On the Simplicity of Truth

11 11 2008

botticelli_001

You often ask me, Antonio, to define the virtues for you, expecting from me perhaps those very detailed analyses of the Aristotelians and Stoics. Calderini, this is not the way of our school of Plato. Surely, the power of virtue lies in unity rather than in division. Hence, the Pythagoreans held that unity belonged to the good, diversity to evil. So I shall be very brief in my definition, especially as it is better to practice the virtues than to know about them.

-Marsilio Ficino, from the book, Meditations on the Soul

I really like reading Josh S.’ blog, not because of how much I agree with him, but rather because of how much I disagree with him. In a sense, the way he puts things is really the way most modern Western people would put them, just without the often hypocritical nuances. Those nuances only try to mask the real similarities between supposedly disparate worldviews. In reality, the modern Lutheran, the modern Roman Catholic, and the modern atheist inhabit the same moral and metaphysical universe. It is simply one that I personally refuse to live in.

The topic of his latest major post is how theological rhetoric creates a homogeneous mess of mystifying abstraction. Why is it that Rumi, the Bhagavad Gita, St. John of the Cross, the Rhine mystics, and all other “spiritual writers” sound the same? Why is it that the basis of the ecumenical talk of experts often is said to spring from our common “mystical” traditions? Is it all the glorious song of the One; the common striving of the human spirit for the transcendent? The reader of this blog can conclude that this is my approach. How else can I put Sufi poetry, Catholic prayers, baroque poetry, and avant-garde music on the same page? Is it because I am a live-and-let-live kinda guy? Not really. I am a very closed minded person when it comes down to it.

I am just as much an opponent of mushy spiritual fuzziness as the Lutheran blogger. I don’t see the truth as being too disparate, too marvelous, and too transcendent to be grasped by the punny human mind. It is, but to admit that simply leads to chaos. One must cling to the sacramenta, to the symbols of Faith passed down to us with all of our might. That is why I am a great fan of the saying, extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. And that Church is the Roman Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

On the other hand, I will say that more people should have the audacity to proclaim the sovereign nature of truth. For me, the cult of the saints is not a faint echo of the past cult of the gods; idolatry by other means. For me, it is the cult of the old, overthrown gods that is the faint echo of the cult of the living Virgin and the saints. It is the past looking forwards, not a remnant of a backwards past. Paganism was a shadow of Catholicism, not the other way around.

I will say with Josh, however, that many complicated systems of modern religious thought tend to try to conquer the Gospel with theology. The real God makes people drop dead. He allows them to sin and damn themselves. He is not a chump. Often, theological and philosophical flights of fancy are often just intoxicating exercises in self-satisfaction. They attempt to avoid reality with the pyrotechnics of words and convoluted ideas. And that is why, in the smoke of “spiritual” syllogisms, in the haze of the high level abstractions of the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Catholic, and Muslim, all things look startlingly the same. We are looking at human cleverness from various positions and angles.

And in this, Josh is perhaps closest to his nemesis: Platonism. For the latter-day Diadochus of the Platonic school, the great Florentine cited above, loved simplicity and sobriety of discourse above the tortured, falsely ecstatic prose of the scholastics and moderns. There, in those simple phrases, is where the real voice of God sings.

In my own book, if you can’t say it in a paragraph and say it beautifully, it really is not worth saying.


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5 responses

2 01 2009
Arturo Vasquez

“I wish more Catholics would speak like this…I think fewer Protestants would become Catholics if you did.”

Dude, took you a while to comment on this one.

I know I am not supposed to say stuff like this, but I would be glad if these people didn’t convert if they didn’t agree with me on this one. The last thing we need is a bunch of crypto-Protestants running around mucking up our church, we have enough problems with the cradle agnostics who do a good enough job of that already. If it were up to me, the first thing you would learn if you wanted to join the Catholic Church is how to pray the rosary and the Stations of the Cross. And then we would go from there. Doctrine might be taught, but from the Baltimore Catechism and by rote, just like in the good ol’ days. That way, people will accept that they can know precious little about the mystery of the Godhead, and what little we know we have to cling onto for dear life.

2 01 2009
Fearsome Comrade

I really like reading Josh S.’ blog, not because of how much I agree with him, but rather because of how much I disagree with him.

I like your blog for the same reason, actually.

2 01 2009
Fearsome Comrade

Wow. I sound way smarter when you write about me.

For me, the cult of the saints is not a faint echo of the past cult of the gods; idolatry by other means. For me, it is the cult of the old, overthrown gods that is the faint echo of the cult of the living Virgin and the saints. It is the past looking forwards, not a remnant of a backwards past. Paganism was a shadow of Catholicism, not the other way around.

I wish more Catholics would speak like this…I think fewer Protestants would become Catholics if you did.

19 11 2008
syzygus

Uncanny! Earlier I revisited Strodtbeck’s site after a long time away, and came away thinking almost exactly the same thing, though not as eloquently.

You’ve been on my blogroll since I discovered you a while back. Blessings.

13 11 2008
Andrea Elizabeth

“For me, the cult of the saints is not a faint echo of the past cult of the gods; idolatry by other means. For me, it is the cult of the old, overthrown gods that is the faint echo of the cult of the living Virgin and the saints. It is the past looking forwards, not a remnant of a backwards past. Paganism was a shadow of Catholicism, not the other way around.”

I think so too. – in an Orthodox sense of course. 🙂

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