Nietzsche and Emerson 2 – Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

April 8, 2014
Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.

Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.


A few pages from the prologue of American Nietzsche. If you ever asked yourself how Nietzsche happened, how the “mad, mustachioed Teutonic philosopher of the hammer” ever found his way to our cultural bloodstream. This is the book for you.

American Nietzsche is neither a biography nor a formal analysis of philosophical concepts. Professor Ratner-Rosenhagen is a historian, and the subject of her book is presented through the lens of her discipline. It is, in short, an insightful and skillfully written treatment of the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas and image on American culture. Refreshingly, I detected no axes being ground, no hidden agendas skulking in the shadows. The author has simply identified an important story that needed to be told, and has done so in a thorough, well-organized, and interesting manner. Whatever your level of familiarity with Nietzsche the person or his work, or your opinions about either, if you have an interest in the events, ideas, and people that shaped 20th century American culture then you will very likely find this book engaging.”


And so it was that in 1862 Nietzsche discovered in Emerson a thinker to think with. While the American author impressed on his young German pupil that the life of the philosopher is a life on the open sea, he also taught him that no other thinker can tell him where he’s heading or where to find firm land. He simply works by “provocation” along the way.

And provoke Nietzsche, Emerson did. Nietzsche continued to read Emerson intensively throughout 1863, later noting that of all the books he “read the most,” Emerson’s topped the lists” And this was just the beginning. From the age of seventeen up until his mental breakdown at the age of forty-four; from his days as a gymnasium student through his graduate studies, his professorship, and then his years as an itinerant writer; and from the safe harbor of Christian faith to the tumultuous seas of indeterminacy, Friedrich Nietzsche turned repeatedly to Emerson, who then pushed him forward. In time, many others would propel Nietzsche’s thinking — Plato, Kant, Goethe, Lange, Schopenhauer, and Wagner — but none survived his penchant for slaying his own intellectual gods.

He never sought to slay Emerson, however; the enthusiasm he expressed for him as a teenager reappeared in his essays, journals, and letters, over the course of his entire intellectual career. Emerson’s influence on Nietzsche was unmistakable even to Nietzsche himself. As he thought about himself while writing an early draft of his autobiography, he couldn’t help but think of Emerson. Indeed, it was a rereading of Emerson’s “Spiritual Laws” (1841) that suggested “Ecce Homo” as an appropriate title for his autobiography.” As he reflected on his intellectual path, he couldn’t help but reflect warmly on Emerson’s company along the way: “Emerson, with his Essays, has been a good friend and someone who has cheered me up even in dark times: he possesses so much skepsis, so many’possibilities,’that with him even virtue becomes spiritual.”

Yet Nietzsche’s ideas are not carbon copies of Emerson’s. If they were, his uses of Emerson would be a lot less interesting than they are. The sheer fact that he read Emerson in translation reminds us that Nietzsche had a lifelong relationship with a highly mediated Emerson. Even accounting for linguistic variations, though, the similarities are striking enough that the additional awareness that Nietzsche “loved Emerson from first to last,” as Walter Kaufmann put it, has made many, like Kaufmann himself, insist that nevertheless, “one would never mistake a whole page of Emerson for a page of Nietzsche.”

Perhaps. One might take Kaufmann up on the challenge and place a Nietzschequotation, image, or broad concern alongside its Emersonian counterpart and see how easy or difficult it is to drive a wedge between the two. One could juxtapose their criticism of barren scholarship; their concern that excessive reverence for the past makes us “fatalists,” as Emerson believed, and makes the past our “gravedigger,” as Nietzsche had; or their anxiety over belatedness, which fostered a longing in Emerson to be “born again,” and a fear in Nietzsche of being “late-born.” One could examine how both authors expressed an abiding interest in power. While Emerson averred that “life is a search after power,” Nietzsche came to believe that “life simply is will to power.’” Both emphasized a conception of power as something striving, pressing onward.

For Emerson, “Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a last to a new state.” Nietzsche celebrated “plastic power,”which he described as, “the capacity to develop out of oneself in one’s own way, to transform and incorporate into oneself what is past and foreign, to heal wounds, to replace what has been lost, to recreate broken molds.”

It might be of no consequence that Nietzsche was rereading Emerson in 1881-82 while preparing The Gay ,Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85). What is noteworthy, nonetheless, is the philosophers’ shared aversion to the view of revelation as something historical, rather than ongoing, and to any belief in a divinity outside the self. Emerson believed this created a bankrupt spirituality, “as if God were dead,” to which Nietzsche had his madman announce in the affirmative that “God is dead.”

Someone well versed in Emerson and Nietzsche might never mistake Emerson’s line from “Compensation, “In general, every evil to which we do not succumb, is a benefactor,” with Nietzsche’s from Twilight of the Idols, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” But at least it is worth noting that Emerson’s line in Nietzsche’s personal copy is heavily underlined.

Whether we look for affinities or influences, the parallels between Emerson and Nietzsche mount. But we miss what Emerson meant to Nietzsche if we fail to consider how Nietzsche used Emerson not to get closer to him but to get closer to himself. For Nietzsche, Emerson provided an image of the philosopher willing to go it alone without inherited faith, without institutional affiliation, without rock or refuge for his truth claims.

As Nietzsche made his way from spiritually-adrift teenager, to philology professor, to freelance philosopher, Emerson’s image of the philosopher, and his approach to philosophy as a way of life, proved essential to his self-definition. Emerson gave Nietzsche a way of describing himself to himself, as we see in his letter of 1866 to an old friend, Carl von Gersdorff. In it, Nietzsche dreamily imagined himself” as Emerson so excellently describes [it] … pure, contemplative, impartial eye.”

It was Emerson who imparted to Nietzsche the image of philosophy as a spirit of play, laughter, and dancing. Nietzsche repeatedly employed this image of levity and joyousness when he considered his own thinking. In the aphorism “Learning to think,” Nietzsche complained, “our schools no longer have any idea what this means…. Thinking has to be learned.. . as a form of dancing…. Who among Germans still knows from experience that subtle thrill … of intellectual light feet”

It was Emerson’s characterization of the liberated thinker as “intellectual nomad” that helped Nietzsche to imagine himself as a “free spirit” in a quest for truths of his own making.” Likewise it was Emerson who impressed on Nietzsche the power of the oppositional intellect to make the world anew. “Let an American tell them what a great thinker who arrives on this earth signifies as a new centre of tremendous forces,” affirmed Nietzsche in “Schopenhauer as Educator” (1874). Quoting this American’s essay “Circles” (1841), Nietzsche affirmed, “Beware,’ says Emerson, “when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end.”

But of all the uses Nietzsche had for Emerson, it was his notion that a philosopher without foundations works by provocation, not instruction, as an “exemplar,” not a guide, which most vividly suggested to Nietzsche the possibilities of his own philosophy. The philosopher is useful insofar as he helps carry one to one’s self. “No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone,” Nietzsche insisted. “There exists in the world a single path along which no one can go except you: whither does it lead? Do not ask, go along it.”

Nietzsche found confirmation in another quotation from Emerson’s “Circles”: “A man never rises higher than when he does not know whither his path [will] lead him.” If Emerson sent Nietzsche on the path of philosophy without absolutes, on a path to become who he was, he also reminded him that he would not be waiting for him upon his arrival.

Throughout the 1880s Nietzsche sent manuscript after manuscript to his publisher, and his publisher, in turn, sent them off as books to a German reading public as yet indifferent to his ideas. Nietzsche never forgave his German contemporaries for leaving him in the lurch. Undaunted, he spent most of the final year of his productive intellectual life, though struggling with illness, swept up in a euphoric mood. It was during what would become his final sprint of productivity that a third fan letter arrived from America, this time from Karl Knortz, a Prussian-born freelance writer in New York, who wrote to express his admiration for Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche now had reason to believe that the praise it contained truly signaled that his dawn was finally breaking, for just a few months earlier the prominent Danish literary critic Georg Brandes had delivered a series of high-profile lectures on him in Copenhagen, at long last drawing attention to his genius. In his letter, Knortz, a translator of American authors into German and a promoter of German literature for American readers, also relayed his desire to promote Nietzsche to American audiences.

But in order to do that, Knortz would need Nietzsche’s help. So he asked the German author for a description of himself and a characterization of his oeuvre. Nietzsche gladly obliged. In a letter of reply dated June 21, i888, he sketched a portrait of his work and himself for his would-be American audience:

The task of giving you some picture of myself, as a thinker, or as a writer and poet, seems to me extraordinarily difficult…. The thought of advertising myself is utterly alien to me personally; I have not lifted a finger with that end in view. Of my Zarathustra, I tend to think that it is the profoundest work in the German tongue, also the most perfect in its language. But for others to feel this will require whole generations to catch up with the inner experiences from which that work could arise.”

Nietzsche may have thought that his philosophy awaited an audience of readers yet unborn, but given Knortz’s enthusiasm, he had reason to suspect that he might first find that audience in America. In a letter to his publisher asking for his assistance in facilitating Knortz’s propaganda, he speculated about the value of securing a readership across the Atlantic. “In principle all my experiences show that my influence begins on the periphery and only from there will the currents ripple back to the `Fatherland.” That summer, Nietzsche sent off a flurry of letters to friends telling them that he had “admirers in North America.” Soon Americans would learn, he enthused, that “I am the most independent spirit of Europe and the only German writer — that’s something! — .”n

Though Nietzsche liked the image of himself as an intellectual nomad, and though he long ago decided that the thinker without foundations must go not only without compass or guide, but also without a final destination, his desire for freedom never fully subdued his longing for an intellectual home. He knew from his own experiences that a feeling of refuge — while fleeting — is necessary even for the free spirit. He likewise knew from his own experiences reading Emerson that sometimes it is abroad that the aboriginal intellect finds a home.

A home in America for Nietzsche’s philosophy? After almost three decades with Emerson’s writings, the prospect seemed likely indeed. After all, it was America that had created the thinker with whom he thought as he came to terms with himself and his world. It was the American Emerson who showed Nietzsche the possibilities of thought beyond the good and evil of Christian piety.

It was the American Emerson who critiqued sterile ideas and made philosophy a friend to life. It was the American Emerson who understood that philosophical inquiry in a world without absolutes works by example and provocation only. And it was the American Emerson who Nietzsche believed never could have been produced within the suffocating philistinism of his native German culture. Nietzsche did not know much about America, but he did know — or at least he believed — that with one exception (himself), Germany could never have given birth to such a dynamic thinker. He summed up his feelings for Emerson this way: “Emerson. Never have I felt so much at home in a book, and in my home as — I shouldn’t praise it, it is too close to me.

Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.


Nietzsche and Emerson 1 – Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

April 7, 2014
It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as "eternal becoming" (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson's notion that "the soul becomes")." Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect.

It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as “eternal becoming” (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson’s notion that “the soul becomes”).” Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect.

A few pages from the prologue of American Nietzsche.  If you ever asked yourself how Nietzsche happened, how the “mad, mustachioed Teutonic philosopher of the hammer” ever found his way to our cultural bloodstream. This is the book for you.

“Ratner-Rosenhagen’s book explores what American readers have made of him. She discusses key aspects of Nietzsche, including his anti-foundationalism (perspectivism), his famous claim that “God is dead”, his emphasis on interpretation, and the role of the “overman” in his thought. There are interpretive questions, addressed by different readers, about whether Nietzsche is a “political” or a “personal” thinker and about what Americans of varied political persuasions have found worthwhile in this markedly undemocratic philosopher. The approach of the book tends to be historicist. Ratner-Rosenhagen tries to show how different American interpretations of Nietzsche surfaced in response to changes in American culture”


Nietzsche discovered Emerson’s philosophy in 1862 as a seventeen-year-old gymnasium (secondary school) student at the prestigious boarding school Schulpforta. His first encounter with Emerson occurred during a crisis in his studies. Four years earlier, Nietzsche had entered the gates of Schulpforta as a scholarship student, and though an obedient and compliant pupil who excelled in his studies, he had a difficult adjustment to the school’s grinding regimentation and austere discipline.

The sequestered and routinized program eroded rather than enriched his belief in institutional intellectual life. Nietzsche later described “the uniformizing discipline of an orderly” education at Schulpforta as “that almost military compulsion, which, because it aims to affect the mass, treats individuality coldly and superficially.” Young Nietzsche bristled under the regime, causing him to wonder whether Schulpforta drilled in scholarly knowledge while it drowned out self-directed intellectual exploration in equal parts.

While the regimentation and impersonality of Schulpforta caused him to question his studies, his studies caused him to question his religious beliefs. Nietzsche had entered the gymnasium at age fourteen with an ardent Lutheran faith as his trusty companion. He came from a line of Lutheran clergy — both his paternal and maternal grandfathers had been ministers, as was his beloved father, Ludwig. Nietzsche had spent his early childhood in the parsonage of his father’s church in Rocken, and after his father’s death when Nietzsche was four years old, his mother continued to raise him and his younger sister, Elisabeth, in an environment imbued with her affirming Christian piety.

At Schulpforta he received training in historical criticism to work with Greek and Latin texts, but he saw its value for humanistic studies in general. Though he still thought religion was the “solid foundation of all knowledge [Grundveste al/es Wissens],” historical science was beginning to shake that foundation. His faith provided succor during bouts of homesickness. However, Nietzsche’s theological studies and daily worship at Schulpforta did nothing to help him as his ardent faith began to give way.

Nietzsche’s poetry of 1862 testifies to the increased sense of intellectual waywardness and spiritual crisis:

I know not what I love,
I have neither peace nor rest,
I know not what to believe,
what life am I living, why?

 Nietzsche’s growing dissatisfaction with Schulpforta’s mass regime and his feelings of spiritual estrangement, as he put it, “led me back to myself,” causing him to seek intellectual stimulation and emotional relief outside his formal studies. Together with his friends, Wilhelm Pinder and Gustav Krug, he sought escape in the form of a literary fraternity, Germania, which the three students founded in 186o in order to pursue their intellectual curiosities and foster their creative self-expression.

The boys set the ground rules for membership: each was expected to produce a work of criticism, poetry, a musical composition, or some original research, for critical analysis during their quarterly “synods.” For the next three years, the boys met to review one an-other’s contributions, draft critical rebuttals, drink wine, and contemplate the universe. As the most zealous Germanian of the three, Nietzsche delighted in his extracurricular discoveries, churning out musical compositions, poems, and essays on Cicero, Byron, and Napoleon.

As Carl Pletsch has shown, he would come to regard his Germania experiences — this learning outside of learning, this self-directed study — as his true education: “I saved my private inclinations and longings from the uniform law, I lived a concealed cult of certain arts, I occupied myself with a hypersensitive addiction to universal knowledge and pleasure to break the rigidity of a legalistic [time schedule].” While time with Germania satisfied this striving, it also fostered a conviction that true knowledge cannot be found within an institutional setting, but is rather achieved through creative aspiration on one’s own terms.

And so it was in this period of personal turmoil that Nietzsche, age seventeen, first got his hands on a translation of Emerson’s The Conduct of Life (1860) and first got an idea of what philosophy could make possible. It was during one of his “concealed” extracurricular forays for Germania in April 1862 that he began reading Emerson. This was his true education. This was also Nietzsche’s first contact with philosophy — it wasn’t until the following year that he expressed interest in Plato and another two years until he discovered Schopenhauer.

It was Emerson who first instructed Nietzsche “about philosophy in life.” Enlivened by his discovery, Nietzsche penned his very first philosophical texts as a Germanian in direct response to his reading of Emerson. During his Easter vacation from school while friends and family around him were celebrating Christ’s resurrection, he took the occasion to question the veracity and relevance of Christianity.

Modifying Emerson’s title “Fate” to “Fate and History: Thoughts” (1862), Nietzsche showed what the world could look like when read through eyes of “great philosopher-prophets” like Emerson. If, as Emerson had said, “there is no pure originality. All minds quote,” and that “only an inventor knows how to borrow,” then Nietzsche proved to be quite inventive in his appropriation of Emerson’s ideas and images to wrestle with his doubts about religion

Fate and History: Thoughts, and his follow-up essay, Freedom of Will and Fate, though pieces of Nietzsche’s juvenilia, sketch in embryonic form many of the major leitmotifs of his mature philosophy, and foreshadow his uses of Emerson for decades to come. In these essays, Nietzsche put Emerson’s imagery and arguments to work to answer Emersonian questions about the relationship between human agency and the external forces that work to constrain it.

The Christian faith topped his list. What would it take, Nietzsche mused, to come out from under the “yoke of custom and prejudice,” and achieve a “freer standpoint” from which to consider the balance of power between freedom and fate? He recognized that “it is entirely impertinent to want to solve philosophical problems over which a conflict of opinion has has waged for many millennia.”And yet, what he found more disturbing was the “question whether mankind hasn’t been deceived for two thousand years by a phantom.”

It worried Nietzsche that the quest for a freer standpoint from which to consider human reality might cause “great revolutions once the masses finally realize that the totality of Christianity is grounded in presuppositions; the existence of God, immortality, Biblical authority, inspiration, and other doctrines will always remain problems.”

But Emerson’s essay reminded young Nietzsche that religious faith was not the only force that limited an individual’s will and intellect. Indeed, Emerson impressed on him that there are all sorts of influences — historical, physiological, even familial — that condition the individual’s experiences and limit his perspectives. The plain fact, Nietzsche came to realize, is that as human beings, we inherit so much of who we are that the distinction between the aboriginal and the adopted, between freedom and necessity, might itself be a phantom.

In “Fate,” Emerson wondered about the influences that tyrannize one’s temperament: “Ask the doctors, ask Quetelet, if temperaments decide nothing? or if there be anything they do not decide?” In “Fate and History,” Nietzsche likewise wondered what role temperament plays in the individual’s freedom to apprehend and affect his world, reformulating Emerson’s questions as “Is not our temperament, as it were, the coloration of events? Do we not encounter everything in the mirror of our personality? … Ask gifted doctors, Emerson says, how much temperament decides, and what. . . it does not decide.”

The individual may seek release from that which has formed him, but Emerson expressed doubt whether this was fully possible. As he argued, “The menagerie, or forms and powers of the spine, is a book of fate: the bill of the bird, the skull of the snake, determines tyrannically its limits…. How shall a man escape from his ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black drop which he drew from his father’s or his mother’s life?”

In direct dialogue with Emerson on this question, Nietzsche asked, “What is it that pulls the soul of so many men of power down to the commonplace, thereby hindering a higher flight of ideas? A fatalistic structure of skull and spine; the condition and nature of their parents; .. . their environment; even … their homeland.” For Nietzsche, it was disturbing to consider the sheer range of external forces, “stifling the capacity of the soul through force of habit.” What troubled him was not simply that “we have been influenced “but that we are so blind to influences that we cannot tell the difference between our self and the world, our independence and our inheritance.

Though emboldened by Emerson’s challenge to external forces that constrain individual autonomy, he was nevertheless chastened by Emerson’s description of the consequences of a world without limits on the will and intellect. As Emerson formulated the problem, “If we thought men were free in the in the sense that, in a single exception one fantastical will could prevail over the law of things, … as if a child’s hand could pull down the sun. If, in the least particular, one could derange the order of nature, — who would accept the gift of life?”

This gave young Nietzsche reason to worry, as we see in his formulation of the problem: “If it became possible completely to demolish the entire past through it strong will, we would immediately be transported into the realm of autonomous gods, and world history would suddenly be for us nothing but a dreamy deception: the curtain falls, and man finds himself like a child playing with worlds, like a child who awakens at the glow of dawn and, laughing, wipes the terrible dreams from his brow.”

With Emerson’s cautions, Nietzsche recoiled from an image of autonomy so complete that there were no checks on the aggrandized self. Emerson insisted that he was “sure, that, though we know not low, necessity does comport with liberty, the individual with the world, my polarity with the spirit of the times.” But just how they did was the problem facing the philosopher.

Nietzsche agreed: “Here lies every important, unending problem: the question of justifying the individual to the people, the people to mankind, and of mankind to the world. And here, too, is the fundamental relationship of fate and history.”In Fate and History we see young Nietzsche thinking with Emerson about how to reconcile the self with the world, human agency with, as Emerson put it, “Beautiful Necessity.”

Though Emerson raised more questions for Nietzsche than he offered answers, he nevertheless impressed on him that the act of questioning is both the activity of the philosopher and an example of free will at work. Emerson argued that the active intellect could achieve a “double consciousness” which negotiates the competing desires for freedom and for limitations on that freedom. According to him, fate is nothing more than “a name for facts not yet passed under the fire of thought; — for causes which are unpenetrated. But every jet of chaos which threatens to exterminate us, is convertible by intellect into wholesome force.” By likening fate to “unpenetrated causes” and the work of intellect to mastery over them, Emerson taught Nietzsche to think about what thinking makes possible.

In a second attempt at philosophical writing a month after composing “Fate and History,” Nietzsche, in “Freedom of Will and Fate,” made his debt to the American philosopher explicit. He argued that “Freedom of will, [is] in itself nothing but freedom of thought,” and that “free will is only an abstraction indicating the capacity to act consciously; whereas by fate we understand the principle that we are under the sway of unconscious acts.”

It was “Emmerson” [sic] who suggested to him that “thought is always compatible with the thing that is apparent as its expression.” So when Emerson concluded his essay with the exclamation “Let us build altars to the Beautiful Necessity,” Nietzsche understood this simply as an affirmation of the active intellect passing facts under the fire of thought. In imagining the self as author of its experiences, young Nietzsche imagined the power of the thinker to negotiate freedom and fate, self and history, creative will and beautiful necessity.

Nietzsche’s discovery of Emerson in 1862 seems to have been the turning point when he decided he would try to go it alone without his religious faith. His first philosophical writings suggest that even as a teenager, he knew this wouldn’t be easy. Clearly more hesitant than zealous, Nietzsche confessed,

How could one destroy the authority of two millennia and the security of the most perceptive men of all time as a consequence of youthful pondering? How could one dismiss all the sorrows and blessings of a religious development so deeply influential on world history by means of fantasies and immature ideas? … I have attempted to deny everything: Oh, pulling down is easy; but rebuilding! And pulling down seems easier than it is.

It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as “eternal becoming” (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson’s notion that “the soul becomes”).” Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect. As Nietzsche described the image Emerson had seared into his imagination, “A struggling and undulating of the most diverse currents, ebbing and flowing, all to the eternal ocean. Everything revolves around one another in monstrous, ever expanding circles. Man is one of the innermost circles.”

Emerson also provided warnings that while life on the open waters without inherited truths promises ever becoming, it also threatens to pull one under. In leading a life of inquiry and exploration on “the sea of doubt without compass and guide” most will be driven off course by storms; only very few discover new lands. Out in the middle of the immense ocean of ideas one often longs to return to firm land.” It was Emerson who first instructed Nietzsche about the joys and terrors of the intellectual life without firm land beneath one’s feet, of life on the open waters of indeterminacy without compass or guide.


The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

April 4, 2014
Icon of Second Coming (also used for All Saints Sunday). Christ is enthroned in the center surrounded by the angels and saints, Paradise is at the bottom, with the Bosom of Abraham (left) and the Good Thief (right) holding his cross. Circa 1700.

Icon of Second Coming (also used for All Saints Sunday). Christ is enthroned in the center surrounded by the angels and saints, Paradise is at the bottom, with the Bosom of Abraham (left) and the Good Thief (right) holding his cross. Circa 1700.

The Second Coming is a poem composed by Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1919, first printed in The Dial in November 1920, and afterwards included in his 1921 collection of verses Michael Robartes and the Dancer. The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and second coming allegorically to describe the atmosphere of post-war Europe. The poem is considered a major work of Modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections, including The Norton Anthology of Modernist Poetry.

The version of the poem here is as it was published in the edition of Michael Robartes and the Dancer dated 1920 (there are numerous other versions of the poem). The preface and notes in the book contain some philosphy attributed to Robartes. This printing of the poem has a page break between lines 17 and 18 making the stanza division unclear.

Following the two most similar drafts given in the Parkinson and Brannen edited edition of the manuscripts, I have put a stanza break there. (Interestingly, both of those drafts have thirty centuries instead of twenty.) The earlier drafts also have references to the French and Irish Revolutions as well as to Germany and Russia.

Several of the lines in the version above differ from those found in subsequent versions. In listing it as one of the hundred most anthologized poems in the English language, the text given by Harmon (1998) has changes including: line 13 (“: somewhere in sands of the desert”), line 17 (“Reel” instead of “Wind”), and no break between the second and third stanza.



Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?



‘Wilfred Owen’ by Guy Cuthbertson — A Review by Ferdinand Mount

April 3, 2014
Shrewsbury Abbey: Owen's mother opened the War Office telegram informing her of his death as the church bells rang out for the Armistice.

Shrewsbury Abbey: Owen’s mother opened the War Office telegram informing her of his death as the church bells rang out for the Armistice.

Wilfred Owen had an unquenchable gaiety. He said himself, ‘you would not know me for the poet of sorrows.’ Mr. Mount’s books include “Cold Cream” and “The New Few, or a Very British Oligarchy.”


When Wilfred Owen discovered that Shelley used to visit the sick and poor of the Thames Valley, he was overjoyed: “I knew the lives of men who produced such marvelous verse could not be otherwise than lovely.” This is not the usual view. There are too many cases of great poets who were selfish, cold and cadging, indifferent to the welfare of their nearest and dearest — Percy Bysshe Shelley himself not excluded. But Wilfred Owen was a lovely man.

His life was as short as Keats’s. They both died at the age of 25, but their lives feel shorter still, because these slight, bright-eyed men come across as so incurably youthful. Owen had a special affinity for children of all ages, and he thought that any true poet ought to be childish. “Now, what’s your Poet, but a child of nine?” he once asked.

But, like Keats, whom he worshiped, Owen also had a sharp intelligence and a searing wit, which makes the reader jump out of any sentimental reverie. His verse is intensely realistic and direct. And so are his letters. Guy Cuthbertson, author of the latest biography of Owen, rightly says that the letters achieve “Matthew Arnold’s aim for literature, that it should see the object in itself as it really is.” There is no English poet, except Keats again, whose letters I would rather have by my bedside.

It is a pity then that Mr. Cuthbertson does not quote as copiously from them as did the poet Jon Stallworthy in his wonderful 1974 life of Owen. Instead Mr. Cuthbertson tends to wander off into digressions on other writers and artists who don’t really seem to have much do with Owen. In the space of two pages discussing Owen’s teaching English in France in 1913-14, he gives us little riffs on Joyce in Berlin, Toulouse-Lautrec in Bordeaux and Isherwood in Berlin. Elsewhere we are told about the painter Augustus John’s concussion, W.H. Auden’s ideal college for bards and a character called “Mr. Owen” in a novel by Agatha Christie. I’d prefer more of the poet and less of this motley cast.

Wilfred Owen was born in 1893, the son of a stationmaster on the Welsh borders. Mr. Cuthbertson seems keen to prove that Owen was not really Welsh at all, although his name and his short stature suggest otherwise. Besides, at Oswestry, Shrewsbury and Liverpool, where he was brought up and educated at unremarkable schools, he was surrounded by Welshmen who had spilled over the borders. I don’t think it’s too fanciful to see something Welsh, too, about his flaring-up and forgiving nature and the easy way he made friends when he wanted to, although his temperament was shy and naturally aloof.

Owen was certainly resentful about the start in life he was dealt. Mr. Cuthbertson rightly points out that few writers want to be lower-middle-class — especially if they feel, as the Owens did, that they had come down in the world since Wilfred’s grandfather had lived in a big house and served as mayor of Oswestry. It was “a terrible regret” for Wilfred that he did not go to Oxford instead of Reading, a dim college that was scarcely yet a university.

But even his complaints of his modest origins were partly playful, as was his father Tom’s occasional claim that he was really a baronet in disguise. And his family was not without artistic ambition or talent. His father had a fine operatic tenor, his mother loved art galleries, and his brother became an artist and a writer too. Owen had an unquenchable gaiety that made people seek his company. He said himself, “you would not know me for the poet of sorrows.”

Was he gay in the modern sense, and how relevant was this to his life as a poet? Gay-ish, and not very, Mr. Cuthbertson suggests, and convincingly so. The impression he gave to his friends was virginal, even sexless. There is no doubt that the most important thing in his life, apart from poetry, was his mother, Susan, to whom he wrote unceasingly: “I stand (yes and sit, lie, kneel & walk, too,) in need of some tangible caress from you . . . my affections are physical as well as abstract — intensely so.”

She certainly mothered, if not smothered, her eldest son. Well into his teens, she was still peeling his apples for him. Yet Owen did not feel short of experience. He said before he joined the army in 1915: “I know I have lived more than my twenty-one years, many more; and so have a start of most lives.”

He had not volunteered with alacrity. In fact, he was tempted to dawdle on at Bordeaux, where he was teaching. Rather than being keen to make the supreme sacrifice, “I feel my own life all the more precious and more dear in the presence of this deflowering of Europe.”

But join up he did, and he turned himself into a popular and efficient officer with the same brisk dispatch that he had mastered the techniques of verse — and added a few of his own, notably those slithery half-rhymes that give his elegies such a haunting quality (leaves/lives, ferns/fauns, cauldron/children). From the start, he had none of the illusions that are romantically attributed to war poets: “I suppose I can endure cold, and fatigue, and the face-to-face death, as well as another; but extra for me there is the universal pervasion of Ugliness. Hideous landscapes, vile noises, foul language and nothing but foul, even from one’s own mouth (for all are devil ridden), everything unnatural, broken, blasted; the distortion of the dead, whose unburiable bodies sit outside the dug-outs all day, all night, the most execrable sights on earth. In poetry we call them the most glorious.”

It is impossible to read a life of Owen, as it is a life of Keats, without coming close to tears. And Mr. Cuthbertson’s heart is in the right place. But he seems strangely eager to hurry over those tragic last two years as if they were too much for him. There were three momentous episodes in Owen’s war service in France: when he was blown up at St. Quentin in April 1917 and invalided home with shellshock; then, after his return to France in September 1918, when he won the Military Cross in a ferocious hand-to-hand attack at Joncourt; and finally, on Nov. 4 that year, when he was killed leading his company across the Ors Canal under relentless shell and machine-gun fire.

Up to the very last, Owen described all this with his unforgettable candor and vivacity in his letters, while the military archives make clear in detail just how suicidal the missions were. Unfortunately, each time Mr. Cuthbertson telescopes what happened into a couple of sentences. Here’s a snatch of what we are missing, from an Oct. 8, 1918, letter to his mother:

All one day we could not move from a small trench, though hour by hour the wounded were groaning just outside. Three stretcher-bearers who got up were hit, one after one. I had to order no one to show himself after that, but remembering my own duty, and remembering also my forefathers the agile Welshmen of the mountains I scrambled out myself & felt an exhilaration in baffling the Machine Guns by quick bounds from cover to cover. After the shells we had been through, and the gas, bullets were like the gentle rain from heaven.

The news of his death reached his parents at noon on the day the Armistice was declared. The bells were still ringing in the local church when the little chimes at the Owens’ front door announced the fatal telegram.

Anthem for Doomed Youth — Wilfred Owen 1893–1918

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Arms and the Boy — Wilfred Owen
Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

 Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-leads
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads.
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.

 For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.

Wilfred Owen’s orisons are still ringing in our heads.


Why I Love You, O Mary ! — Saint Thérèse Of Lisieux

April 2, 2014
With you I’ve suffered and now I want To sing on your lap, Mary, why I love you,

With you I’ve suffered and now I want To sing on your lap, Mary, why I love you,

Biography St Therese of Lisieux — Tejvan Pettinger
From an early age it was Therese’s ambition and desire to be a saint. She was born into a pious and loving Catholic family. She remembers the idyll of her early childhood, spending time with her parents and 5 sisters in the un spoilt French countryside. However this early childhood idyll was broken by the early death of her Mother (from breast cancer). Aged only 4 years old, she felt the pain of separation and instinctively turned to the Virgin Mary for comfort and reassurance.

The next couple of years of St Therese’s’ life was a period of inner turmoil. She was unhappy at school, where her natural precociousness and piety, made other school children jealous. Eventually her father agreed for Therese to return home and be taught by her elder sister, Celine.

She enjoyed being taught at home, however after a while, her eldest sister made a decision to leave to enter the local Carmel Convent at Lisieux. This made Therese feel like she had lost her second mother. Shortly afterwards Therese experienced a painful illness, in which she suffered delusions. The doctors were at a loss as to the cause. For 3 weeks she suffered with a high fever. Eventually Therese felt completely healed after her sister’s placed a statue of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the bed. Therese felt her health and mental state returned to normal very quickly.

Soon after on Christmas Eve 1884, she recounts having a remarkable conversion of spirit. She says she lost her inclination to please herself with her own desires. Instead she felt a burning desire to pray for the souls of others and forget herself. She says that on this day, she lost her childhood immaturity and felt a very strong calling to enter the convent at the unprecedented early age of 15.

St Therese with Pope
Initially the Church authorities refused to allow a girl, who was so young to enter holy orders. They advised her to come back when she was 21 and “grown up”. However Therese’s mind was made up, she couldn’t bear to wait, she felt God was calling her to enter the cloistered life. Therese was so determined she travelled to the Vatican to personally petition the Pope. Breaking protocol she spoke to the Pope asking for permission to enter a convent. Soon after, her heart’s desire was fulfilled, and she was able to join her 2 sisters in the Carmelite convent of Lisieux.

Convent life was not without its hardships; it was cold and accommodation was basic. Not all sisters warmed to this 15-year-old girl. At times she became the subject of gossip, one of her superiors took a very hash attitude to this young “spoilt middle class” girl. However Therese sought always to respond to criticism and gossip with the attitude of love. No matter what others said Therese responded by denying her sense of ego. Eventually the nun who had criticized Therese so much said. “why do you always smile at me, Why are you always so kind, even when I treat you badly”

Love attracts love, mine rushes forth unto Thee, it would fain fill up the abyss which attracts it; but alas! it is not even as one drop of dew lost in the Ocean. To love Thee as Thou lovest me I must borrow Thy very Love – then only, can I find rest.
- St Therese

This was the “little way” which Therese sought to follow. Her philosophy was that; what was important was not doing great works, but doing little things with the power of love. If we can maintain the right attitude then nothing shall remain that can’t be accomplished. St Therese was encouraged by the elder nuns to ask her to write down her way of spiritual practice. She wrote 3 books that explained her “little way” and also included her personal spiritual autobiography.

“The good God does not need years to accomplish His work of love in a soul; one ray from His Heart can, in an instant, make His flower bloom for eternity…”
- St Therese

St Therese died tragically early at the age of 24 from Tuberculosis. However after her death, the writings became avidly read by, first other nuns, and then the wider Catholic community. Although initially intended only for a small audience her books have been frequently republished. In 1997, St Therese was declared one of the only 3 female Doctors of the Catholic Church (there are 33 doctors of the church in total). Thus after her death she was able to achieve her intuitive feeling that she would be able to do something great and help save souls.

St Therese was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925, only 26 years after her death.


Oh ! I would like to sing, Mary, why I loveyou,
Whyyour sweet name thrills my heart,
And why the thought of your supreme greatness
Could not bring fear to my soul.
If I gazed on you in your sublime glory,
Surpassing the splendor of all the blessed,
I could not believe that I am your child.
O Mary, before you I would lower my eyes !…


If a child is to cherish his mother,
She has to cry with him and share his sorrows.
O my dearest Mother, on this foreign shore
How many tears you shed to draw me to you !…
In pondering your life in the holy Gospels,
I dare look at you and come near you.
It’s not difficult for me to believe I’m your child,
For I see you human and suffering like me…


When an angel from Heaven bids you be the Mother
O the God who is to reign for all eternity,
I see you prefer, O Mary, what a mystery !
The ineffable treasure of virginity.
O Immaculate Virgin, I understand how your soul
Is dearer to the Lord than his heavenly dwelling.
I understand how your soul, Humble and Sweet Valley,
Can contain Jesus, the Ocean of Love !…


Oh ! I loveyou, Mary, saying you are the servant
Of the God whom you charm by your humility.
This hidden virtue makes you all-powerful.
It attracts the Holy Trinity into your heart.
Then the Spirit of Love covering you with his shadow,
The Son equal to the Father became incarnate in you,
There will be a great many of his sinner brothers,
Since he will be called : Jesus, your first-born !…


O beloved Mother, despite my littleness,
Like you I possess The All-Powerful within me.
But I don’t tremble in seeing my weakness ;
The treasures of a mother belong to her child,
And I am your child, O my dearest Mother.
Aren’t your virtues and yourlove mine too ?
So when the white Host comes into my heart,
Jesus, your Sweet Lamb, thinks he is resting in you !…


You make me feel that it’s not impossible
To follow in your footsteps, O Queen of the elect.
You made visible the narrow road to Heaven
While always practicing the humblest virtues.
Near you, Mary, I like to stay little.
I see the vanity of greatness here below.
At the home of Saint Elizabeth, receiving your visit,
I learn how to practice ardent charity.

There, Sweet Queen of angels, I listen, delighted,
To the sacred canticle springing forth from your heart.
You teach me to sing divine praises,
To glory in Jesus my Savior.
Your words of love are mystical roses
Destined to perfume the centuries to come.
In you the Almighty has done great things.
I want to ponder them to bless him for them.

When good Saint Joseph did not know of the miracle
That you wanted to hide in your humility,
You let him cry close by the Tabernacle
Veiling the Savior’s divine beauty !…

Oh Mary ! how I loveyour eloquent silence !
For me it is a sweet, melodious concert
That speaks to me of the greatness and power
Of a soul which looks only to Heaven for help…

Later in Bethlehem, O Joseph and Mary !
I see you rejected by all the villagers.
No one wants to take in poor foreigners.
There’s room for the great ones…
There’s room for the great ones, and it’s in a stable
That the Queen of Heaven must give birth to a God.
O my dearest Mother, how lovable I find you,
How great I find you in such a poor place !…


When I see the Eternal God wrapped in swaddling clothes,
When I hear the poor cry of the Divine Word,
O my dearest Mother, I no longer envy the angels,
For their Powerful Lord is my dearest Brother !…
How I loveyou, Mary, you who made
This Divine Flower blossom on our shores !…
How I loveyou listening to the shepherds and wisemen
And keeping it all in your heart with care !…


I loveyou mingling with the other women
Walking toward the holy temple.
I loveyou presenting the Savior of our souls
To the blessed Old Man who pressed Him to his heart.
At first I smile as I listen to his canticle,
But soon his tone makes me shed tears.
Plunging a prophetic glance into the future,
Simeon presents you with a sword of sorrows.


O Queen of martyrs, till the evening of your life
That sorrowful sword will pierce your heart.
Already you must leave your native land
To flee a king’s jealous fury.
Jesus sleeps in peace under the folds of your veil.
Joseph comes begging you to leave at once,
And at once your obedience is revealed.
You leave without delay or reasoning.


O Mary, it seems to me that in the land of Egypt
Your heart remains joyful in poverty,
For is not Jesus the fairest Homeland,
What does exile matter to you ? You hold Heaven…
But in Jerusalem a bitter sadness
Comes to flood your heart like a vast ocean.
For three days, Jesus hides from your tenderness.
That is indeed exile in all its harshness !…


At last you find him and you are overcome with joy,
You say to the fair Child captivating the doctors :
“O my Son, why have you done this ?
Your father and I have been searching for you in tears.”
And the Child God replies (O what a deep mystery !)
To his dearest Mother holding out her arms to him :
“Why were you searching for me ?
I must be about My Father’s business. Didn’t you know ?”


The Gospel tells me that, growing in wisdom,
Jesus remains subject to Joseph and Mary,
And my heart reveals to me with what tenderness
He always obeys his dear parents.
Now I understand the mystery of the temple,
The hidden words of my Lovable King.
Mother, your sweet Child wants you to be the example
Of the soul searching for Him in the night of faith.


Since the King of Heaven wanted his Mother
To be plunged into the night, in anguish of heart,
Mary, is it thus a blessing to suffer on earth ?
Yes, to suffer while loving is the purest happiness !…
All that He has given me, Jesus can take back.
Tell him not to bother with me…
He can indeed hide from me, I’m willing to wait for him
Till the day without sunset when my faith will fade away…


Mother full of grace, I know that in Nazareth
You live in poverty, wanting nothing more.
No rapture, miracle, or ecstasy
Embellish your life, O Queen of the Elect !…
The number of little ones on earth is truly great.
They can raise their eyes to you without trembling.
It’s by the ordinary way, incomparable Mother,
That you like to walk to guide them to Heaven.


While waiting for Heaven, O my dear Mother,
I want to live with you, to follow you each day.
Mother, contemplating you, I joyfully immerse myself,
Discovering in your heart abysses of love.
Your motherly gaze banishes all my fears.
It teaches me to cry, it teaches me to rejoice.
Instead of scorning pure and simple joys,
You want to share in them, you deign to bless them.


At Cana, seeing the married couple’s anxiety
Which they cannot hide, for they have run out of wine,
In your concern you tell the Savior,
Hoping for the help of his divine power.
Jesus seems at first to reject your prayer :
« Woman, what does this matter, » he answers, « to you and to me ? »
But in the depths of his heart, He calls you his Mother,
And he works his first miracle for you…


One day when sinners are listening to the doctrine
Of Him who would like to welcome them in Heaven,
Mary, I find you with them on the hill.
Someone says to Jesus that you wish to see him.
Then, before the whole multitude, your Divine Son
Shows us the immensity of his love for us.
He says : “Who is my brother and my sister and my Mother,
If not the one who does my will ?”


O Immaculate Virgin, most tender of Mothers,
In listening to Jesus, you are not saddened.
But you rejoice that He makes us understand
How our souls become his family here below.
Yes, you rejoice that He gives us his life,
The infinite treasures of his divinity !…
How can we not loveyou, O my dear Mother,
On seeing so much love and so much humility ?


Youlove us, Mary, as Jesus loves us,
And for us you accept being separated from Him.
To love is to give everything. It’s to give oneself.
You wanted to prove this by remaining our support.
The Savior knew your immense tenderness.
He knew the secrets of your maternal heart.
Refuge of sinners, He leaves us to you
When He leaves the Cross to wait for us in Heaven.


Mary, at the top of Calvary standing beside the Cross
To me you seem like a priest at the altar,
Offering yourbeloved Jesus, the sweet Emmanuel,
To appease the Father’s justice…
A prophet said, O afflicted Mother,
“There is no sorrow like your sorrow !
” O Queen of Martyrs, while remaining in exile
You lavish on us all the blood of your heart !


Saint John’s home becomes your only refuge.
Zebedee’s son is to replace Jesus…
That is the last detail the Gospel gives.
It tells me nothing more of the Queen of Heaven.
But, O my dear Mother, doesn’t its profound silence
Reveal that The Eternal Word Himself
Wants to sing the secrets of your life
To charm your children, all the Elect of Heaven ?


Soon I’ll hear that sweet harmony.
Soon I’ll go to beautiful Heaven to see you.
You who came to smile at me in the morning of my life,
Come smile at me again … Mother… It’s evening now !…
I no longer fear the splendor of your supreme glory.
With you I’ve suffered and now I want
To sing on your lap, Mary, why I loveyou,
And to go on saying that I am your child !…



Hope 2 – Pope Benedict XVI

April 1, 2014
Lucien Bégule (1848-1935) The Theological virtues : Faith, Charity and Hope Stained-Glass Windows

Lucien Bégule (1848-1935) The Theological virtues : Faith, Charity and Hope Stained-Glass Windows

A second collection of memorable quotes on the second theological virtue from the work of Benedict XVI.


The Kingdom of God Is A Gift
All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action. This is so first of all in the sense that we thereby strive to realize our lesser and greater hopes, to complete this or that task which is important for our onward journey, or we work towards a brighter and more humane world so as to open doors into the future.

Yet our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world’s future either tire us or turn into fanaticism, unless we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures or by a breakdown in matters of historic importance. If we cannot hope for more than is effectively attainable at any given time, or more than is promised by political or economic authorities, our lives will soon be without hope. It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for.

Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere. Certainly we cannot “build” the Kingdom of God by our own efforts — what we build will always be the kingdom of man with all the limitations proper to our human nature.

The Kingdom of God is a gift, and precisely because of this, it is great and beautiful, and constitutes the response to our hope. And we cannot — to use the classical expression — “merit” Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something “merited,” but always a gift. However, even when we are fully aware that Heaven far exceeds what we can merit, it will always be true that our behavior is not indifferent before God and therefore is not indifferent for the unfolding of history. We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good. This is what the saints did, those who, as “God’s fellow workers,” contributed to the world’s salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:2).

We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future. We can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose. This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces. So on the one hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God’s promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad.
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, No. 35

Judgment and Grace
The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together — judgment and grace — that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philemon 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate,” or parakletos (cf. 1 John 2:1).
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, No. 47

Sign of Hope and Comfort
On the path of Advent shines the star of Mary Immaculate, “a sign of certain hope and comfort” (Lumen Gentium, no. 68). To reach Jesus, the true light, the sun that dispels all the darkness of history, we need light near us, human people who reflect Christ’s light and thus illuminate the path to take. And what person is more luminous than Mary? Who can be a better star of hope for us than she, the dawn that announced the day of salvation? (cf. Spe Salvi, no. 49).

For this reason, the liturgy has us celebrate today, as Christmas approaches, the Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary: the mystery of God’s grace that enfolded her from the first instant of her existence as the creature destined to be Mother of the Redeemer, preserving her from the stain of original sin. Looking at her, we recognize the loftiness and beauty of God’s plan for everyone: to become holy and immaculate in love (cf. Ephesians 1:4), in the image of our Creator.

What a great gift to have Mary Immaculate as mother! A mother resplendent with beauty, the transparency of God’s love. I am thinking of today’s young people, who grow up in an environment saturated with messages that propose false models of happiness. These young men and women risk losing hope because they often seem orphans of true love, which fills life with true meaning and joy. This was a theme dear to my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, who so often proposed Mary to the youth of our time as the “Mother of Fair Love.”

Unfortunately, numerous experiences tell us that adolescents, young people, and even children easily fall prey to corrupt love, deceived by unscrupulous adults who, lying to themselves and to them, lure them into the deadends of consumerism; even the most sacred realities, like the human body, a temple of God’s love and of life, thus become objects of consumption and this is happening earlier, even in pre-adolescence. How sad it is when youth lose the wonder, the enchantment of the most beautiful sentiments, the value of respect for the body, the manifestation of the person and his unfathomable mystery!
Angelus, December 8, 2007

The Unjustly Imprisoned
The final peroration of De Consolatione Philosophiae can be considered a synthesis of the entire teaching that Boethius addressed to himself and all who might find themselves in his same conditions. Thus, in prison he wrote: “So combat vices, dedicate yourselves to a virtuous life oriented by hope, which draws the heart upwards until it reaches Heaven with prayers nourished by humility. Should you refuse to lie, the imposition you have suffered can change into the enormous advantage of always having before your eyes the supreme Judge, who sees and knows how things truly are” (Book V, 6: PL 63, cot. 862).

Every prisoner, regardless of the reason why he ended up in prison, senses how burdensome this particular human condition is, especially when it is brutalized, as it was for Boethius, by recourse to torture. Then particularly absurd is the condition of those like Boethius — whom the city of Pavia recognizes and celebrates in the liturgy as a martyr of the faith — who are tortured to death for no other reason than their own ideals and political and religious convictions. Boethius, the symbol of an immense number of people unjustly imprisoned in all ages and on all latitudes, is in fact an objective entrance way that gives access to contemplation of the mysterious Crucified One of Golgotha.
General Audience On Boethius And Cassiodorus, March 12, 2008

Witness The Mystery
Just as the disciples of Emmaus who, hearts warmed by the Word of the Risen and illuminated by His living presence recognized in the breaking of the bread, without pause returned to Jerusalem and became the proclaimers of Christ’s resurrection, we too must take up the path again, animated by the fervent desire to witness the mystery of this love that gives hope to the world.
Synod, The Eucharist: Source And Summit Of The Life And Mission Of The Church, October 23, 2005

Made For Eternity
God has given himself an “image”: in Christ who was made man. In him who was crucified, the denial of false images of God is taken to an extreme. God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man’s Godforsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 988-1004).

There is justice (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1040). There is an “undoing” of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgment is first and foremost hope — the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favor of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfillment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing.

To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Ephesians 2:12). Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so.
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, Nos. 43-44


Hope 1 – Pope Benedict XVI

March 31, 2014
The Theological Virtues : Faith, Charity, and Hope - Fra Filippo Lippi, Ghirlandaio - Secular painting - Metropolitan Museum of Art. Filippino Lippi (c. 1457 – April 1504) was an Italian painter working during the High Renaissance in Florence, Italy.

The Theological Virtues : Faith, Charity, and Hope – Fra Filippo Lippi, Ghirlandaio – Secular painting – Metropolitan Museum of Art. Filippino Lippi (c. 1457 – April 1504) was an Italian painter working during the High Renaissance in Florence, Italy.

A collection of memorable quotes on the second theological virtue from the writings of Benedict XVI.


By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church 1843)

Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12)

In Contact With God
In St. Thomas Aquinas’ last work that remained unfinished, the Compendium Theologiae which he intended to structure simply according to the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, the great Doctor began and partly developed his chapter on hope. In it he identified, so to speak, hope with prayer: the chapter on hope is at the same time the chapter on prayer.

Prayer is hope in action. And in fact, true reason is contained in prayer, which is why it is possible to hope: we can come into contact with the Lord of the world, he listens to us, and we can listen to him. This is what St. Ignatius was alluding to and what I want to remind you of once again — the truly great thing in Christianity, which does not dispense one from small, daily things but must not be concealed by them either, is this ability to come into contact with God.
Address, November 9, 2006

Hope That Sustains Life
In this sense it is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Ephesians 2:12). Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God — God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished” (cf. John 13:1 and 19:30).

Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what “life” really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await “eternal life” — the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life. Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. John 10:10), has also explained to us what “life” means: “this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live.”
Encyclical, Spe SalviNo. 27

Mary: First Fruit Of Humanity
Mary is indeed the first fruit of the new humanity, the creature in whom the mystery of Christ his Incarnation, death, Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven – has already fully taken effect, redeeming her from death and conveying her, body and soul, to the Kingdom of immortal life. For this reason, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, the Virgin Mary is a sign of certain hope and comfort to us (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 68).

Today’s feast impels us to lift our gaze to Heaven; not to a heaven consisting of abstract ideas or even an imaginary heaven created by art, but the Heaven of true reality which is God himself. God is Heaven. He is our destination, the destination and the eternal dwelling place from which we come and for which we are striving.
Homily, August 15, 2008

Trustworthy Hope
Spe Salvi facti sumus — in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Romans 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption” — salvation — is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, No. 1

God Is The Great Hope
Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope.

God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us.

His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life.
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, No. 31

Love and Life
Yes, true hope is only born from the Blood of Christ and blood poured out for him. There is blood which is the sign of death, but there is also blood that expresses love and life. The Blood of Jesus and the blood of the Martyrs, like that of your own beloved Patron St. Januarius, is a source of new life. I would like to conclude by making my own a saying from your Archbishop’s Pastoral Letter that sounds like this: “The seed of hope may be the tiniest but can give life to a flourishing tree and bear abundant fruit.”

This seed exists and is active in Naples, despite the problems and difficulties. Let us pray to the Lord that he will cause an authentic faith and firm hope to grow in the Christian community that can effectively oppose discouragement and violence. Naples certainly needs appropriate political interventions, but first it needs a profound spiritual renewal; it needs believers who put their full trust back in God and with his help work hard to spread Gospel values in society. Let us ask Mary’s help with this, as well as that of your holy Protectors, especially St. Januarius. Amen!
Homily, October 21, 2007

Star Of Hope
Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by — people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way.

Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. John 1:14).
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, No. 49

Purification Of Purgatory
The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer, and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death — this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages, and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon?

Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Savior, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do, and achieve.

And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other — my prayer for him — can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.

In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1032). As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, No. 48

True Friendship
The so-called prosperity of the wicked is therefore proven to be false (Bk IV), and the providential nature of adversa fortuna is highlighted. Life’s difficulties not only reveal how transient and short-lived life is, but are even shown to serve for identifying and preserving authentic relations among human beings. Adversa fortuna, in fact, makes it possible to discern false friends from true and makes one realize that nothing is more precious to the human being than a true friendship. The fatalistic acceptance of a condition of suffering is nothing short of perilous, the believer Boethius added, because “it eliminates at its roots the very possibility of prayer and of theological hope, which form the basis of man’s relationship with God” (Book V, 3: PL 63, col. 842).
General Audience On Boethius And Cassiodorus, March 12, 2008  

Learn Hope Through Prayer
A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me anymore, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, Ican always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me (cf. CCC 2657). When I have been plunged into complete solitude…; if I pray I am never totally alone.
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, No. 32    

An Exercise Of Desire
Saint Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness — for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul, and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him].”

Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come (cf. Philemenon 3:13). He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God's tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined (cf. 1 Ioannis 4, 6: PL 35, 2008f).

Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father. To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment — that meager, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves.

God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. “But who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults” prays the Psalmist (Psalms 19:12 [18:13]). Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is.

If God does not exist, perhaps I have to seek refuge in these lies, because there is no one who can forgive me; no one who is the true criterion. Yet my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself.
Encyclical, Spe Salvi, No. 33

Mary’s Gift Of Light And Hope
Mary, in whose virginal womb God was made man, is our Mother! Indeed, from the Cross before bringing his sacrifice to completion, Jesus gave her to us as our Mother and entrusted us to her as her children. This is a mystery of mercy and love, a gift that enriches the Church with fruitful spiritual motherhood.

Let us turn our gaze to her, especially today, dear brothers and sisters, and imploring her help, prepare ourselves to treasure all her maternal teaching. Does not our Heavenly Mother invite us to shun evil and to do good, following with docility the divine law engraved in every Christian’s heart? Does not she, who preserved her hope even at the peak of her trial, ask us not to lose heart when suffering and death come knocking at the door of our homes? Does she not ask us to look confidently to our future? Does not the Immaculate Virgin exhort us to be brothers and sisters to one another, all united by the commitment to build together a world that is more just, supportive, and peaceful?

Yes, dear friends! On this solemn day, the Church once again holds up Mary to the world as a sign of sure hope and of the definitive victory of good over evil. The one whom we invoke as “full of grace” reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters and that God is our Creator and our Father. Without him, or even worse, against him, we human beings will never be able to find the way that leads to love, we will never be able to defeat the power of hatred and violence, we will never be able to build a lasting peace.

May the people of every nation and culture welcome this message of light and hope: may they accept it as a gift from the hands of Mary, Mother of all humanity. If life is a journey and this journey is often dark, difficult, and exhausting, what star can illuminate it? In my Encyclical Spe Salvi, published at the beginning of Advent, I wrote that the Church looks to Mary and calls on her as a “star of hope” (no. 49).

During our common voyage on the sea of history, we stand in need of “lights of hope,” that is, of people who shine with Christ’s light and “so guide us along our way” (ibid.). And who could be a better “Star of Hope” for us than Mary? With her “yes,” with the generous offering of freedom received from the Creator, she enabled the hope of the millennia to become reality, to enter this world and its history. ‘Through her God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us.

Thus, inspired by filial trust, we say to her: “Teach us, Mary, to believe, to hope, to love with you; show us the way that leads to peace, the way to the Kingdom of Jesus. You, Star of Hope, who wait for us anxiously in the everlasting light of the eternal Homeland, shine upon us and guide us through daily events, now and at the hour of our death. Amen!”
Address, December 8, 2007

Witnesses of Hope
Certainly, in our many different sufferings and trials we always need the lesser and greater hopes too — a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favorable resolution of a crisis, and so on. In our lesser trials these kinds of hope may even be sufficient. But in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career, and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses — martyrs — who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way — day after day.

We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day — knowing that this is how we live life to the full. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.
Encyclical, Spe Salvi. NO. 39

In The Service of Peace
God is the unfailing source of the hope which gives meaning to personal and community life. God, and God alone, brings to fulfillment every work of good and of peace. History has amply demonstrated that declaring war on God in order to eradicate him from human hearts only leads a fearful and impoverished humanity toward decisions which are ultimately futile. This realization must impel believers in Christ to become convincing witnesses of the God who is inseparably truth and love, placing themselves at the service of peace in broad cooperation with other Christians, the followers of other religions and with all men and women of good will.
World Day Of Peace Message, January 1, 2006


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 261 other followers