther on Spiritual Anguish)

*On this medieval exegetical tradition see Rachel Fulton [Brown], From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200 (New York 2002), 262, 425-26, 452, 454.

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God-given Rights

“All men are made in the image of God. All men are brothers. All men are created equal. Every man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth. Every man has rights that are neither conferred by, nor derived from the State–they are God-given. Out of one blood, God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. What a marvelous foundation for any home! What a glorious and healthy place to inhabit. But America’s strayed away, and this unnatural excursion has brought only confusion and bewilderment. It has left hearts aching with guilt and minds distorted with irrationality.” Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.” April 30, 1967, Riverside Church, New York. [Emphasis added]   Source: MLK’s Sermon On Vietnam War     To listen to this sermon: Audio of MLK’s Sermon

In this significant sermon, Dr. King explained why he opposed the American intervention in Vietnam.  This section demonstrates that his ideas rested on his specific religious beliefs.  Immediately preceding this quote, King explained the link between racism and militarism and exhorted Americans to return to  “our Judeo-Christian heritage.”  King understood the war in Vietnam to be contrary to that heritage.  I have written how Dr. King followed the Christian tradition when he resisted unjust laws:  MLK on Divine Law

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The Exercise of the Mind

“I think to myself how many men exercise their bodies, and how few their intellects; what a great gathering there is to see an unreliable show put on in play, and what a great isolation around the noble arts; how weak in mind are the fellows whose arms and muscles we admire.  And I am brooding in particular over the question: if the body can be led on by exercise to such endurance that it will bear the fists and kicks of more than one opponent, endurance in which a man spends the day suffering the most burning sun in scorching dust and soaked in his own blood.  How much more easily the mind could be strengthened to take the blows of Fortune unbeaten, to rise when cast down and trampled on.  For the body needs many things to be strong, whereas the mind grows from itself, feeds itself, and exercises itself.  They need great quantities of food and drink and great quantities of oil and finally prolonged effort.  Virtue will come to you and without equipment or expense.  Whatever can make you a good man is there in you.” Seneca, Letter 80 in Seneca: Selected Letters, trans. Elaine Fantham (Oxford 2010), p. 142. [Emphasis added]

In this letter Seneca compares and contrasts the exercise of the body for the physical exercise of boxing-match with the exercise of the mind through study of the arts.  While the former prepares one to physically defeat an opponent, the latter trains the soul toward virtue.  If an athlete can train his body to perform in physical contests under difficult circumstances, the intellectual may exercise her mind through the noble arts to overcome Fortune’s blows.  For Seneca, in this manner, the anyone could attain true freedom thought virtue.

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Who Can Marvel Enough?

“An angel announces, power overshadows, and the Spirit startles; the Virgin believes, by faith the Virgin conceives, the Virgin gives birth, the Virgin remains a virgin: who would not marvel? Then is the Son of the Most High born, God, begotten of God before all ages.  The Word is born as a baby: who can marvel enough?” Bernard of Clairvaux, “On the Proclamation of the Lord’s Birth,” in Sermons for Advent and the Christmas Season, trans. Irene Edmonds, Wendy Mary Becket, Conrad Greenia; ed. John Leinenweber (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 2007), pp. 44-45.           

In this beautiful sermon for Christmas Eve, Bernard of Clairvaux praises the miraculous manner of Christ’s conception and birth as the Word made flesh.  However, the great abbot does not simply praise the miracle but explains its significance for his hearers (or readers):

“Jesus is born: let them rejoice, all those whose consciousness of sins used to judge them liable to perpetual damnation! The loving-kindness of Jesus far outweighs the extent and number of offenses.  Christ is born! Let them be glad, those assailed by long-ingrained vices! In the presence of Christ’s anointing not one single disease of the soul, however deep-seated, can hold its ground.  The Son of God is born! Let them exult, those wont to desire great things, because a great benefactor has come.” Ibid., 46.

The image to the right is Stammheim Missal at the Getty Museum, Ms. 64, fol. 92.






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Luther on Becoming a Theologian

“If anybody wishes to become a theologian, he has a great advantage, first of all, in having the Bible.  This is now so clear that he can read it without any trouble.  Afterward he should read Philip’s Loci Communes.  This he should read diligently and well, until he has its contents fixed in his head.  If he has these two he is a theologian, and neither the devil nor a heretic can shake him.  The whole of theology is open to him, and afterward he can read whatever he wishes for edification.  If he wishes, he can read, in addition, Melanchthon’s Romans and my Galatians and Deuteronomy. These will give him the art of speaking and a copious vocabulary.” Martin Luther, “Table Talk no. 5511,” Luther’s Works, volume 54, pp. 439-440.   

In this record of his table discussion in 1542-43, Dr. Martin Luther set forth the books needed to study theology.  First, he advised the theology student to read the Bible, which one could read in various languages, including Luther’s own German translation.  Second, Luther wanted students to read the first major textbook of Lutheran theology: Philip Melanchthon’s Loci Communes, often translated as Theological Commonplaces.  First published in 1521, Melanchthon published later editions, particularly in 1543.  Luther praised this text in the following manner:

“There’s no book under the sun in which the whole of theology is so compactly presented as in the Loci Communes.  If you read all the fathers and the sententiaries you have nothing.  No better book has been written after the Holy Scripture than Philip’s.  He expresses himself more concisely than I do when he argues and instructs.  I’m garrulous and more rhetorical.” Ibid., 440.

When Luther mentions the fathers he usually means the early Christian theologians to the early 6th century.  While the “sententiaries” refers to the many late medieval commentators on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, the text upon which all Western theological rested from the late 12th century to the early 16th centuries.  Luther’s theology of justification by faith in Christ alone began as rejection of these late medieval scholastics’ theology of salvation.


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