Monday, February 25, 2013

The Week in Review: Evagriating

Patristic Spirituality: The subject of this week's class was Evagrios Pontikos, an ascetical writer from the late 4th century AD. Each week a student or two gives a presentation on the readings assigned, and I chose this week. The presentation could have gone better, but wasn't awful. I've learned I'm not a great extemporaneous speaker, and do much better when I have a prepared text before me. I tried to speak from an outline during this presentation, and I think it showed. Nevermind that, though. Evagrios wrote several works on the spiritual life and the path of progression to greater union with the Holy Trinity through focusing the intellect, calming the passions, and battling demonic temptations. Lots of your typical "deny the body to free the mind for contemplation" stuff--BUT the only reason it seems "typical" to us today is because Evagrios had HUGE influence on the history of Christian thought via his student John Cassian, who went into the Western Roman Empire and started founding monasteries; he, in turn, was a big influence on some guy named St. Benedict (you may have heard of him), whose rule for monastic life became an early standard for others to follow. We'll talk more about Evagrios this week in class.

Medieval Philosophy: There was no class on Monday due to the holiday. (Presidents' Day is a slap in the face, by the way; it used to be we had two separate federal holidays for the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, and now we only get one with the ambiguous name "Presidents' Day." Is that supposed to include all the presidents? Really, are we taking time to commemorate the likes of William Henry Harrison, Franklin Pierce, and Chester A. Arthur?) Anyway... on Thursday we had a "discussion day" in which we compared various aspects of St. Augustine's De Magistro (On the Teacher) and Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. There was a divide in the class as to who we thought had the more tightly constructed argument; it seems an unfair comparison, though, since Augustine was making one long argument, while Boethius made several short ones. Still, there was something about Boethius' I liked better. It had the clarity of the scholastic method about it. *Note: I will soon make a post describing the scholastic method in greater detail, so you'll know what the heck I'm talking about. (Actually, I wrote in my book "proto-Scholastic" as I read it, only to have our professor use that very phrase the next day in class!) This week we'll be discussing St. Anselm of Canterbury and Peter Abelard... or Peter Lombard... one of those Peters... it sometimes seems like the Middle Ages only had, like, eight names. Everyone's named Hugh or Peter or Thomas or John or something.

Philosophical Anthropology: Aristotle had a very helpful concept for relating the functions of the various powers of the soul. Sense knowledge gathers data from the outside world. The "common sense" (not meant as "practical know-how") relates the senses together and distinguishes them. The imagination acts as a storehouse for sense data. The cogitative or estimative sense allows us to intuit whether those things we sense are beneficial or harmful to us. And the memory allows us to store perceptions or conclusions of the estimative sense and retrieve particular ones. See how they all work together?

Metaphysics: "Quiddity" is one of my new favorite words. Especially because it's defined as "the thing-ness of a thing." Come on, that's just plain fun. Who said you can't have fun doing philosophy? Next week's post on this class will be more detailed, as I'll explain the principle of non-contradiction. Unless I forget to.


  1. HOW do you manage to make these subjects FUNNY? Quiddity. Love it.

  2. We had two seperate holidays until Martin Luther King Day.

  3. Hey, Nick, you misspelled aggravating in this entry's title. Chuckle.
    Another delightful offering this week. Much obliged, Grandson.
    Grandpa Jake