Aurelius Augustinus to J. W. Worthy
Peace in our dear Lord Jesus Christ
I need not remind you that love is a madness in the blood, so bitter lie the tears upon your letter to Katherine Anne. Medical science has discovered no analog in man's belly to that hysterical beast which drives women into their strange, intermittent rages, but we men do experience our own indwelling demon, who rages far more wildly by being the less palpable. He quickly deliquesces through the veins, being pumped up from the heart into the brain and eyes, where he colors our whole world, and we stumble into the most outrageous follies.
Was not your very concept of marriage for eros a great folly peculiar to your day? It spoke well for Katherine Anne that she acceded to the practical, worldly considerations which led her to spurn you and seek a younger man to fit her life and career goals. Marriage is a worldly means to our higher, transcendent aspirations. Ah yes, you want to accuse me now of coldness, but you must know better than that. My own venery was every bit as hot as your madness for Katherine Anne--my woman bore me a son, after all. Regrettable, that I had to send her home to Africa. My mother, with the help of good Bishop Ambrose, arranged an alliance with a certain prominent Milanese lady. Had it succeeded, my condition in that city had been greatly improved. But this is no place to discuss my private affairs.
I address myself rather to your frenetic outburst and to the equally frivolous (perhaps less understandably so) content of Goethe's recent letter. In his great vanity, he writes glibly of the primacy of art; it ill beseems him to do so. When the hot-blooded demon courses in his veins, he forthwith seeks comfort in poetry--his own poetry, to be sure. He even seizes a certain audacious fame by calling his work "fragments of a great confession." So I say, my dear, deranged professor, that you are quite right to seek solace there, in that place where I find my own, most personal comfort, in the hymns of King David. I too believe that Psalms were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Permit me, please, to dwell on this point. I am so fortunate as to have been called upon, from time to time, to lay down certain basic guidelines for the Catholic Church. Less fortunately, due to circumstance of place and time, my doctrines became institutionalized in terms of the "heresies" I put down. On the contrary, my concern lies exclusively with right thinking. Faith is itself hardly different from right thinking, i.e., the assumption that the Creator's goodness and steadiness are manifest in His creation. --Not that we can prove it or experience it or see it. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. As a bishop in the church I certainly have no higher calling than to apply the rules of right thinking to church doctrine. Take the fuss surrounding the so-called Donatists as an example. I believe you will see that it bears on your quandary about he Bible your wife gave you--or, as I understand it, your quondam wife.
I suppose it all began with that mad hope of the Emperor Diocletian, that a return to the pagan gods would strengthen his empire. Certain Christian priests, collaborating with him, tendered up their sacred scriptures to the Roman authorities. Their act was so detestable that some thought it must taint not only these so-called traditores themselves, but also profane any sacrament which they or their associates might touch. The troubles continued for nearly a century, right on into my day. Well, it seems clear to me that the sacrament qua sacrament transcends all such petty worldly turbulence. To suggest that any mortal has power to sully holy sacrament is vainglorious vaunting. This heretical notion that the holy sacrament might lose its purity and efficacy if the priest were not himself pure came to be called after the man who agitated for it, Donatus, and his followers are called Donatists.
In my opposition to the Donatists I am actually arguing a very general law of right thinking which applies across the secular spectrum as well as to church doctrine. You can surely see this. Let us assume, for example, that the United States of America had been so unfortunate as to elect a scoundrel as President, and let us say he had dishonored himself , let us say as regards military duty. Would that mean that in time of war a soldier need not obey his discredited Commander-in-Chief? Why, of course not, for the simple reason that the office transcends the man. You might wish for an honorable man to clothe such a high office. Similarly, I would prefer a holy person administer holy sacrament. But in no way can the lesser entity, the person, diminish the high office to which he is called.
You will agree that the same principle applies to the 51st Psalm, when it helps you to pray. Your prayer is just as efficacious as the prayer of the countless other crushed hearts who find comfort there throughout all ages. The worldliness of Katherine Anne, who gave you your Bible, can no more diminish your prayers than it can those other thousands. And in your prayer you must also remember Katherine Anne, in gratitude for the Bible she gave you. Else you slide into the Donatist Heresy.
--And you must thank the Lord for Katherine Anne, as well, for the seven fat years. Our times are in His hand, and all that he gives in this world is limited in time. I always think I know what time is--until the moment I am asked. In any case, our times are measured, whether it be in heartbeats or in new moons. No man receives his beloved wife but for a time.
With blessings for your present, from a brother before God
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