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Things don't just go right in Mansoul all by themselves. We've already seen how the various powers in the body, mind and heart are always jostling, trying to get total control of Mansoul. Even the best of Mansoul's government servants have their own personal demons trying to trip them up. But there's a safety mechanism in place to keep everything in check, and to keep rivalry from causing problems. There's a Court of Appeals that's always open, with the Lord Chief Justice on duty. We call him Conscience. Let's take a minute and think about what a judge does in a court of law. He doesn't automatically know who's right and who's wrong in each case. He isn't expected to know. Advocates from both sides get up and present the facts and their best arguments to the judge. He, as the authority who understands the law, gives the right decision based on the information he's given.
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Everyone has a sense of duty, and Conscience is no exception. His own duty is proclaiming what the law says, and what everyone's duty is. No Mansoul is left alone without a sense of the right things he ought to be doing. Everyone knows that certain things are required of him, and that he has to answer to a Higher Authority for what he does. The things that are due from us (duty) and what we owe others (ought) is what Conscience tells us. We don't belong to ourselves. We belong to God, Who made us. He has placed a Conscience within each of us to continually remind us that we owe ourselves to Him. Conscience reminds us that it's our duty to make sure that what we do pleases Him. He reminds us that God is our judge, and He will deal with every offense, surely and directly. It might not be today, but it will happen. Conscience also lets us know that the reason for this judging is for our good. It's to save us. It continually calls us back when we get into wrong ways that injure and hurt us. It draws us back to right ways of peace and happiness. Conscience asserts all these things to us, every morning, every hour. He tells us that we're not free to do whatever we feel like, but we need to do the things we ought.
But if every Mansoul has a Conscience giving judgments, then why is it that so many people do wrong things? As we've seen already, there can sometimes be anarchy in the government because laziness, or temper, or pride, or envy betrays Mansoul.
I won't dwell on the fate of those who won't listen to their Conscience. The point I want to make is that there's danger even for those who do listen. We sometimes hear that someone 'acted according to his lights' [i.e., he based his actions on what he thought seemed best when he didn't have all the information]. However wrong he may have been, there are people who will excuse him because he didn't know any better. If the person had no opportunity to know better,
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then the excuse is valid. But we should never think that it's acceptable to make decisions 'according to our lights' if we allow ourselves to carry a tiny penlight when we could light up the whole room with the flip of a switch.
A judge isn't automatically familiar with the details of a case he's going to decide. It's the same way with the judge within ourselves. Just like a court judge, he also listens to advocates from each side. Inclination hires Reason to plead his case in front of the judge. Reason can be so subtle and convincing that the judge (our Conscience) might pass the verdict in the defendant's favor. Conscience says, 'Obey the law,' and Reason says, 'But what the defendant is doing is obeying the law.' And Conscience allows the defendant to do it. This subtle tactic of misleading one's own Conscience is an art that's practiced by both little children and hardened criminals. This is one way that a person can 'act according to his lights.' He finds a way to justify himself, his Reason finds logical arguments to convince his Conscience that what he's doing is right under the circumstances, and Conscience gives the okay. He continues to cry out, 'You must do the right thing!' but he leaves his members to define what's right for themselves.
There are lots of reasons why it's good for us to know this limitation of our Conscience. For one thing, it helps us to understand why and how some people and nations have done certain things throughout history.
We all need to know something about the make-up of Mansoul so that we can tell who's speaking to Reason, persuading him to convince the Conscience. It's not always apparent at first. Envy, for example, won't come right out and say, 'I hate James because his father can afford to buy him whatever he wants' or 'because he always does better than me, whether in lessons
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or in sports' or 'because everybody likes him.' Instead, envy will pretend that all he wants is what's fair for everyone. 'It's not right that one person should always have extra money to spend while somebody else has to scrimp and do without.' 'James just got a lucky break because of a fluke in the scoring.' 'James will do anything to be popular, no respectable person would do all that.' With these kinds of arguments, Envy persuades Reason, and Reason makes a convincing case before the Conscience, and the defendant gets off scot-free.
But once a person realizes that putting anyone else down to make himself look better is motivated by envy rather than justice, he'll be careful. He'll keep his tongue from evil and his thoughts from hatred--and he'll submit to his Conscience when its unbiased judgment reprimands him.
This kind of looking at things sincerely and directly is what Jesus calls a 'pure' or 'single eye.' [Matt 6:22] Some people automatically have it, so they're not easily deceived into calling what's wrong right. But evil is tricky and always ready. It's wise for all of us to try hard to recognize when misrepresentations are brought before our Conscience. A Conscience that's been well-educated rarely makes mistakes.
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An educated conscience knows that Moderation, Purity, Constancy and Carefulness must have control in this House of the Body. But how do you educate a conscience? Life itself brings us many opportunities to learn. For instance, when we see other people do something right, our conscience approves and learns a lesson. But when we see people doing something wrong, our conscience condemns it. But we need a wider variety of examples than our personal sphere of life can give us. That's why books make the best teachers.
Every noble, beautiful thing that can be done is described in living detail in the vast treasury of literature. History and biography do a good job of teaching decency, but the best moral teaching comes from literature--poetry, essays, plays and novels. Writing about real people doesn't allow the author to truly express his insight. Autobiographies are another way to lift the veil to another person's thoughts, because the writer is free to say whatever he wants. The Bible tells about the lives of people and the history of a nation without the reserve that a lot of authors use when they write about the bad things that heroes did, or the faults of evil people.
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Plutarch might be the only biographer who writes with as much impartiality, although not always with the same justice.
Children get moral concepts from the fairy tales they love, in the same way that grown ups get it from novels and poems. Matthew Arnold, who is an excellent critic, says that poetry is an examination of life. And so it is, both a examination and an inspiration. Most of us carry around little snippets of verse inside our minds that influence what we do more than we're aware of, such lines as:
So many wonderful thoughts that kindle flames of reflection come to us in the form of poetry, in wings of verse. Just imagine how empty our lives would be if we woke up and discovered that the entire book of Psalms had vanished from the earth and even disappeared from our memories! Proverbs, which are sayings of wise kings and wise words from common people, come to us as if they were divine utterances. Essays deal with how we act. They give us a lot of delicate lessons that reach us more effectively because their style is so charming.
Novelists and playwrights have possibly done the most for us when it come to learning. But not all novels and plays are good 'as examples of life and teaching proper behavior.' [2 Tim 3:16] It's safest for us to stick with works that have been around long enough to become classics. There are two reasons for this. That fact that
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they don't die proves that the author had something timeless to say, and in such a way, that the world needs. Also, older stories and plays deal with conduct, and learning what to do and how to act is the most important thing in our lives. Modern [1900-ish] literature deals more with emotions, and that's not the healthiest subject for reflection. Once we find a book that has a message for us, let's not make the mistake of saying we've already read it once. That's like saying we've already had breakfast and don't ever need to eat again. A book that helps us deserves to be read again and again, because assimilation [so that the book becomes a part of us] comes little by little.
Literature is full of valuable lessons about how to control our physical nature, in the form of both rules and examples. I'll give illustrations here and there to show what I mean, but I have no doubt you'll be able to think of better lessons from my examples. And that's fine, that's just the way teaching from literature should come to us--a little here, a little there, casually as we read on because we're interested in the story, or because the poem is so beautiful, or the writing has such marvelous style.
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Who can forget how 'the fortunes of Nigel' [by Sir Walter Scott] changed because of the dish that Laurie Linklater cooked to please the King? The story is told humorously, but even all of the King's wisdom can't help us to get over the cock-a-leekie [chicken and leek] soup! This is how Sir Walter Scott prepares us: 'None of these brave English cooks can satisfy the King's noble tastes with our own Scottish recipes. So I used my skill to cook up a whole bunch of friar's chicken for the soup, and a delicious haggis [sausage] that won everyone's applause. Instead of being disgraced, I became a favorite.' He approached King James with these same bold Scottish meals and Linklater's unbelievable character becomes the person who resolves the plot. Richie Moniplies 'reached the palace safely and demanded to see Laurie Linklater, the under-clerk in the royal kitchen. But the cook wouldn't be disturbed to speak to him. He was too busy cooking some cock-a-leekie soup for the King. Moniplies said, 'Tell him that a dear
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countryman needs to talk to him about something very important; I must speak to the king.' 'The king?' responded Linklater, being cautious. 'I want nothing to do with this matter. But look, I've just made some cock-a-leekie soup to be served to His majesty in his room. I won't prevent you from leaving your letter on the table when you bring him his soup. The king will see it when he picks up the bowl to drink the broth.'
And the book ends with the king's last word: 'Now, my lords and nobles, let's go to dinner, for the cock-a-leekie soup is cooling.'
What's so bad about that? Just that King James's moral integrity and intelligence are clouded, and his dignity is sacrificed because of his shameful failure to control himself in this and other matters. The patriarch Isaac also let his love for savory meat open him to the deception that divided his family. It's fine and even healthy to enjoy our food, but to love and crave any particular dish is the nature of immoderation. Plutarch tells us the same thing in his preface, talking about his childhood:
'One day our schoolmaster saw that we had indulged ourselves too luxuriously at lunch. During his afternoon lesson, he ordered his servant to whip his own son in our presence. He said the boy was being punished because he couldn't eat his food without condiments. All the time, the philosopher
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was watching us, and we knew who this example was intended for.'
We expect Le Balafré [Quentin Durward, by Sir Walter Scott] to act like a drunk because of his base nature, but it distresses us to see the generous, noble Lord Crawford losing his dignity and control of himself over drinking wine. The occasion is a banquet to welcome Quentin Durward's election. 'But for now, Lord Crawford refused to take the seat assigned to him. He told everyone to continue their fun, and stood watching the revelry with an expression of enjoyment. 'Leave him alone,' whispered Cunningham as Lindesay offered their noble Captain some wine. 'Leave him alone, there's no need to rush him, let him drink on his own. In fact, the old Lord just smiled at first and refused, setting the wine glass in front of him without even tasting it. But soon, he began absent-mindedly sipping a little. And then he remembered that it would be bad luck not to drink a toast to the brave guy who had joined them by winning the election. Of course, he had to be polite and join in the toast. Sliding into the assigned seat without thinking what he was doing, he made Quentin come to his side and asked him all kinds of questions about the general state of Scotland, and the important families there, which Quentin was well able to answer. Meanwhile, Lord Crawford slowly emptied his wine glass, commenting that it was proper for Scottish gentlemen to be sociable, but that young men like Quentin should do it
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cautiously so that too much socializing didn't degenerate into excess. And he said many excellent things about the subject, until his own tongue, although praising temperance, began to slur from too much wine.'
Times have changed since then. Some men may still drink, but not usually men who have Lord Crawford's dignity of character. People are beginning to understand that simple living goes hand in hand with high thinking. We're beginning to have more control in both eating and drinking, and the day is coming when excess in either will be shunned.
Maria Edgeworth's tale of Lazy Lawrence has become a classic illustration of laziness. [In volume 1 of The Parent's Assistant; Young Lawrence is too lazy to work and will do anything for money except work - gambling, cock fights, even theft. But little Jem is industrious and earns enough to prevent the family from having to sell their beloved horse.] Other more appealing characters have the same fault. For example, here is Harry Warrington, from The Virginians by Thackeray:
'Harry's lace and linen were as nice as his aunt could wish. He bought a beautiful shaving plate and some magnificent embroidered pajamas in which he could laze around and sip hot chocolate in the mornings. He had swords, fancy walking canes, French diamond-studded watches with hand-painted backs, and snuffboxes exquisitely decorated by French artists. He had a whole troop of grooms, jockeys, and tradesmen waiting to see him. They were admitted in to see him and Parson Sampson one at a time, by Gumbo, his head butler, while he enjoyed his hot chocolate. There's no telling how many servants Mr. Gumbo had under him. Certainly no single servant could have managed and maintained all of the fine things that Mr. Warrington owned now, not to mention the horses and carriage he had just bought. Harry also learned the arts that were proper for
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young gentlemen of those days. During the season when he lived at Tunbridge, he had a live-in fencing instructor and dance teacher, both French. He spent a lot of time working with them until he could do both with grace and skill. In just a few weeks, he could handle himself as well as anyone. He took riding lessons on a great horse owned by a riding instructor who came to Tunbridge, but decided that he'd rather ride like a Virginian.'
Here we have a picture of busy idleness--and idleness usually is busy. Hogarth painted the kinds of people that Thackeray describes who lived in the same kind of excessive luxury and abandoned idleness. Charles II was another one. Although he walked a lot, he shirked even the least hint of the work he should have been doing as king. Unfortunately, both history and fiction are full of men and women who never bother to seize opportunity when it presents itself.
There are more ways to be immoderate than eating too much, getting drunk and sleeping in. In The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne describes another type of idleness. Hepzibah Pyncheon, the lonely spinster, lived in The House of Seven Gables, and spent her days dreaming up odd castles in the air.
'All the time that Hepzibah was perfecting her idea for a little shop, she had an unrecognized notion in the back of her mind that some unforeseen bit
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of luck would come to her rescue. Perhaps her uncle, who had sailed to India fifty years ago and never been heard from again, might return and invite her to share his wealth in his old age, and adorn her with pearls, diamonds, oriental shawls, hats, and make her the sole heiress of his uncountable fortune. Or, perhaps, a member of Parliament who was currently head of the English side of the family which hadn't been in contact with the American side of the family for two hundred years, might invite Hepzibah to leave the House of Seven Gables and live with his family at Pynchion Hall. But, for her own important reasons, she wouldn't accept his offer.'
How do you excuse a lazy person?
Carlyle, who believed in hard work, had this to say about idleness in Past and Present: 'Who are you who brags about your
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life of ease, smugly shows off your fancy modern furniture, soft cushions, appliances to do everything including folding your hands to go to sleep? An idle person is like a monster. The latest proclamation in the world is to Know your job and do it. Know what you're capable of doing, and work at steadily, like Hercules. That's a wise plan.
'It's been written, 'There's a lot of significance in work.' A man perfects himself by working. Hideous tangled jungles are cleared away and replaced with beautiful productive fields of crops and magnificent cities. And man himself changes his own self from a jungle or barren desert and becomes--a man.'
The fact is, Conscience isn't as concerned with how immoderation is manifested in our lives so much as the underlying principle behind moderation. St. Paul wrote about it when he condemned people who 'worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.' It's by this principle that we'll be justified or condemned. In light of this, we have good reason to suspect any style of diet or exercise that encourages us to have too much concern for our physical body, whether it's a diet of nuts and fruit, peacock brains, or cock-a-leekie. England is in serious danger of giving herself over to worship of the goddess of health. But a more elusive goddess was never revered--the more she is pursued, the more she runs away. Yet she's ready and willing to bestow smiling favor on the person who never even casts a thought towards her. I say truthfully and sincerely that the pursuit of physical and mental well-being is becoming a cult. The
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danger of this kind of cult is that it makes us focus our attention on our own selves instead of on Christ.
We use 'faith' in our minds to create certain attitudes that make our minds and bodies feel better, and that makes us more comfortable. And we forget the danger of exalting the concerns of the creature above the worship of the Creator. The essence of Christianity is passionate love and loyalty towards a divine Person. Faith, which is the adoring regard of the soul, is supposed to help us be more like Jesus--'meek and lowly of heart.' Any kind of 'faith' that raises us up to some higher level should make us suspicious that we're trying to use Christ's power to serve ourselves and our comfort, more than God's glory.
Carlyle was right when he said that the state or lack of our own well-being isn't the central concern of the universe.
Excessive attention to our physical selves is one kind of immoderation. But even worse is neglecting our spiritual nature which enables us to do everything else. That's the root cause for the indifference of laziness, and the excess of greed. 'Take no thought for the life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink.' 'Eat whatever is set before you.' These are the rules God gave for us to keep our bodies in moderation, sobriety and purity. 'Take no thought,' because all sins against the body begin in our thoughts.
I may seem to have gotten off the subject of the Conscience and how it relates to moderation. But it's necessary to stay aware of the current trends of our times, as well as keeping guard over our own appetites. We live
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in our times. We need to realize that Reason can justify any strange trend, whether it's a fruit-eating colony in the Pacific, or living on one meal a day, or fasting and not allowing ourselves to eat or drink anything at all. Only a well-educated Conscience will safeguard us from being persuaded to follow such trends. When we're tempted to eat like primates or eat only nuts, let's be like Punch, and laugh some common sense into ourselves!
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In this area, too, the well-educated Conscience has a broad focus. God's Law forbids impurity of any kind, whether it's in our imagination, what we say or what we do. Everyone knows this. But do we understand that it's as important to preserve Love as Faith? The well-educated Conscience knows that any excessive affection or extravagant devotion pollutes the purity of any self-controlled person. Any relationship, even a friendship or fondness between a mother and child, is suspect to a clear Conscience if it becomes too absorbed and exclusive so that one person is constantly needed by the other, and other rightful duties and loyalties are neglected. To be a person's 'all in all' isn't really a pure desire except when it comes to the intimate relations of marriage. Purity of the soul is like the picture Giotto painted of being walled in with a tower. 'Do not touch' is the appropriate rule. Relationships that are too intimate and exclusive should be kept out.
The dangers of breaking this rule of a pure life is well illustrated in the sad
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tragedy of Edward II as written by Christopher Marlowe. Let's look at the story. One lesson like this taken from real life is worth a lot of advice and resolutions. Too much affection is a fault that tends to go along with a generous temperament, and Edward was generous,
What an example of friendship! Edward is eager to share his entire fortune with his friend. And Gaveston, for his part, is ready to repay Edward's love with his own love.
The nobles resent their affectionate devotion because they have their own legitimate demands on the new king's time and affection. They call a meeting and protest with prayers and threats of rebellion. Here is how the king ends the meeting:
And Gaveston adds, 'I won't be separated from my lord.'
Edward: 'What, Gaveston, you're here? Welcome! Kiss my hand.
Embrace me as I give you a friendly hug.
Why should you kneel before me? Don't you know who I am?
I'm your friend, the missing part of yourself; I'm like another Gaveston!'
Edward piles titles, land and honors on his friend generously. He even gives him his own seal of authority.
The nobles have another meeting to decide how to get rid of Gaveston, the 'ill-tempered Frenchman.' And that phrase is really rather accurate because the king's beloved favorite friend really was ill-tempered, quickly offended and resentful.
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'So, arm in arm the king goes with him,' said Lancaster. And Warwick added, 'And so, leaning on the king's arm, he nods and scorns and smiles at everyone who passes.'
Even his wife, Queen Isabella herself, complains.
The barons send Gaveston away to Ireland, and the king cries,
They exchange pictures of each other, and King Edward says,
Edward threatens and pleads with Isabella until she gives in and asks young Baron Mortimer to work on the nobles and have Gaveston's short exile ended. Isabella brings the good news to the king and is rewarded with affection for the moment. Edward is elated and showers rewards and praises on his nobles.
But, when Gaveston returns, he's as unbearable as ever, and the barons are just as intolerant. The king only cares about his friend and prepares for civil war to punish the nobles for 'their pride.' Once more
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the barons try to convince the king that his exclusive absorption in his friend is ruining the kingdom. The gifts, celebrations, balls and shows he's given to Gaveston 'have drained the treasury. There is threatened rebellion, which could result in the king's removal from the throne. The king's armies have been beaten out of France, wild Oneyl is making himself ruler of Ireland, the Scots are making unresisted attacks in north England, the Danes have control of the narrow seas.'
The peers don't even attend the royal court anymore. The citizens make up scornful songs and rhymes.
Does this change the king's mind? No. The criticisms of his barons make them traitors, as far as he's concerned. He says,
Things go from bad to worse until finally, the barons are exasperated and behead Gaveston. Will the kingdom now finally be rid of its unbearable burden? No. Even while the death of the king's favorite is still news, Edward says,
Spencer had also liked Gaveston, but it's only the king who is excessive in his affection. Exclusive, all-encompassing friendships are succeeded with new friendships that are just as absorbing. It isn't because of fickleness, but because a person who has been weakened and undermined is no longer able
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able to exist without the philandering affections that he's gotten used to.
The tragic tale continues with rebellion, insurrection, and civil war. The only gleam of brightness is the young Prince Edward, who believes in his father in spite of the things he hears.
When King Edward finds out that his wife dishonors him and his people are deserting him, he begins to think of his son.
Nothing changes. Queen Isabella has Spencer arrested right in front of the king.
There seems to be no doubt that his friends returned the love and devotion that this excessively attached king gave them.
Edward is imprisoned, and his final message is,
We won't follow Edward's sad tragedy to the end, but his question, 'What have I done wrong?' is a valuable lesson. His life was ruined, his country was devastated, his wife was dishonored, his loyal subjects were forced to become traitors and assassins--all of these things happened as a direct result of the king's behavior. Yet he asks at the end, 'What have I done wrong?' His uneducated
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Conscience didn't show him the fatal mistake of his life. He decided for himself which duties he would obey, and it appears that his list of life rules consisted of only one rule--Be faithful to your friend. It never occurred to him that we're not supposed to pick and choose between our duties, or that a duty we cling to can become a fault. You might think, 'Yes, that's true if you're a king. But, luckily, common people are free to do as they please.' But we're not. Each of us is like a king choosing among a thousand relationships, duties and interests that are appropriate for us. If we decide to give ourselves over to someone else so that our own will is paralyzed and we can't think or do anything unless they tell us to, and we can't be happy or relaxed unless they're with us, then we're just like Edward. We've sown disorder in our own realm. Our realm may be smaller and not as great as Edward's, but it's the realm that we're responsible for.
In general, men seem to have learned to have more restraint in their friendships than they did in the Tudor days when Marlowe thought it was necessary to offer this lesson to the world. Maybe in his day, men admired their friends with a more passionate fondness. But this isn't an issue of male/female. This affects relationships between school boys, girls, men and women, and ladies. It just seems like there are people who can't seem to live without a doting passion for some beloved. Here's another example:
'Our boarding house was filled with mystery and romance,' said Coquette, brightening. 'It was because of two young German ladies who were there. They introduced the practice of--what shall I call it?--exaltation. Do you know what I mean? When one girl makes another the object of her devotion because
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of her goodness or her beauty, and worships her. She kisses her dress when she passes her, and serves her in every way, but without speaking to her. And the girl who is the object of this worship is supposed to be proud and cold and show scorn for her worshiper, even if they had always been friends. It was the young German ladies from the Bohemian Forest who introduced it. They were tall and dark and very beautiful. Many girls wanted to worship them, but they were always the first to seek out one of the other girls to worship. No one was as humble and obedient as they were. The whole boarding house was filled with it. It became like a cult, an obsession. Some girls would even cry and kneel on the floor to express their love and admiration for the object of their adoration.' [from A Daughter of Heth by William Black]
Plutarch knew all about that. In his Life of Agesilaus, Agesilaus had a personal and very sensible reason to be uneasy about his attachment to Spithridates's son Megabates. While he was with him, he made a point of trying to resist his feelings of devotion. One day Megabates came up to say hello to him, and Agesilaus didn't return his greeting. From then on, Megabates was more distant with him. Agesilaus regretted that he had rebuffed Megabates and pretended he didn't know why Megabates was so cool with him. His friends told him it was his fault for not returning Megabates's greeting. They said, 'He would be glad to continue paying you the most friendly respects, just be sure you never brush him off again.' Agesilaus was silent for a while, thinking. Then he said, 'Don't mention any of this to him. This second victory
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over myself is more valuable to me than Midas's gift of turning things to gold.'
A generous heart approves of this kind of great affection. But a noble Mind and well-educated Conscience need to look beyond that and preserve the Soul's purity. We don't belong to ourselves. We have no right to give ourselves completely away with abandoned passion.
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But, for every illustration of an excessive relationship, there are a thousand examples of sensible, healthy and noble friendships. The classic examples of friendship are so well-known that I don't need to quote them. But here's one that's less familiar:
'You're my only friend, aren't you? So haven't you earned the right to share my wealth? Tell me that, Alan Fairford. When I was taken from my mother's lonely home and brought to the commotion of the Gaits' class at the High School, when I was teased because of my English accent, when they threw snow at me because I was from the south, when I was thrown into the gutter for a Saxon pock-pudding--who defended me with heavy arguments and even heavier punches? It was you, Alan Fairford. Who beat me soundly when I brought my arrogance from being an only son, and a spoiled brat, to the school's little republic? It was you, Alan. You taught me not to pick on weak people, but to stand up to the strong. You taught me not to repeat tales outside of school, to obey the stern order of a pande mamun ['hold out your hand'],
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and to endure my punishments without wincing, and to determine to be a better person for them. In other words, before I knew you, I didn't know anything. It was the same at college. When I was hopelessly idle, your example and encouragement roused me to try harder and showed me how to enjoy learning. You made me like history and metaphysics. In fact, you almost made me a defense lawyer just like yourself.' [Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott]
Even though the relationship between Alan Fairford and Darsie Latimer was sensible, it wasn't a loose, common-place friendship. Their friendship didn't take precedence over duty when things were going well. Alan worked hard preparing for his career and was an obedient and affectionate son even though his father was demanding. But when his friend is in danger, this clever Alan disregards his chances and risks his life with wholehearted devotion. As a young lawyer, he has made his first appearance with noted success in a difficult case. He is delivering his speech and persuading the court when he sees the slip of paper that tells him that Darsie is in trouble. 'He stopped short in his speech, stared at the paper with a look of surprise and horror, uttered an exclamation, threw down the notes he had in his hand, and rushed out of court without even answering the questions that followed him: 'What happened to him?' 'Did he suddenly get sick?' 'Should a substitute be called?' He writes a note to his father: 'I hope you won't be surprised or too displeased to hear that I'm on my way to Dumfriesshire to do my own investigation and find out the current state of my dear friend and give
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whatever help I'm able to. I hope it does some good. I can only say, in further apology, that if, heaven forbid, anything bad happens to the person who is dearest to me except yourself, I'll regret it for the rest of eternity.'
Elizabeth Gaskell, in the sincere and graceful style that distinguishes her writing, tells us in Wives and Daughters about the friendship between Molly Gibson and Cynthia Fitzgerald. Molly is a charming English girl with a sensible heart and mind. Cynthia, her step-sister, comes into her life like a beautiful, bewitching vision. Of course, Molly fell in love with her--girls don't just fall in love with men. Cynthia was just as attracted to Molly's freshness and simplicity. They spent many pleasant hours in Mrs. Gibson's parlor chatting and working. Both girls are kind and concerned about what's best for the other, experiencing the natural give-and-take of friendship. Cynthia tends to get involved with different men, and Molly has a difficult time when she has to do some unpleasant things to get Cynthia out of a serious dilemma. But she does them without sacrificing her integrity, and Cynthia submits to letting her friend help. Unfortunately, it's impossible to do justice in just a few sentences to their natural friendship that even disillusion couldn't shatter.
Young people often make the mistake of thinking that a friend has to be perfect. So, as soon as they begin to notice little failings, they think that they don't need to be loyal anymore. David Copperfield [Dickens] is a wonderful
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example of loyalty in life. The circumstances of David's life bring an unusual assortment of friends, but he's ready and willing to accept the friendship of all of them! With simple good-nature, he lets Mr. Micawber call him 'the friend of my youth,' and he listens to Mrs. Micawber's domestic secrets even though he's only a boy of ten years old! The Micawbers turn up at all kinds of inconvenient times, but David always welcomes them. Traddles is another friend, such a nice person. He and David share a healthy, generous relationship. David has a long list of friendships--Peggotty, Mr. Dick, Ham, Dr. Strong, Mrs. Peggotty and the rest. He finds something to like about every one of them. He honors, serves, and values each of them with complete loyalty. But none of these friends tries to control him or demand that he love them exclusively. He had one friend with whom he lost his individuality because he was so fascinated by him. This was Steerforth. The way he showed loyalty for him was by being sad about his shame rather than his death.
It's not the friends we choose who have exclusive rights over us. The friends who come into our lives here and there because of our circumstances are entitled to our loyalty. We get the same things from those friendships that David Copperfield did--kindness in return for our kindness, service for service, loyalty for loyalty. And we get these things in full measure, heaped up and overflowing. There's probably no better guide to friendship than this charming story about a life that was filled with generous, loyal friendships. It also shows us how fine purity of the soul is, and it warns us of a great impurity.
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It all begins so innocently, yet the result is disaster from which there's no treatment. People say it isn't fair that it should always be the woman who suffers while the man gets off scot-free. But does he really get away with it?
The die-hard reprobate is probably so far gone that he can't be any more degraded. But the man who falls into the sin of impurity for the first time loses his future as surely as the woman does, although it may not be as obvious. He may escape public disgrace, but he never recovers the loss of power, purpose and integrity that result from a loss of purity. He will be handicapped for the rest of his life, although he may not even remember why. If he eventually does get married, his children often repeat their father's sin.
It's worth our while to trace the history of one seduction. This is from the book Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell. Ruth is a friendless orphan who is apprenticed to a hat-maker. She is distinguished among her co-workers by her quiet, lady-like manners and by her beauty. 'How can I help knowing how pretty I am?' she answered simply, 'so many people have told me so.'
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She goes to the town dance with her employer, Mrs. Mason, and some of the other apprentices for the purpose of being on hand to mend rips in gown and things like that. One lady comes to Ruth with her fiancé to get a tear in her dress fixed. She is arrogant to Ruth, and the fiancé, Mr. Bellingham, is not pleased with her rudeness. He picks up a camellia and gives it to Ruth, saying, 'Here, allow me to give you this flower from Miss Dunscombe as a thank you for your skillful help.'
We admire Mr. Bellingham for his act of courtesy, and so does Ruth. She treasures the camellia and her thoughts dwell on the polite gentleman. She meets him again by accident under dramatic circumstances. She's trying to rescue a drowning child and he rides up just in time and saves the boy. This gives them a chance to speak again. He leaves his wallet with Ruth to buy whatever is needed for the boy. So, of course, she has to see him again to return his wallet and give an account of what she spent. Then they see each other at church a few times, and everything is still innocent, no wrong is intended. Next, we're introduced to Mr. Bellingham in his home.
'He thought more about Ruth than she thought about him, even though his appearance was a more momentous event in her life than his. He didn't analyze the nature of his feelings for her, he just enjoyed them with all the novelty that youth takes in experiencing any strong, new emotion. He was an only child, and hadn't formed the characteristic maturity that usually comes with adulthood. His discipline had been sporadic as it often is
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with only children. He had been hindered because of over-anxiety, and unwisely over-indulged because his parents' love had been so focused on one object. That's what had influenced his education.' With these words, the author gives us some insight into the situation and we begin to suspect what's going to happen. David Copperfield's friend Steerforth was the only son of a proud, indulgent, heedless mother. In Adam Bede, Arthur Donnithorne is the only son of a loving but domineering father. It seems like only children need to be more careful in life. Maybe that's because it's harder to sneak around in the midst of lots of brothers and sisters, and it's the deviousness that's the problem, whether the family's large or small. Young Mr. Bellingham finds himself fascinated, he doesn't know quite why. He's even more intrigued because 'she seemed to have some kind of a spell in her shyness that made her avoid and shun anyone who admired her and wanted to get to know her. He determined not to startle her with bold admiration or reckless, passionate words. He resisted the strong temptation to walk alongside her on the way home from church. Instead, he said just a few words about weather, bowed, and then left. Ruth didn't think she should see any more of him. Although she reproved herself for being so foolish, she felt like a shadow had fallen over her life.' Then there comes a Sunday when Mr. Bellingham walks home from church with her through the fields.
Later that evening she thought, 'How strange that the lovely afternoon walk seems somehow, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.' Other walks follow on the next Sundays.
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She tells him about all the miseries she endures at Mrs. Mason's. Mr. Bellingham asks to see her old home, Milham Grange, which is six miles away. The next fine Sunday, they both go. He watched her admiringly as she 'walked around luxuriant, overgrown shrubs in natural, graceful, wavy lines.' Everything goes well until Mrs. Mason, who also happens to be out enjoying the afternoon, sees her with a young man and kicks her out. Mr. Bellingham, who had stepped away for a few minutes, comes back to find Ruth crying. She tells him what just happened.
'Her eyes were so blinded by her tears that she didn't notice the change in his expression as he watched her. Even if she had seen it, she wouldn't have been able to interpret it. He was quiet for so long that, even through her tears, she wondered why he didn't say something. She would have liked to have heard his soothing words. Finally he said, 'It's too bad...' and then stopped. Then he began again. 'It's too bad because, I didn't want to mention it before, but I have some business and I need to go out of town tomorrow. To London, I mean. I don't know when I'll be able to come back.' Before, he had probably just intended to have a little fling with her, but that kind of fun is like playing on the edge of a cliff. Elizabeth Gaskell writes delicately about that moment of silence when Bellingham's lust turned to anger and disgust. This same kind of moment in the life of Arthur Donnithorne, who meant well, led to the ruin and tragedy of Hetty Sorrel. We don't know when the exact moment was that Steerforth's passion turned to disgust,
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but it's good for every young man and young woman to realize that such a moment could very well be in their future, when they'll have to fight that monster within each of us called Lust. Self-indulgence prepares the way, flirtation presents a pretty flowered side path, and before you know it, two lives are ruined. We won't stay safe by thinking that we're too refined or superior for such base temptations. The only way to deal with it is to have a strong, active life and to be able to say, like Paul, 'I keep my body under and bring it into subjection.' The flowered path of flirting can only lead to one end.
Bellingham brings Ruth to London, and then to North Wales. Jenny, the landlady at the hotel where they stay, says, 'It's obvious they aren't married.' Still, Ruth enjoyed the beauty of the mountains. Her admiration and contentment irritated Bellingham. Ruth sighed at her inability to amuse and satisfy the one she loved. The people at the hotel commented about the couple. 'She's absolutely beautiful,' said one man, 'but she can't be any older than sixteen. She looks very modest and innocent in that white dress.' His wife answered, 'Well, I think it's shameful that they let those kinds of people stay here.' And other people thought the same thing. Ruth's solitary walks began to be hampered by rude remarks and hostile looks. Then Mr. Bellingham gets sick with a high fever. His mother is sent for to take care of him. Poor Ruth has nobody else now but the meager kindness of the landlady. She endures days and nights of terrible anxiety. When Bellingham is better, he discusses Ruth with his mother. He
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has some regret, but mostly, he's sorry for himself. Without seeing Ruth, without even saying goodbye, he says to his mother, 'Can't we just leave tonight? I wouldn't be so annoyed by her presence if I were somewhere else. I dread facing her and having a scene, yet I feel like I owe her some kind of explanation.' This is how he treats her after ruining her life, and this is his only thanks for her loving devotion. Ruth was so young and naive that she probably didn't fully realize the implications that her mistake would have on her life. The story continues. Bellingham and his mother leave in high style. He never seeks to see Ruth or say goodbye. A badly deformed but kind man finds her afterwards, crouching in a lonely place. She says sadly, 'He left me--I can't believe it--he's gone and left me!' Before he could offer a word to comfort him, she burst into the wildest, most dejected crying imaginable. Hearing herself say the words and realizing the finality of it cut her heart. Her sobbing and moaning wrung the man's soul, but he knew she wouldn't hear anything he might say yet, even if he knew what to say. So he stood beside her calmly while she wailed and sobbed out her wretchedness. Finally, when she lay worn out and unable to cry any more, she heard him say quietly to himself, 'Oh, Lord, for Jesus' sake, have pity on her!' The good man and his sister nurse her through a perilous illness and finally take her and her baby home with them to Lancashire, where he's the minister of a small chapel. Ruth goes through the bitter waters of repentance. A life spent making up for sin and serving in humility add a Christian character to her natural beauty. Her transformation was probably
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easier because her sin wasn't caused by lust, but by loneliness, despair and oppression.
We know that David found forgiveness even for lust, but it seemed to leave an indelible mark in his character. And that's what happens to Mr. Bellingham. Years later, Ruth is doing a valuable service in a position of humility when she met him again. 'He was changed, but she didn't know why. The fact is, the ugly expression she had only seen when he was at his worst had become permanent. He looked restless and discontent. He thought that the lady was a lot like poor Ruth, but this woman was even more beautiful. Poor Ruth! And, for the first time in many years, he wondered what ever happened to her. Of course, there was only one thing that could have happened, and it was probably just as well that he didn't know because the knowledge would most likely had made him uncomfortable.' This is what Bellingham is like after all those years. Ruth, who was sinned against, was able to act with Christian dignity and grace. But we see Bellingham, who 'got off scot-free,' later as a middle-aged man. He's a person drifting aimlessly, without conscience or heart. He's in bondage to all-consuming lust.
We don't need to follow the story to its very end. It's a book worth reading--even more so if, while you read, you ask what the apostles ask, 'Lord, is it me?' Is this kind of misery or something worse, and this kind of degraded character, possible for me? Is there anything in me that's possible of bringing about such a shameful fall? You can be sure that there is.
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Sometimes we hear dark rumors about white men in the wilds of Africa who have broken free from the restraints of civilized society and commit acts of unbelievable cruelty. When we hear things like this, we should also ask ourselves, 'Lord, is it me?' Because it's a fact that, once we break free from the bonds of duty towards God and mankind, lust and hate run rampant within us and there's no sin we're not capable of.
But let's take courage. No final fall can overtake a person who keeps his soul protected from the first fall. This is the person who preserves his purity as if he's walling it within a tower of brass. He doesn't let any image of uncleanness in to pollute his imagination, he keeps his mind busy with worthwhile interests and healthy things to do, he keeps his body under subjection by making himself work, and he wisely exercises restraint and self-control in matters like eating, drinking, relaxing and sleeping.
A person like this who knows the dangers and pitfalls that are all around will pray faithfully every day, 'Our Father in heaven, don't lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil, Amen.' Having said that kind of a prayer, he doesn't think any more about it. Instead, he goes his way without fear, rejoicing in the life he has.
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Boticelli's painting of Fortitude and John Ruskin's interpretation of the painting are two things that the Conscience should memorize by heart. In this picture, Fortitude is not some giant figure, boldly standing strong, bristling with energy to withstand any enemy. Although she's tall and noble, yet she's sitting down, exhausted from some kind of effort that she's been at for a long time. She looks pensive, too, as if she's thinking, 'How much longer?' But even though she's resting, she's still wary and alert. She still hasn't loosened her grip on the unsheathed sword that's laying across her lap. She's in the thick of a battle and the end is nowhere in sight, but she doesn't have the advantage of being on the offensive. There's no denying that she's weary, yet she isn't sorry for herself or self-satisfied. She only has one thing on her mind. She's focused on the task that needs to be done, not on herself as the one doing the task. Or, rather, she's focused on the task that has to be endured--because Fortitude's existence is one of suffering.
The Bible doesn't specify Fortitude by name as one of the Christian virtues, but it does give the best examples of Fortitude in action. Jesus, who endured more than any of us can even put into words, said about Himself, 'I am meek and of lowly spirit.' Perhaps that quote gives a key to what Fortitude means. It's not so much
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a valiant virtue as a patient grace. Fortitude is distinguished more for what she patiently suffers than for what she does.
The apostle Paul gave us an image of the fullness of Christ by using the different aspects of Love. In the same way, Isaiah gave us an image of Fortitude by describing the humiliations and sufferings of Christ. Fortitude is like a delicate plant with no particular beauty or strength. It grows up within each of us. It endures sorrows and punishments, suffers without saying anything, doesn't strike back or speak deceitfully, is made sad, and yet--divides the reward with the strong. There's only one real kind of Fortitude known to men, and that's the Fortitude of Christ. Every time we're able to endure something cheerfully, without feeling sorry for ourselves or proud of our patience, it's from Christ's divine Fortitude working in us.
Moses was the meekest man who ever lived. His meekness was Fortitude. He endured the wayward people of Israel for forty years. When he thought that the people's offenses had surely exceeded God's patience, he prayed, 'Now, if you will, forgive their sin, If you won't, then I pray that you would blot me out of your Book of Life, too.'
After his own share of suffering, Paul wrote, 'often I had to travel, I was in danger in the sea, in danger from robbers, in danger from people from my own country, in danger from heathens, in danger in the city, in danger in remote areas, in danger at sea, in danger from false Christians, often tired and in pain, having to be on the alert on many occasions, hungry and thirsty, often with absolutely nothing to eat, cold and without enough clothing or protection from the elements.' Yet he was so concerned for his fellow Jews that he wished he might be a under a curse if it would help them.
Maybe Fortitude always has a tender side and always endures hardships because of love. Even a child bravely enduring a toothache cheerfully might be motivated out of love--he doesn't want to upset his mother.
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In the Middle Ages, the tradition of having Fortitude took on the form of chivalry, which might be considered a school whose teachers were the various distresses that knights had to endure. Knights showed more Fortitude than the monks and nuns who practiced discipline and self-mortification in their monasteries. Roland, Oliver and all of the 'Champions of Christendom' suffered as many hardships as the apostles. Paul told Timothy to 'endure hardship.' As part of their training, knights were expected to endure hardship without wincing and without resentment. In Sir Walter Scott's book The Talisman, Sir Kenneth shows us a kind of knightly Fortitude that's possible even for us.
'May I see your sick squire, sir?' Sir Kenneth, the Scottish knight, hesitated and turned red. But at last he answered, 'Yes, of course, Lord of Gilsland. But don't be surprised when you see him--remember that nobles and knights in Scotland don't eat as well or sleep in beds as soft or nurse their patients in buildings as magnificent as what our southern neighbors are accustomed to. The place I'm staying in is not very fancy, Lord Gilsland,' and he added a haughty emphasis on the word. Somewhat unwillingly, he led the way to the place he was staying temporarily. Sir Kenneth looked around sadly, but hid his feelings and went into the hut, motioning for the Baron of Gilsland to follow him in. Most of he space inside the hut was taken up with two beds. One bed was empty. It was made of leaves and covered with an antelope skin. The armor laying beside it and a silver crucifix carefully and reverently placed at the head of the bed clearly indicated that this was the bed of Sir Kenneth himself.
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The sick man was in the other bed. He was older than middle-aged, strongly built, and had harsh features. His bed was softer than his master's. He was wearing more courtly clothing and the soft loose robe that knights usually wear. These and other spare articles of clothing had obviously been used by Sir Kenneth to make his servant more comfortable.'
This is an example of Fortitude under very difficult circumstance. Even under desperate poverty, pity and tenderness for dependents brought out the knight's personal dignity and courage. Any man who shows this kind of fortitude is truly heroic. Even the strange hermit-monk of Lebanon whose body was scarred with wounds from trying to repent of his sins, isn't as good an example of Christian fortitude as the knight.
We appreciate noble lessons that we can apply to everyday situations. We understand that Mrs. Garth also showed an act of Fortitude during an undeserved and troubling situation.
Mrs. Garth (from George Eliot's Middlemarch) is making pies, supervising the baking and washing, and teaching her youngest boy and girl Lindley Murray's grammar, all at the same time. Fred Vincy shows up to see her husband. Then Caleb himself [her husband] comes in.
'Mr. Garth, I have something to say that I'm afraid will give you a bad opinion of me. I need to tell you and Mrs. Garth that I can't keep my promise. I can't find the money to pay the bill after
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all. I've had some bad luck. All I have of the hundred and sixty pounds I owe is these fifty pounds.'
Mrs. Garth was too astonished to say a word. She looked at her husband for an explanation. Caleb blushed. After a little pause he said,
'Oh, I forgot to tell you, Susan--I co-signed a bill for Fred. It was for a hundred and sixty pounds. He made sure he'd be able to pay it off himself first.'
There was an obvious change in Mrs. Garth's expression, but it was like a change below the surface of water that remains smooth on the surface. She looked directly at Fred and said,
'I suppose you've already asked your father for the rest of the money and he refused you?'
'No,' said Fred, biting his lip and speaking with more difficulty. 'I already know it'll be useless to ask him. Unless it would be of use, I'd rather not mention Mr. Garth's name in the matter.'
'This couldn't have happened at a worse time,' said Caleb in his hesitating way, looking down at the money and nervously fingering the bill. 'Christmas is coming and I'm rather hard up right now. As it is, things are so tight that I'm like a tailor who has to cut everything out just a little too small to have enough cloth. What can we do, Susan? I'm going to need every penny we have in the bank. It's a hundred and ten pounds, gone just like that!'
'I'll need to give you the ninety-two pounds I had saved for Alfred's apprenticeship,' said Mrs. Garth solemnly and decisively, although a sensitive ear might have noticed a slight shaking in her words as she spoke.
'And I'm sure Mary has saved twenty pounds from her salary by now. She'll loan us that.'
Mrs. Garth hadn't looked at Fred again and was
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not calculating at all what words she could use to hurt him most deeply. She was an unusual woman, and was busy considering what would need to be done. She knew the solution wouldn't be accomplished any more effectively by venting bitter remarks or cutting rebukes. But she had made Fred feel something like remorse for the first time in his life all the same.
'I promise I'll pay it--somehow, eventually,' he stammered out.
'Yes, eventually,' said Mrs. Garth. She disliked fine words in distressing situations and she couldn't resist adding, 'But boys can't be apprenticed eventually, they should be apprenticed at fifteen.' She had never been less inclined to make excuses for Fred. Fred turned and left.
'I was such a fool, Susan.'
'Yes you were,' said his wife, nodding and smiling. But I wouldn't have let the world know it, why didn't you tell me about this earlier? You do the same thing with your buttons. You let them burst off without telling me, and then you go around with your sleeves unbuttoned.'
In Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot, the story of Mrs. Amos Barton's life and death in the poor parsonage house is a record of gentle and dignified fortitude.
We think of Mark Tapley from Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit with a sense of relief. He found 'no credit in being jolly' when things were going well. But no knight-errantry can exceed the cheerful, serviceable Fortitude he showed in the jolly way that he made the best of things in 'Eden.' The enemies he struggled against
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were unromantic things--fever, famine, discontent, and helplessness in every member of that poor colony. And what a gritty and unpretentious struggle that was! Mark Tapley deserves an honored place among our closest friends, although he might not think there was any credit for being so jolly in such a pleasant position!
We don't need to go all the way to his colony of 'Eden' to find Fortitude. In Bleak House, a birthday dinner cooked (!) by her loving family gave Mrs. Bagnet the occasion for a lot of cheerful serenity.
What a contrast she is to Our Mutual Friend's Mrs. Wilfur, who lets the whole world know she's enduring a trial by tying a black ribbon around her face. How many of us do the same thing in a symbolic way, wearing the black ribbon of a sullen mood and mournful face! Instead of gradually coming down, we've jumped from the highest examples of noble Fortitude to common, even absurd examples. But they fit our purpose. It might not be a bad idea to keep a notebook for recording people and incidents that give inspiration to conscience in the area of Fortitude.
We don't have enough time to talk about Nansen, Gordon, Howard, Livingstone, Collingwood, Raleigh, Galileo, Florence Nightingale, Calpurnia, Mackay of Uganda, or Grace Darling. The list of people whose Fortitude distinguished them is actually our list of heroes. If we start a book of examples of Fortitude, it will become a book of heroes, both of great and small things. You might object that Fortitude is a matter of the heart and mind, not the physical body. But if the body isn't kept in
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its proper place and trained to endure without complaining, then Fortitude doesn't stand a chance. It's within the body that we must endure trials, and training is done through cheerfully enduring small trials that are too minor to list.
The Song of the Lotos-Eaters has a message for all of us:
That's why we need Fortitude. Without it, no person has ever brought life to any purpose. 'I fight, not like someone just pounding his fists into the air, but I keep my body under control and bring it into subjection.'
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'I am wisdom. I live with prudence and discover knowledge of witty inventions.' That saying is worth reflecting on in this age when Prudence is no longer fashionable. Young people confuse impulsiveness with heart, so they look down on Prudence. Yet, of all the deceitful and harmful forms of selfishness, Imprudence is probably the most destructive. Prudence is one of the counselors who teaches Conscience about the dealings of the House of the Body, because Prudence is mostly manifested in connection with physical matters, and physical matters all affect the body either directly or indirectly.
We know how a virtuous woman is described. Virtuous is another word for prudent. A prudent woman is the one who seeks wool and flax and works diligently with her hands. She brings food from far away. She's the one who gets up early in the morning and feeds her family breakfast. She checks out a plot of land and makes an offer on it. She's careful to keep up her health and her strength. She goes
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out of her way to help the poor, but is still able to enhance her own family and maintain a reputation of peace and respect in the community.
Joseph was prudent. He considered the future and made plans for the benefit of Egypt, his new home, and for the success of Pharaoh, his boss. England's King Alfred was very prudent. Every great commander wins his battles through Prudence as much as through bravery.
There was one incident where Alcibiades (from Plutarch's Lives) showed prudence. 'He had always been surrounded with pleasures, and many would-be friends made it a point to say only what they thought he wanted to hear. They would never criticize or correct him. But Alcibiades had natural insight and recognized the value of Socrates. He rejected the rich and popular people who clamored for his attention and attached himself to Socrates. He soon became close friends with Socrates. He discovered that Socrates didn't want special favors from him like everyone else did. It was more important to him to analyze and correct Alcibiades's faulty attitudes and to cure his worthless, foolish arrogance.
He considered the discipline of Socrates as a gift from heaven to preserve and benefit the youths of the culture. Knowing his own faults, he admired his friend, respected his virtue and loved his wisdom. Without even realizing it, he copied the love he saw in his own heart, allowing himself to submit under the influence of the power that, as Plato said, attracts devotion because of its own deep love.'
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This is a great example of Prudence in the selection of friends and mentors. If only Alcibiades had been as reliable as he was prudent.
Alexander (Plutarch's Lives), in his heroic days, showed admirable Prudence. He could tell the difference between things he came across. 'He gave his mother lots of expensive gifts, but he wouldn't let her intelligent mind meddle in affairs of government, or have any control over the business of state. She complained that this was a hardship for her to deal with. He endured her annoyance patiently. Antipater once wrote him a long letter full of serious criticisms against his mother. Alexander read the letter and then remarked, 'Antipater doesn't understand that one tear of a mother can blot out a thousand of these kinds of complaints.' He wouldn't allow his mother to interfere with his duties as ruler, yet his love for her was very great.
And Jesus, who was even greater than Alexander, said, 'Don't you know that I must be busy with my Father's business?' It's Prudence's special duty to make sure that no undue influence is allowed even from those who are nearest and dearest to us. It's our duty to think for ourselves and to consider what's best for everyone. We can't allow ourselves to be swayed by the private interests of anybody. Any government whose officers can be persuaded to make any decisions for the private good of themselves or their own interests is corrupt at its core.
Prudence chooses what's simple, and never prefers luxury. It thinks that work is more honorable than pleasure, and trains the body to handle severe treatment. In all of these things,
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Alexander was a good example of gentle, heroic Prudence.
'He discovered that his officers had no limits in their extravagance. They enjoyed luxurious dining and all kinds of other indulgences. Agnon of Teos even used silver nails in his shoes, Leonatus had camel-loads of dirt delivered all the way from Egypt to rub himself with before he went into the wrestling ring, Philotas bought netting that would enclose an area twelve miles wide when he went hunting, and others had expensive essences to use after bathing instead of plain oil, and special servants to prepare their baths and make their beds. Alexander rebuked these decadent practices like a true philosopher. 'He said that it seemed odd to him that, after experiencing so many glorious battles, they forgot that sleep was more restful after honest work and exercise than after lazy pampering. After they'd seen the way the Persians lived, he was surprised that it wasn't obvious to them that nothing was more shameful than the love of pleasure, and nothing was more noble than a life of honest work. How can a man take care of his own horse or put on his own sword and helmet if his hands are too delicate to dress and bathe his own pampered body? The end of victory isn't to succumb to living like those who were conquered, but to live better than they did.' (from Plutarch's Life of Alexander.)
The laws of Lycurgus (Plutarch's Lives) resulted from noble and generous prudence. If Sparta was going to succeed in its long conflict with Athens, it would have to do it through
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the fitness of each of its citizens. Lycurgus understood that each individual possessed in himself the most valuable thing in Sparta--a body prepared for work and endurance, and a mind that could recognize the seriousness of a situation.
'He wanted to cure them of their quest for luxury and desire for riches. So he introduced a third plan that was wise and brilliantly designed. He set up community dining halls where everyone would eat the same food, and the government would decide what was served. The people were forbidden to eat at home at fancy tables and couches with gourmet meals prepared by private butchers and cooks. No longer cold they stuff themselves like pigs in private. Such gluttony corrupted their table manners and made them fat and unhealthy. It encouraged all kinds of sensuous habits, including sleeping in and lounging in warm baths, as pampered as invalids. He made another law to discourage magnificence and expensive living. He decreed that ceilings in the houses couldn't be made with any tool except an axe, and doors couldn't be made with anything beyond a saw. Because, as Epaminondas said later, you can't hide treason under that kind of meal. And Lycurgus knew that a house with an axe-hewn ceiling and sawn door is no place for fine splendor and fancy furniture. It would be absurd to have a humble, plain house and fill it with silver bedposts, purple quilts, golden cups and other fine luxuries. A plain and simple house would motivate a person to buy a suitable bed with sensible bedding and dishes to match.
There are things about a Spartan lifestyle that aren't appropriate for a Christian life,
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but wise people feel strongly these days that it's in the best interest of society to live simple lives, to avoid excesses even in the athletic or intellectual realm, and to avoid having any more possessions than are needed to live a simple, sensible life. There's nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to live with furniture and tools that are beautiful as well as practical, but we shouldn't let ourselves accumulate unnecessary stuff that clutters our lives and requires our time to maintain, especially if the things are valuable merely because of how much they cost. These kinds of things get in the way of what's really valuable: a body that does what we need, and a mind that's alert. We need a fit body and mind to do our duty to our community and meet our family responsibilities.
'When the money was brought to Athens, Phocion (Plutarch's Lives) asked those who brought it why he should be singled out to receive such a gift. They said it was because Alexander considered him the only honest and good man in Athens. 'Then let me retain that character and really be that kind of man,' said Phocion. Phocion brought the men to his home and they saw how frugal a life he led. His wife baked bread, he drew water himself and washed his own feet. That made them urge him even more to take the money. They said it wasn't fit for the friend of such a fine prince as Alexander to live in such a wretched manner. Just then, a poor old man happened to walk by in rags. Phocion asked whether the men thought less of him than
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they did the old man. They begged him not to make such a comparison, but Phocion responded, 'That old man lives on less than I do, yet he is happy. If you give me the money and I don't use it, it's wasted. But if I use it to live a life of luxury, the people of Athens will resent both me and Alexander, your king.' So they took the money back with them. The incident was a good lesson for the Greeks. A man who doesn't care to receive a gift of money is richer than the one who can afford to offer such a gift.'
When it comes to Prudence, Jesus is our best example. The Bible says, 'My servant will deal prudently,' and we'll learn a lot by studying the gospels to see how He dealt prudently with the only thing He owned--His life. That's really the only thing of real value that any of us truly has. If we think of Christ as our example, we'll live sensibly and not lose our common sense to any kind of excesses.