Posts Tagged ‘Confessions of St. Augustine’

Smell as Truth’s Revenge

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Upon the liberation of the Nazi death camps in WWII, Allied forces compelled nearby citizens in Weimar and other areas adjacent the camps to walk through them, and to confront the brutal reality of Nazi genocide, as documented in this film. Please notice, when viewing the film clip, the German townspeople shielding their noses.

The Allies were familiar with the recurrent human capacity for committed self-deception, and wanted to definitively break the Nazi propaganda-hold on the populace. One way to counter this self-deception, and it is still not a 100% guaranteed way, is to do what the Allies did: to force citizens to come to view–and to smell–first-hand the terrible results of their own political choices.

The expression, “rub their noses in it” remains to this day one of the firmest expressions of disproof and refutation. Smell triggers memory, and rarely can ever be forgotten.

History is filled with recumbent and attractive myths built upon self-deception, sometimes bolstered by outright cynical lies by political and intellectual leaders. Holocaust deniers, be they Neo-Nazi punks or heads of state like the current leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, provide but a few examples. The dead, now buried, cannot readily be smelled without significant spadework. So new liars and deceivers arise with each new demographic cohort.

American (both North and South) and European intellectuals, revolutionaries, and radical labor activists for generations have clung to the false promises of Marxist-Leninist government, despite the voluminous documents and criminal evidence released to the world after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the Russian Gulags, of Robert Conquest on the Stalinist genocide and politicide in the Ukraine, of former French communists in their Black Book of Communism, the relentless and thorough vivisection of Marxism by philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, and the complete moral and historic discrediting of the late New York Times journalist Walter Duranty, who to his and to that newspaper’s everlasting shame, knowingly hid the deaths of millions caused by Stalin in the Ukraine in the 1930s.

But despite its resounding historical failures and crimes, Marxism-Leninism is alive and well as a recurrent fantasy in academia, in journalism, in arts, letters, and film, in labor (despite the role of US Big Labor in supporting Solidarnosc), and among trendy theologians. To these true believers, the Gulags and famines, the Maoist democides of the Cultural Revolution, and the Cambodian killing fields were but mere aberrations in theory and practice, not the true Marxism-Leninism of which they themselves are surely capable. Undoubtedly the failures of Stalin and Mao must have been due to the Russian and Chinese culture or character, these true believers assume, not their own pristine theory.

Latin America, to its misfortune, remains the legacy Marxist-Leninist’s own sandbox of choice for post-fascist fantasy football, more so for some their intellectual playground for “praxis,” translate please as high-minded meddling and social engineering. From the capitalist experimentation by US drug companies with Puerto Rican women to test the dosage levels of newly generated birth-control pills (some reportedly died) in the early 1960s, to the more recent moral and cultural support given to the late dictator Hugo Chavez by Bill Ayers, Sean Penn, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., misguided beneficent “praxis” on Latin America’s behalf abounds.

It is thus in the opening of graves–and in the smelling of them– that some of history’s most uncomfortable truths, and some of humankind’s most significant hopes, can be found.

Neither is it accident that some of the most determined anti-abortion activists are among those close enough to aborted babies to have smelled them, be they those who have encountered dumpsters of abortion debris, or the nurses who have been faced with the dilemma of an aborted baby surviving, and then forced to be neglected to death (a public policy earlier supported by Barack Obama about which, to use a polite euphemism, he has been less than forthcoming), or worse, intentionally terminated.

Pro-life, anti-abortion activists have for decades tried to force images of abortion into the general consciousness. But only until recently, with the Kermit Gosnell trial, has the stench of abortion as well reached the public. This trial has led prominent pro-choice writers, like veteran journalist Roger Simon, to rethink their positions on abortion.

While the smell of death rarely loses its repugnance (a term recalled recently again by physician and ethicist Leon Kass), the force of smell declines with repeated exposure. It is thus possible for a physician to deliver babies in the morning and abort them in the afternoon, a situation described by the late Bernard N. Nathanson, MD, who only stopped aborting after thousands of cases, upon quiet and persistent reflection after viewing a sonogram of an abortion.

While the English word “odious” is often associated with repugnance as if to a bad smell, it comes from the Latin word for hate.

One of the most olfactory of writers, and the person who coined (with some help from the brilliant translator Maria Boulding, OSB) the term “truth’s revenge,” in citing the memorable line of Publius Terentius Afer, “Veritas odium parit,” or “truth engenders hatred,” was St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote:

cur autem veritas parit odium et inimicus eis factus est homo tuus verum praedicans, cum ametur beata vita, quae non est nisi gaudium de veritate, nisi quia sic amatur veritas ut, quicumque aliud amant, hoc quod amant velint esse veritatem, et quia falli nollent, nolunt convinci quod falsi sint? itaque propter eam rem oderunt veritatem, quam pro veritate amant. amant eam lucentem, oderunt eam redarguentem. quia enim falli nolunt et fallere volunt, amant eam cum se ipsa indicat, et oderunt eam cum eos ipsos indicat. inde retribuet eis ut, qui se ab ea manifestari nolunt, et eos nolentes manifestet et eis ipsa non sit manifesta. sic, sic, etiam sic animus humanus, etiam sic caecus et languidus, turpis atque indecens latere vult, se autem ut lateat aliquid non vult. contra illi redditur, ut ipse non lateat veritatem, ipsum autem veritas lateat. tamen etiam sic, dum miser est, veris mavult gaudere quam falsis. beatus ergo erit, si nulla interpellante molestia de ipsa, per quam vera sunt omnia, sola veritate gaudebit.

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 10.23.34, from http://www.stoa.org/hippo/text10.html, accessed 4/21/13

I’ve posted Augustine’s Latin above so his extensive word-play can be seen even by those readers not conversant with his Latin.

Here is the late Dame Maria Boulding, OSB’s translucent rendering of the passage above, which I’ve paragraphed for easier apprehension:

Why, though, does “truth engender hatred,” why does a servant of yours who preaches the truth make himself an enemy to his hearers (John 8:40; Galatians 4:16), if the life of happiness, which consists in rejoicing over the truth, is what they love?

It must be because people love truth in such a way that those who love something else wish to regard what they love as truth and, since they would not want to be deceived, are unwilling to be convinced that they are wrong.

They are thus led into hatred of truth for the sake of that very thing which they love under the guise of truth.

They love the truth when it enlightens them, but hate it when it accuses them (John 3:20; 5:35).

In this attitude of reluctance to be deceived and intent to deceive others they love truth when it reveals itself but hate it when it reveals them.

Truth will therefore take its revenge: when people refuse to be shown up by it, truth will show them up willy-nilly and yet elude them.

Yes, this is our condition, this is the lot of the human soul, this is its case, as blind and feeble, disreputable and shabby, it attempts to hide, while at the same time not wishing anything to be hidden from it.

It is paid back in a coin which is the opposite to what it desires, for while the soul cannot hide from truth, truth hides from the soul.

Nevertheless, even while in this miserable state it would rather rejoice in truth than in a sham; and so it will be happy when it comes to rejoice without interruption or hindrance in the very truth, upon which depends whatever else it true.

The Confessions of Augustine, translated by Dame Maria Boulding, OSB, 1997, Hyde Park, NY, New City Press, pg. 201; now also available in a second edition with Bibliography, and a critical edition from ignatius.com

It is no accident that early in the development of the field of psychology that scientists claimed Augustine as one of their own. For in his description of the reluctant human apprehension of truth, Augustine went beyond the theory of cognitive dissonance to a theory of self-deception based upon a paradoxical fear of truth as truth unfolds. It is our very selves that must change when we learn the truth. And as long as we hide from the truth, truth also hides from us.

It is thus very useful to truth to open the mass graves of the persecuted and even of the aborted, and not only to look, but to smell, to remember, and to speak. As Augustine noted, speaking truly of such things brings hate. We should not fear to continue this speech of truth, and to conquer this hate.

Christ, who wept outside the grave of Lazarus, about to be raised, was then warned of the smell, but stepped forward to show us that there is more than the smell of death that meets us when we seek for and speak the truth.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Joshua Casteel, RIP

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Military veteran, conscientious objector, anti-war activist, author, and Catholic Christian convert Joshua Casteel died on 8/25/12 of lung cancer at the age of 32. A friend of our second son, we met Joshua a few years ago in Iowa City where two of our children have studied and written. We together helped our son’s family move into an apartment, and Joshua joined us for a picnic lunch afterward.

Here are some remembrances and tributes to Joshua, most of which were forwarded to me by our son —

From Tom Cornell

From Iraq Veterans Against the War

From the National Catholic Reporter

From Joshua’s book, Letters from Abu Ghraib, where Joshua served as a military translator after the scandal at that prison. He obtained conscientious objector status thereafter.

Here’s a link to the Joshua Casteel website. Please note the financial appeal on behalf of his family.

Here’s a portrait from his student / playwright days at the University of Iowa.

Here’s an Emmy-nominated video story of Joshua’s life —

I’m reminded, on today’s (8/28/12) feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, of Augustine’s touching remembrance of his departed friend from Book IV of the Confessions.

May Joshua rest in the peace of Christ, and may Christ’s same peace bring others to rest from the violence that Joshua faced.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Bury my body wherever you will . . . . One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.

Monday, August 27th, 2012

August 27 is the feast of St. Monica, and no more touching remembrance of a Christian mother by her son was ever written but by Augustine of Hippo of the days leading to Monica’s death. Augustine’s direct words inspire most any reader now sixteen centuries later. They can be found in in the Office of Readings for August 27.

The day was now approaching when my mother Monica would depart from this life; you knew that day, Lord, though we did not. She and I happened to be standing by ourselves at a window that overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house. At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. We had gone there after a long and wearisome journey to get away from the noisy crowd, and to rest and prepare for our sea voyage. I believe that you, Lord, caused all this to happen in your own mysterious ways. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead. We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth–for you are the Truth–what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man. We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.

That was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said: “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be his servant. So what am I doing here?”

I do not really remember how I answered her. Shortly, within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?”

We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” Thereupon she said to both of us: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.”

Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.

From the Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo, Lib. 9, 10-11; CSEL 33, 215-219), taken from the Office of Readings for August 27, accessed 8/27/12

Here is Maria Boulding, OSB’s masterful translation of this same passage. Note the words: “Catholic Christian,” which are a direct translation of Augustine’s Latin:

Unum erat, propter quod in hac uita aliquantum inmorari cupiebam, ut te christianum catholicum uiderem, priusquam morerer.

From The Confessions of Augustine, Edited by John Gibb and William Montgomery, 1927, Cambridge, pg. 262.

Here is the trailer for the new film, Restless Heart: the Confessions of Augustine, on the life of Augustine of Hippo.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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John Peter Kenney on The Mysticism of St. Augustine: Rereading the Confessions

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Speaking of the Confessions of St. Augustine, on 5/2/10 I finished reading Prof. John Peter Kenney’s book, The Mysticism of Saint Augustine: Rereading the Confessions.

While one can gain much from reading the Confessions without the aid of a critical guidebook, readers can reach a plateau in their understanding of Augustine without an expert guide. Prof. Kenney has done his readers a great service by differentiating Augustine’s mysticism from both that of the Platonists whom Augustine read, and from the experiential view of mysticism established by the American pragmatist William James–a view so popular today.

Augustine’s mysticism was thoroughly grounded in his belief in union with God and with other Christians, the saints, and was not an individualistic experience for its own sake. Augustine’s mysticism should not be separated from the quest of his intellect to understand. Prof. Kenney summarizes his findings on Augustine’s practice of Christian transcendence:

  1. “The truth of transcendence, of a realm outside space, time, and change, known indubitably by the soul through interior reflection.
  2. The shallowness of the soul, its lack of metaphysical depth, its complete embodiment within the world of space and time.
  3. The soul’s consequent inability to achieve a sustained transcendence, to raise itself out of the lower world.
  4. The necessity of divine assistance to effect the soul’s transcendence and to draw the soul above its embodied station.
  5. The momentary, limited, and extraordinary nature of this excursion.
  6. The difference between contemplative transcendence and salvation.
  7. The omnipresence of divine consciousness and God’s manifest regard for the soul.
  8. The soul’s conferred capacity to enter into the heavenly consciousness of the saints, a mediated consciousness of God, and an intimation of the final state of the soul.
  9. A state of unmediated contact with an aspect of God, the divine Wisdom, but not union with God as a whole or absorption into God.
  10. The ecclesial and communal context for the continued practice of contemplation.”

John Peter Kenney, The Mysticism of Saint Augustine: Rereading the Confessions, Routledge, 2005, p. 137.

I highly recommend Prof. Kenney’s book.

Next stop for me in Augustine studies is the final book by one presumed by many to be an atheist, Jean-François Lyotard, who was writing on the Confessions at the time of his death.

For those who have never read Augustine’s Confessions, I recommend Maria Boulding, OSB’s translation, beginning with Book IV, the passage on the death of Augustine’s unnamed friend, and then moving later back into the first three books, or chapters, after having read the fourth.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Dame Maria Boulding, OSB, 1929-2009

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

In rereading the Confessions of St. Augustine this past year, I turned again to what I consider one of the best English translations, if not the very best, that of Dame Maria Boulding, OSB, 5/3/1929-11/11/2009.

Source: TimesOnline

Sr. Boulding, who lived for a time as a hermit, had an amazingly beautiful command of English prose. Both as a translator of Augustine, and as a spiritual writer in her own right, few are her equal. For more about her life, see–

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6938006.ece


http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/maria-boulding-nun-and-theologian-who-translated-works-by-st-augustine-1837159.html

Sr. Boulding’s Advent book, The Coming of God, is not only a spiritual masterpiece, but one of the most artful expressions of English composition I have encountered in many a year. If you click on the “Look Inside” option at the Amazon link for The Coming of God above, and begin reading the “First Pages,” you’ll see what it is like to be led by a master guide. It is difficult to decide what was the most beautiful about Maria Boulding’s writing: her spiritual insights, or her flowing, inspired language that speaks directly to the heart and soul of her reader. Move over, Thomas Merton. No, move way over.

Sr. Boulding had just completed, three days before her death, her long-awaited Easter book, informed by her own sufferings from cancer, Gateway to Resurrection, which is expected to be released in August, 2010 by Continuum.

Will someone please start a Wikipedia page for Dame Maria Boulding, OSB?

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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