Isidore of Seville on the Beginnings of Vice

Melius est peccatum cauere quam emendare. Facilius enim resistimus hosti a quo nondum uicti sumus, quam ei a quo iam superati ac deuicti cognoscimur. Omne peccatum, antequam admittatur, amplius pertimescitur. Quamuis autem graue sit, dum in usum uenerit, leue existimatur, et sine ullo metu committitur. Istis fomitibus, quasi quibusdam gradibus, coalescit omne peccatum: cogitatio namque praua delectationem parit; delectatio consensionem, consensio actionem, actio consuetudinem, consuetude necessitatem. Sicque his uinculis homo inplicatus, quadam catena uitiorum tenetur adstrictus, ita ut ab ea euelli nequaquam ualeat, nisi diuina gratia manum iacentis adprehendat.

It is better to avoid sin than to correct it. For it is easier to resist an enemy by whom we have never been defeated, than one who has once seen us overcome and conquered. Every sin is more feared before we have once allowed ourselves to give in to it. However great the sin, as soon as has come to be carried out in action, it is considered light, and committed without any fear. From such kindling wood, as from the rungs of a ladder, all sin is built up: perverse thoughts give rise to pleasure, pleasure to consent, consent to action, action to habit, habit to necessity. The man who is caught in such bonds is as it were chained and held fast by vice; he can never escape unless the Grace of God take his hand as he lies on the ground. (St Isidore of Seville, Sententiae II, 23 1-3; cf. Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel, Diadema Monachorum34).

Isidore of Seville and Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel Defend the Seminar Method Against the Immoderate Attacks of John Senior

JOHN Senior’s book The Restoration of Christian Culture  is almost pure joy to read. Senior captures so perfectly the ideals of a very good sort of person, a sort that I happen to know well. The sort of Chesterton-and-Belloc reading home-schooling mid-western American Catholic that used to write for C & T.  Only he says things better than most such people. The Restoration of Christian Culture is written in such vigor and emphasis that at times it attains to prose intoxicating enough to have been written by Belloc himself. Still, for TAC graduates the jabs he makes at our alma mater are kind of annoying. After slamming the great-books movement in general for fostering skepticism (he was at Columbia back in the day), he admits that the Catholic version is somewhat better but that it would be good if the “Thomist philosophers among them” would remember that means must be proportioned to ends, and that the medievals didn’t see any use in “class discussion.”

I was reminded of this reading Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel’s Diadema MonachorumSmaragdus was a ninth century French monk, who wrote the oldest surviving commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict. The Diadema is a collection of quotes from the fathers to be read at the collatio, the communal reading before Compline. In a chapter on the collatio itself, Smaragdus quotes the following passage from Isidore of Seville:

Cum sit utilis ad instruendum lectio, adhibita autem conlatione maiorem intellegentiam praebet; melius est enim conferre quam legere. Conlatio docibilitatem facit; nam propositis interrogationibus cunctatio rerum excluditur, et saepe obiectionibus latens ueritas adprobatur. Quod enim obscurum est aut dubium, conferendo cito perspicitur. (Sententiae III.14)

Kees Waaihman translates as follows:

Whereas lectio is good for instruction, collatio furnishes more insight. After all, conducting a conference is better than giving a lecture. A collation makes things comprehensible. Subject matter is set in motion because questions are raised. Frequently hidden truth is proved by objections. For what is obscure and doubtful is soon made transparent by a conference.

In his commentary on chapter 42 of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict Smaragdus explains a little more what is meant by “collatio”:

A ‘conference’ means a ‘bringing, speaking and chatting together’, in which while some bring questions about the divine Scriptures, others bring suitable answers, and in this way things that had long remained hidden become open and manifest to those taking part in the conference. (Smaragdus, In RB 42; translation David Barry)

Hmm, what would John Senior say?