If Harry Potter Ran General Electric (Morris)

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Key idea 1: Great stories can provide insights into the narratives of our lives.

Key idea 2: Best leaders teach by example and guide by encouragement.

Morris argues that Dumbledore exemplifies the Aristotelian virtues.  The virtues are important because “what makes” a good leader is something internal.   We talk about “building the inner person” but no one really knows what that means in the concrete, aside from something like “integrity.”  The Aristotelian virtues provide a starting point.

Life is dynamic. We are always in a process of becoming.

Dumbledore has a “generosity of spirit.”  Morris says this lets him see “beyond the categories that define people.”  I might take a stab at it from my own perspective.  I have had some students that were generally annoying and often made bad choices.  I realized, though, that they had a lot of raw potential and would probably get straightened out in time.

Key idea: The fundamental virtue in business and life is courage.

This gets interesting.  On one hand, Gryffindor is the house that generates the virtue of courage.  However, Voldemort’s followers often act courageous themselves.  In that case, why can’t a vice generate the same outcome?  To answer this, Morris points to the ancient truth of “the unity of the virtues.”  It is impossible to just have one good virtue.  Here is the difference: Voldemort’s followers appear to act courageously because they are bullied by fear; the good man actually overcomes the fear.

The self-help mindset only goes so far.  True success has a communal side to it.

We can summarize the chapter on ethics under several propositions:
1) Ethics is about creating strength.

2) Doing acts of evil, as seen in Malfoy and Voldemort, always rebounds on itself.

3) Iris Murdoch: when we habitually do good, we often create “good structures” that visit us later on.

Morris calls Wicca “that priesthood of perpetual graduate students and coffeehouse radicals.”

My thoughts on the Ravi scandal

In terms of the actual Ravi scandal, the man is guilty and few deny it. When it first broke, when he was still alive, we called it. I stopped following him in the late 2000s because when you are dealing with tough intellectual issues such as substance, hypostasis, etc., he didn’t have anything to offer. This post really isn’t about Ravi, though. It’s more of how not to go wrong about apologetics.

When people tell me they want to be an apologist (and they are always really young guys–hey, I made this mistake, too), and ask me for advice, this is what I tell them:

1) Don’t do apologetics for at least two years. You don’t know anything. That sounds mean, but it is true.
2) Spend the next ten years reading as much of the church fathers, medievals, scholastics as you can. This will keep you from sounding shallow and offering sound bytes.
3) Learn the Socratic dialogue. I’ve read through almost all of Plato’s dialogues. Your goal isn’t to one-up an argument, but to cultivate virtue and lead people to the truth.
4) Learn what your local church needs in apologetics, if anything. Submit 100% to their oversight, unless it is a creepy cultic church.
5) Cultivate intellectual virtue by avoiding the quick, easy answer. This might mean you might not get the answer for a couple months. You might have to forgo the next hot book off the Reformed conference media and spend more money on an academic work. That’s good. It will teach you patience and humility (and you will learn FAR more).

Comus (John Milton)

Image result for comus milton

Girl and brothers get lost in the woods.  Comus, a debauched man, stumbles upon the girl and tries to seduce her.  She resists him by means of “right reason.”

Notable lines:

“Stoop thy pale visage through an amber cloud,
And disinherit chaos” (334).

A brother makes the suggestion that his sister’s virtue is not in danger while she maintains “the constant mood of her calm thoughts” (371).

Milton rejects the hermeneutics of suspicion:

“Yet where an equall poise of hope and fear
Does arbitrate th’event, my nature is
That I incline to hope, rather then fear,
And gladly banish squint suspicion” (410ff).

Conclusion: The original problem is quite interesting: can virtue and right reason withstand sexual temptation?  That’s not the solution, though.  The solution is appealing to a fairy spirit who can come up with some herb and free the Lady.  Milton’s conclusion doesn’t follow from his problem.

I think there is more to the poem than from what I’ve gleaned.  I probably need to reread the secondary literature.

Protagoras (Plato)

This is a complete masterpiece of rhetoric.  It ranks with Gorgias and often surpasses the Republic in terms of logical focus.  All educators should read it.  Plato reminds us that we cannot separate Being, Rhetoric, and Goodness. Whatever you learn, you take into your soul.

That’s how the dialogue begins.  It doesn’t retain that level of intensity as Socrates routinely gets sidetracked.  Another point to keep in mind: while Protagoras is known for saying “Man is the measure of all things,” that’s not what this dialogue is about.  

I always wondered why Socrates was so insistent that virtue cannot be taught, for it seems obvious that it can.  What he argues, I think, and the same problem arises in Euthydemus, is that you can’t just pay money to hear a few lectures by a huckster and then say you are virtuous. (Have you ever noticed how postmodern university courses on ethics never make people virtuous?).

Socrates and Protagoras spend the rest of the dialogue debating whether virtue is of a whole or if it can be parceled out in pieces?  For example, both justice and courage are virtues.  Do we say that the unjust man can be courageous?  It seems like he can.  I suppose the question we should then ask, which neither Socrates nor Protagoras ask, is whether his courage flows from his injustice, and that is obviously no.  Yet this seems to give the nod to Protagoras that they can be distinguished.

Socrates then reframes the argument:  if everything has an opposite, and wisdom and temperance aren’t the same thing, then they can’t be parts of virtue, for then virtue would have a contradiction.  I think this is a better argument on Socrates’s part, but I think it was up to Aristotle to give the final say on it.  What Socrates needs is some kind of cipher like the later model of divine simplicity and then apply that to the virtues.  He ends the debate by suggesting–and only suggesting–that knowledge is this kind of cipher that unifies the virtues.

John Milton: Classical Learning and the Progress of Virtue

Horner, Grant.  John Milton: Classical Learning and the Progress of Virtue. Camp Hill, PA: Classical Academic Press, 2015.

A man of virtue must have discrimination of taste.  You can only get there by being trained in virtue.  Grant Horner walks us through that process by means of the lens of John Milton.

John Milton modeled his education after the Greek “schole” (Horner 13). This type of education, what Russell Kirk would call “humane letters,” implied some degree of the leisure necessary for it.  A good education won’t yield fruit immediately.  It takes time.

Milton saw education as a partial corrective to the Fall (25; see his famous line on “repair the ruins”).  He is not saying that knowing the good means one will do the good (though the Platonic truth in that line is almost always misunderstood). Rather, imitating the good (presumably, at least by immersion in it) is itself an act of transformation and becoming.

Milton urged learning foreign languages by use, not rote memorization of charts.  Yes and no.  You have to have some rudimentary knowledge before jumping into the text.  On the other hand, though, one does make better progress through reading these great texts.  The danger, though, is to avoid what my German and Latin mentor called “taco Spanish.”  That is when you give a student a computer program to learn a language and at the end all he can really say is “taco.”

Milton also assumed you would learn Italian in your spare time, since it wasn’t difficult.

At the heart of his project is a three-fold examination of virtue. We begin with the grace of faith, then we progress in virtue, and we arrive at the perfection of a thing. Virtue is the middle term between grace and perfection.

In practical terms, and in conjunction with his language program that allows the student to view the world through language, the student should be reading heroic literature.  This creates an “admiration of virtue, stirred up with high hopes living to be brave men, worthy Patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages” (Milton “Of Education”).

The Miltonic goal is to unite intellectual, physical, and spiritual teaching into one unity.

Purgatorio (Dante; Sayers, trans)

The goal of the journey is to free our judgment.  In hell we flee to the “iron-bound prison of the self” (Sayers 16). Purgatory’s atmosphere might surprise the reader at first glance.  As Sayers notes, we are hit with “its freshness, sparkle, and gaiety” (19). Unlike Hell, Purgatory has community.  There is an ontological exchange of love and prayer. Indeed, here prayer is restored.  There is actually a liturgical discipline, as each cornice must sing and/or re-narrate a Psalm from Israel’s history.

Liturgical Discipline:
* “In exitu Israel de Aegyptu” (II.46). 

*  Wrathful: Agnus Dei (16.18).

* Gluttonous: labina mea Domine (Ps. 51; Purgatorio 23.11).

* Lustful: Summa Deus Clementiae (25.121).

Theological theme: love is the root of all vice as well as all virtue.

THE ARRANGEMENT

Imagine a conical mountain.  At the very bottom are two terraces, Ante-Purgatory.  These are the “death-bed” confession types.  From here they enter “Peter’s Gate, “which is approached by the Three Steps of Penitence: Confession, Contrition, and Satisfaction” (64).

There is something else unique about the mountain.  At first glance, it seems like the road spirals up the mountain.  Just keep walking and you get to a higher level.  In a sense, that is true. Yet, when one reaches the end of a cornice, he can’t simply walk up to the next one.  The path ends, but to the side there is a small stairway cut into the mountain.  Entering that stairway can be quite difficult.

On Purgatory Proper there are seven cornices, which purge the stains of sin.

Lower Purgatory: Love Perverted.  Love of injury to one’s neighbor.

  • Pride: Superbia. Love of self perverted to hatred of one’s neighbor.
  • Envy.  Invidia. Love of one’s own good perverted to wish harm to neighbor’s good.
  • Wrath.  Ira. Love of justice perverted to revenge.

Mid Purgatory: Love Defective. 

  • Sloth. Acedia.  Failure to love a thing in its proper proportion.  Namely, we fail to love God with all our heart.

Upper Purgatory.  Love Excessive. Only one object is to be loved with all our heart. This means there is a hierarchy of goods.

  • Cornice Five: Avarice.  Excessive love of money.
  • Cornice Six.  Gluttony.  Excessive love of pleasure.
  • Cornice Seven.  Lust.  Excessive love of persons.

Sayers has an interesting observation: Dante sleeps only in Purgatory, because unlike Infernus and Paradise, Purgatory is in time. It is not an eternal state.

Cornice of Envy: Like at other cornices, this one is introduced with a verse from Mary; here it is vinum non habent. The scourge of the sin of envy is fashioned with cords of love (13.39). They have their eyes sewn shut with wires of iron.  This makes them depend on their neighbor (and perhaps his good). It is also similar to putting a hood on a falcon.  It forces the beast to shed fear and calm down.

Sayers notes that envy, unlike other sins, contains an element of fear (170). Am I afraid that others might do well?  (This, of course, is the sin of Wokism.) It is best illustrated by Guido del Duca (it feels like half the people in the poem are named Guido, and that isn’t racist for me to point out since I am part Italian in heritage),

“And in my heart such envy used to burn,
If I’d caught someone looking pleased with life,
Thou wouldst have seen how livid I could turn” (14.82-84).

Canto 15: The Angel of Generosity, demonstrating the contrary of Envy, erases the second P from Dante’s head.  One counter to envy is true partnership, or as Augustine put it, “common objects of love.”  Virgil tells Dante that when they share such goods, they aren’t diminished but increased: “The more enamoured souls dwell there at once/Ever the better and the more they love/Each glassing each, all mirrors and all suns” (15.73-75).  Love is a “force multiplier,” so to speak.  It’s easiest to see this when we take “knowledge.”  If I share my knowledge, I don’t decrease my knowledge.  I multiply it. This is what Augustine, the Fransiscans, and Wyclif meant about sharing spiritual goods.

Cornice III: The Wrathful

The wrathful have to sing the Agnus Dei. They must go through thick smoke.  As they can no longer see, they have to listen.

Love of the Good is here restored.  Every creature has love.  It either has a proper object or not, but it still has love. There is a three-fold mis-love: faulty aim (at the wrong Good), too much zeal (excessive love) or lack thereof” (love defective, Sayers 201).

Cornice IV: The Slothful

Mary’s example: she ran in haste to Elizabeth.

As Sayers notes, sloth poisons the will (209). It is a deliberate refusal of joy.

When virtue springs from the heart, it must kindle a reciprocal love (22.10-12).

There is a strange section where Dante meets sodomites on the Cornice of the Lustful.  How is that possible, given the previous meeting in Hell?  He really doesn’t say, but I think we see a similar example today: take the advocates of “Side B Christianity.”  There you have it. Interestingly enough, this is the only Cornice where the penitents walk against the Sun, illustrating that their sin was against nature.

Review: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

This is one of the great books of all time.  It is basically a Q&A on various masters’ theses.  It is relentless in its pursuit of logical questions (and of apparently inane tangents).  The great thing about Thomas is that you can’t take anything for granted.  The small proof 400 pages ago will be the key to a subtle argument.

Thomas was a victim of his own success.  Few read him beyond the 5 Proofs, and I suspect those proofs weren’t all that interesting for him and his audience.

On God

Thomas: each thing has its own act of being; real apart from the distinct acts of existence.

God: existence as necessary being; his act of existence needs no cause of existence.  Pure act of being.

As Qui Est God has no genus, otherwise he would have an essence distinct from his act of being.  For God, to be is to be good.  His being and goodness are identical.

God knows himself perfectly and he knows himself immediately.

Does God know possibles?

  1. Concerning what might have been, he knows them by simple intelligence.

  2. God’s intelligence.  Will proceeds from intelligence.

The immediate object of divine intelligence is God.  He wills all other things by willing himself.  God’s willing of possibles doesn’t necessarily create them.

  1. a will is an action completely interior to the one willing.

  2. God doesn’t necessarily create existence by “willing,” but only through one of the divine actions whose terminus is an effect exterior to God

Treatise on Law

Thomas only devotes one question specifically about natural law in the middle of 19 questions.  More importantly, Thomas never abstracts natural law (which is usually exactly what his critics and defenders do).  Natural law is oriented back to the eternal law and the divine providence (ST 1-2. 90).

A short definition: “Law (lex) is something rational (aliquid rationes) directed to the common good by those who are responsible for that community” (Kerr 105).

  1. Eternal

  2. Natural

  3. Human

  4. Divine

(2)-(4) are how the eternal law is worked out in providence. You can’t separate natural law from discussions of God.

GRACE AND JUSTIFICATION

(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

Part 2 of Second Part

Scope: This is Thomas’s course on virtue ethics.  Much is good, much bad.

The glory of the soul, which is the enjoyment of God, is the principle object, not the glory of the body (II.2.18.2).  True to an extent, but it’s not clear why Thomas needs the resurrection for this.

On Charity

There is a kind of friendship based on the communication between God and man (II.2.23.1).

Human acts are good as they are regulated by their due rule and measure (23.4).

Charity is infused in us (24.2). Every act of charity merits everlasting life (II.2.24.6). Mortal sin destroys charity entirely (24.10, 12). The spiritual life is an effect of charity.  Mortal sin destroys that.

Charity is capable of reflecting on itself.  The intellect reflects on the universal good, and since to will is a good, man can will himself to will.  Love, therefore, is a spontaneous movement of the lover to the thing loved (25.2).

While we are obligated to love our enemies, we are not obligated to show them all effects of love (25.9).

Key point: One’s obligation to love another is proportionate to the gravity of the sin one commits in acting against that love (2.26.6).

On Giving Alms

* Some are punished eternally for not giving alms (2.32.5).  By contrast, “almsdeeds deserve to be rewarded eternally through the merit of the recipient, who prays for the giver” (2.32.9).

* God gives us ownership of temporal goods but the use of them is directed to helping our neighbor).

Just War

Standard Augustinian stuff. Thomas gives several conditions: a) authority of the sovereign or leader waging it; b) just cause; c) right intentions.  Tyrannical governments are not just because they threaten the common weal (2.42.2).

The Glory of Monastic Life

It’s possible to go to heaven without being a monk, but it’s a lot harder.  Thomas speaks of being perfect.  He doesn’t mean sinless.  A thing’s perfection, rather, relates to charity, the consequences from charity, etc (2.186.3).

Various Nota Bene

* The church can compel secular power with regard to heresy and schism (2.39.4).

* Married sex increases concupiscence and is the contrary of the passage “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit” (2.186.4).  He quotes Augustine to the effect that when married people caress one another they are “cast down from manly mind” (Solil. 1.10).  Sorry, Reformed Thomists, but this is where the Reformation is a clear improvement.  Indeed, Thomas goes on to say that “perpetual continence is required for religious perfection.”

* Contrary to claims by Dutch Calvinists, there is no cultural activity in heaven (2.181.4).

Thomas’s Linguistic Fallacies

This type of thinking was quite common until recently.  It’s still painful to read, though.  For example, wisdom (sapientia) connotes sweetness because it comes from the word “saporem” (2.45.2).

Further, Thomas commits the word = concept fallacy.  For Thomas “religion” means “religious orders.”  Therefore, when James talks about “religion pure and undefiled,” this gives the sanction for man entering into religious orders (2.188.2).

A virtue is an operative habit (I-II, q.55, a2).

The Order of Love

Wherever there is a principle, there is an order.  Charity is of a “last end.”  Therefore, it has reference to a “First Principle” (26.1).

Christology: On Person and Nature

Nature designates the essence of the species. A suppositum is the whole which includes the nature as “its formal part” (III.2.2).

Something’s “assumption” includes the principle and term of the act (3.3.1). The principle of the assumption is the divine nature itself.  The term is the Person in whom it is considered to be. The act of the assumption proceeds from the divine power, which is common to the three persons.  The term of the assumption, being the second person, isn’t common to the three.

Thomas argues that Christ didn’t assume a generic human nature, since human nature cannot be apart from sensible matter (3.4.4).

Now to Christology proper.  The person of the Son of God is the suppositum of human nature.  For the most part, suppositum functions similar to hypostasis, so why doesn’t Thomas call it hypostasis?  I think his using “suppositum” allows him to affirm “one person” of the Son, pace Nestorius, yet acknowledge a human dimension to the Son’s person.  A suppositum is the existing hypostasis.

Why is this important?  If we take phrases like “Christ is God” or “this Man is God,” then strictly speaking it isn’t true.  By “Christ” do we mean the eternal Son, the human nature, both, neither?  Therefore, by understanding the hypostasis as a suppositum of the Second Person, we can say the above propositions.

A hypostasis is that which has being.   A nature is that by which it has being.

Treatise on the Sacraments

A sacrament is ordained to signify our sanctification (III.60.3). The cause of our sanctification is Christ’s passion.  The form is grace and the virtues.  The End is eternal life.

Do the sacraments cause grace?  Thomas says they do by distinguishing a principal cause and an instrumental cause (III.62.1). The principal cause works by the power of the form.  The instrumental is the cause by which it is moved.

The soul’s powers flow from its essence, “so from grace there flow certain perfections into the powers of the soul, which are called virtues and gifts” (III.62.2). Grace, accordingly, is in the sacrament as an instrumental power.

Sacramental grace: the principal efficient cause is God himself. This grace is to take away defects consequent on past sins, which hinder divine worship.

The sacraments, especially Orders, imprint a character on the soul.  (Thomas then has some horrendous exegesis of Hebrews 1, where he reads medieval Latin understandings of “character” into the koine Greeek.) The important part is that Thomas equates character and sealing of the Holy Spirit (cf. Schaff on this point; I think volume on Nicene Christianity).

The inward effect of all sacraments is justification (III.64.1).

Eschatology

The Empyrean heaven is a corporeal place (Supp. III.69.1).  It will have the souls of the righteous.  Venial sin is cleansed in purgatory.  Some souls can come and visit.

Thomas gives the standard medieval arguments for praying for the dead, and in reverse the saints can pray for us.  Here is where it gets tricky.  In response to the question, “Why can’t we just go to God?” Thomas answers, “There is a divine order where ‘the last should be led to God by those that are midway between’” (quoting Ps. Dionysius, Supp. III.72.2).  If pressed strictly, Thomas must admit there is no logical reason for us ever to pray to God.  He doesn’t forbid it, but given the above ontology we shouldn’t.  Indeed, he goes on to say that the “perfection of the universe demands” we go through saints.

Here’s the next problem: by what standard do I know that a deceased is a saint and not in Purgatory?  Presumably he would say the Church has decreed it.  Okay, where did the church gain that access to knowledge?

In terms of the signs preceding the End Times, he follows Augustine.

Notes of Interest

When Mary gave birth, Jesus didn’t break through her birth canal and damage the virginal purity (Supp. III.83.3).

On Hell

The saints see perfectly the sufferings of the damned (Supp. III.94.3). Divine justice and their own deliverance will indeed by a direct cause of the saints Joy at seeing the sufferings of the damned.

Conclusion

This book will change you.  It won’t necessarily change your theology, but you will grow in intellectual virtue by reading through it.  Thomas forces you to always work with the implications and connections.

Summa Theologica: Part 2 of II

This is something like Thomas’s account of virtue ethics.  Much is good.  Much is quite, quite bad.

Part 2 of Second Part

The glory of the soul, which is the enjoyment of God, is the principle object, not the glory of the body (II.2.18.2).  True to an extent, but it’s not clear why Thomas needs the resurrection for this.

On Charity

There is a kind of friendship based on the communication between God and man (II.2.23.1).

Human acts are good as they are regulated by their due rule and measure (23.4).

Charity is infused in us (24.2). Every act of charity merits everlasting life (II.2.24.6). Mortal sin destroys charity entirely (24.10, 12). The spiritual life is an effect of charity.  Mortal sin destroys that.

Charity is capable of reflecting on itself.  The intellect reflects on the universal good, and since to will is a good, man can will himself to will.  Love, therefore, is a spontaneous movement of the lover to the thing loved (25.2).

While we are obligated to love our enemies, we are not obligated to show them all effects of love (25.9).

Key point: One’s obligation to love another is proportionate to the gravity of the sin one commits in acting against that love (2.26.6).

On Giving Alms

* Some are punished eternally for not giving alms (2.32.5).  By contrast, “almsdeeds deserve to be rewarded eternally through the merit of the recipient, who prays for the giver” (2.32.9).

* God gives us ownership of temporal goods but the use of them is directed to helping our neighbor).

Just War

Standard Augustinian stuff. Thomas gives several conditions: a) authority of the sovereign or leader waging it; b) just cause; c) right intentions.  Tyrannical governments are not just because they threaten the common weal (2.42.2).

The Glory of Monastic Life

For Thomas, It’s possible to go to heaven without being a monk, but it’s a lot harder.  Thomas speaks of being perfect. He doesn’t mean sinless. A thing’s perfection, rather, relates to charity, the consequences from charity, etc (2.186.3). 

Various Nota Bene

* The church can compel secular power with regard to heresy and schism (2.39.4).

* Married sex increases concupiscence and is the contrary of the passage “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit” (2.186.4).  He quotes Augustine to the effect that when married people caress one another they are “cast down from manly mind” (Solil. 1.10). Sorry, Reformed Thomists, but this is where the Reformation is a clear improvement.  Indeed, Thomas goes on to say that “perpetual continence is required for religious perfection.”

* Contrary to claims by Dutch Calvinists, there is no cultural activity in heaven (2.181.4). Or so Thomas says.  I still lean towards Schilder.

Thomas’s Linguistic Fallacies

This type of thinking was quite common until recently.  It’s still painful to read, though. For example, wisdom (sapientia) connotes sweetness because it comes from the word “saporem” (2.45.2).

Further, Thomas commits the word = concept fallacy.  For Thomas “religion” means “religious orders.” Therefore, when James talks about “religion pure and undefiled,” this gives the sanction for man entering into religious orders (2.188.2).

Notes on Nichomachean Ethics, Books 1 and 2

Book I

The good is that at which all things aim.  The supreme good is eudaimion (unhappily–sorry for the pun–translated as “happiness”).  Happiness is living well and doing well (1095a). But where is happiness located? Not in the Forms, contra Plato, but in an activity of the soul.

Book 2

Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit.  Contra the later Christian tradition, virtues do not arise by nature in us (1103a).  Virtues are modes of choice located in the intermediate between two extremes. The intermediate is between excess and defect.

Edmund Spenser Reviews, Faerie Queene

Edmund Spenser structured his allegory around the Aristotelian virtues.

Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves

This is a modernized version of Book 1 of the Faerie Queene.

Roy Maynard ought to be commended for aiding us in reading Spenser. Personally, I think Spenser tells a better yarn than Shakespeare, with all due respect to the Bard. This book was written by a Christian, with powerful Christian overtones, and Christians will benefit the most from it.

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No, the hero is not perfect. Yes, he fails over and over again. But the battles he fights! The nature of forgiveness, pain, guilt, ecstatic joy–Spenser pulld no punches. And to point out another irony of historical revisionism prevalent in the public schools: Spenser has sexual allusions (fear not, for they are used to show, in the words of CS Lewis, “the fierceness of Chastity” and the bloody fight that its worth); even more shocking is that Spenser is a proto-Puritan, thus debunking the whole Puritan “prude” myth. By the way, the true hero in the book is King Arthur, not Redcrosse; you will see why later in the book.

The Elfin Knight

This is Book 2 of the Faerie Queene.

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Virtue: Temperance

Here is the allegory of Temperance. It follows the standard medieval warrior pilgrimage. Sumpter has done a fine job of modernizing the spelling while retaining the exalted style. However, there are a few flaws with Sumpter’s approach (I am not criticizing his work. It is literally one of a kind and preciously needed). Sumpter ignores (or doesn’t notice) Spenser’s Neo-Platonism. Without understanding Spenser’s commitment to Neo-Platonism, parts of the story are incoherent. Here are some themes that will guide the reader.:

Neo-Platonic Themes

Reason masters passions: “Yet with strong reason mastered passions frail” (VI.40). But this isn’t standard Neo-Platonism of the monkish sort. Passions aren’t bad. They just need to be guided by reason.

*Mediating Spirits. Neo-Platonism of its various forms sees a chain of being connecting all of reality. The material is suspended by the spiritual. Transcendence, therefore, can be found in the lowest link of the chain. Along this chain are mediating spirits (powers, angels, fairies).

*Because of his Neo-Platonism, Spenser sees a greater role for angels than we do today (VIII:1-2). Angels actively engage and empower man and thwart the enemy.

*It seems that Spenser identifies “Temperance” as a “god” (IX.1). Granted, he isn’t using god in the crude polytheistic sense. Rather, temperance seems to be a “power” or even “Archetype.” True, this could be merely poetic license, but given Spenser’s Neo-Platonism, it fits neatly.

*In the Bower of Bliss the heroes (Guyon and Palmer) come across a “false Genius.” If we accept that these characters (Genius et al) are Archetypes, we can then add the standard (neo)Platonic insight that the Archetypes and Forms have causal power. But we have a problem. The “Genius” here is a false Genius, as Spenser clearly argues (XII.47). So clearly this Genius isn’t the real genius, but a shadow one.

EXCURSUS: ALMA’S CASTLE

Alma’s Castle in Book X illustrates how thoroughly committed to Neo-Platonism (and how familiar with the occult) Spenser was. Sumpter isn’t aware of these connections.

Sumpter misses the implication that Memory has hermetic overtones (Yates 2014). Memory mediates a society’s passing down of Absolute Spirit (Magee 87).
Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

This brings us back to the Hermetic Art of Memory. “Imagination” is to evoke from memory the Perennial Philosophy. In other words, to echo Jung, it draws out from within the unconscious.

This is rather speculative. Is this what Spenser really had in mind? I think so. Dame Frances Yates argues that Spenser “inherited much more than Neo-Platonism” (Yates 2001, 112). Spenser describes the man (representing memory) as “of infinite remembrance” (IX.52). Man is finite, not infinite–unless man himself was drawing upon a universal subsconcious. I suggest this is what Spenser had in mind. (Interestingly, Yates comments specifically on this very Canto; 114).

Yates further argues that the structure Spenser gives suggests that Man is a Microcosm of the universe. In Canto 22 we read of a “circle” and a “triangle” with a “quadrate” (cube) in between. The four-sided cube represents the four elements of the world, which is proportioned equally by “seven and nine.” Seven is the number of the planets and nine is the angelic hierarchy. If the cube is between seven and nine, then it is an eight, or an octave. This could also represent the Temple of Solomon.

Conclusion:

Spenser’s work is literally the standard by which all other poetry is compared. Even though (or perhaps because of!) he is a Neo-Platonist, Spenser floods the senses (and the soul) with beauty and creates in the reader a desire not only for the good, but for the Beautiful, for the Heroic–indeed, for the Temperate.

This isn’t accidental. If what we have said about Forms/Archetypes’ having causal power, then then we can expect “pullings” upon our soul when reading Spenser.

Spenser’s most memorable creation is the Bower of Bliss (as Lewis said, no prude can read Spenser). Guyon’s actions represent a neat twist in Neo-Platonism. The most temperate action is to go into a frenzy and destroy the Bower. This isn’t what we expect from a Neo-Platonist. Spenser doesn’t negate the passions–he calls them into Reasons’s service, but all the while they remain very, very passional. Spenser may have just squared the circle: he may have just redeemed Neo-Platonism. Guyon isn’t an Anchorite who tries to transcend the realm of passions.

What about Sumpter’s annotations? They are a mixed bag. When Sumpter is explaining ethics, theology, or literary symbolism, his annotations are amazing. When he tries to be funny they are worse than awful. Remember the Ron Swanson style of humor? If you have to try hard to be funny, you aren’t. Hilarity should flow from your very being. You shouldn’t have to strain to be funny. I say that because some of the wannabe funny footnotes seriously distract from the story.