August 2008

The sign I am going to put up in my office.

Imagine having heated arguments (no, no: discussions) on Truth, certainty, etc., with a friend up to 1:30 a.m., and, after five hours sleep, have your colleagues leading you into similar discussions on a train journey before it is even 9 o’clock? Ah well, I know, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you”, but let me have one more coffee first.

(And as soon as it was 10 a.m., of course, another topic (antroposophy, who would have guessed!) came up.)

Later on one of my colleagues was asked whether we found our way all right to the conference venue. Of cource I knew how to get to the hotels and to the university- mostly no-one else knows, which gives you a pleasant sense of power over your colleagues. So, after a glance at me my colleague said:

“Yes, of course. We had Notburga to show us the right way.”

“As I always do”, I replied.

And yet, though I continually strive to diffuse the depths of my wisdom amongst my neighbours, a little review showed me that so far, my successes in influencing my friends, colleagues and family for their own good have been meagre:

  • My parents now buy Scottish (or Irish) Whisky instead of a spirit distilled from maize in the USA “misleadingly called by the same name” (quote from an employee of a Scottish Whisky distillery)
  • A very pious but so-far very anti-organic friend of mine now buys organic cheese and other foodstuff (though that is probably more due to the example and arguments of my Still Nameless Friend and a vet of my acquaintance).
  • A colleague (after I gave it to him as a gift show him that such a thing exists) likewise buys only organic tobacco now.
  • My mother, when doing an English course in case her daughter made true of her saying that she would emigrate to the UK steadfastly refused to learn any vocabulary of the colonial dialects.
  • An agnostic relative of mine can pretty well tell by now, when she comes to Mass with me, whether I will be “pleased” with the way the priest said it or not.
  • My supervisor at least apologises for making his posters using Powerpoint

I may have forgotten one or two items; nevertheless, good as they are, one can hardly call these changes I effected essential. More and more I feel reluctantly convinced that the inconvenient truth should be taken into account – that if you really want to do something good for the spiritual welfare of your fellow humans you ought to – pray very much.

Deary me, somehow even discussions seem easier to my slothful self!


Portrayal Of Obama As Elitist Hailed As Step Forward For African Americans

Our esteemed readership may be of the opinion that I am somewhat overdoing it with citing Chesterton recently. However, just the day after my exasperation about German Idealism and all its connected evils I came across this passage to greatly comfort me:

I am not, like Father D’Arcy, whose admirable book on St. Thomas has illuminated many problems for me, a trained philosopher, acquainted with the technique of the trade. But I hope Father D’Arcy will forgive me if I take one example from his book, which exactly illustrates what I mean. He, being a trained philosopher, is naturally trained to put up with philosophers. Also, being a trained priest, he is naturally accustomed, not only to suffer fools gladly, but (what is sometimes even harder) to suffer clever people gladly. Above all, his wide reading in metaphysics has made him patient with clever people when they indulge in folly. The consequence is that he can write calmly and even blandly sentences like these. “A certain likeness can be detected between the aim and method of St. Thomas and those of Hegel. There are, however, also remarkable differences. For St. Thomas it is impossible that contradictories should exist together, and again reality and intelligibility correspond, but a thing must first be, to be intelligible.” Let the man in the street be forgiven, if he adds that the “remarkable difference” seems to him to be that St. Thomas was sane and Hegel was mad. The moron refuses to admit that Hegel can both exist and not exist; or that it can be possible to understand Hegel, if there is no Hegel to understand.

G.K. Chesterton: St. Thomas Aquinas

As the generation of pious grandmothers worrying about and praying for their more or less lapsed children and grandchildren is more and more being joined by a generation of pious (or at least orthodox…) younger Catholics worrying about and praying for their unbelieving parents and grandparents, St. Monica, patron saint for the conversion of relatives, remains one of the more busy intercessors in heaven, I believe.

Alas and alack! I am a woman of little philosophical learning, and yet I find my way littered with anthroposophists, gnostics, relativists, and so on, all relying on me to be led from the darkness of error to the luminous splendour of truth. I had a little triumph yesterday, after racking my brain through my whole British holiday, walking through moors, along cliffs and over mountains wondering under what definition of freedom a thinking person (and not an atheist either) could come to the conclusion that religion could restrict one’s freedom. Yesterday then I finally traced down this and many other opinions of this person to Rudolf Steiner’s “Philosophy of Freedom”. “Aah!”, you will say, “Steiner. But that is not philosophy, not even erroneous philosophy, but simply esoteric humbug.” I agree in general, yet the “Philosophy of Freedom” was written before he ever turned to theosophy, being, as Wikipedia informs me, strongly influenced by Fichte, Schiller and Franz Brentano.

And again I had the well-known experience of having to agree with Aelianus after all: Good as it certainly is to understand the thinking and the arguments of your opponent, it is not worth one’s time trying to understand German Idealism or anything that springs from it when its errors lie right at the foundations of the whole intellectual building.

For what would you make of this:

We can easily recognize that our natural being, that part of us we share with the animal world – our physical body, drives and desires, prejudices and habits – tends to determine our deeds and soul life. Just as constraining, however, are the dictates of conscience and abstract ethical or moral principles. Freedom, he says, is only possible because these various constraining factors work in contradictory directions. Between the impulses of our two natures, neither of which is individualized, we find the freedom to choose how to think and act. By overcoming the dictates of both our ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ sources of experience, by orchestrating a meeting place of objective and subjective elements of experience, we become true and free individuals.[1] Freedom for Steiner thus does not lie in uninhibited expression of our subjective nature, but in the conscious unification of this with the objective constraints of the world. […] [W]e need to forge a new synthesis of these at every moment in a situationally-appropriate, free deed. Steiner coined the term moral imagination for this act of creative synthesis. He suggests that we only achieve free deeds when we find a moral imagination, an ethically impelled but particularized response to the immediacy of a given situation. This response will always be individual; it cannot be predicted or prescribed.

Futile where my attempts to identify the elements of which these statements – building on the thoughts of evil Schiller – are made up. The categories are all wrong, even the terms we have in common, like “will” or “reason” mean something entirely different. Dimly as I perceive these things, it really appears to come down to nominalism in the end, and to a reaction to the error that the morally good and the subjectively desirable are different things. (Whatever little I have read of Kant, I always feel inclined to sympathise with anyone who, like Nietzsche, felt the need to thrash the whole horrible system. How am I to explain to the person mentioned that what I understand under the term “moral law” has nothing whatsoever to do with the idea Kant had of it.)

Not long and I was so frustrated that, had I read what I read in a book, I would have flung it into a corner, an impulse urgently to be resisted when you are reading things on your laptop. And it dawned upon me that the greatest historical guilt of Germany lies not in the deeds of the 20th century (atrocious as they were), but in German idealism, completely messing up European philosophy ever since.

From – who would gess it – yes, Chestertons “Ballad of the White Horse”. The setting: The beginning of the battle of Ethandune where, through the help of Our Lady the Christian army under King Alfred of Wessex won victory over the pagan Vikings under Guthrum, who far outnumbered them. Harold, a young and boisterous earl under King Guthrum, had sneered at the ragged Celts under Colan who fought with Alfred, thinking them so despicable that he refused even to fight them in manly combat and rather, in a rash movement, tried to shoot Colan with a bow. Colan had no defence weapon save his one sword, which he threw at Harold and thereby killed him, thereby being left weaponless himself. But, if you never have done so before, you should read the whole thing. It’s a very encouraging reading.

And all at that marvel of the sword,
Cast like a stone to slay,
Cried out. Said Alfred: “Who would see
Signs, must give all things. Verily
Man shall not taste of victory
Till he throws his sword away.”

Then Alfred, prince of England,
And all the Christian earls,
Unhooked their swords and held them up,
Each offered to Colan, like a cup
Of chrysolite and pearls.

And the King said, “Do thou take my sword
Who have done this deed of fire,
For this is the manner of Christian men,
Whether of steel or priestly pen,
That they cast their hearts out of their ken
To get their heart’s desire.

“And whether ye swear a hive of monks,
Or one fair wife to friend,
This is the manner of Christian men,
That their oath endures the end.

“For love, our Lord, at the end of the world,
Sits a red horse like a throne,
With a brazen helm and an iron bow,
But one arrow alone.

“Love with the shield of the Broken Heart
Ever his bow doth bend,
With a single shaft for a single prize,
And the ultimate bolt that parts and flies
Comes with a thunder of split skies,
And a sound of souls that rend.

“So shall you earn a king’s sword,
Who cast your sword away.”
And the King took, with a random eye,
A rude axe from a hind hard by
And turned him to the fray.

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