We have lots of moderns on this week’s reading list in the Great Books Project, but don’t let that discourage you. Thomas Aquinas makes up for a lot.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part II , Book IV (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 87-114)
- “The Divine Persons” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 161-167)
- “Il Penseroso” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 21-25)
- “Of the Inequality That Is between Us” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 167-172)
- The Nature of Life by C.H. Waddington, Chapters 1-2 (GBWW Vol. 56, pp. 689-715)
- Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal, Numbers VII-IX (GBWW Vol. 30, pp. 44-71)
I thought it was time to take a brief break from Gibbon, but we’ll plunge back into the Decline and Fall very soon. C.H. Waddington drew the ire of C.S. Lewis in the mid-20th century, so I thought it would be appropriate to read his work as I start preparing an article on the Inklings for publication. Unfortunately, The Nature of Life (1961) is recent enough to be under copyright, and I cannot find an online edition anywhere. If you locate one, please let me know so I can link to it. [UPDATE: Thanks to J Krol, who located a link to the text.]
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part I, Book III: I wonder how many characters we’ll ultimately end up with in this story. I’m already having a bit of trouble keeping track of them all, particularly since they all have several names, it seems. Alyosha appears to have a front-row seat for the self-imposed destruction of his family. His father and oldest brother are fighting over the same woman, who has appeared in one scene so far and appears a perfectly awful person. Dmitri in particular is bent on destroying himself. I assume he’ll live long enough to regret it afterwards.
- “The Procession of the Divine Persons” and “The Divine Relations” by St. Thomas Aquinas: These two questions begin the treatise on the Trinity within the Summa. Right off the bat, St. Thomas wades into deep water with explanations of various senses of the word “procession.” He concludes that there are two processions in God: the procession of the Word and that of love. Then in the next question he concludes that there are four real relations in God: paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession.
- “L’Allegro” by John Milton: I had to read this a couple of times to get the gist of it. It’s an example of pastoral poetry that extols the delights of the countryside. It’s also packed with classical allusions, and there’s a reference to Shakespeare, too.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 16: Gibbon would have us believe that Christians didn’t have it so bad before Constantine. He does admit that persecutions took place, but really downplays them. Even Diocletian is presented as a moderating influence on the wishes of Galerius to burn all the Christians immediately. So if the government comes after you to kill you only a couple of times every century, I guess it’s no big deal.
- “On Narcissism” by Sigmund Freud: Freud presents narcissism as a specifically psychosexual disorder. It seems like his description corresponds more to what is called autoerotism in common discourse these days, whereas now “narcissism” is applied to anyone who’s full of himself. I don’t recall ever hearing a female being described as narcissistic before, but Freud argues that women suffer from this disorder in much greater numbers than men.
- Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal, Numbers IV-VI: Clearly Pascal does not entertain a high opinion of Jesuits. He presents them as guilty of neutering all the moral commands of scripture and Church tradition through their casuistry. It seems incredible that the sort of doctrines described in these letters could ever be taken seriously, but I suppose they were by some people at some point.
It’s crazy that I finished the week’s readings three days ago, but nearly missed getting this post up today. I had to come back into my office after the kids were in bed to finish up. I hope things settle down a bit more in the next few days.