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Locus Communis – Commonplace Book

ms327_merchants_commonplace_bookvenice_1312-resizedOriginally Published on May 20, 2013

Locus Communis – a theme or argument of general application. A commonplace book is a scrapbook or compilation of information the author of which deems important. They became popular in 15th century England and included quotes, tables of weights and measures, recipes, recipes for making medicines, prayers, what have you. I look at it as more of a journal of things I think worth notice and from time to time, I’ll be sharing some things from it.

The Order of Things

As part of my on-going reading project, I’ve read a bit from a book called, The Order of Things, by Fr. James Schall. Sometimes I think most anything written by Fr. Schall is worth reading. This quote reminds us to ask the important questions of ourselves, and really consider the answers we give; I think we should do so frequently.

By contrast, I have always particularly liked the practical common sense of an Aristotle, a Samuel Johnson, a G. K. Chesterton in these matters. “We must not think that the man who is to be happy will need many things or great things, merely because he cannot be supremely happy without external goods”, Aristotle told us. “For self-sufficiency and action do not involve excess, and we can do noble acts without ruling earth and sea; for even with moderate advantages one can act virtuously” (Ethics I 179a16). This passage is the great defense of the common man not merely in his daily affairs but in his own personal orientation to what is beyond himself. And if we can act virtuously at all, we already find ourselves subsequently oriented to things of truth that are, as it were, beyond virtue, wherein we begin to wonder about the whole order of things: How is it? Why is it? What is it for? How do I stand within it? — Fr James Schall, The Order of Things

Back at the turn of the century (at my age, I default to thinking about the turn of the 20th century, not the 21st), I had a blog in which I tried to write about the virtues. In my reading, I came across Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was impressed with that book, I thought it one of the few “time management” type books worth reading and I worked out that the 7 habits could be loosely compared to the 7 virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. I was always undecided just where the best fit was for beginning with the end in mind but felt hope was the best fit. In any case, no matter what you do in life, it’s always good to begin with the true end in mind, as Fr Schall mentions in this quote:

An ordered soul, therefore, will carefully examine each object or power within it and seek to rule it, that is, impose its prudential intellect on the act. This act is seen in the light of the soul’s end. It is to be noted that if we choose the wrong end, which we can, all our “virtues” will be conceived as guiding our particular acts of whatever area—courage, temperance, justice, anger—to this end, according to which we define our happiness. In this paradoxical sense, virtues can aid the effective accomplishment of vices. In other words, we can learn to rob a bank well—something that actually makes the fault or sin worse. — Fr James Schall, The Order of Things

Jesus of Nazareth

I’ve also been reading Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth.It seems, in light of current events, that our participation in God’s knowing is struggling against stronger and stronger forces trying to snuff it out.

But what is “God’s will”? How do we recognize it? How can we do it? The Holy Scriptures work on the premise that man has knowledge of God’s will in his inmost heart, that anchored deeply within us there is a participation in God’s knowing, which we call conscience (cf., for example, Rom 2:15). But the Scriptures also know that this participation in the Creator’s knowledge, which he gave us in the context of our creation “according to his likeness,” became buried in the course of history. It can never be completely extinguished, but it has been covered over in many ways, like a barely flickering flame, all too often at risk of being smothered under the ash of all the prejudices that have piled up within us. And that is why God has spoken to us anew, uttering words in history that come to us from outside and complete the interior knowledge that has become all too hidden. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism to the Transfiguration.

And finally, a little poetry from Sir Walter Ralegh —

Even such is Time

Even such is time that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days.
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust.

Sir Walter Ralegh (1554—1618)


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