Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-524) was an educated Roman Statesman, philosopher and man of letters.
He became court minister under the Gothic ruler, Theodoric. In 510 he was elevated to consul but later got caught up in politics when trying to block an informer’s letter to protect the Senate’s reputation. Sadly for Boethius, the letter got through and the Senate charged him with treason, condemning him to death.
While in prison awaiting certain death he wrote De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy). In the Middle Ages the Consolation was translated into several languages, second in popularity only to the Bible.
In a nutshell, it goes like this: While contemplating his grave situation, ‘Philosophy’ comes to Boethius in the form of a beautiful woman, her garment slightly dusty. She drives away the Muses of Poetry who’d previously been dictating to Boethius.
Philosophy and Boethius engage in debate, much like a Platonic dialogue. She instructs him on how human beings should rightly relate to God. Fear of material loss and desire for material gain are both rejected in favor of hope for eternal salvation through an all-knowing, good God. Ephemeral worldly concerns are to be replaced by the desire to lead a virtuous life with God.
Much like St. Augustine’s theology, personal free will is emphasized but, at the same time, God is said to know how one will choose—both in the present and in the future.
Judging from the content and style of The Consolation of Philosophy, many believe that Boethius must have been an early Christian, although Jesus is not mentioned. Because the Consolation is a book on philosophy, some commentators say that Boethius prefers to use concepts germane to philosophy. At the same time, however, a good deal of the text employs lengthy quotations from Greek and Roman mythology to support and illustrate his philosophical ideas. Why then, would the apparently Christian Boethius exclude Christian stories?
Boethius never escaped imprisonment and was put to death after completing his book, which makes reading it all the more poignant.
- The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (yalebooks.wordpress.com)
- Worldly Success: How Much is Enough? (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
- Book Review: The Consolation of Philosophy – By Boethius (ellipsisomnibusreviews.wordpress.com)
- Is There More to Ill Fortune? Boethius Says Yes (rpatsybrown.wordpress.com)
- Review of “The Consolation of Philosophy” (Ignatius Critical Edition) (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- For The Love Of Wisdom (metafilter.com)
Fortuna is a Roman deity, equivalent to the Greek Tyche. The most notable difference between the Roman and Greek forms is that the Roman Fortuna is, at times, less universal than Tyche.
Like Tyche, Fortuna represents a general concept of chance and luck. Her temples were in specific cities like Rome, with an unrivaled site at Palestrina. But unlike Tyche (who had altars at Thebes and Athens), the Romans observed a “Fortune of the Day.”
The Romans also invoked Fortuna for victory in battle. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance Fortuna was very popular, often depicted with a wheel turning through cycles of good and bad luck, joy and sadness. She’s also depicted with a rudder, a globe or with wheels or wings.
- Fortuna’s chain reactions from a single action (rhythmiclayers.com)
- Restoring Fortuna to the lexicon of the rich (energybulletin.net)
- Grand Ages: Rome (gamespot.com)
- What is the difference between luck and a blessing? (kelhan1.wordpress.com)
A knight was a mounted warrior in the Middle Ages who pledged allegiance to the Church and, as such, answered to ordained priests. During the Crusades it was believed that a knight only fought for just and holy causes.
However, many abuses occurred (including rapes, pillaging, cruelty and senseless murder), and some would argue that the whole idea of ‘killing for Christ’ is a twisted perversion of Christ’s teachings.
It has often been said that crusaders tended to behave particularly badly once they were in the field. That they could be undisciplined and capable of acts of great cruelty cannot be denied.¹
The Crusading knight was also a servant of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and as the institution developed over the centuries, the idea of knighthood became highly romanticized in life, literature and song. Instead of being a mere ‘killer for Christ,’ the knight evolved into a courageous hero who was bound to protect women through acts of chivalry. At least, that was the prevailing ideal in the latter Middle Ages, an idea that became even more pronounced during the Renaissance.
Part of the knight’s identity rested upon horsemanship and another part on armoury–just as horsemanship, battle attire and weapons have always been important to warriors, stretching back into antiquity. When the technology of warfare changed, the old idea of the mounted knight in armor gradually fell into obscurity.
Today, the knight remains an omnipresent symbol of heroism and honor in works of fiction and pop culture. And those knighted by royalty are done so for some great lifetime achievement (e.g. Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and Sir Michael Phillip “Mick” Jagger).
In addition, certain religious groups have adapted the term knight to symbolize holiness and the pursuit of goodness (e.g. The Knights of Columbus).
Interestingly, some contemporary figures do not accept the honor of knighthood which the British royalty so carefully offers.²
¹ See Rethinking the Crusades by JONATHAN RILEY SMITH » http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/history/world/wh0042.html
² David Bowie declined the honor in 2003, saying : “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.” See » http://www.bowiewonderworld.com/press/00/030912thesun.htm. And many others have responded similarly, as revealed in this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declining_a_British_honour
- Constantine, We Are Here: (brothersjuddblog.com)
- Mar 11, 1997: Paul McCartney Knighted (censorshipinamerica.com)
- Feudal Europe Essay (socyberty.com)
- Teutonic Knights and Knights Templar at War (socyberty.com)
- King Arthur in Legends and Literature (socyberty.com)
- Teutonic Knights and Knights Templar: Clash of Interests (socyberty.com)
- Jousting Tournaments in the Middle Ages (brighthub.com)
- A Crusading Knight and Cute Concrete (nytimes.com)
- Santorum Tackles the Crusades (unreasonablefaith.com)
- In Defense of Medieval Gaming from Geekcentricity ” Role-Playing (geekcentricity.com)
Abraham Abulafia (born 1240) says that unlike Old Testament prophets, who passively experience different degrees of God‘s light through grace, the meditating Kabbalist consciously ascends through levels of light to the final realization of God.
Not unlike the Hindu mystics and their beliefs about Sanskrit, Kabbalist mystics believe that the Hebrew letters are both physical and spiritual. The three primordial Kabbalist letters (aleph , mem and shin) are said to contain all of the potential elements of the universe.
Because all Kabbalist letters are ruled by angels, when pronounced properly, a single letter is said to evoke its corresponding angel. And merely writing a Hebrew character apparently can transport the mind to a higher sphere.
While the Zoharic school of Kabbala advocates contemplation of various spheres within a ‘cosmic tree,’ Abulafaria says this is only a prelude to the contemplation of Names, leading to the Divine Name.
Abulafaria openly defies the chain of secrecy that has been maintained for centuries by previous Masters. In the Light of Intellect he claims to have been the first to bring this wisdom to the ordinary person (to include non-Jews), making him popular among Jews and Christians alike.
He also warns his students against the false meditation manuals found in the Middle Ages, which aimed at worldly power through magic.
The most prominent Kabbalist, Israel ben Eleazer, a.k.a. the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Holy Name), further popularized Jewish-based mysticism, making it universally accessible.
The Baal Shem Tov founded what is now called Hasidic mysticism. Following his example, the Hasidim democratized the Torah, delivering it from privileged scholars to the ordinary person.
As for the dangers of the Kabbalist mystical quest, Perle Epstein is worth quoting at length:
Kabbalists who uttered God’s Names and altered their breathing patterns were making use of the third rung of the soul’s ladder, the breath which tied them to the spiritual world. By binding himself mentally to a specific ‘spiritual being,’ the Kabbalist could either elevate himself further (as Abufalia taught) or he could obtain significant information about the future. This second practice was dangerous, for it often resulted in making contact with shedim, demonic beings who altered and confused the meditator’s mind. Along this path lay the danger of insanity. The ‘breath,’ or third level of soul, was therefore regarded as a two-edged sword. Only utmost purity of purpose assured the Kabbalist safe passage to the next rung. But spontaneous ecstasy would occur here, too-a condition in which the mystic, without any conscious effort, might find himself flooded with a rush of divine bliss. Yet even this level of ‘divine inspiration’ was not really considered true ‘prophecy.’¹
¹ Perle Epstein, Kabbalah: the way of the Jewish mystic, Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1978, p. 143.
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- Introduction to Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah (epages.wordpress.com)
- Lilith (earthpages.wordpress.com)
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- William James, part 6: Mystical experience | Mark Vernon (guardian.co.uk)
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- Kabbalists Have a Dance Party to Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ [VideUhOh] (gawker.com)
The issue of normalcy is arguably a complicated one. Does the idea of normal change over time or is there something constant that mankind can always refer back to?
A compelling argument against the idea of a transhistorical normalcy is found in poststructural thought. Postructuralists point out that different cultures regard normalcy differently, both now and throughout history.
For example, in Biblical times and the Middle Ages abnormality was often associated with demonic influence or possession. Not a few individuals were literally burnt at the stake when defined as abnormal heretics.
Today, however, it seems both abnormal and cruel that anyone would burn another living person, for any apparent reason whatsoever.
In contemporary society, we see a shift away from religious to medical explanations for abnormality. Violent criminals, for instance, are often said to be mentally ill instead of ‘possessed by Satan.’
Another difficulty in ascertaining the normal as a moral good is the issue of hypocrisy. In sociology, power and labeling theorists suggest that individuals and groups possessing social power often label other powerless individuals and groups as deviant for engaging in practices that members of the high-powered groups profit from.
Although today’s social scene shouldn’t be reduced to such a simple formulation, we should point out that in medieval times there was a high degree of reliability among witch hunters when classifying targeted individuals as witches. And in contemporary society there’s a high degree of reliability among psychiatrists in defining so-called mental illnesses.
However, one could argue that, in both instances, a high degree of reliability in assessment does not necessarily relate to a high degree of validity for that assessment.
In other words, just because a powerful social group says something is so, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it actually is so. This is a basic philosophy 101 point certainly overlooked by witch hunters and sometimes by contemporary psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, along with anyone who unconditionally accepts a particular worldview that happens to be hegemonic or perhaps just in vogue.
Canadian folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn expressed his own views on normality in the song, “The Trouble With Normal” (1981; released 1983):
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.
Search Think Free » Corruption, Death and Resurrection, Defense Mechanism, Deviance, Ego, Icebox Effect, Introjection, Neurosis, Nominalism, Paranormal, Prime Directive, Psychopath, Psychosis, Stages of Psychosexual Development, Suffering, Turning Against the Self, Evelyn Underhil, X-Men
- What Is Normal? (psychologytoday.com)
- Has The Green-eyed Monster Gone Too Far? (socyberty.com)
- Elizabeth Carr and Conceiving “Normally” (stirrup-queens.com)
- Keep throwing feces at each other, gays — Focus on the Family has yet to give us ‘normalcy’ pass (pinkbananaworld.com)
- A “Must Read” Book (diabetesupdate.blogspot.com)
- Abnormal Psychology: Understanding Cruelty and Absurdity (socyberty.com)
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In arts and culture realism refers to representations appearing to be natural, accurate and perhaps bluntly, poetically or politically so.
Just what constitutes a realist artist, however, is not usually clear-cut. The famous American painter, Norman Rockwell, for instance, is still debated as to whether or not he falls under the realist tag.
To most non-artists, Norman Rockwell is perceived to be a Realist. He isn’t. And he is.¹
Realism is also a philosophical view that external objects exist, even when not perceived by an observer. This view is related to the question – “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” – posed in philosophy.
In theology, realism refers to the belief that universal essences are more real than any individual temporal manifestation. This view was, of course, outlined in Plato‘s theory of the eternal, unchanging Forms. Subsequent Medieval European theologians picked up on Plato’s pre-Christian theory and basically Christianized it.
¹ See Create and Relate: http://wwwcristinaacosta.blogspot.com/2008/02/norman-rockwell-how-real-is-realism.html.
St. Anselm is one of the earliest and most prominent scholastics of the Middle Ages.
He is best known for defining the ontological argument, a theological proof for the existence of God.
Like most theological proofs, the ontological argument seems self-evident to believers but usually fails to convince unbelievers.
In the Proslogion Anselm writes that God is “something than which nothing greater can be conceived.” To be the very greatest thing imaginable, the thing conceived must also exist in reality and not just in the mind. Therefore, so the argument goes, God is the greatest conceivable being which by necessity exists.
This argument was rejected on purely rational grounds by St. Thomas Aquinas who nevertheless believed in God.
Rene Descartes used a similar ‘ontological argument’ to rescue himself from difficulties arising from his famous “I think, therefore I am” claim.
For Descartes, God would not deceive by presenting the mere illusion of an outer world – as opposed to actually creating an outer world which is perceived by the senses – because God is fundamentally good.
St. Anselm’s view of faith and understanding is noteworthy and, one could say, reverses worldly wisdom. Rather than believing in something because it is comprehensible in the first place, Anselm forwards two important phrases:
- fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding)
- credo ut intelligam (I believe so that I can understand).
The second is based on St. Augustine‘s teaching that one should believe in order to understand (crede, ut intelligas). Taken together, these suggest that one must first take a ‘leap of faith’ to better understand spiritual truths.
For many this is an illogical or non-intellectual approach but it may be seen as logical in two ways:
First, when we recognize the limits of worldly reason in understanding ultimate concerns, it arguably makes sense to, at least momentarily, cede logic to faith. Such an approach could possibly reap increased knowledge–and we would never know for certain unless we actually tried it.
Second, when one adopts a faith position, the inherent and indeed greater logic of God’s ways – if actual and true – should become increasingly apparent to our worldly reason as time goes by (see, for example, Isaiah 55:6-9).
If, however, the supposed greater logic of God’s ways does not make itself apparent after adopting a particular faith position, we then – after a reasonable amount of time – would have a logical, perhaps even scientific, reason to reject that faith position.
Put differently, this positions suggests that we try believing first. This either does or does not reap an increased understanding of God’s ways. And one would never know and not be embracing a fully scientific attitude unless one did, in fact, try this approach.
Interestingly, Carl Jung’s father was a Protestant clergyman who stressed that his son Carl should believe and not think. To his father’s dismay Jung replied, “Give me this belief” (C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, revised, ed. Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, New York: Vintage Books, 1961, p. 43).
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