Tag Archives: philosophy

23 July: In the eye of the beholder?

mermaidrose (542x408)

Is a beach, a forest, a flower beautiful when nobody is looking at it? I remember such questions being laid before us at school to get us to think. 

The answer can be many layered, from ‘of course it is always beautiful’ to ‘God sees it, and everything he made is good’, to ‘We must train our eyes to see just as we must train our brains to think.’

When I first got to know the Mermaid rose it was in a pot in the garden centre, but just asking to be grown against our house wall. It is happy there, despite its being a dry spot; so happy I had to prune it quite heavily last autumn before it scratched too many passers-by. Mermaid has vicious thorns!

So the blossom is a little late this year, but plentiful. However, there is another beauty to be seen: the shoots of new growth where the bush wants to regain lost territory. What a beautiful red, but it will last no more than a few days.

The answer to the question?

Laudato Si’ !




Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si'

June 5: The Virtue of Justice I:Prudence Revisited.

Picture Wed 2nd March

Over to Sister Johanna for her reflections on the second Cardinal Virtue: Justice.

The cardinal virtues come in a famous pack of four: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. We looked at prudence in some of our previous posts. I thought it time now to move to the moral virtue that is next in line: justice.

If you weren’t here for the posts on prudence, then it might help briefly to revisit them: they began on 24th April, and can be found at this link.

Prudence has a lot to do with seeing reality as it is, not as we would like it to be. It is also to do with being able to plot out a course of action which takes that reality into account. A prudent person is a great one to have as a confidant, it seems to me. He or she will ask you a lot of questions and help you to arrive peacefully at a decision – which, in the end, will still be your decision, because the questions and answers that prudence considers do not force you into anything. Rather, they reveal a path by clearing away the weeds, and so enable you freely to walk down that path, and own the decision. The words of great twentieth century Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper,* can be enlightening. He says:

Prudence has a double aspect. One side is concerned with gathering knowledge, with establishing a yardstick, and is directed toward reality; the other side is concerned with decision and command, with evaluation, and is directed toward action.

I love the idea that prudence is about gathering the knowledge that enables us to understand reality. Behind this is the humble acknowledgement that as fallen creatures, our view of things is apt to be distorted. Prudence is about opening our eyes to the truth of things and situations, so that our subsequent decisions and actions will be directed toward that same truth and goodness. ‘Prudence translates the truth of real things into the goodness of human activity…. Thus prudence does not simply rank first in the scale of cardinal virtues, it actually is the “mother of virtues.” And “gives birth” to the others’ (Pieper).


1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

28 December, Holy Innocents.



I suggested yesterday that there is something ridiculous – humanly speaking – about the whole Christmas story. But we love stories! Books, TV, films, The Archers on the radio, all have their followers – and their detractors. We learn who we are through stories.

When training as a teacher I reviewed a children’s  picture book about the Rhine,  a few words and some rather good photographs, including the Lorelei Rock. After the story of the sirens luring boats to destruction was told the young reader was asked, Do you think this story is true?

Wrong question!

Abel is now eighteen months, a little young to listen to stories, but not too young to tell himself some. Among his words are digger, car, and brrrrm. Enough to start conversations in what some people call the real world, as he points to his Dad’s or his grandmother’s car. Enough to recognise a toy digger as a digger, and push it along, brrrrm. Enough to recognise a cartoon of a car on a tiny sticker given to me by one of his Auntie’s pupils. Is it a true car?

The idea of a car does not depend on size for Abel. Yes, some will dismiss the toy and sticker as unreal. But as Fr Kurzynski suggested yesterday, we are in danger of just not getting it. Small and big may well look different from a divine point of view. Or even from a deeply human one – see our post “A World of my own?” last May 14.

In this life, Jesus started off very small … Be grateful for small mercies.

And let’s pray today for mercy on innocent children suffering in war zones in Congo, Syria and elsewhere.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

August 7: John Duns Scotus Festival 2016

“The fall was not the cause of Christ’s predestination and if no one had fallen … Christ would still have been predestined in the same way.” Blessed John Duns Scotus.

The idea that God was coming to be part of his creation – whatever mess humans may make of our corner of it – has great appeal to me. For an imperfect analogy, just think of the way we play: even adults can get lost in a world of our own making, like my friend John with his model railways. See our post for 14 May: A World of My Own . I’m sure I oversimplify Scotus, but I am learning to rejoice in the world of God’s making. I hope you get chance to over the summer.

This post looks ahead to Autumn and the 2016 John Duns Scotus Festival which will take place in and around Duns in Berwickshire, Scotland (not too far from Edinburgh) during September and October.

Born in Duns 750 years ago this year, John Duns Scotus rose to become one of  the leading philosophers of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Educated at Oxford and in Paris, he was a leading figure in some of the great arguments of the Church, with his followers earning the name ‘Dunces’ from the followers of his rival St Thomas Aquinas – the origin of the dunce’s cap. They were called this not because they were stupid, but because they stuck to the teachings of Duns Scotus.

A series of events is planned to mark this occasion designed to re-awaken interest in this son of Duns.

from the publicity flyer for the Festival.

The Catholic Churches in Berwickshire have posted details of the Festival, beginning on 17th September with an exhibition and lecture. Berwickshire RC Churches There you will also find pictures of sites in Duns associated with Blessed John Duns Scotus, more biographical details and links to sites about his writings.


This is the Festival Website:






Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Interruptions

May 19: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: IV


Cliftonville by night … once upon a time


After the incident at the animal shelter, followed by an after dark foray into a rough part of Margate called Cliftonville where hope was discovered (in certain circumstances) to exist as a kind of moral chameleon driven before the winds of many different sorts of desires, ‘T’ reckoned that it might be a good idea to take a break. The Ossyrian mission had already uncovered a wealth of knowledge regarding the complexities of human behaviour, so much so that each newly discovered ‘fact’ seemed to raise a hundred more questions. That the species possessed what the Director, in his far away office in the diplomatic wing of the Inter-Galactic HDQ, had called vitality seemed, now, like a tame understatement. By Ossyrian standards the people of Earth, even when at rest, seemed…well…to somehow have solved the riddle of perpetual motion!

‘Let’s go up to London and see some of the sights,’ ‘T’ suggested and was met with immediate enthusiastic agreement by the pair of Chihuahuas. Hopping the fast train to St. Pancras Station, the trio happily watched the countryside roll by for an hour and a half before pulling into the busy North London transit hub. A sweaty tube ride several stops south brought them to the historic Westminster area of the city dominated by the great landmarks of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s and the Tower of London. ‘Hey, ‘T’,’ Alfie signalled, ‘can we check out Westminster Abbey? I want to see the place where the Prince and his good looking university sweetheart got married.’ ‘Sure, Alfie, no problem,’ ‘T’ replied, ‘if I’m not mistaken it’s just around that corner.’ But there was a problem; dogs, even cute, unobtrusive Chihuahuas, were not allowed into the historic place of worship. ‘I’m confused,’ an acutely disappointed Alfie grumbled, ‘Do they think that dogs don’t believe in God?’ ‘T’, as mystified as the canines, could think of no reply.

‘You know what, guys?’ Ajax’s irrepressible thought waves always brought a smile to ‘T’s homely face.  I’ve got a hankering to ride on the London Eye and get a bird’s eye view of the city.’ ‘Birds??!’ Alfie chimed in, ‘Where?’ He loved chasing birds on the beach back at Margate. But the Eye was also closed to any and all Chihuahuas. ‘Discrimination is just plain wrong, ‘T’,’ his strident thought was laden with hurt agitation. ‘I know, Alfie, I know,’ was all ‘T’ could think of to say. In the end the situation was, however, beautifully salvaged by a leisurely walk along the pavement on the south bank of the Thames followed by burgers and more chips purchased by ‘T’ at an upscale McDonald’s tucked away in one of the many mini-malls that had been converted from Victorian Era dockyards and warehouses, and eaten under a golden afternoon sun on a grass verge overlooking the silty river.

When the relaxed group of one bespectacled middle aged man and two frisky Chihuahuas arrived back in Margate, being late Spring, the sun was still fairly high in the sky. ‘How about one last walk – maybe up to that convenience store on the Canterbury Road where they sell those amazing sesame seed coated candies?’ ‘T’ beamed. ‘YES!!!!!!’ came the instantaneous reply as the Chihuahuas never seemed to tire of walks around town where the near-infinite number of different smells deposited by other dogs on pavement, post, and plant (well, actually, on just about anything and everything) kept them up to date on all of the fascinating happenings in canine society; not part of the study, strictly speaking, but deeply interesting nevertheless.

‘What the…?!!!’ Alfie’s shocked exclamation was followed by a snort as he spit some brownish-green down from his mouth. As was often the case, the wind was blowing briskly in Margate and what had briefly blown straight into the surprised Chihuahua’s open mouth was a living ball of brownish-green down peppered by almost-black spots; something like a rotund avian version of a leopard. The downy ball, crowned with a small beak and two beady eyes, was supported by stalk-like legs with enormous webbed feet. ‘T’ quickly scooped it up and, smiling, proclaimed, ‘It’s a baby seagull…and it must have fallen out of its nest!’

‘Can we put it back?’ Ajax asked, ‘I mean the pavement next to the busy Canterbury Road can’t be a very safe place for a baby seagull.’ ‘I don’t think so,’ ‘T’ beamed, ‘For one thing, we don’t know where its nest is…and if we did its mother probably wouldn’t accept it back.’ ‘But ‘T’,’ Alfie interrupted, ‘we have to do something. We can’t just leave it to die.’ ‘I have an idea,’ ‘T’ signalled enigmatically, ‘Follow me!!’

Five minutes later the trio, with ‘T’ tenderly cupping the contented baby seagull arrived at the train station parking lot where they hailed a taxi. ‘We’re headed to the pet store at Westwood Cross,’ he said to the driver and, with a lazy fart of exhaust, they were on their way. ‘T’ knew that the enormous pet and supply store at the sprawling mall also housed veterinarian offices and was confident that the kindly vets would care for the orphaned seagull chick. When the human, two Chihuahuas, and one baby gull arrived they were indeed advised that they could safely handover the bemused chick and that all would be well.

+   +   +

Three days after the incident involving the young gull Ajax noticed that ‘T’ looked a bit pale and had been much more taciturn than was usual. When questioned, ‘T’ heaved a huge sigh and tried to explain. ‘I phoned the vets this morning to see how our orphan bird was doing…and they informed me that it had been euthanized within minutes of being handed over.’ ‘Oh, no….’ Ajax’s thought trailed off. ‘But why?’ ‘No real reason, really,’ ‘T’s clipped response hinted at confusion and more than a little anger. ‘When I asked, all that they were able to say was that the clinic had been exceptionally busy that day and, besides, Margate had lots of gulls…’ Both dogs sat, trembling, on their haunches looking up at the Director in his human disguise. ‘Sometimes hope, though resilient, can also be a fragile thing,’ he sighed again, ‘because, by its very nature, it is as ethereal as a promise…and promises are sometimes broken.’

(to be continued)


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

April 27th: Peace on Earth? II


All went well with the construction of the intergalactic space modules and the training of their crews. Then the question arose as to how the Ossyrians should appear, for naturally they had very long necks, short legs, a thick waist and huge doomed heads which would tend to generate ridicule probably followed by violence from the earthlings. They pondered long and hard on the best disguise to adopt and finally settled on the idea of appearing as dogs. They had noticed that dogs seem to have very positive and generally friendly relationships with the earthlings, being allowed to enter in all the special places beloved of their masters such as in front of the fires they had in the wintertime and on their beds. So all the crews choose to be different kinds of dogs and started training to eat dog food as served up on Planet earth.

Then they were off. It took nearly six months to arrive at their destination, a place called Canterbury in a country called Britain. They had spent the journey time learning Earth Speak. But this was very difficult because unlike the Ossyrians who only had one language the earthlings had dozens, which as the Ossyrians saw right away produced lots of friction and difficulties.

However, as they were in a part of the world where the language, ‘English’ was among the most familiar to the Ossyrians, they found they could understand at least some of what was said but there was another problem, accents. Some of the people who appeared to be speaking English which the Ossyrians had learned were totally impossible to comprehend because they had peculiar intonations. They looked different and the Ossyrian explorers discovered that they were refugees escaping from wars and revolutions in their own countries, or trying to get work in Britain. Many of the British seemed to resent or even fear them but some people had the same attitude as the Ossryians who never discriminated against any groups because it would obviously lead to friction, discord and violence which would damage the whole of society.

To get accepted by the British, the Ossyrian explorers had first to pose as strays and then hope to be adopted. Gradually this happened and within a month all tRip alfie xxxxhe Osssyrians had been accepted into homes where they were well treated and in many cases ‘spoiled rotten’. This did not please them because it interrupted their examination of the earthlings whose attitudes of mind as expressed by their behaviour seemed more and more difficult to understand now that they were living amongst them.

The earthlings were in some ways quite clever and had invented a lot of technically advanced devices such as ‘cars’ .boats’, ‘aeroplanes’,’ computers’ and more obviously useful things like ‘vacuum cleaners’. However, having invented something they never seemed to spend any time on evaluating its real worth and its probable effects on society as a whole before allowing it to be produced en masse. ‘Cars’ and indeed vehicles in general created huge problems, killing large numbers of people, placing huge demands on the health services, damaging the environment by pollution, preventing more efficient types of transport from being developed and causing economic upheavals when the price of oil changed. By contrast Ossyrians did not own individual transport machines and would not want to because public transport was very efficient and cheap.

Then there was food. The Ossyrians ate only six types of food and four types of drink. All of them scientifically assessed to give the greatest benefit to their bodies and minds. Their food was all produced under artificial conditions and there was plenty for everyone. Consequently they were generally very fit and active mentally and physically and this greatly reduced demands on the health and social services. Generally most Ossyrians died at the agy of about 120 anny.


Canterbury Cathedral, ESB.

The other thing which impressed and depressed the Ossyrians was the hypocrisy of most earthlings some of whom professed belief in a benign Goddy who required them to love one another and to be charitable to each other. However, this view was more honoured in the breach than the observance as most earthlings seemed to spend a considerable part of their time in denigrating other people which was regarded as a serious ‘sinny’ and totally unacceptable to Ossyrians because it would obviously lead to friction, possibly violence and unhappiness. So it could not be tolerated because it would destroy their wholequality of life  and undermine their well balanced, happy society.

The Ossyrian observers decide to return to their own planet as they had come to the conclusion that they would not be able to help the earthlings whose noble philosophy of life was so much at variance with their actual mores. In any case communication was too difficult because of all the different tongues and accents. However, the Assyrians did leave a letter in the porch of the Cathedral explaining all this to the people of Canterbury who had been kind to their ‘doggies’. But these visiting ‘doggies’ were looking forward to having some proper food again and living in an honest, non-hypocritical society.

Unfortunately no one could understand Ossyrian English, so this note was assumed to be Chinese and thrown away.

Alfie H and Ajax by NAIB; Alfie B by Jennifer Thompson

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

Wednesday 23 March: Sad and Squalid Sin

mercylogoJudas so clearly embodies the pitiful nature of sin. However much sin might try to large it up, the reality is always sad and squalid; a symptom of alienation, of being akosmios, ‘outside the cosmos’. It deserves of our compassion.

The greatest of the Greek philosophers understood this. The greatest of the Greek philosophers understood this. The root meaning of the Greek verb, harmatanō, which in biblical contexts means ‘to sin’, is ‘to miss the mark’, as when an archer misses a target.

For Plato, humans naturally desire the good, and so all wrongdoing is due to ignorance and as such an expression of deficiency. To commit evil is to wound and deform our soul, the most important part of us. It is always better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus teaches:

‘“Ought not this brigand, then, and this adulterer to be put to death?” you ask. Not at all, but you should ask rather, “Ought not this man to be put to death who is in a state of error and delusion about the greatest matters, and is in a state of blindness, not, indeed, in the vision which distinguishes between white and black, but in the judgement which distinguishes between the good and the evil?” And if you put it this way, you will realise how inhuman a sentiment it is you are uttering, and that it is just as if you should say, “Ought not this blind man, then, or this deaf man to be put to death?”’


Illustrations from Strasbourg Cathedral: Judas the pitiful is shown: at supper; hanging on the tree; giving the treacherous kiss. The artist has shown Jesus restoring the servant’s ear in the garden even as he is arrested, but even more mercifully, the Lamb of God is undoing the scarf that Judas used to kill himself, ready to rescue him from Hell’s Mouth.


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Year of Mercy

Friday January 8th – Living the Good Life.



For Basil and his confreres, the monastic life, which they equated with the life of ‘true philosophy’, was the paradigm of the Christian life. Basil provided the nascent monastic movement of Asia Minor with an organisational context and brought it within the fold of the Church. The monastic or ‘philosophic’ life began with purification and proceeded through contemplation to eventual divinisation. It was the life of ‘perfect renunciation’ that ‘would lead without impediment to virtue.’ Here, in the context of the Greek Fathers, we hear the most authentic voice of Greek philosophy: not the intellectual abstractions of Aristotle (which in contrast to the excitement they caused in the medieval Islamic and Latin worlds attracted relatively little interest in antiquity), but a lived praxis, a ‘way of life’ which aimed to heal the soul and lead, by way of love, to a knowledge of the Good, the True and the Beautiful which was not only intellectual but above all existential: if you weren’t living it, you didn’t know it.


cave3 (391x482)


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

Monday January 4th – Saint Macrina



There was also a ‘Cappadocian Mother’, Basil’s older sister, Macrina. At the age of twelve she was betrothed to be married, but before the marriage could take place her fiancé died, whereupon she insisted that, since a person could only marry once, and since betrothal was spiritually equivalent to marriage, she would henceforth live as a widow dedicated to Christ. Following the death of their father soon afterwards, Macrina instigated the conversion of their household into a monastic community, emancipating the slaves and abolishing all distinctions of social rank. When Basil returned home from his studies in Athens, she was unimpressed with the airs and graces he had acquired. According to the Life of Macrina, written by their brother Gregory of Nyssa, Basil ‘was at that time excessively puffed up with the thought of his own eloquence and was disdainful of local dignities, since in his own inflated opinion he surpassed all the leading luminaries. She, however, took him in hand and drew him with such speed towards the goal of philosophy that he withdrew from the worldly show and despised the applause to be gained through eloquence, and went over of his own accord to the life where one toils with one’s own hands, thus providing for himself through perfect renunciation a life that would lead without impediment to virtue.’


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections