Studies Burdensome to Youth

One may wish to be learned in old age, but it is not easy to achieve this unless we have nurtured learning in ourselves from our earliest years with zealous effort.  So we need to prepare in youth those consolations which can bring delight in honorable old age; studies which are burdensome to youth will be pleasant relaxations to age.  In this sense they are truly great bulwarks, whether we seek a remedy against sloth or solace in the face of worry and care. Piero Paolo Vergerio, “Character and Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth,” in The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be An Educated Human Being, ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington 2007, p. 316. [Emphasis added]

The learning one obtains in youth brings consolation in one’s old age.  This is a reason why memorization at the grammar stage of learning lays the foundation for higher cognitive skills: logic and rhetoric.  In our youth this learning seems like drudgery, but without it no one can read or enjoy philosophy in one’s old age.

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The Happiness of Deceit

“But they say it is an unhappy thought to be deceived.  To this I say no, for the unhappiest thought is not to be deceived.  For those who think that the happiness of a man can be found in things as such could not be further from the truth; this resides in opinion.  For nothing can be clearly known, since human affairs are so obscure and varied, a fact already stated correctly by my colleagues, the least impudent of the known, philosophers.  Or if there is something that can be known, it is usually something that will hinder the enjoyment of life.  Finally, the mind of man is so constructed that it is far more susceptible to accepting falsehoods than realities.” Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, in The Essential Erasmus, trans. John P. Dolan (New York, 1964), 133. [Emphasis added]

Here Erasmus’s personification of Folly describes how most people would prefer to be deceived than to know the truth.  Folly had just described how flattery rules human discourse.  As was often the case, Erasmus used this opportunity to attack bad preachers and theologians. Then, Folly gave an example of how most prefer falsehood to truth:

“If anyone wants to make a convincing and easy test of this, let him go to church and listen to the sermons.  If something worthwhile is being said, everybody sleeps, or yawns, or is ill at ease.  But if the bawler–I made an error, I meant to say prater–as often happens, begins some old wives’ tale, then everybody awakens, straightens up, and listens attentively.” [Ibid.]

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Devout Adoration

“We revere him in the manger, we revere him on the gibbet, we revere him in the tomb.  Devoutly do we acknowledge that he was a tender child for our sake, and blood-stained for our sake; we revere him, pallid for our sake, buried for our sake.  Devoutly do we adore the Saviour’s infancy along with the wise men, devoutly do we embrace him along with the holy Simeon, as we receive your mercy in the midst of your temple.” Bernard of Clairvaux, “On the Lord’s Birthday, Sermon Five” in Sermons for Advent and the Christmas Season  (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 2007), p. 125. [Emphasis added]    

In this sermon for Christmas Day, Bernard of Clairvaux connects Christian devotion to the Christ-child to Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.  This excerpt demonstrates how an increased focus on Christ’s humanity expanded in the 12th century.  With his exhortation to devoutly adore the events in the Christ-child’s life, Bernard sought to inspire devotion to the divine Redeemer of sinful humanity.  Read how he described the Redeemer in his famous Sermon on the Song of Songs:

“How sweet it is to see as man the Creator of humanity.  While he carefully protected nature from sin, he forcefully drove death from that nature also.  In taking a body he stooped to me, in avoiding sin he took counsel with himself, in accepting death he satisfied the Father….He took to himself a true body but only the likeness of sin, giving a sweet consolation to weak men in the one and in the other hiding a trap to deceive the devil.  To reconcile us to the Father he bravely suffered death and conquered it, pouring out his blood as the price of our redemption.” Bernard of Clairvaux, “Sermon 20. 3” in Song of Songs I (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1971), p. 149. [Emphasis added]


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Rhabanus on Rhetoric and Preaching

“According to the statements of teachers, rhetoric is the art of using secular discourse effectively in the circumstances of daily life.  From this definition rhetoric seems indeed to have reference merely to secular wisdom.  Yet is is not foreign to ecclesiastical instruction.  Whatever the preacher and herald of divine law, in his instruction, brings forward in an eloquent and becoming manner; whatever in his written exposition he knows how to clothe in adequate and impressive language, he owes to his acquaintance with this art. Whoever at the proper time makes himself familiar with this art, and faithfully follows its rules in speaking and writing, needs not count it as something blameworthy.  On the contrary, whoever thoroughly learns it so that he acquires the ability to proclaim God’s word, performs a good work.”  Rhabanus Maurus, “Education of the Clergy,” in The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be An Educated Human Being, ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington 2007, p. 252. [Emphasis added] 

Rhabanus Maurus played a significant role in the Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century.  He became abbot of the monastery at Fulda in 820s and was Archbishop of Mainz for about eleven years before his death in 856.  He wrote biblical commentaries, a famous poem on Christ’s cross, and works on pedagogy.  In this present work he explained how the seven liberal arts provided the foundation for the education of Christian clergy.  In this quote we read his description of the use of rhetoric by preachers.

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An Infallible Truth

“It is an infallible truth that no person is righteous unless he believes in God, as stated in Rom. 1 [:17]: ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’  Likewise, ‘He who does not believe is condemned already” [John 3:18] and dead.  Therefore, the justification and life of the righteous person are dependent upon his faith.  For this reason all the works of the believer are alive and all the works of the unbeliever are dead, evil, and damnable, according to this passage: ‘A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ [Matt. 7:18-19].” Martin Luther, “Proceedings at Augsburg 1518,” Luther’s Works, vol. 31, p. 270 [Emphasis added] 

On October 31, 1518 Martin Luther returned to Wittenberg from a meeting in Augsburg.  Approximately two weeks earlier he had stood before the papal legate, Cardinal Thomas Cajetan.  There Luther had refused to recant his teachings on indulgences, grace, and faith unless Cajetan could convince him to do so on the basis of Holy Scripture.  In the quote above Luther explained what he had said to Cajetan regarding the nature of faith in relation to grace, salvation, and good works.  Here we see Luther asserted what had become the central issue of debate: justification by faith.  He continued:

“Faith, however, is nothing else than believing what God promises and reveals, as in Rom. 4 [:3], ‘Abraham believed God, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness’ [Cf. Gen. 15:6].  Therefore the Word and faith are both necessary, and without the Word there can be no faith, as in Isa. 55 [:11]: ‘So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.” Ibid., 271.

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Making Friends

“Next, at fixed hours time should be given to certain definite reading.  For haphazard reading, constantly varied and as if lighted upon by chance does not edify makes the mind unstable; taken into the memory lightly, it goes out from it even more lightly.  But you should concentrate on certain authors and let your mind grow accustomed to them.” William of St Thierry, The Golden Epistle I. xxxi. 120., trans. Theodore Berkeley (Spencer, MA: Cistercian, 1971), p. 51.

The twelfth-century monk and theologian, William of St Thierry, wrote this work as a guide for the spiritual life of monks.  In this section, he instructs novices (those new to the monastery) on the monastic way of life.  These chapters describe how monks practiced reading the Bible.  Following this section, William continued:

“The Scriptures need to be read and understood in the same spirit in which they were written.  You will never enter into Paul’s meaning until by constant application to reading him and by giving yourself to constant meditation you have imbibed his spirit.  You will never understand David until by experience you have made the very sentiments of the psalms your own.  And that applies to all Scripture.  There is the same gulf between attentive study and mere reading as there is between friendship and acquaintance with a passing guest, between boon companionship and chance meeting.” William, Golden Epistle I. xxxi. 121, Ibid., pp. 51-52. [Emphasis added]

William compares reading texts properly to friendship.  One must not read too quickly or only be introduced to the text as if to a temporary guest.  Friendships rest on getting to know each other over a long period of time.  William explains to young monks that the Scriptures must become like a friend to them.  In this way they will become ‘imbibed’ with the spirit of the text and truly understand its true meaning.

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Augustine on Teaching with Eloquence

“For teaching, of course, true eloquence consists, not in making people like what they disliked, nor in making them do what they shrank from, but in making clear what was obscure; yet if this be done without grace of style, the benefit does not extend beyond the few eager students who are anxious to know whatever is to be learnt, however rude and unpolished the form in which it is put; and who, when they have succeeded in their object, find the plain truth pleasant food enough.  And it is one of the distinctive features of good intellects not to love words, but the truth in words.  For of what service is a golden key, if it cannot open what we want it to open? Or what objection is there to be wooden one if it can, seeing that to open what is shut is all we want? But as there is a certain analogy between learning and eating, the very food without which it is impossible to live must be flavored to meet the tastes of the majority.” Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine IV. 11. 26. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, p. 583.  [Emphasis Added]


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History and the Holy

“Many mortals, vainly devoted to study and worldly acclaim, have then sought to immortalize their reputation, or so they believed, by using their pen to give an account of the lives of famous men.  But although this did not bring them everlasting fame the hopes they had conceived did however bear some small fruit because they prolonged their memory, although in vain, and by presenting the examples of great men they stimulated in their readers a considerable desire to emulate these people.  However, these concerns were irrelevant for that blessed and eternal life.” Sulpicius Severus, Preface to Life of Martin of Tours in Early Christian Lives, trans. and ed., Carolinne White (London 1998), p. 135.

Sulpicius Severus (d.c.425) wrote this holy biography of Martin of Tours after meeting the saint in the early 390s.  Following St Martin’s advice, Sulpicius renounced his elite Roman life, sold most of his property, and lived in a quasi-monastic state.  In addition to the life of St Martin, Sulpicius wrote the Chronicles, a sacred history from the beginning of the world.  His Life of Martin of Tours laid the foundation for the medieval genre of hagiography (saints’ lives).

In the preface Sulpicius explained why writing the holy history of a saint surpasses writing the history of famous Romans.  He seems to have Sallust’s introductory remarks to Catiline’s Conspiracy. Sulpicius demonstrates his own rejection of the pagan Roman past and the search for worldly fame.  Therefore, in his Life of Martin of Tours, Sulpicius explains that he wants to write the history of holy man to be an example for those in his own time and for future Christians.  He explained:

“It would serve to rouse the enthusiasm of its readers for the true wisdom, for heavenly military service and for divine heroism.  In doing so we will also be pursuing our own advantage in such a way that we may expect not empty renown from our fellow men but an everlasting reward for God.  For even if we ourselves have not lived in such a way as to be an example to others, we have at least made an effort to prevent a man who deserves to be imitated from remaining unknown.” Ibid., pp. 135-36.


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The Art of Love

“The art of arts is the art of love.  Nature, and God, the Author of nature, has reserved to himself the teaching of it.  Love itself has been planted [in us] by the Creator of nature; so if its natural noble-mindedness is not destroyed by an kind of adulterous affections, then, I say, love teaches itself to persons who are docile to it, God’s teachables.” William of St. Thierry, The Nature and Dignity of Love, trans. Thomas X. Davis (Kalamazoo, 1981), p. 47.

The monastic writers of the twelfth century focused intently on the nature of love.  Drawing on biblical and Latin Fathers, they developed a theology based on Christ’s love.  In this work, William of St. Thierry sought to explain the nature of divine love and its role in the devotional life of a monk.

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Pride Takes God from Man

“Now these are: first, pride; second, envy; third, anger; fourth, despair; fifth, covetousness, sixth, gluttony; seventh, lust.  Of these, three despoil man (hominem); the fourth scourges him when despoiled; the fifth ejects him when scourged; the sixth seduces him when ejected; the seventh subjects him to slavery when seduced.  Pride takes God from man; envy takes his neighbour; anger takes himself; despair scourges him when despoiled; the fifth ejects him when scourged; the sixth seduces him when rejected; the seventh subjects him to slavery when seduced.  The rational soul in its health is a solid and sound vessel having no corruption, and when its vices come into this they vitiate and corrupt it in this way:  it is puffed up by pride, is made dry by envy, is made noisy by anger, is broken by despair, is dispersed by covetousness, is corrupted by gluttony, is crushed by lust and reduced to mud.  Pride is love of one’s own excellence. Despair is sadness born from confusion of the mind, or weariness and immoderate bitterness of the spirit by which spiritual enjoyment is extinguished, and by a kind of beginning of desperation the mind is overthrown within itself.  Covetousness is the immoderate appetite to possess.  Gluttony is the immoderate appetite to eat.  Lust is the excessive desire to experience pleasure, that is, the longing for coition (concubitus) beyond measure or burning beyond reason.”   Hugh of St Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith II. 13. 1 trans. Roy J. Deferrari (Mediaeval Academy of America, 1951), p. 375.  Latin Text is in Patrologia Latina 176:525-526. [Emphasis added]

Hugh of St Victor wrote this work in the first half of the twelfth century.  His work represents the theological instruction in Paris during that significant period in the development of medieval Christian thought.  In this section Hugh examines vices and their effects on the soul.  Following the Augustinian tradition and similar to his contemporaries, he emphasized pride as the root of other vices. (Augustine Defined Pride) Hugh continued in the following manner:

“There are two kinds of pride, one internal, the other is external.  Pride in internal, boasting external.  Pride is internal, boasting external.  Pride is in elation of the heart; boasting is in ostentation of work.  Pride in that it pleases itself despises the testimony of another.  But boasting, that it may please itself the more, seeks the testimony of another.  Thus boasting counterfeits itself by fawning smoothness; pride shows itself truly cruel in inflation.  For pride desires to be feared, boasting to be loved, and yet both in that they seek perversely what it pleasing to themselves, although in different ways, are persuaded to glorify themselves inordinately.  If anyone then should compute pride and boasting under one member, he will find seven capital vices from which all sins, that is, the acts of iniquity and the works of injustice, arise.” Ibid., 375-376; PL 176: 526.

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