Bernard’s Memoria

“Preserve without fail the memory of all those bitter things he endured for you, persevere in meditating on him and you in turn will be able to say: ‘My beloved is to me a little bunch of myrrh that lies between my breasts.’ ” Bernard of Clairvaux, “Sermon 43,” trans. Kilian Walsh, On the Song of Songs II (Kalamazoo 1983), p. 221. [Emphasis added]

Bernard of Clairvaux (d. August 20, 1153) led the Cistercian monastic movement in the first half of the 12th century.  He influenced popes, kings, church councils, and many other monks.  His preaching and writing (and those attributed to him) shaped the piety and faith of the later Middle Ages and the early modern period.  This quote derives from Bernard’s sermon on Song of Songs 1:12 (Vulgate), but 1:13 in ESV, KJV.

In this sermon Bernard exhorts his fellow monks (and later readers) to remember Christ’s sufferings on their behalf through meditation.  He states that he has done this since his conversion to the monastic life.  Then, Bernard describes the incarnate life of Christ from his birth to burial.  He concludes, “As long as I live I shall proclaim the memory of the abounding goodness contained in these events; through eternity I shall not forget these mercies, for in them I have found life.” Ibid., 222. [Emphasis added]

Bernard seeks wisdom through remembering and meditating on Christ’s suffering specifically.  The knowledge of these events supports him in tribulation and guides him through happy times.  Christ not only forgives sins, but gives an example to follow.  Therefore, Bernard proclaims, “Hence as you well know, these sentiments are often on my lips, and God knows they are always in my heart.  They are a familiar theme in my writings, as is evident.  This is my philosophy, one more refined and interior, to know Jesus and him crucified.” Ibid., 223.

Augustine’s Conversion: A Severe Mercy

“Such was my sickness and my torture, as I accused myself even more bitterly than usual.  I was twisting and turning in my chain until it would break completely.  I was now only a little bit held by it, but I was still held.  You, Lord, put pressure on me in my hidden depths with a severe mercy wielding the double whip of fear and shame, lest I should again succumb, and lest that tiny and tenuous bond which still remained should not be broken, but once more regain strength and bind me even more firmly.” Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford 1991), 150. [Emphasis added]

Augustine recognized that only God’s mercy could free him from the chain of the habit of sin.  He had now come too far to turn back to his former way of life, but ingrained evil still thwarted a complete turn to goodness.  His old fleshly loves restrained him.  Augustine wrote, “Meanwhile, the overwhelming force of habit was saying to me: ‘Do you think you can live without them?’ ” Ibid., 151.

Lady Continence speaks to Augustine and exhorts him to submit to her guidance and rely on God’s healing power.  Finally, Augustine’s deep introspection brought forth a flood of tears as he called out to God.  Then he heard what sounded like children chanting: pick up and read, pick up and read!  He took this as divine instruction to pick up the book of St Paul’s writings and he read, “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.” (Romans 13:13-14)  Having read this text, Augustine felt complete relief as he wrote, “All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.” Ibid., 153.

Augustine’s Sin and the Struggle of Wills

“The enemy had a grip on my will and so made a chain for me to hold me a prisoner.  The consequence of a distorted will is passion.  By servitude to passion, habit is formed, and habit to which there is no resistance becomes necessity. By these links, as it were, connected one to another (hence my term a chain), a harsh bondage held me  under restraint.  The new will, which was beginning to be within me a will to serve you freely and to enjoy you, God, the only sure source of pleasure, was not yet strong enough to conquer my older will, which had the strength of old habit.  So my two wills, one old, the other new, one carnal, the other spiritual, were in conflict with me another, and their discord robbed my soul of all concentration.”  Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford 1991), p. 140.

Here Augustine describes the bondage by which sinful desires hold the human will.  He describes how this bondage of a distorted will becomes a sinful necessity.  He realized his bound condition only after the new will begins to stir.  As he references Romans 7:17-25, Augustine wrote, “The law of sin is the violence of habit by which even the unwilling mind is dragged down and held, as it deserves to be, since by its own choice it slipped into habit.” Ibid., 141.

At this point Augustine begins the narrative of his conversion experience.  He recounts his study of the Scriptures, the life of St Anthony, and numerous discussions with others concerning these matters.  Finally, the moment arrived.  Augustine writes, “Our lodging had a garden.  We had the use of it as well as of the entire house, for our host, the owner of the house, was not living there.  The tumult of my heart took me out into the garden where no one could interfere with the burning the struggle with myself in which I was engaged, until the matter could be settled.  You knew, but I did not, what the outcome would be.  But my madness with myself was part of the process of recovering health, and in the agony of death I was coming to life.” Ibid., 146.

Augustine then proceeds to describe the conflict of the two wills within his mind. He returns to the theme of habit mentioned above. “We are dealing with a morbid condition of the mind which, when it is lifted up by the truth, does not unreservedly rise to it but is weighed down by habit. So there are two wills. Neither of them is complete, and what is present in the one is lacking to the other.” Ibid., 148.

The next post will examine the resolution of this conflict in Augustine’s conversion.


Boethius on Good Fortune

“What I want to tell you is something wonderful, which makes it very difficult for me to put it into words.  For I think that ill fortune is better for men than good.  Fortune always cheats when she seems to smile, with the appearance of happiness, but is always truthful when she shows herself to inconsistent by changing.  The first kind of fortune deceives, the second instructs; the one binds the minds of those who enjoy goods that cheatingly only seem to be good, the other frees them with knowledge of the fragility of mortal happiness.  So you can see that the one is inconstant, always running hither and thither, uncertain of herself; and the other is steady, well prepared and–with the practice of adversity itself–wise.  Lastly fortune when apparently happy leads men astray by her blandishments, wandering from the true good; when she is adverse, she commonly draws them back, as it were with a hook, towards it.” Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy II. viii. Loeb Classical Library No. 74, trans. S.J. Tester. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1918), p. 225.

In this famous work from late antiquity Boethius discusses the true nature of Fortune. Good fortune is temporal and vanishes quickly.  It deceives because it does not endure and human beings who experience it forget the true and highest good.  Adversity acts to draw us back to permanent things, that reside only in God and are under the control of Providence.  This work was not simply philosophical speculation for Boethius.  He wrote this work during his time in prison in the early 520s.  Boethius had lived as a philosopher and state official under the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric.  He accused Boethius of treason and imprisoned him.  Later, Boethius was executed.

Augustine on Learning and the Human Teacher

“My argument is with Christians who congratulate themselves on a knowledge of the holy scriptures gained without any human guidance and who–if their claim is valid–thus enjoy a real and substantial blessing.  But they must admit that each one of us learnt our native language by habitually hearing it spoken from the very beginnings of childhood, and acquired others–Greek, Hebrew, or whatever–either by hearing them in the same way or by learning them from a human teacher.  So should we now (I ask you!) warn all our brethren not to teach these things to their small children on the grounds that the apostles spoke in the languages of all peoples after being inspired in a single moment by the coming of the Holy Spirit? Or should we warn those to whom such things do not happen to stop thinking of themselves as Christians and start doubting that they have received the Holy Spirit? No, they should learn, without pride, what has to be learned from a human teacher; and those responsible for teaching others should pass on, without pride or jealousy, the knowledge they have received.” Augustine of Hippo, “Preface,” On Christian Doctrine, trans. R.P.H. Green (Oxford 1999), pp. 4-5.

Apparently, some Christians in Augustine’s lifetime claimed to have received a knowledge of the Bible through the Holy Spirit without a human teacher.  However, Augustine assumes that most Christians do not possess such a gift, but rather they must acknowledge the need to learn language through imitation or study.  Thus students need teachers and both should avoid pride, particularly, a pride that drives one to reject the teacher and seek only special knowledge directly from God.

Locke on Parents, Children, Liberty, and Natural Law

“55. Children, I confess, are not born in this full state of equality, though they are born to it.  Their parents have a sort of rule and jurisdiction over them when they come into the world, and for some time after, but it is but a temporary one.  The bonds of this subjection are like the swaddling clothes they are wrapt up in and supported by in the weakness of their infancy.  Age and reason as they grow up loosen them, till at length they drop quite off, and leave a man at his own free disposal.

56. Adam was created a perfect man, his body and mind in full possession of their strength and reason, and so was capable from the first instance of his being to provide for his own support and preservation, and govern his actions according to the dictates of the law of reason God had implanted in him.  From him the world is peopled with his descendants, who are all born infants, weak and helpless, without knowledge or understanding.  But to supply the defects of this imperfect state till the improvement of growth and age had removed them, Adam and Eve, and after them all parents were, by the law of nature, under an obligation to preserve, nourish and educate the children they had begotten, not as their own workmanship, but the workmanship of their own Maker, the Almighty, to whom they were to be accountable for them.

57. The law that was to govern Adam was the same that was to govern all his posterity, the law of reason.  But his offspring having another way of entrance into the world, different from him, by a natural birth, that produced them ignorant, and without the use of reason, they were not presently under the law.  For nobody can be under a law that is not promulgated to him; and this law being promulgated or made known by reason only, he that is not come to use of his reason cannot be said to be under the law; and Adam’s children being not presently as soon as born under this law of reason, were not presently free.  For law, in its true notion, is not so much the limitation as the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest, and prescribes no farther than is for the general good of those under the law.   Could they be happier without it, the law, as a useless thing, would of itself vanish; and that ill deserves the name of confinement which hedges us in only from bogs and precipices.  So that however it may be mistaken, the end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.  For in all the states of created beings, capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom.  For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law; and is not, as we are told, ‘a liberty for every man to what he lists [chooses].’  For who could be free, when every other man’s humor might domineer over him?  But a liberty to dispose and order freely as he lists [chooses] his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own.” John Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government, ed. Edwin A. Burtt, The English Philosophers from Bacon to Mill (New York: Random, 1939), pp. 424-425. [Emphasis and brackets added]

In Chapter VI of this work John Locke addressed the issue of paternal power and its relationship to civil government.  First, in the previous section, he specifically stated that parents, not just the father, have authority over their children and their children are bound to honor and obey them.  He affirmed this with biblical citations (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 20:9; Ephesians 6:1).  Since Locke had argued that human beings have certain rights granted by God in creation, he sought here to explain why children did not exercise those rights completely. Notice how Locke identified children as God’s workmanship and did not believe parents have absolute authority over their offspring. According to Locke, parents only oversaw their children’s development and education during their imperfect state of childhood.  Parents had the duty to educate their children to use the gift of reason so that they may become free individuals who could freely live, dispose of their possessions, and govern themselves.

Unlimited Power is Bad

Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing.  Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion.  God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power.  There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself or clothed with rights so sacred that I would admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority.  When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people or a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I say there is the germ of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere, under other laws.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1. (New York: Knopf, 1945), p. 260 [Emphasis added]

Alexis de Tocqueville published Democracy in America in two volumes (1835 & 1840) after traveling to the United States in the early 1830′s.  Originally in French, it was translated into English quickly and became well known in Europe and America.

Thomas Jefferson on History

History, in general, only informs us what bad government is.  But as we have employed some of the best materials of the British constitution in the construction of our own government, a knowlege of British history becomes useful to the American politician. There is, however, no general history of that country which can be recommended.”     “Letter of Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell Washington,” June 14, 1807.


What did Thomas Jefferson Read on Government? 

In 1807 President Thomas Jefferson responded to the questions of John Norvell Washington regarding the study of civil government and history.  The letter is dated June 14, 1807.  Jefferson answered plainly: “I think there does not exist a good elementary work on the organization of society into civil government: I mean a work which presents in one full & comprehensive view the system of principles on which such an organization should be founded, according to the rights of nature.”

However, did Jefferson know of any books that might suffice?  He wrote, “I should recommend Locke on Government, Sidney, Priestley’s Essay on the first Principles of Government, Chipman’s Principles of Government, & the Federalist. Adding, perhaps, Beccaria on crimes & punishments, because of the demonstrative manner in which he has treated that branch of the subject.”

First, he recommended John Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government.  This is no surprise since he borrowed heavily from Locke’s ideas to write the Declaration of Independence.  Second, he recommended Algernon Sidney’s Discourses Concerning Government.  Sidney was a republican contemporary of Locke who opposed the Restoration Monarchy and suffered execution for it in 1683.  Both authors wrote in response to Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha (a defense of the divine right of monarchs) and both dealt with the arguments of Thomas Hobbes regarding absolute rule.  Third, Jefferson referred to Joseph Priestley’s Essay on the First Principles of Government in which he argued for political and religious liberty in England in the late 18th century.  Fourth, Jefferson recommended Nathaniel Chipman’s Sketches of the Principles of Civil Government.  Chipman was a lawyer, politician, and judge from Vermont.  He had fought in the Revolutionary War.  Lastly, Jefferson recommended the Federalist Papers written by James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton.  One could argue that these works form the basis for classical liberal and early American political thought.  Cesare Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments laid the foundation for modern criminology and called for reform of prisons in 1764.  It condemned both torture and the death penalty.

Jefferson could have stopped there but he chose to recommend two works on money and commerce.  First, he encouraged Mr. Washington to read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations which rejected government-regulated mercantilism and argued generally in favor of free markets and self-interested merchants.  Second, Jefferson recommended Jean-Baptiste Say’s work on economics which at the time was only available in its original French Traité d’économie politique. It was later translated into English and influenced economic theory in the 19th century. (Do a search on Say’s Law.)

In this letter Thomas Jefferson has recommended the works we should read to understand civil government and economics in the early 19th century.  He set forth a list of works on classical liberalism and free market economics.  They are all available in print and many of them in complete texts online.  Perhaps, we should at least be familiar with the basic arguments of these works.



Martin Luther on the Source of Reason and Intellect

“It is amazing that the evangelist St. John is able to discuss such sublime and weighty matters in such plain and simple language.  He wants to say the Son of God draws so close to men that He is their Light.  And this Light is far different from that which all the irrational animals perceive.  The cows and the pigs, to be sure, also enjoy the universal light of the sun by day and the light of the moon by night.  But man alone is endowed with the glorious light of reason and intellect.  Man’s ability to devise so many noble arts and skills, his wisdom, dexterity, and ingenuity, all are derived from this Light, or from the Word, who was the Light of men.  Thus this Light, Christ, is not merely a light for itself; but with this light He illumines men, so that all reason, wisdom, and dexterity that are not false or devilish emanate from this Light, who is the Wisdom of the eternal Father.”  Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St John, in Luther’s Works, vol. 22, p. 30. [Emphasis Added]

While preaching on John 1:4, Luther explains the significance of human beings made in the image of God.  Notice that Christ as the Light illuminates humanity and provides all intellectual, artistic, and even mechanical gifts.