Politics (Great Book Reading Project)

There is so much worth commenting on in the opening pages of Aristotle’s Politics that it is difficult to choose just one or two things to discuss here. For now, I will confine myself to a thought that occurred to me while reading this and which links Aristotle’s ideas to events in the modern world. This is the notice I took of Aristotle’s linking of the family and the state.

While it is difficult to discern the direction in which causality flows, there can be little doubt, from an objective historical perspective, that the erosion of the traditional family in the modern world has been coincidental with a dramatic increase in state power. This is especially true of the increase in state control of matters which formerly were the prerogative of church, community, and family. The very existence of such things family courts and public schools testify to the truth of this proposition.

In the light of the relationship between the family and the state in the modern world, Aristotle’s discussion of the family as the most basic unit of the state here is quite fascinating and illuminating. What do you make of the relationship between the two in the light of Aristotle’s comments on the matter?

The importance of the Scriptures

Each time I read the writings of any of the Church Fathers, the one impression with which I continually walk away is the central position which the Scriptures held in their lives. For all of them without exception, the Scriptures were living documents of the utmost importance. In a world filled with distractions, this is a point about which the modern person must constantly be reminded.

Most of us today live according to a busy schedule that might include obligations to work, family, and children. I am certainly no exception. I am a fulltime teacher, a fulltime student, and a father of two young children whom my wife and I homeschool together. The obligations are nearly endless. From the time my alarm clock rings early in the morning until I finally lay down in bed late at night, my day is filled with teaching, reading, writing, taking children to doctor’s appointments, grading students’ tests, attending meetings, and, when it can be sneaked into my schedule, actually being able to enjoy the life I have worked so hard to build and spending some quality time with my family. In the midst of all of this, it is too tempting and too easy to see things like prayer, quiet meditation, and the devotional reading of and reflection upon the Scriptures as superfluous things, as if they could be pushed to a later time or even ignored altogether.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to what we find in the writings of the Church Fathers. They lived and believed in a world saturated, informed, and pervaded by the Scriptures. The readiness with which they could reference any verse or story of the Bible and apply it to their own lives and to the events of the world around them is impressive. For them, the Bible was perpetually relevant; it was, in fact, the most relevant book ever written and remained so in all ages. It was not a stale record of the past and reading it was no superfluity. Illiterate monks memorized the entire Book of Psalms and prayed it daily. Great Christian leaders like St. John Chrysostom, a fourth century archbishop of Constantinople, memorized the entirety of the New Testament. And I, it seems, can barely find the time or motivation to read just a chapter or two of the Scriptures each day.

St. Augustine’s words in his On Christian Teaching sound as if they were addressed directly to me: “men,” he says, “… in their eagerness to enjoy the creature instead of the Creator … [grow] into the likeness of this world.” This is a basic principle perhaps captured in the modern idiom “you are what you eat.” Yet, in spite of its obviousness, it is easy to forget the truth of this. Whatever we spend our time taking into ourselves, whether into our minds or our bodies, we will become.

More than any specific point on the interpretation of Scripture, I believe this is the point which myself and perhaps most other modern men of faith should remember from the Fathers and put into practice. Reading from and reflection upon the Scriptures should again become central to our lives. For those like me, this will take a serious readjustment of priorities and, no doubt, more than a little rescheduling of other important things, but, in the end, as the Fathers tell us so plainly by both their words and deeds, this is ultimately to put all things in their proper place.

1 Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, Book I, Chapter 12.

Belief without certainty

For I ask, if what is not known must not be believed, in what way may children do service to their parents, and love with mutual affection those whom they believe not to be their parents? For it cannot, by any means, be known by reason. But the authority of the mother comes in, that it be believed of the father; but of the mother it is usually not the mother that is believed, but midwives, nurses, servants. For she, from whom a son may be stolen and another put in his place, may she not being deceived deceive? Yet we believe, and believe without any doubt, what we confess we cannot know. For who but must see, that unless it be so, filial affection, the most sacred bond of the human race, is violated by extreme pride of wickedness? For what madman even would think him to be blamed who discharged the duties that were due to those whom he believed to be his parents, although they were not so? Who, on the other hand, would not judge him to deserve banishment, who failed to love those who were perhaps his true parents, through fear lest he should love pretended. Many things may be alleged, whereby to show that nothing at all of human society remains safe, if we shall determine to believe nothing, which we cannot grasp by full apprehension.

St. Augustine of Hippo, On the Profit of Believing, 26