Quo Vadis, Domine?

May 9, 2005 § Leave a comment

Well, between taking care of business (such as signing up for Community College classes) and helping out around the house, I have been voraciously reading. Throughout my life I have only been able to handle two books at a time, and at the moment these are Silence by Shusaku Endo and Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Quo Vadis is simply entertaining (and full of brilliantly colorful descriptions of Roman life under the reign of Nero), while Silence is a thought-provoking novel about two Jesuit priests who minister to the Japanese in a country where Catholicism is against the law.

I love both books equally, but every once and a while I have to put Silence down because I am exhausted from wrestling with the troubling questions it asks about life, human nature, and faith. However, I am not going to quote any of it here because it would not be understood unless in the correct context and only if read through the eyes of a reader well-grounded in the Catholic faith. If I were any less knowledgeable about my own faith, Fr. Shanley would have done wrong to recommend the book to me. But under the circumstances it is absolutely fine, and I am excited to discuss it with him in the future. He was right about one thing: it is definitely morally ambiguous.

Here is an excellent quote from Quo Vadis (and my favorite quote of the day). Petronius, corrupt Roman noble citizen who hangs on the ear of Nero, just stole away the beautiful Christian Lygia from her adopted parents to give her to his nephew:

…Why does crime, even when as powerful as Caesar, and assured of being beyond punishment, strive always for the appearances of truth, justice, and virtue? Why does it take the trouble? I consider that to murder a brother, a mother, a wife, is a thing worthy of some petty Asiatic king, not a Roman Caesar; but if that position were mine, I should not write justifying letters to the Senate. But Nero writes. Nero is looking for appearances, for Nero is a coward. But Tiberius was not a coward; still he justified every step he took. Why is this? What a marvellous, involuntary homage paid to virtue by evil! And knowest thou what strikes me? This, that it is done because transgression is ugly and virtue is beautiful. Therefore a man of genuine aesthetic feeling is also a virtuous man. Hence I am virtuous. Today I must pour out a little wine to the shades or Protagoras, Prodicus, and Gorgias. It seems that sophists too can be of service. Listen, for I am speaking yet…my act is beautiful, and being beautiful it cannot be bad. Marcus, here sitting before thee is virtue incarnate in Caius Petronius! If Aristides were living, it would be his duty to come to me and offer a hundred manae for a short treatise on virtue.

This is fascinating, and reminds me very much of the writings of Machiavelli. One would think that Petronius had read them himself (or perhaps Sienkiewicz) before he made these remarks. Machiavelli thought that the Prince should posses the power of a lion and the cunning of a fox; he should keep up the appearance of being virtuous but in reality be vicious and cruel. This, Machiavelli believed, was the only way to survive and retain power in a world such at the one in which we live.

Anyway, enough of this. All of my grades came up on student records today, pending philosophy. They are all pleasing (no-I am not going to post them here!) But it looks as though, assuming I didn't flunk the philosophy final, I have a very good chance at making the Dean's list again this semester.

I need to go get ready for work…it seems to be too soon to be going back to work. Oh well, at least I have most of the day free, and the family went out to do their shopping this afternoon. I am not missing much by being at the gym.

Paraclitus – drop me an email! Let me know how you are doing…

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