Thomas à Kempis – “desire to be unknown”

Chapter II – Of thinking humbly of oneself

There is naturally in every man a desire to know, but what profiteth knowledge without the fear of God? Better of a surety is a lowly peasant who serveth God, than a proud philosopher who watcheth the stars and neglecteth the knowledge of himself. He who knoweth himself well is vile in his own sight; neither regardeth he the praises of men. If I knew all the things that are in the world, and were not in charity, what should it help me before God, who is to judge me according to my deeds?

2. Rest from inordinate desire of knowledge, for therein is found much distraction and deceit. Those who have knowledge desire to appear learned, and to be called wise. Many things there are to know which profiteth little or nothing to the soul. And foolish out of measure is he who attendeth upon other things rather than those which serve to his soul’s health. Many words satisfy not the soul, but a good life refresheth the mind, and a pure conscience giveth great confidence towards God.

3. The greater and more complete thy knowledge, the more severely shalt thou be judged, unless thou hast lived holily. Therefore be not lifted up by any skill or knowledge that thou hast; but rather fear concerning the knowledge which is given to thee. If it seemeth to thee that thou knowest many things, and understandest them well, know also that there are many more things which thou knowest not. Be not high-minded, but rather confess thine ignorance. Why desirest thou to lift thyself above another, when there are found many more learned and more skilled in the Scripture than thou? If thou wilt know and learn anything with profit, love to be thyself unknown and to be counted for nothing. [alternative trans: “If thou wilt know or learn anything profitably, desire to be unknown, and to be little esteemed”].

[Contra ‘social media’, contra various (I suspect) vain and (without question) brand-building church personalities – making much of exploits in order to sell books and speak at conferences etc. Cf the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 – he easily boasts and catalogues various disasters and hardships, but only reluctantly shares the vision and leaves uncatalogued entirely the various “signs of a true Apostle”].

4. That is the highest and most profitable lesson, when a man truly knoweth and judgeth lowly of himself. To account nothing of one’s self, and to think always kindly and highly of others, this is great and perfect wisdom. Even shouldest thou see thy neighbor sin openly and grievously, yet thou oughtest not to reckon thyself better than he, for thou knowest not how long thou shalt keep thine integrity. All of us are weak and frail; hold thou no man more frail than thyself.

H/T The Literature Project

Sertillanges and the news

“As to newspapers, defend yourself against them with the energy that the continuity and the indiscretion of their assault make indispensable. You must know what the papers contain, but they contain so little, and it would be easy to learn it all without settling down to interminable lazy sittings.”

(The Intellectual Life, pg. 148-149).

Curiositas killed the New Media cat


Curiosity, a desire to learn and discover new things, is a good and necessary part of what it means to be a healthy and active human being. However, if a person is spiritually sick (because of their own actions or the actions of others) this good impulse can become warped and symptomatic of a troubled soul. Ancient and medieval philosophers, mystics, pastors, and theologians gave a lot of thought to diagnosing spiritual ailments and prescribing appropriate treatment for those ailments in the form of spiritual discipline. One philosopher named Josef Pieper is almost unmatched in his ability to distill this ancient and medieval wisdom and present it fresh to the modern world.

 Josef Pieper died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 93. New Media would doubtless have been known to him, though it had not yet begun to dominate late-modern life as it now has. However, what he writes seems to anticipate some of the issues that New Media has exasperated in human souls. It seems that New Media, may act as a kind of stimulant for spiritual struggles which have always afflicted Adam’s helpless race in varying degrees.

Pieper outlines a particular kind of spiritual illness which is called accidie, or acedia (Faith, Hope, Love, pp 120-121). Accidie is normally (and unfortunately) translated ‘sloth’. It is regarded as one of the Seven Capital Sins (often referred to as the Seven Deadly Sins – also a misnomer). It is more accurate to understand accidie as a ‘sorrow of the world’ (2 Corinthians 7:10), existential listlessness, a kind of wrath turned inward on the self (shown vividly in Dante’s Inferno, canto 7). Accidie will come up again and again in New Media Holiness, but for now I want to focus upon a couple of the by-products, or symptoms, of accidie. Continue reading

the companions and peers of despair

“Though not the only offspring of acedia, despair is the most legitimate. Saint Thomas Aquinas has assembled the filiae acediae, the companions and peers of despair, in a demonic constellation that it will be rewarding to consider for a moment… In addition to despair, acedia gives birth to that uneasy restlessness of mind that Thomas calls evagatio mentis: “No one can remain in sadness”; but since it is precisely his most inward being that causes the sadness of one who has fallen prey to acedia, the result is that such a one struggles to break out of the peace at the center of his own being.

For its part, evagatio mentis reveals itself in loquaciousness (verbositas), in excessive curiosity (curiositas), in an irreverent urge “to pour oneself out from the peak of of the mind onto many things” (importunitas), in interior restlessness (inquietudo), and in instability of place or purpose (instabilitas loci vel propositi). All these concepts that are inseparably related to “uneasy restlessness of mind” (evagatio mentis) are to be met with again in Heidegger’s analysis of “everyday existence” (which, however, is not concerned with the religious significance of acedia): “being’s flight from itself”, “loquaciousness”, “curiosity” as concern about the “possibility of abandoning oneself to the world”, “importunity”, “distraction”, “instability”.

Evagatio mentis and despair are followed by a third offspring of acedia–a sluggish indifference (torpor) toward those things that are in truth necessary for man’s salvation; it is linked by an inner necessity to the denial of man’s higher self that springs from sadness and sloth. The fourth offspring is pusillanimity (pusillanimitas) toward all the mystical opportunities that are open to man. The fifth is irritable rebellion (rancor) against all who are charged with the responsibility of preventing man’s true and divinized self from falling prey to forgetfulness, to “self-forgetfulness”. The last offspring is malitita, malice par excellence, a conscious inner choice and decision in favor of evil as evil that has its source in hatred for the divine in man” (Faith, Hope, Love, p. 120-121).