How to Profit from our Stupid Brains

I missed yesterday because I got home so late. I got home so late because I attended a PhD candidate’s presentation on an aspect of his thesis regarding allegorical interpretation of Scripture by the third and fourth century fathers Origen and Basil of Caesarea. So why not, since it is within my own field of specialization, include some of the latter’s Letter to the Youth on How to Profit from Reading the Pagan Classics.

I’ll not include the text this time (Greek), since it’s time to work, not to play, and skip to this translation of Roy Deferrari, a former chairman of Greek and Latin at The Catholic University of America.

Ad Adulescentes 2–3:

“Now if there is some affinity between the two bodies of teachings [i.e., Scripture and pagan literature], knowledge of them should be useful to us; but if not, at least the fact that by setting them side by side we can discover the difference between them, is of no small importance for strengthening the position of the better. And yet with what can you compare the two systems of education and hit upon the true similitude? Perhaps, just as it is the proper virtue of a tree to be laden with beautiful fruit, although it also wears like a fair raiment leaves that wave about its branches, so likewise the fruit of the soul, the truth is primarily its fruitage, yet it is clad in the certainly not unlovely raiment even of the wisdom drawn from the outside, which we may liken to foliage that furnishes both protection to the fruit and an aspect not devoid of beauty. Now it is said that even Moses, that illustrious man whose name for wisdom is greatest among all mankind, first trained his mind in the learning of the Egyptians [cf. Acts 7:22], and then proceeded to the contemplation of Him who is [cf. Exod. 3:14]. And like him, although in later times, they say that the wise Daniel at Babylon first learned the wisdom of the Chaldaeans and then applied himself to the divine teachings [cf. Dan. 1:4].”

It’s about “well-intentioned refutations”, as Plato calls them (εὐμενεῖς ἔλεγχοι). The search for truth starts with sympathy, and proceeds by well-intentioned refutations. We will not proceed closer to the truth, nor change minds of others or ourselves, if we are trying to win arguments. Because argument is done by with and for the head, and thereby it demonstrates—and can only demonstrate—the consequences of propositions. The truth—propositions credible in themselves—is not perceived with the head, but with the heart.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for your open mind, your stupid brain, and your willing heart.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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