The image of God, the beauty of Christ, the vision of the invisible divine still attracts in our frequently cynical postmodern age–Thiessen, Theological Aesthetics: A Reader, 5


Preserving the Veil

Barbarism and Philistinism cannot see that knowledge of material reality is a knowledge of death. The desire to get even closer to the source of physical sensation—this is the  downward pull which puts an end to ideational life. No education is worthy of the name which fails to make the point that the world is best understood from a certain distance or that the most elementary understanding requires a degree of abstraction. To insist on less is to merge ourselves with the exterior reality or to capitulate to the endless induction of empiricism. –Ideas Have Consequences, 27

The Need for the Bad News

The story of man’s passage from religious or philosophical transcendentalism has been told many times, and, since it has usually been told as a story of progress, it is extremely difficult today to get people in any number to see contrary implications. Yet to establish the fact of decadence is the most pressing duty of our time because, until we have demonstrated that cultural decline is a historical fact—which can be established—and that modern man has about squandered his estate, we cannot combat those who have fallen prey to hysterical optimism. –Ideas Have Consequences, 10

Burke on the Revolutionaries & Imagination

Burke’s description of the destruction of civilizing manners by the revolutionaries:

All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of the moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.

On this scheme of things, a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order. All homage paid to the sex in general as such, and without distinct views, is to be regarded as romance and folly…On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom, as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their own terrors, and by the concern which every individual may find in them from his own private speculations, or can spare to them from his own private interests. In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows…

Nothing is more certain, than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners, and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles; I mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion. (qtd. in Redeeming the Time, 70-71)

Thinking Out Loud about The Iliad, Part 6

The Iliad ends with the hero’s impending death, but that never takes place. In fact, no other hero arises—though Homer easily could have talked more about Paris and emphasized his killing Achilles—and Achilles’ death seems to be the end. Achilles’ death has a finality about it, but he is not converted into a deity or worshipped after he dies. The account of the death of Sarpedon is parallel in several ways to the death of Hector (Zeus debating to thwart their fates to rescue them, his love for them, Athena/Hera’s words to Zeus, etc.). Sarpedon, however, seems to have had the burial near that of a deity, while Hector does not (his body is desecrated instead).

The Iliad, as stated before, is about competition and strife and how destructive those are. Times such as the funeral games and the description of Achilles’ shield reflect peaceful and civilized times, times in community and of peaceful resolution when disputes arise. For example, the funeral games bring competition, but the disagreements that arise from it are settled in a gentlemanly fashion.

The gods seem to be able to do something about fate: they are not hopelessly bound to it, particularly because they don’t know the specifics of fate. This comes across with Zeus’ words about intervening on Hector’s behalf. Apparently, Zeus could have helped Hector, but because of some greater decree or plan, he chose not to do it. The same is the case with the other gods.

In Book XVII, when Hector puts on Achilles’ armor, Zeus talks of the prince’s death, saying that even though Hector would die soon, Zeus would now give him glory for a brief time (449). Then Ares “comes into Hector” and strengthens him for the battle. It seems that in the context of battle, at least, humans participate in the divine precisely when they are the strongest and seek glory for themselves. Courage and strength and fighting ability make them godlike. In fact, the more strong and frenzied Achilles becomes, the more godlike he seems to become, and the more destructive, as well. The scene of Achilles battling the river shows the greatness of the gods, and yet how they still have to submit to fate. Here the river is not personified. The river is actually a god, so some magic or mysterious thing is evident in this section. Fate and the Furies are pre-Olympian gods, and though the Olympian gods rule at the time of The Iliad, the pre-Olympian gods still are around and still have power (491).

Homer uses the vocatives of the narrator (towards Patroclus and Menelaus) at times of intense emotion. Other poetic devices of feeling include the narrator recalling an earlier time—such as when Achilles remembers a former time with Patroclus while Patroclus is dead—or by presenting someone who does not know of the death of a loved one (Helen looking for her brothers, Achilles in the camp waiting for Patroclus, and Andromache preparing a bath for Hector).

Weil on the State of Christian Tradition

Simone Weil (Reflections on Quantum Theory):

It is as thought we had returned to the age of Protagoras and the Sophists, the age when the art of persuasion—whose modern equivalent is advertising slogans, publicity, propaganda meetings, the press, the cinema, and radio—took the place of thought and controlled the fate of cities and accomplished coups d’etat. So the ninth book of Plato’s Republic reads like a description of contemporary events. Only today, it is not the fate of Greece but of the entire world that is at stake. And we have no Socrates or Plato or Eudoxus, nor Phythagorean tradition, and no teaching of the Mysteries. We have the Christian tradition, but it can do nothing for us unless it comes alive in us again.–Redeeming the Time, 59

Thinking Out Loud about The Iliad, Part 5

The Iliad, Books XVII-XXIV

As happened before the death of Sarpedon, Zeus again debates whether to let Hector die or to save him and defy fate. Instead of Hera protesting against Zeus for thinking about this, Book XXII has Athena mouthing the same statements the goddess queen protested. In reply to Athena, Zeus tells her that nothing he had just said was meant in earnest (547). What does this mean? Is it merely that Zeus cannot control fate, and therefore, though he desires to save Hector, in fact, he cannot? Zeus adds that he means Athena “all the good will in the world.” Does that mean, then, that he does not mean Hector’s good will? Whose good is Zeus pursuing?

This section deals heavily with the notion of human responsibility vs. external forces, like intervention of the gods and fate. Agamemnon reiterates in Book XIX that the gods blinded him and that he is not to blame for making Achilles angry (491, 493). Artemis, in Book XXI blames Hera for the entire war (536), and yet all the gods are expectant to see whether the Achaeans will win prematurely, against fate. In other words, even the gods don’t seem to know definitely what or when someone’s fate will be fulfilled (537). This lack of knowledge, both in humans and in gods, spurs people on to have courage. Since they don’t know whether fate or the gods will be on their side and cause them to win, they are encouraged to aim for something that may even be too hard for them. For example, both Agenor and Hector dare to go against Achilles at different times because they know that the gods give the victory and hope that the gods will help them win over mighty Achilles (538, 545). Had Hector definitely known that he did not have a chance against Achilles, he would not have had the courage to go up against his enemy.

The Iliad certainly seems to emphasize friendships and family relations. Fathers are revered, and soldiers are often described as sons of a particular person. Even Priam uses Achilles’ remembrance of his father to soften Achilles to give up Hector’s body. An interesting account in Book XX is Aeneas’ relating of his lineage as he is fighting with Achilles (510-511). It seems like an odd intervention in the middle of the battle, but this appears to be the closest hint at the subject of the Aeneid. The account of the forging on Achilles’ shield in Book XVIII also seems somewhat superfluous, though poetic. What is its function?

Finally, the book concludes with the burial of Hector. Indeed, the ending is tragic, and the last person to bemoan Hector’s death is Helen, the one for which the battle rages. Though Achilles’ death is imminent, nothing is mentioned of Paris: Paris does not seem to be a hero. Despite rage and killing, Hector and Achilles are presented as pious men who revered the gods, and therefore, seem to be the models in these areas. Both are also spoken of as full of beauty (553, 609) and godlike.

Marxist Imagination

Transcending English empiricism, neither Disraeli nor Newman was afraid of ideas; they understood the power of the imagination, and its role in history, and so, in an inferior sense, did Marx. Despite Marx’s formal adherence to Utilitarian concepts and arguments of proof, despite his belligerent determination to be scientific, his influence has been that of a man of imagination—an imagination begrimed and fettered, true, but still participating in the world of ideas, superior to the tyranny of particular facts. “To consider whether Marx was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; to dredge Volumes I and III of Capital for inconsistencies or logical flaws, to ‘refute’ the Marxian system is, in the last resort, sheer waste of time,” says Professor Alexander Gray; “for when we consort with Marx we are no longer in the world of reason or logic. He saw visions—clear visions of the passing of all things, much more nebulous visions of how all things may be made new. And his visions, or some of them, awoke a responsive chord in the hearts of many men.” Though assertedly a materialist, in truth Marx was an idealist, indoctrinated by Hegel; and this aspect of his character, which he endeavored to strip from himself as if it were Nessus’ shirt, accounts nevertheless for his victory over Utilitarians whose method he imitated. He dealt, however mistakenly, with ends; the Liberals, with means and particulars; and the mass of men being governed by imagination more than reason, in such a struggle the odds favor the visionary (The Conservative Mind 263)

Right Feeling

The proper use [or rhetoric] is lawful and necessary because, as Aristotle points out, intellect of itself ‘moves nothing’: the transition from thinking to doing, in nearly all men at nearly all moments, needs to be assisted by appropriate states of feeling. – A Preface to Paradise Lost, 53

Dying Culture

The central conviction which has dominated my mind ever since I began to write is the conviction that the society or culture which has lost its spiritual roots is a dying culture, however prosperous it may appear externally. Consequently the problem of social survival is not only a political or economic one; it is above all things religious, since it is in religion that the ultimate spiritual roots both of society and the individual are to be found. [Christopher Dawson, Dynamics of World History, xxxi]

« Older entries