I’ve been collecting fragments from the writings and sayings of others for nearly forty years. They have always struck me as pieces of a vast mosaic that is being slowly and painstakingly assembled. As in an actual mural mosaic (Byzantine, complex, more than the sum of its parts), if one stands too close to it the image blurs. Focus on a single component and the part becomes the whole, throwing all into misinterpretation. Stand back, find proportion, locate the range of vision, and the portrait emerges. It is my hope that through the passages quoted here a portrait of humanity will emerge, and beyond it the hidden face of Christ become more visible.
The following is a work in progress, to which I will be adding all sorts of fragments from time to time. (New quotations are added at the end of the document.)
Michael D. O’Brien
Pauper sum ego.
Cor meum dabo.
(I am a poor man.
Nothing do I have.
I will give you my heart.)
— author unknown
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth . . . which every man’s heart desires.
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
I know that all times are perilous, and that in every time serious and anxious minds, alive to the honour of God and the needs of man, are apt to consider no times so perilous as their own. At all times the enemy of souls assaults with fury the Church which is their true Mother, and at least threatens and frightens when he fails in doing mischief. And all times have their special trials which others have not. And so far I will admit that there were certain specific dangers to Christians at certain other times, which do not exist in this time. Doubtless, but still admitting this, still I think that the trials which lie before us are such as would appall and make dizzy even such courageous hearts as St. Athanasius, St. Gregory I, or St. Gregory VII. And they would confess that dark as the prospect of their own day was to them severally, ours has a darkness different in kind from any that has been before it. The special peril of the time before us is the spread of that plague of infidelity, that the Apostles and our Lord Himself have predicted as the worst calamity of the last times of the Church. And at least a shadow, a typical image of the last times is coming over the world.
— Venerable John Henry Newman (1801-1890), cardinal, October 2, 1873 sermon, “The Infidelity of the Future”
It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognizing fully what they were doing— was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.
— Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (1981). The third edition (2007) published by University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana.
Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us. Practically, we are required to be patient in many ways: for there are some things, trials and crosses, which come to us from God; others, temptations and enticements, that come to us from our old adversary the devil. Still other difficulties arise from our neighbor: persecution, complaints, unjust accusations. Against all this we must be ever on guard lest we give way to complaining against trials our Maker sends us; lest again we be led astray into sin, which is what the devil wants; or to be overly disturbed by the thoughtlessness or unkindness of others. For if we want to have our own way always aren’t we really seeking our reward here below in the things of this life? Let us couple patience and long-suffering in the spirit of meekness and faith (and so bring forth fruit in patience)!
— St. Anthony of Padua
The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see the final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.
— from the Preface to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
One of the greatest paradoxes of the spiritual condition of humanity—and an essential element in the mystery of the Cross—is that prosperity of any kind tends to draw men away from God. The poor keep the Faith when the rich apostatize. The dark ages are ages of faith, while progress brings doubt and even scorn toward the truth which is God’s and the God who is Truth. Martyrdom builds the Faith, oppression strengthens it, while to be “at ease in Zion” opens the gates to every kind of temptation. . . These times, these persecutions produced saints innumerable. But it may well be that the greatest saints of all are those sent in times of progress and prosperity, to recall men from sloth and greed and moral corruption, and call them back to their duty as children of God. For in those ages it is easiest for a man to lose his soul, and hardest of all to be a saint.
— Warren H. Carroll, A History of Christendom, Vol. 3, p.159
We should measure affection not by the ardor of its passion, but by its strength and constancy.
He who makes no mistakes does not normally make anything.
When I was a boy of fourteen my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned.
— Mark Twain
A family is composed not only of children, but of fathers, mothers, an occasional animal and at times, the common cold.
— Ogden Nash
If you think that something small cannot make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.
God usually chooses the weakest and simplest souls as tools for His greatest works; that we can see that this is an undeniable truth when we look at the men He chose to be His apostles; or again, when we look at the history of the Church and see what great works were done by souls that were the least capable of accomplishing them; for it is just in this way that God’s works are revealed for what they are, the works of God.
— St. Faustina Kowalska, Diaries
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.
— T. S. Eliot
The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
— Linus Pauling
He who understands truth without loving it, or loves without understanding, possesses neither the one nor the other.
— St. Bernard of Clairvaux
From the beginning, my Church has been what it is today, and will be until the end of time, a scandal to the strong, a disappointment to the weak, the ordeal and consolation of those interior souls who seek in it nothing but myself. Yes, whoever looks for me will find me there; but he will have to look, and I am better hidden than people think. I am more difficult to discover than I was in the little stable at Bethlehem for those who will not approach me humbly, in the footsteps of the shepherds and the Magi. . . . If you want to find me there, do as they did on the old road to Judea, buried under the snow, and ask for the only thing you need— a star and a pure heart.
— George Bernanos
Sanctity does not consist in these or those exercises and achievements; it consists in a disposition of the heart which allows us to remain small and humble in the arms of God, knowing our weakness and trusting to the point of rashness in his Fatherly goodness. . . .
My desires for martyrdom mean nothing . . . this isn’t what God finds pleasing in my little soul. What pleases him is seeing me love my littleness and my poverty, is the blind hope which I have in his mercy . . . you have to consent always to staying poor and strengthless, and that is the difficult part . . . Trust, and nothing but trust, should lead us to love.
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Where everything is given, nothing is lacking.
— St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves. Jesus Christ not only reveals God, but “fully reveals man to man”.(23) In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, “awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny.
— John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 1999
There is an integrating, healing power issuing from a picture in which things have been restored their integrity by the artist, or in which they have been given sorrow for their dismemberment. The world opens, unfolds, and is enriched this way; otherwise it shrivels. For there is something consuming in the phenomenon of demolition, consuming far beyond the object which has been demolished. (The end of this demolition is the atom bomb which tolerates nothing whole besides itself.)
— Max Picard
Write quickly and you will never write well. Write well, and you will soon write quickly.
— Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, 65 A.D.
The wastepaper basket is the writer’s best friend.
— Isaac Bashevis Singer
The essence of the love of God does not lie in affections or in sweet words, but solely in the will. If the soul perseveres decisively with its will fixed on holiness and love of God, although it does not experience the least feeling in its heart, let it be wholly convinced that it continually tends with rapid pace forward and ever pushes upward.
— St. Maximilian Kolbe
Only love creates.
— St. Maximilian Kolbe
We are God’s work of art.
— St. Paul
Deliver me, O Jesus
From the desire of being loved.
from the desire of being extolled,
from the desire of being honoured,
from the desire of being praised,
from the desire of being preferred,
from the desire of being consulted,
from the desire of being approved,
from the desire of being popular,
from the fear of being humiliated,
from the fear of being despised,
from the fear of being rebuked,
from the fear of being calumniated,
from the fear of being wronged,
from the fear of being ridiculed,
from the fear of being suspected.
— Mother Theresa of Calcutta
The power of evil men lies in the cowardice of the good.
— St. John Bosco
Men are excessively ruthless and cruel not as a rule from avowed malice but from outraged righteousness. How much more is this time of legally constituted states, invested with all the seeming moral authority of parliaments and congresses and courts of justice! The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless.
— Paul Johnson, Modern Times
It is true that the delay in creating public pressure for euthanasia has been due to the fact that it was one of the war crimes cited at Neurenberg. So, for The Guiness Book of World Records, you can submit this: that it takes about thirty years in our humane society to transform a war crime into an act of compassion.
— Malcolm Muggeridge
One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited his goodness, you are done with him. The Aylmers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down imperfection, they are making headway into the raw material of good. Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility, and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.
— Flannery O’Connor
Every man who begets a free act projects his personality into the infinite. If he gives a poor man a penny grudgingly, that penny pierces the poor man’s hand, falls, pierces the earth, bores holes in suns, crosses the firmament and compromises the universe. If he begets an impure act, he perhaps darkens thousands of hearts whom he does not know.
— Léon Bloy, Le Désespéré
We shall steer safely through every storm so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God.
— St. Francis de Sales
The deepest value in divine communication does not lie in clear concepts or blueprints for future action. It lies in a deeper drinking of the divine, a drinking that is in general, dark, nonconceptual, love-immersed. If a person pays much attention to the clear words or ideas he has “heard” at prayer, he is absorbed in finite particulars rather than with the God who is infinitely beyond the best of our concepts. In pilgrimage we journey to the fatherland best not in clear ideas, but in dark faith.
— Fr. Thomas Dubay, Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment
The artistic temperament has its dangers, and not only if the artist fails to understand the sanctity of his calling. The danger is that the artist may rest satisfied with the creation of the image, as if no other demands were made on him. Our meaning will become especially clear in the case of the image of the Cross. There is scarcely a believing artist who will never have felt the urge to represent Christ crucified or carrying his cross. But from the artist, too, the crucified Lord demands more than such an image. He asks of him as from very other man that he should follow him: that he should form himself, and let himself be formed, into the image of him who bore the Cross and died on it.
— St. Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross
Jesus Christ meets the man of every age, including our own, with the same words: “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” These words contain a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world. Today also, even after two thousand years, we see Christ as the one who brings man freedom based on truth, frees man from what curtails, diminishes and, as it were, breaks off freedom at its root, in man’s soul, his heart and his conscience.
— John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis
If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint.
— St. Ignatius Loyola
My child, let not the labours which you have undertaken for My sake crush you. Nor let any trouble cause you to lose heart. For whatever happens, have confidence that my promise will be your strength and consolation. Your labour here will not be of long duration, and you will not always be oppressed with sorrows. Wait a little while and you will see an end to all your troubles. The hour will come sooner than you think. Continue on with what you are doing; labour perseveringly in my vineyard, and I myself will be your reward.
— Thomas a Kempis, from The Imitation of Christ
There is nothing Mary has that is for herself alone—not even her son. God looked over the whole world for an empty heart—not a lonely heart. And the emptiest heart he could find was that of a Lady. Since there was no self there, he filled it with his very self.
— Archbishop Fulton Sheen, from The World’s First Love
Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim 4:2-5) I would say that this expresses the essence of what I consider to be my standard at this time.
— Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth
If men use their liberty in such a way as to surrender their liberty, are they thereafter any the less slaves? If people by a plebiscite elect a man despot over them, do they remain free because the despotism was of their own making?
— Herbert Spencer, The New Toryism, 1884
Human fatherhood gives us an anticipation of what He is. But when this fatherhood does not exist, when it is experienced only as a biological phenomenon, without its human and spiritual dimension, all statements about God the Father are empty. The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity. The dissolution of fatherhood and motherhood is linked to the dissolution of our being sons and daughters. . . .
The Apocalypse speaks about God’s antagonist, the beast. This animal does not have a name, but a number. . . . In their horror, they [Nazi concentration camps] cancel faces and history, transforming man into a number, reducing him to a cog in an enormous machine. Man is no more than a function. . . . In our days, we should not forget that they prefigured the destiny of a world that runs the risk of adopting the same structure of the concentration camps, if the universal law of the machine is accepted. The machines that have been constructed impose the same law. According to this logic, man must be interpreted by a computer and this is only possible if translated into numbers. The beast is a number and transforms into numbers. God, however, has a name and calls by name. He is a person and looks for the person.
— Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, from a talk delivered in Palermo, Sicily, March 15, 2000
“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity. They were lying prostrate from exhaustion, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Look round, I say, and answer, why it is that there is so much change, so much strife, so many parties and sects, so many creeds? because men are unsatisfied and restless; and why restless, with every one his psalm, his doctrine, his tongue, his revelation, his interpretation? They are restless because they have not found. Alas! so it is, in this country called Christian, vast numbers have gained little from religion, beyond a thirst after what they have not, a thirst for their true peace, and the fever and restlessness of thirst. It has not yet brought them into the Presence of Christ, in which “is fulness of joy” (Jn 15:11) and “pleasure for evermore.” (Ps 16:11)…
O sad and pitiable spectacle, when the people of Christ wander on the hills as “sheep which have no shepherd;” and instead of seeking Him in His ancient haunts and His appointed home, busy themselves in human schemes, follow strange guides, are taken captive by new opinions, become the sport of chance, or of the humour of the hour, or the victims of self-will, are full of anxiety, and perplexity, and jealousy, and alarm, “tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” (Eph 4:14) —and all because they do not seek the “one body” and the “one Spirit,” and the “one hope of their calling,” the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” (Eph 4:5-6) and find rest for their souls! (Mt 11:29)
— John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Sermons on Subjects of the Day, § 21
Blessed are thy Saints, O God and King, who have traveled over the tempestuous sea of this mortal life, and have made the harbour of peace and felicity. Watch over us who are still in our dangerous voyage; and remember such as lie exposed to the rough storms of trouble and temptations. Frail is our vessel, and the ocean is wide; but as in thy mercy thou hast set our course, so steer the vessel of our life toward the everlasting shore of peace, and bring us at length to the quiet haven of our heart’s desire, where thou, O our God, are blessed, and livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.
— St. Augustine
History, in fact, is not alone in the hands of dark powers, chance or human choices. Over the unleashing of evil energies, the vehement irruption of Satan, and the emergence of so many scourges and evils, the Lord rises, supreme arbiter of historical events. He leads history wisely towards the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth, sung in the final part of the book under the image of the new Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 21-22).
— Benedict XVI
Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one’s own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things. All artists experience the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardour of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpting, their creating is no more than a glimmer of the splendour which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit.
— John Paul II, Letter to Artists
We must become accustomed to the sufferings which Jesus will be pleased to send us. Jesus, who cannot bear to keep you in a state of affliction at length, will come to help and comfort you, by instilling new courage in your spirit.
— St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)
The words of the Bible and of the Church Fathers rang in my ears, those sharp condemnations of shepherds who are like mute dogs; in order to avoid conflicts, they let the poison spread. Peace is not the first civic duty, and a bishop whose only concern is not to have any problem and to gloss over as many conflicts as possible is an image I find repulsive.
— Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth
Man has lost his capacity for living with himself, nauseated and bored by the void of an interior life gutted by despair… Curiosity reaches the extremes of its destructive and eradicating power when it builds itself a world according to its own image and likeness: when it surrounds itself with the restlessness of a perpetual moving picture of meaningless shows, and with the literally deafening noise of impressions and sensations breathlessly rushing past the windows of the senses. Behind the flimsy pomp of its façade dwells absolute nothingness… If such an illusory world threatens to overgrow and smother the world of real things, then to restrain the natural wish to see takes on the character of a measure of self-protection and self-defense.
— Josef Pieper, Fortitude and Temperance
A sentimentalist (and the pessimist is here included as identical) is one whose desire that things be happy (or sad) exceeds his desire (and suppressed knowledge) that things be truthful; he demands that he be lied to.
—Thornton Wilder, The Journals of Thornton Wilder
“You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”
Jesus always promised his disciples peace, both before his death and after his resurrection, always peace (John 14:27; Luke 24: 36). Never did the disciples receive this peace outwardly, but they garnered peace in suffering, in their struggles and love and, in death, they found life. They found joyful victory, too, when before this death they were interrogated, judged and condemned. They were true witnesses.
Yes, there are many who are filled with sweetness in body and soul, penetrating even to the marrow and veins, but when there follows suffering, darkness, interior and exterior abandonment, then they no longer know what to do with themselves. They come to a full stop and, from that, there issues nothing. When terrible storms come upon them, interior abandonment, exterior temptations from the world, the flesh and the Enemy, whoever is able to go through it all will find the profound peace that no one can take away from them. But whoever does not take this path is left behind and will never taste true peace. From this you know who are Christ’s true witnesses.
— John Tauler (c.1300-1361), Dominican friar, Sermon 21 for the Ascension
“The Catholic Church is the only thing which prevents a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”
— G. K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion
From Credo For Today: What Christians Believe (Ignatius Press, 2009), by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI):
The Christian is the person who does not calculate; rather, he does something extra. He is in fact the lover, who does not ask, “How much farther can I go and still remain within the realm of venial sin, stopping short of mortal sin?” Rather, the Christian is the one who simply seeks what is good, without any calculation. A merely righteous man, the one who is only concerned with doing what is correct, is a Pharisee; only he who is not merely righteous is beginning to be a Christian. Of course, that does not, by a long way, mean that a Christian is a person who does nothing wrong and has no failings. On the contrary, he is the person who knows that he does have failings and who is generous with God and with other people because he knows how much he depends on the generosity of God and of his fellowmen. The generosity of someone who knows he is in debt to everyone else, who is quite unable to attempt to maintain a correctness that would allow him to make strict demands in return: that is the true guiding light of the ethical code that Jesus is proclaiming (cf. Matthew 18:13-35). This is the mystery, at once incredibly demanding and liberating, to be found behind the word “superabundance”, without which there can be no Christian righteousness. (pp. 14-15)
I have been looking for spontaneous generation for twenty years without discovering it. No, I do not judge it impossible. But what allows you to make it the origin of life? You place matter before life and you decide that matter has existed for all eternity. How do you know that the incessant progress of science will not compel scientists to consider that life has existed during eternity, and not matter? You pass from matter to life because your intelligence of today cannot conceive things otherwise. How do you know that in ten thousand years one will not consider it more likely that matter has emerged from life?
— Dr. Louis Pasteur
God cannot fill what is full. He can only fill emptiness, deep poverty, and your “Yes” is the beginning of being or becoming empty. It is not how much we really “have” to give, but how empty we are, so that we can receive fully in our life and let Him live his life in us.
— Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
“Ask the beauty of the earth, ask the beauty of the sea, ask the beauty of the ample and diffused air. Ask the beauty of heaven, ask the order of the stars, ask the sun, which with its splendor brightens the day; ask the moon, which with its clarity moderates the darkness of night. Ask the beasts that move in the water, that walk on the earth, that fly in the air: souls that hide, bodies that show themselves; the visible that lets itself be guided, the invisible that guides. Ask them! All will answer you: Look at us, we are beautiful! Their beauty makes them known. This mutable beauty, who has created it if not Immutable Beauty?”
— St. Augustine (Sermo CCXLI, 2: PL 38, 1134).
We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate. The real labour is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake.
— C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm
In reading the Epistles, Augustine discovered that the evil from which he was suffering was not peculiar to him; it was found in all men since the sin of Adam. The vain pride in his effort arose from the fact that, being able to fall by himself, he thought himself capable of raising himself by his own resources. Here, too, the remedy consisted in accepting what God offered and what man could not give himself. Plunged in concupiscence and the resulting disorders, Augustine looked with envy upon the serene calm of an Ambrose and the Fathers of the Desert. He then knew its source; it was grace. As faith gives to the intellect the truth that escapes it, so grace gives to the heart the purity it desires. Through grace, not only can man see from a distance the goal he is seeking, he can reach it.
—Etienne Gilson, “The Idea of Philosophy in St. Augustine and in St. Thomas Aquinas,” in A Gilson Reader, Image Books, Doubleday, 1957.
Who, then, can be so shameful as to desire to enter into the kingdom of Christ with ease, when he himself did not enter into his own kingdom without pain?
— St. Thomas More
The mind of More was like a diamond that a tyrant threw away into a ditch, because he could not break it.
—G. K. Chesterton
In his 1947 book, The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis wrote about the way education shapes and reshapes our sense of morality. He warned about the blindness of a growing social engineering class (which he called the Conditioners) who through education and other social organs promoted their limited concept of man and society. Driven by a kind of social-revolutionary fervor, they lacked genuine moral courage and moral vision. What was then a small trend, though spreading rapidly, has now, 60 years later, come to dominate the entire Western world.
In the passage below, Lewis refers to “Nature” in the sense of instinctive drives in man. Nature cannot be treated as so much raw material for the service of our egoism, social experiments, or industrial exploitation. Our effects to control it through supposedly rational measures (reason divorced from conscience) will always backfire on us. Any attempt to manipulate it to our own ends, either by greedily exploiting it, or worshiping it, or reconstructing it according to theories, will unleash unexpected negative consequences. Nature must be approached with respect, and human nature above all must be respected. Whenever Natural Law and the moral imperatives of Supernatural Law are ignored, Man is the first victim. The exploitive industrialist and the ecologist alike, though seemingly in opposition to each other, bring about the same end result—the abolition of Man—that is, the negation of his true meaning and dignity, the violation of his eternal value. This translates into the destruction of human beings in the name of “humanity.”
“At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by step, to this conclusion. All Nature’s apparent reverses have been tactical withdrawals. We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on.”
— C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
There’s nothing wrong with absorbing information quickly and in bits and pieces. We’ve always skimmed newspapers more than we’ve read them, and we routinely run our eyes over books and magazines to get the gist of a piece of writing and decide whether it warrants more thorough reading. The ability to scan and browse is as important as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. The problem is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Once a means to an end, a way to identify information for further study, it’s becoming an end in itself—our preferred method of both learning and analysis. Dazzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture.
What we’re experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting.
—Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
—President Abraham Lincoln, March 30, 1863, Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day
“To suffer and to be happy although suffering, to have one’s feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly to sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.”
—St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein)
“A silent look of affection and regard when all other eyes are turned coldly away—the consciousness that we possess the sympathy and affection of one being when all others have deserted us—is a hold, a stay, a comfort, in the deepest affliction, which no wealth could purchase, or power bestow.”
— Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
“The thing which is valuable and lovable in our eyes is man—the old beer-drinking, creed-making, fighting, failing, sensual, respectable man. And the things that have been founded on this creature immortally remain; the things that have been founded on the fancy of the Superman have died with the dying civilizations which alone have given them birth. When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its corner-stone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.”
—G. K. Chesterton, Heretics
“What can convince modern man is not a historical or a psychological or a continually ever modernizing Christianity but only the unrestricted and uninterrupted message of Revelation.”
— Romano Guardini
“Therein lies the nobility of the Faith: that we have the heart to dare something.”
— Blessed Cardinal Newman
“The grace of God will not take you where the grace of God will not sustain you.”
— St. Augustine
“Only if we assume that a poet constantly strives to liberate himself from borrowed styles in search for reality, is he dangerous. In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.”
— Czeslaw Milosz, poet, 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature
It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really “happened,” and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded of him — so incapable of being “invented” by anyone in the world at that time: such as “before Abraham came to be I am” (John VIII). “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John IX); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John VI: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.” We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences…
“It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid a general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.”
— Soren Kierkegaard
“The prisoners were one and all put to productive work. Only those who proved utterly incapable of any kind of useful work were set to pick up oakum, or to write criticism for the newspapers.”
—Samuel Butler, Erewhon
A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.
“Modern mass culture, aimed at the ‘consumer’, the civilisation of prosthetics, is crippling people’s souls, setting up barriers between man and the crucial questions of his existence, his consciousness of himself as a spiritual being.”
—Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time
The tempter, ever on the watch, wages war most violently against those whom he sees most careful to avoid sin.
—Pope Saint Leo the Great (391-461)
“Each oppression by a stronger state on a weaker one, each unjust violence, each odious conquest, always must be draped in a mantle of apparent legitimacy and given moral and juridical justification, so that the aggressor, who in reality relies only on superiority of arms and acts solely from pride and greed, can proclaim that he is motivated only by the cause of human and divine law. It is a ridiculous hypocrisy of the wicked masquerading as the righteous. It fools no one; but for all that, in every march of invading armies, it is repeated with exasperating monotony. So through the centuries there has been a series of these dismal comedies, enacted on scenes of fearful tragedy, so that the most brutal tyrant can present himself in the guise of a celestial messenger, an avenging angel brandishing a sword of righteousness.”
—Arnaldo Fortini, Francis of Assisi