Cavorting with Coleridge: admirable aphorisms.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Aids to Reflection: In the Formation of a Manly Character on the Several Grounds for Prudence, Morality and Religion. Revised with index and translations of Latin and Greek quotations by Thomas Fenby,  London, Routledge, nd. (published 1825)  pp 1-22.

Giambattista Vico:  Of all divine and human learning there are three elements, Knowledge, Intention, Power; of which there is one moving principle, Mind or Spirit; whose eye is Reason; whose light is from God.

From the preface:  Augustine:  believe so that you understand.  [cf Anselm: Proslogion: “faith seeking understanding. (fides quarens intellectum); Coleridge: There is one art, of which every man should be master, the art of REFLECTION; …there is one knowledge, which it is every man’s interest and duty to acquire, namely SELF-KNOWLEDGE….Socrates: Γνωθι Σεαυτον [“know yourself”]

Introductory Aphorisms:

1…truths, of all others the most awful and interesting, are too often considered as so true, that they lose all the power of truth, and lie bed-ridden in the dormitory of the soul, side by side with the most despised and exploded errors.

2. …one sure way of giving freshness and importance to the most common-place maxims is that of reflecting on them in direct reference to our own state and conduct, to our own past and future.

3. ..to restore a common-place truth to its first uncommon lustre, you need only to translate it into action, but first, you must have reflected on its truth.

4. It is the advice of the wise man, ‘dwell at home’, or, ‘with yourself.’ …it is surprising that the greatest part of mankind cannot be prevailed upon, at least to visit themselves sometimes.  cf Solomon: the eyes of the fool are in the ends of the earth. “Omnis boni principium intellectus cogitabundus”  = a reflecting mind is the spring and source of very good thing.

5. As a fruit tree is more valuable that any one of its fruits singly, so the objects of reflection are of less value to us unless connected to our intellectual, moral, and spiritual life.

6. He who teaches a person the principles and precepts of spiritual wisdom, before their minds are called off from foreign objects, and turned inward upon themselves, might as well write his instructions, as the sybil wrote her prophecies, on the loose leaves of trees, and commit them to the mercy of the inconstant wind—Leighton.

7. He only thinks who reflects.

8. It is a matter of great difficulty and requires no ordinary skill and address, to fix the attention of men on the world within them…to awaken in them both the faculty of thought and the inclination to exercise it. For alas! the largest part of mankind are nowhere greater strangers than at home.

9. “And man became a living soul “(Genesis 2:7); He did not merely possess it, he became it.

10. “—-Unless above himself he can

     Erect himself, how mean a thing is man!”  [Samuel Daniel: To the Lady Margaret: Countess of Cumberland.]

11. An hour of solitude passed in sincere and earnest prayer, or the conflict with, and conquest over a single passion …will teach us more thought, and form the habit, of reflection, than a year’s study in the schools without them.

12.  In a world, the opinions of which are drawn from outside shows, many things are paradoxical, because they are true…the imagination of the Worldling is wholly occupied by surfaces, the Christian’s thoughts are fixed on the substance, that which is and abides, and which, because it is the substance, the outward senses cannot recognise.  Tertullian had good reason for his assertion that the simplest Christian knows more than the most accomplished philosopher.  [Quod stat subtus, that which stands beneath12c additional comment: let it not, however, be forgotten that the powers of the understanding and the intellectual graces are precious gifts of God, and that every Christian according to the opportunities granted to him, is bound to cultivate the one and acquire the other. cf 2 Peter 1:5 “and to your faith add virtue (ἀρετη) (arete) and to virtue, knowledge.” The effects of a zealous ministry on the intellects and acquirements of the labouring classes are..attested by Baxter, and the Presbyterian divines.

13. Never yet did there exist a full faith in the Divine Word (by whom light, as well as immortality, was brought into the world,) which did not expand the intellect, while it purified the heart; which did not multiply the aims and objects of the understanding, while it fixed and simplified those of the desires and passions. 13c comment: …believers receive, not indeed worldly wisdom which comes to nought, but the wisdom of God, that we might know and comprehend the things that are freely given to us by God.

14, The exercise of the reasoning and reflecting powers, increasing in sight, and enlarging views, are requisite to keep alive the substantial faith of the heart.

15. Give me understanding and I shall observe the law with my whole heart (Psalm 119:34). It is my meditation all the day.15c Comment: It is worthy of especial observation that the Scriptures are distinguished from all other writings pretending to inspiration, by the strong and frequent recommendations of knowledge, and a spirit of inquiry. Without reflection, it is evident that neither the one can be acquired nor the other exercised.

16. Thoughtfulness and a desire to rest all our convictions on grounds of right reasoning, are inseparable from the character of a Christian.

17. A reflecting mind is not a flower that grows wild, or comes up of its own accord. The difficulty is indeed greater than many, who mistake quick recollection for thought, are disposed to admit. Truly may we, and thankfully ought we to, exclaim with the Psalmist: The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple. [Psalm 119;130]

18. …O if folly were no easier than wisdom, it being often so much more grievous, how certainly might [many] be converted. [Folly] demands no much less exertion of the will than to reflect, and by reflection to gain knowledge and tranquillity.  [this aphorism was written in criticism of Hindu ascetic practice e.g. walking on upright nails etc]

19.  ..the most frequent impediment to men’s turning the mind inward upon themselves, is that they are afraid of what they shall find there. There is an aching hollowness in the bosom, a dark cold speck at the heart, an obscure and boding sense of a somewhat, that must be kept out of sight of the conscience.  Coleridge here quotes a poem by George Herbert entitled Temple:

Lord! with what care hast thou begirt us round!

Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters

Deliver us to laws.  They send us bound

to rules of reason.  Holy messengers;

Pulpits and Sundays; sorrow dogging sin;

   Affections sorted; anguish of all sizes;

Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in;

Bibles laid open;  millions of surprises;

Blessings beforehand;  ties of gratefulness;

The sound of glory ringing in our ears;

Without, our shame;  within, our conscience;

Angels and grace;  eternal hopes and fears;

Yet all these fences, and their whole array,

One cunning BOSOM – SIN blows quite away.

20.  ..among the various undertakings of men,…can there be conceived one more sublime, than an intention to form the human mind anew after the DIVINE IMAGE? …..the requisites of this high intent may be comprised under three heads: the prudential, the moral, and the spiritual.

21. Re prudence (see 20 above)…the World that constitutes our outward circumstances …is evermore at variance with the Divine Form (or idea) …and prudence requires ..the forming anew of  the Divine Image in the soul…. We are to avoid [the world’s] snares, to repel its attacks, to suspect its aids and succours….The powers of the world are often christened, but seldom christianised . They…like the Saxons of old, enter the land as auxiliaries, and remain in it as conquerors and lords.

22. …the rules of prudence in general are for the most part prohibitive. “Thou shalt not” is their characteristic formula and it is an especial part of Christian prudence that it should be so…the sensual understanding ..το φρονημα της σαρκος, the carnal mind  (Romans 8:6) is of itself able to discover..the merest worldly self interest, [but by prudence]…the worldly human is to be transformed [into] the divine image.

23. …the scheme of grace and truth that became  [Greek ἐγενετο = egeneto = to come; to become] through Jesus Christ [John 1:17], the faith that looks down into [ ῾Ο δε παρακυψας ἑις νομον τελωιον τον της ἐλευθεριας = James 1:25 “He who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty”] the perfect law of liberty has “light for its garment” : its very robe is righteousness….that which we find within ourselves, and yet the ground of whatever is good and permanent therein, is the substance of life and of all other knowledge.

[In commenting on this aphorism Coleridge attacks in an excursion those who use James’ term θρησκεια = thréskeia= religion in  James 1:27 (Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world] as proof that Christian religion is simply morality = doing the right thing and thus setting up  the Epistle of James against Paul’s epistles.]

24. Morality is the body, of which the faith in Christ is the soul—yet not a “terrestrial,” for of the world, but a celestial body, and capable of being transfigured from glory to glory.. Coleridge adds a note that this law in James 1:25  was a perfect law (τελωιος ) or law that perfects and completes itself. [against the C16th Familists, a sect called the ‘Family of Love’ founded by H. Nicholas in Emden in 1540 which believed in the “inner light” and rejected all services and sacraments of the official churches and opposed all dogma….material was reprinted under Cromwell and widely read by the Quakers and English admirers of J. Boehme.  [Cross.p598].

25.  Woe to the man who will believe neither power, freedom, nor morality because he nowhere finds either entire, or unmixed with sin, thraldom, and infirmity.  In the natural and intellectual realms, we distinguish what we cannot separate; and in the moral world we must distinguish in order to separate. Yea, in the clear distinction of good and evil the process of separation commences.

25c. It was customary with religious men in former times, to make a rule of taking every morning some text or aphorism, for their occasional meditation during the day, and thus to fill up the intervals of their attention to business.  I do not point it out for imitation, as knowing too well, how apt these self-imposed rules are to degenerate into superstition or hollowness.

26. It is a dull and obtuse mind, that must divide in order to distinguish; but it is a still worse, that distinguishes in order to divide. In the former, we may contemplate the source of superstition and idolatry; in the latter of schism, heresy and a seditious and sectarian spirit.

27.  Exclusive of the abstract sciences, the largest and worthiest portion of our knowledge consists of aphorisms: and the greatest and best of men is but an aphorism.

28. On the prudential influence which the fear and foresight of the consequences of his actions, in respect of his own loss or gain may exert on a newly-converted believer…the magnetic needle, even after the disturbing influence has been removed, will keep wavering and require many days before it points aright, and remains steady to the pole.

29. …the individual’s inherent desire of happiness and dread of pain, become motives…and these motives fall under the head of prudence, as belonging to one or other of its four very distinct species. !. a prudence that stands in opposition to a higher moral life, and tends to preclude it, and to prevent the soul from ever arriving at the hatred of sin for its own exceeding sinfulness. (Romans 7:13); and this is an EVIL PRUDENCE.  11. or it may be a neutral prudence, not incompatible with spiritual growth …as in Jesus’ words, “what is not for us is against us”; this is a COMMENDABLE PRUDENCE. 111. the motive may lead and be subservient to a principle higher than itself..the enfeebled thankfully makes use of them because they are the means and conditions of exercise; and by exercise, of establishing, by slow degrees, that strength, flexibility and almost spontaneous obedience of muscles, which the idea and cheering presentiment of health hold out to him.  This is a faithful and WISE PRUDENCE. 1V. lastly there is a prudence that co-exists with morality, as morality co-exists with the spiritual life: a prudence that is the organ of both, as the understanding is to the reason and the will, or as the lungs are to the heart and the brain. This is a HOLY PRUDENCE….Let not then, I entreat you, my purpose be misunderstood; as if, in distinguishing virtue from prudence, I wished to divide the one from the other. True morality is hostile to that prudence only,  which is preclusive of true morality. In general Morality may be compared to the Consonant, Prudence to the Vowel. The former cannot be uttered…but by means of the latter.

30. What the duties of morality are, the apostle has instructed the believer in full, comprising them under the two heads of negative and positive. Negative, to keep himself pure from the world; and positive, beneficence from loving kindness, that is, love of his fellow men as himself.

31. Last and highest, come the spiritual, comprising all the truths, acts, and duties, that have an especial reference to the Timeless, the Permanent, the Eternal: to the sincere love of the True, as truth; of the Good, as good; and of God as both in one. [All leading to…] our second creation or birth in the divine image.  [Coleridge appends a quotation in Italian of Petrarch’s poem The Triumph [of Love] over fame, chapter 3. 15]

32. …the prudential corresponds to the sense and understanding; the moral to the heart and the conscience; the spiritual to the will and the reason. i.e. to the finite will reduced to harmony with, and in subordination to, the reason, as a ray from that true light which is both reason and will, universal reason and will absolute.

 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Aids to Reflection: In the Formation of a Manly Character on the Several Grounds for Prudence, Morality and Religion. Revised with index and translations of Latin and Greek quotations by Thomas Fenby,  London, Routledge, nd. (published 1825)  pp 1-22.

Giambattista Vico:  Of all divine and human learning there are three elements, Knowledge, Intention, Power; of which there is one moving principle, Mind or Spirit; whose eye is Reason; whose light is from God.

From the preface:  Augustine:  believe so that you understand.  [cf Anselm: Proslogion: “faith seeking understanding. (fides quarens intellectum); Coleridge: There is one art, of which every man should be master, the art of REFLECTION; …there is one knowledge, which it is every man’s interest and duty to acquire, namely SELF-KNOWLEDGE….Socrates: Γνωθι Σεαυτον [“know yourself”]

Introductory Aphorisms:

1…truths, of all others the most awful and interesting, are too often considered as so true, that they lose all the power of truth, and lie bed-ridden in the dormitory of the soul, side by side with the most despised and exploded errors.

2. …one sure way of giving freshness and importance to the most common-place maxims is that of reflecting on them in direct reference to our own state and conduct, to our own past and future.

3. ..to restore a common-place truth to its first uncommon lustre, you need only to translate it into action, but first, you must have reflected on its truth.

4. It is the advice of the wise man, ‘dwell at home’, or, ‘with yourself.’ …it is surprising that the greatest part of mankind cannot be prevailed upon, at least to visit themselves sometimes.  cf Solomon: the eyes of the fool are in the ends of the earth. “Omnis boni principium intellectus cogitabundus”  = a reflecting mind is the spring and source of very good thing.

5. As a fruit tree is more valuable that any one of its fruits singly, so the objects of reflection are of less value to us unless connected to our intellectual, moral, and spiritual life.

6. He who teaches a person the principles and precepts of spiritual wisdom, before their minds are called off from foreign objects, and turned inward upon themselves, might as well write his instructions, as the sybil wrote her prophecies, on the loose leaves of trees, and commit them to the mercy of the inconstant wind—Leighton.

7. He only thinks who reflects.

8. It is a matter of great difficulty and requires no ordinary skill and address, to fix the attention of men on the world within them…to awaken in them both the faculty of thought and the inclination to exercise it. For alas! the largest part of mankind are nowhere greater strangers than at home.

9. “And man became a living soul “(Genesis 2:7); He did not merely possess it, he became it.

10. “—-Unless above himself he can

     Erect himself, how mean a thing is man!”  [Samuel Daniel: To the Lady Margaret: Countess of Cumberland.]

11. An hour of solitude passed in sincere and earnest prayer, or the conflict with, and conquest over a single passion …will teach us more thought, and form the habit, of reflection, than a year’s study in the schools without them.

12.  In a world, the opinions of which are drawn from outside shows, many things are paradoxical, because they are true…the imagination of the Worldling is wholly occupied by surfaces, the Christian’s thoughts are fixed on the substance, that which is and abides, and which, because it is the substance, the outward senses cannot recognise.  Tertullian had good reason for his assertion that the simplest Christian knows more than the most accomplished philosopher.  [Quod stat subtus, that which stands beneath12c additional comment: let it not, however, be forgotten that the powers of the understanding and the intellectual graces are precious gifts of God, and that every Christian according to the opportunities granted to him, is bound to cultivate the one and acquire the other. cf 2 Peter 1:5 “and to your faith add virtue (ἀρετη) (arete) and to virtue, knowledge.” The effects of a zealous ministry on the intellects and acquirements of the labouring classes are..attested by Baxter, and the Presbyterian divines.

13. Never yet did there exist a full faith in the Divine Word (by whom light, as well as immortality, was brought into the world,) which did not expand the intellect, while it purified the heart; which did not multiply the aims and objects of the understanding, while it fixed and simplified those of the desires and passions. 13c comment: …believers receive, not indeed worldly wisdom which comes to nought, but the wisdom of God, that we might know and comprehend the things that are freely given to us by God.

14, The exercise of the reasoning and reflecting powers, increasing in sight, and enlarging views, are requisite to keep alive the substantial faith of the heart.

15. Give me understanding and I shall observe the law with my whole heart (Psalm 119:34). It is my meditation all the day.15c Comment: It is worthy of especial observation that the Scriptures are distinguished from all other writings pretending to inspiration, by the strong and frequent recommendations of knowledge, and a spirit of inquiry. Without reflection, it is evident that neither the one can be acquired nor the other exercised.

16. Thoughtfulness and a desire to rest all our convictions on grounds of right reasoning, are inseparable from the character of a Christian.

17. A reflecting mind is not a flower that grows wild, or comes up of its own accord. The difficulty is indeed greater than many, who mistake quick recollection for thought, are disposed to admit. Truly may we, and thankfully ought we to, exclaim with the Psalmist: The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple. [Psalm 119;130]

18. …O if folly were no easier than wisdom, it being often so much more grievous, how certainly might [many] be converted. [Folly] demands no much less exertion of the will than to reflect, and by reflection to gain knowledge and tranquillity.  [this aphorism was written in criticism of Hindu ascetic practice e.g. walking on upright nails etc]

19.  ..the most frequent impediment to men’s turning the mind inward upon themselves, is that they are afraid of what they shall find there. There is an aching hollowness in the bosom, a dark cold speck at the heart, an obscure and boding sense of a somewhat, that must be kept out of sight of the conscience.  Coleridge here quotes a poem by George Herbert entitled Temple:

Lord! with what care hast thou begirt us round!

Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters

Deliver us to laws.  They send us bound

to rules of reason.  Holy messengers;

Pulpits and Sundays; sorrow dogging sin;

   Affections sorted; anguish of all sizes;

Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in;

Bibles laid open;  millions of surprises;

Blessings beforehand;  ties of gratefulness;

The sound of glory ringing in our ears;

Without, our shame;  within, our conscience;

Angels and grace;  eternal hopes and fears;

Yet all these fences, and their whole array,

One cunning BOSOM – SIN blows quite away.

20.  ..among the various undertakings of men,…can there be conceived one more sublime, than an intention to form the human mind anew after the DIVINE IMAGE? …..the requisites of this high intent may be comprised under three heads: the prudential, the moral, and the spiritual.

21. Re prudence (see 20 above)…the World that constitutes our outward circumstances …is evermore at variance with the Divine Form (or idea) …and prudence requires ..the forming anew of  the Divine Image in the soul…. We are to avoid [the world’s] snares, to repel its attacks, to suspect its aids and succours….The powers of the world are often christened, but seldom christianised . They…like the Saxons of old, enter the land as auxiliaries, and remain in it as conquerors and lords.

22. …the rules of prudence in general are for the most part prohibitive. “Thou shalt not” is their characteristic formula and it is an especial part of Christian prudence that it should be so…the sensual understanding ..το φρονημα της σαρκος, the carnal mind  (Romans 8:6) is of itself able to discover..the merest worldly self interest, [but by prudence]…the worldly human is to be transformed [into] the divine image.

23. …the scheme of grace and truth that became  [Greek ἐγενετο = egeneto = to come; to become] through Jesus Christ [John 1:17], the faith that looks down into [ ῾Ο δε παρακυψας ἑις νομον τελωιον τον της ἐλευθεριας = James 1:25 “He who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty”] the perfect law of liberty has “light for its garment” : its very robe is righteousness….that which we find within ourselves, and yet the ground of whatever is good and permanent therein, is the substance of life and of all other knowledge.

[In commenting on this aphorism Coleridge attacks in an excursion those who use James’ term θρησκεια = thréskeia= religion in  James 1:27 (Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world] as proof that Christian religion is simply morality = doing the right thing and thus setting up  the Epistle of James against Paul’s epistles.]

24. Morality is the body, of which the faith in Christ is the soul—yet not a “terrestrial,” for of the world, but a celestial body, and capable of being transfigured from glory to glory.. Coleridge adds a note that this law in James 1:25  was a perfect law (τελωιος ) or law that perfects and completes itself. [against the C16th Familists, a sect called the ‘Family of Love’ founded by H. Nicholas in Emden in 1540 which believed in the “inner light” and rejected all services and sacraments of the official churches and opposed all dogma….material was reprinted under Cromwell and widely read by the Quakers and English admirers of J. Boehme.  [Cross.p598].

25.  Woe to the man who will believe neither power, freedom, nor morality because he nowhere finds either entire, or unmixed with sin, thraldom, and infirmity.  In the natural and intellectual realms, we distinguish what we cannot separate; and in the moral world we must distinguish in order to separate. Yea, in the clear distinction of good and evil the process of separation commences.

25c. It was customary with religious men in former times, to make a rule of taking every morning some text or aphorism, for their occasional meditation during the day, and thus to fill up the intervals of their attention to business.  I do not point it out for imitation, as knowing too well, how apt these self-imposed rules are to degenerate into superstition or hollowness.

26. It is a dull and obtuse mind, that must divide in order to distinguish; but it is a still worse, that distinguishes in order to divide. In the former, we may contemplate the source of superstition and idolatry; in the latter of schism, heresy and a seditious and sectarian spirit.

27.  Exclusive of the abstract sciences, the largest and worthiest portion of our knowledge consists of aphorisms: and the greatest and best of men is but an aphorism.

28. On the prudential influence which the fear and foresight of the consequences of his actions, in respect of his own loss or gain may exert on a newly-converted believer…the magnetic needle, even after the disturbing influence has been removed, will keep wavering and require many days before it points aright, and remains steady to the pole.

29. …the individual’s inherent desire of happiness and dread of pain, become motives…and these motives fall under the head of prudence, as belonging to one or other of its four very distinct species. !. a prudence that stands in opposition to a higher moral life, and tends to preclude it, and to prevent the soul from ever arriving at the hatred of sin for its own exceeding sinfulness. (Romans 7:13); and this is an EVIL PRUDENCE.  11. or it may be a neutral prudence, not incompatible with spiritual growth …as in Jesus’ words, “what is not for us is against us”; this is a COMMENDABLE PRUDENCE. 111. the motive may lead and be subservient to a principle higher than itself..the enfeebled thankfully makes use of them because they are the means and conditions of exercise; and by exercise, of establishing, by slow degrees, that strength, flexibility and almost spontaneous obedience of muscles, which the idea and cheering presentiment of health hold out to him.  This is a faithful and WISE PRUDENCE. 1V. lastly there is a prudence that co-exists with morality, as morality co-exists with the spiritual life: a prudence that is the organ of both, as the understanding is to the reason and the will, or as the lungs are to the heart and the brain. This is a HOLY PRUDENCE….Let not then, I entreat you, my purpose be misunderstood; as if, in distinguishing virtue from prudence, I wished to divide the one from the other. True morality is hostile to that prudence only,  which is preclusive of true morality. In general Morality may be compared to the Consonant, Prudence to the Vowel. The former cannot be uttered…but by means of the latter.

30. What the duties of morality are, the apostle has instructed the believer in full, comprising them under the two heads of negative and positive. Negative, to keep himself pure from the world; and positive, beneficence from loving kindness, that is, love of his fellow men as himself.

31. Last and highest, come the spiritual, comprising all the truths, acts, and duties, that have an especial reference to the Timeless, the Permanent, the Eternal: to the sincere love of the True, as truth; of the Good, as good; and of God as both in one. [All leading to…] our second creation or birth in the divine image.  [Coleridge appends a quotation in Italian of Petrarch’s poem The Triumph [of Love] over fame, chapter 3. 15]

32. …the prudential corresponds to the sense and understanding; the moral to the heart and the conscience; the spiritual to the will and the reason. i.e. to the finite will reduced to harmony with, and in subordination to, the reason, as a ray from that true light which is both reason and will, universal reason and will absolute.

 

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