I will speak to you as a friend, foolish Perses. Inferiority can be got in droves, easily: the road is smooth, and she lives very near. But in front of Superiority the immortal gods set sweat; it is a long and steep path to her, and rough at first. But when one reaches the top, then it is easy, for all the difficulty. (Hesiod, Works and Days, trans. M. L. West)
Archive for August 2013
God’s governance secures the creature’s freedom. If this fails to commend itself, it is because it contravenes a destructive convention according to which true freedom is indeterminacy and absolutely spontaneity or it is nothing at all. To say that is to deny creatureliness. Freedom is existence in accordance with created nature and towards created ends, not self-authorship or aseity. This means that freedom is reception, but not passivity – that it is permission and summons, but not spoken by me, but to me by God. (John Webster, “Theology of Providence,” p. 170)
What makes evil problematic for providence is not its existence but the fact that we resist applying belief in providence to cases of it, especially those in which we are concerned. (John Webster, “On the Theology of Providence,” in The Providence of God: Deus Habet Consilium, ed. Francesca Aran Murphy and Philip G. Ziegler, p. 158)
Violence is Impiety’s child, true to its roots
but the spirit’s great good health breeds all we love
and all our prayers call down,
prosperity and peace.
All in all I tell you people,
bow before the altar of the rights,
revere it well.
Never trample it underfoot, your eyes set on spoils;
revenge will hunt the godless day and night –
the destined end awaits.
So honour your parents first with reverence, I say,
and the stranger guest you welcome to your house,
turn to attend his needs,
respect his sacred rights.
All of your own free will, all uncompelled,
be just and you will never want for joy,
you and your kin can never be uprooted from the earth.
But the reckless one – I warn the marauder
dragging plunder, chaotic, rich beyond all rights:
he’ll strike his sails,
harried at long last,
stunned when the squalls of torment break his spars to bits.
He cries to the deaf, he wrestles walls of sea
sheer whirlpools down, down, with the gods’ laughter
breaking over the man’s hot heart – they see him flailing, crushed.
The one who boasted never to shipwreck
now will never clear the cape and steer for home,
who lived for wealth,
golden his life long,
rams on the reef of law and drowns unwept, unseen.
(Aeschylus, The Eumenides, trans. Robert Fagles, lines 542–71)
Innumerable are the evils that beset human life; innumerable, too, the deaths that threaten it. We need not go beyond ourselves: since our body is the receptacle of a thousand diseases — in fact holds within itself and fosters the causes of diseases — a man cannot go about unburdened by many forms of his own destruction, and without drawing out a life enveloped, as it were, with death. For what else would you call it, when he neither freezes nor sweats without danger? Now, wherever you turn, all things around you not only are hardly to be trusted but almost openly menace, and seem to threaten immediate death. Embark upon a ship, you are one step away from death. Mount a horse, if one foot slips, your life is imperiled. Go through the city streets, you are subject to as many dangers as there are tiles on the roofs. If there is a weapon in your hand or a friend’s, harm awaits. All the fierce animals you see are armed for your destruction. But if you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, seemingly delightful, there a serpent sometimes lies hidden. Your house, continually in danger of fire, threatens in the daytime to impoverish you, at night even to collapse upon you. Your field, since it is exposed to hail, frost, drought, and other calamities, threatens you with barrenness, and hence, famine. I pass over poisonings, ambushes, robberies, open violence, which in part besiege us at home, in part dog us abroad. Amid these tribulations must not man be most miserable, since, but half alive in life, he weakly draws his anxious and languid breath, as if he had a sword perpetually hanging over his neck?
You will say: these events rarely happen, or at least not all the time, nor to all men, and never all at once. I agree; but since we are warned by the examples of others that these can also happen to ourselves, and that our life ought not to be excepted any more than theirs, we cannot but be frightened and terrified as if such events were about to happen to us. What, therefore, more calamitous can you imagine than such trepidation? Besides that, if we say that God has exposed man, the noblest of creatures, to all sorts of blind and heedless blows of fortune, we are not guiltless of reproaching God. But here I propose to speak only of that misery which man will feel if he is brought under the sway of fortune.
Yet, when that light of divine providence has once shone upon a godly man, he is then relieved and set free not only from the extreme anxiety and fear that were pressing him before, but from every care. For as he justly dreads fortune, so he fearlessly dares commit himself to God. His solace, I say, is to know that his Heavenly Father so holds all things in his power, so rules by his authority and will, so governs by his wisdom, that nothing can befall except he determine it. Moreover, it comforts him to know that he has been received into God’s safekeeping and entrusted to the care of his angels, and that neither water, nor fire, nor iron can harm him, except in so far as it pleases God as governor to give them occasion. Thus indeed the psalm sings: “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. Under his wings will he protect you, and in his pinions you will have assurance; his truth will be your shield. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the flying arrow by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at midday” [Ps. 91:3–6; cf. Ps. 90:3–6, Vg.; cf. Comm.].
(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, sections 10–11)
And still some say
that heaven would never stoop to punish men
who trample the lovely grace of things
untouchable. How wrong they are!
A curse burns bright on crime –
full-blown, the father’s crimes will blossom,
burst into the son’s.
Let there be less suffering . . .
give us the sense to live on what we need.
Bastions of wealth
are no defence for the man
who treads the grand altar of Justice
down and out of sight.
(Aeschylus, Agamemnon, trans. Robert Fagles, lines 374–86)
The practical tendency of all trade and business to-day is towards big commercial combinations, often more imperial, more impersonal, more international than many a communist commonwealth – things that are at least collective if not collectivist. It is all very well to repeat distractedly, “What are we coming to, with all this Bolshevism?” It is equally relevant to add, “What are we coming to, even without Bolshevism?” The obvious answer is – Monopoly. It is certainly not private enterprise. The American Trust is not private enterprise. It would be truer to call the Spanish Inquisition private judgment. Monopoly is neither private nor enterprising. It exists to prevent private enterprise. And that system of trust or monopoly, that complete destruction of property, would still be the present goal of all our progress, if there were not a Bolshevist in the world.
Now I am one of those who believe that the cure for centralization is decentralization.
(G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, 1926)