St Paul as a Type of the Roman Church

Ss. Peter and Paul are often compared to Romulus and Remus, “Romae parentes, arbitrique gentium.” I written about St Peter and Rome before (or rather quoted Solovyev and Pope Benedict XVI on the subject), but St Paul in his own person foreshadows the transformation of Rome that will be founded by his and St Peter’s blood. St Paul is not only a Roman citizen, but also a son of Benjamin, “the wolf;” and his temperament has something of Rome’s wolf-like, war-like violence. Like Rome itself he is highly gifted and full of zeal for justice and law, but his zeal leads him for a while to persecute the Church. The Roman Empire saw itself as destined to bring peace by imposing law on all peoples. But to the Chosen People Rome appeared as a tyrannical power contrary to the Law of God. The Messiah is expected to defeat Rome. But following His usual method, our Lord does not defeat Rome by force, from outside, but by conversion from within. And this is foreshadowed in the conversion of St Paul. St Paul persecutes the new way, but when he is converted he becomes its greatest missionary spreading throughout the earth. The Acts of the Apostles ends with Paul arriving in Rome. Through Peter and Paul the Messiah does indeed conquer Rome, but in such a way as to transform it and preserve all that was good in it, so that through the Roman Church Rome can indeed bring peace to the whole world.


What is the Primary Intrinsic Common Good of Political (or Imperial) Community?

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government

Does the American political tradition at its best consider the good of the republic to be something good in itself, an honest good, or merely a useful good, an instrument to aid citizens in the attainment of their private goods? In a recent discussion of this question a friend of mine proposed looking at American patriotic poetry rather than political treatises. His idea, if I understand him aright, is that while on a theoretical level American political thought has tended to deny the primacy of the common good, the American people have a natural and implicit love for and understanding of the true political good, and this is expressed in their patriotic songs etc. This points to an interesting tension in modern liberal democracies between their theoretical self-understanding and the image of themselves that the must propose to the imagination of their citizens. Continue reading

Virgil and St Benedict

labor omnia uicit improbus et duris – Geor. I,145-146

In Spe Salvi, no. 15 the Holy Father notes that Christian Monasticism inherited its teaching on the nobility of work from Judaism. That may be, but St Benedict’s doctrine of manual labor is also influenced by Virgil’s Georgics. At least that is what Theodor Haecker claims in his book Virgil: Father of the West:

The First Monks of the West had St Benedict as their spiritual father, but their worldly father was Virgil. They did not scruple to bring Virgil’s Georgics with them – along with the Holy Scriptures and the Rule. They set out for the North as sons of St Benedict to clear the “forests” of wild souls and to cultivate them for the reception of the word of God, and this they did through their orare through their prayer; but they also set out as sons of Virgil to clear the forests of the wild lands and to cultivate them for the reception of grain and vine, and this they achieved through their laborare, through work ‘in the sweat of their brow’ – a biblical expression which is still the best translation for the Virgilian labor improbus. They were Benedictines according the order of grace, Virgilians according the order of nature.

Through the magic of google books I find someone  has made a close comparison of the Holy Rule with the Georgics:

In its emphasis upon regulation, [Renaissance georgic] literature has much in common with the spiritual “georgic” of St. Benedict, the Rule. Benedict’s Rule is founded in the “Roman” idea that common profit should take precedence over individual. He consequently seeks to create a rule that can be internalized by each member of the order. He addresses the reader as “son,” recommending that his spiritual son welcome the “labor of obedience” in order to help create the Lord’s community. He describes the “instrumenta bonorum operum” that the monk will need to build this community as love of God, humility, obedience, self-command, and patience. He divides the day and the year into cycles of spiritual labor (the “opus dei”). He insists upon daily manual labor, saying that idleness (“otiositas”) is inimical to the soul. Labor (as opposed to idleness), the common good (as opposed to individual satisfaction or sorrow), order taken into the soul and then imposed on the cycles of nature: these are the themes of the literature of the household, whether that household is a Roman villa [or] a Christian monastery [… and these themes are] georgic. (Lynn Staley)

Haecker, on the next page from the above text, makes a stab at showing the Georgics as the foundation of Western “culture”:

 The word “culture”, which today preoccupies and moves all minds of the West, does not come from the Greeks, who otherwise gave us almost all catholic words, but it is rather the gift of Roman farmers and signifies the essence and art of cultivating land. Culture is the inseparable unity of three things: [1] a given inanimate or animate matter, which man does not make, but from which he is himself made, of which he is himself a part; on which [2] the mediating labor improbus of man must necessarily be imposed; and from the union of these two – the first of which the first of which is gratuitous the second has the charachter of meritorious works – comes [3] the perfection of the fruit […]

He goes on at great length. The passage seems to have influenced T.S. Eliot, who read Haecker carefully:

There is I think no precedent for the spirit of the Georgics, and the attitude towards the soil, and the labour of the soil, which is there expressed, is something that we ought to find particularly intelligible now, when urban agglomeration, the flight from the land, the pillage of the earth and the squandering of natural resources are beginning to attract attention. It was the Greeks who taught us the dignity of leisure; it is from them that we inherit the perception that the highest life is the life of contemplation. But this respect for leisure, with the Greeks, was accompanied by a contempt for the banausic occupations. Virgil perceived that agriculture is fundamental to civilization, and he affirmed the dignity of manual labour. (“Virgil and the Christian World” – helpfully posted by laudator temporis acti)

Rerum Pulcherrima Roma

hanc olim veteres vitam coluere Sabini,
hanc Remus et frater, sic fortis Etruria crevit
scilicet et rerum facta est pulcherrima Roma,
septemque una sibi muro circumdedit arces.

Such a life the old Sabines once lived, such Remus and his brother. Thus, surely, Etruria waxed strong; and Rome has thus become the fairest thing on earth, and with a single city’s wall enclosed her seven hills. (Virgil, Georgics 2.532-534)

O Roma felix, quae duorum Principum
Es consecrata glorioso sanguine:
Horum cruore purpurata ceteras
Excellis orbis una pulchritudines.

O happy Rome! who in thy martyr princes’ blood,
A twofold stream, art washed and doubly sanctified.
All earthly beauty thou alone outshinest far,
Empurpled by their outpoured life-blood’s glorious tide. (Hymn at Vespers of the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul)


Romulus excipiet gentem, et Mavortia condet
moenia, Romanosque suo de nomine dicet.
His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono;
imperium sine fine dedi…

Then Romulus his grandsire’s throne shall gain,
Of martial tow’rs the founder shall become,
The people Romans call, the city Rome.
To them no bounds of empire I assign,
Nor term of years to their immortal line. (Aeneid, I.276-279)


Mundi Magister, atque caeli Janitor,
Romae parentes, arbitrique gentium,
Per ensis ille, hic per crucis victor necem
Vitae senatum laureati possident.

The teacher of the world and keeper of heaven’s gate,
Rome’s founders twain and rulers too of every land,
Triumphant over death by sword and shameful cross,
With laurel crowned are gathered to the eternal band. (Hymn at Vespers of the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul)


But, besides that reverence which today’s festival has gained from all the world, it is to be honoured with special and peculiar exultation in our city, that there may be a predominance of gladness on the day of their martyrdom in the place where the chief of the Apostles met their glorious end. For these are the men, through whom the light of Christ’s gospel shone on you, O Rome, and through whom you, who wast the teacher of error, wast made the disciple of Truth. These are your holy Fathers and true shepherds, who gave you claims to be numbered among the heavenly kingdoms, and built you under much better and happier auspices than they, by whose zeal the first foundations of your walls were laid: and of whom the one that gave you your name defiled you with his brother’s blood. These are they who promoted you to such glory, that being made a holy nation, a chosen people, a priestly and royal state, and the head of the world through the blessed Peter’s holy See you attained a wider sway by the worship of God than by earthly government. For although you were increased by many victories, and extended your rule on land and sea, yet what your toils in war subdued is less than what the peace of Christ has conquered. For the good, just, and Almighty God, […] by lowering His Nature to the uttermost has raised our nature to the highest. But that the result of this unspeakable Grace might be spread abroad throughout the world, God’s Providence made ready the Roman empire, whose growth has reached such limits that the whole multitude of nations are brought into close connection. For the Divinely-planned work particularly required that many kingdoms should be leagued together under one empire, so that the preaching of the world might quickly reach to all people, when they were held beneath the rule of one state. (St Leo the Great, Sermon on the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul)

ch’e’ fu de l’alma Roma e di suo impero

ne l’empireo ciel per padre eletto:
la quale e ’l quale, a voler dir lo vero,
fu stabilita per lo loco santo
u’ siede il successor del maggior Piero.
Per quest’andata onde li dai tu vanto,
intese cose che furon cagione
di sua vittoria e del papale ammanto.

For he* was of great Rome, and of her empire
In the empyreal heaven as father chosen;
The which and what, wishing to speak the truth,
Were stablished as the holy place, wherein
Sits the successor of the greatest Peter.
Upon this journey, whence thou givest him vaunt,
Things did he hear, which the occasion were
Both of his victory and the papal mantle. (Dante, Inf. 2.20-28)


Empire I: the Philosophical Poet

Virgil is a very philosophical poet. In his famous essay on the Aenead[1] Jacob Klein quotes the following note from an early life of Virgil:

Although [Virgil] seems to have put the opinions of diverse philosophers into his writings with most serious intent, he himself was a devotee of the Academy; for he preferred Plato’s views to all the others.

I am going try to show something of Virgil’s political philosophy, and how it responds to Plato, but before doing that I ought to do a post on Virgil as a poet. Let me begin with the famous lines that are supposed to sum up the whole spirit of Virgil: Continue reading

The Apologia as a Spiritual Aeneid


Ronald Knox called the account of his conversion A Spiritual Aeneid. In an Aeneid you are coming home, but coming home to a place you have never been in before.  You must throw yourself upon the guidance of the gods. Nor are there the memories of home to spur you on when you are tempted to turn aside, Knox writes, “it is a mere sense of mission, imperiously insistent, that inflames your discontent: cunctus ob Italiam terrarum clauditur orbis.” And of course, the home to which you are returning is Rome. In a recent paper I have argued that everything about the relation of his book to the Aeneid could be applied to Bl. John Henry Newman’s Apologia. But the Apologia can be called a spiritual Aeneid for a deeper reason than those listed by Knox.

At the beginning of the key chapter of the Apologia Newman refers to Aeneid and thereby shows what is his own intention in writing:

And now that I am about to trace, as far as I can, the course of that great revolution of mind, which led me to leave my own home, to which I was bound by so many strong and tender ties, I feel overcome with the difficulty of satisfying myself in my account of it, and have recoiled from the attempt, till the near approach of the day, on which these lines must be given to the world, forces me to set about the task. For who can know himself, and the multitude of subtle influences which act upon him? And who can recollect, at the distance of twenty-five years, all that he once knew about his thoughts and his deeds, and that, during a portion of his life, when, even at the time his observation, whether of himself or of the external world, was less than before or after, by very reason of the perplexity and dismay which weighed upon him,—when, in spite of the light given to him according to his need amid his darkness, yet a darkness it emphatically was? And who can suddenly gird himself to a new and anxious undertaking, which he might be able indeed to perform well, were full and calm leisure allowed him to look through every thing that he had written, whether in published works or private letters? yet again, granting that calm contemplation of the past, in itself so desirable, who can afford to be leisurely and deliberate, while he practises on himself a cruel operation, the ripping up of old griefs, and the venturing again upon the ‘infandum dolorem’ of years, in which the stars of this lower heaven were one by one going out? I could not in cool blood, nor except upon the imperious call of duty, attempt what I have set myself to do. It is both to head and heart an extreme trial, thus to analyze what has so long gone by, and to bring out the results of that examination. I have done various bold things in my life: this is the boldest: and, were I not sure I should after all succeed in my object, it would be madness to set about it. (Bl. John Henry Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua)

“Infandum dolorem” is a quote from the oppening of Book II of the Aeneid:

Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem,
Troianas ut opes et lamentabile regnum
eruerint Danai; quaeque ipse miserrima vidi,
et quorum pars magna fui. Quis talia fando
Myrmidonum Dolopumve aut duri miles Ulixi
temperet a lacrimis? Et iam nox umida caelo
praecipitat, suadentque cadentia sidera somnos.
Sed si tantus amor casus cognoscere nostros
et breviter Troiae supremum audire laborem,
quamquam animus meminisse horret, luctuque refugit,

Too deep for words, O queen, is the grief you bid me renew, how the Greeks overthrew Troy’s wealth and woeful realm – the sights most piteous that I saw myself and wherein I played no small role. What Myrmidon or Dolopian, or soldier of the stern Ulysses, could refrain from tears in telling such a tale? And now dewy night is speeding from the sky and the setting stars counsel sleep. Yet if such is your desire to learn of our disasters, and in few words to hear of Troy’s last agony, though my mind shudders to remember and has recoiled in pain, I will begin.

Newman mirrors Virgil’s passage closely even to chillingly transforming Virgil’s musical line “suadentque cadentia sidera somnos” into “years, in which the stars of this lower heaven were one by one going out.” But the echo in imagery points to what this passage most of all shows is that Newman was following Virgil at a deeper level; he was trying to convey the same vision of the deep sadness in greatness of mortal life in its relation to the divine.

Virgil’s sadness is deeper than that of the other great classical authors because of his hope. Compare the famous line which Aeneas speaks on seeing the images of Troy, “sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt,” (1.462) with Lucretius on the pain of birth, “cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum” (De Rerum Natura 5.227). Lucretius does not see any meaning in the pains of birth; his sadness is simply despair at the meaninglessness of life. Virgil sees great meaning in the fall of Troy – it is ordered to the rise of Rome – and this gives his sadness a different quality. There is a paradox here. Lucretius’s sadness is shallow, because he is hopeless, and thus lacks a sense of the nobility of mortal life. Virgil’s sadness is deep because he sees human life as playing out a meaningful and divinely guided destiny, his sadness sees the nobility of mortal existence in its very pain and weariness.

For Virgil mortal things touch the heart because of a nobility which comes from their being ordered to something greater than themselves. The Christian Middle Ages saw Virgil as a prophet because he is practically unique among the pagans in having a linear, teleological view of history. For Virgil the god’s have destined Rome to great things, and the role of the hero is to contribute to that destiny. It is this grand hope that makes Virgil so different from Homer. Homer has an essentially cyclical view of history; the endless quarrels of the gods go round and round.* The role of the hero for Homer is simply to win great honor in a harsh world, to achieve lasting fame. There is no possibility of contributing toward some final goal.

It is Virgil’s view, transformed of course by a far greater hope, that Newman is trying to express. Newman is trying to “touch the heart” by the portrayal of the nobility and sadness of mortal existence played out in the attempt to reach for the divine and strive for the eternal goal. That is where the greatest fascination of the Apologia comes from – the pathos and nobility of the relation to divine Providence.

Those whose hearts have been touched by the Apologia can say to Newman what Dante says to Virgil: “Tu se’ lo mio maestro e ’l mio autore:” “thou art my master, and my author thou!” (Inferno 1.87)

*Some argue that Homer is actually lamenting the end of the Heroic age and showing how it’s demise was necessary for the beginning of the age of the political city-state, thus finding a note of linear teleology in his epics. But, at any rate, that note is much less prominent than in Virgil.