Dialogue on the Threshold

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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Stultifera navis mortalium



Hi sunt qui descendunt mare in navibus, facientes operationes in aquis
multis. Ascendunt usque ad coelos, & descendunt usque ad abyssos:
anima eorum in malis tabescebat. Turbati sunt & moti
sunt sicut ebrius: & omnis sapientia eorum
devorata est.


They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters:
They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths:
their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro,
and stagger like a drunken man, and are at
their wit's end.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

An Tartarus sit aliquid, utrum vero nihil?


Q. An Tartarus sit aliquid, utrum vero nihil?

R. Est aliquid nempe locus cruciatus Luc. 6 [sic.]. Est nihil de quo Plato in Phaedone. Sic ᾅδης est aliquid; ut cum dicitur, descendit ἐις ᾅδην. Est etiam nihil: ut fingitur esse domus Plutonis. Plasmata enim rationis, quae Aristot. opponit πράγμασιν, referimus ad nihil.

Rodolphus Goclenius, Disputatio de nihilo, quae non est de nihilo,
vagans per omnes disciplinas

Q. Whether Tartarus is something or in fact nothing

A. The place of torment is surely something (Luke [16.23]). It is the nothing about which Plato [tells] in the Phaedo. Thus ᾅδης [Hades] is something; as when it is said, he descended ἐις ᾅδην [into Hades]. It is also nothing: as it is imagined to be the house of Pluto. For, the fictions of reasoning, which Aristotle opposed πράγμασιν [to concrete realities], we ascribe to nothing.

Labour sub tecto


Both S. Basil, and S. Chrysostome put this difference in that place, between the labour of the Ant, and the Bee, That the Ants worke but for themselves, the Bee for others: Though the Ants have a Commonwealth of their own, yet those Fathers call their labour, but private labour; because no other Common-wealths have benefit by their labour, but their own. Direct thy labours in thy calling to the good of the publique, and then thou art a civill, a morall Ant; but consider also, That all that are of the houshold of the faithfull, and professe the same truth of Religion, are part of this publique, and direct thy labours, for the glory of Christ Jesus, amongst them too, and then thou art a religious and a Christian Bee, and the fruit of thy labour shall be Hony. The labour of the Ant is sub Dio, open, evident, manifest; The labour of the Bee is sub Tecto, in a house, in a hive; They will doe good, and yet they will not be seene to doe it; they affect not glory, nay they avoyd it. For in experience, when some men curious of naturall knowledge, have made their Hives of glasse, that by that transparency, they might see the Bees manner of working, the Bees have made it their first work to line that Glasse-hive, with a crust of Wax, they they might work and not be discerned. It is a blessed sincerity, to work as the Ant, professedly, openly; but because there may be cases, when to doe so, would destroy the whole worke, though there be a cloud and a curtaine betweene thee, and the eyes of men, yet if thou doe them clearely in the sight of God, that he see his glory advanced by thee, the fruit of thy labour shall be Honey.

John Donne, Sermon preached at White-hall, 8 April 1621 (Prov. 25.16 Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it)

Thursday, 15 April 2010

A Dish of Dainties for the Devil


A godly father sitting on a draught,
To do as need and nature hath us taught,
Mumbled (as was his manner) certain prayers,
And unto him the Devil straight repairs,
And boldly to revile him he begins,
Alleging that such prayers are deadly sins;
And that it showed he was devoid of grace,
To speak to God from so unmeet a place.
The reverent man, though at first dismayed,
Yet strong in faith, to Satan thus he said:
"Thou damned spirit, wicked, false and lying,
Despairing thine own good, and ours envying:
Each take his due, and me thou canst not hurt,
To God my prayer I meant, to thee the dirt.
Pure prayer ascends to him that high doth sit,
Down falls the filth, for fiends of hell more fit."

Sir John Harington, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (London, 1596), Ed. Elizabeth Story Donno (London, 1974), p. 94 [spelling and punctuation modernised]

Friday, 9 April 2010

A streame of brimstone


That then there is damnation, and why it is, and when it is, is cleare enough; but what this damnation is, neither the tongue of good Angels that know damnation by the contrary, by fruition of salvation, nor the tongue of bad Angels who know damnation by a lamentable experience, is able to expresse it; A man may saile so at sea, as that he shall have laid the North Pole flat, that shall be fallen out of sight, and yet he shall not have raised the South Pole, he shall not see that; So there are things, in which a man may goe beyond his reason, and yet not meet with faith neither: of such a kinde are those things which concerne the locality of hell, and the materiality of the torments thereof; for that hell is a certaine and limited place, beginning here and ending there, and extending no farther, or that the torments of hell be materiall, or elementary torments, which in naturall consideration can have no proportion, no affection, nor appliablenesse to the tormenting of a sprit, these things neither settle my reason, nor binde my faith; neither opinion, that it is, or is not so, doth command our reason so, but that probable reasons may be brought on the other side; neither opinion doth so command our faith, but that a man may be saved, though hee thinke the contrary; for in such points, it is alwaies lawfull to thinke so, as we finde does most advance and exalt our owne devotion, and Gods glory in our estimation; but when we shall have given to those words, by which hell is expressed in the Scriptures, the heaviest significations, that either the nature of those words can admit, or as they are types and representations of hell, as fire, and brimstone, and weeping, and gnashing, and darknesse, and the worme, and as they are laid together in the Prophet, Tophet, (that is, hell) is deepe and large, (there is the capacity and content, roome enough) It is a pile of fire and much wood, (there is the durablenesse of it) and the breath of the Lord to kindle it, like a streame of Brimstone, (there is the vehemence of it:) when all is done, the hell of hels, the torment of torments is the everlasting absence of God, and the everlasting impossibility of returning to his presence.

John Donne, sermon Preached to the Earle of Carlile and his company, at Sion [? 1622], Mark 16:16 "He that beleeveth not, shall be damned"


Fresco in the porch of the Church of St. Nicholas - Udricani (1735), Bucharest