The Lord’s Prayer: What Does “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” Mean?

Well… I tried explaining this very thing back in 2017 but as a seasoned teacher, I know the importance of repetition.

More than most, I know that,

“Repetitio est mater memoriae!”

Additionally, (and thankfully!) we classical teachers are an extremely patient sort of people. We relish challenges! In fact we relish the opportunity to engage in contests (“tentationes” in Latin “temptations” in English). We relish opportunities that lead us into discussions of perennial ideas.


Because they come back every year and are worth discussing!

Now among the perennial ideas worth discussing every year stands The Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is, of course, the perfect prayer. I don’t know that we have to offer any sort of proof for this other than the fact that it is the prayer given by Our Lord Himself. In St. Luke’s Gospel we read,

And it came to pass, that as he was in a certain place praying, when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him: Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.

And he said to them: When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

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St Luke’s version seems just a little scaled down, and I’m sure there is a good reason for this. Fortunately, though, we have more than one Gospel from which to get the whole story!

St. Matthew records the words of the prayer at greater length!

Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.

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That this is the perfect prayer is attested to by St Augustine, who said,

if we pray rightly and fittingly, we can say nothing else but what is contained in this prayer of Our Lord.

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Since it has come up in the news recently, I have been thinking particularly of the sixth petition  in the prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.”

It has been suggested that perhaps this particular formation of words in English is the result of a bad or faulty translation.

Well, I suppose those of us who don’t know any Greek or Latin will just have to let the experts tell us what to think when it comes to the translation. Ignorance of the classic languages often results in one having to simply bow in deference to the experts.

Now, I happen to know just enough Greek to make my way around a first or second year Greek textbook, and even to read bits and pieces, fragments, of classical literature. Perhaps a little Xenophon, snippets of Aristotle, a little Herodotus – but better than any of these, I am able to make my way through the New Testament in Greek – although slowly.  Especially when I am reading from a Greek – English interlinear translation!

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When it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, I suppose we have to consider the fact that Our Lord spoke Aramaic. Nonetheless, I think we have to also accept the fact that the only authoritative versions of the prayer were written by the Evangelists in Greek.

As far as I know, there is no official Aramaic text of The Lord’s Prayer.

The sixth petition of the Lord’s prayer,  “Lead us not into temptation,” is written,

“καὶ μὴ  εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν” 

and in CAPS,


Now if I were to translate this I would render it thus:

and (καὶ) do not (μὴ)  lead in (εἰσενέγκῃς) us (ἡμᾶς) into (εἰς) the trial/temptation (πειρασμόν)

The word “εἰσενέγκῃς” is the aorist subjunctive active of the verb “εἰσφέρω“. Which means  “I lead into, bring in, announce.”

So to translate εἰσενέγκῃς as Do not lead us into is an excellent translation of the Greek -speaking as a tertiary level Greek teacher. And the word “Πειρασμοσ” (peirasmos) is rendered by “experiment,” “trial,” or “temptation.”

Thus the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer seems to be excellently translated as Do not lead us into temptation or Lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean?

Well, here we must go to St. Thomas just as the ancient Israelites went to Joseph in Egypt. And,of course, St. Thomas never disappoints. Speaking about the last three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer he says,

We are directed to beatitude accidentally by the removal of obstacles. Now there are three obstacles to our attainment of beatitude. First, there is sin, which directly excludes a man from the kingdom, according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, etc., shall possess the kingdom of God“; and to this refer the words, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

And here is the crux!

Secondly, there is temptation which hinders us from keeping God’s will, and to this we refer when we say: “And lead us not into temptation,” whereby we do not ask not to be tempted, but not to be conquered by temptation, which is to be led into temptation.

He finishes,

Thirdly, there is the present penal state which is a kind of obstacle to a sufficiency of life, and to this we refer in the words, “Deliver us from evil.”

I must confess that I found it revealing when St Thomas said that when we say lead us not into temptation, “we do not ask not to be tempted.” 

That is precisely what I used to think the prayer meant. Don’t let me be tempted.

Whether Oscar Wilde actually said “I can resist anything but temptation,” I think the sentiment is shared by many. And so we might pray lead us not into temptation!

But, if we reflect further on the word temptation (πειρασμόν- peirasmon) we see that it appears first to mean experiment or attempt or trial and then temptation. In other words suppose we compared ourselves to olympic athletes- what is it that we are practicing for? What are all those long training sessions for? Why all the painstaking exercise and long hours spent listening to coaches? Isn’t it all so that we can compete in a trial? Doesn’t every Olympic athlete want to have an opportunity to prove himself?

In other words the contest or competition is the trial.

The actual race is the trial or experiment of strength and endurance. And such is a temptation.

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Christians are just like athletes. St. Paul is thinking along the same lines when he addresses Timothy,

But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. Be sober.

For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming. Make haste to come to me quickly.

Perhaps the Christian will always avoid the near occasion of sin. But this does not mean that the Christian will pray that God will remove every trial of his strength, every temptation. As a matter of fact, it could be that this is God’s very plan by which he helps souls to gain strength and merit- that is, by allowing for temptations to enter into our paths that, with His grace, we can overcome.

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“Lead us not into temptation” is an excellent way to express these things. Of course God is not the cause of evil. Nonetheless, don’t we pray that God will provide for our spiritual growth in holiness by allowing us to undergo trials that are within our power to overcome?

So how can we express all of these things? What words can we come up with that say:

  1. “Please God, provide us with the contests, trials, and temptations that by your grace we will overcome and grow in your love.”
  2. “Do not let us go untried”
  3. “Let us not fall when we are tempted”

If we were to say, “Do not let us be tempted,” this would be against our own spiritual good.  If we were to say “Let us not fall in temptation,” this would exclude the notion that we ought, as “Christian Athletes” pray for contests of our strength that are proportionate to our ability.

Thus, by the words Lead us not into temptation”, we should understand, “O Lord, let us be tested in the contests of life that You, O Lord, mercifully and lovingly allow to be placed in our paths. But we beg you, Gracious Lord, to not let us perish or fall in those trials.”

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Posted in Aquinas, Augustine, Lord's Prayer, Temptation, The Passion | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Easter 2019! Boeuf en Croute Alleluia!

Easter came a little later this year, but as a good friend likes to remind me, God is seldom early but He is never late! I am not sure how true this is, but it does seem to describe pretty well my own perception of His action in our lives. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if He was early in everything that He does. In fact, isn’t He pretty much the first mover?

But children and liturgical musicians are especially conscious of the duration of Lent and especially the hours and minutes of Holy Week; children because they have a heightened and agonizing anticipation of the joy and magic of Easter morning, liturgical musicians because of the heightened and non-stop pressure of preparing music for every major liturgical event during Holy Week.

Nonetheless, at last Easter came!


After playing the organ for the Easter Vigil and the two Morning Masses, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy coming home for the midday Easter Brunch!


My daughter Cecilia painted the Easter Candle this year.

While I was still playing the organ, Stephanie was able to meet the exhausted patience of our littlest children with an Easter Morning table that was loaded with Easter treats.

Easter Morning Table

Heaven in the eyes of the five-year old child

Unfortunately I missed that, but when I returned home, my eyes were met with this far more appetizing sight (to my way of thinking)! Children imagine heaven as a place with candy, toys and treats, whereas adults like me think of heaven as an eternal banquet.


Heaven in the eyes of the fifty-year old man

Granted that both views probably err (in their respective over emphases on the bodily nature of the reality) nonetheless, I still think my view of eternal bliss is more elevated than that of my five year old son, Francis.


And I am not adverse to having rabbits running around on my Easter banquet table.


Meanwhile, back in the kitchen things are happening. A scene of beauty!


No kitchen has enough counter space for Easter Brunch!

Now this little bowl of goodness is a mixture of apricot suffused with some citrus and is ready to be inserted into the puff pastry.


Actually, this is the pastry that has been stuffed with a creamy cheesy filling.


This is the one with the apricot concoction.


The careful observer will note that this danish is braided differently than the other.

Back in the kitchen, a couple of pans of eggs are being prepared for Eggs Blackstone!


Ordinarily Eggs Blackstone would employ poached eggs. But in my opinion these sunny side up eggs added a little of their own sunshine to what was an otherwise overcast day.

The English muffins topped with tomato and bacon must be the Blackstone part of the dish.


My daughter Anna prepared her incomparable Hollandaise sauce


The finished product!


Fruit of some sort is an Easter Brunch staple. This year in addition to other ordinary fruit platter features, ours included papaya and figs!


At last!


Stephanie prepared smoothies for the kids and I prepared Mimosas for the adults.



As we have mentioned in years past, the one challenge of having an Easter Brunch is that one needs to somehow get everything cleared away and prepared for Easter dinner. Additionally, one needs to prepare one’s appetite for it. I did this by taking a three mile walk with Gracie, Frannie, and Peter. When we returned, I took a two hour nap and arrived back on the scene.

While I was napping, the chefs and kitchen help were tiding things over with some cheeses, fig spread, a little hard salami paired with a semi- dry Riesling.


Cecilia set the table, and I carefully extracted the cork from the 2016 bottle of Syrah from Owen Roe  winery. My dear brother in law, Carl, had given me this bottle back in September which I had carefully preserved for the occasion.

The wine itself is aptly and magically called Ex Umbris. And on the back of the bottle there is this enigmatic Latin inscription:

Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem

My read on this is that the wine is nothing more than an emblem for man’s life on this earth as he passes through – a stranger and sojourner- to his eternal home!

Since the winemaker is an old friend from college, and since I have now finished this exquisite bottle, I feel compelled to rekindle our old friendship as soon as possible. To that end, I include the wine maker’s notes in full!

Winemaker Notes

The color of deep eggplant, this beautiful bold Syrah will keep our Ex Umbris fans wanting more! If the nose filled with dark chocolate, hazelnut and caramel aromas isn’t enough, the robust plum, black cherry, licorice and hints of tobacco will surely please any palate.Pair with blackened, grilled ribeye, a juicy leg of lamb or your family slow-cooker stew.

This Syrah will age and is still quite youthful with gripping tannins and layers of dusty earth. We recommend decanting and enjoying with a hearty meal and holding onto a few bottles to open in a few years.

You can see the image of this bottle at the end of the table in front of my plate 



Now for dinner, Stephanie prepared Boeuf en Croute which is a sort of the French version of Beef Wellington. Here you can see how she lovingly wrapped the two large beef roasts in a beautiful special dough.


Meanwhile, she prepared Tuscan Roasted Potatoes and Lemon! I’ve never had this dish before, and as you can see, the dish includes a fairly generous amount of lemon.


After baking to a light golden brown, this dish absorbs the lemon, and it was as much as I could to keep from eating the supple tender lemon peels themselves.


As the all important third component to the meal, the part without which one might wonder if the rule of two and three had been properly observed, the chef prepared Roasted Asparagus with Garlic, Rosemary,  and Goat Cheese!


Meanwhile, the flaky crust of the Boeuf en Croute had turned golden brown and we took it out of the oven to sit and re-absorb all of its juices.


Lucy and Gracie prepared armies of these buttery Croissant rolls.


Perfect! But I do need to resharpen my carving knife.


Here again is that unassuming bottle of Ex Umbris.


Lucy’s plate.


And, if this was not already enough …. there is yet an entire Boeuf en Croute left over!


Happy Easter!

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Posted in beauty, breakfast, Dinner, Easter, Ex Umbris, Feasts, Fine Arts | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tiny Catholic School Sues City to Protect Civil Rights and Religious Freedom

The Lord does work in mysterious ways!

When I founded The Lyceum in 2003, along with a couple of other teachers, a handful of adventurous students and their daring parents, none of us ever envisioned that our small school would ever be involved in a serious battle to “protect civil rights” and  “religious freedom.” Back in 2003, we thought that the only battle we would have to wage was with the intellectual customs of the day that frowned upon teaching things like Latin and Greek, Euclid and Homer, the Great Books of the Western World, and the Catholic Faith.

We knew it would be a hard sell to persuade parents and students to attend a school which prized the teachings of ancient authors like Aeschylus, Aristotle and Aquinas and simultaneously proposed to make singing sacred polyphony mandatory.

But now, sixteen years later, confronted with a local law masquerading as an “anti-discrimination ordinance,” our little school is fighting for the simple right to exist. Now, the school has a bigger challenge than simply recruiting students who want a classical liberal education.

Essentially, the ordinance would make it illegal for The Lyceum to operate as a Catholic school in a number of ways but particularly, by curtailing its right to hire Catholic teachers and recruit students who espouse and embrace the Church’s teachings concerning human sexuality and marriage.  Here is a summary of the ordinance.

And here is an illuminating video presentation of the challenge that the school faces:

Ahhh, those were the days when making the case for studying dead languages  was our biggest challenge! Now, the school is forced to defend fundamental civil rights and religious freedom.

Fortunately, our little school is led by a strong, principled, and intrepid headmaster and a wise Board of Trustees. Thankfully, it also has the help of an incredible legal team, The Alliance Defending Freedom!

I suppose if the Lyceum’s battle with city hall is reminiscent of David’s battle with Goliath, at least The Lyceum has the Alliance Defending Freedom as its slingshot! Nonetheless, God always seems to use the weak things of the world to accomplish His work. As Saint Paul says in Corinthians

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men…But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong.”

I just finished reading Herodotus’ account of the Battle of Thermopylae with my ninth grade students. This was the famous battle in which 300 Spartan Hoplites famously held back two and a half million soldiers of the ‘barbarian’ King Xerxes. Ultimately, though vastly outnumbered, the Greeks prevailed for the cause of freedom! Those 300 Greeks preserved democracy and freedom for the entire western world.

Though our little school is tiny, though it may be insignificant in the view of the city, though the city’s coffers and resources are relatively legion, nonetheless may God, too, choose the weak things of the world to confound the strong. May our school prevail if for no other reason than to preserve the right for schools, such as ours, everywhere to maintain their religious liberty and Catholic identity.

Posted in aeschylus, catholic education, Herodotus, Religious Freedom | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Prodigal Son and The Prodigal Mind: Our Lord’s Parable for Educators

Our Lord’s parable about the man who had two sons, upon the younger of whom tradition has bestowed the sobriquet ‘prodigal,’  provides an excellent lesson for parents everywhere who are concerned about the education of their children.

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I have a hunch that the ‘parable of the prodigal son’ will always be on everybody’s top ten parable list partly because the parable is especially close to our own experience.

Actually, every time I return from Costco with one of those prodigious carts overflowing with all of my favorite foods and those terrific thick slices of steak…and a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon…. I have to confess my empathy for the prodigal son.

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And then, of course, after a certain number of days have passed, inevitably the temporary joy that I received for having instantiated the words of Saint Paul, when he said “whose God is their belly” ….that joy is turned to ashes when I am confronted with the ‘Citi Card’ statement at the end of the month.

My guess is, most people don’t have to search very far for an example of someone they know, whether a near relative or otherwise, who provides a close match to the younger son in the parable.

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The older more serious brother (played by Humphrey Bogart) remonstrating with his wayward younger brother (played by William Holden) in Sabrina

But even if one does not have a brother or sister that might fit the description, there isn’t a person anywhere who cannot relate to the very obvious parallel between the behavior of the prodigal son and his own behavior whenever he turns from God’s grace and follows his passions.

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Nonetheless, what, you might ask, does this parable offer to parents with regard to the education of their children? Or even, what does the parable have to offer for students and educators everywhere?

Well for starters, consider first how the parable begins,

A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance.

Notice that the son requests the portion of his “substance” that belongs to him. (The Latin reads “da mihi portionem substantiæ“).  Unfortunately, as happens all too often, this is rendered into English prose by translators who choose to make it more understandable (according to their way of thinking) by words that narrow the signification.  And so what most Catholics will hear on the Fourth Sunday of Lent is,

A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.

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I say this is an unfortunate translation because, while it preserves one very clear and most obvious signification, it, nonetheless, makes other significations more difficult.

For example, Saint Augustine understands “substance” as something much more than mere property or worldly inheritance,

the younger seeks that the part of the substance which fell to him should be given him by his father. Hence it follows, And the younger of them said to his father, Give me the portion of goods [portionem substantiae] which falls to me; just as the soul delighted with its own power seeks that which belongs to it, to live, to understand, to remember, to excel in quickness of intellect, all which are the gifts of God, but it has received them in its own power by free will. Hence it follows, And he divided to them his substance.

and another commentator confirms this reading of substance saying,

The substance of man is the capacity of reason which is accompanied by free will.

Thus we are understanding the son as an image of the soul which rightfully seeks “that which belongs to it.” The soul of man seeks “to live,” and “to understand” and to do by its own power. The intellectual soul is, after all the precise way that man is said to have been created in the image and likeness of God.

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So there is nothing wrong with the younger son’s request; there is nothing wrong with the soul seeking ‘its substance,’ that is the powers that belong to it.

But the parable continues ,

The younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously. And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want.

This is where the trouble is. It was not in the asking for his substance but in the squandering of it that we have a problem. Saint Augustine explains how the soul squanders its substance:

Whoever wishes to be so like to God as to ascribe his strength to Him, let him not depart from Him, but rather cleave to Him that he may preserve the likeness and image in which he was made. But if he perversely wishes to imitate God, that as God has no one by whom He is governed, so should he desire to exercise his own power as to live under no rules, what remains for him but that having lost all heat he should grow cold and senseless, and, departing from truth, vanish away.

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Thus the older brother represents the soul that cleaves to God whereas the younger brother turns away perversely, and wishes to imitate God precisely insofar “as God has no one by whom he is governed.

In other words, the younger son represents the soul that wishes to exercise its intellectual life, its abilities to reason and calculate, its abilities to imagine and remember, to articulate and communicate, all in a manner that is not subordinate to the knowledge of God.

To pursue the intellectual life in a disordered way, or rather, to engage in intellectual pursuits in a way that is cut off or divorced or ordered to some other end so as to exclude God, is to squander one’s intellectual substance.

Imagine, if you can, a school, college or university in which there is a multiplicity of courses, various departments of learning, a diversity of intellectual pursuits, but in which there is not a central coordinating science to which all the sciences, arts and disciplines are ordered as an end.

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Are there really any schools which propose such a thing? Could there really be a school in which religion is not taught? Could there actually be a college or university in which Theology is not considered explicitly the final goal of every human intellectual endeavor?

Such an institution would be like a many-limbed animal with no head!

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Impossible! Such a school, college or university would be nothing other than a place of institutionalized intellectual riot! Who in his right mind would tolerate such a thing!

Saint Augustine continues interpreting the parable,

…the soul of man chose of its free will to take with it a certain power of its nature, and to desert Him by whom it was created, trusting in its own strength, which it wastes the more rapidly as it has abandoned Him who gave it. Hence it follows, And there wasted his substance in riotous living

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This is the very image of life at the modern university is it not? And I don’t mean an image of campus life or life in the dormitory. The riotous lifestyle that characterizes the modern college or university campus is only emblematic of the far more serious riot- namely the  riot that is the intellectual state of affairs at such colleges and universities.

An intellectual riot might be described as a disordered search for truth – which amounts to nothing more than an inversion of truth. Instead of the pursuit of truth for its own sake – or better, for the sake of knowing God- truth is pursued for the sake of power and the manipulation of nature, or for some other utilitarian end.

But just as squandering ones resources leads to a dearth of food, so intellectual riot leads to intellectual famine. St. Augustine says,

And when he had spent all, there arose a great famine in that land. The famine is the want of the word of truth.

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I stretched forth my hands to thee: my soul is as earth without water unto thee. (Psalm 143)

Saint Ambrose adds, that when there is a departure from the word of God the mind is incapable of being satisfied:

For he who departs from the word of God is hungry, because man does not live on bread alone, but on every word of God. And he who departs from his treasures is in want. Therefore began he to be in want and to suffer hunger, because nothing satisfies a prodigal mind.

But when the younger son returned home to his father, then it was that he could be satisfied. Likewise when the mind returns ‘home,’ when it sees all that it sees in relation to God Himself, who is Truth, then can it, too, be satisfied.

Posted in Ambrose, Augustine, Catena Aurea, college, education, liberal education, soul, truth for its own sake | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

St. John Henry Newman on Liberal Education: A Scandal

Saint John Henry Newman, speaking of the unique status of Western Civilization in the history of the world, emphatically asserts,

I think it has a claim to be considered as the representative Society and Civilization of the human race, as its perfect result and limit…I call then this commonwealth preeminently and emphatically Human Society, and its intellect the Human mind, and its decisions the sense of mankind, and its disciplined and cultivated state Civilization in the abstract, and the territory on which it lies the Orbis Terrarum, or the World.

Now if it wasn’t for the fact that this Cardinal was just canonized, I think we could all brush this statement off  as an overly zealous defense of Western Civilization. After all, sometimes people get carried away and say things that they don’t really mean. For example I will often say things like,

I think 100% arabica coffee beans may be considered as the representative coffee bean of civilization and of the human race. Nay even the preeminent coffee bean and even the bean in virtue of which all other beans merit the name “coffee bean.”

To the extent that other beans measure up or fall away from the arabica bean, that is the exact measure in which each bean may be called a coffee bean.

Or perhaps about the music of Mozart,

I think it has a claim to be considered as the representative music of the human race, as its perfect result and limit…I call then this music preeminently and emphatically Human Music, and the mind of Mozart is par-excellence the musical mind!

Mozart’s music is the music of mankind and in the abstract, his music and the territory in which it is heard is the Orbis Terrarum, or the World.

Ha! That is a wonderful statement. Nay even more…that is a manly statement!


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I love the bravado. And what’s more I completely agree with it.

As a matter of fact- with apologies to Newman, I think I will lay claim to this statement as being perhaps the very clearest statement ever made about the worth and value of Mozart’s musical contributions.

Did you ever hear him praised more highly?

I think not!

In the future I plan on making a similar statement about Shakespeare so prepare yourselves.

But in the meantime let me return to the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and his statement about Western Civilization.

Can there be a clearer or more forceful statement about the value of Western Civilization that flies more in the face of the current attitude of cultural relativism?

No. Again, I think not!

My old teacher Dr. Jack Neumayr, a philosopher and professor at Thomas Aquinas College, commenting on Newman’s statement writes:

Some who regard all culture as empirical, as we have seen, will defend liberal education because it is good to know our origins; not that our culture is normative, but it is ours. Others will insist on the utility of knowing the roots of the good and evil in our society. Still others, thinking it well to know the works of man, urge us to scan the achievements of western thought. None, however, under the pressures of egalitarianism and skepticism, dares assert it is the measure of the human mind.

Indeed, few in our day see the value of liberal education so clearly. This education, which arises from western society, is none other than the education which is the measure of the human mind. It is the education that fulfills the nature of man; it is the education that disposes man for the life of grace.

Liberal education is a scandal to the modern world. Liberal education is a scandal because it presents itself in direct opposition to the prevalent educational philosophy of our day; it is a stumbling block to the aspirations and goals of modern education. Those goals include no more than what is thought necessary to equip the student with the particular knowledge that will further a specific career.

Liberal education …a boulder in the road of establishment educational philosophy! (Admittedly, that boulder is a little more than a “scandal”)

Thus liberal education is a scandal to modern ears for at least two reasons. It is a scandal to those who are themselves ‘proponents of liberal education’ for the wrong reasons; reasons that amount to no more than a sort of cultural relativism and ultimately deny that liberal education is the education for the human mind.

It is also a scandal to those who propose the purpose of education is to equip man for this world; for some career.

As Cardinal Newman writes elsewhere,

“This process of training, by which the intellect, instead of being formed or sacrificed to some particular or accidental purpose, some specific trade or profession, or study or science, is disciplined for its own sake, for the perception of its own proper object, and for its own highest culture, is called Liberal Education…”

Posted in liberal education, Newman | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Case for Bribery

How appalling! I am absolutely shocked! Simply dumbfounded! How could anyone do something so wicked?

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I mean, can you imagine bribing an admission officer at a prestigious college or university? Who would ever dream of such a thing?

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How could such a thing happen when the motto of Harvard University is Veritas…and when the motto of Yale University is Lux et Veritas … and when the motto of Duke University is  Eruditio et Religio … and when the motto of the University of Pennsylvania  is Leges Sine moribus Vanae …and that of Princeton University is Dei Sub Numine Viget …and that of Brown is In Deo Speramus …and that of Columbia is In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen …and that of Dartmouth is Vox Clamantis in Deserto… 

It’s almost as if no one can read these mottoes anymore!

Oh, wait a second, I forgot! We can’t read these mottoes anymore because, after all, who really cares about studying a dead language?

Where does studying a dead language get us? It certainly will not get us into the universities of which these are the mottoes because all of them have long since dropped proficiency in Latin as an entrance requirement!

Well, one might at least think that basic standards of objective morality and truth would still be assumed among the applicants to colleges and universities that were all founded on these standards…wouldn’t one?

Of course I am being facetious. We all know that although these colleges and universities were founded on lofty visions of objective truth and morality, somewhere the doctrine of pragmatism and utility supplanted the original vision.

Schools, colleges and universities were all founded on the assertion of Socrates when he said,

The unexamined life is not worth living.

He was providing us with a hint for why we should even send our children to school.

Education used to be about confronting the central questions of human life:

  • Who am I?
  • What is life?
  • What is man?
  • What is the cosmos?
  • What is happiness?
  • What is God?

These were the questions that served as the heart and soul of the educational project.

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The bedrock assumption upon which every college and university was founded was the assertion that there is such a thing as truth and we, as human beings, should strive with everything we have to know the truth!

Everybody agrees with that, right?

Not any more.

The truth is that education is now something that we all encourage our children to do in order to get ahead in life. Isn’t that right? 

When we exchanged the core liberal arts curriculum for the elective system were we not admitting that each should pursue what he or she found most useful?

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We say to our children,

It’s difficult to get a good lucrative career without a college degree.

It’s not so much a question of whether a student knows how to read Sacred Scripture in Greek or Latin, it’s not a question of whether this or that young man or woman has read Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth or Aristotle’s De Anima or Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Everyone appears to agree that although these are all fine and noble pursuits, they are nonetheless quite useless when it comes to getting ahead in life.

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It’s not about whether a young man or young lady has ever studied the Astronomy of Ptolemy or read Harvey’s work on the circulation of blood. Or whether a student has observed the insect world alongside of Jean Henri Fabre.

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What good, after all, is reading Aeschylus’ work Agammemnon? What good is reading Herodotus or Thucydides? Why read St. Thomas’ exposition on the Ten Commandments or the Seven Sacraments?

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Education is now about getting ahead in the world. It is not about coming to the truth. It is not about obtaining moral or intellectual virtue. According to all of these standard- setting institutions, there really is no such thing as truth. There really is no such thing as objective morality.

If goodness is simply a matter of what is expedient, why, then, is bribery for admission to a prestigious university not a legitimate option?

If the truth means anything these days it is this – that truth is determined by “what works.” Truth is what works. Good behavior is what is expedient.

Bribery works.

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Bribing this or that admissions officer or this or that athletic coach or paying someone to take the SAT or the ACT or the GRE or the LSAT (or the MCAT …is it even possible?) appears to have worked wonderfully for some.

Does the current educational establishment really have any intellectual platform upon which to object? Do the ivy league colleges and universities have an objective moral code from which they offer objections to cheating? What could they possibly say? Something like,

Well, as we all know, cheating on the SAT is an act of dishonesty, and any sort of dishonesty is against the Natural Law which…..oh, yeah…… is an obsolete invention of those superstitious philosophers who lived in the dark ages.

How can the modern educational establishment object to bribing a coach in order to gain preferential admissions treatment? To what objective standard of truth or goodness would they appeal?

What is there to say? I suppose Saint Paul might respond,

Be not deceived, God is not mocked.[8] For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption. But he that soweth in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting. [9] And in doing good, let us not fail. For in due time we shall reap, not failing.

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Posted in aeschylus, catholic education, classical education, college, Socrates, truth for its own sake | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“’Tis one thing to be tempted, another thing to fall.”: Why we are Tempted

Saint Luke begins the story about Our Lord’s temptation in the desert saying,

[1] And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert, [2] For the space of forty days; and was tempted by the devil.

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How striking it is that Our Lord was “led” into the desert where he would be “baptized by the fire of temptation” as one exegete puts it.  Moreover he was led by the Spirit!

But you might ask,

What spirit led him to be tempted?

Saint Gregory clears up any doubt about what spirit it was that led Him saying,

Some doubt what Spirit it was that led Jesus into the desert, for that it is said after, “The Devil took him into the holy city.” But true and without question agreeable to the context is the received opinion, that it was the Holy Spirit; that His own Spirit should lead Him thither where the evil spirit should find Him and try Him.

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In other words it was not the devil that led Jesus into the desert to be tempted.

It is easy to imagine that an evil spirit, the devil, would lead us to be tempted, but seems a little strange to say this of the Holy Spirit! But it seems clear that it was indeed the Holy Spirit that was leading Our Lord into the wilderness. And it also seems clear that among the reasons for this excursion was precisely that Our Lord be confronted with these “temptations.”

Now why on earth would the Holy Spirit do this? And does this have any bearing on us? Does Our Lord set us an example even here?

Of course he does!

St. John Chrysostom gives five marvelous reasons why temptation is good for us!

Whoever thou art then that after thy baptism sufferest grievous trials, be not troubled thereat; for this thou receivedst arms, to fight, not to sit idle. God does not hold all trial from us;

  • first, that we may feel that we are become stronger;

  • secondly, that we may not be puffed up by the greatness of the gifts we have received;

  • thirdly, that the Devil may have experience that we have entirely renounced him;

  • fourthly, that by it we may be made stronger;

  • fifthly, that we may receive a sign of the treasure entrusted to us; for the Devil would not come upon us to tempt us, did he not see us advanced to greater honours.

Now, after reading this, who would not want to be tempted?

We are tempted so that we may feel the strength that we have obtained through God’s grace. We are tempted to remind us that we must continually rely on God’s grace and not on our own strength. When we overcome temptation (hopefully) God makes the devil know who is in charge. When we are tempted, and never beyond our strength, God provides us with an opportunity to exercise the strength that we have gained and thus become stronger. And finally, when we are tempted, we are reminded that the Devil still thinks that we are targets.

In other words, temptation is a sign to us that we are still in the fight! I find that consoling!

What St Gregory says makes sense especially when we remind ourselves of the root meaning of temptation. The word comes from the Latin, ‘tentatio, tentationis 3rd declension (f)’ as our second year Latin students would know. It means a “trial.”

A tentatio is the sort of thing that athletes prepare for. It is the contest. It is the race or marathon that explains why so many runners spend a frightful number of hours in training. The professional runner does not say, “Do not let me run the marathon!”

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A tentatio is the big recital or performance on stage for which musicians practice. The rising virtuoso does not say, “Do not ever let me play in the National Piano Competition!”

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A tentatio is the end of semester exam which serves as a culmination of studies for students everywhere. Even students do not say, “Please let me never take the final exam!” Well, actually, I guess I have heard this from one or two students. We will put this down to their youth. Thankfully, students have no choice in the matter.

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Now when we look at it this way, “temptation” seems like a positive thing doesn’t it?

Why then does Our Lord teach us to say “Lead us not into temptation?”

Well, now we must be emphatically clear that there is a radical difference between the words “Lead us not into temptation” and “Do not let us be tempted.”

On the one hand, it now appears from Our Lord’s example to us that temptation is something that we all need to confront and even must willingly face, having been led by the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, we say, “Lead us not into temptation.”

St. Thomas Aquinas‘ tells us what these words (which are an excellent translation from the Greek) mean, when he says,

“And lead us not into temptation,” whereby we do not ask not to be tempted, but not to be conquered by temptation…

How can we interpret this otherwise if we are to imitate Our Lord in every thing?

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Maybe it’s not such a good idea to search out temptations. But, rather, we might count it a sign of God’s continued blessings when he allows us to be tempted. And I suppose, we might have a significant reason to worry should we find ourselves no longer confronted by temptations.

Temptations are a sign that we’re still standing!

Posted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Lord's Prayer, Temptation | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

To Hell with The Socratic Method!

Today I mean simply to get straight to the point. There will be no interruptions and I won’t even be taking questions! I find that this is the only way to really get things done.

Sometimes we like to defend the excellence of the Socratic method and the effectiveness of the seminar or discussion method in learning. But let’s face it. These methods are not really that effective when the object is merely to get things done. There is simply no greater obstacle to progressing through a text or a curriculum plan than allowing students to ask questions or examine one’s argument premise by premise.

Well I suppose a tornado or an earthquake might cause significant interruptions, but these things are not half so threatening to a teacher’s sense of “getting things done” as eight or nine students who feel free to speak their minds when they please.

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After rebuilding the school, I bet I could still get through more text, turn more pages and “cover more material” if we just jettisoned the discussion method!

Sure, maybe the discussion method is an effective way for a student to become actively engaged in his own education. Maybe allowing a student to speak and ask questions and make comments (relevant or even irrelevant) is an effective way to provoke his enthusiasm for knowledge. I will even go so far as to grant that the discussion method might even arouse deeper understanding and even real learning.

Nonetheless, I still maintain that it is a very poor method for getting things done.

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And the terrible irony is this: After allowing students to speak freely and engage in discussion and intelligent “back and forth” and “two-way learning” (to use Adler’s expression) and Socratic-like debate…after provoking authentic interest in their minds for a subject by long examinations of even minor points and perhaps even trivial matters …after all this, I say, students will be the first to point out at the end of the Fall semester,

“Hey… isn’t this a class on the Sacraments?… Well how are we supposed to get through all seven if we are still only half way through Baptism?

Isn’t this just the way of it?

I almost blush to think how fast a student will “turn his back” on his poor teacher in pointing out the lack of progress-through-the-text simply because the teacher was suckered into the idea of provoking real learning!

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And is the student ashamed to draw attention to this “lack of progress” to his parents?

No! How many students have carefully pointed out to their parents,

Mom…Dad…the reason why our American History Class never made it past the North’s violent attempt to resupply Fort Sumter in 1861, was that we were really trying to understand step by step, from a careful reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and all relevant primary source material…of course all the time with spirited but amicable debate and discussion….how the North could so brazenly betray the very principles of their own independence.”

No! Instead, who gets crucified for what appears to be sheer incompetence in “making progress”? You guessed it.

The poor teacher.

Not that I am complaining or anything. I am simply pointing out the fact that allowing students the intellectual liberty to speak at all is inimical to covering material!

I have known some teachers who disagree. They say things like,

“Well, one can have it both ways. In discussions, the teacher must be very vigilant in only allowing relevant points to advance. There must be a firm discipline in directing students to speak to the point succinctly etc…etc…”

Obviously this teacher knows nothing about real classroom discussions. “Relevant points”…”Succinct”… Ha!

Or sometimes teachers will say,

“I spend the first 35 minutes lecturing on important material that I want to cover and then I allow 5 minutes for a lively and spirited debate.”

Well that is just shameless. As if a discussion could happen in five minutes! In my experience it takes at least 30 minutes to simply make a question arise. To even make an issue seem “discussable”… worth discussing…interesting…arguable…this takes loads and loads of time.  The mind of the student, you must remember, is sort of like the mind of a bear in hibernation.

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And it certainly takes more than five minutes to provoke such a mind to vibrant discussion!

But it is much easier to make progress when one is simply writing things down in a blog post such as this. The fact of the matter is that one gets to control the flow of the “discussion” more closely. As a result the flow of ideas, the thread of thought is easier to follow than in a real-time discussion, and, frankly, the ability to use images to advance a point can be a very powerful aid…like that bear for instance…isn’t he just like what you might imagine the mind of a student might look like, say, in the morning during those first period classes?

Any questions? Anything you would like to discuss? Sorry, it looks like we are out of time. The lecture is over!

Posted in discussion, education, Socrates | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why We Read Herodotus

Xerxes at the Hellespont

Reading Herodotus with students in the ninth and tenth grade presents some challenges. I always tell them not to worry if they don’t feel like they are understanding it on the first read. That is the way Great Books are.

If a book is entirely intelligible the very first time it is read, that is probably a sign that it is a mediocre book- probably a text book- and therefore, not worth reading a second time.

After hearing passages from the Bible, how many of us feel like we have anything but a superficial understanding? We continually go back to it for more. It is a source from which our souls discover sustained nourishment. And so it is with the Great Books. So it is with Herodotus’ great work The Histories. St. John Henry Newman made this very point when he said that the canon of Western Literature has something of the character of Holy Scripture in this regard.

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Don’t get me wrong here- I do not want to elevate Herodotus to the level of God’s own word, but I simply mean to say that The Histories is great because it has something in it that transcends ordinary human insight. One could almost say that Herodotus wrote what he did with the inspiration of God, or at least under the influence of some minor deity or another.

That is precisely why Herodotus should be read again and again.

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Xerxes Decorating the Plane Tree

Obviously Herodotus is important to read for those who strive after a classical education. I don’t think anyone would maintain that it is possible to be educated without knowing who the Delphic Oracle was or who Croesus was or Cyrus or Miltiades or Themistocles or Darius or Cambyses or Xerxes or….

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Leonidas at Thermopylae

Clearly anyone who is interested in politics and the origin of our own democratic institutions would forever be frustrated if he did not read about the origins of democracy in Athens and by contrast the more kingly rule in Sparta- although a rule according to law.

Anyone who is interested in ethics, law, morality and the effect of custom on human behavior would be handicapped without a familiarity with Herodotus’ colorful descriptions of the various peoples and nations that he covers with encyclopedic breadth. Of course I mention this with a caveat that those who misread Herodotus might use these stories as material to advance a moral relativism, given the diversity of accepted customs among various northern tribes (like the Scythians), some quite appalling! But one cannot read Herodotus without seeing clearly the improving influence that civilization has on behavior.

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Cyrus the Great

Recently, I read with pleasure a marvelous article in The New Yorker (April 2008) by  “What was Herodotus Trying to Tell Us?” Although many complain that Herodotus while being the acknowledged “Father of History” might also be called the “father of the digression,” Mendelsohn puts his finger on this very aspect of Herodotus’ work that has charmed readers for millenia!

What gives this tale its unforgettable tone and character—what makes the narrative even more leisurely than the subject warrants—are those infamous, looping digressions: the endless asides, ranging in length from one line to an entire book (Egypt), about the flora and fauna, the lands and the customs and cultures, of the various peoples the Persian state tried to absorb. And within these digressions there are further digressions, an infinite regress of fascinating tidbits whose apparent value for “history” may be negligible but whose power to fascinate and charm is as strong today as it so clearly was for the author, whose narrative modus operandi often seems suspiciously like free association. Hence a discussion of Darius’ tax-gathering procedures in Book 3 leads to an attempt to calculate the value of Persia’s annual tribute, which leads to a discussion of how gold is melted into usable ingots, which leads to an inquiry into where the gold comes from (India), which, in turn (after a brief detour into a discussion of what Herodotus insists is the Indian practice of cannibalism), leads to the revelation of where the Indians gather their gold dust. Which is to say, from piles of sand rich in gold dust, created by a species of—what else?—“huge ants, smaller than dogs but larger than foxes.”

Herodotus, in contrast to many so-called ‘historians’, makes it clear that individuals have a profound effect on history. In consequence, it becomes apparent to his readers that human character, virtue and vice, are of the utmost significance in determining historical causes. This is especially refreshing in our day when students are fed historical accounts that seem to attribute causation to far more impersonal causes such as the purely economic or geographical or social movements or “systemic or environmental  causes.”

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Of course Herodotus also gives us a refreshing account of not just human causality, but also a great deal of attention to divine causality as especially manifest through the attention that he gives to the oracles.

The reader might be slightly skeptical about the verity of the often ambiguous Delphic utterances, but say what you will, Herodotus makes a clear case for the significance of divine causation in History.

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Delphic Oracle

In our day it is customary to belittle men greater than ourselves.

My version of Herodotus (“The Landmark Herodotus” edited by Robert B. Strassler) comes with a full plate of footnotes, the authors of which are careful to kibitz and point out minor inaccuracies and discrepancies within the text.  The effect that these notes have in my view is to finally render Herodotus rather innocuous to the student and relegate him to the status of a harmless but unscientific yet charming author- certainly not a historian!

Nonetheless, as I point out to my students, such clever foot-note writers would have absolutely no standing whatever were it not for the big man- Herodotus.

Posted in classical education, Herodotus, History, Newman | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Did You Know That Your Soul Has Twenty Six Powers?

Though I never saw it with my own eyes, it is said that the two words “Know thyself” were inscribed over the entrance to the Temple at Delphi.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν

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That the seven wise men of Greece chose to have these words inscribed in such a prominent location should be a hint to all of us that they deserve our attention. (I have tried to argue that here.) If we do not know ourselves then we run the risk of turning traitor! In act IV scene 2 of Shakespeare’s MacbethRoss explains to Lady Macduff,

…I dare not speak much further; But cruel are the times when we are traitors And do not know ourselves; when we hold rumor from what we fear, yet know not what we fear, But float upon a wild and violent sea, each way and none…

And if we are traitors to ourselves then we certainly have not followed Pollonius’ advice to Laertes when he says,

This above all- to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

And so now that we have a new year in front of us (well … 11 months left) what better time for us to make a new attempt to know ourselves.

To that end, what could be a better way to begin knowing ourselves then by a quick breakdown and examination of our souls? After all, I think Aristotle says somewhere that man is composed of body and soul….but adds that we are more our souls than our bodies. (N.B. We are not only our souls like Plato might have said, but our souls are more what we are than our bodies).

Okay? Does this make sense? I mean, if it really is the case that each of us is more our souls than our bodies, then perhaps a little knowledge about our souls will be important in helping us to know ourselves.

Now I suppose it goes without saying that there are seemingly quite a few people who do not even realize that they have a soul…. or perhaps even go so far as to deny that they have a soul!

Most people probably acknowledge the existence of their souls, but I have a feeling that the conception of the soul is probably quite vague…a little cloudy.

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Well, it’s high time to blow away the smoke! It’s time to clarify our notions about the souls that we all possess! What better way to do this than through a nice breakdown of the soul and an exhaustive list of its capabilities?

There is simply no time to argue or explain each of the soul’s powers in detail. Such an undertaking would be too lengthy and difficult for our needs here. We simply want to see the soul in broad outline. So let’s proceed!

The Soul

First we need to remind ourselves that among living things there are three types of soul, to wit:

  1. Vegetative soul– the kind of souls found among plants
  2. Sensitive soul– the kind of soul in animals
  3. Rational soul– the soul that distinguishes man from plants and animals

Well it turns out that each kind of soul includes powers or abilities that distinguish it from the others. More importantly, we note that the sensitive soul includes all the powers of the vegetative soul in addition its own distinctive powers, and similarly the sensitive soul includes all the powers of the sensitive soul in addition to its own unique powers. In other words, the three kinds of soul are arranged like the numbers One, Two and Three (although One is not a number!). A Two includes everything that a One is in itself (and one more besides!) while a Three includes everything a Two is (and one more besides).

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Now if the vegetative soul has powers that are included in the sensitive soul, and the rational soul has powers that are included in the sensitive soul, then it follows that the rational soul will have all the powers that a soul can have! In other words, the rational soul will not only have its own powers but will also possess the powers of the other kinds of soul as well!

What powers does the vegetative soul include? Well anyone of us with a potted plant in his kitchen knows quite well what powers the plant has. Every plant has exactly three powers.

Powers of the Vegetative Soul

  1. Nutrition
  2. Growth
  3. Reproduction

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Now how about the sensitive soul? What are the powers of the soul that are in animals?

Powers of the Sensitive Soul

  1. Nutrition
  2. Growth
  3. Reproduction
  4. Sensitive Powers
  5. Appetitive Powers
  6. Locomotive Powers

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Every animal has a soul that not only subsumes the powers of the plant soul, but in addition has three extra categories of powers.

It might come as a surprise to some that the sensitive powers of the soul do not just refer to the five sense that are commonly known. No…in addition to the five external senses there are also four other senses, but these senses are internal!

The Sensitive Powers

  1. External Senses (the five senses- touching, smelling, tasting, hearing and seeing)
  2. Internal Senses (the four lesser known internal senses- the “common sense,” the imagination, the memory, and the estimative sense)

Now we see that here alone the sensitive powers are broken up into 9 different powers!

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The Appetitive Powers

There are eleven appetitites that every animal has which are all really powers of the sensitive soul. We usually call them passions or emotions.

Concupiscible Appetitites

  1. love
  2. hate
  3. desire
  4. aversion
  5. pleasure (joy)
  6. pain (sorrow)

Irascible Appetites

  1. hope
  2. despair
  3. audacity (courage)
  4. fear
  5. anger

Thus we see that there are eleven appetitive powers in all. Now we are not making an attempt to explain each power or argue to their existence. Right now we are only concerned about getting them all out on the table! So what are the remaining powers of the sensitive soul? Fortunately, this is easy.

The Locomotive Power

Every animal has the power of locomotion. Even a clam!

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Now the human being has a rational soul. So the rational soul, as we said before includes not only the three powers of the vegetative soul, and not only the twenty-one powers unique to the sensitive soul, but it also possess the two fundamental powers of the rational soul:  Intellect and Will.

So how many powers does your soul have? Let’s count them up!

At least Twenty-Six!

Posted in Delphi, philosophy, Shakespeare, soul | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments