Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Nibelungenlied


Opening Passage: The first sentence is the usual opening sentence, but it does not appear in all manuscripts, and is thought to be a later addition:

We have been told in ancient tales many marvels of famous heroes, of mighty toil, joys, and high festivities, of weeping and wailing, and the fighting of bold warriors -- of such things you can now hear wonders unending!

In the land of the Burgundians there grew up a maiden of high lineage, so fair that none in any land could be fairer. Her name was Kriemhild. She came to be a beautiful woman, causing many knights to lose their lives.... (p. 17)
Summary: The beautiful Kriemhild resolves never to marry after a dream suggesting that her husband will die a violent death. But soon the prince Siegfried comes along to woo her, and this upends her world, for Siegfried is the greatest hero of an age of heroes. He helps her brother Gunther fight the Saxons and, on condition that he would then be able to marry Kriemhild, journeys with Gunther to woo the mighty maiden-warrior, Brunhild. Brunhild agrees to marry Gunther if Gunther can defeat her in contests of strength, but it becomes clear that her own strength is superhuman. But Siegfried, who has been pretending to be Gunther's vassal, has a cloak of invisibility, and using it he secretly adds his own great strength to Gunther's, and together they defeat Brunhild, who marries Gunther thinking that he defeated her alone. However, she is bothered by the relationship between Gunther and Siegfried -- something about her entire situation seems off, and Siegfried seems to be at the center of it. She demands Gunther tell her the secret, and when he refuses, she refuses to sleep with him on their wedding night, and when he tries to press the matter forcibly, she uses her strength to tie him up and hang him on the wall all night. Needless to say, he is humiliated, but Siegfried manages to get him to tell the shameful secret, and offers to help again with subduing Brunhild. Gunther accepts, on condition that Siegfried not actually sleep with her. Siegfried uses his cloak of invisibility to sneak into their room in the dark of night, and Brunhild finds that her strength, great as it is, is no longer able to subdue (as she thinks) Gunther. Gunther sleeps with her, and despoiled of her maidenhood, loses her great strength. Very fatefully, however, Siegfried took from Brunhild her ring and her belt -- usually a sign of sexual conquest.

Siegfried and Kriemhild marry, but Brunhild is still very suspicious; she puzzles aloud to Gunther about how he married his sister to one of his vassals. The translator in the edition I read reads this straight, and notes that it is an oddity that Brunhild never figures out that Siegfried is a great prince, despite all of the signs. But I think you could very well read it as a case of Brunhild, suspicious of the Gunther-Siegfried relationship from the beginning, harping on one of the odd things that she, rightly, sees connected to the source of her suspicion, and obsessively pressing it -- we know that she is quite stubborn -- until finally the whole truth comes out, Kriemhild supporting her case by the ring and belt. In any case, she pushes Kriemhild on the subject until Kriemhild in retaliation lets out the whole tale of Brunhild's humiliation. From that point on, Kriemhild and Brunhild are enemies. Both Siegfried and Gunther try to avoid any trouble arising from this, but one of the great knights in Gunther's court, Hagen of Tronje, who is ruthlessly loyal to Burgundy, avenges Brunhild by murdering Siegfried. When Siegfried's corpse bleeds in Hagen's presence, Kriemhild learns the truth, and meditates revenge in her heart. Hagen is no fool, and he takes steps to prevent her ever getting into the position of retaliating, which infuriates her further.

Kriemhild eventually marries Etzel, the romanticized version of Attila the Hun, and as Queen of the Huns sets a trap to destroy Gunther and Hagen. Many knights, both Hun and Burgundian, will lose their lives because of it.

The author clearly sees the tale as having an ensemble cast; he is pulling together a number of different hero stories into a single tale, mostly successfully. But you could also see the tale as the tragedy of Kriemhild, with event mounting on event to an end of ever greater violence and destruction. The author does a very good job of building this, both in terms of plotting and in terms of foreshadowing. Throughout the work, someone will do something apparently innocuous or only somewhat serious, and the author will remark that it will later be rued or that many people will lose their lives because of it. These warnings do not always pan out, at least in a straightforward way, but their cumulative effect is to give a doomward tendency to even the smallest things done, until finally the whole cumulative tone of warning is satisfied by a doom that is entirely adequate to the whole incremental anticipation.

Favorite Passage: Brunhild and Gunther have their unconventional wedding night:

'Sir,' she said, 'you must give up the thing you have set your hopes on, for it will not come to pass. Take good note of this: I intend to stay a maiden till I have learned the truth about Siegfried.'

Gunther grew very angry with her. He tried to win her by force, and tumbled her shift for her, at which the haughty girl reached for the girdle of stout silk cord that she wore about her waist, and subjected him to great suffering and shame: for in return for being baulked of her sleep, she bound him hand and foot, carried him to a nail, and hung him on the wall. She had put a stop to his love-making! As to him, he all but died, such strength had she exerted.

And now he who had though to be master began to entreat her. 'Loose my bonds, most noble Queen. I do not fancy I shall ever subdue you, lovely woman, and I shall never again lie so close to you.'

She did not care at all how he fared, since she was lying very snug. He had to say hanging there the whole night through till dawn, when the bright morning shone through the windows. If Gunther had ever been possessed of any strength, it had dwindled to nothing now. (p. 88)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


The Nibelungenlied, Hatto, tr., Penguin (New York: 2004).

Friday, September 06, 2019

That Is to Be, to Live, to Strive Indeed

Booker T. Washington
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The word is writ that he who runs may read.
What is the passing breath of earthly fame?
But to snatch glory from the hands of blame--
That is to be, to live, to strive indeed.
A poor Virginia cabin gave the seed,
And from its dark and lonely door there came
A peer of princes in the world's acclaim,
A master spirit for the nation's need.
Strong, silent, purposeful beyond his kind,
The mark of rugged force on brow and lip,
Straight on he goes, nor turns to look behind
Where hot the hounds come baying at his hip;
With one idea foremost in his mind,
Like the keen prow of some on-forging ship.

Music on My Mind

Mean Mary, "Dark Woods".

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Evening Note for Thursday, September 5

Thought for the Evening: Civility

There has been a lot of philosophical discussion on the subject of civility recently; three notable examples, all good:

* Amy Olberding, 20 Theses Regarding Civility
* Olufemi O. Taiwo, What Incivility Gets Us (and What It Doesn't)
* Amy Olberding, Righteous Incivility

One weakness of the discussions is a running ambiguity between civility in the sense of etiquette ('lesser morality' as Hume calls it) and civility in the sense of the specifically civic version of amicitia, civil amiability. This is not generally fatal, because there is a relation between the two. But etiquette is essentially a set of norms that (for the most part) arise out of social interaction. None of the norms is indefeasible, and many of them are negotiable. (Indeed, as I've pointed out before, many of them are simply moves in ordinary social negotiations.) Civil amiability, on the other hand, is essential to common good, and lies in a mean between obsequiousness and hostility. (That is significant because many of the arguments against the necessity of civility can be clearly seen to be conflating it with obsequiousness.) Etiquette is a means to civil amiability; civil amiability is both a means to society (because it facilitates other things that are necessary for society to work) and an end of society (because things in society that conflict with it are contrary to common good, simply speaking). If you violate etiquette, this indicates a breakdown in particular negotiations within society; if you act in a way simply inconsistent with civil amiability, this is a breakdown in society itself. Allowing ambiguities between them often results in defenders of the value of civility conceding half their ground of argument when there is no good reason to do so. (I think Olberding, who usually avoids this, nonetheless ends up doing it in her "Righteous Incivility" piece.)

Even lumping the two together, much of the opposition to 'civility' in this mongrel sense is not well motivated, and, indeed, often looks clearly like excuse-making. One argument that I have repeatedly seen, and that needs to die, is that civility is how oppressors keep the oppressed in line. (Taiwo discusses it briefly and takes exactly the right line on it.) Close examination shows, I think, that this is not really true all that often; what is more commonly used to keep people in line is inconsistencies in standards of civility. You can tell who has power in a society, very often, by who gets to be more rude. It is true that people sometimes try to appeal to civility to keep people down, but it's not the appeal to civility that's keeping them down, it's put up as a roadblock and it is a roadblock in particular because other people are not strictly held to it. Even if this weren't so, however, it's an absurd and useless argument. Guess what other things have been appealed to by oppressors? Justice. Freedom. Loyalty. Responsibility. Reasonableness. Indeed, one could say virtually all of ethics. And the reason is obvious: ethical discourse has an independent normative force and motivational influence, so one of the things you try to do if you want to maintain power is to control the ethical discourse. You see this everywhere when you look at abuses of power and persecutions. People don't go around justifying their actions by the evilness of their actions; they look for things that are independently recognized as good, and try to use those. The bad as well as the good appeal to things that are good.

But civility, again, has a power on its own, whether you interpret it in the sense of etiquette or in the sense of civil amiability. The reason manipulators of all kind go for it is that it has an independent value; and thus this value does not rely on, nor can it ever by wholly ruled by, the manipulator. Civility usually deals with small things. You will not overthrow tyrants with civility. But there are many cases in which people abusing their power have found civility to be a power they cannot control. This is one reason why nonviolent campaigns often work, when they do: there reaches a point where, no matter how you manipulate things, it becomes obvious that your opponent is being decent and you are being abusive. On its own, this might not accomplish much; but if it's integrated into something larger, it can contribute quite a bit in its own way. Civility is like gravity; its power lies in its constancy and universality. And like a tree breaking stone there can be an immense power in the consistent insistence on being civil regardless of what those in power try to enforce.

I know that there are lots of people who don't want to hear that. But it's true nonetheless.

It is true, of course, that civil amiability has to be understood in such a way as to be consistent with indignation against injustice and vindication of the just. But neither righteous indignation nor vindication trump civil amiability; they must be understood in light of it just as much it must be understood in their light. Civil amiability is often precisely what differentiates just from unjust anger and vindication from vengefulness. Those who dismiss civility outright do so at great danger to others, yes, but at greater danger to themselves.

Various Links of Interest

* Emily Hanford discusses how the strategies of teaching reading that have been used in schools for decades have in fact probably been interfering with learning how to read.

* A good discussion of Alien as the preeminent example of science fiction horror.

* Tim Maudlin reviews Judea Pearl's The Book of Why

* Ashok Karra discusses Wittgenstein's blocks and slabs

* Diane Shane Fruchtman, Martyrdom as Sacrificial Witness. This is not far from the truth; think, for instance, of the medieval notion that the Holy Innocents, St. Stephen, and St. John are all in some sense martyrs, despite the fact that only St. Stephen is a martyr in the most direct and obvious sense. But one also can't divide martyrdom from death, even in cases like that of St. John, who did not literally die for the faith. Otherwise it empties the notion of sacrifice of any and all meaning that made the adjective 'sacrificial' indicate something of importance to begin with.

* Cecelia Watson, The Virtues of the Semicolon

* Patricia Grosse St. Monnica (or Monica, as she is usually known; one N is a Romanization).

* The Cherokee Nation is planning on trying to press one of the rights that it was given in a nineteenth century treaty but which was never fulfilled -- the right to send a territorial representative to the House of Representatives.

* Remembering Shareware-era DOS games. SLEUTH was a good game -- I actually still have it for DosBox on my computer.

* Strategies for combating online hate. This explains the moderation behavior of a number of websites. What I find a little disturbing is that there seems no recognition here that all of these strategies are strategies regularly used by majorities to stifle minority voices of any kind -- there's nothing about them that requires them only to be used one way.

* The Isotype of Marie and Otto Neurath.

* Keith A. Mathison, Christianity and Van Tillianism

Currently Reading

The Nibelungenlied
Rosamund Hodge, Desires and Dreams and Powers
Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind
Anna L. Peterson, Everyday Ethics and Social Change
Brad Inwood, Ethics After Aristotle

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #39: P’tit-Bonhomme

Ireland, which has an area of 31,759 square miles, or 20,326,209 acres, formerly formed a part of the insular tract of land now called the United Kingdom. This we learn from the geologists; but it is history and fact that the islands are now two, and more widely divided by moral discord than by physical barriers. The Irish, who are friends of France, are, as they always have been, enemies of England.

A fair country for tourists is Ireland, but a sad one for the dwellers in it. They cannot fertilise it, and it cannot feed them, especially in some of the northern districts. But although the motherland has no flowing breast to give her children, she is passionately loved by them. They call her by the sweetest of names; she is 'Green Erin',--and indeed her verdure is unequalled--she is 'The Land of Song'; she is 'The Island of Saints'; she is 'The Emerald Gem of the Western World'; she is 'First flower of the earth, and first gem of the sea'. Poor Ireland! She ought to be called 'The Isle of Poverty', for that name has befitted her for many centuries. In 1845 the population of 'the most distressful country that ever yet was seen' reached its highest point, 8,295,061; in 1891 when the last Census was taken, it had fallen to 4,706,162, and the terrible preponderance of indigence is maintained at the old figures, 3 to 8.

[Jules Verne, The Extraordinary Adventures of Foundling Mick, Royal Irish Academy (Dublin: 2008), pp. 1-2.]

The English title has always been Foundling Mick, but the French is P'tit-Bonhomme; we never learn the title character's originally given name. He is known by everyone as P'tit-Bonhomme, and such is his name to us. Born into extraordinary poverty, an orphan in rags having no options, abused and misused by those around him, P'tit-Bonhomme nonetheless is an irrepressible soul. His nickname/name is fitting, because he has an abhorrence of begging, and has a precocious sense of appropriate behavior. Because he has a natural talent for recordkeeping, and a firm willingness to work, he will go far, and by the end of the story, still a teenager, he will have risen from impoverished orphanhood to become a business-owner beginning to be wealthy and drawing around himself a sort of family.

The tale is unusually optimistic for Verne. It reminds me in a way of a robinsonade; P'tit-Bonhomme is starting not from a deserted island but from a destitute position, and friendship and hard work are the primary keys to his success rather than encyclopedic knowledge, but in a sense, P'tit-Bonhomme is concerned with the same sort of civilization-building. Civilization, after all, is a thing one is always building.

We Lack Not Songs, Nor Instruments of Joy

To Summer
by William Blake

O Thou who passest thro' our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitchedst here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy, thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o'er the deep of heaven: beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are famed who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Gregorius Magnus

Today is the feast of Pope St. Gregory I, also known as Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church. From his Moralia in Iob, Part VI, Book XXXV:

All human wisdom, however powerful in acuteness, is foolishness, when compared with Divine wisdom. For all human deeds which are just and beautiful are, when compared with the justice and beauty of God, neither just nor beautiful, nor have any existence at all. Blessed Job therefore would believe that he had said wisely what he had said, if he did not hear the words of superior wisdom. In comparison with which all our wisdom is folly. And he who had spoken wisely to men, on hearing the Divine sayings, discourses more wisely that he is not wise. Hence it is that Abraham saw, when God was addressing him, that he was nothing but dust, saying; I speak unto my Lord, though I am dust and ashes. [Gen. 18, 27] Hence it is that Moses, though instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, as soon as he heard the Lord speaking, discovered that he was a person of more hesitating and slower speech, saying; I beseech Thee, O Lord, I am not eloquent; for from yesterday, and the day before, since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant, I am of a more hesitating and slower tongue. [Ex. 4, 10] ...Hence Ezekiel speaking concerning the four animals, says; When there was a voice above the firmament, which was over their heads, they stood, and let down their wings. [Ez. 1, 25] For what is designated by the flying of the animals but the sublimity of evangelists and doctors? Or what are the wings of the animals, but the contemplations of saints raising them up to heavenly things? But when a voice is uttered above the firmament which is over their heads, they stand, and let down their wings, because when they hear within the voice of heavenly wisdom, they drop down, as it were, the wings of their flight. For they discern, in truth, that they are not able to contemplate the loftiness itself of truth. To drop down their wings then at the voice which comes from above, is, on learning the power of God, to bring down our own virtues, and from contemplating the Creator, to think but humbly of ourselves. When holy men, therefore, hear the words of God, the more they advance in contemplation, the more they despise what they are, and know themselves to be either nothing, or next to nothing.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Aelred of Rievaulx, On Spiritual Friendship

St. Aelred lived in the twelfth century; he spent time as an official in the court of King David I of Scotland, but eventually left to join the Abbey of Rievaulx, which is located on the River Rye in Yorkshire. His De spirituali amicitia is perhaps his best known work.

On Spiritual Friendship is in some ways in the same genre as St. Ambrose's De officiis; whereas Ambrose was adapting Cicero's De officiis to the life of a Christian priest, Aelred is adapting Cicero's De amicitia to the life of a Christian monk. The course of the discussion follows that of Cicero, sometimes fairly closely, but the explicit point of the dialogue is to argue for an approach to friendship that is superior to Cicero's. The work also shows a heavily Augustinian influence, with the Confessions (definitely) and Augustine's dialogues (I suspect) helping to shape the work in the direction Aelred wishes it to go.

I have previously talked about Cicero's De amicitia: Part I, Part II.


Besides Aelred, there are Ivo, Walter, and Gratian. Aelred is the abbot of Rievaulx. Ivo is generally thought to be monk from Wardon Abbey, which was a daughter monastery to Rievaulx; Aelred seems to have dedicated another of his works, Jesus at the Age of Twelve, to him. Walter seems to be a monk from the same abbey. Of Gratian we know nothing outside this dialogue.


Aelred opens by giving the background to the book. As an adolescent he had greatly enjoyed Cicero's dialogue on friendship, which he began to take as a standard with which his own friendships could be compared and measured. Later, however, when he joined the monastery, he found that this standard was less and less adequate, and wanted to have a standard of friendship that would be supportable by Scripture and take into account the lives of Christ and the saints. He then outlines what the topics of discussion will be:

(1) the nature of friendship;
(2) the fruition and excellence of friendship;
(3) how and among whom friendship can be preserved unbroken.

Book One

Book One discusses Cicero's definition of friendship in light of Aelred's desire, which is expressed in the dialogue by the character Ivo, to give a more Christian account of friendship. The definition, "Friendship is mutual harmony in affairs human and divine coupled with benevolence and charity" (p. 53), presents some puzzles -- in Aelred's Latin, benevolentia and caritas both have very specific and Christian meanings, so it's not immediately clear how the pagan Cicero would have understood them. Aelred suggests that by 'caritas' Cicero meant internal affection and by 'benevolentia' he meant external expression of this affection. Both Aelred and Ivo think the definition inadequate, but they do think it is a good starting point; it captures something of friendship, but does not adequately capture friendship in the truest sense. Drawing on Isidore of Seville, Aelred notes that the Latin word for 'friend', amicus, is related to the word for amor, so that the friend is a sort of guardian of mutual love or, by love, of one's own spirit and its secrets. "Friendship, therefore, is that virtue by which spirits are bound by ties of love and sweetness, and out of many are made one" (p. 55). Aelred then introduces one of the key ideas of the dialogue, from Proverbs 17:17: "He that is a friend loves at all times." This will mark the distinction between Aelred and Cicero: Aelred thinks, properly speaking, true friendship is eternal. This means it is very difficult to have true friendship, but Aelred insists that it is possible and that even striving for it is a noble thing.

Friendship is clearly related to charity, in the Christian sense, but the two are not the same; charity is more universal in its embrace than friendship, because Christians are specifically commanded to love even their enemies. And while friendship is a kind of harmony or cooperation, it needs to be distinguished from those kinds of agreements that are based on vice. Those kinds of carnal or worldly friendships are based on a desire for gain, but true friendship is its own reward. When we understand this correctly, this is what Cicero's definition gets right, but it is very important to understand it as excluding vice: "such friendship prudence directs, justice rules, fortitude guards, and temperance moderates" (p. 61). Friendship arises from a natural desire impressed on us by God, which is part of the general providential activity of harmonizing and unifying the world. As such it is, like virtue and wisdom, true friendship a natural good, good in itself, and cannot be directed to a bad end. What is more, while wisdom is a higher thing, friendship has so intimate a connection with wisdom that in an extended sense one can say that it just is a kind of wisdom. This is another reason why friendship has to have something eternal in it.

Ivo finds Aelred's account both attractive and difficult to believe, asking if we should conclude that just as God is love, God is friendship as well. Contrary to the way it is sometimes presented, Aelred does not outright commit to saying this -- he notes that it is not in Scripture and is an unusual thing to say -- but given that friendship has some key similarities to charity, he would not deny that you can attribute to friendship what you can to charity. But this raises the question of the fruition of friendship.

Book Two

Some years later, Ivo having since died, Aelred starts up a discussion with the monk Walter, who refers back to the discussion between Aelred and Ivo on spiritual friendship. Aelred tries to get out of going over it again by pointing out that the discussion was a long time ago, and that he had lost the paper on which he had written his notes on the dialogue. But Walter outmaneuvers him, saying that he knows that Aelred recently rediscovered it, and so he wants to read it. Aelred reluctantly lets him do so, and Walter says that, having covered the nature of friendship, the obvious next question is to look at its practical advantages. Unsurprisingly, Aelred has a very high estimate of its value:

It manifests all the virtues by its own charms; it assails vices by its own virtue; it tempers adversity and moderates prosperity. As a result, scarcely any happiness whatever can exist among mankind without friendship, and a man is to be compared to a beast if he has no one to rejoice with him in adversity, no one to whom to unburden his mind if any annoyance crosses his path or with whom to share some unusually sublime or illuminating inspiration. (pp. 71-72)

Highest of all, true friendship is on the threshold of love and knowledge of God, "so that man from being a friend of his fellowman becomes the friend of God" (p. 73).

At this point they are joined by their friend Gratian, whom Walter comments devotes all his energy to loving and being loved, so especially needs to be able to distinguish counterfeit friendship from true. Aelred elaborates the sense in which true friendship is a step tword love and knowledge of God by characterizing its structure as beginning from Christ, advancing through Christ, and being completed in Christ. And it is Christ who gives the guide to understanding what a friend may do: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). But this, too, must be understood correctly, since if wicked men die for each other, that does not change the previous conclusion that there is no friendship among the wicked. People are in fact inclined to use friendship as an excuse for evil, but this is an abuse of the term. While friendship doesn't require perfection, it does require goodness. We should therefore avoid puerile associations, based only on playful affection, as well as vicious associations, or associations based on advantages. (There is no problem with receiving advantages from friendship, but they should not be the reason for the relationship.) We should also avoid flatterers. These are all cases in which the friendship is such that, even if one dies because of the relationship, one does not die for the friend the way Christ has indicated a true friend would.

By this point, they have been talking an hour, and they adjourn the question of how one should act in the friendship to the next day.

Book Three

Friendship springs from love, but not all loves are equally conducive to true friendship. The love that is most suitable to that is the kind that springs simultaneously from reason and affection, which is connected with contemplation of virtue. But the only foundation that can actually give the eternal character that belongs to true friendship is the love of God, and everything in friendship needs to conform to this. One needs other things, however, since love is more universal than friendship; friendship requires companionship, and goes through four stages: selection of possible friend, probation or trial by which one discovers that they are indeed such as can be your friend, admission into friendship, and finally the complete conformity to the definition of friendship as "perfect harmony in matters human and divine with charity and benevolence" (p. 93).

There are vices that are simply inconsistent with friendship, and among the ones that most need to be avoided is wrath or anger, because attaching oneself to someone who cannot control themselves in matters of anger is a recipe for disaster. Likewise one should avoid people who are easily changeable or inclined to suspicion. If you become associated with such people, the command to love them remains, but you should not try to be their friend, because they are only capable of false friendship; instead you should slowly detach from them, and seek instead the kind of friendship that can be eternal.

To test someone for friendship, you need to investigate whether they have four essential qualities: loyalty or fidelity (fides), right intention (intentio), discretion (discretio), and patience (patientia). Loyalty gives the friendship security; right intention establishes that the friendship is not for gain but for God and the natural good of friendship itself (this is how Aelred understands the command to love one's neighbor as one's self, because we don't love ourselves in the expectation of being rewarded for it); discretion makes it possible for him to make decisions as a friend should make them, maintaining the kinds of priorities that are consistent with friendship; and patience gives the friendship resistance from fault and durability in the face of correction.

One of the errors that Aelred seeks to correct is the notion that spontaneous impulse is at all adequate for friendship; prudence and caution are in fact necessary. In heaven this is not so, because in heaven all are virtuous and united in love by God, in the truest and most perfect friendship, but on earth we are dealing with a mix of wise and foolish, virtuous and vicious, and the most important thing is to do the hard work of making sure that what we call friendship actually unfolds as a friendship should. Because of this we should also, of course, act in such a way as to make sure that we exhibit those qualities that are needed for friendship.

If we have done this, however, friendship raises us up: by it we bear each other's burdens, by prayer in friendship we are united more deeply to Christ; and through it we prepare ourselves for the Beatific Vision, in which God will be all in all.


Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, Laker, tr. Cistercian Publications (Kalamzoo, MI: 1977).

Sunday, September 01, 2019

A New Poem Draft and a Poem Re-Draft

The World

The world is formed from chaos, shaped to rise,
directed headlong, made to take a course,
coherent, yet recalling from its root
the shake and tumble deep within its core.
By aspiration order fills the world;
by memory an endless shifting flows;
and here in present now they interweave,
a whisper of the formless in its form.
The past is rich with promise, future hopes
are mixed inchoate, sprout, and come to be,
like saturated fluid brought to heat
then let to cool; from storm are all things born.
All order is the working of a lure,
all tumult shaped by hope and love.


Christ has all the godlings tamed:
we know their haunts, we speak their names,
we hear their whispers lace the air,
and majesty and strength are there.
But never do we rise to pray
or sacrifice to keep their way,
nor ever do we bend the knee,
but stand before them, less but free.
Though some revere, yet all are bold:
we love them as the tales of old;
their rumors hint an age of gold.