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

Soloviev: The meaning of Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”

“The major character is a representative of the view that any powerful man is a master to himself, and everything is permitted to him. In the name of his personal superiority, in the name of the fact that he is a force, he deems that he has the right to commit murder, and he actually does so. but suddenly a matter that he considered only a violation of a meaningless law and a daring challenge to social prejudice turns out to be for his personal conscience somehow much greater–a sin, a violation of intrinsic moral truth. A violation of the external law receives legitimate retribution outwardly in exile and hard labor; but the inner sin of pride, of self-deification, separating a powerful man from humanity and leading him to murder, can be atoned only be an inward moral act of self-abnegation. Boundless self-assurance must vanish before a faith in that which is greater than self; and self-made justification must become humble before God’s supreme truth, living in those very simple and weak people upon whom the powerful man gaze as upon worthless insects” (Soloviev, The Heart of Reality, Trans V. Wozniuk, p. 10).

Dante: repentance and Purgatory

“Dante believed that genuine and passionate conversion or repentance is in any case necessary to salvation. If a man is not so repentant at the moment of death his way lies to Acheron, and repentance is for ever impossible. But if, at that moment of death, not only his aspirations and resolves but his affections and impulses are directed aright, then there is no going back for him, and his dispositions, secure from all change or slackening, become irrevocable as he passes into the world of spirits. When Dante had seen Hell he felt that whatever weakness or fluctuation there might still be in his life the vision itself could never wax dim. Henceforth he would always know sin for what it was; and when the decisive moment came the rush of his affections would inevitably sweep him towards that which is good; just as when we are most chilled or even embittered in our feelings towards those we love, we know in our heart that if, at that instant, our whole relation to them were collectively and conclusively at stake our trivial sense of alienation would be utterly consumed in the flame of all-embracing love; and this very knowledge makes us ashamed of the momentary disproportions which our distorted vision has imposed upon the things that matter and the things that do not. It was to secure men to this condition of underlying certainty of affection, even amid the rise and fall of random impulses not yet under full control, that Dante deliver his message to “remove those living in this life from the state of misery and bring them to the state of bliss.” Thus, if the Inferno is a study of unrepentant sin, the Purgatorio is a study of the state of true penitence wherever and whenever it may exist. Continue reading