Lines Written on Visiting a Scene in Argyleshire
At the silence of twilight’s contemplative hour,
I have mused in a sorrowful mood,
On the wind-shaken weeds that embosom the bower,
Where the home of my forefathers stood.
All ruined and wild is their roofless abode,
And lonely the dark raven’s sheltering tree:
And travelled by few is the grass-covered road,
Where the hunter of deer and the warrior trode
To his hills that encircle the sea.
Yet wandering, I found on my ruinous walk,
By the dial-stone agèd and green,
One rose of the wilderness left on its stalk,
To mark where a garden had been
Like a brotherless hermit, the last of its race,
All wild in the silence of nature, it drew,
From each wandering sun-beam, a lonely embrace,
For the night-weed and thorn overshadowed the place,
Where the flower of my forefathers grew.
Sweet bud of the wilderness! emblem of all
That remains in this desolate heart!
The fabric of bliss to its centre may fall,
But patience shall never depart!
Though the wilds of enchantment, all vernal and bright,
In the days of delusion by fancy combined
With the vanishing phantoms of love and delight,
Abandon my soul, like a dream of the night,
And leave but a desert behind.
Be hushed, my dark spirit! for wisdom condemnsThomas Campbell
When the faint and the feeble deplore;
Be strong as the rock of the ocean that stems
A thousand wild waves on the shore!
Through the perils of chance, and the scowl of disdain,
May thy front be unaltered, thy courage elate!
Yea! even the name I have worshipped in vain
Shall awake not the sigh of remembrance again:
To bear is to conquer our fate.
Alongside what we’ve already discussed, I wanted to hit a few fragmentary points from Justin before delving into his conversion story.
In both the apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho, the argument from prophecy is the primary means by which Justin demonstrates the truth of Christianity. With Trypho, a Jew and thus presumed to already take the prophets of the Old Testament seriously, the argument is essentially an exegetical one: Trypho, and by extension the Jews more generally, have misunderstood the messianic prophecies, which Justin can definitively show to refer to Christ.
On the other hand, it might strike us as odd that Justin expects that a similar, albeit less fine-grained, argument will work with the Greeks and Romans. This reaction is rooted in a two-fold modern prejudice, both aspects of which I suspect are largely unjustified. The first is the pre-extant conviction that prophecy is impossible, with a vague suspicion that a dishonest interpreter can massage obscure prophetic utterances to match any event or person. Thus, prophecy is impossible, and, even if it weren’t, we couldn’t know that it was actually fulfilled, given its non-specific character.1
The second, related, prejudice is that the Gospels (or any text claiming to document the fulfillment of prophecy) were written specifically in order to accord with the prophecies. In other words, the Gospel authors, at the very least, embellished the story to bring it into line with what had been predicted. It’s striking to me that early commentators never seem to adopt this hermeneutic of suspicion (for instance, most pagan commentators freely grant that Jesus was a wonderworker). Does this indicate a sort of hopeless naivety on the part of the ancients? A hopeless cynicism on our part?2
In broad terms, there’s no reason why the argument from prophecy should not be convincing. If a prophet, indeed multiple prophets, successfully predict a future event, surely this vouchsafes their prophetical status? Having established that the prophets are in fact prophets, their status as authoritative sources of truth is confirmed. And where could this truth have come but the extra-temporal, the divine? Argument from Biblical prophecy, therefore, simultaneously vouchsafes the revelatory character of the prophets and establishes the truth of Christ’s nature proclaimed by them. Importantly, this prophetic revelation reveals much about Christ that is not necessarily obvious from the Gospels (and remember, we don’t know what NT texts Justin had access to and remember also that there were great debates raging within and around the Church about what the Gospels entailed). Finally, the truth of prophecies about Christ, also show the truth of future prophecies by and about Him that the Christians proclaim and anticipate. It’s a fairly neat and logical argument.3
Justin is, of course, writing an apology, seeking to defend the Christians against charges of moral turpitude. In response, Justin makes the case that Christians are in fact far more moral than the Romans. We might compare this inversion to Justin’s rebuttal of the claim that Christians teach novel doctrines, summarized in the previous post, in which he argues that far from proclaiming novelties, Christians are in fact the teachers and heirs of the oldest and only true form of philosophy.
Consequently, the truth of Christianity is demonstrated by the fact that it leads its practitioners to lead morally exemplary lives, such as by maintaining their virginity:
And many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race of men.First Apology
It’s again an interesting contrast to modern apologetics, which tend to spend a lot of time apologizing for the moral failings of Christians. Justin doesn’t bother to do this, though surely there were wicked Christians in his own time (we might imagine how the pressures of persecution could lead to grave betrayals, for example). Instead, he points to their moral triumphs as more impressive than pagan ones. We might imagine this in a modern context, to those pointing out the sexual abuses of the Church, we point out that while there may be wicked priests, the saints are incomparably greater than any secular hero.
Christians also don’t expose their children, in fact a prohibition on doing so was often one of the first laws passed when an area was Christianized, and in passing Justin notes the rather disturbing fate of children that had been exposed:
because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution.First Apology
These little fragments about the ancient world are always fascinating, though sadly the darkness of this practice (and the eventual fate of those condemned to it) is all too evident upon reflection.
Justin also holds up the Christian attitude towards death as proof of their virtue, and here were see clearly the context of Stoic, Epicurean, and Socratic attitudes, particularly his affection for the last. This is all the more poignant because he himself will die a martyr’s death:
But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.First Apology
The Romans were somewhat baffled by this attitude towards death, looking at Christians as sorts of stubborn madmen. See, for instance, Marcus Aurelius during whose reign, remember, Justin was executed:
How admirable is the soul which is ready and resolved, if it must this moment be released from the body, to be either extinguished or scattered or to persist. This resolve, too, must arise from a specific decision, not out of sheer opposition like the Christians, but after reflection and with dignity, and so as to convince others, without histrionic display.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, XI.3
Finally, an argument that may seem exceedingly odd to a modern reader, though it was utterly dominant in the pre-modern world, about the fittingness of the cross:
For consider all the things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any community. For the sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship; and the earth is not ploughed without it: diggers and mechanics do not their work, except with tools which have this shape. And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross. And so it was said by the prophet, “The breath before our face is the Lord Christ.” And the power of this form is shown by your own symbols on what are called “vexilla” [banners] and trophies, with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government, even though you do so unwittingly. And with this form you consecrate the images of your emperors when they die, and you name them gods by inscriptions.First Apology
The truth of the Cross, which is after all the fundamental truth about the world, cannot help but creep into our perceptions, shaping our tools, our religion, our very forms. The influence of the logos, just as it gave a dim apprehension of the truth to the philosophers, cannot but foster a dim awareness that it is by this form that all will be saved. The character of the cosmos indelibly stamped by future event to come/has come. Think of what this entails about the nature of the creation.
1. Note, this suspicion does lurk in Trypho’s responses to Justin, though it is overcome by the end of the dialogue
You see this doubled-edged denial quite often in modern discourse: God doesn’t exist and even if He did, we can’t prove it; moral truths don’t exist, and, anyway, people disagree about them, so they don’t exist. I leave it to the reader to ponder the soundness of these denials.
2. It might have something to do with the authority of the witness. I recall, albeit dimly, a response given by an eastern monk to someone challenging the perpetual virginity of Mary, “why would the Mother of God lie about something like that?” The point being that the moral status of the author matters. The presumption that the Apostles lied presumes that they were not holy men, and, more, that those who reported their holiness were similarly compromised (or deluded) and so on.
3. It is also an argument many others have utilized, perhaps most notably Pascal in the Pensees. The sheer amount of space he dedicates to prophecy in that book puts lie to the popular understanding that his famous wager is an argument for God’s existence. Indeed, on any serious examination it makes no sense as such. The argument from prophecy, along with his other (very worthwhile) arguments, resolves the insipid “why this God and religion, though?” response to the wager, which tends to be the surest proof that the one raising it has not read the book.
Sack is a sort of strong, dry wine from Spain, popular in England during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Welcome to Sack
So soft streams meet, so springs with gladder smiles
Meet after long divorcement by the isles;
When love, the child of likeness, urgeth on
Their crystal natures to a union:
So meet stolen kisses, when the moony nights
Call forth fierce lovers to their wish’d delights;
So kings and queens meet, when desire convinces
All thoughts but such as aim at getting princes,
As I meet thee. Soul of my life and fame!
Eternal lamp of love! whose radiant flame
Out-glares the heaven’s Osiris, and thy gleams
Out-shine the splendour of his mid-day beams.
Welcome, O welcome, my illustrious spouse;
Welcome as are the ends unto my vows;
Aye! far more welcome than the happy soil
The sea-scourged merchant, after all his toil,
Salutes with tears of joy, when fires betray
The smoky chimneys of his Ithaca.
Where hast thou been so long from my embraces,
Poor pitied exile? Tell me, did thy graces
Fly discontented hence, and for a time
Did rather choose to bless another clime?
Or went’st thou to this end, the more to move me,
By thy short absence, to desire and love thee?
Why frowns my sweet? Why won’t my saint confer
Favours on me, her fierce idolater?
Why are those looks, those looks the which have been
Time-past so fragrant, sickly now drawn in
Like a dull twilight? Tell me, and the fault
I’ll expiate with sulphur, hair and salt;
And, with the crystal humour of the spring,
Purge hence the guilt and kill this quarrelling.
Wo’t thou not smile or tell me what’s amiss?
Have I been cold to hug thee, too remiss,
Too temp’rate in embracing? Tell me, has desire
To thee-ward died i’ th’ embers, and no fire
Left in this rak’d-up ash-heap as a mark
To testify the glowing of a spark?
Have I divorc’d thee only to combine
In hot adult’ry with another wine?
True, I confess I left thee, and appeal
‘Twas done by me more to confirm my zeal
And double my affection on thee, as do those
Whose love grows more inflam’d by being foes.
But to forsake thee ever, could there be
A thought of such-like possibility?
When thou thyself dar’st say thy isles shall lack
Grapes before Herrick leaves canary sack.
Thou mak’st me airy, active to be borne,
Like Iphiclus, upon the tops of corn.
Thou mak’st me nimble, as the winged hours,
To dance and caper on the heads of flowers,
And ride the sunbeams. Can there be a thing
Under the heavenly Isis that can bring
More love unto my life, or can present
My genius with a fuller blandishment?
Illustrious idol! could th’ Egyptians seek
Help from the garlic, onion and the leek
And pay no vows to thee, who wast their best
God, and far more transcendent than the rest?
Had Cassius, that weak water-drinker, known
Thee in thy vine, or had but tasted one
Small chalice of thy frantic liquor, he,
As the wise Cato, had approv’d of thee.
Had not Jove’s son,that brave Tirynthian swain,
Invited to the Thesbian banquet, ta’en
Full goblets of thy gen’rous blood, his sprite
Ne’er had kept heat for fifty maids that night.
Come, come and kiss me; love and lust commends
Thee and thy beauties; kiss, we will be friends
Too strong for fate to break us. Look upon
Me with that full pride of complexion
As queens meet queens, or come thou unto me
As Cleopatra came to Anthony,
When her high carriage did at once present
To the triumvir love and wonderment.
Swell up my nerves with spirit; let my blood
Run through my veins like to a hasty flood.
Fill each part full of fire, active to do
What thy commanding soul shall put it to;
And till I turn apostate to thy love,
Which here I vow to serve, do not remove
Thy fires from me, but Apollo’s curse
Blast these-like actions, or a thing that’s worse.
When these circumstants shall but live to see
The time that I prevaricate from thee.
Call me the son of beer, and then confine
Me to the tap, the toast, the turf; let wine
Ne’er shine upon me; may my numbers all
Run to a sudden death and funeral.
And last, when thee, dear spouse, I disavow,
Ne’er may prophetic Daphne crown my brow.
Convinces, overcomes.Robert Herrick
Ithaca, the home of the wanderer Ulysses.
Iphiclus won the foot-race at the funeral games of Pelias.
I was a cottage maiden
Hardened by sun and air
Contented with my cottage mates,
Not mindful I was fair.
Why did a great lord find me out,
And praise my flaxen hair?
Why did a great lord find me out,
To fill my heart with care?
He lured me to his palace home –
Woe’s me for joy thereof-
To lead a shameless shameful life,
His plaything and his love.
He wore me like a silken knot,
He changed me like a glove;
So now I moan, an unclean thing,
Who might have been a dove.
O Lady kate, my cousin Kate,
You grew more fair than I:
He saw you at your father’s gate,
Chose you, and cast me by.
He watched your steps along the lane,
Your work among the rye;
He lifted you from mean estate
To sit with him on high.
Because you were so good and pure
He bound you with his ring:
The neighbors call you good and pure,
Call me an outcast thing.
Even so I sit and howl in dust,
You sit in gold and sing:
Now which of us has tenderer heart?
You had the stronger wing.
O cousin Kate, my love was true,
Your love was writ in sand:
If he had fooled not me but you,
If you stood where I stand,
He’d not have won me with his love
Nor bought me with his land;
I would have spit into his face
And not have taken his hand.
Yet I’ve a gift you have not got,Christina Georgina Rossetti
And seem not like to get:
For all your clothes and wedding-ring
I’ve little doubt you fret.
My fair-haired son, my shame, my pride,
Cling closer, closer yet:
Your father would give his lands for one
To wear his coronet.
As previously discussed, Justin developed intellectually in a rather free-wheeling philosophical milieu, a ferment just prior to the emergence of the schools that would come to dominate the next few centuries, indeed the next millennium, of thought. Consequently and particularly because of his own rather eclectic journey through various philosophical schools on his way to Christianity (more on which anon), Justin’s understanding of Pagan philosophy’s relationship to Christian revelation is striking, though we should not oversell its uniqueness.1
At the root of his conception of prior philosophy is the prologue to the fourth gospel:2
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.John 1:1-5
What is translated here as “word” is, in the original Greek, Logos, an essentially untranslatable term. Just to sample from the entry in Liddell-Scott, it can mean: that by which the inward thought is expressed, the inward thought itself, word, language, a statement, assertion, resolution, condition, or command, speech, discourse, conversation, the faculty of speech, a saying, tale, or story, history, narrative, reason, opinion, account, etc. etc.
In a sense, it means all those things, and then, complicating the matter, the Logos (the logos of all logoi) was a human being, Christ, who existed at a particular historical time and place, walked among us, taught, was crucified and rose from the dead. If this strikes you as an incomprehensible mystery, good, that’s the point.
Justin is the first great theorizer of the Logos and is particularly attentive to the revelation of the Logos throughout history in the exercise of the rational faculty of those who strove to live in the light of truth. These brilliant and blessed men were not simply wise, but, Justin tells us Christians of a sort:
He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious. So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably.3Justin Martyr, First Apology
The logic behind Justin’s claim is fairly straightforward: Christ is reason and wisdom incarnate, those who serve Christ are Christians, philosophers who lived in service of reason and wisdom are Christians. Yet, its boldness is striking. In one move, Justin has appropriated the heritage of the ancient world for the Christians, declaring them—remember this is in an apology defending the Christians against the calumnies and persecution of Rome—the true heirs to the great philosophical traditions, the truly rational ones, the true philosophers. Simply put:
Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians.Justin Martyr, First Apology
What’s more we find, many of the famous claims of various philosophers were not original, but were copied directly from Moses, who Plato apparently read while in studying in Egypt:4
Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers;Justin Martyr, First Apology
And the physiological discussion concerning the Son of God in the Timæus of Plato, where he says, “He placed him crosswise in the universe,” he borrowed in like manner from Moses; for in the writings of Moses it is related how at that time, when the Israelites went out of Egypt and were in the wilderness, they fell in with poisonous beasts, both vipers and asps, and every kind of serpent, which slew the people; and that Moses, by the inspiration and influence of God, took brass, and made it into the figure of a cross, and set it in the holy tabernacle, and said to the people, “If ye look to this figure, and believe, ye shall be saved thereby.” And when this was done, it is recorded that the serpents died, and it is handed down that the people thus escaped death. Which things Plato reading, and not accurately understanding, and not apprehending that it was the figure of the cross, but taking it to be a placing crosswise, he said that the power next to the first God was placed crosswise in the universe. And as to his speaking of a third, he did this because he read, as we said above, that which was spoken by Moses, “that the Spirit of God moved over the waters.” For he gives the second place to the Logos which is with God, who he said was placed crosswise in the universe; and the third place to the Spirit who was said to be borne upon the water, saying, “And the third around the third.” And hear how the Spirit of prophecy signified through Moses that there should be a conflagration. He spoke thus: “Everlasting fire shall descend, and shall devour to the pit beneath.” It is not, then, that we hold the same opinions as others, but that all speak in imitation of ours.5Justin Martyr, First Apology
Here again Justin situates Christians as the true founders and thus true inheritors of the Greek intellectual tradition. Moreover, in Plato’s misunderstanding of Moses, we see a pattern of students not understanding their teachers that would lead to philosophy’s fracturing into a multitude of competing schools that increasingly diverged from the truth:
I wish to tell you why [philosophy] has become many-headed. It has happened that those who first handled it, and who were therefore esteemed illustrious men, were succeeded by those who made no investigations concerning truth, but only admired the perseverance and self-discipline of the former, as well as the novelty of the doctrines; and each thought that to be true which he learned from his teacher: then, moreover, those latter persons handed down to their successors such things, and others similar to them; and this system was called by the name of him who was styled the father of the doctrine.Justin Martyr, First Apology
Philosophy thus degenerates from seekers who cared about truth but were unable to fully grasp it, to students who only admired the externally manifest virtue of their teachers, to the present day where so-called philosophers care about neither truth nor virtue and instead persecute the earnest seekers of truth, i.e. the Christians.6
The mistakes of Socrates, Heraclitus, and Plato were, unlike their descendants, forgivable, due to the limitations of their natural capacities:
For all the writers were able to see realities darkly through the sowing of the implanted word that was in them. For the seed and imitation impacted according to capacity is one thing, and quite another is the thing itself, of which there is the participation and imitation according to the grace which is from Him.Justin Martyr, First Apology
It is, therefore, Christ alone who is capable of bringing philosophy to its conclusion. Socrates, Plato, and the rest merely pursued wisdom, a wisdom that they themselves admitted lay beyond their capabilities to grasp. The Christian, however, by virtue of Christ’s incarnation, can see and participate in the fullness of the Logos. They don’t pursue wisdom but are united with it. Through this union all can be converted away from ignorance and demonic influence, restored to their rightful place as rulers of the cosmos along with Christ, and, as a consequence, freed from corruption and death. This is the ultimate goal of philosophy, attained only by the Christians.
Thus, the state of the world in which Justin writes and why they are innocent of the charges of innovation and teaching foolishness with which their (demonic) enemies slander them. In summary:
And that this may now become evident to you—(firstly) that whatever we assert in conformity with what has been taught us by Christ, and by the prophets who preceded Him, are alone true, and are older than all the writers who have existed; that we claim to be acknowledged, not because we say the same things as these writers said, but because we say true things: and (secondly) that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race: and (thirdly) that before He became a man among men, some, influenced by the demons before mentioned, related beforehand, through the instrumentality of the poets, those circumstances as having really happened, which, having fictitiously devised, they narrated, in the same manner as they have caused to be fabricated the scandalous reports against us of infamous and impious actions, of which there is neither witness nor proofJustin Martyr, First Apology
1. An obvious comparison to Justin on this front is Clement of Alexandria, whose works I’m also hoping to re-read soon. His catalog is more expansive than Justin’s and he seems to be more deeply rooted in the intellectual landscape of Alexandria. There’re a ton of interesting tidbits in Clement.
2. which is, incidentally, the most profound philosophical formulation ever written
3. Here again we see the implacable demonic opposition to the logos that so characterizes Justin’s world picture.
4. Thomas Aquinas picks up on this tradition as well: “Moreover Plato is said to have known many divine things, having read the books of the Old Law, which he found in Egypt.” (Scriptum super libros sententiarum Magistri Petri Lombardi, bk 1, dist. III, q. 1, a. 4, ad. 1)
5. We’ll speak more about Justin on the Cross in a later post
6. Remember, Justin was eventually put on trial and executed (by a Stoic philosopher no less) due to his disputes with Crescens, a cynic.
Another by Kipling.
The Power of the Dog
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie —
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find — it’s your own affair —
But . . . you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit hat answered your every mood
Is gone — wherever it goes — for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept’em, the more do we grieve;
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,Rudyard Kipling
A short-time loan is as bad as a long —
So why in — Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?