A Little Simone Weil and Classical Exegesis Sampler–Part III: The Lost Keys of Interpretation in Christianity
Simone Weil (1909–1943),
a French philosopher,
🌿Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, the Sampler-Part III, dedicated to the French Philosopher Simone Weil with the sole subject of the ‘lost keys of interpretation in Christianity‘. Our little sampler’s text source is: ‘La Source Grecque’, Editions Gallimard, Paris 1953. A Via-HYGEIA English translation from the original French. 🌿‘…Greece welcomed Egypt’s legacy and had its own revelation: it was the revelation of human misery, of God’s transcendance, of the infinite distance between God and Humanity. Haunted by this distance, Greece labored to build bridges. Her entire civilisation is composed of them. Its Mystery religion, its philosophy, its marvelous art, its science (her very own invention) and all of its branches, all of them were actual bridges between God and Humanity. Except for the first one, we have inherited all of these bridges. We did quite some conservation of the whole architecture! But, we still believe that they were made for us to dwell in them. We do not know that they are actually here only for us to cross to the other side; we ignore, if anybody did cross, and what would we find on the other side… The best among the Greeks were inhabited by the idea of the mediation between God and Humanity, of the mediation in the descending movement through which God seeks Humanity. It is this idea, central to their thoughts, that was expressed in the notion of harmony, of proportion, into their art, in all of their sciences, and finally in their conception of life. When Rome started rattling its sword, Greece was only starting to accomplish its vocation as builder of bridges. Rome destroyed every remnant of spiritual life in Greece, alike all of the countries it submitted by force.‘ (Simone Weil, from ‘What was the Occitan Inspiration about?’ published in ‘Cahiers du Sud’ 249, in its August-October 1942 issue)🌿
Excerpt 1-From ‘The Iliad, or the poem about force’,
From page 38 to 42
‘Anyway, this poem (the ‘Iliad’) is a miraculous thing. The bitterness embodied in it is about the only just cause of bitterness: the subordination of the human soul to force, which means in the end, to matter. This subordination is the same for all mortal, even though the soul carries it in diverse ways according to its degree of virtue. Nobody is exempt of it on earth, and none of those who fall under the yoke of it is considered despisable. Everything, that is inside the soul and within human relationships, escaping the grip of force is loved-but love painfully, due to the pending danger of destruction being ominously present. Such is the spirit of the only true epic the West possesses. The ‘Odyssey’ seems to be but an excellent imitation, some times of the ‘Iliad’ and other times of oriental poems; the ‘Aeneid’ is an imitation-as brilliant as it is-is spoiled by it coldness, declamation and bad taste. The ‘songs of heroic deeds’ (Via-Hygeia note: les ‘chansons de geste‘, in French) did not reach greatness because of a lack of equity; the death of an enemy is not felt by the author and the reader in the ‘Song of Roland’ and in his death as well.
Antic tragedy-at least with Aeschylus and Sophocles-is the true continuation of the epic. The thought of justice illuminates it without ever interfering; force appears there in its cold hardness, always followed with the disastrous effects nobody escapes, let it be the person who uses it or the person who is suffering it; the humiliation of the soul under constraint is there neither disguised nor wrapped with a gratuitous pity or thrown into exhibited despise and shame; more than one being, wounded by the degradation of misery, is cast for our admiration. The Gospel is the last and marvelous expression of the Greek genius, as the ‘Iliad’ is the first; the spirit of Greece can be glimpsed, not only in what is commanded to seek at the exclusion of any other good ‘the kingdom and the Justice of our celestial Father‘, but also as human misery is also depicted-with a divine being who happens to be also human. The stories of the Passion show that a divine spirit, united with flesh, is altered by misery, shakes in front of suffering and death, and feels in the depth of his despair, alienated from Humanity and God. The feeling of human misery give them this simple accent which is the mark of the Greek genius, and which is showcasing the value of antic tragedy and the ‘Iliad’. Some of their speeches echo strangely those of the epic, and the Trojan adolescent sent to Hades (even though he did not want to go) comes to memory when Christ says to Peter: ‘Another person will tie your waist-belt and lead you where you don’t want to go’. This accent cannot be separated of the thought that inspires the Gospel; because the feeling of human misery is a condition of justice and love. The person who ignores at what extent varying fortune and necessity keeps every human soul under their dependance, cannot look as similar his fellow humans nor love as one would with one-self those who ill-fortune have separated from him with an abyss. The diversity of constraints that plagues mankind gives birth to the illusion that there are distinct species that cannot communicate. It is only possible to love and being just, only if we know the empire of force and if we know how to keep clear of it.
The relationship between the human soul and destiny, in what measure every soul fashions its own fate, what merciless necessity transforms any soul at the mercy of a variable fate, and what may stay intact-by the effect of virtue and grace: these are the very subjects where delusions and lies are easy and seductive. Pride, humiliation, hate, contempt, indifference, desire to forget or to ignore, everything contributes into leading us into temptation. In particular, nothing is more rare than a just expression of misery; in depicting it, we pretend almost always to believe, on one hand that decline is a innate vocation of the unfortunate, or on the other hand that a soul can carry misery without receiving its mark, without all of his thoughts being changed in an idiosyncratic manner. The Greeks, most of the time, had the great moral strength that allowed them not to lie to themselves; they were rewarded and could reach in everything the highest degree of lucidity, purity and simplicity. But the spirit that was transmitted from the ‘Iliad’ to the Gospel, passing through the thinkers and tragic poets did not really cross the boundaries of the Greek civilisation; and after Greece was destroyed, only its reflection remained.
The Romans and the Hebrew felt allowed to escape themselves from common human misery, the former as a nation chosen by destiny to be the ruling force of the world, and the later by God’s favor-and only if they would obey Him. The Romans despised foreigners, enemies, the defeated, their subjects, their slaves; hence, no tragedy nor epic were born from their world. They would replace tragedies by gladiator games. The Hebrew saw in misery the sign of sin, and henceforth the legitimate motive for contempt; they looked at their defeated enemies, as being abhorred by god Himself and condemned to atone for their crimes, allowing ‘allowed cruelty’ and making it even un-avoidable. Therefore, no texts of the Old Testament produces a sound comparable to the Greek epic, or perhaps, maybe some parts of the poem of Job. Romans and Hebrew were admired, read, imitated in their deeds and speeches, and quoted every time the justification of a crime was needed, throughout twenty centuries of Christianity.
Further more, the spirit of the Gospel wasn’t transmitted pure to the successive generations of Christians. From the very early times we thought we saw signs of grace with the martyrs, in the fact they faced suffering and death with joy-as if the effects of grace would go deeper with mankind than with Christ! Those who think that God Himself-once He became a man, could witness in front of his eyes the rigor of destiny without shaking of despair-should have understood that those ‘who rise in appearance‘ above human misery, are the very people that disguise the bites of destiny to their own eyes with the help of illusion, intoxication or fanatism. In reality, the person that is not protected by the armor of a lie cannot bear force without being hit in his soul. Grace can prevent that this bite may corrupts him, but it cannot prevent the wound. For having forgotten this, Christian tradition could not re-discover the simplicity that makes every phrase of the stories of the Passion heart-breaking. Also, the customs to convert by force has veiled the effects of force in the souls of those who manipulate it.
Despite the brief intoxication caused by the Renaissance, due to the ‘discovery’ of the Greek classics, the very ethos and spirit of Greece wasn’t resurrected in the last twenty centuries. It may still be seen as a fleeting figure in the works of François Villon, William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, Moliere, and once in Jean Racine. Human misery is laid bare, concerning love, in the ‘The School for Women’ or in ‘Phèdre’; strange century, by the way, where at the opposite of the age of tragedy, it was only possible to perceive human misery in love, and not with the effects of force in war and in politics which were always wrapped with glory. We could continue to quote more names, but nothing that was produced among the European people can rival the first know poem that appeared in one of their country. They will perhaps recover the epic genius, when they will stop assuming they are out-of-range of fate, when they will stop admiring force, hating enemies and despising the unfortunate. And it is doubtful this will be soon.’
Excerpt 2-Notes about Cleanthes, Pericytes, Anaximander and Philolaos
From page 169 to 172
‘…In the ‘Timaeus’, Plato speaks of space as a figure of something that correspond to what the Virgin represents in the Christian doctrine (always intact matrice, mother giving birth through the union with a divine model, reality that participates of the spiritual realm in unconceivable way, etc…). However, the Epitomis (Via-Hygeia note: the ideal example) speaks of the predestination of the plane figures, therefore of space, for the miraculous operation of mediation.
Here was the discovery that intoxicated the Greeks: The reality of the sensible universe is composed by a necessity whose laws are the symbolical expression of the mysteries of faith. (Perhaps it was always known, but hidden within secrets doctrines and the Greeks may have re-discovered it.) It was probably known by the first Christians. There must be here a symbolic hint of sort in the marvelous and incomprehensible words by Saint Paul: ‘Be rooted and have your foundations in Love, so to have the strength to fathom, together with all the saints, what are the width, length, height and depth if not the love of Christ, which transcends knowledge.‘ (Ephesian, III, 17-19).
The amount of texts that are marvelously beautiful but rather incomprehensible contained within the Gospel demonstrate obviously that a very precious part of the Christian doctrine has vanished. Most probably it was systematically destroyed. In order to eradicate a faith, there is no better method than to exterminate those who propagate it, and then to make it the official ‘pump & doctrine’ of an idolatrous state. Then, follows the extermination of those who differ, ‘the heretics’, and nothing is more simple to add to them the people who preserved the authentic faith. After that, people like Saint Augustine are canonized.
We fully comprehend nowadays to what extent this operation has succeeded, because after twenty centuries, the spirit of Pagan Rome has spilled over the whole the universe- us included. If indeed the gates of Hell have not prevailed, it only means that the true faith still lives secretly in the heart of some hidden beings. But very hidden.
It is extraordinary that we give the official adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire as a proof that the blood of the martyrs had prevailed over their persecutors, but it is in reality the other way around, it is the proof that the persecution had succeeded to such an incredible extent. As a matter of fact, at the time of Augustus, the mysteries of Eleusis, even though confined to a pitiful carricature, did not let themselves being transformed into the official roman religion. Furthermore, either the Roman empire, faking to adopt the Christian religion but did indeed conned it, or the Apocalypse was mistaken. Because, even though Rome is not represented by the Beast, as it is said sometimes, there is no doubt that it is represented by ‘the woman bearing all the names of blasphemy, thirsty of the blood of saints, mother of all fornications and abominations upon earth, seated on the seven hills‘. It would be a lie, if the Roman Empire would have been deemed worthy of receiving baptism.
The decision of Constantine to promulgate Christianity as official religion of the Roman Empire and the Albigensian Crusade or the Cathar Crusade were the two main subsequent catastrophes in the history of Christianity. Saint Augustine followed the events of the first, and Saint Thomas of Aquino the events of the second.
‘In regards to nature and harmony, here is what it is. What constitutes the eternal essence of things and nature itself is the object of divine knowledge and not human, except for the following: It would not be possible for anything that exists to be known by us if the essence of the things that make up the order of the world did not exist from the beginning, both the determinate reality and the indeterminate reality. Since in the beginning there are dissimilar and different principles, it would be impossible for there to be an order of the world from them if harmony were not added, in whatever way it may occur. Similar things of the same kind do not need harmony. Those that are not similar or of the same kind or rank must be held in check by a harmony capable of enclosing them in an order of the world.‘ (Diels, I, 408-409, fragment 6). (note: This is very similar to what Anna Kingsford writes in ‘Concerning the Gods‘)
Obscure text, but marvelous. It brings to mind the saying of Christ: ‘I am the door‘ and of Saint Paul: ‘Through Him everything are reconciled in Him; He has established in peace-by the mean of the blood of the Cross-what is on earth, as well what is in Heaven.’ (Col, I, 20). And finally, Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees: ‘Woe upon you, as you have taken away the keys of understanding!‘ (Luc, XI, 52). (Via-Hygeia Note: It is written ‘knowledge‘, but in this context, ‘understanding‘ seems to bring more sense.)