Saturday, October 05, 2019


Due to a very busy week, I'm a bit behind on the Fortnightly Book, which I'll probably get up tomorrow or Monday. In the meantime, two Egyptian-themed poems.

Sekhet Alu

The two colonnades of Busiris here stand,
the pillars of glory in the realm of the ram.
Where the four-souled beast raises its head,
mighty Anubis protects every gate,
bowing head to Osiris, the master of fate
and the king of the realms of the dead.
He rules there in peace, with truth as his rod,
his throne in the midst of the tomb of the god
where emperors themselves come to die,
the lord of the west as the sun that has set,
strong in his splendor and unfaded as yet,
and strong like the death of the sky.
Unless it has died, a seed cannot live;
to that which is dead, no fear can one give,
for the dead in the fields like the seeds are all sown.
Embalmed they are cured, and freed from all blight,
the sunset preserving the joys of their sight:
Osiris they know, by Osiris are known.
The marshmallow lands by the Delta-mouth grown
with the souls of the dead are become thickly sown,
the asphodel meadows where the mummy-god rules.
The dead are all walking in the splendor of light,
hearts light as a feather and ardent for right,
and free of this world so snake-like and cruel.
The twofold truth in the halls of the king
with the pious confession in prayer there rings
('I am pure, I am pure, I am pure').
The never-defiled have reward as they must,
and are weighted by balance, and known to be just:
in the hands of Anubis their spirits endure.


Osiris sleeps and dreams of death,
entombed in ebon halls of stone,
the death-blessed god on sacred throne,
and over gilded sands his breath
still seeks the signs of Isis' will.

And, through Egyptian starlight still
that shines in quiet on the sands,
it courses past the nomad-bands,
a honeyed wind that blows no ill,
and pulses with old hope's demands.

And Isis wanders through the lands
to seek the tombs and sacred throne,
to re-knit flesh to flesh and bone;
she takes the children in her hands
and makes them gods upon the flame.

The dead all have Osiris' name;
one soul goes up, one soul remains,
and on the Nile night-sent rains
will fall to heal the blind and lame
and raise the dead to grace.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Evening Note for Friday, October 4

Thought for the Evening: A New Way to Live

I'm almost finished reading Larry Hurtado's Destroyer of the gods (Baylor University Press [Waco, TX: 2016]), on the subject of the innovations that Christianity introduced into the Roman empire, and I've so far found Chapter 5, "A New Way to Live", particularly interesting. In it, Hurtado discusses early Christian opposition to certain common practices in Roman life.

Christian opposition to infant exposure is particularly easy to establish. Leaving infants out to die was a relatively common practice; it was not always regarded favorably, but it was generally not seen as wrong. The infants would often die, but they could also be picked up by slave traders and sold; Hurtado notes that some scholars have estimated that more than a fifth of new slaves in the Roman Empire each year were foundlings of this sort, and that they were often a relatively easy way for brothel-keepers to get prostitutes. There were a few people here and there who opposed it; the Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus was a rare pagan voice against it. But most of the opposition from it came from Jews, like Philo of Alexandria, and Christians. St. Justin Martyr has an extended attack on the practice in his First Apology, in which he explicitly condemns it, when the infant ends up a prostitute, as a shameful sexual practice (chapter 27) and, when the infant dies, as murder (chapter 29). It serves as part of his countercharge to those who claimed that the Christians did wicked deeds. The Epistle to Diognetus also mentions that refusal to expose infants is a distinguishing mark of Christian behavior (chapter 5).

Gladiatorial combat is another one, although Hurtado doesn't say much about the specifics of Christian opposition. But an example might be Athenagoras's A Plea for Christians, written to Marcus Aurelius; in chapter 35, he argues against various non-Christian cruelties, among which he includes abortion, infant exposure, and gladiatorial fights. (As with St. Justin, he is retorting to charges made against Christians.)

The Romans had a fairly strong view of marriage, as one of their foundational institutions, but Christianity greatly intensified it. The Roman view typically allowed men to have slaves to use for sexual purposes, and sex with prostitutes was extremely common. Christians expanded what was counted as sexual immorality to include both of these very common cultural practices, and insisted that sexual interaction should occur only in marriage; in doing so, they explicitly held that husbands had to hold themselves to sexual standards that had previously only been imposed on wives. Again, one finds some analogies in philosophers like Musonius Rufus -- but Musonius Rufus, Hurtado argues, was not disseminating these ideas widely; they were for him something that should be done by students devoted to philosophy, and he tended to back it by considerations of honor. Christians, on the other hand, took the principle to be something that should apply widely, and based it not on honor but on relations with God and mutual responsibility. As Hurtado puts it, "Early Christianity 'took it to the streets,' generating a novel social project in that time" (p. 181).

Likewise, Christians were vehemently opposed to the use of children for sexual purposes, even changing the standard vocabulary for it, coining the term paidophthoros, corrupter of children, to express their disgust at it. Hurtado mentions the Didache (chapter 2) and the Epistle of Barnabas (chapter 19) as clear early examples of this.

Thus Hurtado. It has had me thinking of the way in which the early Christians should serve as templates for our own behavior today, regardless of the tendencies and preferences of the world at large around us. When I did Gunnar's Daughter, I noted that, despite the fact that she was an agnostic at the time she wrote it, Undset can be read as taking a stance of protest against what she saw as a regression to pre-Christian practice, and the clear line is drawn in that work by precisely the Christian refusal to expose infants, a refusal in direct opposition to the increasing demands of eugenicists in her day that defective children should be killed for the greater good. The lives of our predecessors in the faith are not irrelevant to our own; the precise details shift about, but those who have come before us have provided a template for how we too should act. The new way to live is always and ever the new way to live.

Various Links of Interest

* Chelsea Wald, Why Red Means Red in Nearly Every Language

* Quassim Cassam's website on Professional Virtues in Modern Medicine

* Sudip Bose discusses Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. It should be noted, though, that Bose's opinion that Newman's poem is "at times a clunky piece of writing, inelegant and metaphorically dull", was not widely shared in Elgar's time; it was in fact greatly admired. And the admirers, I think, have the better of the argument.

* Lyndsey Stonebridge, Simone de Beauvoir's second coming

* Nabeel Hamid, Wolff's Science of Teleology and Kant's Critique

* James Jeffrey discusses the Painted Churches of Central Texas.

* Carrie Arnold looks at the chemicals that go into giving old books their distinctive smell.

* Gary Saul Morson, Leninthink

* James Darcy turns a discussion of replay review in sports into a remarkably good discussion of philosophical positions on vagueness.

* C. D. C. Reeve discusses Aristotle on education

* Jennifer Stitt discusses Rachel Carson on wonder. Carson's posthumous The Sense of Wonder is an excellent work, well worth reading.

Currently Reading

Bram Stoker, The Jewel of Seven Stars
Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods
Graeme Hunter, Pascal the Philosopher
Catharine Wilson, Descartes's Meditations

Wisely, Sweetly, Faithfully

For our faith is contraried in diverse manners by our own blindness, and our spiritual enemy, within and without; and therefore our precious Lover helpeth us with spiritual sight and true teaching in sundry manners within and without, whereby that we may know Him. And therefore in whatsoever manner He teacheth us, He willeth that we perceive Him wisely, receive Him sweetly, and keep us in Him faithfully. For above the Faith is no goodness kept in this life, as to my sight, and beneath the Faith is no help of soul; but in the Faith, there willeth the Lord that we keep us. For we have by His goodness and His own working to keep us in the Faith; and by His sufferance through ghostly enmity we are assayed in the Faith and made mighty. For if our faith had none enmity, it should deserve no meed, according to the understanding that I have in all our Lord’s teaching.

[Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Sixteenth Revelation (Chapter LXX).]

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Two New Poem Drafts and a Poem Re-Draft


Ah, my Lord God, you are wonderful.
All that you are brings me wonder.
In all that you do, I wonder.
In the lightning of your creating there is splendor,
a power to spark minds to wonder.
Wondering, I know I do not know;
what I do not know lures me further.
All this creation wonderfully shines,
and every glimmer is a cause to inquire,
and every shimmer a world to study,
for out of wonder springs heart's desire,
a thirst for a wisdom beyond my own,
and all of philosophy by this is driven,
by divine madness is it seized and driven,
philosophy of the little, philosophy of the great,
of science, its philosophy, of art, its philosophy,
philosophy of the thing, philosophy of the thought,
philosophy of all that pours from divine ideas.
Ah, my Lord God, you are wonderful!
All that is in you brings wonder.
All that is from you brings wonder.
In all that you do, I wonder.


For all that I have heard,
I praise you, Lord,
for all that I have seen;
though pen is frail
and ink is faint on page,
my heart will raise
a hymn of true intent
and honest thanks;
though voice may break and fade,
the thought will rise.
For all that I have heard,
I praise you, Lord,
for all that I have seen.


The air is hot and dry,
obscured by storms of dust.
Unending realms of sand
parch with fatal thirst.
Yet even on this desert planet
water can be found:
dew in secret places,
springs in sacred places,
pools by wind-worn rocks.

I dreamed.
This desert was a beach;
mist was in the air;
clouds grew on the horizon.
To my thirsty ears
came a great and liquid roar.
Great waves of philosophy
broke against the shore.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

"Goodbye Until Eternity"

Today is the memorial for Bl. Bartolomé Blanco. A martyr of the Spanish Civil War, he was imprisoned when he refused to serve in the army of the Second Spanish Republic. He was sentenced to death for refusal to serve in a time of war and was shot on October 2, 1936. The night before his execution, however, he wrote a letter to his girlfriend. You can read his actual letter in a number of places online, e.g., here.

The Last Letter of Bartolomé Blanco Márquez

Tomorrow I die, and a line of grim men
will shoot bullets in me till I fall;
but my life has been good, and I thank you for that,
and I thank my Lord God above all.
I will remember your face to the dark, silent grave,
and love you with all of my heart;
lovers who love in the glory of God
become of each other a part.
Fear not, Maruja, my darling, my love;
I see death, but I am not afraid.
Remember, Maruja, my dear and my dove,
recall me in life's errant way;
take thought to your soul, my lady and love,
that in heaven we may meet again
and love in the way God meant us to love,
forever in life without end.

Forever Those Sands Are Ashift

The River of Ruin
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Along by the river of ruin
They dally — the thoughtless ones,
They dance and they dream
By the side of the stream,
As long as the river runs.

It seems all so pleasant and cheery —
No thought of the morrow is theirs,
And their faces are bright
With the sun of delight,
And they dream of no nightbrooding cares.

The women wear garlanded tresses,
The men have rings on their hands,
And they sing in their glee,
For they think they are free —
They that know not the treacherous sands.

Ah, but this be a venturesome journey,
Forever those sands are ashift,
And a step to one side
Means a grasp of the tide,
And the current is fearful and swift.

For once in the river of ruin,
What boots it, to do or to dare,
For down we must go
In the turbulent flow,
To the desolate sea of Despair.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Little Flower

Today is the feast of St. Thérèse de Lisieux, Doctor of the Church. From a letter to her sister Celine, on the contemplative vocation:

We are neither idlers nor spendthrifts. Our Divine Master has taken our defence upon Himself. Remember the scene in the house of Lazarus: Martha was serving, while Mary had no thought of food but only of how she could please her Beloved. And "she broke her alabaster box, and poured out upon her Saviour's Head the precious spikenard, and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment."

The Apostles murmured against Magdalen. This still happens, for so do men murmur against us. Even some fervent Catholics think our ways are exaggerated, and that—with Martha—we ought to wait upon Jesus, instead of pouring out on Him the odorous ointment of our lives. Yet what does it matter if these ointment-jars—our lives—be broken, since Our Lord is consoled, and the world in spite of itself is forced to inhale the perfumes they give forth? It has much need of these perfumes to purify the unwholesome air it breathes.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Lion in the Wilderness

Today is the feast of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church. In his book On Famous Men, Jerome devotes each chapter to a famous man, starting with St. Peter; chapter 135 is devoted to -- Jerome:

I, Jerome, son of Eusebius, of the city of Strido, which is on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia and was overthrown by the Goths, up to the present year, that is, the fourteenth of the Emperor Theodosius, have written the following: Life of Paul the monk, one book of Letters to different persons, an Exhortation to Heliodorus, Controversy of Luciferianus and Orthodoxus, Chronicle of universal history, 28 homilies of Origen on Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which I translated from Greek into Latin, On the Seraphim, On Osanna, On the prudent and the prodigal sons, On three questions of the ancient law, Homilies on the Song of Songs two, Against Helvidius, On the perpetual virginity of Mary, To Eustochius, On maintaining virginity, one book of Epistles to Marcella, a consolatory letter to Paula On the death of a daughter, three books of Commentaries on the epistle of Paul to the Galatians, likewise three books of Commentaries on the epistle to the Ephesians, On the epistle to Titus one book, On the epistle to Philemon one, Commentaries on Ecclesiastes, one book of Hebrew questions on Genesis, one book On places in Judea, one book of Hebrew names, Didymus on the Holy Spirit, which I translated into Latin one book, 39 homilies on Luke, On Psalms 10 to 16, seven books, On the captive Monk, The Life of the blessed Hilarion. I translated the New Testament from the Greek, and the Old Testament from the Hebrew, and how many Letters I have written To Paula and Eustochius I do not know, for I write daily. I wrote moreover, two books of Explanations on Micah, one book On Nahum, two books On Habakkuk, one On Zephaniah, one On Haggai, and many others On the prophets, which are not yet finished, and which I am still at work upon.

Colantonio, Jerome in his Study
(Niccolò Colantonio, Jerome in His Study)

Jerome is often depicted with a lion, a representation of his association with wilderness monastic life. According to legend, a lion entered the monastery at which he was staying. Everyone fled, except for Jerome, who saw that the beast was limping. Jerome approached the lion and removed the thorn from its paw. The lion stayed around, and, as you can imagine, was very good at guarding things. Such is the power of a good deed. But the legend also continues that the lion got distracted once and the monastery's donkey was stolen; and the lion had to come back shamefaced to the monastery, as reluctant to enter as a dog that knows it has done wrong. It was assumed that the lion had eaten the donkey, so its punishment was to take the place of the donkey, which it patiently did until happenstance returned the donkey to the monks, the lion was vindicated, and all was made well.

Familiar and Friend

...Now, it is natural to all men to love each other. The mark of this is the fact that a man, by some natural prompting, comes to the aid of any man in need, even if he does not know him. For instance, he may call him back from the wrong road, help him up from a fall, and other actions like that: "as if every man were naturally the familiar and friend of every man."...

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles III.117.6.