Aphorisms for Saturday

Bedeutung is always richer than Deutung, as sage Balthasar says. He was not the first to say it, but I think he put it in a delightfully simple way. Notice the use of “always” as opposed to often, sometimes, occasionally, &c, as a journalist might write. The truth is embarrassing, because it is always true. The partial truths come and go, and the obsession with establishing them is a mark of mental fragmentation. What is, is.

Or let us stick it in plain English: “Meaning is always richer than Interpretation.”

Could there be any “problem” with this? Perhaps it is too obvious. As Hans Urs von Balthasar, a German Swiss who loved French, must have been thinking, how would this sound in that other language? For German can be so cut and dry. English, by comparison, is cut and drier.

And as Schelling says (I have this through Balthasar), “artfulness is part of the credibility of philosophy. An artless thinker can produce little truth.”

To the English mind, this is an outrage. We only find truth, we never “produce” it. From my slight understanding of the world, a Frenchman would have little trouble with this, and a Spaniard none at all. An Italian need not even be told.

“There are two kinds of aphorisms. The first answers the need for intellectual synthesis. The second, the need for an infinite perspective on things.” I add this to help my English readers along.

And in the hope of bringing it right home to our living rooms: “It is remarkable how little a wise man is concerned with harmonizing philosophical systems.”

We English (in which I include Scotchmen, Americans, Antipodeans, and the graduates of our colleges from wherever they came) are further obsessed with heresy. Or rather, it is part of the same mental fragmentation I mentioned above. Before we will go one step, towards giving a hearing to anyone, we want to know that he is on our side. We miss out on a lot of orthodoxy that way.

Indeed our minds, especially here in North America, are in thrall to various Scots Prebyterians, long dead and not otherwise missed. From Knox to Enlightenment was a hundred-yard dash. They were the real progenitors of our Enlightenment, absorbed by the rest of us almost as spectators. On the Continent it was a much different matter. The French, for instance, much given to thought, added no water, and swallowed the premisses as straight poison. One might almost say that, historically in the French Revolution, they died for our sins.

“The Enlightenment is always wrong, because its ultimate goal is to expose. Grace, by contrast, is founded on truth, because it covers a multitude of sins. What God once and for all does not wish to know should never become the object of human knowledge and investigation.” (Balthasar, again.)

Here, I think, is an exhilarating statement of the unEnlightened, reactionary view:

“Our existence, in its very foundations, is structured for sacrifice. As we grow up we want to become something, to grasp, to climb; but then the curve takes a downward turn. Quietly life takes from our hands everything we have snatched up. In the end we are granted the possibility of dying and, with it, that of performing the highest act of homage before the Eternal One.”