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The Great Books Of The Western World



  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep


    The letters which follows the gospels are very interesting. You observe the statesmanship which was necessary to both create and hold together the early church. The information about early Christians lived and held matters in common is interesting. Sounds almost like they were living in communes, frankly. That works in a high trust, smaller setting, but I remain unconvinced that it scales well.

    So many of the admonitions and observations of the likes of Paul seem to me to be "fine" - certainly not bonkers - but rather at a remove from the remarkable nature of what is represented in the gospels that are commonly accepted.

    Anyway, in audiobook terms I am on to a wonderful BBC production of Dante's THE DIVINE COMEDY.

    A mere three hours, but I opted for it because it clearly has a really high production quality (because BBC) and, frankly, I would rather get the "sense" of the thing than trudge through an unabridged version that is read by someone who is half asleep.

    As I progress on to Shakespeare and similar I wouldn't rule out watching movies / listening to audiodramas there as well.

    In reading terms, finished Seneca's LETTERS FROM A STOIC and on to the famous Marcus Aurelius' MEDITATIONS.

    I remain more of a fan of Epictetus than any other Stoic I've read, but Marcus Aurelius is the crowd favourite.

    - - -

    On a personal note, my eldest son is just beginning to properly read (I'm talking "Ned is on the bus" type level).

    It's obviously a wonderful thing to see that world begin to open up for a person.

    What I'm observing is that he is teetering between wanting the pleasure of being read to and having books with pictures that he can readily enjoy ... versus either making the effort to participate in the reading process himself ... or being read to from a non-picture book. Of the three options his inclination on lazy days is to have a picture book that he is read from... No work from him, and the most stimulating visually as well. But I think as his reading fluency progresses he'll gradually move (as well as did) towards not just being read to from non-picture books but to actually reading them himself. Couldn't help but note that many adults, myself included, still kind of grapple in our reading with what is 'easy' and readily consumable versus what is a little more challenging but probably more nourishing in a long term sense. I'd be lying if I didn't have a sense of smug satisfaction that I have read less trashy science fiction and similar in the past couple of years. I'm sure there's an argument to be made that life is short and that we should all just read what we enjoy, worrying nothing for any idea of what is intellectually stimulating or of artistic worth, but... I'm pretty sure that all books are not made equal and that the counter case that we should try to read well rather than just reading anything is solid.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished Marcus Aurelius' MEDITATIONS. I think I was a little judgmental of it based on the first book, and it's important to note now that critics believe that he may have never intended to see that published... It may be reflective of its relative opaqueness compared to the rest of the book, which is more tightly argued?

    Also finished THE DIVINE COMEDY and hard not to recommend it to anyone who has wondered but been put off by it. The BBC abridged version is, of course, a bit of a cheat way to do it, but excellent nonetheless.

    Now listening to THE CANTEBURY TALES, which is a whopping 20hrs + in the unabridged version I have. So far I have finished THE KNIGHTS TALE and THE REEVE'S TALE. I started to listen to the MILLER'S TALE but the narrator of that particular story had such a bad accent that I had to skip it. I think I'm going to adopt the same approach to the rest of them... I don't see myself listening to all of them, would take months at this rate.

    I was quite taken aback at THE REEVE'S TALE, I don't think it would pass muster in the era of today's #metoo. Two clerks visit a local miller, who everyone knows is robbing those he does business with. They attempt to oversee him to avoid theft, but he outwits them and steals from them. In revenge, when they stay with him overnight, one of them creeps into the wife of his daughter and sleeps with her. The other tricks the miller's wife into sleeping with him by confusing her into coming back to the wrong bed (by moving her baby's cradle next to his... I think that actually makes it all the worse, that little detail). Anyway, when the daughter wakes up it's suggested she has warmed to her suitor. The miller's wife it's suggested was blissfully unaware of who she has slept with. Obviously a medieval notion of consent at work.

  • Registered Users Posts: 10,088 ✭✭✭✭ Jimmy Bottlehead

    I adore Meditations, but this is fascinating reading to witness you absorb such an amount of base Western philosophical building blocks.

    I can't say I've read many of the posts in depth because I don't want to spoil my own future experience of these books, but have you found it worthwhile thus far? Would you recommend it?

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I adore Meditations, but this is fascinating reading to witness you absorb such an amount of base Western philosophical building blocks.

    I can't say I've read many of the posts in depth because I don't want to spoil my own future experience of these books, but have you found it worthwhile thus far? Would you recommend it?

    It's definitely worth it. I'm not going to say it's easy - especially at first - but I've been at it for over a year now and I've just formed the habits I needed to get the reading done.

    I studied some of these thinkers before -as an undergraduate - but we all took the shortcut at the time of reading secondary sources rather than the primary texts themselves, because of course it's easier to read a contemporary author who is summing things up in a digestible way. No comparison though, between that any making the texts your own by reading them without filter.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Still chipping away with Augustine's CONFESSIONS. It's slow going, if I'm honest. Easy enough to take his meaning but the way it is written "to" God makes it hard to blitz through. You're constantly getting mentally checked by the You and Your thrown in there that you have to unpick and think about who he is actually talking to.

    Halfway through listening to THE CANTEBURY TALES. Lighter fare, in parts, than you'd expect ... Seems to be a spread of ribald humour, stories of antiquity re-told, and little moral plays that act as vehicles for the delivery of philosophy - in one instance heft doses of Roman philosophy, Cicero in the main.

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I made it way through probably 90% of THE CANTEBURY TALES before throwing in the towel. It's an unfinished work, first of all, and the final 'tale' was a long priests' sermon that I just felt was not fundamentally adding value.

    For those unfamiliar, TCT is like a short story collection, diverse in style and subject matter, but I think you could reasonably argue that one of the main themes is to highlight one of the big concerns of the day... Corruption within the Church.

    On to Erasmus' THE PRAISE OF FOLLY, which is kind of awesome and a lot more accessible.

    Still reading THE CONFESSIONS also, probably halfway through.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    THE PRAISE OF FOLLY continues with that theme found in some of the stories in THE CANTEBURY TALES (The Summoner's Tale probably being one of the most relevant), where there is extensive discussion of the venal nature of the Church and far it has strayed from the example of Christ and the Apostles.

    Erasmus is really cutting, in his description of Cardinals and Bishops who never open a Gospel or consider that they are responsible for the spiritual stewardship of the faithful (indeed, in the case of Cardinals, the actual successorship of the Apostles) and consider frugality and discomfort to be demeaning to their stations, and would look down upon the hands-on nature of charity. He discusses how they seem to have forgotten the symbolic significance of elements of their dress and station (the red robes, the mitre and so on) and talks about how they just seem to be interested in wealth and status. In fairness, you could argue that even the contemporary church has its Gucci priests and Bishops who appear to live more like successful businessmen than clerics.

    He also attacks theologians and the scholastic philosophers who focus on intellectualising elements of the faith, and making demonstrations of 'proofs' and statements of law based on reason and academics. He notes that the original Apostles won people over to their cause through the example of their lives and their performance of miracles ... Which is somewhat different entirely...

    In fairness, I think what can be called 'apologetics' has its place, I think contemporary Christianity has probably moved too far from emphasising that there is a need to teach basic theology and philosophy of religion to people.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Rushed through the final chapters of THE CONFESSIONS.

    If I am honest I found Augustine a bit impenetrable when it came to the final sections in which he goes beyond autobiography and into meditations on things like time, memory, Genesis and the relation to God. Maybe this is why people recommend tackling his doorstopper THE CITY OF GOD FIRST (I'll be frank, ain't nobody got time for that right now, I'm saving up my willpower for Aquinas and Kant, who I bought anticipate will take up months to get through... Although I bought a selected readings of Aquinas that might not be too bad).

    Next up THE NIBELUNGELIED. This has the dubious distinction of having been adapted into a TV movie starring the bird who was the female Terminator in Terminator 3.

    Technically it should be THE SONG OF ROLAND but I've just done an absolute rush job and 'skinned' it via an online publication. Quite interesting but happy to move on.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished THE NIBELUNGENLIED in a couple of days of intensive reading (I was travelling).

    Its authorship is unknown but I think I'm correct in saying it's a Germanic epic poem that was written by someone in a court along the Danube. Sometimes compared to Homer, I gather, although probably a tier or two down in terms of greatness and artistic merit.

    I found it interesting in a couple of ways.

    Firstly, it offers tremendous insight into the medieval mindset. You've got various issues of protocol that are the heart of the story. It matters who stands, who goes first, who goes to meet who, who equips who for their journeys. Who is vassal to who - and the implications that vassalage would have, in terms of tribute owed, and even who could be eligible to marry a vassal - is the wedge that comes between the two Queens and unleashes a bloodbath that is the central dramatic element.

    I don't know how historically accurate it is, in terms of the stuff around courting and pre-marriage, but we are given a picture of a fiercely segregated society. Noble women are kept in seclusion before marriage and their male guardians (In this story it's often a brother who is the guardian, or even a male noble unrelated to the woman) ensure that there's no funny business between ladies and their betrothed. The male characters who are after brides are these killing machines on the battle field and yet in court we are given the picture of them as absolutely brimming with eagerness to get married so they have access to the woman they're after.

    On the one hand I'm sure the reality of it was that these guys were all whoring around while they were waiting to get married, but on the other hand I'm prepared to give some credence to the idea that in a feudal honour society it's also possible that this stuff was taken so seriously it was adhered to by some of them. And of course you've got to figure that no one fights harder on the battlefield than the young knight who is completely sexually deprived and repressed and knows that the only way that he is going to get his rocks off and get permission to have legal sex is to dominate in war and make himself an eligible mate.

    The 'bad guy' in the story is Hagen, who is a kind of prime minister or lieutenant to the other 'bad guy', Gunther, who is more of a wet blanket than a dedicated villain. Hagen is the one who, because of a perceived affront to his liege mistress, engineers the assassination of the 'hero' (Although another guy who wouldn't pass muster in the #metoo era) Siegfried. Hagen literally stabs him in the back, rendering his wife a widow. Later, to add insult to injury, Hagen kills Sigfried's infant son and beheads the child's tutor.

    However, I read an interesting essay which framed everything Hagen did according to the honor code of the times. By its measure, probably everything he did was morally justifiable according to the code of loyalty that he was adhering to as a vassal. I say probably because there's no pass for killing a kid even if it makes sense in realpolitik terms.

    Speaking of realpolitik, I finished THE PRAISE OF FOLLY and am now on to Nicollo Machiavelli's THE PRINCE.

    THE PRINCE is tremendously short so I'll likely be finished with it in a matter of days and then it's on to UTOPIA.

    I first read THE PRINCE when I was about 16. My older brother gave it to me as a gift, and it's a book that I have returned to time and time again. A classic of political philosophy and Italian prose (Not that I read Italian, I'm just saying...).

    Machiavelli has been much maligned but it's clear that his ultimate belief is that what is good for the Prince, or for the Republic, is what is good (end of story). To paraphrase the last couple of lines I listened to on my way in to work this morning: By following a virtuous path a Prince might come to ruin and lose his position. By committing some calculated acts of wickedness, by contrast, it is possible that a Prince could bring himself security and prosperity. And for Machiavelli the Prince's interests and that of his country (and his people) are assumed to be aligned.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Machiavelli is often quoted as saying it is better to be feared than loved, if you have to choose. On the basis that the former is more likely to preserve your security than the latter.

    But it's important to note that he admonishes strictly against being hated.

    I think a contemporary audience might assume that a Prince who is feared is one who is behaving like a villain - torturing and being corrupt and whatnot - but I think that would be more like what Machiavelli is talking about when he talks about a Prince who is hated. So what does he mean by a Prince who is feared, and can someone be feared but not hated?

    I think there is a particular type of fear he is talking about, and it is situated in a particular context: A generally turbulent and uncertain Italy which is riven by war, mercenary companies and foreign interference. In this context, a Prince who can be depended upon to deliver harsh penalties to law breakers might be preferable to one who is known to only pay lip service to the law. You might fear the big stick that someone like that is wielding, but if the alternative is worse (a vaccum or vindictive tyrant who acts outside of the law) ... then I guess you might not hate them.

    A parallel: I think it's in THE NIBELUNGELIED where someone is described as being held in dread by his subjects, and the translator notes that for a medieval audience this is a mark of praise, because it means that there must be functioning law and order within his sphere of influence. The local lord is hanging people and meting out rough justice, but that's actually preferable to his vassals than if the highways and byways are unsafe to travel at any time because of banditry and whatnot.

    Seems to me that Machiavelli's Prince might be 'feared' in much the same way. You know they're going to wreck anyone stepping out of line, he may be a bastard but he's your bastard etc.

    But there's also the other side of it, that Machiavelli does also mean that in terms of the personal judgments people make about whether to stay loyal or not, he says they will risk things and stay loyal when the danger is far away, but when the danger is near they will not remain loyal unless they are more in fear of the Prince than the enemy... A certain punishment from disobedience versus the possibility of punishment via loss in war.

    Perhaps a contemporary way of framing it is that Machiavelli is saying that people like structure, strength and decisiveness in a leader. They like to know that there are rules which are adhered to even handedly. And if the boss is harsh or demanding, they don't care so much as long as he's 'fair' (Don't we often here this?). In my experience 'nice guy' bosses can end up being the worst if he / she turns out to be incapable of making a hard decision, or particularly if they cannot actually drive on the whole group because they can't deal with the disobedience of a minority.

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Sorry, re wrote the above post for clarity... First draft was riddled with typos and clear as mud.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Thomas More's UTOPIA, a few comments.

    This is closely in the vein of Plato's REPUBLIC, although More is marginally more sane in terms of the society he proposes. Of the two 'utopias', More's one is the one I would be more readily willing to live in ...

    ... Albeit it feels just as much rooted in wishful thinking.

    It's not that More suggests that gold and silver should be used to adorn slaves a children, and to make chamber pots, so as to ensure that the populace of Utopia are not venal and obsessed by money...

    (Because this is not so radically different to what the Spartans ensured actually occurred by making their money impossibly heavy and bulky to do business with and carry around within Sparta)

    I think he lost me somewhere through a combination of ideas.

    He prescribes that the population shall have only one style of clothing, with a few changes for the married and unmarried... And that they'll make the clothes themselves. So far so North Korea / Maoist revolutionary period, although I guess for a lot of human history people did wear homespun gear that was much of a muchness...

    The populace will have the freedom of 'any home' within their precinct, and that they will swap their homes by lots every ten years. If a man wants to wander outside his precinct he needs the permission of his partner and the magistrate who is in charge of his 30 families (A supervisory unit / division which has a higher magistrate over a bundle of them in turn).

    I think at that point you start to see that no matter how happy-clappy and well-provisioned these Utopians are, they are living in a kind of open prison, and one where failure to conform or work means demotion to the slave class.

    Only those studying for a position as the highest level of magistrate are excluded work... Hmmm and double hmmmm. Sounds a lot like every dictatorship ever, and it's always all the more galling when the dictatorship is one which almost makes a virtue out of poverty and simplicity of lifestyle. Seems like the more the worker and peasant is venerated the more sure you can be that the boss class are sitting in a fortified mansion drinking Hennessy XOP and Coca-Cola and cavorting with an unfortunate secretary who doesn't have much choice about the matter (I'm looking at you, Kim.

    I'm being a bit hard on More here as of course UTOPIA is a satire and - also - considering the state of the societies of his time it's 100% more attractive looking from the point of view of the lot of the ordinary person.

    It's actually striking how far More advances in terms of many arguments relating to the treatment of criminals and the disenfranchised. He argues in book 1 of UTOPIA that farmers and commoners who have been turned out of their lands so as to make way for herd grazing (a big issue of the day) should be compensated or the situation reversed lest it lead them into banditry. And there's a passionate defence of the point of the death penalty that doesn't sound overly dated at all.

    Got some interesting stuff coming up...

    I've decided to skip Rabelais' GARGANTUA AND PANTAGRUEL after nearly buying a copy.

    This is basically another satire and commentary on French society at the time, particularly the church. It's about a giant and his son (also a giant) and their adventures and I gather it's very scatological. Honestly, I read a couple of excerpts and just can't be bothered. I'm going to be at this reading list for another several years and I'm down with making an effort with hard books but there is some stuff I'm just like "If this is literally boring me from page 1 then I need to rethink this". Likewise with Edmund Spencer's FAERIE QUEEN. Maybe I'll revisit it or listen to it, but I've pressed on to identify the following as up next:-

    Thomas Aquinas SELECTED WRITINGS (Looking forward to this, studied him in college. Won't be easy but he's one of the cleverest philosophers who ever lived. Probably the greatest philosopher of religion who ever lived, certainly, albeit a man of his time)
    Martin Luther TABLE TALK
    De Montaigne ESSAYS*

    *Especially looking forward to this, he's a wonderful writer from what I can see.

    After this we're firmly into the enlightenment material, with Descartes, Spinoza and whatnot... It'll be like I'm a first year Philosophy student all over again... But hopefully without the hangovers and terrible acne.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Completed the SAGA OF BURNT NJAL and almost done with UTOPIA.

    Read a few SF novels on holidays but also started Thomas Aquinas' SELECTED WRITINGS, which I kind of regret buying. It's an Oxford Worlds Classics edition where I've now realised the editor has taken great pleasure in putting in a lot of obscure work from Aquinas that touches upon his whole philosophical system. What I should have done is simply bought the SUMMA and worked on that, it's the big one. Oh well.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I'm on a bit of a post-holiday slump with regard to Aquinas. I'm considering actually just ordering a copy of the SUMMA and jumping off the SELECTED WRITINGS.

    Reading Peter F Hamilton's SALVATION, which is a really good British SF. Hamilton is probably my favourite author to read 'for pleasure', I think he's the greatest living British SF author producing the equivalent of summer blockbusters, absolutely love his work. I think his take on what the future might look like is pretty accurate. Like a much more Tory version of Iain M Banks who envisaged 'fully automated luxury communism' (I.e The Culture, his far future socialist paradise).

    While on holidays I polished off a quick SF classic, Ray Bradbury's FARENHEIT 451. I prefer BRAVE NEW WORLD and 1984, but FARENHEIT 451 is interesting too. There's a couple of key pages where the nominal villain of the story, a fire captain, explains to the protagonist how the country became a book-burning culture. He suggests that at some point in their recent past polarisation had become so extreme that books, papers and magazines had become overly divisive and upsetting to the large and unstable population. Identified as drivers of conflict and unrest, they were banned. It's slightly chilling to me, because the public debate in the UK and US feels so aggressively polarised right now. The tone of public discourse and ability to consider the views of the opposition must be at an all time low.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Still no movement on Aquinas, I have resigned myself to finishing off the holiday novel (SALVATION) and then I will re-dedicate my efforts.

    In audiobook I have finished a BBC production (with Ian McKellan in the lead) of ROMEO AND JULIET.

    Listening now to HAMLET, as part of the same set. A very fine production of it. I saw most of the Ruth Negga HAMLET which was on in the Gate Theatre last year - and enjoyed it - but alas my wife pulled me out at the intermission.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    HAMLET and MACBETH polished off.

    Considered another set of three comedies from the same BBC product line, but I have opted out for now on the basis that I think I'd rather see them than just listen to them as audiodramas.

    I've paused Aquinas for now but intend to pick up. I have no choice as I am studying a massive syllabus for a work exam in December. I might delve in and out.

    Will continue with the audiobook approach for my commute, however. Listening to Thomas Hobbes' LEVIATHAN. Can be a little dense, but the audiobook version flows along nicely with the right narrator.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    An interesting little bit in LEVIATHAN:-

    Hobbes is discussing the two ways of knowing something and proceeding in the world - knowing something based on authority (whether books or a learned man telling you something) versus relying on one's own reason. He warns of the pitfalls ... "they that trust only books follow the blind blindly, like he that, trusting to a false master of fencing, ventures upon an adversary that kills him".

    Hobbes has this early on in LEVIATHAN as he's basically laying the argument that you should build a political science based on sound first principles. Later in philosophy this idea is even more widely applied by Descartes in his wonderful and accessible MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY, that stalwart regular on first year Philosophy undergraduate reading lists...

    But to the example he gave: It's funny to me that even back then there were masters of fencing (yep, teachers of swordplay) who were equipping people for duels and the battlefield... But some of them were basing their teachings on bull****, and the risk was that you'd try it for real and be killed.

    Even today we have martial arts and self defence instructors who teach things which many of us believe are either consciously fraudulent or simply based on ignorance. The teacher who offers a student a self defence syllabus full of unworkable techniques, to be trained in a manner which do not equip them to have a chance of succeeding against even a modicum of resistance. Some things never change it seems.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    LEVIATHAN returns repeatedly to a central point: The purpose of a Commonwealth - where the sovereign is a monarch or an assembly, it doesn't matter which - is to protect the people from the state of nature. The state of nature being that every man is at war with every other, and the strongest shall survive! Hobbes' Commonwealth and its laws has as its foundational purpose the trade of rights for safety. But he warns time and again that when the law fails to protect a man, the agreement is null and void and everything goes back on the table to play for.

    Hobbes seems to forsee the creaking, elaborate spanse that law will grow into, and warns that when a law cannot be understood or cannot be known in its entirety then there may be no obligation to follow it. More, he warns that when laws are made but not enforced then there is no obligation to follow them, because they are no laws but "vain words".

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I've been really grappling with Thomas Aquinas and it's a combination of circumstances that have led me to more or less throw in the towel on his SELECTED WRITINGS and park him.

    I'm reading relatively dense / unrewarding study material and I just can't summon the mental focus required to meet Aquinas on a level where I can understand him. Which is quite saying something, as there have been other 'difficult' authors on the reading list that have - thus far - not posed the same problem no matter how busy I am with work or other distractions. At the moment I'm still listening to Thomas Hobbes' LEVIATHAN and I continue to find it almost shockingly accessible. I think anyone with an interest in our political and legal system (particularly our legal system, actually) should consider it.

    But Aquinas... I always regarded him as a 'top five' philosopher, and would have described him as one of the most machine-like and logical thinkers who ever lived... But for whatever reason the sheer density of his arguments has meant they are running through my hands like water at the moment. The ones I was familiar with in advance I can get no bother, but my eyes are just glazing over a lot of the rest of it. And if you tune out and 'skim' two pages of Aquinas then you might as well just close the book because in that space of time he will have tightly argued probably 15+ points.

    He's not verbose or wordy at all - just the opposite. The edition I have is concise and lean and he uses plain English for the most part. But he pumps out his arguments in these diamond-hard little paragraphs that make you stop and have to consider them each and every time.

    Anyway. Life is too short. I will try again in a few years at the end of this reading list.

    Next up is ... Martin Luther ... Another SELECTED WRITINGS type edition, a Penguin translation from 2012.

    Immediately accessible and does a good job of throwing you right into what Luther was about.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I'm reading a letter by Martin Luther which he penned later in his life. He discusses how his thought evolved and he warns that early in his 'career' he was still a committed 'papist' who (naively) believed that the Pope and other senior churchmen would be on his side when it came to some of the issues he was preaching in relation on. It was on later, for example, that he realised that the Pope would never condemn the selling of indulgences to people who couldn't afford them, because a portion of the profit made was going to the Pope. But it's a fascinating self-deprecating snapshot. Luther kind of laughs at himself, this provincial upstart being protected by a powerful patrons but not entirely aware of the danger that was all around him.

    Interesting picture also of the university style disputations which were evidently so important. Luther was to debate John Eck, a powerful voice for the papacy, but Luther couldn't secure a pivotally important guarantee of safe passage to the disputation. It's fascinating that this was a thing, that these staged debates were so important that they wanted to see him beaten in an argument (and for that to matter), and yet they're all binding themselves by the agreement of safe passage for various participants.

    By contemporary standards hard not to root for Luther.

    However, equally hard to forget that his moral stand laid the groundwork for sectarian upheaval and violence in Europe which continues to this day.

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Completed LEVIATHAN, exceptional book, although probably a shame in a way that I hadn't finished Luther and Calvin before getting to it. Hobbes' criticism of the papacy and his confidence must have been built on the hard labour done by the protestants in the run up to LEVIATHAN.

    Luther is very engaging. From the point of view of preaching he is remarkably effective as a writer. His Heidelberg disputation contains an observation on the reason behind religious law and sin that I hadn't quite seen framed that way before. Luther says yes, we don't like to think of how religious law makes all of us sinners, and he says it's true we will always be sinners. But rather than be upset by that he says we should bear in mind that the reason he bangs the drum on this is so that we move towards repenting and then potentially the obtainment of grace. He likens it to a doctor who tells someone they are grievously sick, all the better to convince them to begin treatment.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Reading a series of eight sermons that Luther gave early in the reformation. Having been in hiding, effectively, he returned to find his message had resulted in unexpected excesses in areas of his heartland. Monks driven from monasteries, nuns forced to take wives, private masses attacked, icons and religious imagery destroyed. The sermons he gave laid out a framework for the development of Protestantism but what is remarkable to me about them is that - considering the time - how strongly liberal they are in terms of emphasising individual freedoms and the unacceptability of using force as a means of resolving religious disputes between his people and the papacy's followers.

    Luther talks about being unable to compel people to reform, and that violence is an unacceptable means of achieving it, and that it is enough to spread the truth of god's word and let that message stand on its own merits.

    He goes further in remarkable about the absence of 'love', he says things like, in everyday language, isn't 'love' lacking in the community, in the congregation, and around them, and isn't that really the core problem with everything that's going on? Straightforward plain talking, and he could be talking today.

    There's a few lines where he says that even having the truth of the scripture and the advantage of various strong religious traditions, it seems few are actually implementing the message that Christ brought, he remarks on the fact that a strongly individualistic ethos still persists in the community, with everyone minding his own family first and foremost. Again, could be today.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    In parallel to Luther I'm listening to a BBC adaptation of Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE.

    I have an old Penguin Classics edition of DON QUIXOTE that I bought as a teenager, but it's a very dry translation and the humour is pretty much absent (I don't know if the Spanish original is funnier, obviously.. Or whether it is, as I suspect, partly a function of being a translation). As with the way I covered THE DIVINE COMEDY I'm a firm believer that if there's a BBC radio production of any kind available, it should not be passed over even if it's an abridged version.

    And so, the DON QUIXOTE BBC production. Genuinely funny, I'm halfway through the three hour length.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Completed DON QUIXOTE, genuinely funny and the BBC cast it superbly as usual. Don Quixote himself is, of course, a thoroughly innocent and wonderful individual in the final analysis. Deranged and foolish, but well meaning and honourable.

    Downloaded Descartes' MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY. A very fine introduction to western philosophy for a great many undergraduates and it remains compelling and easily accessible. Descartes' formulation of his argument as to why he can be sure of his existence - or at least, of the fact of his ability to cogitate - remains convincing to me. As he says, he could be being misled by an evil demon about everything else that goes beyond that, but he can be sure of his existence insofar as his thinking makes that implicit.

    Read Luther's essay on Paul's letter to the Romans. He represents it as the most important instruction in how to live as Christians for NT readers (one presumes after the Gospels, surely?).

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    I'm pausing all my 'great books' reading and listening until I'm finished with an exam which is taking place next week.

    I feel like there's a finite amount of brain space for the retention of information and right now I want it all dedicated to cramming for the exam, not trying to grasp 19th century French philosophy.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Exams over... HALLELUJAH.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished listening to Descartes MEDITATIONS.

    A little disappointed in the audiobook in the end, I feel like the MEDITATIONS works between in written format, actually, which is interesting as after LEVIATHAN - which is heavy going at times - this wouldn't have been obvious to me. Maybe it's all down to the narrator.

    Need to get back to Martin Luther and finish that off before Christmas.

    Started listening to Douglas Murray's THE MADNESS OF CROWDS which is a critique of contemporary identity politics - or perhaps its excesses.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Still reading Martin Luther.

    I'm chronologically towards the end of his life, and his output has become focused on distinguishing the particularities of Protestantism versus the papism of his day.

    The first and most important article is his confidence that salvation is via faith in the person (and sacrifice made by) Jesus Christ alone. Everything else, most relevantly the issue of works, is a far, far second. Streaming from this is Luther's admonition and dismissal of the value of mass, monastic institutions and the worship of saints.

    Fascinating to see the focus on the New Testament, line by line, as a means of justifying his arguments.

    He wrote an interesting piece about translating the NT into German for the first time, and how suddenly everyone on their mother was coming out of the woodwork to criticise his translation as inaccurate here or there, or improperly worded. Luther is quite indignant and hilarious, describing a cohort of people who use his translation - the only one! - as the basis for criticising the translation. He is wonderful in his cutting description of hurlers on the ditches, who are vehement in their condemnation of his skill ... Even though he was the only one to make the effort in the first place ...

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished with Luther. I came away with a very positive feeling / experience.

    Now I'm about a fifth of the way through a small, curated book on John Calvin / Jean Calvin.

    I must admit I realised in my head after a few pages that I was confusing Calvin with Savonarola to some extent. I think that was why I was surprised at Calvin coming across as more humane than I expected.

    So far, I'm not seeing any major theological differences between Calvin and Luther, although I simply may not be there yet.

    Calvin, in recounting the reasons why he is 'in rebellion' against the Church of Rome, echoes Luther's arguments. A belief in the primacy of Jesus and his death on the cross, and the important of grace... And a belief that works, confession, the intercession of saints, the mass, an over-emphasis on sacraments and so forth is contrary to the bible and may actually be the work of the devil (his words, not mine).

    I'd like it if I can identify where he diverges with Luther on my own, but we'll see.

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Reading an excerpt from Calvin's work and two theological elements kind of jumped out at me. First is his description of people being 'justified by faith', which in in alignment with Luther's notion that really it's faith in God and the ensuing grace granting that is the way to heaven, not works and whatnot. Where Calvin seems to differ is that I can see this notion of the church as comprised of the 'elect' creeping in, which is kind of related. When it's not by works that someone is saved, but more their mental state of faith, then you end up with a God-determined bunch of people who are, as he calls them, the elect who are going to be saved. This is the whole predestination element that we learn about Calvinists in our basic religion classes at school I guess... Will read on and find out.

    Separately I have a copy of Rod Dreher's THE BENEDICT OPTION which I am going to sandwich into my reading list when I'm done with Calvin. This seems as good a place as any to put it in.