Patience, hope, and love – Gabriel Marcel

“If we introduce the element of patience into non-acceptance we at once come very much nearer to hope. It seems then that there exists a secret and rarely discovered connection between the way in which the ego is either centred or not centred in itself, and its reaction to the duration of time, or more precisely to the temporal order, that is to say to the fact that change is possible in reality. A simple expression borrowed from everyday language is a help here: to take one’s time. He who stiffens and rebels does not know how to take his time. What exactly do these words, so foreign to the vocabulary of technical philosophy, mean? “Take your time”, an examiner would say, for example, to a flurried candidate. That means, do not force the personal rhythm, the proper cadence of your reflection, or even of your memory, for if you do you will spoil your chances, you will be likely to say at random the first words which come into your head. It may seem that we have wandered very far from hope in the strict sense of the word. I do not think so, and this how I am going to try to explain the analogy, or more exactly, perhaps, the secret affinity between hope and relaxation. Does not he who hopes, and, as we have seen, has to contend with a certain trail comparable to a form of captivity, tend to treat this trial and to proceed in regard to it as he who is patient towards himself treats his inexperience young ego, the ego which needs educating and controlling. Above all he never lets it contract but, on the other hand, he does not allow it to kick over the traces* or take control prematurely or unwarrantably. From this point of view, hope means first accepting the trial as an integral part of the self, but while so doing it considers it as destined to be absorbed and transmuted by the inner works of a certain creative process.

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Further back I spoke of patience with oneself; perhaps it is still more instructive now to consider patience with others. This most certainly consists in never hustling or being rough with another person, more exactly, in never trying to substitute our won rhythm for his by violence. Neither should the other person be treated as though he lacked an autonomous rhythm, and could accordingly be force or bent to suit us. Let us say positively this time that it consists in placing our confidence in a certain process of growth and development. To give one’s confidence does not merely mean that one makes an act of theoretical acceptance with no idea of intervention, for that would, in fact, be to abandon the other purely and simply to himself. No, to have confidence here seems to mean to embrace this process, in a sense, so that we promote it from within. Patience seems, then, to suggest a certain temporal pluralism, a certain pluralisation of the self in time. It is radically opposed to the act by which I despair of the other person, declaring that he is good for nothing, or that he will never understand anything, or that he is incurable. That is, of course, the same despair which makes me proclaim that I shall never be cured, that I shall never see the end of my captivity, etc. It seems, strangely enough, that in hoping, I develop in connection with the event, and perhaps above all through what it makes of me, a type of relationship, a kind of intimacy comparable to that which I have with the other person when I am patient with him. Perhaps we might go so far as to speak here of a certain domesticating of circumstances, which might otherwise, if we allowed them to get the better of us, fright us into accepting them as a fatum. If we look no further than its etymological meaning, patience appears to be just a simple letting things alone, or allowing them to take their course, but if we take the analysis a little further we find that such non-interference is of a higher order than indifference and implies a subtle respect for the other person’s need of time to preserve his vital rhythm, so that it tends to exercises a transforming influence upon him which is comparable to that which sometimes rewards love. It should moreover be shown how here and there pure causality is utterly left behind. Of course patience can easily be degraded; it can become mere weakness, or mere complacency, precisely in so far as it betrays the principle of charity which should animate it.”

* “The idiom ‘kick over the traces’ goes back at least to the 1800s and refers to the straps that attach a horse, oxen or other draft animal to the wagon it is pulling, known as traces. If an animal kicks over the traces, it steps over these leather straps. This makes it impossible for the driver to control the animal” – h/t http://www.grammarist.com

Marcel, Gabriel. Homo Viator: Introduction to the Metaphysic of Hope. USA: Harper Torch Book, 1965, pgs 39-40.

Anger and its Human Responses – A comparative study of Aristotle and Dante

Dante’s Commedia is often referred to as “the Summa in verse”[i] due to the influence of Thomas Aquinas upon Dante’s theological, philosophical, and moral formation. Aquinas is himself influenced by Aristotle, whom he regards as “The Philosopher.” Dante was undoubtedly familiar with Aristotle.[ii] Thus, by way of Aquinas’ influence upon Dante, and Dante’s own knowledge of Aristotle, we can see elements of Aristotelian thought put into verse, albeit Aristotelian thought strengthened and refined by the Christian faith of Aquinas and Dante. This essay intends to explore Aristotle’s understanding of the varied human responses to anger and then see how Dante’s poetic imagery expresses or expands upon Aristotle’s thinking. This will be done by way of exegesis and comparison of Aristotle and Dante’s work while utilizing Thomas’ commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics as the link. It is hoped that Aristotle and Dante’s unique insights may shed mutual light upon one another.

 

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Follow this link for Aquinas’ commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics.

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Before we look at the specific passage in the Ethics it is necessary to express concisely how the passage is framed within Aristotle’s entire work. Aristotle begins the Ethics by stating, “Every art [τέχνη – “art, skill, cunning of hand”][iii] and every investigation [μέθοδος – “pursuit of knowledge, investigation”][iv], and likewise every practical pursuit [πρᾶξις – “doing”][v] or undertaking [προαίρεσις – “purpose, resolution”][vi], seems to aim at some good: hence it has been well said that the Good is That at which all things aim.”[vii] In the Ethics Aristotle explores what this means in all its diversity. There are a variety of Goods at which we aim, as well as a hierarchy amongst the Goods. There is a lack of understanding regarding what the universal conception of the Good is, and what the Good is in relation to particulars. Also, there is the possibility of a rejection of the Good. For humans, the Good is different from that which is the Good for plants or animals, and this is due to our specific difference. The specific difference is our capacity to reason.[viii] This specific difference defines and clarifies the specific function or aim of human life. To live in a good way, or to live exercising our capacity to reason in a good way, means to live virtuously (ἀρετή – “goodness, excellence, of any kind”).[ix] If humans live in this way consistently and fully we will be happy (εὐδαιμονία – “true, full happiness”).[x]

Continue reading “Anger and its Human Responses – A comparative study of Aristotle and Dante”

‘My name is John Daker’ as a theological parable about the relationship between eros and agape and the virtue of perseverance. ;)

Recently I was reminded of the video ‘My name is John Daker’ and it got me thinking… Initially, I was a bit baffled by the medley of two songs, one a classic Christian hymn celebrating the resurrection and the other a 1950s hit song by Dean Martin celebrating romantic love. However, I now think John Daker was making a profound (though subtle) theological point in crafting his performance into a parable.

As Origen states (echoing St. Ignatius of Antioch), ‘my eros has been crucified’. However, it is because of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and Pentecost that our eros may be redeemed and gathered up into agape and thus be directed towards the Lord in worship (a total repudiation of Nygren’s thesis in ‘Eros and Agape’ (with a h/t to Dante) doubtless both these works influence this parable). In our ‘now and not-yet’ reality none of us can give clear expression to this truth. We forget, falter and get things wrong (sometimes even embarrassing ourselves). The key is to persist under the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit in allowing the resurrection power of Christ to sanctify all our loves. One of the key virtues in this spiritual warfare is the virtue of perseverance. This virtue is called to battle especially when it appears that what we are doing is futile, ridiculous or failing. As John Daker indicates through the clever use of his eyebrows, he gets all of this perfectly. Also, by recording his parable and stating his name at the outset he indicates that this ‘treasure’ is held in jars of clay and must be joyously incorporated into our witness. ‘God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness’.

Dostoevsky — “Beauty would save the world”

“HIPPOLYTE, who had fallen asleep during Lebedeff’s discourse, now suddenly woke up, just as though someone had jogged him in the side. He shuddered, raised himself on his arm, gazed around, and grew very pale. A look almost of terror crossed his face as he recollected.

“What! are they all off? Is it all over? Is the sun up?” He trembled, and caught at the prince’s hand. “What time is it? Tell me, quick, for goodness’ sake! How long have I slept?” he added, almost in despair, just as though he had overslept something upon which his whole fate depended.

“You have slept seven or perhaps eight minutes,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.

Hippolyte gazed eagerly at the latter, and mused for a few moments.

“Oh, is that all?” he said at last. “Then I–“

He drew a long, deep breath of relief, as it seemed. He realized that all was not over as yet, that the sun had not risen, and that the guests had merely gone to supper. He smiled, and two hectic spots appeared on his cheeks.

“So you counted the minutes while I slept, did you, Evgenie Pavlovitch?” he said, ironically. “You have not taken your eyes off me all the evening–I have noticed that much, you see! Ah, Rogojin! I’ve just been dreaming about him, prince,” he added, frowning. “Yes, by the by,” starting up, “where’s the orator? Where’s Lebedeff? Has he finished? What did he talk about? Is it true, prince, that you once declared that ‘beauty would save the world’? Great Heaven! The prince says that beauty saves the world! And I declare that he only has such playful ideas because he’s in love! Gentlemen, the prince is in love. I guessed it the moment he came in. Don’t blush, prince; you make me sorry for you. What beauty saves the world? Colia told me that you are a zealous Christian; is it so? Colia says you call yourself a Christian.”

The prince regarded him attentively, but said nothing. Continue reading “Dostoevsky — “Beauty would save the world””

Eros, Agape, and mere sex

“There is an implication to calling eros a mediative power that unites the lowest with the highest in man; that links the natural, sensual, ethical and spiritual elements; that prevents one element from being isolated from the rest; that preserves the quality of true humanness in all the forms of love from sexuality to agape. The implication is that none of these elements can be excluded as inappropriate to man, that all of them “belong”. The great tradition of Christendom even holds that those aspects of man which derive from his nature as a created being are the foundation for everything “higher” and for all other divine gifts that may be conferred upon him. “It is not the spiritual that comes first but the sensuous-earthly and then the spiritual”–if one were unfamiliar with this quotation, one would scarcely guess that it comes from the New Testament (1 Cor 15:46). Furthermore, Thomas Aquinas, the last great teacher of a still undivided Western Christendom, says that were natural love (amor), or eros, not something good in itself, then caritas (agape) could not perfect it. Rather, agape would have to discard and excluded eros (which Anders Nygren asserts that it does). That same tradition we call “Western” in the specific sense of being not unworldly but rather characterized by a “worldliness” founded on a religious and theological basis–that tradition speaks with complete matter-of-factness of sexuality as a good. It says, with Aristotle, that there is something divine in the human seed. And unresponsiveness to sensual joy, insensibilitas, is treated not only as a defect but also as a vitium, a moral deficiency. On the other hand, the underlying conception implies that all of man’s powers, and especially sexuality, can remain “right” and “in order” only in their natural place, which is to say, within the wholeness of physical-spiritual-mental existence. Once again we call to mind the mediative and integrating functions of eros. Continue reading “Eros, Agape, and mere sex”

“Heaven” and the Ascension

“To understand it [heaven], let us skip all approximations and go straight to the point: Heaven is the intimate reserve of holy God, that which St. Paul calls the “light inaccessible” which he inhabits, unapproachable for any creature (I Tim. 6:16). When we meet a person in the street or in a room, he stand there openly before us. We can look at him, photograph him, describe him, and can often guess a good deal of what is going on inside him. Withal, he is more or less ‘public.’ On one point, however, he remains impenetrable: his attitude towards himself, his manner of answering for himself and his acts. For the most part, man is absorbed by corporal, psychological, sociological realities; in other words, by public things. But there are certain moments when he retires into a corner of his being that is closed to others–into his most personal self. No one can violate that privacy; if it is to be opened, then only by opening itself. This is what happens in love, when a person not only permits himself to be observed, not only speaks about himself, but gives himself in vital exchange. If the other accepts him, likewise opening the way to his most intimate self, desire the other more than himself, entering into pure contemplation and exchange, the the two intimacies unite in a single community open to both participants, but closed to everyone else. The greater and deeper the person and his experience, the less accessible this inmost realm will be. But what if it is not question of a person, but of God? God, the incommensurable, infinite, simple; essence of truth and holiness? His reserve is absolute. Nothing can even approach it. God is all light because he is Truth itself; all clarity, because nothing can overshadow him; he is the Lord, free and genuine Being to whom all that is belongs–yet inaccessible in his light, mysterious in his truth, invulnerable in his kingdom. This initmate reserve of God is heaven, ‘destination’ of the risen Lord–and not only of his spirit, but of the whole resurrected Lord in all his living reality” (Romano Guardini, The Lord, p 429).