Pride and Virtue Mix Like Oil and Water

Watching Chain Chronicle has proven quite fun so far. This classic fantasy provides the viewer with a bevy of strong heroes, implacable foes, beautiful warrior maidens, and a Luke Skywalker-ish hero for its viewers to engage in “egocentric castle building,” as C. S. Lewis termed it in An Experiment in Criticism. This is a fantasy fully in the spirit of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s fun, but nothing within the story thus far has struck me as uncommon.

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Bruckhardt’s fall from grace counts as the most interesting event of the story thus far. From the first, my ears heard “Blackheart” when the seiyuu pronounced the knight’s name, and episode three revealed his transformation to a Blackheart indeed. The twin scourges of pride and melancholy oppressed him on account of the preferment Yuri gave to Aram. This allowed him to fall easy prey to the evil influence of the Black King’s demon. There is no faster way to hell than pride: the way Lucifer fell and the chief fault of Adam. Even the early Church Fathers wrote that pride alone suffices to send one to hell, even as humility provides the surest means to salvation among the virtues.

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The Fragmented Heart of Mytho

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I’ve known about Princess Tutu since around 2004, but have only just decided to watch it due to Josh W’s influence.  One does not expect a fantasy show revolving around ballet to be this good, and part of the entertainment lies in how little of the plot is straightforward.  In the city where the tale takes place, storybook characters can enter the real world.  Prince Mytho stands as one such person and so is his antagonist, the Raven.  According to the book, written by an eccentric named Drosselmeyer, the Prince sealed the Raven’s power through shattering his own heart.  Though Mytho succeeded in his object, he has become the shell of a human being.  The heroine, Duck, is approached by Drosselmeyer and given the power to transform into Princess Tutu so that she might restore Mytho’s heart to its proper condition.  However, restoring Mytho’s heart brings him pain and sorrow which he would never experience without a heart.  Also, the advent of the Raven’s release from his imprisonment is simultaneously advanced by the restoration of Mytho’s heart.

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Doubt and the Mind of the Believer

In my reader, I stumbled across this piece on famous people who were admitted into an asylum.  The case of John Thomas Perceval interested me most, both because he wrote a book which was helpful to the field of psychology about his time in the asylum, and because the man suffered from a religious mania.  I was curious about the specifics of this religious mania.  One example of religious mania I read about prior to this occurred in a friend of Samuel Johnson, who would pray at random moments during his day, even in the middle of a public square.  Johnson felt that there had been no need to incarcerate him because the insanity was rather harmless.  He also opined that people who did not pray at all were more crazy.

Samuel Johnson.  According to Boswell, the coolest cat in 18th century London.

Samuel Johnson. According to Boswell, the coolest cat in 18th century London.

Anyway, back to Perceval.  His insanity centered around hearing voices which offered him two choices.  One of which was alleged to be the voice of the Holy Spirit; yet, making a choice between the two or refusing to do either was always represented later to him as wrong and evidence of his ingratitude to God.  He would hastily act or speak at the prompting of these voices.  For example, he would hear the voices say “That is Samuel Hobbs if you will.  If not, it is Herminet Herbert.” In his book, he says that he began to realize that his inability to accept doubt was part of his malady.  He learned to wait for someone else to confirm the person’s name.  Three years of treatment, the most effective remedies of which came from within, cured him.  Here is his story.

St. Bartholomew is the patron saint against nervous and neurological disorders.  Also, ironically, the patron saint of tanners.  Read about him to understand the irony.

St. Bartholomew is the patron saint against nervous and neurological disorders. Also, ironically, the patron saint of tanners. Read about him to understand the irony.

This leads to the question of what part does doubt have in the life of a believer.  The tragic flaw of Shinji Ikari in the third Evangelion Rebuild movie comes to mind. (*Spoiler Alert*) Against the command of Misato, he comes to the conclusion that he must pilot an Eva.  Furthermore, he doggedly holds to his final mission in the movie despite the doubts which form in his co-pilot’s mind–who actually convinced him to undertake the mission in the first place–and the urgings of Asuka.  His co-pilot’s doubts turned out to be well founded, and Shinji’s perseverance on the wrong course produced dire consequences.

Should have connected, Asuka.

Should have connected, Asuka.

The Desert Fathers have named pride as a cause of insanity.  Doubt seems to then be part of humility.  Our ignorance is abysmal–even in the case of those deemed brilliant.  And so, we rely upon others’ advice and the learning process never ends.  However, how is doubt reconciled with faith?  Many atheists probably think that believers practice a Shinji-esque stubbornness, but this is not actually the case with faith.  Believers often have doubts.  Once during the sacrament of Reconciliation, a certain young man humiliated himself by admitting that he had doubts concerning God’s goodness.  Curiously, the perfection of the priest’s advice coupled with that confessor’s subsequent inability to console his soul convinced him that Our Lord Himself had borrowed the confessor’s lips at that moment–as priests admit occasionally happens.

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The point of this anecdote is that God himself acts to remove one’s doubts.  Can one imagine how the young man’s confidence was restored by this intervention?  God, curiously, wants us to trust Him even when we have no confidence in Him.  Our Lord told St. Gertrude that a lack of confidence prevented in no way prevented one from praying “Even if God cast me into hell, He will save me” or “Even if He slay me, I will trust in Him.”  This almost seems cruel; yet, it is impossible that the Heart of God can be cruel.  Everything will be clear one day.  I suppose, as the song goes, one needs to be cruel to be kind sometimes.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and the Problem of Pride

One of the things which I admire about anime is that when one feels like one has seen the same plot a million times over, the same characters ten million times, and the same school classrooms a hundred million times over, a show will surface to blow one’s expectations and remind one why anime was so appealing in the first place.  This little one season show, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, stands head and shoulders above most anime for the profundity of its message.  I feel an eternal debt of gratitude toward Marlin-sama of Ashita no Anime for intriguing me enough to pick it up.  Among its themes, the refusal of its heroine to acknowledge her dark past and believing that she should be loved less if the hero discovered it reminds me of the folly of pride which believers can enmesh themselves in relation to God.

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Dusk Maiden of Amnesia has an interesting portrayal of pride in the mind of Yuuko, the ghost for whom Niiya, the protagonist, falls in love.  She has a light side which has expunged all the memories of suffering, bitterness, and hatred which she suffered in her past, and a dark side which remembers only these painful moments and can only feel these negative emotions.  This split is so complete that they appear as different persons.  We, dear readers, similarly have darkness and light within us; but most of us, however much we may minimize this darkness, never fall into that greatest temptation of pride: to cast off this dark side from our consciousness and to distort reality to the extent that we consider ourselves angels.

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But, Yuuko does have more of an excuse than most of us.  After all, she was sacrificed by superstitious pagans so that an epidemic might cease. (Perhaps superstitious is an unneeded modifier.  Can one truly be a pagan without being superstitious?  Oh, well.  That’s a question for another blogger.)  Nor was this a quick death: she was left to die alone of suffocation or of starvation in pitch blackness while suffering the agony of a broken leg at around 15 or 16 years of age.  All of this while thoughts of envy toward her best friend and hatred toward those who abandoned her there swirled in her mind.  That’s a memory I’m sure most of us would desire effaced!

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Yet, we are not walking according to the truth if we disown our suffering, evil thoughts, and dark deeds.  And do we not own our dark side more truly than than our good side?  After all, we cannot maintain the least virtue, perform a single good deed, or have one good thought apart from God, who aids us by His own divine life.  On the other hand, we can do all sorts of sins on our own and would even plummet into utter vileness if not prevented by His grace.  St. Philip Neri once remarked as he saw a condemned man passing him on the road: “There goes Philip Neri but for the grace of God.”  Nor is this arrangement unfair: how many sins have I myself committed despite receiving the grace to will otherwise?  How many times have I consented to sin without lifting up a single prayer so that I might will good instead of evil?  Or did pray, but never wanted to form the wholehearted will to shun what might be more delightful to the senses or sweeter to my ego?

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At any rate, Yuuko further compounds her darkness by believing that Niiya won’t love her if she has any darkness or suffering in her.  This is not true: we are all loved by the people in our lives in spite of our defects.  How much more ought we trust that God loves us in spite of our wickedness?  As believers love to repeat, God’s love is unconditional.  Even in the midst of mortal sin by which we deserve to be sent straight to hell, God does not cease loving us and strives to turn us to repentance.  Yet, I believe people growing in goodness are more susceptible to this form of pride than outright sinners.  Somehow, the delusion intrudes that God loves us because of our good deeds rather than simply because He made us and thought it delightful that we should be with Him in paradise forever.  Then, we start forgetting our wicked deeds or minimizing them under the delusion that God somehow loves us more infinitely for being good!

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Yuuko’s desire to forget her painful past becomes so extreme that she further effaces her memories of Niiya.  You see, Niiya had absorbed the dark side’s, Shadow Yuuko’s, terrible memories and Yuuko cannot help reliving them when she touches Niiya.  Therefore, she blocks Niiya’s presence from her vision.  Even though she strongly desires to see him again and stays in the same vicinity as him, she cannot see him.  At last, the only way that they can communicate is by writing notes to each other in a notebook.

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Is this not rather like a Christian who in his mad drive to forget the memory of his sins even avoids the sight of a crucifix?  I think it no accident that in one episode we see two images of a cross: one made by Niiya and Kanoe’s shadows crossing and the other one of light.  For, the cross is painful because we see our sins in the wounds of Christ, but these very wounds bring us in the light of Christ’s presence.  And Niiya and Yuuko exchanging notes is rather like how a Christian soul, when frustrated at not feeling God’s presence, will turn to the Scriptures–all the while yearning for the embrace of the One who loves her.

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Then, that beautiful scene occurs in their club’s room, the Paranormal Investigation Club.  Niiya takes a bat and begins shattering everything in the room in order to get Yuuko’s attention.  Furthermore, his actions bring Shadow Yuuko into focus for Yuuko at the same time.  This is reminiscent of St. Augustine’s Confessions:

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

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In this scene, we find that Niiya wishes especially to speak to Shadow Yuuko and embraces her, saying that he loves Shadow Yuuko too, because Yuuko and Shadow Yuuko are the same person.  In the same way, though Jesus hates the least speck of sin in our souls, He loves us entire.  He wishes to love us in pain as well as in joy, which is so plainly figured in the cross as Jesus endures all the pain caused by pain and suffering in our lives out of pure love for us.  The confession of love by Niiya allows for both halves of Yuuko to come together, forming Yuuko into a complete person.

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Since God loves us as a complete person, there is no need to attempt hiding our sinful selves from Him.  Rather, let us contemplate the Crucifix in which we clearly see our sins in the holes in Christ’s hands and feet, the pierced side, the crowning of thorns, and the anguished expression on His countenance, knowing that it is through means of these wounds that we are bound to Him forever.

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Speaking of forever (Big spoiler coming!  If you’re the kind of person who absolutely cant’s endure them, don’t read on!), I expected Yuuko to disappear in the last episode–the natural end for ghost stories like this.  And indeed, with her regrets being solved and the integrity of her person, she does disappear for a while, leaving Niiya in great sorrow.  Does this not remind us of how we desire heaven, where we shall be reunited with our loved ones and love shall endure in perfection forever?  It seems, however, that Niiya’s last kiss produced a new regret in Yuuko: she now desires many more kisses.  Truly, love is never exhausted!  Since this is a love story first and foremost, Catullus 5 powerfully comes to mind:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and let us judge all the rumors of the old men
to be worth just one penny!
The suns are able to fall and rise:
When that brief light has fallen for us,
we must sleep a never ending night.
Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
we will mix them all up so that we don’t know,
and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out
how many kisses we have shared.

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How to Imitate the Good Thief

Happy Palm Sunday, dear readers!  Here’s an article on a different subject than which I had promised earlier, but today’s reading on the Passion of Christ struck me so forcibly  that it would be a crime not to write about it.  The part in particular which struck me is the story of the Good Thief.  Now, I claim this to be my favorite story in the Bible; yet, my ignorance of all the implications of this story was very clearly laid out to me.  Let’s quote it here in full:

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35 And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” 38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:35-43)

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You notice that I quoted a little more than the story of the Good Thief.  This shows the general trend of people mocking Jesus, saying “Are you really the Messiah?”  I opine that the crowds, soldiers, and synagogue officials represent those people nowadays who are outside of the Church and refuse to believe.  Not only do they refuse to believe, but they even ridicule the idea of a Crucified God.  If only they would stop ridiculing Him, they might be converted like the centurion who says after Jesus breathes His last: “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” (Luke 23:47)

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But, I really do not wish to focus on the figures above, but rather the two thieves crucified with Jesus, who represent two kinds of Christians.  I say represent Christians because all Christians were baptized into the Passion and Death of Christ as well as into Our Lord’s Resurrection to new life.  So, we have to carry our crosses and be crucified on them eventually.  Note how the Bad Thief speaks to Our Lord: “Are You not the Christ?  Save Yourself and us!”  I feel that for the past while I had imitated the bad thief, and those who are troubled by the Problem of Evil or the Problem of Pain are rather similar.  Christians like this say: “Are you not all powerful?  Why do I have to suffer so much?  Is it really possible to suffer this much?  Take me down from this cross and just give me the Kingdom without a cross!”

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Then, there are humble Christians who realize that we must follow our Master all the way up Mt. Calvary, and say, like the Good Thief: “Justly do I suffer these things!  If I had not sinned, this would not be happening to me!  If I had not so much pride, this would not be happening!  Jesus suffered more than the human mind can fathom, and He was a pure and unblemished Lamb.  Ought I not to drain the cup my sins have merited?”

Jesus Speaks to the Good Thief.

Jesus Speaks to the Good Thief.

Then, instead of turning to Jesus and begging to be taken down from the cross, the Good Thief asks: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  The Good Thief is not asking to be taken down from his cross; instead, he asks for salvation.  This salvation does not require freedom from suffering, but freedom and purification from sin and the promise of eternal life.  We should all try to imitate St. Augustine, who begged not to be spared pain in this life so that he might suffer less after death–referring to purgatory, I suppose.

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Then, by imitating the Good Thief, we shall receive words of consolation from God.  Jesus spoke to neither the crowds nor the bad thief because of their lack of faith.  But, if we have faith and do not blame God for any evil which befalls us, then Jesus shall speak to us and console us in our sufferings.  By continuing in this attitude, we shall one day hear the most consoling words of all: “Truly I say to you, today, you shall be with me in paradise.”

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De Admiratione vel De Stupore?

Since I wished to write an article on the necessary virtue of wonder, I thought to be Classical in the choice of my title by using Latin.  To my chagrin, the two Latin words Casull’s Latin Dictionary offered for wonder either go too far (stupor) or fall short (admiratio).  What else am I to do?  I suppose that I could have searched for an Ancient Greek word, since Greek has such philosophical and literal accuracy; but, Greek has never been my strong suit and Latin is much preferred.  So, I am left with two words which might be legitimately translated as admiration or stupefaction rather than wonder.

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The quotation on which my cogitation centered derives from Socrates: “A feeling of wonder is what marks the philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”  To relate it back to my Latin title, it may indeed begin as admiratio but become stupor when one realizes the vast extent of knowledge which one shall never obtain–not even if one had five lifetimes!  A philosopher is one who loves knowledge, knows that he has very little, and continually searches for it.  In this way one is continually amazed by the new material coming into his mind.

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A certain professor of philosophy named Dr. Graham McAleer exemplified this quality for me this semester.  On one occasion, I corrected him when he said that St. Bonaventure must have written The Journey of the Mind to God long after St. Francis’ death since St. Bonaventure was the seventh General of the Order.  I responded that the distance separating them was not long at all because St. Francis gave St. Bonaventure his name when that person was born  (I think that the original story is slightly different–but, that’s what I said, and it was St. Francis who gave St. Bonaventure that name), predicting a happy life for St. Bonaventure, whose name means “Good Journey.”  To this Dr. McAleer’s eyes widened in amazement.  His astonishment was such that it frightened me!  Here was someone who taught Bonaventure and philosophy for such a long time and he could still experience amazement concerning a short work whose pages he has made opaque with marginalia!  I cannot think of a more perfect example of a man with the quality of wonder.

In this picture, Charlemagne is commending the poor children who studied hard, while rebuking the sons of nobles who made poor progress in their studies through negligence.

In this picture, Charlemagne is commending the poor children who studied hard, while rebuking the sons of nobles who made poor progress in their studies through negligence.

The attitude of wonder leads to openness and humility, which has its opposite in pride, close-mindedness, and being domineering.  Many people pride themselves as thinking that they can control their own lives, that they know all they need to, and can put people into boxes to be manipulated or judged at will.  The last is particularly prevalent.  We know someone for a few months and believe that we know all their idiosyncrasies.  We expect them to act and react in certain way.  Rather, we should refrain from putting people in boxes–even when it seems tempting–so that we might continue to marvel at them.  This produces more charity and better relationships between people.  I wonder whether the cause of so many unhappy marriages is that spouses have placed one another in a box and lack interest in them, because they feel that they already know everything about their spouses.  And boredom equals disinterestedness, which ferments annoyance, which flames anger, which pours out divorce.

The father and mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, who happen to both be beatified!  By that, you can surely discern a happy marriage!

The father and mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, who happen to both be beatified! By that, you can surely discern a happy marriage!

But, perhaps the most common ways in which people box one another are in the realms of politics and religion.  How is it that knowing one or both of these things permits us to neatly package up another person and be done with them?  I suppose the most obvious answer is that these ways of thought have consequences in real life and people of these ideologies act in unison.  If Liberals are in power, gun laws are emplaced or guns taken away, abortion florishes, welfare programs increase, business taxes increase, government spending increases, less money is spent on the military, etc.  With Conservatives, the exact opposite occurs.  However, people are much more complex than the ideologies they belong to–and even the ideologies more complex than we imagine!  I doubt very few people are exact caricatures of the ideologies they serve.  This holds even more true in the realm of religion: the practices of religion and each person’s relationship with God vary so much because of the more personal nature of religion.  As St. Faustina said, people are worlds.  Don’t place people in boxes!

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I had a vision of this while reading Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington’s memoirs of his career in the Pacific theater during World War II, Baa Baa Black Sheep.  First, the man in general is difficult for me to understand.  Then, the people he meets are of the same class.  In particular, this passage when over my head, but will likely be understood by some of my dear readers:

                       Thought of seeing the ground crew, and the few of the staff who had waved farewell as we had taken off, came through my mind.  On most of them I had interpreted this wave to mean: “I hope you get back alive.”  I assumed that a few were thinking: “I hope you never get back.”  But to hell with them.  To hell with them all.

I would have understood this had he been referring to the second class of people, but I cannot understand his vexation with all of them.  This condemnation went well above my head.  No doubt, my acquaintance with Pappy Boyington will prove most fruitful.  May you all have someone rather translucent in your lives!  (I avoid saying opaque because–even though one can certainly marvel at a person one has no understanding of–one cannot really have a relationship with someone unless they understand at least a little about them.)

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We even go so far as to put our own selves in boxes: either we strive for something we’re not or we make ourselves less than we are.  This is all due to our controlling, know-it-all natures.  We ought to rather imitate Padre Pio, who said: “I am a mystery to myself.”  This does not contradict the dictum to know ourselves; but perhaps that our own efforts to understand ourselves ought to lead us to greater wonder concerning ourselves.  With this kind of openness, i.e. not trying to control our own lives but being open to where our gifts and talents lead us, God can take control of our lives and draw us to situations and places we would never have thought possible for us.

St. John of God led a particularly fascinating and varied life.  A great example of humility.

St. John of God led a particularly fascinating and varied life. A great example of humility.

So, do not judge, do not condemn, and forgive all offenses.  And remember St. Gregory of Nyssa’s famous advice: “Concepts create idols, only wonder understands.”