Fortune Grows Cruel

Fortune began to grow cruel and confuse everything.  Men who had easily endured hard work, dangers, uncertainty and adversity found that leisure and wealth, things desirable at other times, were a burden and the cause of misery.  And so, at first, greed for money grew, then greed for power.  Ambition forced many men to become liars, to hide one thing in their heart and have something else ready on their tongue, to value friendship and enmity according to convenience, not substance, and to put up a good face rather than have a good heart.  At first, these things grew gradually, they were a punished occasionally; afterwards, when this contagion invaded like a plague, the state changed, and the political power which had been most just and best became cruel and intolerable.’ Sallust, Catiline’s Conspiracy 10, trans. William W. Batstone (Oxford 2010), 15. [Emphasis added]

Here Sallust describes society in the breakdown of social virtue in the late Roman Republic.  The Romans had conquered much of Mediterranean world by the end of the 2nd century BC.  The blessings of wealth and leisure led to misery instead of happiness.  Ambition created liars and transformed society from just to cruel and evil.  If one examines the actions of the Roman Senatorial class during the late Republic then Sallust’s words give an apt description.  Roman Senators promoted Roman State’s actions to enrich themselves particularly in the area of foreign policy.   

Posted in Rome, Sallust | Leave a comment

Love and Rewards

“God is not loved without a reward, although he should be loved without regard for one.  True charity cannot be worthless, still, as ‘it does not seek its own advantage,’ it cannot be termed mercenary.  Love pertains to the will, it is not a transaction; it cannot acquire or be acquired by a pact.  Moving us freely, it makes up spontaneous.  True love is content with itself; it has its own reward, the object of its love.  Whatever you seem to love because of something else, you do not really love; you really love the end pursued and not that by which it is pursued…True love merits its reward, it does not seek it.” Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God VII. 17. trans. Emero Steigman (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1995), 20. [Emphasis added]

Bernard focuses on the spontaneous nature of love.  Divine charity transforms the soul.  True love (verus amor) does not seek a reward.  It is not an contractual agreement.  A lover’s desire reshapes her affectus (the word translated as ‘will’ above) and redirects it toward a new object.  Therefore, she seeks no reward from a human lover or God.       


Posted in Bernard of Clairvaux, Cistercian, Love, medieval | Leave a comment

Rewarding Merit and Confronting Evil

“The only proposals in the senate that I have seen fit to mention are particularly praiseworthy or particularly scandalous ones.  It seems to me a historian’s foremost duty to ensure that merit is recorded, and to confront evil deeds and words with the fear of posterity’s denunciations.  But this was a tainted, meanly obsequious age.  The greatest figures had to protect their positions by subserviency; and, in addition to them, all ex-consuls, most ex-praetors, even many junior senators competed with each other’s offensively sycophantic proposals.  There is a tradition that whenever Tiberius left the senate-house he exclaimed in Greek, ‘Men fit to be slaves!’ Even he, freedom’s enemy, became impatient of such abject servility.” Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, trans. Michael Grant (Penguin: London, 1996), p. 150.  [Emphasis added]

In this section of his work on imperial Rome, Tacitus examined the reign of Tiberius, who followed Caesar Augustus as ruler of the Roman empire.  Tacitus clearly considered Tiberius to be tyrant and most of the politicians of Rome to be sycophants. He also understood that an historian must evaluate the actions of historical figures.     

Posted in Rome, Tacitus | Leave a comment

The Meaning of Words

“The meaning of words should be carefully analyzed, and one should diligently ascertain the precise force of each and every term, both in itself and in the given context, so that one may dispel the haze of sophistries that would otherwise obscure the truth.  The considerations prompting the speaker may be surmised from the occasion, the kind of person he is, and the sort of listeners he has, as well as from the place, the time, and various other pertinent circumstances that must be taken into account by one who seriously seeks the truth.” John of Salisbury, The Metalogicon I.19., trans. Daniel D. McGarry (Philadelphia 2009), pp. 57-58.

While I was recently examining John of Salisbury’s definitions of military terms in a colleague’s work*, I found this quote from John’s famous text on the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric).  In this section on grammar, the twelfth-century theologian and philosopher, explained the importance of the meaning of words and how we use them.  Notice how John’s focus in this quote: Truth.  Words have meanings and how a speaker or writer uses those words should bring clarity not confusion.

*John D. Hosler, John of Salisbury: Military Authority of the Twelfth-century Renaissance (Leiden 2013), p. 11.

Posted in John of Salisbury, languages, liberal arts, writing | Leave a comment

One Human Race

“For the human race is, more than any other species, at once social by nature and quarrelsome by perversion.  And the most salutary warning against this perversion or disharmony is given by the facts of human nature.  We are warned to guard against the emergence of this fault, or to remedy it when once it has appeared, by remembering that first parent of ours, who was created by God as one individual with this intention: that from that one individual a multitude might be propagated, and that this fact should teach mankind to preserve a harmonious unity in plurality.  Furthermore, the fact that a woman was made for the first man from his own side shows us clearly how affectionate should be the union of man and wife.” Augustine of Hippo, The City of God XII. 28. trans. Henry Bettenson (London 1972), 508. [Emphasis added] 

In this section of his magisterial work, The City of God, Augustine of Hippo examined the various philosophies concerning the creation of humanity.  He specifically wrote this work to refute pagan philosophical challenges to Christianity in the early fifth-century Roman Empire.  At this time, the political and social structure of the Western Roman Empire was collapsing in Europe and North Africa.  Augustine was a native of Roman North Africa and died as Bishop of Hippo (modern Annaba, Algeria) in 430 as the German tribe, the Vandals, besieged the city.    

In this quote above, Augustine explains that God created humanity to live together in social harmony.  Humans held a unique position in the God’s creation as the only early creatures who bore the divine image and likeness. However, the fall into sin brought the perversion of disharmony and conflict.  Notice his explanation that God never intended social divisions based on ethnicity or sex.  In fact, according to Augustine, God’s purposeful act of creation demonstrates the opposite.  God intended human beings to live in harmony.   

Posted in Augustine of Hippo, history | Leave a comment

Never Trust a Mob

“We dare not encourage the mob very much.  It goes mad too quickly…And it is better for tyrants to wrong them a hundred times than for the mob to treat the tyrant unjustly but once.  If injustice is to be suffered, then it is better for subjects to suffer it from their rulers than for the rulers to suffer it from their subjects.  The mob neither has any moderation nor even knows what moderation is.  And every person in it has more than five tyrants hiding in him.  Now it is better to suffer wrong from one tyrant, that is, from the ruler, than from unnumbered tyrants, that is, from the mob.”* 

Dr. Martin Luther wrote these words in 1526 in his significant tract entitled Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved.  His study of Holy Scripture and ancient history influenced his ideas stated here.  In the previous section, he had explained how the Roman people overthrow many emperors.  In Germany in 1524-25, large groups of peasants were ransacking castles and whole towns.  They murdered many people and took over entire cities.  This was an organized insurrection and some of the participants followed pseudo-prophets, who told thousands of followers to cleanse the “ungodly” from the land.  The most famous of these false prophets was Thomas Müntzer.  He told his followers that God would protect them from the weapons of their enemies and they would create the kingdom of God on earth.**                   

Dr. Luther recognized the oppression of the common man and denounced the greed of princes and trading companies (similar to modern corporations).   He exhorted the princes to negotiate with the peasants and town dwellers.  He excoriated the moneylenders and bankers who lent money at exorbitant interest.  However, when he saw this insurrection, we usually call the Peasants’ Revolt, he called for it to be stopped with great force by the princes’ armies. The armies of the peasants numbered in the tens of thousands.  They destroyed castles and attacked monasteries.  They took over entire towns and often forced others to participate in their activities.  Dr. Luther also made clear that any captives or those who surrendered should be treated mercifully. Eventually, the German princes used their superior armies to crush the peasants.***

Despite what I have read from many modern critics, Martin Luther did not delight in these events nor did he see the peasants’ grievances as petty.  However, he knew one thing that was very important.  Mobs cannot be trusted.  Religious charlatans and criminals will use mobs for their nefarious purposes.  Such mobs only steal and destroy.  And, in the end, after the violence, most often conditions become much worse for everyone.  Calls for Change often hide the real agenda of those promoting it.  He concluded later in the same text: 

“There is a difference between changing a government and improving it as the distance from heaven to earth.  It is easy to change a government, but it is difficult to get one that is better, and the danger is that you will not.  Why?  Because it is not in our will or power, but only in the will and the hand of God.  The mad mob, however, is not so much interested in how things can be improved, but only that things be changed.  Then if things are worse, they will want something still different.”****


*Martin Luther, Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, in Luther’s Works 46: 105-06. [Emphasis added]

**On Muntzer and his role in the Peasants’ Revolt see Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 2nd ed., pp. 137-150

***See Luther’s Admonition to Peace, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, and An Open Letter on the Harsh Book Against the Peasants in LW 46:17-85

****Luther, Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, LW 46:111-112. [Emphasis added]

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

Faith Works: Martin Luther’s Treatise on Good Works

Lutherans should celebrate the 500th anniversary of 1520 as a much more significant event than publication of the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.  The Indulgence Controversy and the image of Luther’s hammer has captured everyone’s imagination for a long time.  However, in 1520 the Turning Point in the emerging Reformation took place.  In this year, Dr. Martin Luther published a numbers of significant texts that demonstrated that theologically he had turned a metaphorical corner and was not looking back.  

In a series of short posts, I intend to examine some of these most significant texts over the coming months as a way to recognize this 500th year milestone.  I will begin here with Martin Luther’s Treatise on Good Works.  Luther had promised Georg Spalatin, Elector Frederick the Wise’s private secretary, to write a sermon to counter the criticism that his theological teachings prohibited good works.  He completed the work in May and it appeared in print in June 1520.

In this work Luther explained in detail his theological conception of the relationship between faith and good works for the first time.  Late medieval scholastic theologians had sought to explain the connection between faith and good deeds.  Two years previously,  Luther had rejected the late medieval scholastic theology in his explanations of the Heidelberg Disputation.  In thesis 25 Luther concluded, “He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without, work, believes much in Christ.”  In the explanation of this thesis, he reversed the scholastic focus on repetitive actions to acquire righteousness.  Thereby, he affirmed that faith receives righteousness before the Christian is able to perform good works.*    

In the Treatise on Good Works, Luther presents an exposition of the Ten Commandments based upon his theology of justification by faith alone.  This fits very well with Luther’s understanding of the First Commandment.  First, he writes that true good works are those things that God actually commands in Scripture.  Luther focuses his criticism throughout this text on religious activity promoted as good deeds of satisfaction by the papal theologians.  Then Luther wrote this significant statement:   

The first, highest, and most precious of all good works is faith in Christ, and as it says in John 6 [:28-29], when the Jews asked him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the good work of God?’ Jesus answered, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’  Now when we hear that or even preach it, we pass over it: we think nothing of it and think it easy to do, but actually we ought to pause a long time and think it over properly.  For in this work all good works exist, and from faith these works receive a borrowed goodness.  We must make this absolutely clear, so that men can understand it.”**   

Dr. Luther wrote explanations of each of the Ten Commandments throughout the rest of this treatise.  Here, he emphasizes the idea that obedience to the commandments only flows from faith in Christ and his redemptive action.  He concluded rhetorically in the following manner:    

  “Look here! This is how you must cultivate Christ in yourself, and see how in him God holds before you his mercy and offers it to you without my prior merits of you own.  It is from such a view of his grace that you must draw faith and confidence in the forgiveness of all sins.  Faith, therefore, does not originate in works, neither do works create faith, but faith must spring up and from the blood and wounds and death of Christ.  If you see in these that God is so kindly disposed toward you that he even gives his own Son for you, then your heart in turn must grow sweet and disposed toward God.”***

*Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, in Luther’s Works, vol.  31, pp. 55-56; Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, trans. James L. Schaaf (Minneapolis 1985), 231-234.

**Martin Luther, Treatise on Good Works, LW 44:23-24 [Emphasis added]

***Ibid., 38. [Emphasis added]

Posted in grace, Martin Luther, Reformation | 1 Comment

On the Violence of Love

“ ‘I have been wounded by love.’ [Song of Songs 2:5 Old Latin] Love urges me to speak about love, and I willingly devote myself to its service.  Indeed, it is sweet and altogether enjoyable to speak about love (dilectione)—a pleasant matter and quite rich, and one that cannot in any way produce tedium in the writer and disgust in the reader.  For that which is seasoned with love is flavorful beyond measure on the palate of the heart.  ‘If a man were to give the entire wealth of his house for his love (dilectione), he would think it nothing.’ [Song of Songs 8:7 Vulg.] ” Richard of St Victor, On the Four Degrees of Violent Love I.1. in On Love: Victorine Texts in Translation, p. 275.

Richard lived and taught at the abbey of St Victor in Paris from about 1150 to 1173.  He followed the tradition of the master teacher, Hugh of St Victor, in this focus on the force of love.  Additionally, he connects to the significant fascination that celibate clergy had with reading and commenting on an ancient Hebrew love poem and a part of Holy Scripture.  Notice the text begins with a quote from that text.  Hugh defined love in the follow manner:

“Love seems to be—and love is—the delight of somebody’s heart toward something on account of something.  It is desire in seeking, and delight in thoroughly enjoying; it runs by means of (per) desire, it rests by means of delight.” Hugh of St Victor, On the Substance of Love II.5 in On Love: Victorine Texts in Translation, p. 144. {emphasis added}

This definition could apply to a loving marriage or even a favorite food.  In his work, Richard compares love to a violent force that compels one to act.  While often associated with the Cistercians, Victorine masters also sought to understand how human love mirrored or explained divine love.  Cistercians transferred the literal understanding of a love poem (the Song of Songs) into a mystical relationship of the soul with God.  Richard, a mystical theologian, explained this power in what certainly seems like the purpose of romance:     

“Do you not think that the heart appears to be pierced when that fiery sting of love (amoris) penetrates one’s mind to the core of his being and transfixes his feelings, so much so that he is completely incapable of containing or concealing the boiling of his desire?  He is ablaze  with desire; he seethes with feeling.  He boils and pants, groaning deeply and drawing long, deep breaths.” Richard, Four Degrees in On Love, pp.276-77 

It really seems to me that Richard understood what it meant to be ‘in love’ with someone.  When we read the medieval theologians, we should always move from the literal to the allegorical.  Richard wants his reader to understand that he or she could feel within the soul a divine love that sweetens the affections and controls the body in the same way a lover bends his own will for his beloved. 

Posted in Love, medieval, Richard of St Victor | Leave a comment

Medieval Passover

“This holy festival, Pascha, is called a Passover because just as the Hebrew people were freed through the blood of the slaughtered lamb, from the angel, passing through Egypt for striking, so the faithful people are defended  through the blood of Christ the true lamb from the devil.  And just as the people, liberated from the the yoke of Pharaoh, passed over into Promised Land, so the Christian people will pass over from the yoke of the devil, liberated through Christ into the homeland of paradise.”   Honorius Augustodunensis, “De paschali die.” Patrologia Latina 172:930A [My translation]

In the early twelfth century, Honorius Augustodunensis wrote a collection of the sermons that survives in numerous manuscripts in the German-speaking lands of medieval Europe.  In this sermon for Easter, he explains how the Hebrew Passover foreshadowed the redemption of Christ’s blood for believers.  During the twelfth century, monastic preachers began to focus more intently on Christ’s redemption of sinful humanity.  For example read this excerpt from one of Bernard of Clairvaux’s 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.  A dear friend, a wise counselor, a strong helper.” Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 20. II. 3 trans. Kilian Walsh, On the Song of Songs I (Kalamazoo 1971), p. 149.

How did the Creator of humanity do this? Both Honorius and Bernard answer this question in more than one sermon. He does this through his suffering a tortuous death upon a the Cross and overcoming death through the Resurrection. As only the bloody death of the lamb could protect the Hebrews from the Angel of Death, so only the bloody death of the incarnate God could overcome death. Following the section above Bernard wrote Christ’s act of redemption:

“He is the one who conquered all things, even death, and tricked the serpent, the seducer of the world, with a holy deception. He was more prudent than the one, more powerful than the other. He took to himself as true body but only the likeness of sin, giving a sweet consolation to weak men in the one and the other hiding a trap to deceive the devil. To reconcile us to the Father he bravely suffered death and conquered it, pour out his blood as the price of our redemption.” (Ibid.)

Posted in Bernard of Clairvaux, Christ, Cistercian, Cross, Honorius Augustodunensis, preaching | Leave a comment

Happy Virginity

“O happy virginity, which humility adorns; o happy humility, which virginity honors.  Humility adorns virginity, so that it might not have pride.  Virginity honors humility, so that it may not be despised.  Therefore, virginity is humble, so that it may not be exalted.” Innocent III, Sermo XXVII. In solemnitate Assumptionis Gloriosissimae Semper Virginis Mariae, PL 217:578 [My translation]

Pope Innocent III comments on the Angel Gabriel’s proclamation to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her response: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38).   He is following the devotion expressed to Mary during the twelfth century.  The Virgin conceives and later births the God-man.  However, the Lord also blessed her with the grace of multiple virtues.  Here, the Virgin expresses her great humility and Innocent explains how well the two fit together in her body and soul. Read how Bernard of Clairvaux described her about 60 years earlier than Innocent III:

“How gracious is the union of virginity and humility! A soul in whom humility embellishes virginity and virginity ennobles humility finds no little favor with God.  Imagine then how much more worthy of reverence must she have been whose humility was raised by motherhood and whose virginity consecrated by her childbearing.  You are told that she is a virgin.  You are told that she is humble.  If you are not able to imitate the virginity of this humble maid, then imitate the humility of the virgin maid.  Virginity is a praiseworthy virtue, but humility is by far the most necessary.” Bernard of Clairvaux, Homily I.5 in Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary, trans. Marie-Bernard Said (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1993), 9. [Emphasis added]

However, remember that the Blessed Virgin did not earn or merit any worthiness of her own.  The Lord chose her graciously and she responded in great humility.  As Bernard discussed in another homily, God wanted to become a human being to redeem sinners.  In order to accomplish this feat, God needed a virgin woman.  Read as Bernard’s explanation:

“The only childbearing becoming to a virgin is to give birth to God alone.  So it was that the Maker of mankind, in order to become a man, born of human flesh, had to choose one person out of all the living, or rather, he had to create someone whom he knew would be worthy to be his mother, someone in whom he was sure he could delight.  That was why he wanted her to be a virgin, someone unstained from whom he himself could be born stainless, for he was to wipe away all our stains.” Homily II.1. in Ibid., p. 15.       

Posted in Bernard of Clairvaux, Innocent III, Mary, medieval | Leave a comment