Wednesday, February 28, 2024

How to read Scripture - Thomas A Kempis 1.5

Truth is in sacred Scripture to be sought, not flaunted. All sacred Scripture ought to be read with the spirit in which it was written. We should seek the usefulness of Scripture rather than precision of speech. So we ought to read books which are devotional and simple, as well as ones which are high and profound. And do not be put off by the authority of the writer, whether he is of little or much learning, but let the love of the pure Truth draw you to read. Do not ask who said it, but focus on what was said. 

Men pass away, but the truth of the Lord remains forever. Without preference for persons God speaks to us in various ways. Our own curiosity often hinders us in the reading Scriptures with our determination to understand and discuss, where we should simply keep going. If you want progress from your reading, read humbly, simply, honestly, without desiring to win a reputation for learning. Ask freely, and listen in silence to the words of holy men; and do not take offense at the hard sayings of the elders, for they are not spoken without a reason.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.5. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.4 - Wisdom in our actions

Wisdom in our actions

It's best not to trust every word or instinct, but carefully and unhurriedly weigh whether things are from God. It's harmful that it's often easier for us to believe and speak evil of others rather than good, because we are weak. But perfect men do not easily believe everything they are told because they know human failings -- rather, weakness for an evil slant, for treacherous words.

It is greater wisdom not to be hasty in action or stubbornly set in our opinions. In this wisdom we do not believe every word we hear, or go straight from hearing to believing to repeating all that we hear, pouring it into each others' ears. Find a wise and sensible man and take his counsel. Ask someone better for instruction rather being led by your own interpretation. A good life makes a man wise toward God, experienced in many things. The more a man is humble in himself and the more obedient towards God, the more in everything he will be wiser and at peace. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.4. 
Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Thomas A Kempis - Imitation 1.3 in Modern English

I've been pleasantly surprised by the interest in a modern English translation of the Imitation of Christ, one that tries to preserve not just the meaning but also some of the rhetorical skill employed in the original. The things I've done so far still fall short of the original, but are a step in the right direction. I may publish a few more of these. 

Truthful Teaching

Happy is whoever learns directly from Truth, not by figures and passing words, but exactly as it is. Our opinion and senses often fail us, and we only see a little. What good is it to have great arguments about hidden and obscure things, about which we will never be judged for not knowing? It is hugely foolish to neglect things that are useful and necessary, and to focus on what is trivial and hurtful! We have eyes, but we do not see.

And what about genus and species? The man to whom the Eternal Word speaks is freed from many opinions. From this One Word all things come, and of that One Word all things speak, and this is the Beginning which also speaks to us. No one without Him understands or decides rightly. The man to whom all things are one, and who draws all things to one, who sees all things in one, has the power to be steadfast, to remain at rest in God. O true God, make me one with you in everlasting love. I get tired of reading and listening to many things; in you is what I want and desire. Let all the teachers keep quiet, let all creation keep silence before you: only you speak to me.

The more a man has unity and simplicity within, the more and higher he understands without effort, because he receives the light of understanding from above. The spirit which is pure, sincere, and steady is not scattered by many works but focuses all his works to the honor of God, and takes a break from his own self-involvement. What gets in your way and bothers you more than your own undisciplined heart? A good and devoted man starts inside himself and sets it straight for what he would do in the world, so he will not be pulled off track by wrong inclinations, but willingly steers them to his right intentions. Does anyone have a harder battle to fight than the one for self-mastery? And this should be our business, that inner victory, to daily grow stronger and progress for the better.

In this life, every perfection has some imperfection attached. All our sight is not without a certain darkness. Humble knowledge of yourself is a surer way to God than the deep knowledge we seek. That is not the fault of knowledge itself, or of knowing anything good or trustworthy or ordained by God. But a good conscience and a holy life is better than all, because many seek to know more rather than to live well, so they often go off course, and rarely or never bear fruit.

If people would be as dedicated to rooting out of vice and cultivating virtue as they are to current questions, there would not be so many evils and scandals among the people, nor so many fallings-out from the fellowship. Be sure that at the Day of Judgment it will not be asked of us what we have read, but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how faithfully we have lived. Tell me, where are all those Lords and Masters that you knew well while they were still living well and flourishing in their studies? Their positions are now filled by other people, and I do not know if the new people ever think of the ones before them. They seemed to be something in life, but now no one mentions them.

How quickly the glory of the world pass away! If their life and knowledge had agreed together, they would have read and studied well. How many pass away through pointless learning in this world, with no passion for serving God. Because they have a great love of being great rather than humble, therefore they disappeared in their knowledge. He is truly great who has great love.(1) He is truly great who recognizes his own smallness, and does not chase the height of honor. He is truly learned who counts all earthly things as so much b.s.(2), that he may treasure Christ. And he is truly learned, who does the will of God, and lets go of his own will. 

1 - This sentence isn't in the Latin text I'm using but is in both English translations I've consulted, so I'm wondering about variant texts. Haven't got to the bottom of it yet, so this line is tentative. 
2 - The Latin has the word for "dung" so I figure on "b.s." in modern English. 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Thomas A Kempis - Imitation 1.2 in Modern English

Again, this translation is done with an eye to preserving the author's spirit and wordcraft as well as meaning. It's more of a line-by-line remake of the author's points, with an intent to keep the pace, force, and flavor as much as possible. 

Humble Self-Awareness

Naturally in every man there is a desire to know, but what is the use of knowledge without reverence toward God? For practical purposes, better a peasant who serves God than a proud philosopher who ignores the way of heaven. He who knows himself well is humble, and isn't thrilled by human praise. If I knew everything in the world and had no love, what would it gain before God, who is to judge me on actions?

Rest from too much desire for learning, which incite to distraction and deceit. The learned desire to be seen as learned and to be called wise. There are many things to know that give little or no profit to the soul. He is very foolish who focuses more on such things instead of those that serve his soul’s health. Many words do not satisfy the soul, but a good life refreshes the mind, and a pure conscience gives great confidence towards God.

The more and better you know, the more seriously you shall be judged unless you live in a holy way. Don't brag on your skill or knowledge; but rather fear concerning the knowledge which is given to you. If it seems to you that there are many things you know and understand well enough, consider that there are many more things you do not know. Do not admit your deep wisdom but your ignorance. Why do you wish to be preferred to another when there are many more learned and more skilled in the Scripture than you? If you want to know anything usefully, love to be unknown and to have no reputation. 

It is the highest and most useful lesson when a man truly knows himself and becomes humble. To account nothing of the self, and to think always kindly and highly of others, this is great and perfect wisdom. If you see someone sin openly or seriously, still do not count yourself better, because there is no telling how long you'll stay in good standing. All of us are fragile; do not imagine anyone else more fragile than yourself. 

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Jesus v. the words of demons

I've wondered how literally to take references to demons in the New Testament: are they living spiritual beings, or only how the ancient world understood or talked about certain mental illnesses? I don't have any special insight into that question, and this post could be relevant to people who hold either view. 

Regardless of what you think of demons, they have a reputation for getting in our head with crafty words. The Bible portrays demons or other similar beings as spreading doubt, temptation, and lies. While they may work to increase doubt, fear, lust, or pride, still their tool of choice is words. In today's reading from the accounts of Jesus' life, 

He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mark 1:34)

Jesus' brother James said that the demons believe in God -- and tremble. There is a type of "fear of God" that is incompatible with faith, as James pointed out, a demonic fear. Demons have a reputation for lying, and even if they speak a truth it would not be used truthfully. 

In my own life, I have not known literal demons (as far as I know). But in our day we still say things like "he's wrestling with his demons" about someone who is fighting a spiritual battle inside. So I have known what people of this day call demons, as far as troubling and destructive thoughts that persist and take on "a life of their own." It may be helpful for me to remember that demons are known to lie, that even if they tell a truth they do not tell the truth. When troubling thoughts persist, it might be helpful for me to remember that when Jesus healed people, he did not permit the demons to speak.