A Legend & A Life Story: Who was Saint Francis of Assisi?

A Legend and A Life Story:
Who was Saint Francis of Assisi?

St. Francis of Assisi’s spiritual life was unfathomable even to those around him while he lived, but they attempted to write about him nonetheless. Many contradictions exist in the literature about him, in the things he is said to have accomplished and events that purportedly occurred throughout his life. Countless historians, wanting to understand him within the context of their own views and beliefs, have made him an object of study. However it has proven to be a most arduous task, considering the many differing religious agendas behind all the written works of that time. Just as there are today, forces were at work beneath and beyond any kind of kinship or loyalty to the truth. It turns out that a surprising amount of sifting must be done in order to get any kind of a clear picture of who Saint Francis really was. The man has become a legend. He is almost a myth to the average person now, considering the fact that many associate his name not so much with the man he was as with the stories they’ve heard about him. It can be startling to remember that he was a real person with a concrete history– and an even more concrete spiritual life. This paper will analyze and compare two texts written by a select few men who accompanied St. Francis on some portion of his journey through life– The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano and The Legend of Three Companions. These particular two texts are both well tailored to this project and seem to be most reliable, as the authors lived with the saint and were close to him. First the paper will analyze where each text came from and the reasons it was written. Then, while striving to look deeply into who this saint really, truly was, comparisons and contrasts will be made between the contents of the two at several crucial points (his youth, conversion, and the tone of his spiritual life). Finally, among the conclusions drawn from the information found in our two texts, the question will be addressed again of whether we can know who Saint Francis was or whether we must take the ‘packaged’ version of his spiritual vitality and wisdom.

The Texts

The first text chosen for this paper, often called the Vita Prima, was the first written account of the Saint’s life, composed by Thomas of Celano between 1228 and 1229 at the order of Pope Gregory IX.1 It was intended as a kind of ‘literary monument’2 to the new saint when he was canonized. According to the editors of The Saint, which contains our translation, a full three-fourths of The Life of Saint Francis is “dedicated to conversion, promotion of the gospel, and his example and teaching of Christian holiness.”3 As the introduction to the piece so articulately points out:

At a time when heresies abounded, crusades failed, and the struggle for power between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy intensified, the poor and humble follower of the gospel, Francis of Assisi, offered an alternative way of Christian living.”4

It is more than possible that Pope Gregory intended to use this ‘literary monument’ simply in order to stir up new life in the Church. The papal influence in the writing does not by any means entirely conceal who Francis was however; the document is still centrally about him, about revealing who he was— even if it was arranged by a hand and mind attuned to ecclesiastical necessities.

The Legend of the Three Companions, on the other hand, was written by three men who knew Francis personally and lived with him for years. Their names were Leo, Angelo, and Rufino. The work is believed to have been composed between the years 1241 and 1247, but the source of the commissioning this time was from within the Franciscan Order. Crescentius of Iesi, the head of the Order, felt that the reforms which had occurred during his predecessor’s time had the potential to wipe out the origins of the order. As he watched the many people who had truly known Francis dying, leaving nothing behind but stories and sayings passed along by word of mouth, he saw that the young who replaced the old were so numerous that size began to outweigh content. Crescentius observed the tide of men joining the Order and, seeing the possibility that the brothers would forget who they were, where they had come from, and why, he sought ways to preserve some sort of authentic knowledge of the man who had founded it.5 In order to resurrect the memory of Saint Francis, Crescentius ordered Leo, Angelo, and Rufino to write down everything they knew about him. Thus was born The Legend of The Three Companions. This text focuses on the saint as a man— the focus needed for our purposes. These three men did not want to simply recount all the miracles Saint Francis performed; those had already been documented and written about many times and competently enough. They wanted to express the heart of this man (the heart which the growing Franciscan Order needed to keep conscientiously as its heart, its core). In their own words:

We do not intend merely to relate miracles, which demonstrate, but do not cause sanctity. Our intention is to point out some striking aspects of his holy manner of life and the intention of his pious desires, for the praise and glory of God and of the holy father Francis, and for the edification of those who desire to follow in his footsteps.”6

The texts were written for different reasons by different people, at the requests of other people who had their own purposes– even the authors themselves had particular and unique focuses they couldn’t get rid of if they tried. Digging through all of that is hard; it is difficult to know when to trust the sources and when to take what is given with a grain or two of salt. But it is best to remember that (1) these are some of the best resources we have (biased and tweaked as they most probably are) and (2) that this very situation is where comparison and contrast fit best into earnest research, purifying our knowledge of each chosen subject along the way— quite a bit like scientific experiments do.

Drawing Comparisons

Everyone agrees on certain things about Francis of Assisi. All detail him as a man touched by God, a man with a strong sense of calling and an incredible devotion and love for his Lord (as well as his chosen bride: the shiningly beautiful Lady Poverty). In his youth, before his conversion, he was a cloth merchant, and rather well off from the sound of it. The texts agree that he was not particularly attuned to virtue at that time and that he spent enormous amounts of money on lavish feasting and trifles, although differing greatly in their assessment of the basic inner attributes behind these actions. They explain his conversion with some differences as well, although providing these explanations within roughly the same mold. These two things are basic disagreements between the writings, both specific enough to analyze closely. But throughout the text of each a far more subtle thread is woven, showing us what the saint’s soul was like. In looking at the two accounts, one sees that they agree in many areas about Francis, but Leo, Angelo, and Rufino paint his inner life in more detail and with a more realistic simplicity.


The most striking difference between the two texts is the recounting of Saint Francis’ youth. Thomas of Celano was almost unbelievably severe in his account of Francis’s early life, describing how, “maliciously advancing beyond all of his peers in vanities, he proved himself a more excessive inciter of evil and a zealous imitator of foolishness.”7 The very second sentence of this entire work introduces him to the reader, saying that “from the earliest years of his life his parents reared him to arrogance in accordance with the vanity of the age[,] and by long imitating their worthless life and character he himself was made more vain and arrogant.”8 In stark contrast to this, the three companions portray him as “endowed with clever natural abilities…, good natured and generous.”9 The Legend also alludes to his lavishness and his vanity, however it sprinkles praises lavishly even throughout its early description of him. The three companions do not appear to be brandishing the sword of judgement the way Thomas does.

Young Francis often presided over feasts, generously taking care of the expenses for his companions when he partied with them. He was known to be generous and carelessly merry in that way which only successful young men who have lived in plenty all their lives can be. A responsible businessman, he was quite absorbed in his work as a merchant and worldly matters of the richer classes. Soon, though, he began to grow more aware of the many poor and destitute people around him. He had always given alms to the poor, but the Lord began to touch his heart with true sympathy for them. The three companions have a penchant for inserting many small happenings in between the ones which Thomas addresses, like the interaction with the beggar in the store. Francis was engaged in business, deep in conversation with some customer most likely, and a beggar came into the store asking for alms in God’s name. “Preoccupied with thoughts of wealth and the care of business,” Francis ignored him, but later,

touched by divine grace he accused himself of great rudeness, saying: ‘If that poor man had asked something of you for a great count or baron, you would certainly have granted him his request. How much more should you have done this for the king of kings and the Lord of all!’”10

There are many instances like this, intimate revelations that are completely internal which Thomas of Celano never addresses. He is more concerned with presenting the external, the visible, with the promotion of the kind of Christianity he lived rather than what went on inside of him to cause him to act or be the way he was.

Francis decided after the experience with the beggar that he would not refuse alms to anyone asking in the name of God ever again, and soon “his whole heart was intent

on seeing the poor, listening to them, and giving them alms. He was so changed by divine grace that, although he was still in secular attire, he yearned to be in another city where, as someone unknown, he would take off his own clothes and, in exchange, put on the rags of a poor man. And he would try begging for the love of God.”11

He began overcoming himself and his fears in small ways, showing mercy to lepers and even accepting the kiss of peace from them.12 Saint Francis acted all the way through his learning process, throwing himself into projects without reserve and coming to a fuller understanding through his acts. This understanding triggered a longing within the saint to dedicate himself fully to the Lord and this grew almost impossibly quickly. The companions say that he “endured great suffering and mental anxiety, unable to rest until he accomplished in action what he had conceived in mind… He was burning inwardly with a divine fire, unable to conceal outwardly the flame kindled in his soul.”13 It took years for the Lord’s plans for his eager and youthful son to come to fruition, but Francis had the willing spirit necessary for the process.


The tale of the saint’s conversion contains so many similarities it should be safe to say either that because of this the story is reliably true most of the way through, or that the three companions used this part of Thomas of Celano’s work and spruced it up to their liking with bits and pieces Thomas did not know and never mentioned. In any case, “The Legend of the Three Companions provides insights into Francis, his youth, struggles with his father, and the emerging consciousness of his call that Thomas of Celano… [does] not have.”14

Once Saint Francis learned to hear the still small voice of the Lord, his focus shifted from worldly things to spiritual things. After a time of confusion and misinterpreted visions of glory (confirmed in both texts), young Francis finally understood that the glory he had been shown was not earthly glory or power— he was to receive physically invisible power, and favor from the Lord of all. He became so sensitive to the Spirit’s calling in his life that he was willing to go anywhere and do anything– give up his whole world and walk about naked and poor for the sake of becoming closer to God. One day he traveled to another city by horse, sold a great quantity of expensive cloth all at once, and left his horse there, wanting nothing more of his material life. But the money bothered him.“Feeling the heavy weight of carrying that money even for an hour, and reckoning all its benefit to be like so much sand,” Thomas tells us, “he hurried to get rid of it. Returning toward the city of Assisi, he came across a church on the side of the road. It had been built in ancient times in honor of Saint Damian and was threatening to collapse because of age.”15 He tried to give the money to the poor priest of that church, but the man would not take it for fear of incurring the wrath of the young man’s parents. This would indicate it was a very large sum, but when the priest repeatedly refused Francis simply threw it on the windowsill and thought no more of it, “begging the priest with all his heart to allow him to stay with him for the sake of the Lord.”16

Francis’ father, in the meantime, had grown worried about his son and “went about like a diligent spy, seeking to learn what might have happened to [him].”17 For a time Francis hid in a cave, praying to God to release him from his father’s wrath and persecution, but soon the Lord enlightened him and gave him courage to return to Assisi and to continue to live in his chosen way. The texts are almost superposable on this point, as The Legend tells us that “he begged the Lord relentlessly in fasting and weeping. Lacking confidence in his own effort and strength, he cast his hope completely on the Lord, who filled him with an inexpressible happiness…”18 Thomas of Celano states that “fasting and weeping,

he earnestly prayed for the Savior’s mercy, and lacking confidence in his own efforts, he cast his care upon the Lord. Though staying in a pit and in darkness he was imbued with an indescribable happiness never before experienced. Then totally on fire, he abandoned the pit and openly exposed himself to the curses of his persecutors.”19

This is another place which leads the reader of the two texts to believe that perhaps Leo, Angelo and Rufino used Thomas’ work as a guide or a base for their own.

The stories of his return home are virtually identical as well, down to the very greeting he receives from his former friends:

When all those who knew him saw him, they compared his latest circumstances with his former and they began to reproach him harshly. Shouting that he was insane and out of his mind, they threw mud from the street and stones at him… they blamed everything he did on starvation and madness.”20 (See The Founder, bottom of page 78 for a comparison passage).

Soon word of his return (and word of how the people of Assisi had treated him) reached his father, who “instantly arose to look for him, not to free him, but rather to destroy him.”21

Both texts portray the saint’s father as abusive and greedy. It is true that he did not want his son to dedicate himself to such a hard life, but he also feared it would damage the family’s reputation to be related to a person who scorned everything the world had to give him and was ridiculed in the streets. Francis’ father, in his great pride, and fear for his own well-being, came looking for him, intent on taking him back home and breaking him of his fool notion. He locked him “in a dark prison for several days [and] he strove, by words and blows, to turn his spirit to the vanities of this world.”22 After days of watching her son endure such treatment with great strength of spirit, Francis’ mother pitied him and, while her husband was away, let him out. Francis returned to the Church of San Damiano, and when his father learnt of this he pursued him, bringing him before all sorts of authorities in order to take all of his possessions from him. He even caused the money that was laying neglected in the windowsill of the church to be found and given to him. Francis gladly complied with all of this, even taking off all his clothes, saying “because I have proposed to serve God, I return to [my father] the money on account of which he was so upset, and also all the clothing which is his, wanting to say from now on: ‘Our Father who art in heaven,’ and not ‘My father, Pietro di Bernardone.’”23

The three companions do not mention it, but according to Thomas of Celano he even chose for himself an adopted father in the streets, where his father passed by often and cried out against his son in bitterness and anger. Francis instructed that whenever this happened, the adopted father should put his right hand over him and bless him as his father cursed him. This shows that some sort of ingenuity is laced throughout the simple character portrayed everywhere else. Although it makes sense to expect some such creativity from an accomplished businessman, the rest of the texts center on his simple approach to life. To see him so intelligent and responsive in the Spirit so early on is interesting, if nothing else. He was truly, according to both texts, a changed man.


The tone of the two texts is very different as well. Thomas of Celano writes as if he were expressing divine approval; his style is beautiful and enjoyable to read, but written from above with the distinct feel of an Imperial address. It is formal, and intended to inspire awe. The three companions, on the other hand, wrote in a far more familiar way, easily relating to the reader on the same level. This was because it was written in order that it be available to the monks within the Franciscan Order. It was written like a letter from brother to brother.

The tenor of Saint Francis’ spiritual life as portrayed by both authors is detailed with very obviously dissimilar intents. His personal interaction with God is represented more in The Legend, whereas Thomas’s account is in places much more like a pep talk, designed to inspire awe and motivation:

They [the brothers] never or hardly ever stopped praying and praising God… For when they felt like dozing during prayer they would prop themselves up with a stick, so that sleep would not overtake them. Some anchored themselves with cords, so furtive sleep would not disturb prayer. Some bound themselves with irons; and others shut themselves in wooden cells.”24

Thomas emphasizes every way in which Francis denied his flesh comfort and nourishment, praising him for it with flowery words and poetry, even though it made him almost continually ill (see The Saint, p 266). He speaks often of the Saint providing the people of the Christian world with an example to follow. When he writes that “they were touched in their hearts and were moved to a better way of life by such an example,” he hopes that those he writes to will feel a fire in their spirits like Saint Francis did.25 However The Legend of the Three Companions tells us that although for much of his life Francis “inflicted his flesh with such fasting that, whether healthy or sick, the excessively austere man hardly ever or never wanted to indulge his body[,]… he confessed on his deathbed that he had greatly sinned against ‘Brother Body’.”26 Many of the brothers attempted to follow his extremism, but “the pious father

used to reprove his brothers who to him were too austere, exerting too much effort in those vigils, fasts, and corporeal punishments. Some of them… seemed to hate themselves. The man of God forbade them, admonishing them with kindness, reprimanding them with reason, and binding up their wounds with the bandages of wholesome precepts.”27

It seems that he was quite willing to learn, and to admit his wrongs in front of the brothers as well as before God. In his last months the Lord showed him many things, and Francis was enraptured upon learning these things from his Savior. Thomas quoted Augustine in describing him, saying:

There was in him such harmony of flesh with spirit
and such obedience that,
as the spirit strove to reach all holiness,
the flesh did not resist
but even tried to run on ahead,
according to the saying:

For you my soul has thirsted;
and my flesh in so many ways!

Repeated submission became spontaneous,
as the flesh, yielding each day,
reached a place of great virtue,
for habit often becomes nature.

His fervor bordered on unhealthy obsession and probably contributed to his sin against “Brother Body”, but it truly was amazing. We all sin, but his fixation was on Jesus alone, and that is what mattered. The companions tell us that he did not “seek counsel from anyone, except from God alone, and, periodically, from the bishop of Assisi.”29 His zealousness is demonstrated, among numerous other things, in the fact that “many times,. . . having sat down at table, he had barely begun to eat when he would stop eating and drinking, absorbed in meditation on heavenly things.”30 According to the Leo, Angelo, and Rufino, Francis was ‘conformed to the passion of Christ until his death’. Taken by a great illness, the saint remained alive for an impossibly long time, wasting away weak and sightless. Saying goodbye to all his sons, he bade them to

live in fear of God and remain in Him always, for a great test will come upon you and tribulation is drawing near! Happy are those who will persevere in what they have begun: many will be separated from them by the scandals that are to come. But now I am hurrying to the Lord and I am confidant that I am going to my God whom I have served in my spirit.”31

Francis then asked to be returned to the place where God had first opened his eyes, and after recovering from the journey he summoned two brothers who were close to him and “told them to

sing The Praises of the Lord with a loud voice and joyful spirit, rejoicing at his approaching death, or rather at the life that was so near. He himself, as best he could, broke into that psalm of David: ‘With a loud voice I cried to the Lord; with a loud voice I beseeched the Lord.’32

What a willing spirit! What beautiful, child-like devotion, patience and strength! The companions say that even in his last months of sickness he was as saintly as ever, “for he loved God with such enthusiasm from the depths of his heart that, on hearing His name, completely melting within, he would burst forth saying that heaven and earth must bow at the Lord’s name.”33 Both texts give him a worthy death; he was brave and strong of will, persevering and continually placed himself in the capable and merciful hands of God until the very end.

Remembering that Saint Francis of Assisi was a real man who born and lived a real life in the flesh can be hard. It might be difficult to fathom how he could have had the real loves, hates, trials, obsessions, and relationship problems that come with such a life. But it’s true. He lived here on this very earth. Saints were and are real people who have made their spiritual lives as tangible to themselves and others as their material life is— and Saint Francis’ spiritual life was so concrete and alive that he became known worldwide and his memory was preserved for centuries to come.

So many people have attempted to untangle the mass of literature about Saint Francis, braving the mountainous religious agendas and the hundreds of years of history leading up to his life and trying to pick out the subtle threads belonging to the truth of who he was. And yet the question remains: is it possible?

In light of the fact that the authors each knew Francis, what are we to think when the stories they hand us do not match up? Was his character as a youth as flawed as Thomas of Celano would have us believe? Or was that simply for the sake of magnifying his later piety? Perhaps there was no other stance Thomas could have taken toward the young merchant-Francis, given that he was writing for the pope. How much speculation was involved in the three companions’ account of Francis’ internal life and the things which happened before they met him? They wrote for Francis and the resurrected Lord Jesus; they didn’t have designs on affecting the bride of Christ, His body on earth, the way the pope had reason to. How much of a bent towards their respective purposes in the world did these man allow into the facts? And why were the conversion stories identical in so many ways? Why are there so many passages that echo each other almost exactly? The texts don’t seem to have disagreements (beside differing insertions and omissions) once they reach the point where Francis committed himself to God and His work. Is this because what we see is fact or because once copied the other? Maybe we’ll never know. But in any case, we receive a very muddled view of the man— even from the most reliable of sources.

Can we know him? Is it possible?

Maybe not. But these things we do know: these men who knew Saint Francis, contemplated him, and wished to be like him— they were not drawn to him because of the things he did as such. They were not awed or inspired by a light shining down from heaven or by the manner in which he was pursued by the Lord as a youth. No, they saw something emanating from the deepest regions of his heart, made transparent by his mode of living such that the Father’s seat within was visible to all. They were drawn to the One who lived in him. Those who knew Saint Francis saw themselves as richly blessed because they were allowed to see God’s mercy, love, purity, justice and strength made manifest in a meek and malleable life. In a broken vessel.


Why do we think of the gift of contemplation; infused contemplation, mystical prayer, as something essentially strange and esoteric reserved for a small class of almost unnatural beings and prohibited to everyone else? It is perhaps because we have forgotten that contemplation is the work of the Holy Spirit acting on our souls through His gifts of Wisdom and Understanding with special intensity to increase and perfect our love for Him. These gifts are part of the normal equipment of Christian sanctity. They are given to us at Baptism, and if they are given it is presumably because God wants them to be developed…. But it is also true that God often measures His gifts by our desire to receive them, and by our cooperation with His grace, and the Holy Spirit will not waste any of His gifts on people who have little or no interest in them.”

~Thomas Merton, What is Contemplation?, Templegate Publishers, Springfield, IL. 1950. p.8.


Katie Huffman / Spring ‘03 Final Paper / Professor Van Liere

1 Celano wrote about the saint often in later years, however these works were more often than not for the brothers of the Franciscan Order.

2 1 “The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano.” eds. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap. J.A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. Conv. William J. Short, O.F.M. Volume I of: Francis of Assisi: Early Documents. The Saint. New York: New City Press. 1999. p 172.

3 The Saint, p 175.

4 The Saint, p 175.

5 “The Legend of the Three Companions.” eds. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap. J.A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. Conv. William J. Short, O.F.M. Volume II of: Francis of Assisi: Early Documents. The Founder. New York: New City Press. 2000. p 61-62.

6 The Founder, p 67

7 The Saint, p 183.

8 The Saint, p 182

9 The Founder, p 69

10 The founder, p 69

11 The Founder, p 73.

12 The Founder, p 74.

13 The Founder, p 75.

14 The Founder, p 64.

15 The Saint, p 189.

16 The Saint, p 189-190.

17 The Founder, p 78.

18 The Founder, p78.

19 The Saint, p 191.

20 The Saint, p 191

21 The Founder, p 79.

22 The Founder, p 79.

23 The Founder, p 80.

24 The Saint, p 219.

25 The Saint, p 228.

26 The Founder, p 76. (Emphasis added).

27 The Founder, p 102.

28 The Saint, p 266.

29 The Founder, p 74.

30 The Founder, p 77.

31 The Saint, p 276-277.

32 The Saint, p 277.

33 The Founder, p 108.

c. Mary Kathryn Gough, 2003


Heidegger Journal #7

Journal # 7 (3/5/04)

A “fore-having” as Heidegger uses the term here is what you bring with you to an experience that allows you to interpret it. In the most general terms, “all interpreting is an interpreting with respect to something, on the basis of it, and with a view to it” (p.60, emphasis added). As personal, historical I’s, Beings each with a particular ‘having-been’, we bring things with up to the table of our experience, every moment refreshed as the trajectory from out of our past towards our future continues on. These fore-havings, based upon ever more refined understandings of our having-been, are linked with the idea of “formal indications” in that, once we see Philosophy as a path to be traveled rather than a stationary position to be defended, these two ideas can help guide us onto the right ‘path of looking’ (p.62). As the project itself must be subject to its own content, we see Heidegger’s work illustrates the provisional character it projects.

The “everyday world”, as laid out in section 19 of Ontology: The Hermeneutics of Faticity, is purposefully described inaccurately “in order to bring an authentic analysis into sharper relief,” among other things (p. 67). Heidegger makes use of a table as an example here and says that where it has certain qualities in nature like smoothness or roughness, the ability to be burned etc, and that as you walk around it and experience it from different angles, different aspects show themselves to you. However this “being-there-in-such-a-manner… provides the possibility of determining something about the meaning of the being of such objects and their being-real… [the table] is furnished with definite valuative predicates: beautifully made, useful” etc. as well (p.68). In this exposition of the ‘everyday world’, “the total domain of what is real can… be divided up into two realms: things in nature and things of value. Heidegger says these results are not false, but are only apparently true. A better description of ‘everyday world’ is offered in section 20 where he says that the table is not simply a table but the table, a particular table “at which one sits in order to write, have a meal, sew, play… [and] this characteristic of “in order to do something” is not merely imposed upon the table by relating and assimilating it to something else which it is not” (p.69). Section 19’s description of the everyday world maps on very well to the theoretical attitude brought out in the “Worldview” lectures, grasping those ‘things’ nearest and most immediate to us and ascribing to them various qualities– not something Heidegger wants to summarily dismiss or reject, just something he wants to take a step back from and put a ground to, find the ‘from-out-of-which’ that we need in order to engage in the theoretical attitude’s activities at all. Section 20’s exposition of the ‘everyday world’ fits extremely well with the idea of environmental experience in those same previous lectures in that it shows how Dasein is bound up in its experience and absorbed in its Umwelt. There must be a reference back, a tying back into that personal, historical I, in every piece of that world which enfolds Being, making it whole with itself by giving it access to its having-been.

c. Mary Kathryn Gough
Katie Huffman (married, Gough) / Philosophy 340 / Professor Halteman

Heidegger Journal #5

Journal # 5 (2/27/04)

Heidegger addresses those who make objections to environmental experience based on its presupposition of the reality of the external world by explaining why they are precisely missing the point. At first it would seem that there are exactly two options: either reality is, or it isn’t. We must either accept the presupposition of reality as the ground from which we work, or else “declare it a fiction” (p.66). But Heidegger exposes this as being fundamentally theoretically minded, producing a need for an approach to a problem that is shown to be absurd in the sphere of environmental experience. “Certainly the entire fullness of environmental experience is heavily laden with presuppositions,” he admits, the acknowledgment of which creates this ‘burning question’ about reality that demands to be solved (p.65). But Heidegger in turn questions the very need for that question in the contexture of the environmental sphere. The question “inhibits every step forward,” he says, “because it is constantly there in its appeal to the critical consciousness,” essentially inviting the theoretical attitude to captain a ship it doesn’t know how to sail (p.65-66). Once we take up the epistemological problem of the existence of external reality, the theoretical attitude has slipped in the back door unnoticed, as we are now “presupposing epistemology and its way of questioning” (p.66). We find, in fact, that “in order to strip away the presuppositions of environmental experience… we make other assumptions” (p.66). The theoretical approach simply buries itself trying to get to the bottom of things; there is only ever more dirt. Once we “devote ourselves purely to our own sphere [the sphere of experiences],” however, “the former anxious avoidance of any kind of ‘presuppositions’ ceases. Precisely at this stage, where we are steering towards the centre of the problematic, it is not at all a matter of making ‘presuppositions’” Because it is not “in its nature a theoretical posit,” environmental experience can never be a presupposition”(p.67, 79).

The theoretical attitude hangs upon the lived experience of the personal, historical ‘I’; this lived experience is its contexture, from which certain things are focused upon, taken out and examined, or objectified. If the entire context of all our cognition were the theoretical attitude, a line would be nothing but a series of dots, a symphony nothing but a collection of notes. When Heidegger looks at the lectern, he sees not just “a sensation of brown, as a moment of [his] psychic processes. [He] sees something brown, but in a unified context of signification in connection with the lectern” (p.71). But he can objectify ‘brown’ itself by “brushing away everything until [he] arrive[s] at the simple sensation of brown” (p.71). The theoretical attitude must reside within something in order to function properly, otherwise it is stuck trying to “explain one being by another, [and] the more critical it becomes, the more incoherent it is” (p.73). That something is environmental, lived-experience. It is this lived experience which gives our cognitions dimension. The theoretical destructs (in Heidegger’s sense of the term) this dimension, lifting a now-designated-‘thing’ out of lived experience. Heidegger calls this ‘de-vivification’ [Ent-leben] and states that “reality… lies in the essence of thingliness. It is a specifically theoretical characteristic… Experience of the environment is de-vivified into the residue of recognizing something as real [and] the historical ‘I’ is dehistoricized into the residue of a specific ‘I-ness’ as the correlate of thingliness” (p.75, emphasis added). Therefore it is easy to see why the question of the reality of the external world is precisely the wrong question to be asking, according to Heidegger. This question de-vivifies the environmental experience of the personal, historical I, lifting ‘things’ out of its surroundings and reducing that I to ‘a specific… correlate of’ those things (p. 75). The dependence of the theoretical attitude upon the environmental or lived experience of this I is clear as well, as we see that it has no material with which to work without the I’s surrounding world. It needs the environmental experience to lift things out of!

The infringement of the theoretical attitude upon the environing world begins at the stage where the still historical I apprehends a ‘given’. This is the point at which the “authentic meaning of the environmental… in its signifying character [is] taken out,” and it is, as something given, “diluted to a mere thing” (p.75). The stage before this pivotal moment, the pre-theoretical environmental experience, is a not-yet intentional intuition that Heidegger characterizes as hermeneutical. Hermeneutical intuition is the understanding intuition “from which all theoretical objectification… falls out,” an “empowering experiencing of lived experience that takes itself along” (p.99, emphasis added). The motion is important here; the I must be moving, always ‘taking itself along’ in order to remain “primordially living and experiential” in the pre-theoretical sphere (p.98).

c. Mary Kathryn Gough, university paper
details: Katie Huffman (married, Gough) // Philosophy 340 // Professor Halteman

Augustine & Plato on Happiness of Soul… (II)

Although Augustine was strongly influenced by Plato, the two have clearly different ideas of what constitutes human Happiness. For Plato, justice, or psychic harmony, is the dominant component of happiness and must be present in order for happiness to be possible. This psychic harmony is unsustainable without wisdom, and therefore so is happiness; this means we must study the Forms. Because the Forms are unchanging and present in everything, this study gives one the ability to inform the ruling part of one’s soul most reliably, and therefore to maintain justice most consistently within the soul. Once this harmony sustained by wisdom is established in a life, happiness will be most possible.

For Augustine in On Free Choice of the Will, happiness is the enjoyment of true and unshakable goods, or the pleasure derived from eternal things and real knowledge. Eternal things are those things which cannot be lost against one’s will. Real knowledge resides in the mind of God, and knowing Him allows one to possess and meditate on things not of this world, undying things that one cannot lose against one’s will. In order to know God, we must wholeheartedly will the Good and strive to attain four virtues which, while similar to Plato’s virtues, are much more explicitly tools for becoming happy. In this paper I will explain Plato’s view and contrast Augustine’s view with it in light of the central point of difference, Theism, from which all the other differences between the two radiate. My own opinion is that neither of them is wholly right. It seems to me that there are certain things that Plato instinctively knew about Grace even though he didn’t have faith in God. Augustine, though not lacking there, seems to rely too heavily on our own human efforts to be virtuous and happy. Perhaps a good sift through both of them is necessary.

For Plato, happiness is a consistent state of psychic harmony maintained through the virtues, which together result in reason’s rule of the soul. All decisions are then made on the basis of the wisdom the rational part of the soul has gained in contemplation of the Forms. In Plato’s Republic, justice, or psychic harmony, is the dominant component of happiness and must be present in order for happiness to be possible. This psychic harmony is not sustainable without wisdom, and therefore happiness (as a stable state) cannot be reached without it either; wisdom is necessary. Wisdom can be gained through engaging in and experiencing the highest and truest pleasures (rational ones), which involves being of a philosophic nature and studying the Forms. Because the Forms are unchanging and present in everything, this kind of study gives one the ability to inform the ruling part of one’s soul most reliably, to make better decisions about which pleasures would be the most appropriate for each part of the soul, and therefore to maintain justice most consistently within the soul. Once harmony is established in a life, happiness will be most possible in that life.

For Plato, justice is equivalent to a kind of psychic harmony, or deep peace, in which each part of the soul performs its own task well and does not meddle in the affairs of other parts or do their work (444 b, Republic). The three parts of the soul are the appetitive, the spirited, and the rational parts, having to do (respectively) with bodily pleasures and desires; anger, envy, and righteous indignation; and reason and knowledge. The psychic harmony of the just soul is beautifully described when Socrates says that “one who is just…
“… regulates well what is really his own and rules himself. He… harmonizes the three parts of himself like three limiting notes in a musical scale- high, low, and middle. He binds together those parts and any others there may be in between, and from having been many things he becomes entirely one, moderate and harmonious. Only then does he act” (443 d-e, Republic).

When these three parts are working together in harmony as they should, the rational part rules over both the appetitive part and the spirited part with its knowledge, or wisdom, reigning them in and keeping them in line for the good of the whole soul.

This harmony is not maintainable without wisdom, because the continued harmonious relations between the parts of the soul are made more and more possible to the extent that the rational part is informed by Wisdom. Plato’s description of how the philosophic nature manifests itself shows us that his greatest authority is the Forms:
“ the philosophic natures always love the sort of learning that makes clear to them some feature of the being that always is and does not wander around between coming to be and decaying” (485b), and that “it is the nature of the real lover of learning to struggle toward what is… until he grasps the being of each nature itself with the part of his soul that is fitted to grasp it.” (490b, Republic, emphasis mine).

‘What is’ and ‘what always is’ as referred to here are the Forms: things that are unchanging and present in everything. In the Republic, Plato contradicts the popular notion that pain is the absence of pleasure and pleasure the absence of pain. He maintains that there is a higher pleasure. This true pleasure comes from filling ourselves with “what is appropriate to our nature… with things that are more, [thereby enjoying] more really and truly a more true pleasure” (585e, Republic). Filling oneself with true knowledge of the Forms will reliably inform the rational part of the soul with wisdom and understanding, bringing the potential for a consistently maintained state of psychic harmony, and therefore for happiness. The more one meditates on the Forms and ‘what is’, the more just one’s soul will be since the ruling part will be making the wisest decisions about the which Pleasures are most appropriate for each part of the soul.

Basically, Plato says that psychic harmony is necessary in order to experience true pleasure and ultimately happiness. This is because only when each part of the soul minds its own business and harmonizes with the other parts is conflict going to cease so one can experience peace and pleasure. And only when the rational part of the soul is ruling do you see and act on what is best for each part of the soul and the whole, because only it chooses the rational pleasures (the truest pleasures) above mere bodily pleasures and honor and the rest. The rational part of the soul chooses to study the Forms and gain true knowledge of that which is unchanging (Wisdom) in order to make its decisions. As ruler, then, it makes the wisest judgments about the best Pleasures for each part of the soul, thereby preserving justice within the soul.

For Augustine, happiness is the enjoyment of true and unshakable goods, or the pleasure derived from eternal things and true knowledge. True knowledge here, just as with Plato’s Forms, is not earthly. However Augustine believed that this knowledge resides in the mind of God whereas Plato simply referred to true knowledge itself as his authority.
The differences begin with sources of authority. From Augustine’s central belief in God, one can see all the other differences between the two philosophers radiate. According to Augustine, God has written his eternal law upon our hearts and if we freely follow this law and live virtuous lives we will be able to know him and enjoy those eternal goods which can only be attained through communion with him.

Enter free will.

Free will is a whole new element in the happiness discussion, one which Plato doesn’t even address. Free will’s duality necessitates a moral component including judgment and law. Evil-doing is defined by Augustine and Evodius echoes him, saying that “all sins come about when someone turns away from divine things that truly persist and toward changeable and uncertain things” (p.27, OFC). But the eternal law which God has written on our hearts “demands that we purify our love by turning it away from temporal things and toward what is eternal”(p.25, OFC). Augustine makes it clear that the will was given to the human race for Good when he says that “the very fact that anyone who uses free will to sin is divinely punished shows that free will was given to enable human beings to live rightly” (p. 31, OFC). It was given to us in order that we might pursue the virtues, live the virtuous life, and through them know God and enjoy true and unshakable goods.

Temporal goods, which one can lose against one’s will, are material possessions, life, health, beauty, strength, family, friends, and honor. Eternal goods cannot be lost against one’s will. These are the mind or intellect, reason, virtue, and the good will itself. What we will constitutes a reality of vital importance to our happiness, because if our desires are for temporal things we will never be happy because they do not last and they are not good in the highest sense. We must desire eternal things and real knowledge; we must desire to know God; we must will the Good. Plainly there are two sides to the moral coin of free will according to Augustine.

Augustine’s stance on reason is similar to Plato’s in that he says it ought to rule the mind. If reason directs free will, he says, then virtue is possible. Vice is incompatible with reason’s rule. The person in whom reason rules the mind does not give in the inordinate desire and sin, but builds virtues into his life. “And surely
we do not doubt that every virtue is superior to every vice, so that the better and more sublime the virtue, the stronger and more invincible it is… Then no vicious spirit defeats a spirit armed with virtue” (p.16, OFC).

But virtues for Augustine are not so much an expression of the make-up of happiness as it is an explicit method for obtaining it. They represent constant engagement and will as opposed to criterion or content. For Plato the virtues are more of an expression of happiness’ make-up. ‘The well-ordered soul looks like this,’ he says. Plato’s setup is almost entirely one of letting go, of giving way to a pre-established order and discovering within the mind what the rules and boundaries are for that order, whereas Augustine’s setup is at core one with a solid commitment to striving and acting and willing in accord with the eternal law which God has written on our hearts.

I believe that Augustine is more on target here in a way, but that a healthy measure of each view ought to be combined into something more complicated than either is alone. I agree with Augustine about God; God exists and He is my ultimate authority. I believe that there is a resulting moral component to life and to my actions. I believe as well that we have free will, although with my feeble mind and limited experience I may not know how this is possible. But I also believe in Providence. I do not believe that where God has submitted to us in any way He is weak or in any way less than omnipotent—anyway, isn’t that a part of what Jesus lived as a message? That in submission and love lies a certain inexplicably great power? And this leads me to my objection, summed up in two words: be still. I think that Plato’s ultimate resting back on something immutable and higher has something to it. Granted, he was not driven by a religiously moral sense of responsibility to strive for virtue, he had no God to answer to. But if he did, he would have submitted to Him as surely as he submitted to the Forms and the order he conceived to be in the world. I think submission is key here, letting go and allowing God. We’re always trying to control everything; Augustine could possibly do with some settling down and letting God soothe his ruffled feathers. His system tries too hard, his ‘free will’ necessitates so much striving to become virtuous—as if there were no precedent for righteousness! As if God did not work in our lives as well as around them. I’m not saying we oughtn’t to try, just that we shouldn’t focus so much on trying.

A lot of our overcoming in life has nothing to do with our trying, just doing. Obeying. Peter didn’t need to focus on staying above the water and the waves; he had only to look at Jesus’ face. Plato may not have addressed free will, and I’m sure that was a very important articulation. Augustine did, and Augustine answered to the one true God as well. Plato’s faith in the Forms themselves was incorrect (or at least incomplete, a serious error); his laying back into the order he perceived may have been unfounded, but he seems to me to have had more of a notion of what believing in Grace really is than Augustine makes clear in On Free Choice of the Will. We are more than Overcomers, yet not of ourselves. It is not our own efforts that keep us from sinking in the stormy seas of life. It is not simply our own striving that allows us to walk on the water. It is only by concentrating on the face of our Lord that we are able to achieve these things which seem impossible.

c. Mary Kathryn Gough, university paper

(Katie Huffman (Gough, married), 11/26/02, Van Dyke, Philosophy 251)

Plato on Happiness of Soul…

Is the just person truly happier than the unjust person? In his comparative thesis, Plato never directly addresses what happiness is, but by analyzing certain definitions that are provided throughout the Republic and fleshing out the relations between those definitions, one can come to a clearer understanding of what he meant when he referred to happiness. The pivotal definitions are those of Justice, Wisdom, and Pleasure. The interplay between these shows a picture of happiness that is perhaps more fully formed than the reader may suppose at first glance. Justice is the dominant component of happiness, and must be present in order for it to be possible. And Justice is not sustainable without Wisdom; therefore happiness (as a stable state) cannot be reached without it either. Wisdom is gained through engaging in and experiencing the highest and truest Pleasures, which are rational ones. This involves being of a philosophic nature and studying the Forms, which are unchanging and present in everything. Through this kind of study, one is able to inform the ruling part of the soul most reliably, make better decisions about which pleasures would be the most appropriate for each part of the soul, and therefore maintain justice most consistently within the soul. That established, happiness will be most possible for this kind of person.

Justice, according to Plato, is a soul’s virtue. It is equivalent to a kind of psychic harmony, or deep peace, in which each part of the soul performs its own task well and does not meddle in the affairs of other parts or do their work (444 b). The three parts of the soul are the appetitive, the spirited, and the rational parts, having to do (respectively) with bodily pleasures and desires; anger, envy, and righteous indignation; and reason and knowledge. The psychic harmony of the just soul is beautifully described when Socrates says that “one who is just…
“… regulates well what is really his own and rules himself. He… harmonizes the three parts of himself like three limiting notes in a musical scale— high, low, and middle. He binds together those parts and any others there may be in between, and from having been many things he becomes entirely one, moderate and harmonious. Only then does he act” (443 d-e).

When these three parts are working together in harmony as they should, the rational part rules over both the appetitive part and the spirited part with its knowledge, reigning them in and keeping them in line, as it were, for the good of the whole soul.

The choice of the rational part of the soul as ruler may seem arbitrary and unfounded until one understands why Plato laid out the criterion for the just city first. Once one sees the explicit parallel made between the just city and the just individual, it is easy to follow the reasoning whereby each of the four virtues previously outlined for the city can be brought down and applied on an individual level. Thus, wisdom is the knowledge of what is best for each part and for the whole soul, courage is the preservation of beliefs about what is to be feared and what isn’t, and moderation is the agreement between the three parts of the soul that the rational part should rule. Justice as well is applied to the individual level when Socrates says:
“I suppose we’ll say that a man is just in the same way as a city?… And we surely haven’t forgotten that the city was just because each of the three classes in it was doing its own work… Then we also must remember that each one of us in whom each part is doing its own work will himself be just and do his own… Therefore, isn’t it appropriate for the rational part to rule, since it is really wise and exercises foresight on behalf of the whole soul, and for the spirited part to obey and be its ally?” (441d-e).

This is where Wisdom makes its entrance. The kingship of the rational part of the soul is shown to be appropriate when the speakers agree that, “everything… that has to do with virtue [is] the same in both [the city and the individual]”(441d). In each case, Wisdom reigns supreme in the sense that both the philosopher-king and the rational part of the soul are uniquely able to gain, and rely on, true knowledge in order to make their judgements.
Justice is not maintainable without wisdom, because the continued harmonious relations between the parts of the soul are made more and more possible to the extent that the rational part is informed by Wisdom. To understand this, looking at the individual, it helps to refer back to Plato’s description of how the philosophic nature manifests itself: we see that
“ the philosophic natures always love the sort of learning that makes clear to them some feature of the being that always is and does not wander around between coming to be and decaying” (485b), and that “it is the nature of the real lover of learning to struggle toward what is… until he grasps the being of each nature itself with the part of his soul that is fitted to grasp it.” (490b, emphasis mine).

‘What is’ and ‘what always is’ as referred to here are the Forms: things that are unchanging and present in everything. Knowledge of this kind is true knowledge, gained through contemplation of the Forms, and is naturally gained by the philosophic nature. Filling oneself with this knowledge will reliably inform the rational part of the soul with wisdom and understanding, bringing the potential for a consistently maintained state of psychic harmony (or justice), and therefore, for happiness. The more one meditates on the Forms and ‘what is’, the more just one’s soul will be since the ruling part will be making the wisest decisions about the which Pleasures are most appropriate for each part of the soul.

In the Republic, Plato contradicts the popular notion that pain is the absence of pleasure and pleasure the absence of pain.
“Is it any surprise, then, …that when [the many] descend into the painful, they believe truly and are really in pain, but that, when they ascend from the painful to the intermediate state, they firmly believe that they have reached fulfilment and pleasure?” (584e-585).

He says that the masses are deceived into believing that their relief from pain is pleasure, mindlessly accepting it as such without really analyzing it. What they hold to be pleasure is really the neutral absence of pain, however, and there is a pleasure higher yet. This true pleasure comes from filling ourselves with “what is appropriate to our nature… with things that are more, [thereby enjoying] more really and truly a more true pleasure” (585e).
Maintaining a state of psychic harmony, or justice, will allow one to lead the pleasurable life; without justice, true pleasure and happiness are impossible. Justice is the largest component of happiness, and therefore, when present, allows for the greatest possibility of being happy. It is not a guarantee, however. It is possible for one to be just and unhappy as well. Though it is the dominant element of happiness and a necessary condition for it, justice is not a sufficient condition for it. There are external conditions over which one has no authority, and sometimes, no matter how much virtue one may possess internally, happiness is not to be found. This can be seen in the case of a just soul under torture. There seems to be a mysterious lesser ingredient in happiness that sort of drowns in the wake of the argument at hand and remains unaddressed. However, the Plato has established that justice is a necessary but not sufficient condition for happiness.

In conclusion, Plato says that Justice is necessary in order to experience true pleasure and ultimately happiness. This is because only when each part of the soul minds its own business and harmonizes with the other parts is conflict going to cease so one can experience peace and pleasure. And only when the rational part of the soul is ruling do you see and act on what is best for each part of the soul and the whole, because only it chooses the rational pleasures (the truest pleasures) above mere bodily pleasures and honor and the rest. The rational part of the soul chooses to study the Forms and gain true knowledge of that which is unchanging (Wisdom) in order to make its decisions. As ruler, then, it makes the wisest judgements about the best Pleasures for each part of the soul, thereby preserving justice within the soul

Real Pleasure comes from ‘filling ourselves with what is appropriate to our nature’ (585e), thereby informing our soul’s rational part with Wisdom on what kinds of decisions will preserve the substantial foundation of Justice within the soul, making Happiness possible, if not entirely guaranteed. When justice is preserved and made to be a consistent state, then we can potentially be happy more consistently (excluding external effects like the torture mentioned before) and therefore the philosophic soul that is just is the one with the most potential to be happy and fulfilled.

c. Mary Kathryn Gough, university paper

(Katie Huffman (Gough, married), History of Philosophy I, Van Dyke 251 A)

Britain in India: World War I through the 1960s

Marykathryn Huffman
(mar. Gough)
4/24/06 Prof. Bratt
STBR 372 Essay #3

By 1914, India had long been subjected to the harsh treatment of Imperial Britain, a country used to enforcing their rule militarily. India’s population was used heavily and thoughtlessly in the wartimes of the early twentieth century. This was in part because the empire, when it entered World War I “covered a quarter of the earth’s land surface and had a population of 425 million of whom 366 million were coloured, and of these, 316 million lived in India” (353, James). Racism ran rampant in the fighting ranks. Government discrimination was highlighted by the circumstances, as the British tommy was trusted and admired, the independent Australian soldiers despised, and the coloured were distrusted and disrespected (354-5, James). Convinced even yet of their superiority, the British “ruthlessly exploited [India’s manpower] to… [support] the imperial armies on every front” (353, James).

Instituting British education for Indians in India had had the ‘undesirable’ by-product of nurturing in the nation as a whole a deepened and more informed desire for self-government (414-415, James). As Indians began to lay hold of the intellectual tools now necessary to legitimately lay their case on the table and be heard in their own society, Britain entertained their plea — to an extent. During World War I, India threw itself into the war against Hitler with vigor and sincerity, providing both men and money for the Imperial army. Britain’s ‘thank you’ was a commitment “to policies designed to set India along the road to ‘responsible government’ within the empire. Originally the promise had been for ‘self government’ but Curzon had objected” (415, James). The British majority just didn’t believe that India could create, support, or maintin peace on its own if given ‘self-governement’. India was a nation split by the ancient and often explosive tensions existing between Hindus and Muslims, and some would have said that the British “cynically exploited racial and religious antipathies in order to ‘divide and rule’ ” (412, James).
From about the year 1919, Gandhi “was the conscience of the [Indian National C]ongress, [and] wished all Indians to remain a simple folk, …encourag[ing] them to cultivate the agrarian virtues which he believed would regenerate India” (413, James). Gandhi tried to limit violence coming from the popularization of his resistance, but in 1922 he was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison, though he was then released two years later for health reasons (http://bartleby.com/67/2436.html). After several more imprisonments and releases — and his famous fast unto death — Gandhi officially resigned from congress in 1933, though he still unofficially retained his importance and position to a degree (http://bartleby.com/67/2443.html). The Muslim League, on the other hand, was led by Dr. Muhammad Jinnah, and while in 1919 the League worked with the mostly Hindu Congress to a large degree, the more powerful the Congress became the less the League trusted them. In the ensuing two decades, they became more and more antagonistic to a whole-India solution, and worked towards partition and the granting of Pakistan as their own independent Muslim state (423, James). Relations between Hindus and Muslims were so strained in the late 1920s that even a simple argument between two young boys quickly escalated into a violent ten day riot (413-4, James)! Salman Rushdie portrays this general phenomenon very well in several scenes of his novel, Midnight’s Children. Because of this explosive tension, Nehru and others considered religion “India’s greatest bane” because of the “dogmatism and narrow-mindedness [it fostered]” and the way it set the stage for the violence and discrimination that discredited them as one unified, responsible people (413, James).

In 1919, on April 13th, was the Amritsar Massacre — Rushdie has a stunning treatment of the Massacre in Midnight’s Children as well. In this tragic act of controlling violence, 379 people were killed and 1200 were wounded — and punishment of the British general responsible was both ‘belated and mild’ (http://bartleby.com/67/2433.html). Close to Christmas that year, the Government of India Act introduced new reforms that showed some amount of success here and there, but the amount of responsibility actually laid on Indian officials was still minimal and very controlled (http://bartleby.com/67/2433.html). During World War II, India found itself trying (in the footsteps of WWI Ireland) to undermine British imperialism and get around it where possible. As James points out, “divisions over what, if any, part it ought to play in India’s struggle against Naziism and fascism contrasted with Congress’s determination to use the war as a chance to squeeze concessions from Britain” (424, James). However the moral factors in Britain’s involvement in the war (i.e., fighting a despicable form of government) made it difficult for India to throw itself very strongly against the empire. On August 8th of 1940, Britain had offered India ‘partnership and a new constitution’ once the war was over, but India had refused, demanding immediate independence and holding to that demand when the war ended; unwilling to receive autonomy at Britain’s hand, they demanded instead that Britain leave India (the Quit India campaign) (http://bartleby.com/67/2446.html).
World War II caused a sort of civilian version of shell-shock which psychologically shifted the public opinion of the actual value of Imperialism. In part because of this shift, for the first six months of 1942 the United States began pushing Britain to come to some sort of terms with the Indian Congress. However Congress, Gandhi, and the League were all discredited by the obvious lack of internal harmony in India displayed by the Quit India campaign, and U.S. support for an agreement with India fell sharply. Always before, Britain felt much better about granting independence to a colony, if simply because they were already used to political life. But in India it was so new, and had its roots almost solely in and motivated by the desire to get rid of its foreign rulers, that Britain felt that it was leaving a shallow system that hadn’t gained any part of maturity yet (544-545, James). The definition of national maturity, however, is murky and convoluted. Governmental and political maturity cannot be richly ripe enough for naturalization until the nation within and its constituent individuals have reached a truly loving, creative maturity themselves. One must ask, does that ever happen?
Upon coming out of the war it became clear, in spite of Britain’s dubiousness and hesitancy, that Indian self-government wasn’t an Indian pipe-dream any longer — it was only a matter of time. Though the consensus of outside powers seemed to be that it might not be safe to leave governing in Indian hands, the “question [was no longer] of how long the raj would last, but how it was to be dismantled and what would replace it” (427, James). Thus, Britain rolled up its collective sleeves and set-to organizing a peaceful and advantageous withdrawal from India and the colonies in which each territory would take over government for itself, becoming independent and productive on its own (542-547, James). “Never was an empire dismantled with such a sense of hope for the future,” James states; the officials involved in the passing on of responsibility saw themselves more as ‘midwives’ than workers in a funeral home (542, James). Throughout 1946, the Indian population grew increasingly violent, and the British drew up plans to flee before any peaceful accord had been reached or official transfer taken place. But Earl Mountbatten (and his charming wife) arrived in February of the next year, throwing his whole being into an effort to close matters and hand rule over before the nation literally bubbled with blood (549-551, James). The date of independence was to have been in June of 1948, but in light of the threat of civil war and the efforts of the Mountbattens, India’s independence process was quickened and occurred on August 15th, 1947 (552, James). Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister, had taken a special interest in withdrawal from India, and personally sent the Mountbattens to take over the situation. Attlee had made a few concessions he had disliked, as they were not in Britain’s favor, ultimately trade-wise and positionally because of the Cold War. One of these was the concession of a partitioned India, where Hindu and Muslim land would be parted with an official line, and each would operate independently of the other. Already the two groups were acting independently from each other. Inevitably the line could not be drawn such that Hindus and Muslims were really parted, and unfortunately many were left just slightly in the other religious group’s territory, feeling threatened and alone — however, many of these moved. Upon being granted independence, there was massive bloodshed in India– maybe 500,000 deaths, although no one knows exactly (553-554, James). Religious fear and hatred took the country by the throat and crushed millions of lives without restraint or compassion. The establishment of the two groups’ separateness refused to come about without a violent show of independence in the form of inflicting suffering and causing blood to flow. Even Gandhi was a victim of the wild changes in people’s hearts and the burning desire for deserved recognition that bubbled to the surface of the culture during this time (assassinated by a Hindu on Jan 30, 1948) (http://www.bartleby.com/67/3955.html). Strife continued as the two new territories struggled over Kashmir and other states. The government continued to seek organization and individuality at once, with some measure of success, although the fighting between Pakistan and India took ages to come fully to a stop, even when the issue was taken to the UN for support (http://www.bartleby.com/67/3956.html). A constitution was drafted, India declared a federal republic, and President Rajendra Prasad elected (January 26, 1950 – installed formally in 1952) (http://www.bartleby.com/67/3957.html). Months later, the Delhi Pact “between Prime Minister Pandit Nehru and Liaqat Ali Khan [promised] fair treatment to each other’s minorities” (http://www.bartleby.com/67/3957.html). Throughout the 50s, India worked on their relations with France, Portugal, the U.S., and the U.S.S.R., gradually becoming somewhat of a leader of the many small, anxious ‘post-colonial nations’ and other ‘nonaligned nations’ (http://www.bartleby.com/67/3957.html). Britain contributed to India and several other nations in the 50s with inclusion in The Colombo Plan, which aimed to help the countries economically each with a portion of 8 billion pounds over the course of six years (http://www.bartleby.com/67/3958.html). In October of 1955, a commission was set to reorganize the lines between states, as they had been drawn at independence by the British, according to regional, cultural, and ethnic ties expressed as simply as possible in linguistic similarities (http://www.bartleby.com/67/3960.html). This was able to relieve the arduous task of the hatred intrinsic to it (to some extent), as identity was described in different terms than those exclusively designating one’s religious affiliation. This took up quite a bit of the rest of the 1950s with tousling over lines and identities in the political arena.

In the end, Britain finally did pull out of India, due to post-war circumstances and to India’s continued insistence, with many doubts and fears but without much choice. Some of their worst fears came true. Atrocities and acts of terror and horror occurred all over the newly-split nation — exactly what Britain had been attempting to police and soften and change in their presence in the country. It is possible that their presence only exacerbated over years the emotions pent-up in Indian hearts. It is possible that their presence there simply added another layer to the layers and layers of maneuverings and lies through which the country had learned to find their way through together toward the future, a foreign layer that exponentially complicated the process of learning each other. Perhaps the civility they sought to donate to India could have been found in the rich wells of heritage the people had, as Gandhi indicated, and if Britain had simply listened and explored India as itself they would have been able to help the country heal itself. No one can say now, and speculation can only help us figure ourselves and our own future out. But what we can say is that the Indian people were deeply, irrevocably changed, and left to work toward an integration of states that wouldn’t have ever before been believed.


James, Lawrence. The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1994.
Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. London: Vintage, 1995.
Stearns, Peter N. ed. VI. “The World Wars and Interwar Period”, “The Contemporary Period”. The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. 2001; Houghton Mifflin Company. <http://www.bartleby.com/67/ (ff)>. accessed between May 2006 – December 29th, 2006.
Weil, Simone; Panichas, George A. The Simone Weil Reader. Rhode Island/London: Moyer Bell, 1999.


Afternotes (no room at the inn…)

In the words of Simone Weil, in an essay titled ‘The Power of Words’, one might say that “in the end, a study of modern history leads to the conclusion that the national interest of every State consists in its capacity to make war. . . What is called national prestige consists in behaving always in such a way as to demoralize other nations by giving them the impression that, if it comes to war, one would certainly defeat them. What is called national security is an imaginary state of affairs in which one would retain the capacity to make war while depriving all other countries of it” (273, Weil). If that’s maturity, I’ll eat my hat! The definition of national maturity is very murky and convoluted. “Perfect love drives out all fear,” and governmental and political structures of any maturity cannot be richly ripe enough for naturalization until the nation within and its constituent individuals have reached a truly loving, creative seedling knowledge of themselves. It is not ripe until those who live in that structure have set their feet on the path toward that maturity ( i.e. not ‘toward that prosperity’), for the path toward maturity leads to ever-deeper love on as grand a scale as nations could wish. But the question remains, does that ever happen? And how?
My favorite example of this seedling self-knowledge and desire for maturity is the Velvet Revolution in ’89 in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Massive non-violent protest ( i.e., velvet) intimidated the Communists into handing the country over to the people, who then voted a playwrite and political dissident named Vaclav Havel out of jail and into the interim (and 1st) presidency — because they loved him, trusted him, and because he’d given them heart and courage.
Reading about Imperialism this semester and considering how its ethic played out, I can’t help but think that we have much in common with the British Empire’s particular blindnesses. Believing themselves merciful and full of the best intent, they were far better at analyzing others than at analyzing themselves and humbling themselves under God’s mighty hand. They much preferred to use their own ‘mighty’ hand as they felt He intended, for maximum order and ‘civility’ and comfort. Thus, the goal was so tightly bound to the fruits of the labor that people were not really present, Be-ing, eyes fixed on the Savior in trust and humility. Wrong propagates unnecessarily in those circumstances.
Weil writes something else in the same essay which feels relevant to me. She says, “It is clear that neither absolute dictatorship nor absolute democracy exists anywhere, and that every social organism everywhere is a compound of democracy and dictatorship in different proportions; it is clear, too, that the extent to which there is democracy is defined by the relations between different parts of the social mechanism and upon the conditions which control its functioning; it is therefore upon these relations and these conditions that we should try to act. Instead of which we generally imagine that dictatorship or democracy are intrinsically inherent in certain groups of men, whether nations or parties, so that we become obsessed with the desire to crush one or the other of these groups, according to whether we are temperamentally more attached to order or to liberty” (275, Weil).
Does that, or does that not sound like us? Many would say that western democracy ought to be spread, like gospel-truth, everywhere. And yet, doesn’t Democracy itself seem to operate like another imperial power in its self-propagating efforts? Curiosity and concern drive me to ask: what do we do but take pride in our newer, ‘better’ standard of living, carelessly subverting the ageless wisdom of other Peoples with capitalistic products and advertising? I’m the first to attest to the power of the word/image, both seen and heard — but also to the fact that we hog it, world-wide, wherever possible. That has consequences, fully intentional or no. Everywhere, we are smothering or invalidating identities with the very Ideas of Democracy itself because we’ve left empathy by the wayside and respond only to our own feelings about what we see. I keep finding myself mentally stamping those bumper stickers that say “God bless America” underneath with the words: “with humility and wisdom”. After all, isn’t it the meek who inherit the Earth? How could we be so pretentious and hard-nosed?
Perhaps promoting the Empire as a thing-in-itself was one of the main mistakes, and had that not been done, a more modest Britain would have resulted. What would the world have looked like then? Could Britain, with its talented and brilliant figures, have survived walking a tightrope rather than packing down dirt under their feet all over the globe? …Can we?
Who are we?

Night *

Elie Wiesel and Theodicy

A reflection paper turned in to Professor Thompson

By Kate Huffman (Mary Kathryn Gough) / REL 131 4/12/04

This paper will respond to Elie Wiesel’s Night, The Trial of God, and his memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea, probing into why evil is allowed to exist in the world and whether we have the right to blame God for it—or at least whether we have to right to blame Him for not intervening. It will examine various methods of justifying God’s ways in this matter, as set forth by several of the characters in Wiesel’s works (most notably Berish, Mendel, Sam, and the Priest.) Finally, the paper will point out where Wiesel seems to settle, which appears to be where I settle as well, and challenges us to remember the Thou in our dialogue, not forgetting that we are in relationship with God and that our stance toward Him (whatever it is) ought to hold in heart the knowledge that it is intimate in character: a family member’s tie.

Night is the stunning account of a fifteen year old boy who tows us back in time to witness the hell of the Holocaust through his own eyes. Elie Wiesel’s powerful writing strikes terror, sorrow, remorse, and compassion by turn in readers as they encounter the unimaginably cruel and inhumane things he was forced to endure during World War II. I was as blown away by this story as I always was before; I’ve read it three or four times now, and every time it leaves me breathlessly racing with heart-felt thought. Babies thrown carelessly—even laughingly—into scorching flames, bodies of all sizes piled sky-high, crematories scattering the ashes of former friends and family like rain, cruel beatings and passionless killings without number . . . what are we to make of evil made so solidly manifest we can barely keep our food down or remember to desire Life? This terrible sickness drains me, sucks me dry somehow, and I truly feel the need to find real sackcloth and ashes to cry out to God in mourning. Obviously to mourn these horrors is not enough. But my first instinct is to shed tears of revolt and helplessness against the evil and plead with God that it be different. Brought to witness horrors like these, I find myself ever more desperately wanting to know why they are allowed to exist in a universe ruled by a supremely good and all-powerful Being!!! What is the explanation for suffering such as this? How can a supremely good ruler look it in the face and remain whole and Holy?

Theodicy is coined from a Greek word meaning ‘justice’, as well as from the word for God, and was thus originally used to designate attempts to justify God’s ways, or goodness. Now it is more common to see it used when directly speaking of evil and ways of trying to explain our undeniable experiences of it. Theodicies abound as they always have; all religions have one form or another, whether pantheistic, monotheistic, or what-have-you. This is because most everyone accedes that perceived evils must find an ordered place on the shelves of the belief system. Everyone seems to feel that they experience evil, so it must either be explained away or fit into the desired structure. Mostly it is safe to say no one fully succeeds. Christianity has a very complete picture in the end, if not entirely so, and we’ll see why even Elie Wiesel appears to allude to the key it contains for all this thought later.

In his works, Wiesel considers various common theodicies from several points of view and ends up rejecting them for one reason and another in favor of a theodicy pieced together from his past, in view of his present, and looking toward the entirely unknowable future, in which he makes room for the mysterious Being of God within his own memory-full existence while still allowing himself to wade through everything that his experience hands him. In Night, the protagonist initially wonders if all of the suffering is because of committed sins, and then alternately sees the whole experience as something which must be submitted to or as a test although he’s sort of in limbo about the whole thing by then. Near the end of his imprisonment the boy rebels inside, and what broke in him that first day when God died, comes back together with the rest of his being in deliberate defiance and protest. Many in the camps see the suffering as a test, but most of those lose heart and strength—like the one with the deep, heart-breaking voice who (essentially) volunteered for death. In The Trial of God, Berish is most definitely the central character of protest, and probably the one to whom Wiesel feels the most definitively drawn. Mendel the beggar seems to advocate a theodicy of suffering as a test/soul-making—and yet he is strongly drawn to many aspects of the theodicy of submission to the mystery of God’s sovereignty as well (which Sam will endorse, minus the awe and feeling that properly go along with such a response). This is how Mendel is brought to idolatry; his internal drive for knowledge overcomes the heart that has been growing in him, the heart Sam so easily deceives him into thinking that he possesses as well. Mendel falls into the comparative ease of rationalism, finally declaring, “Your love of God: I wish I had one measure of it. Your piety: I wish it were mine. Your faith: mine is less profound, less intact than yours. Who are you?” (p. 158, 168). In this way Mendel loses himself to the stranger, who still refuses to tell him who he is. We find in the end that the stranger is ‘intact’ because all he does is talk, and he feels no qualms about lying with truths. The Priest, on the other hand, has a very traditional (and lamentably very fallen) take on suffering as punishment for sin. Unfortunately this in no way causes him to wish to sin any less. He drinks too much, and he wants to sleep with Maria. He talks about hell, he says, because he always does, and because it’s easy to talk about (TToG, p.93). It is often to his advantage to do so as well. He seems to be internally rifling though a hand of cards every time we see him, desperately searching for the one that will help him win. A very uncourageous soul (but aren’t we all just a bit like that… isn’t it a fair representation of the Church, in a way?).

It is frightening, but easily understandable that in Night, the protagonist’s young faith, innocence and love are aborted in the midst of the shockingly personal suffering and death in the concentration camps. The scars that remain in the man to this day are obvious in his memoirs. And yet, somehow this tested faith—a faith that has wrestled with God and continually comes through still firmly opposing God’s enemies and affirming His all-powerful existence (as Wiesel attests in his memoirs, All Rivers Run To The Sea)—is fuller, deeper, and wider than most. He is faithful in as many senses of the word as one can think of, acknowledging and keeping a hold of all the things he’s experienced, not ignoring anything, and struggling to remain whole in the center of it all. It is his acceptance of two propositions especially that make this a possible quest for him: That it is alright to be angry at God, and that God is to be looked upon with compassion and pity.

The first proposition is that it is alright to be angry at God—it is, in fact, our duty to confidently protest who we think He is within the context of our relationship to Him. As Wiesel says,

But if Nietsche could cry out to the old man in the forest that God is dead, the Jew in me cannot. I have never renounced my faith in God. I have risen against His justice, protested His silence and sometimes His absence, but my anger rises up within faith and not outside it. . . Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah and Rebbe Levi-Yitzhak of Berdichev teach us that it is permissible for man to accuse God, provided it is done in the name of faith in God” (ARRttS, p.84).

We must always remember to address the real God in our defiance, however. No matter how hot the burning fire within us is, first we have to know exactly why we are angry and realize that we are defending something— standing up to God for His own creation, which he has given into our care. Then we have to purposefully extinguish our puny, limited caricatures of Who He is, to the best of our ability, and acknowledge the Unknown reaches of the mind of God. (Who has known the mind of the Lord?…) C. S. Lewis wrote a poem expressing the underlying, foundational posture we ought to adopt, acknowledging that “Where God is concerned, all is mystery” (ARRttS, p. 104).

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in Thy great,
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

We’re all in the same boat, really: without the mercy of God our voices would never be directed properly… but it’s true that we must be faithful witnesses to what we’ve been given. We have to work with the whole of our lives, because that’s what he’s given us. Sometimes that calls for keening and wailing, sometimes it calls for gritted teeth and strength, and sometimes (yes) it calls for the fiery anger and defiance of Wiesel’s innkeeper Berish from The Trial of God.

In that same play, Sam (the unknown character whom everyone seems to have seen before in places of tragedy and who turns out to be Satan in the end) asks the judges of the Purimschpiel court who are putting God on trial if they will judge without preconceived ideas. They respond in the positive. Will they judge without prejudice? Yes, they reply again. And without passion? Thoughtful Mendel immediately says “No. With passion” (TToG, p.136). I think this is extremely significant in separating one of the things that sets Sam apart from the rest of the cast. As Maria says when she first denounces him as evil, “He has no heart, no soul, no feeling! He’s Satan, I’m telling you!” (TToG, p. 116). Passion, evidently, is important to a human response to God. This is another part of what legitimates our being angry towards God.

The second proposition Wiesel accepts that allows him to strive at keeping the faith is that God is to be looked upon with compassion and pity, as the father of countless children who war with each other and sin against one another constantly. God sheds tears at the suffering of his children; He shares in their pain and grief. This seems to be something extremely significant that Christianity and Judaism have in common. Wiesel is right when he references the Zohar—“No space is devoid of God. God is everywhere, even in suffering and in the very heart of punishment” (ARRttS, p.103). Right and true, but how exactly is God present in every space? As Himself. As Life-giver, Love-source, Powerful Redeemer, and so many many other things. “Israel’s sadness,” Wiesel states, “is bound to that of the divine presence, the She’hina: together they await deliverance. The waiting of the one constitutes the other’s secret dimension. Just as the distress of the She’hina seems unbearable to the children of Israel, so Israel’s torments rend the heart of the She’hina” (ARRttS, p.103). This sounds strikingly similar to Christian thought on the matter where we are, together with God, suffering and awaiting deliverance:

“God’s work to release himself from his sufferings is his work to deliver the world from its agony; our struggle for joy and justice is out struggle to relieve God’s sorrow. . . Until justice and peace embrace, God’s dance of joy is delayed. The bells for the feast of divine joy are the bells for the shalom of the world” (LfaS, p. 91).

Christ blesses mourners in the Sermon on the Mount, saying that they will be comforted. We must realize that our anger at and protest against a seemingly disengaged, impotent, or merciless, unjust God are actually mourning which lacks a foundation to rest on, which looks Mystery in the face, sees nothing recognizable, and loses its faith that dialogue is happening. Assuming that a Mystery characterized by love would not communicate with us is just that: an assumption. From what we are given to know, God does dialogue with us, and we must rest in that with confidence—when we mourn and when we are angry (or when we communicate with Him in any other way).

Who are the mourners, really? Nicholas Wolterstorff addresses this in his moving book, Lament for a Son.

“The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. . . mourners are aching visionaries. . . The stoics of antiquity said: Be calm. Disengage yourself. Neither laugh nor weep. Jesus says: Be open to the wounds of the world. Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s weeping, be wounded by humanity’s wounds, be in agony over humanity’s agony” (LfaS, p.85-86).

And why does Jesus say this? Because He Himself was open in just this way: because through Christ’s suffering on Earth, our God mourns with us! Again Wolterstorff expresses this admirably, saying “To those who mourn the absence of that day is disclosed already the heart of God. Upon entering the company of the suffering, they discern the anguish of God. . . they hear the sobs and see the tears of God. By these they are consoled” (LfaS, p.88, emphasis added).

Wiesel seems to point to Christianity in a forgiving and positive manner in several places in his writing. For example, when the Priest is dumping on the Jewish faith, Mendel says an amazing thing. He says, “I speak not of Christ, but of those who betray Him. They invoke His teaching to justify their murderous deeds. His true disciples would behave differently; there are no more around. There are no more Christians in this Christian land” (TToG, p.99). The Priest responds, “Is it His fault? Why blame Him? If what you say is true, then feel sorry for Him. If Christ is alone and abandoned—then it’s up to you, His brethren, to comfort Him” (TToG, p.99). Mendel assures Him that one day they would.

In the foreword to Night, Wiesel speaks of another young man with hopeless eyes full of death and torment who comes to visit him, wanting to share asking for an answer to it all. Wiesel says,

“And I, who believe that God is love,… what did I say to him? Did I speak of that other Jew, his brother, who may have resembled him—the Crucified, whose Cross has conquered the world? Did I affirm that the stumbling block to his faith was the cornerstone of mine, and that the conformity between the cross and the suffering of men was in my eyes the key to that impenetrable mystery whereon the faith of his childhood had perished? … We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the Eternal is the Eternal, the last word for each one of us belongs to Him. This is what I should have told this Jewish child. But I could only embrace him, weeping” (Night, p.x-xi).

God has actually done both these things for us. Sadly, we miss them all too often.

Let your heart bleed for God. Recall in faith that we suffer with Him.

c. Mary Kathryn Gough, 2004