Dialogue on the Threshold

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Infinitely less than nothing

That great Library, those infinite Volumes of the Books of Creatures, shall be taken away, quite away, no more Nature; those reverend Manuscripts, written with Gods own hand, the Scriptures themselves, shall be taken away, quite away; no more preaching, no more reading of Scriptures, and that great School-Mistress, Experience, and Observation shall be remov'd, no new thing to be done, and in an instant, I shall know more, than they all could reveal to me. I shall know, not only as I know already, that a Bee-hive, that an Ant-hill is the same Book in Decimo sexto, as a Kingdom is in Folio, That a Flower that lives but a day, is an abridgment of that King, that lives out his threescore and ten yeers; but I shall know too, that all these Ants, and Bees, and Flowers, and Kings, and Kingdoms, howsoever they may be Examples, and Comparisons to one another, yet they are all as nothing, altogether nothing, less than nothing, infinitely less than nothing, to that which shall then be the subject of my knowledge, for, it is the knowledge of the glory of God.

John Donne, from A Sermon preached at the Spittle, upon Easter-Monday, 1622

Monday, 4 January 2010

Hê thlipsis hê aporrhêtos

As to those that fall away from God, I wonder where it is they exist, those that are far removed from Him that is everywhere, and verily, O brothers, is it a wonder full of great trembling, one that requires the reasoning of an illumined mind,

in order properly to understand this thing and not to fall into heresy as a result of ignorance of the words of the Holy Ghost. They, too, will wholly have existence within the universe, but outside of the divine light and even outside of God.

For, just as those that cannot see the shining sun, although they are wholly bathed in its light, end their days outside of the light, severed from any sense or sight of it, so too in this universe is the divine light of the Trinity,

and in its midst the sinners that are enclosed in darkness, unseeing, bereft of any divine sense, but consumed and chastised by their conscience, will know for all eternity unspeakable affliction and ineffable pain.

St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymns, I, 215-231

(English translation: Alistair Ian Blyth)

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Two sub-hells: Nyôfunjo and Nôketsujo

Depiction of the torments of the damned in the Buddhist sub-hell of Nyôfunjo (Dung Pit), or the shifunsho (place of excrement), one of the paintings in the Jigokuzôshi (Illustrated Stories of Hell) found in a Heian period (794-1185) emakimono (picture scroll) kept in the Nara National Museum ("Genkahon"; height 26.66 cm, length 433.42 cm). The text of the emakimono describes the sins and the torments of those who wallow in the Dung Pit as follows:
While these men lived, they considered dirty what in reality was not; they also considered clean what was not, due to the foolishness of their heart. (...) The pit in which they are is deep, and they are sunk in it up to their necks; it smells very bad there. This filth is beyond comparison with anything of this world, and the pains of the damned are unbearable.

(translated by Fernando G. Guttiérez, "Emakimono Depicting the Pains of the Damned," Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 22, No. 3/4 (1967), p. 285)
The scroll also illustrates the sub-hell called Nôketsujo (Place of Pus and Blood):

Those who suffer eternal anguish therein are said to have been of foolish heart and wicked intent during their lives, and to have forced others to eat filthy things:
This is why they are in hell now. An enormous amount of pus fills this place up to the mouth and nose of the damned. There are also terrible insects called Saimôshô that devour the damned to the marrow of their bones, and break their tendons. It is impossible to describe how terrible this pain is.

(translated by Fernando G. Guttiérez, "Emakimono Depicting the Pains of the Damned," Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 22, No. 3/4 (1967), p. 286)

Saturday, 2 January 2010


I fall sick of Sin, and am bedded and bedrid, buried and putrified in the practise of Sin, and all this while have no presage, no pulse, no sense of my sicknesse; O heighth, O depth of misery, where the first Symptome of the sicknes is Hell, and where I never see the fever of lust, of envy, of ambition, by any other light, than the darknesse and horror of Hell it selfe; and where the first Messenger that speaks to me doth not say, Thou mayest die, no, nor Thou must die, but Thou art dead: and where the first notice, that my Soule hath of her sicknes, is irrecoverablenes, iremediablenes.

John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), Expostulation 1