Tag Archives: Meister Eckhart

Meister Eckhart’s “golden rule”

 

 

You must love all men equally, respect and regard them equally, and whatever happens to another, whether good or bad, must be the same as if it happened to you.

— Meister Eckhart, “in hoc apparuit caritas dei in nobis, quoniam filium suum unigenitum misit deus in mundum ut vivamus per eum” (1 John 4:9); Predigt Dreizehn (Sermon Thirteen) (a); in The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, translated by Maurice O’C. Walshe (New York: Crossroad, 2009), pg. 105

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2020

 

 

re “Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within”

 

 

 

The following are emails of mine to Joel F. Harrington, author of Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), a book I recently read.

The second email contains my reflections on the book. Realizing that I am praising myself, I think the email shows an earnest attempt on my part to not only show appreciation for the book, but to learn as much as I can from it — in other words, it shows how a book should be read, how I customarily do read; that is, with close attention and a critical eye, and extracting every scrap of meaning and knowledge I can.

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

 

 

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June 20, 2020

Dear Professor Harrington,

I was in the Strand Bookstore in New York City a year or two ago and asked if they had any books on Meister Eckhart.

The clerk said no.

I browsed the shelves in the religion section and found several, including your biography.

A long time ago, when I was new to New York, a coworker who became a lifelong friend [Bill Dalzell] introduced me to Meister Eckhart. My friend, a deep and earnest thinker, was not scholarly per se … he was interested in mysticism along with many other things in art, philosophy, and aesthetics that he introduced me, a recent college graduate, to.

I am an independent scholar and writer. I know good writing when I see it.

I have read only a few pages of your biography so far, but I can tell how well written it is and how worth reading.

I will be in touch with you again when I have finished.

Sincerely,

Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

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August 19, 2020

Dear Professor Harrington,

This is a follow-up (as I had promised) to a previous email of mine two months ago about your biography of Meister Eckhart, which I finished a few weeks ago. I am finally getting around to writing you.

It is very well written, in my opinion, and combines impressive scholarship with readability. Although I am probably more acquainted with the Middle Ages and medieval thought than most readers, having majored in history and taken excellent courses in medieval history with professors Norman Cantor and Joshua Prawer at Brandeis University, I am no expert — and yet, I would say that you have done a very good job of getting your hands around the subtleties in Eckhart’s thought. They (the subtleties and nuances of his theology) require much effort at explanation, and yet, I believe you would concur, they also have to be intuited.

It is my belief that, in the best writing, the writer has done the homework, so to speak, for the reader. Your Eckhart biography, in my opinion, provides a much needed synthesis for the reader familiar with but not deeply read in or that well acquainted with Eckhart or his writing.

I thought that Chapter 13 was a brilliant synthesis of writings about Eckhart and his influence over time, and in modern times, and, in general, the book does an admirable job of showing how views and interpretations of Eckhart have shaped and have been shaped by trends and fashions in religions and mysticism. You have shown how Eckhart continues to be influential — indeed, how his influence has grown, yet you avoid the trap of presentism: of trying to give him a “makeover” for later generations. You have made a strenuous effort to understand his writings, theology, and life in the context of and with reference to the actuality of his own life and times.

The analysis of Eckhart’s neologisms on pages 216-217 was very interesting and stimulating for this reader with a rudimentary (very limited) knowledge of German.

Among the many thoughts that occurred to me while reading the book were latter-day concepts such as transcendentalism; specifically, the idea that God is all around us. Are there any similarities to Eckhart here? Ralph Waldo Emerson talks of becoming nothing and seeing all. “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of God.”

On page 239, you speak of a “power … variously named by Eckhart as the divine light of the soul, the head of the soul, the husband of the soul, the guardian of the spirit, the light of the spirit, the imprint of divine nature, a citadel, a tiny drop of intellect, a twig, and, … a little spark.” And, on page 319, you write, “The divine spark within each person, the master teaches, is what links us to one another and to all creation. …” Is Eckhart’s divine light of the soul anything like the Quaker inner light?

I found the following passage on pages 92-93 to be very enlightening:

For the sake of his youthful and inexperienced audience, raised with conventional notions of piety, Eckhart made his point explicit: [God] is little concerned with our works, but only with our state of mind in all our works, that we love Him in all things. The prior’s apparent diminishment of conventional acts of piety should not be misunderstood; it was their perception as bargaining tools with God that he explicitly rejected, not their value as spiritual aids:

Many people think they are performing great works by outward things such as fasting, going barefoot, or other such things which are called penance. But the true and best penance is that whereby one improves greatly and in the highest degree …. This penance is truly a state of mind lifted into God away from all things, and in whatever works you find you can have it most, and have it from those works, do them the more freely; and then, if any outward work should hinder you, whether it be fasting, watching, reading, or whatever else, you can safely leave that alone without worrying about failing in any penance. …

Acts of penitence undertaken without this shift in attitude could in fact have a deleterious effect, drag[ging] down into ever greater sorrow and plung[ing] a man into such distress that he is ready to despair, and then the repentance remains painful and he gets no farther: nothing comes of this.

On page 218, you wrote:

Even with a new and colorful vocabulary, the master’s translation of scholastic thinking into the common idiom was not always successful. What, for instance, would a modestly educated listener have made of this attempt to describe the timeless melding of divine union?

You should wholly sink from your youness and dissolve into his Hisness and your “yours” and his “His” should become so completely one “mine” that with him you understand His uncreated self-identity and His nameless nothingness, …

Viewed in the context of Meister Eckhart’s general teaching and as words on the page, the passage appears somewhat comprehensible; heard in a sermon, the spoken concepts of “youness” and “Hisness” must have been baffling.”

I found the last sentence (“Viewed in the context …”) to be very perceptive, showing a real attempt to place oneself in the context of Eckhart’s place and times.

On page 11, you write:

The spectacular rise and fall of this prescient spiritual teacher carries important ramifications for the perennial debate over religious authority, even today. Church leaders’ concerns during Eckhart’s lifetime that simple people might misunderstand the master’s words and reject all religion may appear at first as mere self-justification for their own authoritarian agenda. Yet as the later Protestant Reformation and subsequent schisms have made clear, the appeal to individual conscience as the ultimate arbiter of spiritual truth invariably leads to ever more interpretations, ever more denominations, ever more religious conflicts.

I could relate to this passage in terms of my own thoughts, experience, and religious upbringing. I was raised a Protestant. I have attained a deep appreciation of Roman Catholicism as well through experiences with Catholics from childhood; my wife and sons are Catholic. Having a knowledge of various Protestant denominations and having had relatives and ancestors belonging to different ones (and having studied history), I have often thought to myself, once the cat was let out of the bag and Protestantism emerged, there was no end to the splintering among different denominations — often over matters of church policy or governance and both large and small doctrinal issues.

On page 209, there is a quote from Eckhart:

[T]here is not one of you who is so coarse-grained, so feeble of understanding, or so remote but he may find this joy within himself, in truth, as it is, with joy and understanding, before you leave this church today, indeed before I have finished preaching: he can find this as truly within him, live it, and possess it, as that God is God and I am a man.

These are, in my opinion, truly remarkable words; and, I am sure you would agree, quite remarkable for a thirteenth or fourteenth century preacher.

On page 220 you wrote: “As always, Eckhart was aggressive in his interpretations of scriptural passages, convinced that any reading conveying an essential truth was a valid reading. This exegetical approach, common among contemporary scholars, gave him considerable thematic flexibility.” I liked the way you put this: “thematic flexibility.”

On page 221 you wrote:

… indisputably Meister Eckhart’s favorite authority–other than Augustine–was Meister Eckhart. Dozens of times he prefaced a remark with I have also said before (and it is a certain and true saying), or sometimes I have said, as I said the day before yesterday in my last sermon, or I said in Paris. Only a preacher of such an elevated scholarly status could get away with such frequent self-invocation. Yet in Eckhart’s defense, his strategy was as much to establish an ongoing dialogue with his individual listeners as to proclaim his own superior knowledge-building on his own authority but also drawing each person in the room into a more intimate relationship. ‘I’ appears several hundred times in Eckhart’s surviving vernacular sermons, but almost always in the explicit or implicit sense of a conversation. Often that dialogue is with the listener, created by Eckhart’s rhetorical use of you. You often ask, for instance, how you ought to live. Now pay close attention. Describing the utter stillness preceding a personal experience of God, Eckhart anticipated his listener’s question: But sir, you ask, where is the silence, and where is the place where the Word is spoken? Again and again, he answered his own questions–not unlike in a scholastic summa–but with the justification that I was once asked, I was recently asked, people say, or similar formulations.

“Sense of a conversation,” Indeed. This is a subtle and rewarding analysis, in my opinion, from which the reader gains insight.

On page 230, I liked your wording in the phrase “his [Eckhart’s] intellectually challenging­-some might say impenetrable–way of speaking.”

Pages 230-231 contain the following passage:

Not that Meister Eckhart was the first preacher of his day to discuss ways into God. In his own sermons he identified two widely acknowledged methods, which he contrasted with his own “third way.” One [way] is to seek God in all creatures with manifold activity and ardent longing. The most famous recent advocate of this via positiva was St. Bonaventure, like Eckhart a learned theologian and admirer of St. Augustine as well as a mendicant administrator. Bonaventure, though, was a Franciscan who embraced the affective piety of his order’s founder, in which one began by loving the created world and other humans and progressed to loving the Creator Himself. In his Soul’s Journey to God, Bonaventure described–in Latin and chiefly for his fellow Franciscans–six successive levels of illumination, beginning with the apprehension and perception of beauty in nature and fellow humans by the physical senses, followed by intellectual and spiritual contemplation up the ladder of creation, and culminating in an encounter with the divine source of all. This approach appealed to many Christians of the day and was expanded upon in such instructional works as David of Augsburg’s Seven Stages of Prayer and Rudolf of Biberach’s Seven Roads of Eternity. Dante Alighieri was its most famous contemporary proponent and his Divine Comedy the most enduring dramatization of the pathway to God through ever-expanding love.

While never impugning Bonaventure or any of his fellow Franciscans by name, Meister Eckhart rejected seeking God through the external world and senses. The Creator was in all things, he agreed, but He could not be directly encountered in this way. Human will, as he had argued against the Franciscan Gonsalvo in Paris, too readily attached itself to images and intermediaries, preventing genuine access to the divine. Even poverty, the supreme virtue of the Franciscans, could become an idol. Preaching on the feast of St. Francis, Eckhart directly challenged his rival mendicants on this score, arguing, I used sometimes to say (and it is quite true) that whoever truly loves poverty is so desirous of it that he grudges anyone having less than he has. And so it is with all things, whether it is purity, or justice, or whatever virtue he loves, he wants to have to the highest degree. Rather than look to the created world, He who would see God must be blind. Rather than seeking God’s voice in the conversation of men, anyone who wishes to hear God speaking must become deaf and inattentive to others.

This is an example of the many passages in the book that are instructive both on “historical grounds” and as providing intellectual fodder/stimulus and insight to the reader in the here and now.

On page 249, you write: “The spiritual perfection resulting from the divine birth in the soul, according to Eckhart, was not a rejection of human nature but a fulfillment of its true potential.” This sentence seems to hit the mark and to contain a “germinal” insight.

On pages 252-253, the analysis of the Mary and Martha story and how Eckhart interpreted it at various times is fascinating — somewhat difficult to get one’s hands around. I am not sure what I myself would say if asked what I thought.

Page 254:

Love itself has become an irresistible force. The just person no longer has any attachments whatsoever, but rather loves all of creation equally and indiscriminately, in conformance with his or her divine nature. You must love all men equally, respect and regard them equally, and whatever happens to another, whether good or bad, must be the same as if it happened to you.

Words to be taken to heart.

I thought the discussion of Stoic apathy on page 255 was excellent:

In some ways, the just person’s state of equanimity is reminiscent of Stoic apathy–the complete eradication of all emotions from the inner self, rob­bing pain and misfortune of their ability to distress us. But Eckhart did not seek to eliminate a powerful emotion such as empathy so much as to universalize it. For the just man, love was an overwhelming and unifying force. Certainly the self-knowledge advocated by Stoics had helped prepare him for the divine birth, but it was the divine essence that now filled him that overcame all suffering. The serenity he displayed might look like that of the accomplished Stoic on the surface, but it sprang from the certainty of unity with all fellow humans, not willful separation from them.

On page 302, you write:

The modern rediscovery of Meister Eckhart began chiefly as a response to Enlightenment rationalism. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, many German intellectuals sought a new philosophy that would approach the great truths of human existence with a combination of reason and feeling, or sensibility. … A mystical quest for life’s fulfillment was still possible in the modem world, Novalis averred, but first one had to overcome the legacy of the Enlightenment, which had “branded as heretical all imagination and feeling, placed man with difficulty at the top of the order of natural being, and turned the infinite creative music of the universe into the monotonous clattering of a gigantic mill.”

The “monotonous clattering of a gigantic mill”: what a great metaphor. (I realize it is Novalis’s, not yours.)

Page 320:

Eckhart’s third valuable insight for current spiritual seekers of all varieties involves the consequences of what he calls human divinization. In essence, Eckhart cracked the active/contemplative conundrum of Christianity for laypeople long before Protestant or other modern attempts. Going deep within oneself and reaching out to the world in service were two sides of the same coin for him, not an either/or choice. Without a profound appreciation of what he called the divine unity of existence, good works easily lend themselves to a transactional, commercial way of thinking about salvation. Without participation in the world, the supposedly enlightened person risks slipping into solipsistic selfishness-a state Eckhart compares to a tree that never bears fruit. The just person who has truly experienced the divine birth, the direct intuitive encounter with the unity of existence, does not withdraw from society, free from any obligation toward other human beings. Instead, experiencing God means becoming one with God and thus acting as God does–by which Eckhart means living an active life of love and service with­out a why, or any thought of justification or compensation. Acts of personal kindness or contributions to social justice are not means to spiritual enlight­enment or salvation but natural effects of the inward experience preached by Meister Eckhart (and many other religious figures). Again, the master describes a holistic approach to the good life, where the perceived divisions between the self and the world, between the individual person and others, dissolve.

In my humble opinion, this paragraph exhibits an ability on the author’s (your) part to explicate, go deeper, make things clear; draw out implications. That’s what a reader wants, but does not often get, in scholarly works/exegeses.

The torments you describe medieval religious women undergoing on page 202. were incredible. I can’t think of a better word — what I mean is that they give one a feeling for the strangeness if not weirdness of the times, the intense piety and practices that seem so strange if not disturbing:

…. extreme practices and dramatic successes inspired both wonder and individualistic competition. Most accounts of famous religious women accordingly emphasized that the awe-inspiring feats described should not be attempted by readers. A century earlier, for instance, Christina of Saint-Trond (aka Christina the Astonishing; 1150-1224) had become famous for whirling like a Sufi dervish when in divine ecstasy, then climbing (some witnesses said levitating) up to church rafters, roofs, and nearby trees. The theologian Jacques de Vitry described how the holy woman tried to replicate the torments of the damned in hell by putting herself in ovens, plunging into boiling water (and suffering no visible injuries), having herself lashed to mill wheels and hanged on the gallows, or lying in open graves. In Eckhart’s day, the Premonstratensian nun Christina of Hane died at the age of twenty-three after subjecting her sexual organs to such extreme tortures that even her pious biographer blanched. Another contemporary, Christina of Stommeln (1242-1312), allegedly suffered many years of diabolical torment in response to her own acts of self-mortification, ranging from being physically tom apart at night by demons (and reassembled in the morning by angels) to dodging the flying excrement thrown at her and her visitors by the same evil spirits. …

On page 312, you wrote: “Appropriation of this latest nature is an inherent risk to every public thinker, although Eckhart seems to have endured more than his fair share of diverse interpretations and applications over the years.

I was wondering, was “latest” a typo? Was latent intended?

On page 288, there is the following sentence: “There is no apparent order to the excerpts, which to the contrary often repeat or return to earlier subjects in the list.” Shouldn’t it be on the contrary?

 

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August 21, 2020

 

Dear Roger (if I may),

Thank you for your very thoughtful (and thorough!) reading, and for all of your generous words.  I can’t tell you how much it means to this author to hear from such a careful and perceptive reader.  Like you, I find Eckhart occasionally perplexing but still a genuine and honest seeker.  I am so grateful that you found my book useful in that respect.  And thank you for taking the time to write such a wonderful reflection.

Yours sincerely,

Joel F. Harrington
Centennial Professor of History
Vanderbilt University

“Religion” (an essay by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

 

‘religion; an essay by Roger W. Smith’

 

 

 

“… the true religious genius of our race now seems to say, Beware of Churches! Beware of priests! above all things the flights and sublime ecstasies of the soul cannot submit to the exact statements of any church, or of any creed.”

 

— Walt Whitman, Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts (New York University Press, 1984), I:408

 

 

 

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Who cares what I think about the topic of religion, one might ask.

It has probably — I would say, certainly — been written and declaimed about far more than any other conceivable topic over the ages, far surpassing topics such as politics.

By the greatest writers the world has ever seen.

But I was thinking about religion the other day because of a conversation I had with a friend of mine. It made me think also of similar conversations I’ve had in the past.

My friend is a professional with an advanced degree. He works in one of the so called helping professions.

He is, as a result of professional training and experience and also by virtue of his nature, a thoughtful, insightful, and caring individual.

I had never had occasion to discuss religion with him before and had no knowledge or idea of what his religion was, other than suspecting that he was probably Christian. In the course of our conversation, I learned that he is Episcopalian.

I was raised as a Congregationalist and later became a Unitarian. (More about this below.)

My friend, while a church member, has a lot of reservations about Christian doctrine and about organized religion. We agreed to disagree.

To summarize, imperfectly, the points my friend made (I don’t have him with me to verify the accuracy of my summary):

— Many Christian beliefs, such as those derived from Bible stories, are patently “false,” meaning that to many an educated person in the modern world, they seem ludicrous. That would apply, for example, to a belief in the immaculate conception or that Jesus was resurrected, as well as Jesus’s miracles.

— Not only is much of religious belief based on fiction, but the historical veracity of much of what, say, is presented in narrative accounts in the Gospels cannot be verified. For example, there is very scant historical evidence for Jesus’s life and ministry. What we have been told may well have been invented and then propagated as revealed truth.

— Organized religion has done and does more harm than good. It has led to barbarity and intolerance. And, to modern day abuses. Conservative religion has become allied with right wing political factions in a way that is an anathema to liberals and progressives.

 

 

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May I be permitted a word or two about my own religious upbringing as it pertained to our discussion?

I was raised as a Congregationalist. They are “middle of the road,” I would say, on the Protestant spectrum, with the Episcopalians being more conservative, the Baptists much further to the right, and the Unitarians way to the left.

I am extremely grateful that my parents didn’t neglect my religious upbringing. From it, I got a good grounding in moral values. To give an example, I learned the importance of compassion and charity.

I developed — my parents had more to do with it than the church, but church teaching was also important — a moral sense and a CONSCIENCE.

I absorbed the basic tenets of Christian doctrine, observed the religious holidays. My family was more important than the church with respect to the latter, but church services and observances of Christmas and Easter seemed sacred and wonderful, as well as inspiring awe and reverence, a sense that they were very special as well as joyous times. (So did some religious and holiday music that I was exposed to at the time, such as hymns and Christmas carols.)

In Sunday school, which my parents saw to it that I attend without fail, I got an excellent grounding in the Bible. I know my Gospels — by no means as well as a TV or radio evangelist does — but I know the stories and sayings, when the angel of the Lord brought tidings of joy to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock; when Jesus spent forty days in the desert, was tempted by the devil, and told him, “Get thee hence, Satan”; when Jesus cast out the swine from the insane man and how they perished in the sea; the miracle of the loaves and fishes; or what Jesus said, like “blessed are the poor in spirit” and “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

Many modern day kids raised in “enlightened,” “progressive” households don’t have the faintest knowledge of any of this. (A shame, I would say a disgrace.)

To learn these words and to read about the miracles when one is growing up are invaluable. They become part of you — your inner self — something you don’t question and which it seems as if you’ve always known. The words and the edifying stories are with you at trying times.

Growing up I also became well acquainted with Catholicism. The majority of my friends, in my early years, were Catholic. We argued about religion all the time. I thought they were narrow minded, borderline ignorant, incapable of thinking for themselves, too credulous, and so on – these youthful opinions were, needless, to say, prejudiced, often unfair and unfounded, on my part. But I grew over the years to appreciate and greatly admire the Catholic church. (See more below.)

 

 

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To return to my friend’s criticisms for a minute.

He spoke appreciatively of religiously inspired music; he is obviously not a know-nothing disbeliever/religious antagonist. But, basically, he thinks that Christian doctrine was and is founded on absurdities that are impossible of belief by an educated, rational person. And that, by subscribing to and perpetuating absurdities, organized religions are actually doing harm by cheapening and obfuscating civic discourse. (My friend did not actually say this. I am extrapolating from what he said and seemed to be implying.)

My take on this and my current beliefs are as follows.

I became a Unitarian when I was a preadolescent. I do not currently belong to a church. When asked, I respond that I do not belong to a church.

I am not what, in the common understanding of the term, what would be called a “believer.”

But I realize that I am fundamentally a Christian. What do I base this upon? My upbringing. My basic outlook on life. My core beliefs. My basic makeup and “spiritual genealogy,” so to speak.

I admire (which is an understatement) and completely respect religious people, from Saint Augustine to Albert Schweitzer, from Saint Francis to Dorothy Day, from Meister Eckhart to George Fox, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Pope Francis.

I admire Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., the priest who endured twenty years imprisonment in the Soviet Union and hard labor in the Gulag on trumped up charges of being a “Vatican spy.”

I admire Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, who was recently installed as the archbishop of Newark, NJ.

I respect clergymen, priests, and nuns for their seriousness of purpose and devotion to their calling.

 

 

 

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The way in which religion affects me most profoundly is through art, in the broad sense of the word.

I defy anyone to listen to the masses of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, or Schubert; to Monteverdi’s “Magnificat”; to Vivaldi’s “Gloria” or “Stabat Mater” or Antonín Dvořák’s “Stabat Mater”; to an oratorio such as the Saint Matthew Passion or Berlioz’s l’enfance du Christ; or to two modern compositions, Alan Hovhaness’s “Ave Maria” and Vladimír Godár’s “Regina Coeli,” and remain unmoved.

To Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross,” one the most devout pieces ever composed.

Try listening to a hymn such as “Fairest Lord Jesus” — with its beauty, clarity, strength, and simple piety — and remaining unmoved.

Or “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” with its ringing, joyous affirmation of Christian belief.

I know the Latin mass by heart. When words such as Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorifcamus te … Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi; dona nobis pacem … Crucifìxus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato; passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die … Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini are sung, I am profoundly stirred. At such a moment, I feel the “truth” of Biblical events. I don’t go into a religious frenzy or temporarily lose my mind, but I do at such moments experience religion at a gut level, viscerally. I am not looking askance and thinking to myself. “This is, at bottom, silly; it can’t really be believed.” On the contrary, through the medium of sublime art, I have become a believer — for the moment, at least — insofar as it’s possible (for myself, that is).

I also experienced this when I saw Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film The Gospel According to Matthew (1964). The film is so powerful and convincing, the Gospel stories become so credible, that one is totally engrossed and in the moment; one suspends disbelief.

 

 

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A penultimate thought or two. I don’t want to leave the impression that my respect and admiration for religion are solely the impressions of an aesthete. That’s a big part of it, but there’s more, I realize.

It seems to me that religion is a core part of what it is to be human, though many of my friends and relatives would probably dismiss this as representing a sort of atavism. It must feed basic human needs. The need for belief in something beyond mundane existence, as we observe it. But, I don’t think this is just a matter of “emotional neediness” by weak minded people who need a crutch. Sort of the way Noam Chomsky has shown that there is a universal grammar that is innate to the human brain, I think something similar can be said about religion as it transcends all types of cultural and social boundaries and affects all of us.

I think that religion is important because it humbles us. We need to believe and to be able to conceive of something greater than our puny selves, something that inspires awe and reverence. Perhaps that’s enough to say. I am not a preacher and don’t want to be seen as coming across as one. But, I do think that religions play an important psychological function, or more broadly, an edifying one, when we attempt to conceive of the glory of God and His creation.

A lot of my contemporaries seem to think that they are self sufficient in their ability to reason and thereby to deduce their own truths (the absolute rightness of which they are convinced of) and that they don’t need a “crutch.” I find them smug. They would say they need no god or gods. They are too proud, in my opinion, too sure of themselves. They would do well to read what the great religious thinkers have to say.

 

 

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A relative of mine recently posted a comment on this blog. It had to do with a post of mine, not about religion, in which post I wrote that people should be more “Christian” when it comes to judgment and forgiveness.

“I am inclined to side with the [sentencing] judge,” my relative wrote. “This is an example, among many others, of why I am essentially non-religious. I consider established religion to be one of the most divisive, most antagonistic influences in human affairs and history.”

My relative’s view seems to be shared by many. It is hard to argue with him in view of contemporary church scandals and abuses; ones from historical periods not that remote; and examples from history such as the Crusades and the Inquisition.

But I still respect religion, without reservation. I try to follow the essential precepts and teachings of Christianity, although I do not belong any longer to a church or subscribe to a particular faith.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     January 2017

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I picked out a piece of sacred music more or less at random from the Agnus Dei (lamb of God) section of Haydn’s Nelson Mass: qui tollis peccata mundi (You who take away the sins of the world). There are, of course, many other splendid examples.

Listen to it. Can one deny the intense spirituality? This from a master of classical form.

 

 

 

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Note: I have posted some splendid sacred music on this blog. Also, sacred music which I have noted above but have not posted here is available on You Tube.

Posted here:

 

 

Vivaldi, “Gloria”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/11/26/antonio-vivaldi-gloria/

 

Haydn, “Mass in Time of War”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/haydn-mass-in-time-of-war/

 

Haydn, “Schöpfungsmesse” (Creation Mass)

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/haydn-schopfungsmesse-creation-mass/

 

 

Haydn, “Theresienmesse”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/02/03/haydn-theresienmesse-mass-in-b-flat-major/

 

 

Mozart, Mass in F minor, K. 192; Dixit and Magnificat, K. 193

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/mozart-mass-in-f-minor-k-192-dixit-and-magnificat-k-193/

 

Beethoven, Mass in C major, opus 86

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/22/beethoven-mass-in-c-major-opus-86/

 

Schubert, mass no. 6 in E flat

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/schubert-mass-no-6-in-e-flat/

 

 

Berlioz, “l’Enfance du Christ”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/24/berlioz-lenfance-du-christ/

 

 

A couple of sections from Monteverdi’s “Magnificat” of 1610:

 

The final chorus from Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion

 

 

“Fairest Lord Jesus”

 

 

“Fairest Lord Jesus” is also on YouTube at

https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafeetypo&p=farest+lord+jesus#id=4&vid=ab4a7acb98161b09cf449d3d9c96b950&action=click

(rendered with sensitivity by a children’s choir)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XW5bkIUQqZc

(beautiful piano version)

 

 

Available on YouTube:

 

Vivaldi’s “Stabat Mater,” performed by the Academy of Ancient Music, directed by Christopher Hogwood, with countertenor James Bowman

 

 

 

Dvořák’s “Stabat Mater” (beginning)

 

 

 

 

Vladimír Godár’s “Regina Coeli”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo2mDa6wU2s

 

 

Alan Hovhaness’s “Ave Maria”
Charles Ives, ‘in the Mornin’ (Give Me Jesus)”

 

 

 

 

Gillian Welch’s simple, intensely spiritual song “By the Mark” is at

 

 

“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”

 

 

 

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See also: additional religious music which has posted by me on this site at

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/01/22/more-religious-music/