Principles over Passions

“To criticize a particular subject…a man must have been trained in that subject: to be a good critic generally, he must have had an all-round education.  Hence the young are not fit to be students of Political Science.  For they have no experience of life and conduct, and it is these that supply the premises and subject matter of this branch of philosophy.  And moreover they are led by their feelings; so that they will study the subject to no purpose or advantage, since the end of this science is not knowledge but action.  And it makes no difference whether they are young in years or immature in character; the defect is not a question of time, it is because their life and its various aims are guided by feeling; for to such persons their knowledge is of no use, any more than it is to persons of defective self-restraint.  But Moral Science may be of great value to those who guide their desires and actions by principle.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics I. iii. 5-7.  [Emphasis added]

 

Posted in Aristotle, Politics, virtue | Leave a comment

The Princess of the Whole Human Race

“Filius ita factus est homo, ut a spiritu sancto sine virili opera conciperetur et ex Maria pura, sancta, semper virgine nasceretur…”

Dass der Sohn sei also Mensch worden, das er vom heiligen Geist ohn männlich Zutun empfangen und von der reinen, heiligen Jungfrau Maria geporn sei…”

That the Son became man in this manner, that He was conceived, without the cooperation of man, by the Holy Ghost, and was born of the pureholy [and always] Virgin Mary.  http://www.bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php#officeandworkofjesus

Above are the Latin and German statements from Marin Luther’s Schmalkaldic Articles, Part I, article 4.  I have also provided the English translation (that combines the Latin with the German) above.  If one wants to engender a discussion among Lutherans quickly, then he or she should assert that this article concerning Mary’s perpetual virginity is a statement of a confession. For an excellent online discussion of this topic see https://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2010/09/et-tamen-virgo-mansit.html

My goal here is not to debate the Semper Virgine statement, but to point toward some of Martin Luther’s fascinating proclamations regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Lucas Cranach-Virgin & child

“He [Jesus], indeed, was a genuinely true, natural human being, but not conceived or born in sin as all other descendants of Adam.  That is why his mother had to be a virgin whom no man had touched, so that he would not be born under the curse, but rather conceived and born without sin, so that the devil had no right or power over him. Only the Holy Spirit was present to bring about the conception in her virgin body.  Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we.  However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are.” Martin Luther, “First Sermon on The Day of Annunciation to Mary,” in The House Postils, vol. 3. ed. Eugene F.A. Klug (Grand Rapids 1996), p. 291.

Dr. Luther expressed the common understanding here that the Holy Spirit acted miraculously in Mary to keep original sin from affecting her Son, Jesus. The purpose of a purifying the Virgin was so that she could give birth to a pure God-man. Even if Luther did not explicitly affirm the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, he did assert that the Holy Spirit purified Mary in a special, miraculous manner. (On this issue see: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2015/09/luther-the-immaculate-purification-of-mary.html)

In a sermon on Mary’s visitation of Elizabeth, Luther emphasized St. Mary as an example of humility and chastity for all Christians, but especially for believing women.  Luther described Mary’s humility when he proclaimed:

She is the mother of God and the greatest of women in heaven and on earth.  She forgets all else, every good thing, and with truly humble heart sets out on her way, not ashamed to wash diapers, gently care for and bathe the infant John, and so on.  Such humility is truly something to behold.  It would have been fitting had someone provided her with a gold carriage to ride in, drawn by four thousand horses, with trumpets heralding the carriage’s coming proclaiming that the greatest of all women was approaching, the princess of the whole human race! But there was nothing like this, only silence…That is the first virtue, great humility.” Martin Luther, “First Sermon for the Day of Mary’s Visitation,” in The House Postils, vol. 3. ed. Eugene F.A. Klug (Grand Rapids 1996), p. 344. [Emphasis added]

Luther then explained the example of Mary’s chastity and proper, public decorum.  For example, she did not gossip or flirt, but instead performed humble tasks at the home of Elizabeth.  It’s clear Luther wanted to address certain public vices.  Finally, Luther explained:

“Mary’s example, therefore, should set a beautiful pattern for us to follow, though indeed we may be equally beautiful, learned, capable, wealthy, young, and strong.  We must certainly not exalt ourselves but be humble, willingly and diligently serving others.” Ibid., 346.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Martin Luther, Mary, virtue | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Show Must Go On

“Finally, make sure that your entire campaign is full of pomp, glamorous, eye-catching, and popular, that it has the maximum visibility and prestige.  Also, be sure if at all possible that your competitors acquire a bad reputation for vice, or lust, or bribery, depending on their character. Most of all, let it be clear in this election that the Republic respects you and has high hopes for your political future.  Still, do not try to deal with political issues in the midst of the campaign, neither in the Senate nor at a rally.” Quintus Cicero, Running for Office: A Handbook in Ancient Rome: An Anthology of Sources, trans. Christopher Francese and R. Scott Smith (Indianapolis 2014), p. 90. [Emphasis added]

Traditionally, this work is attributed to Quintus Cicero, the brother of the famous Marcus Tullius Cicero.  If the traditional attribution is correct, Quintus wrote this work as a letter to his brother Marcus in 64 BC as advice on how to win one of the significant political offices in the late Republic: quaestor, aedile, praetor, consul.   In fact, Marcus Cicero was elected to the consulship in 63 BC.  This present text gives practical (and sometimes cynical) advice on how to win in an election.

 

Posted in Cicero, government, Politics | Leave a comment

Truth Makes Enemies

“Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:38   Regarding these words Dr. Luther stated the following:

“I do not know whether Pilate is being serious or whether he is mocking.  But in my understanding, I take what he says to be sheer mockery and a sarcastic way of speaking, for Pilate was a wise, shrewd Gentile.  Therefore, he looks down on Christ and say: ‘Hah! If You will concern Yourself with truth, then You are lost.  Complaisance makes friends; truth makes enemies.  If You are the kind of man who deals in truth, it is no wonder Duccio-Christ-before-Pilatethat You have been taken captive and led here bound.  If you want to live on earth, You must give up the truth.’ Thus I understand what he says to be a heathen jest, spoken with a shameless conscience.” Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 17-20, Luther’s Works, vol. 69, p. 216.   [Emphasis added]

The editors identified Luther’s quote of Terence’s Andria in the bold section from the quote above.  Truth simply isn’t popular among human beings therefore, those who tell the truth make their own enemies.

 

Posted in gospel, Martin Luther | Leave a comment

He Scatters the Peoples Who Delight in War

“It is not right to start a war just because some silly lord has gotten the idea into his head. At the very outset I want to say that whoever starts a war in in the wrong.  And it is only right and proper that he who first draws his sword is defeated, or even punished, in the end.  This is what has usually happened in history.  Those who have started wars have lost them, and those who fought in self-defense have only seldom been defeated.  Worldly government has not been instituted by God to break the peace and start war, but to maintain peace and to avoid war….God tolerates no injustice and he has so ordered things that warmongers must be defeated in war.  As the proverb says, ‘No one has ever been so evil that he does not meet someone more evil than he is.’  And in Psalm 68: [30] God has the psalmist sing of him, ‘Dissipat gentes, quae in bella volunt,’ that is, ‘He scatters the peoples who delight in war.’ ” Martin Luther, Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, in Luther’s Works, vol. 46, p. 118.      [Emphasis added]Martin Luther-Cranach

Luther46c.jpg

“It is easy to start a fight, but we cannot stop the fighting whenever we want to.  What have all these innocent women, children, and old people, whom you fools are drawing with you into such danger, ever done to you?  Why do you insist on filling the land with blood and robbery, widows and orphans? Oh, the devil has wicked plans! And God is angry; he threatens to let the devil loose upon us and cool his rage in our blood and souls. Beware, dear sirs, and be wise! Both of you are equally involved! What good will it do you intentionally to damn yourselves for all eternity and, in addition, to bequeath a desolate, devastated, and bloody land to your descendants, when you still have time to find a better solution by repenting before God, by concluding a friendly agreement, or even by voluntarily suffering for the sake of humanity?  You will accomplish nothing through strife and violence.” Martin Luther, Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia, in Luther’s Works, vol. 46, p. 42.

Posted in justice, Martin Luther, war | Leave a comment

Ruling the World Through Reading Books

“The world is indeed a sick thing; it is the kind of fur on which neither hide no hair is any good.  The healthy heroes are rare, and God provides them at a dear price.  Still the world must be ruled, if men are not to become wild beasts.  So things in the world in general remain mere patchwork and beggary; it is a veritable hospital, in which princes, lords, and all rulers lack wisdom and courage–that is, success and direction from God–even as the sick person lacks strength and power.  So here one must patch and darn and help oneself with the laws, sayings, and examples of the heroes as they are recorded in books.  Thus we must continue to be disciples of those speechless masters which we call books.” Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 101 [:1], in Luther’s Works, vol. 13, p. 164.  Cicero_opera1555

In this commentary Dr. Luther sought to advise the new ruler of Electoral Saxony on being a Christian prince.  John Frederick followed his father, John the Steadfast, as Elector of Saxony.  His support of the Reformation led to his military defeat to Emperor Charles V, subsequent imprisonment,  and loss of much of his territory.

Written in 1534, Dr. Luther advised the new prince on how to rule properly.  He drew upon biblical texts but also from ancient Greek and Roman writings.  Luther advises rulers to turn to the heroes of the past and to their wisdom.  After the statement recorded above, Luther continued:

“Yet we never do it as well as it is written there; we crawl after it and cling to it as to a bench or to a cane.  In addition, we also follow the advice of the best people who live in our midst, until the time comes in which God again provides a healthy hero or a wondrous man, in whose hand all things improve or at least fare better than is written in any book.” Ibid.

Posted in government, Martin Luther, reading | 1 Comment

Sallust on the Danger of Using Force

“Of these various paths to fame, it seems to me that the holding of civil and military posts, and indeed all political activities, are in these days the least desirable.  For the deserving do not obtain the honours of office; and the ill-deservers who do obtain them gain nothing thereby either in security or in true honour.  The use of force to rule one’s country or subjects – even if a man is in a position of power, and employs that power to right wrongs – is a perilous course: for it invites counter-measures, and any attempt at revolution is a certain forerunner of massacre, banishment, and other acts of warlike violence.  On the other hand, to struggle in vain against odds, and after exhausting efforts to gain nothing but hatred, is the height of folly – a folly that no one is likely to be guilty of, unless he is possessed by a dishonourable and fatal desire to sacrifice his own honour and freedom in order to increase the power of a set of oligarchs.” Sallust, Chap. 1 in The Jugurthine War trans. S. A. Handford (London: Penguin, 1963), p. 36. [Emphasis added]

Posted in government, Politics, Sallust, war | Leave a comment

Dr Luther on the Soldier’s Obedience and Just War

“A second question: ‘Suppose my lord were wrong in going to war.’  I reply: If you know for sure that he is wrong, then you should fear God rather than men, Acts 4 [5:29], and you should neither fight nor serve, for you cannot have a good conscience before God.” Martin Luther, Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, in Luther’s Works, vol. 46, p. 130.

Knight,_Death_and_the_Devil Dr. Luther addressed the topic of just war and the soldier’s responsibility in this work in 1526.  War, similar to most periods in human history, played a central role in sixteenth century society.  The Peasants’ War had recently taken place, European monarchs continued to fight one another, and the Ottoman Turks moved northward into central Europe in the 1520s.  In this work Dr. Luther stated that being a soldier could be a legitimate vocation for a Christian under certain circumstances.  In the quote above, he specifically asserted that soldiers should not fight or serve for an unjust cause.  While Luther rejected the idea of a crusade or holy war, he did believe that temporal powers could wage just wars when necessary in this sinful world. (See: http://wp.cune.edu/matthewphillips/2015/06/15/luther-on-the-crusades/)

In 1523 Dr. Luther had written similarly concerning this issue: “What if a prince is in the wrong? Are his people bound to follow him then too? Answer: No, for it is no one’s duty to do wrong; we must obey God (who desires the right) rather than men [Acts 5:29].” Martin Luther, Temporal Authority, in Luther’s Works, vol. 45, p. 125.

Posted in government, justice, Martin Luther, war | Leave a comment

Recollection and Thought

“The faculty of memory is both the cause and the repository of memory and recollection.  Memory is an image which has been left behind by some sensory or mental impression that has actually been received.  In other words, it is the retention of sensation and thought.  Thus, on the one hand, the soul apprehends or senses sensible objects through the organs of sense, and a mental impression is formed; on the other hand, it apprehends intellectual objects through the mind and a conjecture is formed.  Hence, when it retains the form of things of which it has received impressions, or of things of which it has thought, then it is said to remember.” John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith, Bk 2, Chap. 20., trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr., The Fathers of the Church vol. 37 (New York 1958), p. 245.                                                                      John_Damascus_(arabic_icon)

In this work John of Damascus (d. 749) included sections on philosophy.  While John sought to pass on the Eastern Christian theological tradition, his work also contained fascinating teaching concerning human nature.   Here John explains the nature of memory and its role in human understanding.  He continued:

“One must note that the apprehension of intellectual things comes only through learning, or the natural process of thinking.  It does not come from sensation, because sensible things are remembered in themselves, whereas intellectual things we do remember, provided we have learned something of them, but of their substance we have no memory.

Recollection is the recovery of memory that has been lost by forgetting, and forgetting is the loss of memory.  When the imaginative faculty has apprehended material things by means of the senses, it communicates [the impression] to the thinking faculty, or reasoning faculty–for both of these are the same thing.  When this faculty has received the impression and formed a judgment of it, it passes it on to the faculty of memory.” Ibid.

 

Posted in John of Damascus, memory, teaching | Leave a comment

History as the Soul’s Path to Glory

“What guides and controls human life is man’s soul.  If it pursues glory by the path of virtue, and is independent of fortune, which can neither give any man uprightness, energy, and other good qualities, not deprive any man of them.  But if the soul is enslaved by base desires and sinks into the corruption of sloth and carnal pleasures, it enjoys a ruinous indulgence for a brief season; then, when idleness has wasted strength, youth, and intelligence, the blame is put on the weakness of our nature, and each man excuses himself for his own shortcomings by imputing his failure to adverse circumstances.  If men pursue good things with the same ardour with which they seek what is unedifying and unprofitable – often, indeed, actually dangerous and pernicious – they would control events instead of being controlled by them, and would rise to such heights of greatness and glory that their morality would put on immortality.” Sallust, Chap. 1 in The Jugurthine War, trans. S. A. Handford (London: Penguin, 1963), p. 35.

Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust) lived during the first century BC and wrote histories of the Roman Republic.  His works on the Jugurthine War, the conspiracy of Catiline, and fragments of other histories survive.  Sallust allied with Julius Caesar in the populares faction against the aristocratic Senators and Pompey in the Civil War from 49-45 BC.  In the last years of his ten years of his life (assuming he died c. 35) he spent writing historical works.  In this quote we observe Sallust’s moral understanding of the study of human history and its relationship to the nature of the human soul.  He continued:

“As man consists of body and soul, all our possessions and pursuits partake of the nature of one or the other.  Thus personal beauty and great wealth, bodily strength, and all similar things, soon pass away; the noble achievements of the intellect are immortal like the soul itself.  Physical advantages, and the material gifts of fortune, begin and end; all that comes into existence, perishes; all that grows, must one day decay.  But the soul, incorruptible and eternal, is the ruler of mankind; it guides and controls everything, subject itself to no control.  Wherefore we can but marvel the more at the unnatural conduct of those who abandon themselves to bodily pleasures and pass their time in riotous living and idleness, neglecting their intelligence – the best and noblest element in man’s nature – and letting it become dull through lack of effort; and that, too, when the mind is capable of so many different accomplishments that can win the highest distinction.” Ibid., pp. 35-36.

Posted in history, Intellect, Sallust, virtue | Leave a comment