C.S. Lewis once said that courage is the “form of every virtue at its testing point.” It is easy to forget that figures such as Lewis, Tolkien, and even Chesterton, did not write during a time of Christian ascendancy. Lewis was denied a chair (a full professorship) at Oxford for years precisely because of his embarrassingly public profession of faith. To the “learned” sceptics around him, it made him seem “less than serious.” Tolkien was a devout, practicing Catholic, but was never as public as Lewis. Lewis wrote popular books on the topic and gave radio addresses. All of that is a reminder that courage was a virtue in daily demand in their lives.
Universities have long been hot-beds of unbelief as well as places where mediocre men and women can do great damage to the careers of giants. We do not live in exceptional times in that regard. The same pettiness and meanness have found ways of trickling down into other parts of the culture, infecting Christians as well. Every virtue requires the practice of courage (another virtue) if it is to find expression.
It is interesting that the topic of virtue was the one matter on which Christians of the early Church and the educated pagans around them agreed. Indeed, the list of virtues that came to be a hallmark of ascetic writings in the Fathers was pretty much the same list found earlier in the works of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics. In general, what constituted a “good man” was much the same whether seen from the point of view of a Christian or a pagan philosopher.
The short list of the virtues is instructive:
- Prudence – the ability to discern the appropriate course of action to be taken in a given situation at the appropriate time
- Courage – fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation
- Temperance – the practice of self-control, discretion, and moderation, tempering the appetites
- Justice – fairness, being equitable with others
Christians writers added the “theological virtues” to that earlier list: faith, hope, and love.
When we read of Roman soldiers being so deeply moved by the courage and faith of suffering martyrs that they renounced the gods and leapt into the arena in order to die with them, we are seeing a case of men who were already committed to courage and justice who would rather die with the innocent than be united with the wicked.
It is difficult to preach to those who have little virtue.
Virtue is a word that asks the question of “what kind of person” we are. What kind of person leaps into an arena in order to die with the innocent? What kind of person leaves everything he has in order to follow Christ? What kind of person shares what he has with those who have less? What kind of person speaks the truth when a lie would be richly rewarded?
Virtue is a way that we can measure a faith in its depths. It is not theological sophistication that measures character – it is virtue.
I recall my father’s conversion to the Orthodox Church. He abruptly left the Episcopal Church after the decision to ordain a practicing homosexual as a bishop (2003). The day he left, he met with an Orthodox priest and asked to be received. The next day, he went to see the priest at his Episcopal Church to tell him what he was doing and why (he was not the sort of man to “ghost” another). He asked the priest, “Can you look up how much I owe on my pledge for the year?”
The priest responded, “Jim, when most people leave the Church, they don’t pay the rest of their pledge.” My father responded, “That pledge was between me and God.” He paid it. He was 79 years old at the time.
I was well aware of my father’s faults and had the temerity as a teen to point them out to him from time to time. I could never have accused him of cowardice. I do not say the same about prudence or temperance. Those came slowly to him. But he was the kind of man whose conscience would not be silenced for any reason of convenience. He belonged to what is now called the “Greatest Generation.” They endured hard times. Some, like him, were never far from those times at any point in their lives.
When we think about the world in which we live, and how the faith survives, we do well to ask about virtue and character. What kind of people endure difficult challenges to their faith? What kind of community fosters virtue in its members?
It is interesting to me, in thinking of Lewis and Tolkien, that they both lost their mothers when they were young. Tolkien was orphaned, and Lewis was shipped off to horrible boarding schools. When they met, Lewis was not yet a Christian. However, I suspect that his character was already formed. I do not think we can point to specific communities for how they became good men. Oddly, I think we have to say that they read good books. Many of those books were tales of ancient heroes.
What kind of community fosters virtue in its members? First and foremost, I think, it is a community that tells good stories of good men and good women. It is the task of the Church both to tell and to become the good story. The Church is the sacrament of virtue and that place where every virtue finds its true home. Character and virtue ask questions that have very little to do with success. The greatest failures of Christianity in the modern world have not been failures to “succeed.” They have been failures of character, when “success” and worldly concerns have overwhelmed doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason.
God give us courage!
I have been far from courageous in the past, and I pray that God will grant me courage now and in the future!
You raise a very interesting point regarding the formation of Tolkien and Lewis. In “Surprised by Joy,” Lewis does seem to credit in large part good books, books about heroes, as you said, with his coming to God. It’s a reminder of how important good literature is for the instilling of virtues in our own time. As a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, I’m wondering if there’s anything similar to it in the Orthodox world? Even for non-writers, it’s a good source for finding virtuous stories that are true to the teachings of Christ.
May God send us more good writers and artists, and courageous men like your dad.
I suspect there are very many out there like my father – but their stories don’t get told. Both Lewis and Tolkien were nurtured on a classical canon that actually had a point. That same canon allowed them to judge the worth of a story – and gave them guidance in writing their own. We are sort of inundated with stories of a very different canon at present.
I know of some fledgling Orthodox writing groups. I wish them well. I do not think we suffer from a lack of good literature. We suffer from a lack of reading (to say the least).
Ah, yes, the lack of reading… so sadly true. I don’t know what to do about that, although I always give classic books as presents to children and parents-to-be.
(By the way, I just purchased your book for myself.)
I recall reading somewhere (perhaps this blog) that virtue cannot be taught by those that lack it. We have a large store of good reading that teaches virtue but it is widely used, in schools, for ideological purposes and the good teachings simply ignored. I remember a post in a different blog that went over this in detail (sadly, I don’t have a link).
The reading aspect is so interesting. I read a lot, & have a combined Honours degree in Fine Art & Literature, but still have so much good literature to read. What kind of list do you think we could all put together for those who would like to take the advantage of having literature help in forming their character? The power of story is immense to the mind & heart, where else do we see human things play out over time, with such a clear look at motivation & other aspects we may have no access to in real life.
I often think of this list, which has been around a long time… & hope one day to have enough time to read my way through this course: https://www.sjc.edu/application/files/4115/4810/0934/St_Johns_College_Great_Books_Reading_List.pdf
I like your Dad. Memory eternal. 🙏🏻
I spent a year in a masters program @ SJC (Sante Fe) in the mid nineties. One thing I have wondered about is how that list has changed over the years.. How has the anti-canon and the current “justice” climate impacted the canon? I will say that good literature and canon is important, but can only “penetrate” the modern mind so far, at least in an obviously external way. I quickly gravitated to the sub-culture (sub-community?) at SJC of trad RC’s and a handful of Orthodox, and “endured” (to choose a word) the seminars filled with modern minds interpreting the non-modern.
Your essay prompted me to think of truth in relation to virtue. If in the greco-roman world, their was strong agreement on the virtues, can we say the same today? Justice pops out at me – I do not see much agreement and behind it is a fundamental disagreement about truth – man and God.
While I think that good literature is of considerable value, I would differentiate this from “good stories”. Only a limited number of people have the gifts to write great literature – and perhaps to read it. But all of us have the ability to listen to a good story – or better, to “be” a good story.
I’m currently taking an online course on theosis. The readings for the class are a mixed bag, some including personal stories, others rather dry in their theological exposition. One of the assignments has me reflecting on my history with the concept of theosis, i.e. when I first learned of it, even if by another name. Primary among my influences have been stories – both RC and Orthodox saints in particular. But in the ordinary life stories there are also great treasures, not read in books but recognized through shared experiences.
I suspect few people come to God because of theological argument. The stories we read, however, the stories we experience in the meeting of people, these are what lead us to question our assumptions. And because they are stories, our guard is down. We aren’t prepared to argue. How can you argue with someone’s story?
Just one little tale now… A couple of years ago, when my reposed pastor of many years was still living, a woman visited our church. My priest-friend was very old and his voice had grown soft. Our church is a large historic building in which sound systems falter. After the liturgy the woman commented to someone, “I just love that little priest of yours! But I couldn’t understand a word he said…” Ah, his life was the story.
May we all become stories (and icons) of the living Christ.
You remind me that it takes courage to “bear a little shame.”
Sadly, also, that modern life only seems to appreciate that if it couched in “success.” Perhaps we are called now to witness the lack of virtue, or rather its appreciation. At the same time we are inundated with moralism.
PS It occurs to me that if it is virtue itself that is under assault (as you pointed out, also a part of pagan culture, and I would add, cultures around the world), then we are witness to a much deeper crisis than we usually acknowledge.
In this day and time, can a person “learn” virtue through books, where afterwards when it all sinks in, and you will acquire virtue?
I do not think that is exactly what you are saying, Father. But that “stories” read or told are important.
Aren’t these virtues what the Wisdom literature is all about? These precepts are to be infused into a culture, passed down from generation to generation (I think that is how Lewis “knew” about these virtues, despite growing up in orphanages).
I think you are correct, Father. The Church is the place where virtue finds its true home…if it is taught and practiced. I think the most potential for cultivating virtue is within the Church.
You’re right, reading alone would never be enough. This is why I said the Church must also “be the story.” The examples of courage and the virtues that matter most to me, and have impacted my life the most deeply are not in books, but in some otherwise unknown persons around me. The books teach us to recognize virtue when we see it.
Ultimately, virtue is a gift of God. In the case of the “natural” virtues (if not all), the gift helps something that is latently or naturally present to flourish. I noted the examples from within antiquity’s pagans. Philosophers such as Plato are badly described as pagans. He taught a belief in “the One.” He would also have been embarrassed by the behaviors of the gods in ancient myths – where they were everything except virtuous.
Again, I return to my gravity argument (“in an argument with gravity you always lose”). There is a naturalness to the virtues. People are naturally repelled by lying (unless something has nurtured a change). We also are naturally inclined to fairness (the virtue of justice). Even children argue about being fair. This is a reflection of the image of God within us – all of us. And, thank God, every child born has that same inner instinct for virtue.
In modernity, what we are seeing, I think, is not so much the abandoning of virtue. It’s the perversion of virtue. The sexual/gender debate with its new inventions, etc., is driven largely by fairness. But the fairness is built on false information and propaganda. But it could not succeed if the desire for fairness were absent. I was in Seattle last Spring. I said to the audience there that Seattle is probably the most virtuous city in America (other than Portland). It’s ironic – and I meant it so. But, nothing is more “virtuous” than modern liberal politics. It is the same virtue as its Puritan ancestors had. Lots of virtue, but wrong information.
The same could be said about any ideology, I suppose. When Christianity is an ideology rather than the true Divine Life of God in His people, then its virtues are just as misguided and destructive.
I apologize for editing out your remarks to an earlier commenter. I did not see his comment until this morning. It violates the rules of the blog and I removed it (as well as remarks directed towards him).
“Virtue is a way that we can measure a faith in its depths. It is not theological sophistication that measures character – it is virtue.”
Beakerj – The St. John’s reading list should be the basic curriculum in America. No one should graduate from high school unless they have completed at least the first year and no one should graduate from college unless they have studied the entire list. I dare say this is a fundamental problem with our culture. I can only dream of what our leaders and popular culture would be like if Americans were well educated in the great traditions from which we arose.
Thank you Father…no need to apologize for editing the comments, but thank you anyway for asking! I trust completely your decision in the need to do so. I saw his anger, thus missed the violation of the rules of the blog. Mostly though, I look for your direction and needed correction.
So yes, I understand what you are saying…the plight of our condition in our modern culture is not the absence of virtue (we indeed do have a natural inclination toward it, thanks to being created in His image), but its perversion, based on wrong information.
What I need to do is dwell upon what you are saying here. If I understand correctly, “fairness” and “equality” are examples of wrong information. Starting from that vantage point we will miss “the true Divine Life of God in His people”. I go back to what Christopher said in the previous post, that “[my] questions start with modern categories of gender roles… authority-as-power (as opposed to Christian understanding as authority as truth, charism, servitude, love)… . That this is the beginning (and the end) of Kingdom living…within the Church, resulting in an outpouring of this Life in the world. The Church is “the story” of the true meaning of virtue.
I am glad you are speaking on this Father. We got the message about where moral right and wrong fall short. I have always wondered about the difference between morality and virtue. You point out that “Virtue is a word that asks the question of “what kind of person” we are.” It seems to go farther than a mere moral choice….
“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
Father Stephen: Kindly explain the removal of my comment and the replies to it. GOD BLESS. Steve
Dear Fr Stephen,
I’m grateful for your father, his courage and virtue to ‘keep his word’. No doubt his life had a providential influence on you. Glory to God for such influences.
Across your articles I have always enjoyed your stories and reflections. You know how to write a ‘good story’ too! Thank you for your wonderful ministry.
ps I haven’t read the Narnia stories. But this picture makes me want to read them. I think I would love Lucy— the girl pictured here, I believe. May we all find and hold onto such Light within
Father may give you a reason. Yet, he has in his ground rules for the blog at page bottom. I’ve had comments removed, as Paula notes, she has also. Re-read what you have written before posting. Or wait 15 minutes before sending. I’ve done this and then deleted my own comment!
Steve I didn’t see your comment. But perhaps take a look at the blog rules to see what Fr refers to. He has removed my comments to on occasion. It ought not be taken as an offense. There are a number of reasons for his moderation of these comments.
Thanks, Father, for the explanations to Paula about virtue and the “natural” that is born into us as a gift of God.
It, too, has seemed to me we are in the midst of Puritan frenzy, but just from another perspective.
My question is: what happens to pervert virtue? Not commenting on popular movements here but a personal encounter: what makes lying and unfairness acceptable to a person? Maybe that questions is too broad, but nevertheless, I ask it…
Regarding Christianity as ideology, I was having this discussion last night with my husband. For me, as I go along in my own “journey” of faith, is that it seems increasingly simply personal. For my perspective, theosis does this in the sense that everything in us/me comes up for scrutiny within that process… and that feels like a natural process. But again, it becomes a personal lived thing, like how I treat people, even strangers, for instance. Or how I learn to hold my temple (whoo boy, that’s a hoot I even put it there! haha). But you know what I mean 🙂 And none of that would happen without some “organic” influence at work. I doubt I would even know this stuff comes up for scrutiny without prayer practice. Esp because of the Jesus Prayer I also find that life’s hurts come up for me to acknowledge too. Is this what you meant?
*haha… hold my temple! hold my temper I meant
(temple might work in a Pauline sense 🙂 )
Matthew Lyon: Thank you for that CS Lewis quotation
I was going to say that the word “honor” keeps coming up for me here in this discussion … in the personal sense, I think of honor as integrity. Like the example of Fr. Stephen’s father.
Your earlier comment violated the rules of the blog. Those rules are posted with a link on the sidebar. But, I’ll reprint them here:
This is a private site, so that freedom of speech is not the rule. Comments are welcome but only if they are kind to others and show mercy. God, Scripture tells us, is kind “to the unthankful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). We are commanded to be like Him in these very things. The internet is full of judgment and unkindness (so is the world around us). If people have a need for that sort of thing, they do not lack opportunities – but they will not have the opportunity for it on this site. I believe that we are able to say, with St. John Chrysostom, “Glory to God for All Things,” because God is good and His will for us is good. If something troubles you, there are kind ways to address it and merciful ways to treat any subject. Such comments, even if they are disagreements with postings, are welcome. I do reserve the right to remove comments that seem to cross bounds or give offense to God or the faith. I hope in my postings to be edifiying and thought-provoking, in the best sense, and at least worth reading. If that is so, then this blog will be worth taking time to create and to read.
If these groundrules are observed (kindness and mercy), we will all have avoided some sin and temptation and that itself is a good thing.
I would add that I do not post assertions of heresy against Orthodox clergy. That is a formal charge, and there are ways and places to make such charges. But to publish such things on my blog is slanderous and a sin. I cannot do so.
May God bless you as you visit, and forgive me if I give offense at any point.
If those rules seem arbitrary – that is as it may be. This is not a public forum. Comments that are angry and provocative, much less with slanderous accusations, simply provoke similar responses, most often. That’s the stuff that makes Facebook almost unbearable.
This site requires work on my part – to write the articles and to respond to comments and maintain a safe and informative place for the discussion of the issues related to the Orthodox faith. It is not a place for political expression. Indeed, anyone who reads my work regularly should know that I have almost no regard for political matters – I prefer to put my trust in the providence of God and to put my energy into preaching the gospel and ministering to souls.
There are other sites that attend to those things that are not treated here. I removed the comments relating to your removed comment because they made no sense without the comment to which they were responding.
Anyone willing to respect the rules of the blog is welcome to comment at any time. There is a wide range of opinions expressed. But the rules are the rules. Sorry for any consternation this might have caused.
It’s a very good question: “what happens to pervert virtue?”
Most often, it is a misperception of the “good.” Let’s use food as an example. Food is good. Good food is a reasonable pleasure. That pleasure can become inordinate when self-control (temperance) is absent. So – eating food is a good thing – eating too much at the wrong time of the wrong thing is a “good” gone bad.
The same is generally true across the board. People are almost never pursuing something they perceive as evil. That’s quite rare in my experience. But, we sometimes lie because we are pursuing a sense of safety. The truth would entail embarrassment or loss, and we naturally want to avoid that. We do not want to bear a little shame. But that “good” leads to a bad thing.
All this becomes exaggerated in public movements – politics, religion, sports, etc. The dynamics of life in a crowd is its own topic – shame is a major factor in that phenomenon. It’s quite dangerous.
I could book mark every post and have relevant material to reflect on every day.
The discussions about the character of a Christian vs the ‘success’ of a Christian are a particular medicine I enjoy reading.
Thank you, Father.
Father, you said,
“We do not want to bear a little shame”
Oh boy, that makes so much sense in the context of the personal I was thinking of! You have really opened up my eyes to something quite intricate and embedded I now have a new way to think about. Thank you.
Dynamics of the crowd: any time you feel you would like to embroider on this, I am all ears! Especially regarding the shame part. Thank you once again so much. I have a lot to think about now.
PS (I fire off comments too soon) …
It does seem to me from experience that those are also learned behaviors passed on to others! I refer to the avoidance of shame through lying, etc. Honor disappears when that “shame” is to be avoided at all cost. That is really such a valuable key! (I mean the notion of bearing a little shame you frequently discuss.)
When Elder Cleopa of Romania left home to become a monk, one of the few things he took with him was his 12-volume Lives of the Saints. While tending the monastery’s sheep, he “would read and the day would pass by in what seemed like an hour. The Lives of the Saints really strengthens one… very much so.”
Dear Father Stephen:
Just as a coincidence, we rented a movie about Tolkien on the Redbox over the weekend. My wife and I thought that it was a very good movie. I did not know much about him; so, I got curious and learned some more about him. Great reading. Then, I read your blog today and Tolkien is again in it.
The coincidences does not stop there. Yesterday morning, I was talking with a colleague at work on how one-sided and “anti-scientific” science and academia in general has become. You are probably correct saying “Universities have long been hot-beds of unbelief as well as places where mediocre men and women can do great damage to the careers of giants. We do not live in exceptional times in that regard. ” However, there has been a big change for the worse in the last two decades, mostly the last decade. Scientific discourse based on reproducible evidence has been supplanted by declamation, dishonesty, and intellectual laziness. This was not the norm, now it is.
Like always. I enjoy your writings very much
Thank you Father
Many thanks for these thoughts on the unduly neglected topic of virtue. Thanks, too, to Beakerj for the St. John’s curriculum, which I too endorse, but I do think we need to go further. If as Fr Stephen writes, “virtue is a gift of God,” then we can assume that this gift will be found in all cultures and in their literatures too. It won’t be everywhere (just as it’s not everywhere in Western civilization, past or present), but if we train ourselves to see the image of Christ in others and in “foreign” texts, won’t we be doing what is asked of us as Christians, i.e. to love the other? Otherwise, aren’t we just asserting the superiority of our tribe (however one wishes to define tribe)?
Two thoughts (just thoughts) on your comment Ken. First, I don’t see how we can “go further” when in the present time/place we don’t usually take the first step. Second, and I would be interested in others views on this as well, but I think there is a distinction between the Catholicity of Christ and a kind of vague epistimic universalism or multiculturalism.
I think that it is only because of who Christ is that we can see Him or “read” Him elsewhere in the world – in cultures. So, I would never suggest a vague epistemic universalism or multiculturalism. I’m not sure of Ken’s intent. But, neither do we need to fear the world. I’ve just been reading an article on St. Nikolai of Japan and his writings and understandinf of Buddhism. I think his respect and understanding of what he saw allowed him to become an effective missionary in Japan.
Christian mission properly “reads” the world, and even interprets the world so that it can understand itself. That said, if someone confined themselves to the English “canon” they would still not be terribly limited. Becoming a citizen of the world is, sometimes, nothing more than the propaganda of globalization. Everything matters so that nothing matters.
Sometimes my mind leaps around as I read Fr’s posts.
One particular thread that comes to mind as I read over the comments include thoughts on Romans 2:14, and the ways it’s been explained to me in the past. Is Romans 2:14 relevant in this discussion? If not, why not, since it speaks directly to the subject of Gentiles who exhibit the hallmarks of Christian virtue? How might what I’ve read here inform a deeper understanding of that verse, and conversely, how might that new understanding help me to appreciate the fullness of orthodox faith even more?
Following another thread, I compare the elevation of virtue in this post, with the the “works vs faith” debates that take place so frequently in protestant churches. The result being that those who would call themselves “Christian” practice willful expediency to their own ends whenever a virtue is inconvenient – after all, it’s all covered by grace, and its not our works that will save us, right? Actually, this was one of many personal reasons for rejecting the dominant Salvation narrative of these Churches, there’s nothing that changes me, and paradoxically, if I try to do the right thing just because I should, there’s the criticism that I’m trying to “work my way to heaven”. Divorce rates mirror the common culture, as do teen pregnancies. I think I’ve heard that depression and suicide are actually higher, which would make sense if you are living a life that contradicts your sense of virtue.
I don’t have answers for any of these musings – at the moment these are just threads of thought running through my mind that I am sharing as I think about them.
I love this conversation! I’m in an apprenticeship for Christian classical educators and I plan to send them a link to this post. We talk about these ideas all the time as we read the ancient epics, Plato, and Shakespeare together in community. Toss in some rhetoric and education texts, including Abolition of Man, quoted above, and our minds are full and our hearts flying as we contemplate the treasures we desire to give to our students.
What kind of community fosters virtue? Well, even with all my study, it will come to nothing if I fail to love my students (in my case primarily my own children) and live the false life of spewing words of truth without the desire and effort to live them out. Lord have mercy on me and my children, and my other students! These are such important ideas and realities, and very hard to live out.
Thank you for posting your rules. I deeply appreciate the care you take with your writing and your readers. You, together with your readers, have fostered a safe place for us to come and learn. Sometimes we clumsily stumble as we express ourselves, and are received with kindness and correction as needed. I am so grateful, I have learned so much here, not least of which is how to talk to other people.
Glory to God!
I was thinking about your comments about our personal journey, bearing a little shame, and prayer practice (prayer of the heart), and Father’s response about shaming.
Reading today’s Lives of the Saints and the life of the Prophet Samuel, it is in reading about his mother, Hannah, that I thought of your words. She was shamed, and she bore it by turning to God in absolute faith and trust, because she knew His love and His faithfulness, personally. Her journey and her prayer of the heart is truly an example of courage and virtue all the while bearing a great burden. Her’s is a “good story”…a story rooted in the Church, our haven of salvation!
Here is the link to several articles about the Prophet Samuel and his mother. I have only read the first three so far, but found them to be greatly edifying.
How wonderful that you pursue this apprenticeship to learn and to share the vast amount of treasures God has given us! Reading your words excites me…I share with your and your “fellows” your “hearts flying”!
Yes, it is a challenge to live out the Christian faith, but funny thing is, without the challenge, the fullness of His riches will not be realized. In this life of ours we are ever-learning, and yes, greatly challenged!
May you and your group greatly prosper, Kristen! I believe you will!
Father Stephen: Thank-you for your response/explanation. When Jesus purified the temple I doubt it was with kindness nor do I believe he looks with kindness upon His ordained shepherds who hide among the trees in silence while the wolves prey upon His sheep.
Politics is no excuse for inaction – ask: Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Bonhoeffer” ; Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko “Truth versus Totalitarianism” ; Fr. Stanley Rother “The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run” ; Patriarch Athanasios of Constantinople (1289-1293) and (1303-1309) during the reign of Andronikos “The Church and Social Reform”. GOD BLESS. Steve S
The melting pot US in which a particular kind of Christianity was universalized is no more and, besides, as Fr Stephen (in Everywhere Present) and Fr Schmemann (in For the Life of the World) stress, there were some spiritual problems with that world anyway.
Today Christianity is faced with all kinds of other cultural identities that will not melt away, and it seems to me that we have to ask ourselves how Jesus would want us to respond to them, so Romans 2:14 is indeed relevant as are John 4:4–26 (Samaritan woman at the well) and Matthew 8:5–13 (Centurion’s servant). In these passages, Jesus sees otherness, respects it without melting into it, and responds with love. The sublime strength and confidence of this response, which finds its climax in the cross, explains to my satisfaction the mystery that historians (for ex. Larry Siedentop) see in Christianity’s spread in its first centuries.
You may appreciate a book by Vigen Guroian (who happens to be an Orthodox Christian, I just looked it up , in the Acknowledgements he talks about his Armenian grandmother) called Tending the Heart of Virtue, How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination. He reviews and, thereby, recommends children’s stories from a theological perspective. I just started reading it along with The Abolition of Man (which he quotes in the introduction). Really interesting!
I am still not following your intent. Are you are obliquely referencing/speaking to recent controversy around more ethnic exarchs being set up in NA and the attendant ecclesiological questions? Pluralism, “multiculturalism”, and the like does present us with a tension. On the one hand, there is one God, one Christ, one Church, one Creed and Truth. On the other hand I would be the first to admit that part of our organic/historic nature as human beings is that we are always part of a “tribe”. I would add that from the perspective of virtue, not all tribes are equal. Historically the Church has had differing “disposition” towards the culture it found itself in and differing relatedness to it. I think it is difficult to speak of “identities” in the current (multi)culture – it requires a throughoness and precision that usually does not happen…
I understand your point. However, if the rules were other than they are, this blog would drown in the sound of politics and the cacophony of voices wanting to fix this leader or that. As it is, there are canonical means for addressing problems in the Church, and I obey and live within those means. This blog is not the forum for “action.” It is what it is. I’m sorry that it does not agree with what you would like it to be.
There are “action” websites out there. This isn’t one of them. Finally, I will add that the passions do nothing to further the work of the Kingdom of God, neither does voting or any such political activity. There’s lots of history to be cited – all of which have passed into the dust. Only the Kingdom of God abides. That reality was birthed into the world and manifest in the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is unassailable.
Oddly, I spent time on the Holy Mountain a couple of years ago and found the monks at peace and prayer. According to the witness of the Fathers, such prayers sustain the world in its existence. In America, politics only sustains the world in the chaos of the powers that be. There are no righteous leaders out there working for the purposes of God. Sorry. But that’s pretty much all I have to say in the matter.
Concerning Lewis’ The Abolition of Man (or in modern english, “The Destruction of Humanity”) Fr. Hopko of blessed memory thought it was one of, if not the most important book written in the 20th century. He also admits that the middle part of it is technical and difficult even for him – don’t be discouraged!
I very much get your point. It’s interesting, but so much of our Church history is very truncated. My Archbishop (Alexander Golitsyn) is, among other things, a Syriac scholar. He’s made me far more aware of that range within the early Church. Also we never think much about the work in Ethiopia (just off the radar). As such, these things represent other worlds – many similarities – but with important differences. All of it bears meditation as we engage with the world at present.
We read the Abolition of Man in our apprenticeship. I’ve read it in my own over the years; it is well worth the time and effort to read and ponder. I also love what Guroian has written and recently dipped into Tending a Heart of Virtue as we are currently reading fairy tales with others outside our family who know little to nothing about the moral imagination. I am having so much fun!
The more I read the more I find authors who resonate with these ideas, countering the movement of popular culture away from virtue and heading toward nurturing the whole of Man, which includes the soul. Take heart and have courage! There are many out there doing these things and passing them on. Many are home school moms in their own little corners of the world, trying to redeem their own poor educations as they (we…) raise our children.
Paula, thank you, as always!
Ken and Christopher, et al. It’s possible I don’t really understand the true topic of your conversation, and all the things to which you refer. But recently I had occasion to listen to a talk by former Metropolitan Nikitas, now Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Great Britain. As Metropolitan, he was until recently Director of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. I hope he will forgive me if my paraphrasing is inaccurate. He made the statement that while we believe the Church contains the Truth, it does not have a monopoly. What that means, essentially, is that we worship the Person who is Truth, but that we can recognize in other cultures and traditions, the reaching toward that truth even where the name of Jesus has not necessarily been known. I consider that to be similar to Fr. Stephen’s mentions of the pre-Christian ancients (which perhaps went a long way to prepare the classical world for Christianity and especially for Theology). I hope that is a contribution to the conversation.
PS in a similar vein, I remember reading a book on the Jesus Prayer by Fr. Lev Gillet (published first with the author as “A monk of the Eastern Church.” What he said, if I am recalling correctly, was that as we worship the Person who is Truth, we can recognize that which is true as serving Christ wherever it is found — again even in those places where the name of Jesus is not known.
Steve – If Jesus is not kind then I am doomed.
“Politics only sustains the world in the chaos of the powers that be.”
Thank you so much Father for your wise words. I truly believe it is the prayers of monastics and of God’s people around the world that keep us all from being engulfed by evil. Just yesterday a dear lady we go to church with, who suffers terrible from an auto-immune disorder and does not always make it to liturgy, wrote this to me: “Your prayers keep me alive.” I think she referred to the prayers of all of us who know her. Anyway, this microcosm of prayer can be multiplied throughout the world in prayer’s effect on all creation.
So often you say that we pray, show mercy, kindness, give alms, repent, etc. Our Lord said that these are the weightier things of the law, that our faith and prayer can move mountains. Is this quietism? Perhaps. Yet I’ll take this stillness anytime over the cacophony of the world which surrounds me. The cup of cold water given in His name does not go unnoticed. Most saints go unnoticed. I think of the millions of single mothers, inner-city grandmothers, who live heroic lives daily, nurturing, loving, their children and grandchildren. They work, love, pray…do the thing at hand…and quite often do move mountains. Thank our good God that He sees the most feeble thing done in His name. While around us swirls the dust of death these tiny acts infuse life.
Thanks, Dean. We don’t really fully know the power at work in these things, do we?
Thank you for the book recommendation! I plan to read (once I find time to finish my current books…egads!) both Vigen Guroian’s book on virtue and his meditations on gardening, which also looks very interesting.
I recently noticed that Uncut Mountain Supplies offers an icon of the Pre-Christian Philosophers. This surprised and intrigued me because I have never seen one before. For those who are interested…
Between the original post and the comments the one thing that comes to my mind is a theme that keeps being put in front of me lately; “living the Christian life is not easy but it is simple.” I seem to be prone to majoring in a never ending supply of minor things the world has to offer. Take a break from the news for a few weeks and when you return the absurdity of it all will be plain to see. Abandon the noise and useless chatter. There’s so much of it. When you think you’ve shed enough, dig deeper, there’s far more there than you think. I’m a long time visitor at this blog and always find things that challenge me. The writings on shame have gone so over my head. I really don’t get that. Maybe one day. People often mock the man Rodney King (remember him from so many years ago) when he asked “why can’t we all just get along?” I ask that everyday…
I’m grateful for the enlightening comments that underscore the difficulty for me of being clear. I’ll try harder next time…
Warm thanks, too, to Lisa Boston for recommending Vigen Guroian and C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man (a favorite of mine too) and to Janine for recommending Lev Gillet who is very well known in Orthodox circles in Europe.
Robert, maybe Rodney King ” bore a little shame” by telling the truth for ys when he wd be ridiculed on so many sides.
Esmee, thank you. There is a particular title I can’t recall for these “pre-Christian Christians” in Greek.
Speaking of pre-Christian Greek philosophers, poets and truth, the below struck me recently in light of Father’s recent post on Fr. Hopko on the cross:
Zeus, who leads mortals to understanding,
Ordering that wisdom arises from suffering,
Drips over a slumbering mind
So that, even against our will,
We may become wise.
It is a violent grace that gods sent forth
Seated upon their awful thrones.
Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 176–183 (quoted/translated by J. P. Manoussakis)
Christopher, wow. Thanks
“…in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’”
– St Paul quoting Aratus, Acts 17:28
(Forgive me if I repeat)
I find your quote from Aeschylus intriguing. I am not well read in the ancients, with the exceptions of Homer and Virgil. My impression of the gods, including Zeus, is quite poor. They seem entirely unconcerned with humans and their growth in wisdom, but rather use and abuse them for their own ends. Am I missing something? Am I reading the epics wrongly? The nature of the gods make me love Christ all the more as He is so unlike them in every way, and we can trust Him whereas the ancients couldn’t rely on or trust the gods at all.
Any thoughts are welcome! Like I said, I’ve inly poured over the epics (and starting to delve into Plato a bit more). Thank you.
There is no consistent thinking about the gods of ancient Greece. There is the gods of the myths (Hesiod), and then how they are treated by the poets, philosophers and the playwrights. Those presentations are all over the place. Sometimes, the philosophers (like Plato) will write about the “One,” and seem to have no reference to the “gods” at all. Many treatments seem to see them as metaphorical matters. On the popular level, they were probably more like we imagine – but, mostly, simply invoked for specific matters of good fortune.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of who these gods are, that is, any and all the gods that are worshiped in the nations of the world, began with the biblical account of Babel where God scattered the people/nations and where God also appointed angels to these areas of dispersion. The angels came to be known as pagan gods in that the people began to worship them instead of the one true God. And that these angels are also known as one of the groups of fallen angels (they became corrupt), allowing themselves to be worshiped in place of God. This is why it is said in the Bible that the pagans worship demons.
Do I understand this correctly? I am not well versed in the writings of the philosophers and poets. Thus, I can better understand what is going on from a biblical perspective.
I would say that it is a mistake to historicize the story of the Tower of Babel and incorporate it into a historical narrative of the various nations. I think it serves a different purpose.
We can assume, for example, that there was some kind of religious impulse with gods/forces of a sort as long as there have been human beings (certainly long before we were building towers). The fallen angels as models for the gods is a story sometimes speculated on by a few of the Fathers. It’s not a speculation that should be confused with a historical account. No doubt, the fallen angels have been hard at work in many ways throughout human history. Exactly what that has been, and how it might relate to the gods, is not really anything that has been given us with a clear revelation.
At least, that’s how I understand it. No doubt, there are other opinions out there.
Thank you. I find the ambiguity strangely comforting.
Paula, I have heard that the gods weren’t fabrications to explain natural phenomena, but were encounters with spiritual beings to whom God had given an amount of authority over certain aspects of creation. Intriguing, but perhaps not worthy of too much speculation.
When I read the epics, it is hard to set them aside as mere fancy, and I don’t think the gods are simply vehicles to express ideas. That sets us up as more evolved people than yet, and I really don’t think we different greatly except we do have more advanced technologies.
Thanks Father. It helps to be reminded that there is a purpose to these narratives and we can miss the purpose if we began with the premise that they are historical. There are several approaches to biblical interpretation and in the end I think we would like to know exactly what God is teaching us. But you are correct in that some things, for our own good, have not been clearly revealed.
Thank you too, Kristin. Where you say that the gods are not fabrications but were given some level of authority, etc….I agree. As well, it wise to say that it probably not worthy of too much speculation.
I am with you in that I too find the ambiguity strangely comforting! If anything, in a comfort knowing we are His people and can rest in that.
Kristan & Paula,
To add to what Father said, one approach you can take in reading the Greeks is a ‘literary’ one. You start with the assumption that you are in a secure place intellectually and religiously in Christianity. Rather than interrogating, as it were, the poets for a schema of metaphysical truth (e.g. their Gods = principality and powers, etc.), let the story come to you ‘on a lighter note’ as you might with a modern, non Christian, but otherwise good novelist. This way other more subtle and “human” truths can be seen in the narrative. This is perhaps related to what Ken was driving at – you approach “the other” not as a threat, but from the security and truth of your tribe. You can even do this with obviously anti-Christian material such as Nietzsche or the New Atheists. Just a suggestion.
As p.s. to my las post:
A ‘literary’ approach does not (and I would say should not) be a reduction of everything to a mere ‘metaphorical’ or nominal ‘symbolic’ reading. It does not reduce or ignore the hard metaphysical, ontological and moral questions/answers/experience of what are in fact “religious” texts of the other. Rather what it does is give you the space you need to see & consider these truths (and falsehoods) for what they are without being overly impressed upon by them in your person. Hope that makes sense.
As a p.s. to my last post:
A ‘literary’ approach does not (and I would say should not) be a reduction of everything to a mere ‘metaphorical’ or nominal ‘symbolic’ reading. It does not reduce or ignore the hard metaphysical, ontological and moral questions/answers/experience of what are in fact “religious” texts of the other. Rather what it does is give you the space you need to see & consider these truths (and falsehoods) for what they are without being overly impressed upon by them in your person. Hope that makes sense.
Indeed your suggestions are helpful, Christopher.
I must be honest… if I ever do read the Greeks (I’d like to, but it would be a very slow read!) I will remember these guidelines.
Where I can apply these suggestions though, in an immediate context is in conversations I may have with others. That is, (paraphrasing) knowing our security, there is no need to threaten or be threatened, nor to interrogate, allowing subtleties, i.e. ‘human’ truths to be seen…and (I like this…) “without being overly impressed by them in your person.” It seems like this type of approach is more conducive to learning, and a peaceable way to approach others, and the world, while still standing fast in the Faith.
For what it’s worth,
St. Paul’s discussion of eating meat sacrificed to the gods recognized two opinions. One was that the gods were demons (and so the meat should not be eaten). The other held that the gods didn’t exist at all, in which case it didn’t matter whether the meat was eaten. St. Paul seems to have favored this latter idea, but gave room to the other.
Dear Fr Stephen, St Paul’s words are a very helpful addition to this conversation.
And thank you Christopher! I appreciate your detailed way of approaching such reading.
Also, as a pedagogical approach in the chemistry class room, I ask students to explain text materials and answers to questions in their own words. If they use the text verbatim, then they know in advance I’ll grill them, but know I’ll be more lenient if they offer an expression that shows they’re attempting to form their own understanding.
We all do this, that is, attempt to understand things within the contexts of our own preconceived notions, while also attempting (hopefully) to keep an open mind in order to learn. But within the Holy Tradition we hope to conform our understanding to that of the Church. To various degrees we have some virtue in this work. Toward attaining such virtue, helps to be honest with oneself. I think that such honesty is not ‘rewarded’ or regarded highly in this culture. Although self-honesty is touted as desirable, it usually falls into a quest of attaining pride.
Yes Father…very good point! Gave room to the other….as we do in some areas of scripture and its interpretation.
I get the impression we are careful to point out that which is of dogma and that which is not.
I left out a word, ‘…it helps to be honest with oneself.’
Such light of honesty is the Light of Christ, is it not? Then we need not fear or despair regarding what we see in ourselves in God’s Light.
Forgive me I’ll add one more note.
Many years back (before I became an Orthodox Christian) I had a student in my Chemistry class tell me he didn’t ‘believe in entropy’. I told him that I didn’t expect him to believe in it, but rather understand what the theory is that the discipline uses to explain certain phenomena. He refused and consequently had a lot of difficulty, even with mathematical principles data that weren’t ‘tainted’ directly by entropy equations. It’s difficult to parse out entropy, for example, and apply correctly (in such a way to predict accurately reactions) the equations related to energy transfer.
It’s not entropy that troubles me. It’s gravity. It’s such a downer…. sorry.
I’m going to use that one!!
I followed the link you gave a few posts ago to “The Whole Counsel” blog, and have been reading it with great interest from the first posts on. I think there’s a lot of value there. I don’t think Fr Stephen D. is trying to outline history per se; he’s outlining a sort of Biblical Studies type of course.
An Orthodox friend of mine, who has a Master’s in Old Testament Studies, has written that the Old Testament is both the Jewish people’s telling of their own “history” (which is not History as *we* understand it nowadays) and their commentary on that “historical” narrative. So it seems to me Fr Stephen D. is focusing on the commentary aspect of it, much of which is contained in the extra-Biblical literature that provided more narrative and more commentary, to help us understand the spiritual thought-world, if you will, of 2nd Temple Judaism, into which the Lord was born and out of which Christian Orthodoxy arose.
Because of the way Protestants (of which I was one for +30 years, though not Calvinist) study the Bible, Fr Stephen D.’s approach can be a little daunting, because it’s unfamiliar, as well as somewhat narrowly academic. Also, non-sacramental Protestants don’t want to hear from any extra-Biblical sources, so their understanding of all the references to them in the New Testament is missing, which inhibits their interpretation of the text. Fr Stephen D.’s approach reminds me a lot of what N.T. Wright has written about that 2TJ period, which he also knows well, and dovetails with it. Wright’s work helped me into the Church with his angle on that spiritual thought-world, helping me see all those Jewish connections. Like Modernity being the water in which we swim, that thought-world was the water in which the Jews – and the Apostles and the Lord, who were Jews – swam. It’s hard to understand the New Testament – and the glory and magnitude of what Christ has done – without some explanation of it.
Hope that is of some help. Stay cool out there in the desert!
Regarding the Greeks, it’s important to remember that the plays were reworking of myths. Moreover the points they made evolved through time. In Euripides’ Oresteia, a later evolution, at the end of the day it was mercy that ruled as a kind of revelation, when Orestes was released from the vengeance of the furies. There is no doubt IMO this thinking formed a kind of preparation for Christ’s teaching of mercy as a fuller sort of justice. The plays are a place you could start Paula, even seeing them performed.
Moreover, without the classical philosophy I don’t think we would have Theology. The 4th century Fathers were the greatest minds of their time, groomed through classical education (meaning studying everything) for service to the state. They chose the Church.
I know a retired bishop who tells me that each culture has an “Old Testament.” He has a real point.
“All cultures have an Old Testament.” I like that!
I’ve often mused on the fact that I ultimately approached the faith in the manner of many early Fathers. My college degree was in “Classics” – meaning Greek and Latin and the literature of those ancient languages. When I first took up the New Testament to read it – it seemed like child’s play compared to Plato and Aristotle! The Greek is much more simple.
I very much appreciate your take on Fr. Stephen D’s blog. You definitely clued into my comment about Babel and the fallen angels!
It sounds like you were captured by his teachings as well. I can understand why.
I deeply appreciate the variety of teachings our priests offer us. You have, in a helpful way, given definition to Fr Stephen D’s work, which gives a clearer perspective, and a helpful way to look at the different angles taken by others.
Thanks again, Dana, for your elaboration.
And , Oh yes…mercy!…staying cool…in the house…with the AC and a fan or two 🙂
In reading these comments, all I can say is “I sit among the learned” ! Goodness, and I am glad for that! In other words, thanks!
Your encouraging words are well taken. “Euripides’ Oresteia” ? I hoped you’d at least say The Aeneid…something I’ve heard of 🙂 (teasing, Janine!)
But seriously, you go on to say ” There is no doubt IMO this thinking formed a kind of preparation for Christ’s teaching of mercy as a fuller sort of justice”.
Well, it just so happens that I am at the very end of Fr. Pat Reardons commentary on Romans, and in the appendix there he talks about how he likens the Acts of the Apostles to the Aenied, where he sees “resemblance between the two works”. I am not quite finished with that section, but I see Fr Pat also believes the classics paved the way for the theology of the NT.
Now isn’t it said that in the fullness of time, God sent His Son?! Yeah…the way was paved for many many years and in certain ways. Pretty amazing! Perfectly timed. Guess we shouldn’t complain to live in such a time as this.
First, are you really in AZ? If so, we are desert neighbors as I live here! Stay cool! ❄️ haha
Second, I’d LOVE to hear more about Fr Pat Reardon’s linking of the Acts of the Apostles to the Aeneid. Our apprenticeship is doing a close read of this epic now, and we write papers on it, too. I am so frustrated by these gods and their wretched behavior! And the Dido-Aeneas debacle…leaves me spinning. I seriously cannot figure it out, it’s so desperately sad. It never occurred to me that there could be such a connection with the Acts. Can you give me just a hint? So I can go and have a look? I want to see what he sees!
Father Stephen, what an amazing preparation. I admire that you can do that field of study. Like Met. Kallistos!
My Athens-born husband tells me St. Paul’s Greek is sophisticated in comparison to the Gospels. But of course Plato et al are another matter.
You posted earlier today about reading with a literary approach rather than, if I read you correctly, mining the texts for metaphysical truths and such. Just let the texts be what they are, in a way similar to talking to people.
I fear my last church experience was quite the opposite, causing suspicion of others not like them. I always felt my bookshelves would betray my openness to reading even Catholics and pagans (horror!), and even though i wanted to read them, I was weighed down by guilt that I was somehow wrong. It is difficult to step away from that and live in the extensive freedom God gives us. I am returning to an earlier time in my life but fresher and more centered; dare I say calmer? But the ugliness pops up now and again. Thank you for your words, they are very helpful to me.
The background you gave for the greek plays is helpful. I am continually amazed at how God prepares us, at all times, in all places, for Himself. He doesn’t let anything go by the wayside. Nothing is lost or missed by Him. If only I had eyes to see and a heart that listened better!
Kristin…yep, we’re neighbors! I remember touching on this with you a while back…your up north, I’m in the south. You have higher temps than us. My condolences… !
Oh Kristin, I am afraid the only hint I could give you now is what I said before! I only saw the similarity in what Janine had said. And I have only read the first 5 of 15 pages. And my last excuse…remember, I have never read any of these classics! I only recognize the titles of some of the classics, like “The Aeneid”. So it would take an inordinate amount of time to even put in words what he has to say! But….
Fr Pat gives a footnote. It says:
An earlier version of this essay was published as “The Apostolic Epic” in Touchstone 16.2 (March 2003)
However, to get to the archives you need a subscription. Or, you can by his Romans commentary and get a ‘two for one’ bonus! His commentaries are very well written.
Sorry…I wish I could help. You sound like you really want to know!
I have a vague memory about our geography conversation…
Thanks for the direction. I’m deep in the Aeneid right now and starting my first essay. I’m so curious! I’ll have a look. It’s a fascinating concept in any case!
Wishing you the best, Kristin. Enjoy!
Thank you Paula and Kristin et al for comments!
I just wanted to add that probably through Netflix or other places online (who knows, maybe even YouTube) one can see performances of various ancient plays.
Speaking of plays (and great literature), I had a Shakespeare professor whose thesis was that Shakespeare spent the “lost years” we don’t know about, before he suddenly appears as a playwright in London, in a monastery. He’d frequently take the priest role when he appeared in his own plays.
I studied English as an undergrad as you might guess, and I must say that I also tend to approach the Gospels in the way I’d read literature. To me, details that are there must speak to me of something that “Author” is trying to tell us, the “Author’s” point of view. Also, I tend to think simply that “the story is the story,” and it’s the story for a reason! It’s teaching us something. We always have to remember, anyway, that Scripture is Scripture. It works on so many levels, and it’s not simply a history textbook even if there are things that are true in it.
Forgive me, one more thing, if you will…
I do admire those of you who acquire knowledge of the classics. Just as I admire every God given gift/talent in each of us. Their benefits go both ways, receiving and giving back. If my admiration seemed obscure, overshadowed (and it was), and may have caused offense, I apologize.
Well Janine…speaking of benefits! Thanks for mentioning to You Tube as a source for ancient plays. I will check that out. You are right, plays are a good place to start, for me anyway, rather than to tackle reading as a first approach.
I remember reading, I think it was Andrew Louth or Fr J Behr, where they spoke about the importance of entering into the mindset of the Author to glean their message, pertinent to all of us. Whoever it was I was reading, they were referencing the value of learning from tradition.
Thanks for the reminders Janine.
“Whoever it was I was reading, they were referencing the value of learning from tradition.”
That says so much. Thank you Paula
Father, in one of your comments you said of globalization type propaganda ‘everything matters so that nothing matters’
I have one gentle reflection. I describe modernity as and invitation to solve distant problems while ignoring proximal ones.
I hope to do all of the Chronicles of Narnia this year with my son.
I was such a tomboy when I was young. Our culture now invites a child to pick a gender before the hormones of adolescence provide additional information for that child.
I love the word ‘ponder’ as in Mary after the birth of Christ. That is a wonderful word.
As I have a great fondness for Plato, Father Stephen, my heart was warmed by your post. I apologize for coming to it as late as I am. The list that others have mentioned is a good one indeed, and while it can be overwhelming to undertake these readings on one’s own, it would be good to find a group in which to study them. (For my own part I learned more about what the authors were saying from others than from my own ideas about them, which were often confused and unformulated.)
And indeed, some of what I later learned about Plato can be found at the following link:
The creator of this site, Bernard Suzanne, has put forward a theory that links the Platonic dialogues with an emphasis on the virtues you have enumerated.
As many who tackle the Dialogues get caught ‘in the weeds’ so to speak, I think this site has considerable merit. And I think also, to a certain fundamental extent, love of a Christian-tending nature must have contributed to Plato’s dedication to Socrates, immersed in a pagan world though he may have been.
I’ll just add, for example of ‘weeds’, that Plato’s central dialogue, ‘Politeia’ is wrongly translated as ‘The Republic’, so we get confused right away by that. ‘Politeia’ comes from ‘polis’ or ‘people’. We have to ask, “Why a dialogue?” Well, it’s people, people! So right away we should know that personhood is important to Plato. Not things! Not even public things.
Above, folk were saying that plays are easier to assimilate – yes, think of the Dialogues as plays – and the people in them are what they are about. Even more than the subjects being discussed. Those people; their souls; their virtues. And the dialogue begins by looking at what makes a virtuous person. Only in a bit does it take its little band of brothers into looking at the best state – because (hah) it will be easier to find the best one by magnifying the search — still, don’t forget (and we do because it gets very complicated) we are after the virtuous man. Do we get there? Well, read and see. I think we do.
[Sorry to go on and on. Always my basic fault.]
Thank you for all your advice and recommendations! I read the Meno last semester and will read the Phaedo next. I look forward to looking u the website, it sounds like a great resource. I love the idea of looking at the dialogues as plays. I’ll see how gay changes my reading. Also, I hadn’t considered what’s most important to Plato, persons over things.
Mistake…I’m going to read the Phaedrus not the Phaedo…also, do you have an opinion on Benjamin Jowett’s translations?
Father I have enjoyed reading your articles on Tolkien. His work also had a mysterious impact on me; the way a story moves past your mind, shapes your heart and in turn your story. This article in particular really spoke to me, expressing precisely what was yet unclear to me.
My favourite quote currently is, “The Lord loves a courageous soul that completely trusts Him,” supposedly from St Silouan of Mt Athos.
God give us courage indeed!