Correctly Interpreting the Handwriting On the Wall

ShaltNotby Anniel   5/26/14
People who never read the Bible miss a rich cultural heritage passed on and preserved for millennia. One does not even need to be a “believer” to learn wisdom from study of the Bible. But today the Bible’s contents are such a source of distress to the tender sensibilities of people who hate to be told “THOU SHALT NOT”, that those who do read and study it may feel the need to do so furtively by covering it in a plain brown wrapper.

Crusades against God and His Word are not new, nor is the worshiping of false gods and idols. Idols have always competed with God for the soul of man. Francis Bacon trenchantly observed that, “We are slaves to the idols of our minds.” Who or what are the idols of our minds today? Money, possessions, control, fame, power? What have we as a people become slaves to? Do we worship God or mammon?

The Book of Ecclesiastes I:9 teaches:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

No new thing under the sun, we go in circles, and still each new generation arrogantly believes that they are the first ones to be in their circumstances or to know anything about truth. Rejection of historical biblical principles produces a people who no longer know that liberty is an unalienable right that comes from God, and in their ignorance they sell their birthright for the proverbial mess of pottage. If they even recognize the daily mess of pottage placed before them.

Today there are those who claim politically correct multi-culti principles, but still sneer at those they think are inferior. Christians are fed again to the lions of jihad and societal ostracism; Climate Change “Deniers” should be not only silenced, but imprisoned, and, if necessary, executed as traitors; political conservatives are some sort of (racist, sexist, etc., just choose the flavor of the day). At the very least such creatures must be kept from speaking in public and barred from participation in the academic life of all institutions of “higher learning”. Who has the most knowledge to impart and whose “diversity” is to be more celebrated? That decision should be left to the elite. They know that minds can only be stretched so far without harm.

Truth is subjective and whatever one chooses it to be. “My truth is as good as yours.” People who say this are really saying there is no truth at all and since they are modern they are more intelligent than those dolts from the past.

In our hubris we have forgotten that there really is nothing new under the sun, that people in the past were also intelligent and led full lives. They had wisdom we can learn and receive guidance from. The Bible is one such source of practical lessons on life and recognizing what is important in human experience.

In the not too distant past even people who were not “religious” were somewhat literate in biblical knowledge. The writer Florence King told of having problems with her Social Security number. Finally she had an appointment with a supervisor and, after explaining her problem, the supervisor assured her she understood and the problem would be resolved. ” . . . given my natural pessimism, I automatically said, ‘I can see the handwriting on the wall.’ That’s when she looked at the wall. Turned around and gave it the old up-and-down once-over. Looked at me with eyes as big as saucers. ‘It’s just a figure of speech’, I mumbled.” (NR, Igno Rant Is Bliss, July 26, 2001).

Sometimes we don’t see “the handwriting on the wall” because we don’t know what it means or have never thought about it enough to see its relevance to us.

In his book After America: Get Ready For Armageddon, (2009), Mark Steyn clarifies the story of Belshazzar, King of Babylon, and “the handwriting on the wall,” as told in the Book of Daniel the Prophet, Chapter 5.

Belshazzar had a feast for all his courtiers and brought out the gold and silver plates, utensils and goblets looted from the temple in Jerusalem and used them to drunkenly toast the gods of gold and silver worshiped by the Babylonians. In the midst of the feast a disembodied hand appeared and wrote the words, “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” on the wall. Belshazzar understood the words, they were in his language after all, but he couldn’t figure out why they were suddenly written on the wall during his big party.

Anyone reading the biblical account knows the translation which follows, but most don’t know the meanings of the words as they were written on the wall. Mr. Steyn explains that the words are names for units or weights of Babylonian currency, or as he says: half-dollar, half-dollar, penny and two bits.

Daniel, the Jewish prophet, was called in by the King to interpret the “handwriting on the wall.” The interpretation given to Belshazzar by Daniel is:

MENE: “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and hath finished it”. TEKEL: “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” UPHARSIN: “Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Belshazzar must have immediately recognized the truth of the interpretation, that he had squandered the wealth of his kingdom and thereby weakened and destroyed it, for right away he rewarded Daniel handsomely for his interpretation and prophecy.

Within a day Belshazzar was slain, and the Persians and Darius the Mede had taken over the kingdom.

Mr. Steyn is to be thanked for identifying what the words written on the wall actually mean and placing the story in the context of Belshazzar’s foolhardy fiscal policies. He and his kingdom were numbered (counted), he and his treasury had been weighed in the balances and found to be wanting, that is, empty and out-of-balance.

Does this story have any relevance to our nation’s trillions, billions, and millions in debt? Is there anyone at all who knows the full extent of our profligacy and actual debt? How far from beginning to balance our fiscal affairs are we? Balanced Budget Amendment anyone? Is anyone in Washington awake, at 3 A.M. or otherwise, and reading the “handwriting on the wall?” • (2310 views)

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17 Responses to Correctly Interpreting the Handwriting On the Wall

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I haven’t read Steyn’s books, so I wasn’t familiar with that interpretation of the words. Harry Turtledove (a Jewish science fiction/fantasy writer) made use of the scene in The Golden Shrine. One hopes most of his readers recognized the reference.

    As for the alternate gods that society worships, the conservative SF writer H. Beam Piper included an interesting variant in his 1965 novel (interesting that the official publication date was after he committed suicide because he felt unable to provide for himself and wasn’t the sort to rely on others) Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, in which the title character explains the gods his society worshipped: “Oh, my people had many gods. There was Conformity, and Authority, and Expense Account, and Opinion. And there was Status, whose symbols were many, and who rode in the great chariot Cadillac, which was almost a god itself. And there was Atom Bomb, the dread destroyer, who would some day come to end the world. None were very good gods, and I worshipped none of them.” Little has changed since then, except for minor details.

  2. Rosalys says:

    I am ashamed to say, that even though I have been a Christian (not just a member of Christendom, but an actual, “born again” believer) for almost 35 years, I had never read the entire Bible, cover to cover, until about 4 1/2 years ago. I read parts of the Bible, books about the Bible, went to Bible studies all the time, actually knew quite a bit (as compared to your average Joe) about the Bible, and considered myself Bible literate. Using http://www.biblegateway.com I began the systematic reading of the entire Bible every year. My first time through I was a bit taken aback not only by what it said, but by what it didn’t say! Every time through I gain a little more insight and a whole lot more questions. I’m now on my 5th time through and all I can say is I wish I had begun this practice 35 years ago!

    I work with a guy who is an atheist (and I actually believe he really is since he doesn’t spit venom every time someone mentions Jesus, God, Christ, etc.!) We talk a lot because politically we have lots in common. He says he has read the entire Bible but I don’t believe him because he is really very biblically ignorant. I don’t think he’s lying, but I think he must have read it like many kids read their English book list assignments – with eyes glazed over. We were talking about the national debt, the imploding economy, the (planned) destruction of the dollar, that kind of stuff. I told him that I thought we had reached the point of no return, that it is impossible to pay off the national debt and that the only way out would be to declare a Year of Jubilee. He didn’t know what that was and I got a chance to explain something in the Bible which to him made some actual sense! It wasn’t enough to get him to to take another look at what other good ideas God might have, but hopefully it’s a seed planted.

    Remember Art Linkletter’s House Party? Remember his interviews with children? One of his favorite questions was, “Tell us about your favorite Bible story,” and the kids always had a story to tell, albeit an amusingly mixed up one. It wasn’t that long ago – about 50 years. In one and a half generations our nation has become Biblically illiterate. Illiteracy extends to most other disciplines as well – economics, history, geography, basic reading comprehension and writing skills – you name it!

    I really believe that we, America as a whole, have turned our back on the true God (the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – no room for Allah here!) I believe we are suffering the natural consequences and it will take a wholesale repentance along the lines of Nineveh to turn us around.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    My favorite Bible story . . . I’d have to think about that. My favorite quote today (as an Army brat) would have to be from the book of Joel: “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.” (I was very amused many years ago when we visited the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond and saw sabers that had been manufactured by the Nashville Plow Company.) But I won’t deny (in my less cynical moments) a fondness for John 3:16 (a childhood favorite).

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    No new thing under the sun, we go in circles, and still each new generation arrogantly believes that they are the first ones to be in their circumstances or to know anything about truth.

    Indeed. Nicely meshing with postmodernism is Cultural Marxism. Both approaches arrogantly believe that anything that came before them is not only disposable, but should be disposed. All officially “bad things” according to these views are the result of unenlightened elements from the past. It’s sort of a Youth Culture Über Alles.

    Combined with the now common and ingrained bigotry against Christianity, any historical wisdom — especially that associated with religion — is immediately and reflexively cast off as worse than useless.

    And that puts one in an inherently corruptive situation, for if “not that” is one’s reflexive reaction to a lot of good truths (whatever their source), then one will be wedded to error. It’s like the situation of having to choose the lady or the tiger. Behind one door is the one, and behind the other door is the other. But if one has already declared that the door marked “lady” is wrong, one will get a whole lot of tiger.

    No wonder there is this push for the mindless equivalent of sex, drugs, and rock n roll in our culture. Once the intellectual/moral sphere is cut off, what has one left to do? One can, of course, pretend at a grand moral sphere with all this talk of “saving the planet.” But it’s not the planet that needs saving. Nor is such kind of talk anything more than an affectation for most.

    • john hartnett says:

      Brad:
      It seems to me that Post modernism and cultural Marxism mesh nicely on their own as children of a common, fetid mother; the Enlightenment.
      Don’t you think that what we see in today’s “culture” (or should I say un-culture) is the effect of the absence of God in the lives of so many? People search and search vainly, repeating the mistakes of earlier vain searchers. They are created with a need for their creator, but when this is denied, intentionally or unwittingly, that void aches and demands fulfillment. And so we create our own gods, be they cadillacs or unrestrained sex or wealth or power or whatever. But in the end, none of these things suffice.
      Pride and inordinate self-love, on the wings of fleshly concupiscence, all too easily fill the spaces in the soul that leaves no room for God when His knocks on the door of the heart go for too long unanswered.
      Fortunately, for the likes of one such as this wretch, He is patient.
      We weren’t created for these things and they can not fulfill our deepest needs.
      So yes, the Bible, being the Word of God, is meant for our spiritual health and as a map of life to light our path. And so, I might add, is Tradition, which augments and enriches it. We eschew the light to our peril.

      • john hartnett says:

        Actually, when I re-read this later, it appeared my comments were all directed toward you, Brad. Not my intent at all, however, other than the reference to the relationship between Post modernism and cultural Marxism.
        My apology for the lack of clarity.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It seems to me that Post modernism and cultural Marxism mesh nicely on their own as children of a common, fetid mother; the Enlightenment.

        John, right now I’m reading Chesterton’s short biography of Thomas Aquinas. In it he says:

        In all these cases we see repeated the point stated at the start. The Thomist movement in metaphysics, like the Franciscan movement in morals and manners, was an enlargement and a liberation, it was emphatically a growth of Christian theology from within; it was emphatically not a shrinking of Christian theology under heathen or even human influences.

        The Franciscan was free to be a friar, instead of being bound to be a monk. But he was more of a Christian, more of a Catholic, even more of an ascetic. So the Thomist was free to be an Aristotelian, instead of being bound to be an Augustinian. But he was even more of a theologian; more of an orthodox theologian; more of a dogmatist, in having recovered through Aristotle the most defiant of all dogmas, the wedding of God with Man and therefore with Matter.

        Nobody can understand the greatness of the thirteenth century, who does not realise that it was a great growth of new things produced by a living thing. In that sense it was really bolder and freer than what we call the Renaissance, which was a resurrection of old things discovered in a dead thing. In that sense medievalism was not a Renascence, but rather a Nascence. It did not model its temples upon the tombs, or call up dead gods from Hades. It made an architecture as new as modern engineering; indeed it still remains the most modern architecture. Only it was followed at the Renaissance by a more antiquated architecture. In that sense the Renaissance might be called the Relapse. Whatever may be said of the Gothic and the Gospel according to St. Thomas, they were not a Relapse. It was a new thrust like the titanic thrust of Gothic engineering; and its strength was in a God who makes all things new.

        The Enlightment could certainly be called the mother of the secular conceit, that all wise and good things arose only with the those who had thrown off the superstition of religion and gave their allegiance to science and “reason.” I can certainly see some good things occurring in the so-called “Enlightenment,” but many bad things as well.

        I’m Enlightenment-minded when it comes to the sense of surety some people have in what they say God wants. I say that is a most difficult thing to be sure of, and I’m a “humanist” in the sense of Aquinas wherein he saw both sides of the equation. There are worldly things and spiritual things — there are men’s choices and God commandments, if you will.

        There have been movements in Christianity where the worldly is discounted and the thrust is all put on the otherworldly. I like how Chesterton points out that many of the various religious Orders stressed both physical labor and spiritual pursuits — a seemingly worthy balance from my perspective. But people being people, this evolved (or devolved, depending upon one’s perspective) into the monks using peasants and others to perform the manual labor while they dedicated themselves to exclusively spiritual pursuits.

        Chesterton adeptly paints a contrast (but mostly similarities) between St. Francis (the “activist,” if you will) and St. Dominic (the bookworm, if you will) in giving his profile of Aquinas. He states that both saints were the fulfillment of the Christian ideal in that they lived it and just didn’t talk about it. But certainly there is that contrast of the mental/spiritual (Dominic) aspect of things and the living-in-this-world aspect (Francis).

        To study these three examples is, according to Chesterton, a fulfillment of dogma even if done through a type of humanism. I’m okay with some self-love, as well as some self denial. I think we get a little out of balance when we try to push too far to one side or the other.

        Having possessions is a good thing. But being too attached to them, and infusing much too much meaning into them, is not a good thing. I think it’s that way for a great many things. I can find things in the Enlightenment — and even communism — that I like and that are appropriate to some spheres of life. But, good god, the way people have run off half-cocked, their head dancing with the sugarplums of secular conceits and fantasies. That’s certainly not my style.

        • The thing that’s good about humanism is that is, in part, a flowering of the realization that each human life is unique and important. It took Christianity over a 1000 years to bring that concept into common thought patterns, and another 500 years for the blossom to fully open. However, once that understanding of man as special and important is separated from its divine roots all hell breaks loose. That’s where we are now.

          Anniel — wonderful piece. Wonder if there’s been any writing appearing on the White House walls lately?

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            However, once that understanding of man as special and important is separated from its divine roots all hell breaks loose. That’s where we are now.

            Deana, you probably have gathered that I take somewhat of an ecumenical view on these issues, attempting to find some kind of correspondence between religious culture and secular culture (but not Marxist culture, which can go to hell as far as I’m concerned).

            I think the religious side is right to point out the pitfalls of making man the measure of all things. And although there are many ways to live the Christian life, certainly some do tend toward a somewhat anti-humanist approach whereby man is nothing unto himself. The “secular” fundamentalists (and I am not one of these, for sure) tend toward the idea that man is everything unto himself.

            From my understanding of Aquinas, he seems to have – as Francis did — reinvigorated the balance between the worldly and the Divine. Because man is a Divinely-inspired creature, his freedom and dignity are of great importance. He can, and should, exist for himself and not just be some cog in a machine, religious or statist. And because he is a Divinely-inspired creature, it is equally important to try to rise above the level of a rutting animal.

            Our current tattooed, gender-bending culture has certainly gotten the freedom part of the equation. But they dismiss the other side. The only constraints they will abide by are government. Government, for them, is a type of shared morality they can believe in, if only because it psychologically covers their sins.

            As Dennis Prager has noted, and certainly many of the authors here have noted, the Left uses its ideology as a mere veneer, a cover, a sort of secular Indulgence. As long as you mouth “concern” and “caring” for whatever politically correct tripe is making the rounds, your own cruddy behavior is excused. Dennis Prager has noted this eating out of true morals by studies done (or questions he’s asked) about parent’s attitudes toward their children cheating on tests in school. Generally speaking, parents were far more concerned if a kid had a cigarette, for example, than if he cheated on a test.

            And that’s certainly evocative the pagan/secular vibe going around whereby health-equals-morality. Man is reduced to nothing but an animal with a biology.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Liberals might talk of believing in individual worth, but their Molochite religion is based on the opposite. You can’t celebrate abortion and euthanasia (and seek to minimize punishment of actual proven murderers) if you genuinely believe all human life is precious.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                It is arguable (certainly I do argue) that much of the capacity of man’s brain is put toward making rationalizations. We want what we want and then — especially because we like to think well of ourselves, and we like others to think well of ourselves — we rationalize why we did what we did.

                What liberals want is to have sex without consequences. In order to have this sexual utopia, you must have abortion. And to help cover their own sociopathic tendencies, they then go overboard on “saving the whales” and getting all teary-eyed over saving baby seals. But they can’t be bothered to save their own kind. That’s not what they are about.

                This is the dark heart of humanity. Deception and self-deception are seemingly built in. The Left is inherently built on deceit. Or, as you say, the Molochite religion.

            • “From my understanding of Aquinas, he seems to have – as Francis did — reinvigorated the balance between the worldly and the Divine. Because man is a Divinely-inspired creature, his freedom and dignity are of great importance. He can, and should, exist for himself and not just be some cog in a machine, religious or statist. And because he is a Divinely-inspired creature, it is equally important to try to rise above the level of a rutting animal.”

              Yes, Brad. Exactly. If you look back on ancient history the only group of people who seemed to have a glimmer of this idea about humanity were the Jews, and maybe Melchisidech, Noah, Enoch, etc. Mostly no one got it and it took mankind a long time to learn. Now we’ve roared right on past that thought and, with a big push from Darwin and his followers, we’ve assumed we got to be special on our own. The end result of that is the Elliot Roger types. And one look at the environmentalist nutcases and they’ve circled all the way back to a pagan worship of the planet.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                with a big push from Darwin and his followers, we’ve assumed we got to be special on our own.

                That’s exactly right, Deana. One wonders if it isn’t atheism that is the enemy of the good society as much as the self-esteem movement is. Ain’t we just so special.

                Ironically, the heathens tend to critique (if not outright belittle) Christianity because, after all, those Christians had the audacity to put man at the center of the universe when, as all enlightened people know, he is just one of many species in a whole universe of galaxies.

                And although I think it extremely likely that there is life all over the universe, that is beside the immediate point. As Dennis Prager notes, man wasn’t at the center of the universe. He was at the bottom (or nearly the bottom, with only Hell underneath him). It is God at the top, then the angels, then something else, and you finally worked your way down to mere sinful man.

                So who really has raised man up to be a little bit too full of himself? Well, it’s not the people who believe that man is not born perfect. And it’s certainly not the people who understand man as being in the context of something larger than himself.

                And we can all agree or disagree about what the context is. Is it a Christian context? A Buddhist context? A Hindu context? All of the above in some unknowable way? But there is a context. Man is not the measure of all things.

                And man cannot truly be man without a good dose of humility. Think of our education and media system that is keeping people ignorant, in part, because to be exposed to truths outside of their inculcated small world view would be painful, perhaps even offensive.

                Man does not progress past the animal without being able to look at himself outside the context of his ego, his reputation, and his worldly accomplishments. Only by knowing (pardon my French) that the sun doesn’t shine out of his own ass can man expand himself to take on new, better, and more all-encompassing ideas. And to lower yourself because you understand from whence the sun does not shine takes a dose of humility, not the smarmy “self-esteem” idea that “man is the measure of all things.”

  5. john hartnett says:

    Brad:
    I haven’t read Chesterton on Aquinas and I must do that soon. Let me say that I am much taken with the nature of your pursuit of truth. Seeing Aquinas through the eyes of Chesterton seems to me somewhat like seeing the purest gold in the brightest noonday sunshine.
    A few thoughts on portions of your excellent piece:
    You commented: “I like how Chesterton points out that many of the various religious Orders stressed both physical labor and spiritual pursuits — a seemingly worthy balance from my perspective. But people being people, this evolved (or devolved, depending upon one’s perspective) into the monks using peasants and others to perform the manual labor while they dedicated themselves to exclusively spiritual pursuits.”
    Well now, I’m not so sure that it ever did. Four years ago I spent three weeks on a spiritual retreat at a monastery of Traditional Benedictine Monks in Oklahoma. They, to this day, balance their days between physical work and the spiritual, i.e. daily Mass, the Divine Office (chanted) together with periods of contemplative prayer. And as a guest they put me dutifully to work for half of each day (except Sunday) and some of it was quite physically demanding. They still follow the rule of St. Benedict to this day. I had never heard of monks, at least Benedictines,Carthusians, Trappists, Carmelites having used peasants in lieu of performing their own labor as to them work, dedicated daily to God, is a form of prayer which they can no more do without than air or water. Their (Benedictine) motto is Ora et Labora: prayer and labor.

    In paraphrasing Chesterton, you said: “But certainly there is that contrast of the mental/spiritual (Dominic) aspect of things and the living-in-this-world aspect (Francis).”

    Yes, it it interesting. And yet, Francis, like Dominic, was also a mystic–in the world but not of the world. Francis bore the stigmata (the wounds) of Christ which only one who has been drawn up in this life into spiritual union with Christ could ever be blessed with.

    Later on in your commentary you mentioned this: “I’m okay with some self-love, as well as some self denial. I think we get a little out of balance when we try to push too far to one side or the other.”
    There are two kinds of self-love, if you will. The kind that Catholicism — Aquinas and probably Chesterton and most spiritual directors would warn against, is the kind wherein we place ourselves, our wants, our desires, our will ahead of that of the Creator. It gives rise to pride and all forms of selfishness, rather than the selflessness preached and always practiced by Christ and preached and certainly not necessarily faithfully practiced by the ministers of His Church. Proper self love, however, is born of true charity or Caritas, love of God, as in and through our love of God, we can not help but love ourselves and our neighbors in the proper sense, i.e. wanting what is truly best for them/ourselves in not only the temporal but especially in the spiritual sense.
    Self denial, on the other hand, implies deep humility, the opposite of, and destroyer of sinful pride. To practice it for love of God is to build virtue through the development of character. It is to essentially practice putting God first, not just because we owe Him that, but because in loving Him, we want to do it.
    I suspect that most contributors to this blog, including yourself, would agree that at the root of much of our society’s decay is far too great a degree of the afore-described inordinate self-love and far too little self-denial and its attendant humility and all the virtues, especially Charity, the mother of all virtues.

    And lastly, this comment:
    “Having possessions is a good thing. But being too attached to them, and infusing much too much meaning into them, is not a good thing. I think it’s that way for a great many things. I can find things in the Enlightenment — and even communism — that I like and that are appropriate to some spheres of life.”

    Thomas Aquinas would certainly agree with and vigorously support the point of view toward possessions that we must see them as gifts of God, as nothing exists without Him and all things are sustained by Him. In that light, whatever I have in this life isn’t truly mine to keep, but to use, in the sense of a steward. I use it to meet my temporal needs, of course, but also to be an alter-Christus, another Christ, by using what I’ve been given to do His will, to advance charity and to help one another. After all, I won’t be taking it with me when I leave this life. In the end my stewardship, or alternative selfishness, will be weighed in the balance.
    So yes, I agree with you in that having possessions is not inherently a bad thing at all, but becoming too attached to our possessions is not only not good for us, it corrupts us and can lead to our destruction. Our possessions can easily become our worshipped idols.

    And so it is with that which is drawn from scripture, as Anniel stated above. All of it is meant for our good, both temporally and spiritually. A priest friend told me once, during my long period of apostasy, rebellion and belief in some fuzzy deism, to think of the ten commandments somewhat in the way that the manufacturer of your new car intends your owner’s manual. He gives the manual to you as an essential help, not to beat you over the head with it. The people who made the car know it through and through (we hope, anyway). And by following their guidance faithfully the car will perform at its very best. If I choose not to follow the recommendations of the makers, then I do so at my own risk.

    Just as you have stated, Brad, and despite what I’ve said herein, I don’t for a minute pretend to understand or “know” the mind of God. It is utterly impossible and if any man thinks he does, then he’s a fool. But what one can know is that which God has given us to know about Him through Divine Revelation and which has been thought through, clarified, contextualized if you will by theologians like Aquinas and Augustine and many others and, in the case of we Catholics at least, by the magisterium of the Church over two millenia.
    Thanks for your stimulating and excellent commentary.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Aquinas through the eyes of Chesterton seems to me somewhat like seeing the purest gold in the brightest noonday sunshine.

      Chesterton can get a little ponderous to read. But he’s generally worth slogging through in order to get to the nuggets.

      They, to this day, balance their days between physical work and the spiritual, i.e. daily Mass, the Divine Office (chanted) together with periods of contemplative prayer.

      Unless Chesterton was in error, it sounds as if some orders have bounced back and forth on this issue. Maybe some have re-reformed themselves. But there are many religious Orders, and I don’t remember offhand which ones he was talking about.

      But certainly monks have been known to fudge the rules. St. Francis wasn’t even in the grave yet when it was considered that his rule to have no possessions was just too difficult. So they fudged this. And as long as someone else held legal title to their possessions, they got around this restriction.

      I, too, would find Francis’ initial rules difficult. But they are what they are. And it is certainly why I have the belief that today’s Franciscans cannot slap any kind of copyright on the idea of “Franciscan.” The meaning of the word goes to the heart of who Francis was, and who Christ was. We can fudge things all day long to satisfy our own comforts. We can call a dog a “cat” but it will still be a dog.

      My older brother spent some time down in Oregon last year at a monastery. I forget which one it was (probably Benedictine). And he really liked it. He liked the careful industries they had there that helped the monks support themselves, such as bread and wine making. Certainly the days of having a peasant class do your work so you can sit and read or pray all day long are probably long gone.

      Yes, it it interesting. And yet, Francis, like Dominic, was also a mystic–in the world but not of the world. Francis bore the stigmata (the wounds) of Christ which only one who has been drawn up in this life into spiritual union with Christ could ever be blessed with.

      I know far less about Dominic than I do Francis. And Francis would scold me for analyzing his life rather than living it. It’s very very easy to intellectualize these issues, and to do so regarding Francis is most egregious. The initial Rules of his Order were not complicated. They initially consisted of:

      “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19,21);

      “Take nothing for your journey” (Luke 9,3);

      “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” (Luke 9,23).

      I can give you a thousand rationalizations for why I can’t do any of the above. But one of those rationalizations is not that I don’t understand his Rule, how it came about, or the ideas behind it. Maybe such ideas must necessarily be fudged and watered down for mere mortals to do en masse. I’m sure that’s probably the case. But I would have a hard time calling myself a Franciscan if I owned anything other than the clothes on my back.

      As for self-love, I wouldn’t personally define it as you have, by saying that a bad self-love is putting our desires above that of the Creator. I think that misses the point of what it means to actual be a independent being. It’s okay to have wants and desires that are our own. I doubt whether Jesus cares if we play guitar rather than the piano. I do think he would care whether we acquired that piano or guitar by honest means.

      I just have a lot of doubt regarding what we can say about what God says should be our proper desires. I take a somewhat broad view of God. The Creator gave us both butt-holes and Beethoven. As much as we might want to escape the mundane, the vulgar, and the profane, such things are in integral part of life. To me, humility starts with understanding that there is no earthly utopia, not even a spiritual one. Life is going to be hard, often unfair, and certainly not perfect.

      So when it comes to talking about self-love, I’m certainly going to be harsh regarding the frivolous, narcissistic attitudes of so many, in accordance with much of what you wrote. But there is much to be said of the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This implies that the idealized idea of “selfless” love needs perhaps to be seen in a new light. It’s okay to love yourself. If you don’t, how can one love others (your neighbor) as yourself?

      Love yourself all that you’d like, as far as I’m concerned. Where we get into trouble is when there is a lack of empathy for others, when we lack the ability to see others as anything but tools for our own use. It is arguable that the “self esteem” movement is the kind of “self love” that is harmful and narcissistic in nature, because it focuses only on how you feel quite apart from relevant circumstances. It’s just fine to feel bad about yourself if you’ve done bad. But the “self esteem” movement is narcissistic, even a bit sociopathic, in nature because it tends to separate feelings from circumstances. All that matters is that you feel good about yourself.

  6. Anniel says:

    Reading these comments, especially about the much vaunted self esteem movement, reminds me that “esteem” was a name reserved for those with only the very highest of character. As I watched parents become frightened of their own children to the point of abdicating any discipline at all, I often thought to myself that, if words really mean something, maybe we should reserve our esteem for God – and maybe George Washington.

    Mother Theresa once said something about true humility is be able to look at yourself honestly, and acknowledge your gifts and talents freely and openly because God gave them to you. No false modesty allowed! It’s difficult to accept a compliment without cringing and feeling embarrassed. But being honest about yourself allows you the freedom to just say “Thank You.” With no guilt.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Humble has a way of forcing itself on you despite whatever is one’s outward demeanor. The three-D’s have a way of doing that as you go through life: divorce, disease, and disappointment.

      And personality counts for much. Some people are more brash and some people are more demure. It’s hard to say what model is right for all.

      But we should probably give credit to people in this obscenely twerk-filled egomaniacal world just for trying to be humble.

      But humble can easily become an affectation. I remember reading this account (possibly apocryphal) of two mega-saints meeting for the first time at some conference. I think it was St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. The story goes that upon entering the church they got into a humility battle, each insisting that the other go first through the door. Apparently they went back and forth a few times before somebody finally gave in.

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