March 23, 2013
The Will to Power as Principle of a New Valuation
“We shall focus on what Nietzsche planned to say in Part III under the title “Principle of a New Valuation,” according to the arrangement discussed above. Evidently, Nietzsche wanted to express the “new,” his own ”philosophy” here. If Nietzsche’s essential and sole thought is the will to power, the title of the third book immediately provides important information about what will to power is, without our yet grasping its proper essence. Will to power is the “principle of a new valuation,” and vice versa: the principle of the new valuation to be grounded is will to power. What does “valuation” mean? What does the word value mean? The word value as a special term came into circulation partly through Nietzsche. One speaks of the “cultural values” of a nation, of the “vital values” of a people, of “moral,” “aesthetic,” religious” “values.” One does not think very much about these phrases–even though they are supposed, after all, to contain an appeal to what is supreme and ultimate.
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December 5, 2008
‘Neither the enormously powerful Roman Mars nor the weaker Greek Ares received the slightest competition from the minor divinities of peace’ (M. I. Finley, Ancient History: Evidence and Models, p. 68).
December 5, 2008
‘Of course any idiot could have differentiated between a primary and a secondary source, and also between a careful writer and a charlatan; and most historians in antiquity, even the weaker ones, were not idiots’ (M. I. Finley, Ancient History: Evidence and Models, p. 8).
October 3, 2008
From: “On the Margin”
The cœnobites of the Thebaid were subjected to the assaults of many demons. Most of these evil spirits cam furtively with the coming of night. But there was one, a fiend of deadly subtlety, who was not afraid to walk by day. The holy men of the desert called him the dæmon meridianus; for his favourite hour of visitation was in the heat of the day. He would lie in wait for monks grown weary with working in the oppressive heat, seizing a moment of weakness to force an entrance into their hearts. And once installed there, what havoc he wrought! For suddenly it would seem to the poor victim that the day was intolerably long and life desolatingly empty. He would go to the door of his cell and look up at the sun and ask himself if a new Joshua had arrested it midway up the heavens. Then he would go back into the sade and wonder what good he was doing in that cell or if there was any object in existence. Then he would look at the sun again and find it indubitably stationary, and the hour of the communal repast of the evening as remote as ever. And he would go back to his meditations, to sink, sink through disgust and lassitude into the black depths of despair and hopeless unbelief. When that happened the demon smiled and took his departure, conscious that he had done a good morning’s work.
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July 15, 2008
SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible
by R. R. Reno
Near the beginning of his treatise against Gnostic interpretations of the Bible, Against the Heresies, Irenaeus observes that Scripture is like a great mosaic depicting a handsome king. It is as if we were owners of a villa in Gaul who had ordered a mosaic from Rome. It arrives, and the beautifully colored tiles need to be taken out of their packaging and put into proper order according to the plan of the artist. The difficulty, of course, is that Scripture provides us with the individual pieces, but the order and sequence of various elements are not obvious. The Bible does not come with instructions that would allow interpreters to simply place verses, episodes, images, and parable in order as a worker might follow a schematic drawing in assembling the pieces to depict the handsome king. the mosaic must be puzzled out. This is precisely the work of scriptural interpretation.
Origen has his own image to express the difficulty of working out the proper approach to reading the Bible. When preparing to offer a commentary on the Psalms he tells of a tradition handed down to him by his Hebrew teacher:
The Hebrews said that the whole divinely inspired Scripture may be likened, because of its obscurity, to many locked rooms in our house. By each room is placed a key, but not the one that corresponds to it, so that the keys are scattered about beside the rooms, none of them matching the room by which it is placed. it is a difficult task to find the keys and match them to the rooms that they can open. We therefore know the Scriptures that are obscure only by taking the points of departure for understanding them from another place because they have their interpretive principle scattered among them.
As is the case for Irenaeus, scriptural interpretation is not purely local. The key in Genesis may best fit the door of Isaiah, which in turn opens up the meaning of Matthew. The mosaic must be put together with an eye toward the overall plan.
Irenaeus, Origen, and the great cloud of premodern biblical interpreters assumed that puzzling out the mosaic of Scripture must be a communal project. The Bible is vast, heterogeneous, full of confusing passages and obscure words, and difficult to understand. Only a fool would imagine that he or she could work out solutions alone. The way forward must rely upon a tradition of reading that Irenaeus reports has been passed on as the rule or canon of truth that functions as a confession of faith. “Anyone,” he says, “who keeps unchangeable in himself the rule of truth received through baptism will recognize the names and says and parables of the scriptures.” Modern scholars debate the content of the rule on which Irenaeus relies and commends, not the least because the terms and formulations Irenaeus himself uses shift and slide. Nonetheless, Irenaeus assumes that there is a body of apostolic doctrine sustained by a tradition of teaching in the church. This doctrine provides the clarifying principles that guide exegetical judgment toward a coherent overall reading of Scripture as a unified witness. Doctrine, then, is the schematic drawing that will allow the reader to organize the vast heterogeneity of words, images, and stories of the Bible into a readable, coherent whole. It is the rule that guides us toward the proper matching of keys to doors.
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April 2, 2008
“The text from Augustine’s Confessions with which Wittgenstein opens the Investigations registers a strong sense of how the self-transparent little soul looks out from its head, hears the adults making various noises, watches them (through its eyes) as they lumber towards some item of middle-sized dry goods, and then suddenly, on its own, makes the connection, in its own mind, between the sounds the adults emit and the objects that they touch. Augustine pictures his infant self as already aware of its identity (what is going on inside its own mind) and of what is going on around it (outside its mind), prior to and independently of its mastering the arts of speech. The text offers ‘a particular picture of the essence of human language’ (PI 1). It is important to notice, however, from the outset, that the ‘words name objects’ doctrine of language which Wittgenstein at once extracts from the text is interwoven with the idea that meaning is always in the head: the last remark in the Investigations has to be allowed to illuminate the first one. As Waismann wrote, recapitulating the idea:
What we object to is the idea of the contents of different people’s minds as shut off from each other by insurmountable barriers, so that what is experienced is eternally private and inexpressable – the idea that we are, so to speak, imprisoned behind bars through which only words can escape, as though it were a defect in language that it consists wholly of words (Waismann, Principles, p. 248).
Wittgenstein thinks, we badly need the reminder. Indeed, the only problem that he has with Augustine’s story is that what is presented as secondary and marginal to self-understanding needs to be acknowledged as fundamental. He only wants to draw attention to what Augustine’s picture leaves in the background” (Fergus Kerr, Theology after Wittgenstein, p. 56, 57).
March 10, 2008
“It remains, then, a historical fact that “barbarian” peoples made themselves at home in a house they had not themselves built. And this fact makes more comprehensible an otherwise troublesome discord which from the very beginning–especially at the beginning–characterized medieval philosophy. Hegel, in spite of the summary haste of his survey, made a very penetrating remark concerning this: “The chief element in the Middle Ages is this division, this duality: two nations, two languages. We see peoples who had previously ruled, who had previously rounded off their own world, their own language, their arts and sciences; and we see the new nations settling down upon this alien foundation. Thus these new nations began with a serious cleavage within themselves. Thus Hegel explains the aspect of scholasticism which so alientated him, the “total confusion of dry reason in the gnarledness of the Nordic-Germanic nature.” Upon that Germanic nature, he continues, “the infinite truth of the spirit weighed like a ponderous stone whose tremendous pressure it could only feel but not digest” during those centuries. It is false, and demonstrably false, that the “stone” could not be digested. But on the other hand it is true that the incorporation of something not sprung from native soil, the acquisition of both a foreign vocabulary and a different mode of thinking, the assimilation of a tremendous body of existing thought–that all that was in fact the problem which confronted medieval philosophy at its beginnings, and which it had to master. In the very act of mastering it, medieval philosophy acquired its own character” (Josef Pieper, Scholasticism, p. 21-22).
January 2, 2008
“The figure of Christ is interpreted on ancient sarcophagi principally by two images: the philosopher and the shepherd. Philosophy at that time was not generally seen as a difficult academic discipline, as it is today. Rather, the philosopher was someone who knew how to teach the essential art: the art of being authentically human—the art of living and dying. To be sure, it had long since been realized that many of the people who went around pretending to be philosophers, teachers of life, were just charlatans who made money through their words, while having nothing to say about real life. All the more, then, the true philosopher who really did know how to point out the path of life was highly sought after. Towards the end of the third century, on the sarcophagus of a child in Rome, we find for the first time, in the context of the resurrection of Lazarus, the figure of Christ as the true philosopher, holding the Gospel in one hand and the philosopher’s travelling staff in the other. With his staff, he conquers death; the Gospel brings the truth that itinerant philosophers had searched for in vain. In this image, which then became a common feature of sarcophagus art for a long time, we see clearly what both educated and simple people found in Christ: he tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human. He shows us the way, and this way is the truth. He himself is both the way and the truth, and therefore he is also the life which all of us are seeking. He also shows us the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life. The same thing becomes visible in the image of the shepherd. As in the representation of the philosopher, so too through the figure of the shepherd the early Church could identify with existing models of Roman art. There the shepherd was generally an expression of the dream of a tranquil and simple life, for which the people, amid the confusion of the big cities, felt a certain longing. Now the image was read as part of a new scenario which gave it a deeper content: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, because you are with me …” (Ps 23 :1, 4). The true shepherd is one who knows even the path that passes through the valley of death; one who walks with me even on the path of final solitude, where no one can accompany me, guiding me through: he himself has walked this path, he has descended into the kingdom of death, he has conquered death, and he has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with him, we can find a way through. The realization that there is One who even in death accompanies me, and with his “rod and his staff comforts me”, so that “I fear no evil” (cf. Ps 23 :4)—this was the new “hope” that arose over the life of believers.” – Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 6.
This sarcophagus is found in the Vatican Museum.
October 28, 2007
“Dostoevsky not only preached, but, to a certain degree also demonstrated in his own activity this reunification of concerns common to humanity–at least of the highest among these concerns–in one Christian idea. Being a religious person, he was at the same time a free thinker and a powerful artist. These three aspects , these three higher concerns were not differentiated in him and did not exclude one another, but entered indivisibly into all his activity. In his convictions he never separated truth from good and beauty; in his artistic creativity he never placed beauty apart from the good and the true. And he was right, because these three live only in their unity. The good, taken separately from truth and beauty, is only an indistinct feeling, a powerless upwelling; truth taken abstractly is an empty word; and beauty without truth and the good is an idol. For Dostoevsky, these were three inseparable forms of one absolute Idea. The infinity of the human soul–having been revealed in Christ and capable of fitting into itself all the boundlessness of divinity–is at one and the same time both the greatest good, the highest truth, and the most perfect beauty. Truth is good, perceived by the human mind; beauty is the same good and the same truth, corporeally embodied in solid living form. And its full embodiment–the end, the goal, and the perfection–already exists in everything, and this is why Dostoevsky said that beauty will save the world” (Vladimir Soloviev, The Heart of Reality, trans V. Wozniuk, p. 16).
October 20, 2007
“The major character is a representative of the view that any powerful man is a master to himself, and everything is permitted to him. In the name of his personal superiority, in the name of the fact that he is a force, he deems that he has the right to commit murder, and he actually does so. but suddenly a matter that he considered only a violation of a meaningless law and a daring challenge to social prejudice turns out to be for his personal conscience somehow much greater–a sin, a violation of intrinsic moral truth. A violation of the external law receives legitimate retribution outwardly in exile and hard labor; but the inner sin of pride, of self-deification, separating a powerful man from humanity and leading him to murder, can be atoned only be an inward moral act of self-abnegation. Boundless self-assurance must vanish before a faith in that which is greater than self; and self-made justification must become humble before God’s supreme truth, living in those very simple and weak people upon whom the powerful man gaze as upon worthless insects” (Soloviev, The Heart of Reality, Trans V. Wozniuk, p. 10).