Some wisdomly advice

Do not saddle yourself with fools: he is one who does not know them, and a greater, he who knowing them, does not shake them off, for they are dangerous in the daily round, and deadly as confidants, even if at times their cowardice restrains them; or the watchful eye of another; in the end they commit some foolishness, or speak it, which if they tarry over it, is only to make it worse: slight aid to another’s reputation, he who has none himself; they are full of woes, the welts of their follies, and they trade in the one for the other; but this about them is not so bad, that even though the wise are of no service to them, they are of much service to the wise, either as example, or as warning.

Gracian’s Manual § 197.

On Reserve

In all matters keep something in reserve. It is to insure your position ; not all your wit must be spent nor all your energies sapped every time ; even of what you know keep a rear guard, for it is to double your advantage, always to have in reserve something to call upon when danger threatens bad issue ; the support may mean more than the attack, because it exhibits faith and fortitude. An intelligent man always plays safe, wherefore even here that sharp paradox holds : more is the half, than the whole.

Gracian’s Manual, § 170

Louth, Gadamer, Haecker

Language and literature disclose to us the moral realm of free human agents: the moral realm, because we understand it by analogy with the way we understand ourselves. In it we are confronted with the mystery of human freedom, as opposed to the puzzle of the interaction of natural laws; and this is a mystery in which we participate. “The world of history depends on freedom, and this remains an ultimately unplumbable mystery of the person. Only the study of one’s own conscience can approach it, and only God can know the truth here. For this reason historical study will not seek knowledge of laws and cannot call on experiment. For the historian is separated from his object of study by the infinite intermediary of tradition” [Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode; 4th ed. Tuebingen, 1975; p. 191. A newer, revised English translation is available: Truth and Method, Second Revised Edition. Continuum, 1989]. But this intermediary of tradition, although it does exclude experiment and the search for that sort of objectivity, is the bearer of positive meaning and truth: “it is not a yawning abyss, but is filled with the continuity of custom and tradition, in the light of which all that is handed down presents itself to us” [ibid., pp 264-5]. This “continuity” is the continuity of human communication, an experience of the transparency laid bare by language and literature: “‘hearsay’ is here not bad evidence, but the only evidence possible” [ibid., p. 191]. Understood like this, tradition is the context in which one can be free, it is not something that constrains us and prevents us from being free. “The fact is that tradition is constantly an element of freedom and of history itself. Even the most genuine and solid tradition does not persist by nature because of the intertia of what once existed. It needs to be affirmed, embraced, cultivated…” [ibid., p. 250]. The act of interpretation is one of the ways in which tradition is “affirmed, embraced, cultivated” and passed on.

From such a point of view the idea of an antithesis between tradition and reason, tradition and historical research, history and knowledge is rejected. Rather, tradition, as preservation, is an act of reason, and interpretation is engagement with what is presented to us by tradition.

Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford, 1983)

It’s difficult to extract any passage in Louth’s book as these excerpts give the impression that they are discrete entitities, which is anything but the truth. His argumentation flows, quoting from one writer and then another, with all the facility of a master mosaicist, each quotation a jewel-like tessera set in place to create the kingly image of his own devising. The passage above is roughly in the middle of a long exposition of Gadamer and those of whom Gadamer writes, and with a short transition flows smoothly into an interesting excerpt from Theodor Haecker, Vergil: Vater des Abendlandes (5th ed, Munich, 1947):

I am not talking about Vergil and Vergilianism without presuppositions. No one does that or can do it, whatever or whomever he speaks of. Each consideration or description is based on a principle, even if on the nihilistic principle of being without principles. Man acknowledges nothing without presuppositions, even nothingness itself presupposes fulness of being, not vice versa. It is not presuppositionlessness in general and in itself which is the requirement of an exact science, but on the contrary, the possession of the fulness of all presuppositions which belong to a determinate object both subjectively from the side of the one in pursuit of understanding and objectively on the side of the object. Certainly, for a historian as a rule the present is confusion and darkness, things must lie at a certain distance before they can have or reveal a meaning, but then also they have it within living history only through things which lie before us, which for better or for worse have indeed to be presupposed as true things. If then, for example, someone demands of me that I speak of Vergil and Vergilian man without presuppositions, then I will ask him what he means by that. Is he demanding of me that I should speak, in the words of the ancient historian, sine ira et studio [=”without anger or partiality”], that is without yielding to any disposition, without any passion that clouds the vision, without any egotistical or partial purpose? Good, he is doubtless right. Is he demanding of me not to permit what does not proceed from the object itself? Good, he is again right. But is he demanding of me that I should leave out in my analysis of Vergil and Vergilian man “the” faith, the greatest concern of the West, the emergence, so close to Vergil, of Chrstendom, that I should determine it only from its past and what was immediately contemporary with it and not from its future, which now lies in the past and still lies in the present, then he asks of me what is improper and absurd [ibid., pp 16-17].

(As a side note, it’s interesting to see here in Haecker [the first editon of Vergil dates to 1933] is that which was claimed late in the twentieth century to be newly discovered by postmodern literary criticism: the impossibility of presuppositionless investigation or of objective interpretation.) In Louth’s mosaic, Haecker contributes further to the curve of continuity arcing throughout. Whether in language, culture, religion, or any other of the humanities broadly defined, we find continuity to be inextricably bound up. All of these rely upon community and commonality at core; they could not survive without them. As Louth deals with earlier in this chapter on The Legacy of the Enlightenment, there is a sharp distinction between what we call in English science, that is the natural sciences and experimental science, and the humanities. And never the twain shall meet. Louth puts it well:

The sciences are ahistorical; they deal with a natural order that has always been much the same as it is. The humanities are historical; they deal with the doings of men who are shaped by the historical contexts in which they live. But while the awareness of historical consciousness brings with it an awareness of the peculiar nature of the humanities as forms of knowledge, it may also contain unexamined presuppositions that qualify the nature of this insight. And we may begin to suspect this when we see an awareness of history—historical consciousness—smuggling in as a method, parallel to the scientific method, a way of procedure calling itself the historical-critical method. For such a method may unconsciously bring with it presuppositions that underlie the scientific method but which are not appropriate to the humanities. There do in fact seem to be a number of interrelated presuppositions being thus introduced. One is the notion of objective and subjective truth, and another, it will be argued, is a priveleged position being ascribed to the present, or what is thought to be the present. (Discerning the Mystery, pp 26-27)

Now, in the above paragraph, Louth is describing the historical-critical method in general, not its parochial application in biblical studies. While Louth’s book is, as the title describes, an essay on the nature of theology, there is no concern with biblical studies at all in this chapter. He’s working at a much higher level of abstraction at this point, though he does eventually come to it in later chapters in some detail. Here, his point touching on anachronism is particularly topical today, when the naive and uncritical application of the norms of modern historiography to ancient texts in a kind of quasi-scientism is rife in certain circles.

Overall, I can’t recommend Louth’s Discerning the Mystery strongly enough. It’s unfortunately exceedingly rare to find a theologian competent in philosophy these days, though Louth has always maintained a greater than fine reputation in that respect. Likewise, it’s unfortunate that this book is very hard to find, and thus expensive when found. But there is much material in it that is thought-provoking, and Louth covers many issues that have since his writing come to the fore in various fields, so many and in such satisfying detail as for him to seem prescient.

And what was the point of this post? I suppose it’s just so I can enjoy the above quotes whenever I want to, and to register my delight in a book that doesn’t skimp at all on the brain food!

On Fools

Do not saddle yourself with fools: he is one who does not know them, and a greater, he who knowing them, does not shake them off, for they are dangerous in the daily round, and deadly as confidants, even if at times their cowardice restrains them; or the watchful eye of another; in the end they commit some foolishness, or speak it, which if they tarry over it, is only to make it worse: slight aid to another’s reputation, he who has none himself; they are full of woes, the welts of their follies, and they trade in the one for the other; but this about them is not so bad, that even though the wise are of no service to them, they are of much service to the wise, either as example, or as warning.

Gracian’s Manual, § 197

To make haste slowly

Diligent, and intelligent. Diligence quickly accomplishes what the intelligence has well thought out. Haste is the passion of fools, and as they know not the difficulties, they work without heed: wiser men, on the other hand, are likely to fail from over-caution; for of reflection is bred delay: and so their hesitation in acting loses them the fruits of their good judgment. Promptitude is the mother of fortune. He does much who leaves nothing for tomorrow. A magnificent motto: to make haste slowly.

Gracian’s Manual, § 53.

Truth…limps along upon the arm of time

Look beneath. For ordinarily things are far other than they seem; and the dullness which does not seek to pass beyond the rind, is due to be increasingly disillusioned if it gets deeper into the interior. The false is forever the lead in everything, continually dragging along the fools: the truth brings up the rear, is late, and limps along upon the arm of time, wherefore the man of insight will save for it at least the half of that faculty, which our great mother has wisely given us twice. Deceit is superficial, wherefore the superficial are taken in at once. The man of substance lives safely within himself, to be better treasured of his colleagues, and of those who know.

Gracian’s Manual, § 146

He who does not know, does not live

Have helpful spirits about you. The good fortune of the mighty that they can surround themselves with men of understanding who protect them from the dangers of every ignorance, who disengage them from the snarls of every difficulty. A singular distinction, to be served by the wise; and better than the barbarous taste of Tigranes, he who used captive kings as servants. A new kind of lordship and of the best in life: by art to make subjects of those whom nature placed above you. Knowledge is long, and life is short, and he who does not know, does not live. Peculiarly smart, therefore, to learn without effort and much from many, being taught by all. Later, in the assembly this man speaks for the many, for through his lips there speak all the sages that he drew upon for counsel; thus does he gain the title of oracle through the sweat of others. These superior souls first choose the lesson: to teach it later as the quintessence of wisdom. Wherefore let him who cannot manage to have wisdom in his train, at least strive to be familiar with it.

Gracian’s Manual, § 15

The ear is the side door of truth

[Be] Alert when seeking information. We live for the most part by what is told us; it is little that we see; thus we live in the faith of others; the ear is the side door of truth, but the front door of falsehood. The truth is sometimes seen, but rarely heard: on the fewest of occasions does it arrive in its elemental purity, especially if it has travelled far, for then it is always soiled by what has happened on the road: for feeling tinges with her colors all that she touches, sometimes happily: she always leaves some kind of mark, wherefore listen cautiously to the admirer, yet more cautiously to the tattler. It requires the whole attention at such times, to discover the intent of the newsbearer, in order to know beforehand which foot he is going to put forward. With reflection examine into what may be feigned, and what may be false.

Gracian’s Manual § 80