Why reforms fail
The best of the contemporaries of Cusanus demanded the reform of the Church, of both, its head and its members, as well as the reform of the empire. Commissioned with the reform of the Church in Rome itself, he completely failed because Pope and Cardinals were not thinking of adopting reforms concerning their own actions and positions.
Reform as a mere external change in institutions can not succeed. For reform presupposes the inner repentance of those who are involved, the seriousness of a new life that springs from a decision. Cusanus wanted the reforms but did not know their condition in the original transformation of self-sufficiency of the people who realize them.
From: Karl Jaspers (1964). Nicholas Cusanus
The shortening of working hours directly creates an empty space.
To fill it by means of higher activity, neither itself nor the remaining work contains a motive. Therefore, science and art and philosophy had be lowered as media of mere pastime, when they lost the aura of an engagement with the divine.
From: Karlheinz Haag (1983). The Progress in Philosophy
Time and signs
The old modern age has ended. We live in a post-modern as well as a post-Christian age. The present age is demented. It is possessed by a sense of dislocation, a loss of personal identity, an alternating sentimentality and rage which, in an individual patient, could be characterized as dementia. I would call it the age of the theorist-consumer.
All denizens of the age tend to be one or the other or both. Such a denizen can become so frustrated, bored, and enraged that he resorts to violence, violence upon himself or upon others. Or, such a denizen may discover that he is open to a search for signs, some sign other than theorizing or consumption.
There are only two signs in the post-modern age which cannot be encompassed by theory. One sign is one’s self. The only other sign in the world which cannot be encompassed by theory is the Jews, their history, and their presence in the here-and-now. For the self that finds itself lost in the desert of theory and consumption, there is nothing to do but set out as a pilgrim in the desert in search of a sign. In this desert, that of theory and consumption, there remains only one sign, the Jews. By “the Jews” I mean not only Israel, but the worldwide ecclesia instituted by one of them, God become man, a Jew.
From: Crisis Magazine (1990). Article by Walker Percy Why Are You a Catholic?
Secular rationality and religious belief
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation.
According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers—still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion—but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process.
From: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, London, Westminster Hall, 17 September 2010
How one becomes a human being, a Christian
Later on I discovered, and am still discovering to this day, that one only learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life.
If one has completely renounced making something of oneself – whether it be a saint or a converted sinner or a church leader (a so-called priestly figure!), a just or an unjust person, a sick or a healthy person – then one throws oneself completely into the arms of God, and this is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life's tasks, questions, successes or failures, experiences, and perplexities – then one takes seriously no longer one's own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is “metanoia”; this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian (see Jer 45!). How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?
July 21, 1944, the day after the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler
From: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1953). Letters and Papers from Prison
The judgment of others
All dictators become crazy after some time, because if you are not in control by means of the judgement of others, you don't know what to rely on.
When everyone around you is lying, you cannot see truth anymore. That is why they are becoming more and more eccentric.
From: Ernesto Cardenal (1998). Vida perdida
“It never happened in the world that a people were exiled from their country and afterwards did not assimilate. As a rule, when people are exiled or even if they just emigrate, after a generation or two they become assimilated in their new environment. Millions and millions of Germans emigrated to this country; they all became ‘real’ Americans.
But the Jewish people have been in exile for two thousands years; they have lived in hundreds of countries, spoken many languages and still kept their old language, Hebrew. They kept their Aramaic, later their Jiddish; they kept their books; they did not forsake their faith; and after two thousand years they are going back to Israel. This is such a special case in human history that if it hadn't happened, no one would believe it possible.”
Isaac B. Singer & Richard Burgin (1980). Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer
A foundation of life
I do not have the slightest problem with the Ten Commandments, quite the contrary however: I find it to be extremely astonishing, almost inapprehensible, how relevant and lively they still are. In order not to resent them too much, we may consider the following:
Translations from ancient Hebrew indicate that the tense of the verbs should not be solely understood as “You shall not” but also can be interpreted as a future tense, namely as “You will not ...”. And, already, these Ten Commandments appear in a very different light.
Simply put, this means: If you acknowledge me as your God and Creator, people, then you will honor me. You will not lie. You will not murder … etc. Easy as that. And absolutely clear. People who bow to their Creator and feel lovingly observed by Him, do actually not need commandments but will recognize the consequences of this relationship.
I do not see in these the rules of a game upon which God shows us his red card if we do not follow them, but rather his promise to assist us if we acknowledge him as our Creator and Lord.
Those who consider this an outmoded concept in the age of internet, genetic manipulation and globalization, have probably never in the slightest contemplated to trust in God and therefore only trust themselves or the inventions of humankind which, in my opinion, is pretty much the same thing.
Those who seek the world, will only find the world. Those who seek God, WILL find Him. Basically, the Ten Commandments do not state anything different: The lives of those who seek God will follow the track that has been defined here tenfold. Even 3500 years later, these Ten Commandments – ‘offerings’ as I am tempted to call them – form a fundamental rule for community life and a foundation for a life that you can lead in good conscience before God and before yourself.
From: Stern, issue no. 52, (2001), article by Wim Wenders after September 11, 2001. Wenders wanted to become a priest, then surgeon, and finally painter. In the end, his love for the movies won and he became a film director.
What is necessary
The accomplishment of the saint: rendering exceptional homage to God, corresponds in fact with the real order of things. Nowadays, a combination of both qualities is desired, indeed necessary: actual religiosity and actual, factual handling of secular matters.
In insisting on these, I condemn ‘purely religious’ endeavors as sterile today, because they do not confront humans in the depths of their needs, but merely skim the surface, although they speak of vital concerns.
Translated from: Alfred Delp SJ, Gesammelte Schriften Band 4 (1982): Aus dem Gefängnis
When the angel calls
On November 1st, actress Anne Bennent quoted in the literature museum in Vienna a prolonged passage from “The Greater Hope” by Ilse Aichinger:
“Tomorrow becomes today. ... Today becomes yesterday... don't you permit it. Catch hold of today! Make sure that you stay! ... Now in the hour of death. ... Pain always brings a benefit. ... Come and give Him (God) your sins, because you have nothing else. ... We're all on the way to the holy land! – Where is the holy land? – It's everywhere that shepherds watch their sheep and leave everything when the angel summons them.”
The young writer wrote this just after the war had ended in Vienna. In the 2007 edition, Ilse Aichinger concludes her “Speech to the youth” with the appeal to continue the pursuit of the “patient, but never soporific search”: “Always await this joy but never let this hope be corrupted.” On November 11th, Ilse Aichinger passed away in Vienna. dio