Monthly Archives: September 2007

The Lotus Eaters

Ulysses to Penelope

In a far distant land they dwell,
     Who love the shadow more than light,
     More than the sun the moon,
     Cool evening more than noon,
Pale silver more than gold that glitters bright,
     A dark cloud overhangs their land
          Like a mighty hand,
     Never moving from above it ;
     A cool shade and moist and dim,
     With a twilight purple rim,
          And they love it.
     And sometimes it giveth rain,
       But soon it ceaseth as before,
     And earth drieth up again,—
       Then the dews rise more and more,
       Till it filleth, dropping o’er ;
     But no forked lightnings flit,
     And no thunders roll in it.
     Through the land a river flows,
     With a sleepy sound it goes :
       Such a drowsy noise, in sooth,
          Those who will not listen hear not :
          But, if one is wakeful, fear not—
     It shall lull him to repose,
       Bringing back the dreams of youth.
     Hemlock groweth, poppy bloweth,
     In the fields where no man moweth :
     And the vine is full of wine
     And are full of milk the kine,
     And the hares are all secure,
     And the birds are wild no more,
     And the forest-trees wax old,
     And winds stir, or hot or cold,—
     And yet no man taketh care,
     All things resting everywhere.

Christina Georgina Rossetti
7 October 1847

Posted in Poetry | 1 Comment

On the Study of Theology

Why Doe Young Lay-Men So Much Studie Divinity?

Is it because others tending busily Churches preferment neglect studie? Or had the Church of Rome shut up all our wayes till the Lutherans broke down their uttermost stubborned dores, and the Calvinists picked their inwardest and subtlest lockes? Surely the Divell cannot bee such a Foole to hope that hee shall make this study contemptible, by making it common. Nor that as the Dwellers by the river Origus are said (by drawing infinite ditches to sprinckle their barren Countrey) to have exhausted and intercepted their maine channell, and so lost their more profitable course to the Sea; so wee, by providing every ones selfe, divinity enough for his owne use, should neglect our Teachers and Fathers. Hee cannot hope for better heresies than he hath had, nor was his Kingdome ever so much advanced by debating Religion (though with some aspersions of Error) as by a Dull and stupid security, in which many grosse things are swallowed. Possible out of such an Ambition as we have now, to speake plainely and fellow-like with Lords and Kings, wee thinke also to acquaint our selves with Gods secrets: Or perchance when wee study it by mingling humane respects, It is not Divinity.

John Donne
Probleme 5 from Juvenilia: Or Certaine Paradoxes, And Problemes, 1633

Some hopefully helpful notes:
preferment: appointment to a salaried position
stubborned: hard; difficult to move
…Origus…: Perhaps Oricus, a city in Greece? This is a cautionary tale of unknown origin (to me, at least, and Google doesn’t help), though it’s vaguely familiar: a city situated on a river with barren fields digs so many canals for irrigation (ostensibly to improve the agricultural yield and thereby the city’s economic situation) that the river downstream is no longer navigable and the city loses its more profitable sea trade.
divinity: theology

Posted in Theobabble | 2 Comments

Your prayer

I have tried to point out, first of all, that your prayer must be turned inwards, not towards a God of Heaven nor towards a God far off, but towards God who is closer to you than you are aware; and secondly, that the first act of prayer is to choose such words of prayer as are completely true to what you are, words which you are not ashamed of, which express you adequately and are worthy of you—and then offer them to God with all the intelligence of which you are capable. You must also put all the heart you can into an act of worship, an act of recognition of God, an act of cherishing, which is the true meaning of charity, an action which involves you in the mind, in the heart, and an action which is completely adequate to what you are.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
Beginning to Pray, p. 49

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More blog stuff

Dear readers,

I unfortunately just had a database mess that wiped out all my categories, which I had to restore manually. The things we do for love! I think everything is back to working fine now, though.

Please let me know if you run into any peculiarities.

Posted in Administrivia | Leave a comment

The Silencing of the Oracles

Now moderation, adequacy, excess in nothing, and complete self-sufficiency are above all else the essential characteristics of everything done by the gods; and if anyone should take this fact as a starting-point, and assert that Greece has far more than its share in the general depopulation which the earlier discords and wars have wrought throughout practically the whole inhabited earth, and that to-day the whole of Greece would hardly muster three thousand men-at-arms, which is the number that the one city of the Megarians sent forth to Plataeae (for the god’s abandoning of many oracles is nothing other than his way of substantiating the desolation of Greece), in this way such a man would give some accurate evidence of his keenness in reasoning. For who would profit if there were an oracle in Tegyrae, as there used to be, or at Ptoüm, where during some part of the day one might possibly meet a human being pasturing his flocks? And regarding the oracle here at Delphi, the most ancient in time and the most famous in repute, men record that for a long time it was made desolate and unapproachable by a fierce creature, a serpent; they do not, however, put the correct interpretation upon its lying idle, but quite the reverse; for it was the desolation that attracted the creature rather than that the creature caused the desolation. But when Greece, since God so willed, had grown strong in cities and the place was thronged with people, they used to employ two prophetic priestesses who were sent down in turn; and a third was appointed to be held in reserve. But to-day there is one priestess and we do not complain, for she meets every need. There is no reason, therefore, to blame the god; the exercise of the prophetic art which continues at the present day is sufficient for all, and sends away all with their desires fulfilled. Agammemnon, for example, used nine heralds and, even so, had difficulty in keeping the assembly in order because of the vast numbers; but here in Delphi, a few days hence, in the theatre you will see that one voice reaches all. In the same way, in those days, prophecy employed more voices to speak to more people, but to-day, quite the reverse, we should needs be surprised at the god if he allowed his prophecies to run to waste, like water, or to echo like the rocks with the voices of shepherds and flocks in waste places.

Plutarch, The Obsolescence of Oracles, 413F-414C
Translation by Frank Cole Babbitt, LCL 306

The above is the core of Plutarch’s explanation for the various oracles of the Greek world having fallen silent in the late first and early second centuries AD: there weren’t enough people for them to be necessary. In a way, he may be right, in that votive donations will have steeply declined in the drastic depopulation in the Greek territories. Of course, this was also the time of the explosive growth of Christianity in precisely those territories, a development that Plutarch never mentions, but which certainly played a role in redirecting worship and funding. Further affecting the situation would be the elimination of the city-state democracies, and thereby the Amphictyonic League which supported Delphi, particularly with the advent of the Roman Principate. That is, with the possibility of patronage being limited by the Emperor and a small elite controlling the economy, Delphi and other formerly prestigious sites will have vied for the attention of the few funds available, with the bigger names winning out. Everyone knew Delphi and Dodona, but who in Rome knew Tegyrae or Ptoüm? Most likely, a combination of all of the above-mentioned points was responsible for the silencing of the oracles.

Even Delphi went silent in the late fourth century with the closing of pagan temples by Emperor Theodosius. This was, in a sense, a very real triumph of the Nazarene over the Delian.

Posted in Classics | 3 Comments

Brimfull of the friendliness

Keen, fitful gusts are whisp’ring here and there
   Among the bushes half leafless, and dry ;
   The stars look very cold about the sky,
And I have many miles on foot to fare.
Yet feel I little of the cold bleak air,
   Or of the dead leaves rustling drearily,
   Or of those silver lamps that burn on high,
Or of the distance from home’s pleasant lair :
For I am brimfull of the friendliness
   That in a little cottage I have found ;
Of fair-hair’d Milton’s eloquent distress,
   And all his love for gentle Lycid drown’d ;
Of lovely Laura in her light green dress,
   And faithful Petrarch gloriously crown’d.

John Keats, 1817

Posted in Poetry | 1 Comment


Concerning the teachings of the Church, whether publicly proclaimed (kerygmata) or reserved to members of the household of faith (dogmata), we have received some from written sources, while others have been given to us secretly, through apostolic tradition. Both sources have equal force in true religion. No one would deny either source—no one, at any rate, who is even slightly familiar with the ordinances of the Church. If we attacked unwritten customs, claiming them to be of little importance, we would fatally mutilate the Gospel, no matter what our intentions—or rather, we would reduce the Gospel teachings to bare words. For instance (to take the first and most common example), were is the written teaching that we should sign with the sign of the Cross those who, trusting in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, are to be enrolled as catechumens? Which book teaches us to pray facing the East? Have any saints left for us in writing the words to be used in the invocation over the Eucharistic bread and the cup of blessing? As everyone knows, we are not content in the liturgy simply to recite the words recorded by St. Paul or the Gospels, but we add other words both before and after, words of great importance for this mystery. We have received these words from unwritten teaching. We bless baptismal water and the oil for chrismation as well as the candidate approaching the font. By what written authority do we do this, if not from secret and mystical tradition? Even beyond blessing the oil, what written command do we have to anoint with it? What about baptizing a man with three immersions, or other baptismal rites, such as the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Are not all these things found in unpublished and unwritten teachings, which our fathers guarded in silence, safe from meddling and petty curiosity? They had learned their lesson well; reverence for the mysteries is best encouraged by silence. The uninitiated were not even allowed to be present at the mysteries; how could you expect these teachings to be paraded about in public documents? Why did the great Moses not open every part of the meeting-tent to everyone? The unclean he placed outside the sacred precincts, while the first court was assigned for the ritually pure. He judged only the Levites worthy to serve God, while sacrifices, burnt-offerings, and other priestly functions were reserved to the priests. Only one chosen from all the priests was admitted into the innermost sanctuary, but only on one day each year. Even on this one day he entered for only a short time, so that he would be amazed by the novelty and strangeness of gazing on the Holy of Holies. Moses was wise enough to realize that triteness and familiarity breed contempt, but the unusual and the unfamiliar naturally commands eager interest. In the same way, when the apostles and Fathers established ordinances for the Church, they protected the dignity of the mysteries with silence and secrecy from the beginning, since what is noised abroad to anyone at random is no mystery at all. We have unwritten tradition so that the knowledge of dogma might not become neglected and scorned through familiarity. Dogma is one thing, kerygma another; the first is observed in silence, while the other is proclaimed to the world. One form of silence is the obscurity found in certain passages of Scripture, which makes the meaning of some dogmas difficult to perceive for the reader’s own advantage. For instance, we all pray facing East, but few realize that we do this because we are seeking Paradise, our old fatherland, which God planted in the East in Eden. We all stand for prayer on Sunday, but not everyone knows why. We stand for prayer on the day of the Resurrection to remind ourselves of the graces we have been given: not only because we have been raised with Christ and are obliged to seek the things that are above, but also because Sunday seems to be an image of the age to come. Notice that although Sunday is the beginning of days, Moses does not call it the first day, but one day: “And there was evening and there was morning, one day,” since this day would recur many times. Therefore “one” and “eight” are the same, and the “one” day really refers both to itself and to the “eighth” day. Even the Psalmist follows this usage in certain titles of the psalms. This day foreshadows the state which is to follow the present age: a day without sunset, nightfall, or successor, and age which does not grow old or come to an end. It is therefore necessary for the Church to teach her newborn children to stand for prayer on this day, so that they will always be reminded of eternal life, and not neglect preparations for their journey. The entire season of Pentecost is likewise a reminder of the resurrection we expect in the age to come. If we count that one day, the first of days, and then multiply it seven times seven, we will have completed the seven weeks of the holy Pentecost, and the season ends on the same day it began (Sunday) with fifty days having elapsed. Therefore this season is an image of eternity, since it begins and ends at the same point, like a circle. During this time the ordinances of the Church instruct us to pray standing, and by this reminder our minds are made to focus on the future instead of the present. Also, every time we bend our knees for prayer and then rise again, we show by this action that through sin we fell down to earth, but our Creator, the Lover of Mankind, has called us back to heaven.

St Basil the Great. On the Holy Spirit,

Posted in Patristics | 1 Comment