Friday, January 27, 2012

The Inner Mountain

"But when [Antony] saw himself beset by many, and not suffered to withdraw himself according to his intent as he wished…he considered and set off to go into the upper Thebaid, among those to whom he was unknown… While he was considering these things, a voice came to him from above, 'Antony, where are you going and why?' But he no way disturbed, but as he had been accustomed to be called often thus, giving ear to it, answered, saying, 'Since the multitude permit me not to be still, I wish to go into the upper Thebaid on account of the many hindrances that come upon me here, and especially because they demand of me things beyond my power.' But the voice said unto him, 'Even though you should go into the Thebaid, or even though, as you have in mind, you should go down to the Bucolia, you will have to endure more, aye, double the amount of toil. But if you wish really to be in quiet, depart now into the inner desert.' And when Antony said, 'Who will show me the way for I know it not?' immediately the voice pointed out to him Saracens about to go that way. So Antony approached, and drew near them, and asked that he might go with them into the desert. And they, as though they had been commanded by Providence, received him willingly. And having journeyed with them three days and three nights, he came to a very lofty mountain, and at the foot of the mountain ran a clear spring, whose waters were sweet and very cold; outside there was a plain and a few uncared-for palm trees.

"Antony then, as it were, moved by God, loved the place, for this was the spot which he who had spoken with him by the banks of the river had pointed out… [H]e went over the land round the mountain, and having found a small plot of suitable ground, tilled it; and having a plentiful supply of water for watering, he sowed. This doing year by year, he got his bread from thence, rejoicing that thus he would be troublesome to no one, and because he kept himself from being a burden to anybody. But after this…he cultivated a few pot-herbs, that he who came to him might have some slight solace after the labour of that hard journey."

—Athanasius, Life of Antony

"The desert…where the strong, independent spirits withdraw and become lonely—oh, how different it looks from the way educated people imagine a desert!—for in some cases they themselves are this desert, these educated people. And it is certain that no actor of the spirit could possibly endure life in it—for them it is not nearly romantic or Syrian enough, not nearly enough of a stage desert! To be sure, there is no lack of camels in it; but that is where the similarity ends. A voluntary obscurity perhaps; an avoidance of oneself; a dislike of noise, honor, newspapers, influence; a modest job, an everyday job, something that conceals rather than exposes one; an occasional association with harmless, cheerful beasts and birds whose sight is refreshing; mountains for company…—that is what ‘desert’ means here: oh, it is lonely enough, believe me!"

—Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

"[Curiositas] reaches the extreme of its destructive and eradicating power when it builds itself a world according to its own image and likeness: when it surrounds itself with the restlessness of a perpetual moving picture of meaningless shows, and with the literally deafening noise of impressions and sensations breathlessly rushing past the windows of the senses. Behind the flimsy pomp of its façade dwells absolute nothingness; it is a world of, at most, ephemeral creations, which often within less than a quarter hour become stale and discarded, like a newspaper or magazine swiftly scanned or merely perused; a world which, to the piercing eye of the healthy mind untouched by its contagion, appears like the amusement quarter of a big city in the hard brightness of a winter morning: desperately bare, disconsolate, and ghostly.

"The destructiveness of this disorder which originates from, and grows upon, obsessive addiction, lies in the fact that it stifles man's primitive power of perceiving reality; that it makes man incapable not only of coming to himself but also of reaching reality and truth.

"If such an illusory world threatens to overgrow and smother the world of real things, then to restrain the natural wish to see takes on the character of a measure of self-protection and self-defense. Studiositas, in this frame of reference, primarily signifies that man should oppose this virtually inescapable seduction with all the force of selfless self-preservation; that he should hermetically close the inner room of his being against the intrusively boisterous pseudo-reality of empty shows and sounds. It is in such an asceticism of cognition alone that he may preserve or regain that which actually constitutes man's vital existence: the perception of the reality of God and His creation, and the possibility of shaping himself and the world according to this truth, which reveals itself only in silence."

—Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues

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