Orosian Middle Ages

John of Salisbury, the 12th-century political thinker, called Orosius, author of Seven Books of HIstories against the Pagans, a “disciple of the great Augustine.” It’s true. According to Francis Oakley (Empty Bottles of Gentilism), Orosius “had studied with Augustine from 414 to 415, and he himself tells us that it was Augustine who had asked him to undertake the writing of the Seven Books. . . . When he finished the work in 417, it was to Augustine that he… Read more

Imperial Overreach

Elizabeth Digeser (Making of a Christian Empire) observes that the Roman emperor Diocletian came to the purple with a disadvantage: He was a usurper. He needed to secure his power, lest another usurp his place. His strategy was to distribute power to a Tetrarchy, and to claim divine right for his rule. He started right away with the latter process, emphasizing the approval of the gods in the accession: “Diocletian’s mints claimed that he was under Jupiter’s care (Juppiter conservator Augusti). Other… Read more

Subsistent Relations?

Thomas argues (ST I, 28, 2) that since “everything which is not the divine essence is a creature” and “relation really belongs to god,” it follows that relation is identical to essence. More fully: “whatever has an accidental existence in creatures, when considered as transferred to God has a substantial existence; for there is no accident in God; since all in Him is His essence. So, in so far as relation has an accidental existence in creatures, relation really existing… Read more

Modernizing Sculpture

Peter Schjeldahl claims that Auguste Rodin “or his hand, as his mind’s executive—wrenched figurative sculpture from millennia of tradition and sent it tumbling into modernity.” He admits that There’s a stubborn tinge of vulgarity about Rodin, inseparable from his strength.” Yet even when we are put off by vulgarity, “your gaze is going to stop, again, and widen at the sight of one or another work of his. What does it is a touch that thinks.” The vulgarity is related to… Read more

Baffled Theology

“The doctrine of the Trinity is only possible as a piece of baffled theology,” writes Joseph Ratzinger (Introduction to Christianity, 122). This is true in a sheer historical sense: “Every one of the big basic concepts in the doctrine of the Trinity was condemned at one time or another; they were all adopted only after the frustration of a condemnation; they are accepted only inasmuch as they are at the same time branded as unusuable and admitted simply as poor… Read more

Translating Homer

Reviewing two new translations of the Iliad (by Peter Green and Barry Powell), Hayden Pelliccia explores some of the challenges of translating Homer. It starts from the very beginning. Homer writes (in Greek word order): “Wrath sing, goddess, Peleus-son Achilles’, baneful, which hurled.” What’s an English translator to do? Pelliccia summarizes the options: “The very first line of the Iliad forces any English-language translator to decide immediately and to declare conspicuously whether he would rather be caught betraying his poet or his own… Read more

Butler as Metaphor

The responses to the Nobel selection of Kazuo Ishiguro for the 2017 literature prize drew mixed, underwhelmed  responses. Someone wrote that he wasn’t awarded the prize for any recent books. The Paris Review, though, posted an old interview to celebrate. As readers of Ishiguro’s novels would expect, the author comes off as gentle, self-deprecating, thoughtful. When the interviewer asks about the origins of his best-known novel, The Remains of the Day, the author answers: “It started with a joke that my… Read more

Miniaturizing Sin

Peter Brown reviews of Sarah Ruden’s new translation of Augustine’s Confessions in this weeks New York Review of Books. I can’t speak to the translation, but I can speak to the reviewer: Everything Peter Brown writes is worth reading. He comments on Ruden’s decision to translate dominus as “master” (as in master of slaves) rather than as “Lord.” Brown thinks Ruden captures some tonalities that might otherwise be missed, but gently worries that Ruden might underplay “Augustine’s images of the tenderness of God.”… Read more

The Real Proximity of God

In Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger explains how the dogma of the Trinity emerged from early Christian experience. The apostles discovered that “in Jesus Christ one meets a man who at the same time knows and professes himself to be the Son of God. One finds God in the shape of the ambassador who is completely God and not some kind of intermediary being, yet with us says to God ‘Father'” (115). Ratzinger calls it a “paradox”: “one the one… Read more

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