Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad"

I was wondering about the origin of

"Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad."

Apparently, it is a translation of the Neo-Latin

"Deus quos vult perdere, dementat prius."

And this is recorded in the late 17th century as a gloss on a line by a scholiast on Sophocles, (quoted in the 2nd century AD by Athenagoras)

"Όταν ὁ δαίμων ἀνδρὶ πορσύνῃ κακά,
τὸν νοῦν ἔβλαψε πρῶτον."

"But when the daimon plots against a man,
He first inflicts some hurt upon his mind."


Wednesday, July 26, 2017



Might it gives, marvels effects:
Fleetness o'er earth, and flight of birds;
Reckons millions, and reveals secrets,
Lightens the sunless, and lessens pain,
Feeds in plenty, and fancies dress,
Makes heard music over many miles,
and paints pictures through the pathless void.

It deceives the sight, and darkens minds,
Arouses men's desire, and increases thirst,
bends men's wills, and breaks their resolves;
Frenzies folk, and frightens foes;
kills without care, and creates carnage,
sears the foes, and makes cinders of cities,
It promises power, and power it gives :
It promises pleasure, and pleasure it gives,
And awakens desire, and adds to lust,
And fills while it empties, and so frustrates fullness.

It poisons its practitioners, and perverts passion,
Devours their souls, and decays sense.
Cuts off love, and kills compassion,
It rouses wrath, and requires innocent blood.
Power demands sacrifice, as the price of power.

It poisons the places where its practitioners dwell.
It fouls the air; and fumes the firmament,
It darkens the sun, and it dims the stars;
It poisons the water, and it pollutes the earth.

The Sorcerer drowns hope, and he devours life,
He lusts in despair, and he leaves death.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Barrow-Wight's Curse

Cold be hand and heart and bone,
and cold be sleep under stone:
never more to wake on stony bed,
never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead.

In the black wind the stars shall die,
and still on gold here let them lie,
till the dark lord lifts his hand
over dead sea and withered land.

— The Fellowship of the Ring - Book 1, Ch. 8 "Fog on the Barrow-downs"

Barrow wights inhabit the tombs of Kings who tried to take it all with them, hence the amount of wealth in the tomb.  Thus they fell prey to the sin of greed, which, I think, leaves them open to the likes of the wights.  The hobbits are likewise doomed to lie on wealth until the world fails.  The effect on greed (and other sin) is the destruction of the cosmos, and of the earth "dead sea and withered land".

When the hobbits are freed by Bombadil, their clothes and erecting on them is all lost.  Indeed they are naked.  But there is a certain joy in that, in that they are free to lie naked in the sun.  Sometimes defeating greed mean being willing to lose our property, and there can be a freedom in that, which includes the enjoyment of all that God freely provides, like sunlight.

Our civilization is caught up in a cycle of greed and despair.  If we go on as we are there will be nothing but dead sea and withered land.  And we may find our souls caught, lying on our useless wealth, in a land of cold and darkness and death.  Can free ourselves from our curse?  Like the hobbits we cannot do so without help — and there will be a price.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Dragon Unchained

I saw the Dragon unchained,
The links broken by a thousand blows of the greed of men,
Then His claw marks
On the wall of the building opposite.
The people went mad and fought each other.
Then His fire consumed all,
And his tail reduced the inflammable to rubble.

The mantle of the white lady covered me,
And his fire could not pierce it,
Nor cloud her calm face.
But all about me was desolation,
And drawn despairing faces.

And then all was quiet,
And I saw Death.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Angels, Ghosts, Good and Bad Spirits

I have a great deal of sympathy with Cole Sear, one of the lead characters in Sixth Sense. I certainly don't claim to me a medium, and would view with suspicion anyone who made such a claim, but I have been having run-ins with ghosts and spirits since childhood. I have since a young age known what they were, and have had no problem distinguishing them from the tangible living.

Ghosts can be very frightening, and sometimes used to really upset me. I learned many years ago that the best thing to do is to pray for the dead I encounter, which certainly resolves any fear or upset I have, and also tends to calm the ghosts. As for other spirits, well they are not all good, and whether a particular one is can be hard to say sometimes. I talked to my pastoral theology professor, Fr. Caldwell, many many times time all about this, and he gave me the best piece of advice that I have ever had. When confronted by a spirit, make the sign of the cross, look to God and say "Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.", then look to the spirit and say "What do you have to say to me, Sir?" That puts the bad spirits in rather a bind, as they are by nature God's servants, and cannot help but be so, even if they do not want to. Also, he taught me that it was important to treat them all with respect, as God's creatures, hence the "sir". With a really threatening spirit the St. Michael's prayer always helps. Could all of this be explained psychologically? I suspect most of it could, as could the benefits of the approaches I outline above. Certainly there is a psychological component to it. 

Do I think that I am special in this? No. I suspect stuff like this happens to many people, although they (1) may not recognize it, or (2) work hard to avoid it. In any case I do not recommend inviting such experiences, such as holding seances. Inviting it is very dangerous! But if such experiences happen, neither should you freak out. And don't omit to pray for your departed loved ones and the departed in the place where you are.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Tyranny of First Names

My sermon was on not misusing God's name this morning. Thinking about misusing names, I am reminded that I was taught in Linguistics in college that languages, even, if not especially, the most "primitive" use honorifics when people address each other. Even "primitive" societies can have very elaborate systems for doing this. It is how our species uses language to treat each other with respect, to negotiate social boundaries that make for peace, and social cohesion, and to show members of family and society that they are valued.

In English we have Mister, Missus, and other titles. First names and nicknames only are historically reserved for close intimates, siblings, cousins, and close personal friend. However, it is also used when addressing children, the lowest class of servants, and slaves, and is used among those groups when addressing each other. For instance, not long ago, Whites in the South, when addressing Blacks used first names (but not vice versa). Such groups of persons are either considered not to be responsible members of society, or, even worse, as in the case of slaves, non-persons.

The coarseness of our current language, and the fact that we use, even insist, on first names, tells me, not that we are suddenly on terms of close intimacy with the whole world, but that we are on close terms with no one—rather that we now see ourselves as having lost human respect, and indeed our right to be treated as persons. It is a sign of our common slavery to bureaucracy and ideology, to the state, large corporations, and the materialist ideology that seeks to dehumanize all of us.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Timely question: Is Anger a Sin?

Our society seems overwhelmed by anger these days.  A Christian must ask, is anger a sin? I recently again ran across this quote, attributed to St. John Chrysostom, which I had first encountered in Leon Podles' work: “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.”

But is this sound Christian teaching?

​To begin with, this quote is not actually Chrysostom, but is from a work attributed to him, the Opus Imperfectum, now known to have been written by an Arian (i.e., heretical) presbyter. Now St. Thomas Aquinas says that anger is the natural response to perceived injustice, and thus far I agree. So if our perception of injustice is correct, we will properly experience anger when faced with injustice. This initial feeling of anger is not sin. BUT Scripture and the fathers tell us that entertaining it is sin:

Our Lord tells us, (Matt. 5:22) "ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει", "I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is liable for judgement." And St. James tells us, (James 1:20) "ὀργὴ γὰρ ἀνδρὸς δικαιοσύνην θεοῦ οὐκ ἐργάζεται." "The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God." And the real St. John Chrysostom says of anger,
Anger is no different than madness – it is a temporary demon; or rather it is worse than having a demon; for one who has a demon may be excused, but the angry man deserves ten thousand punishments, voluntarily casting himself into the pit of destruction, and before the hell which is to come suffering punishment from this already, by bringing a certain restless turmoil and never silent storm of fury, through all the night and through all the day, upon the reasonings of his soul. — (Hom. on St. John’s Gospel, XLVIII.3).
So what then are we to do with this healthy human response to anger, if being angry is so dangerous? People often quote Ephesians 4:6 "Be angry, and sin not.", but this is a quote from the Septuagint version of the psalms, and meant to be taken in context, as Fr. Thomas Hopko pointed out in a lecture I once heard: Ps. 4:5 (LXX version) "ὀργίζεσθε, καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε· ἃ λέγετε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἐπὶ ταῖς κοίταις ὑμῶν κατανύγητε." Be ye angry, but sin not. Speak in your hearts, keep silence [a stunned silence, possibly also related to the notion of compunction or self examination] upon your beds."  So we are not to act on our anger, but penitently to go into our bedchamber and in the silence of our hearts bring it to God.

Ascetically this means, as St. Maximus the Confessor says, “Cleanse your mind from anger, remembrance of evil and shameful thoughts, and then you will find out how Christ dwells in you.” I believe it is Dionysius the [pseudo-]Areopagite who says that anger cleansed is transformed into zeal or love for holy things, by which we grow more strongly attached to them. Thus, when we acquired the habit of putting our anger into Gods hands, we grow more steadfast in the faith. When we have thus cleansed our anger, the the Holy Spirit can act in us to promote and defend holy things out of charity —not out of an angry desire to harm others.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Cross

The Cross frees me from destructive striving.
Without fear I see the spirits.
Without terror I hear the voices of the dead.
I see the sun on the leaf of the live oak;
I hear the the bluejay;
And I know with a wordless knowing.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4, 2017

So I have "Patriots" amongst my ancestors, including the brother of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and at least one, Isaac LaRue III, who, I suspect, was a "Loyalist" (having had land taken by the Continental Army and decamping to Kentucky).

 I admire the virtues of the founding fathers, among whom John Adams is my favorite, followed by Washington, but they were not perfect—while not thinking that I in good conscience could have forsworn my oath to the King.

I think people ought to rule themselves, but am aware that the Revolution did not benefit Native Americans in this respect at all—and then there's slavery, and its great expansion in the decades after the American Revolution.

I love my home, and these United States their land and people's, and I love all the good things we got from our British inheritance, but, like love for family, it's complicated. I pray, as is my duty, for these United States today, on this 191st anniversary of Independence.