To the Fates

by Friedrich Hölderlin

Grant me a single summer, you lords of all,
   A single autumn, for the fullgrown song,
      So that, with such sweet playing sated,
         Then my heart may die more willing.

The soul, in life robbed of its godly right,
   Rests not, even in Orcus down below;
      Yet should I once achieve my heart’s
         First holy concern, the poem,

Welcome then, O stillness of the shadow world!
   Even if down I go without my
      Music, I shall be satisfied; once
         Like gods I shall have lived, more I need not.

God, man, and beauty in eternity

It is foolish, good people, for you to fret and complain of the chain of this fixed sequence of life’s realities; you do not know the goal towards which each single dispensation of the universe is moving. You do not know that all things have to be assimilated to the Divine Nature in accordance with the artistic plan of their author, in a certain regularity and order. Indeed, it was for this that intelligent beings came into existence; namely, that the riches of the Divine blessings should not lie idle. The All-creating Wisdom fashioned these souls, these receptacles with free wills, as vessels as it were, for this very purpose, that there should be some capacities able to receive His blessings and become continually larger with the inpouring of the stream. Such are the wonders that the participation in the Divine blessings works: it makes him into whom they come larger and more capacious; from his capacity to receive it gets for the receiver an actual increase in bulk as well, and he never stops enlarging. The fountain of blessings wells up unceasingly, and the partaker’s nature, finding nothing superfluous and without a use in that which it receives, makes the whole influx an enlargement of its own proportions, and becomes at once more wishful to imbibe the nobler nourishment and more capable of containing it; each grows along with each, both the capacity which is nursed in such abundance of blessings and so grows greater, and the nurturing supply which comes on in a flood answering to the growth of those increasing powers. It is likely, therefore, that this bulk will mount to such a magnitude as there is no limit to check, so that we should not grow into it. With such a prospect before us, are you angry that our nature is advancing to its goal along the path appointed for us? Why, our career cannot be run thither-ward, except that which weighs us down, I mean this encumbering load of earthiness, be shaken off the soul; nor can we be domiciled in Purity with the corresponding part of our nature, unless we have cleansed ourselves by a better training from the habit of affection which we have contracted in life towards this earthiness. But if there be in you any clinging to this body, and the being unlocked from this darling thing give you pain, let not this, either, make you despair. You will behold this bodily envelopment, which is now dissolved in death, woven again out of the same atoms, not indeed into this organization with its gross and heavy texture, but with its threads worked up into something more subtle and ethereal, so that you will not only have near you that which you love, but it will be restored to you with a brighter and more entrancing beauty.

St. Macrina the Younger, in St. Gregory of Nyssa, “On the Soul and Resurrection”

Meaninglessness of man’s moment

In some remote corner … of the universe there was once a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. It was the most arrogant and mendacious moment of ‘universal history’: but only a moment. Nature took but a few breaths and the star grew cold; and the clever animals had to die. — Someone might invent such a fable as this and yet still not have illustrated well enough how pitiful, how shadowy and fleeting, how aimless and capricious the human intellectual appears within nature. There were eternities in which it did not exist; when it has gone again nothing will have happened. For there exists for that intellect no mission extending beyond the life of man.

Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Falsehood in an Extra-Moral Sense” (unpublished), quoted in R.J. Hollingdale, “Theories and Innovations in Nietzsche,” in Peter R. Sedgwick, Nietzsche: A Critical Reader, p. 114

The way and the goal

Buddha, the “Perfected” and perfecter, asserts not. He refuses to claim that unity exists or does not exist; that he who has passed through all the trials of immersion will persist in unity after death or that he will not persist in it. This refusal, this “noble silence,” has been explained in two ways. Theoretically: because perfection is said to elude the categories of thought and assertion. Practically: because the unveiling of such truths would not aid salvation. In truth both explanations belong together: whoever treats being as the object of an assertion, pulls it down into division, into the antitheses of the It-world — in which there is no salvation. “When, O monk, the view prevails that soul and body are identical, there is no salvation; when, O monk, the view prevails that the soul is one and the body another, then also there is no salvation.” In the envisaged mystery, even as in lived actuality, neither “thus it is” nor “thus it is not” prevails, neither being nor not-being, but rather thus-and-otherwise, being and not-being, the indissoluble. To confront the undivided mystery undivided, that is the primal condition of salvation. That the Buddha belongs to those who recognized this, is certain. Like all true teachers, he wishes to teach not a view but the way. He contests only one assertion, that of the “fools” who say there is no acting, no deed, no strength: we can go the way. He risks only one assertion, the decisive one: “There is, O monks, what is Unborn, Unbecome, Uncreated, Unformed”; if that were not, there would be no goal; that is, the way has a goal.

Martin Buber, I and Thou, pp. 138-9

What about God?

Those without ties to organized religion who feel that, although much of institutional religion is repulsive, not all scriptures are bare nonsense, have to ask themselves: what about God?

Those who prefer the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Job to the God of the philosophers and theologians have to ask: what about God?

Those who read the Bible and the Sacred Books of the East not merely as so much literature but as a record of experiences that are relevant to their own lives must ask: what about God?

They do not ask: what is he really like? what are his attributes? is he omniscient? can he do this or that? Nor: can his existence be proved? They do not assume that they know him and need only one additional piece of information. What they ask about is not some supernatural He. And the theologians are of little help, if any.

If only one knew the meaning of one’s own question! If only one could ask it properly or formulate it more precisely! Is it really a question? Or is it a deep concern that finds no words that do it justice?

… God as the eternal You whom men address and by whom they in turn feel — Buber would say, are — addressed makes sense of much literature and life.

Walter Kaufmann, in his prologue to his translation of Martin Buber’s I and Thou

Transgressors of the doctrines of salvation

Then he adds to this something by which his profanity is yet more completely stripped of all disguise, so that its absurdity is obvious even to a child. For he says,—“It would be a long task to detail all the modes of generation of intelligible objects, or the essences which do not all possess the nature of the Existent in common, but display variations according to the operations of Him Who constructed them.” Without any words of ours, the blasphemy against the Son which is here contained is glaring and conspicuous, when he acknowledges that that which is predicated of every mode of generation and essence in nowise differs from the description of the Divine subsistence of the Only-begotten. But it seems to me best to pass over the intermediate passages in which he seeks to maintain his profanity, and to hasten to the head and front of the accusation which we have to bring against his doctrines. For he will be found to exhibit the sacrament of regeneration as an idle thing, the mystic oblation as profitless, and the participation in them as of no advantage to those who are partakers therein. For after those high-wrought æons in which, by way of disparagement of our doctrine, he names as its supporters a Valentinus, a Cerinthus, a Basilides, a Montanus, and a Marcion, and after laying it down that those who affirm that the Divine nature is unknowable, and the mode of His generation unknowable, have no right or title whatever to the name of Christians, and after reckoning us among those whom he thus disparages, he proceeds to develop his own view in these terms:—“But we, in agreement with holy and blessed men; affirm that the mystery of godliness does not consist in venerable names, nor in the distinctive character of customs and sacramental tokens, but in exactness of doctrine.” That when he wrote this, he did so not under the guidance of evangelists, apostles, or any of the authors of the Old Testament, is plain to every one who has any acquaintance with the sacred and Divine Scripture. We should naturally be led to suppose that by “holy and blessed men” he meant Manichæus, Nicolaus, Colluthus, Aetius, Arius, and the rest of the same band, with whom he is in strict accord in laying down this principle, that neither the confession of sacred names, nor the customs of the Church, nor her sacramental tokens, are a ratification of godliness. But we, having learnt from the holy voice of Christ that “except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit he shall not enter into the kingdom of God” and that “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, shall live for ever,” are persuaded that the mystery of godliness is ratified by the confession of the Divine Names—the Names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and that our salvation is confirmed by participation in the sacramental customs and tokens. But doctrines have often been carefully investigated by those who have had no part or lot in that mystery, and one may hear many such putting forward the faith we hold as a subject for themselves in the rivalry of debate, and some of them often even succeeding in hitting the truth, and for all that none the less estranged from the faith. Since, then, he despises the revered Names, by which the power of the more Divine birth distributes grace to them who come for it in faith, and slights the fellowship of the sacramental customs and tokens from which the Christian profession draws its vigour, let us, with a slight variation, utter to those who listen to his deceit the word of the prophet:—“How long will ye be slow of heart? Why do ye love destruction and seek after leasing?” How is it that ye do not see the persecutor of the faith inviting those who consent unto him to violate their Christian profession? For if the confession of the revered and precious Names of the Holy Trinity is useless, and the customs of the Church unprofitable, and if among these customs is the sign of the cross, prayer, baptism, confession of sins, a ready zeal to keep the commandment, right ordering of character, sobriety of life, regard to justice, the effort not to be excited by passion, or enslaved by pleasure, or to fall short in moral excellence,—if he says that none of such habits as these is cultivated to any good purpose, and that the sacramental tokens do not, as we have believed, secure spiritual blessings, and avert from believers the assaults directed against them by the wiles of the evil one, what else does he do but openly proclaim aloud to men that he deems the mystery which Christians cherish a fable, laughs at the majesty of the Divine Names, considers the customs of the Church a jest, and all sacramental operations idle prattle and folly? What beyond this do they who remain attached to paganism bring forward in disparagement of our creed? Do not they too make the majesty of the sacred Names, in which the faith is ratified, an occasion of laughter? Do not they deride the sacramental tokens and the customs which are observed by the initiated? And of whom is it so much a distinguishing peculiarity as of the pagans, to think that piety should consist in doctrines only? since they also say that according to their view, there is something more persuasive than the Gospel which we preach, and some of them hold that there is some one great God preeminent above the rest, and acknowledge some subject powers, differing among themselves in the way of superiority or inferiority, in some regular order and sequence, but all alike subject to the Supreme. This, then, is what the teachers of the new idolatry preach, and they who follow them have no dread of the condemnation that abideth on transgressors, as though they did not understand that actually to do some improper thing is far more grievous than to err in word alone. They, then, who in act deny the faith, and slight the confession of the sacred Names, and judge the sanctification effected by the sacramental tokens to be worthless, and have been persuaded to have regard to cunningly devised fables, and to fancy that their salvation consists in quibbles about the generate and the ungenerate,—what else are they than transgressors of the doctrines of salvation?

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book XI, 5