Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Sage advice from an African in times of trial
[W]hen good and bad men suffer alike, they are not, for that reason indistinguishable because what they suffer is similar. The sufferers are different even though the sufferings are the same trials; though what they endur is the same, their virtue and vice are different.

For, in the same fire, gold gleams and straw smokes; under the same flail the stalk is crushed and the grain threshed; the lees are not mistaken for oil because they have issued from the same press. So, too, the tide of trouble will test, purify, and improve the good, but beat, crush, and wash away the wicked So ti si that, under the weight of the same affliction, the wicked deny and blaspheme God, and the good pray to Him and praise Him. The difference is not in what people suffer but in the way they suffer. The same shaking that makes fetid water stink makes perfume issue a more pleasant odor.
--St. Augustine, City of God, book 1, chapter 8.
That is to say, we respond to adversity according to the habits (virtues) we have previously acquired. That is, for instance, one of the the purposes of mortifying oneself even of legitimate pleasure (I’m speaking here, of course, theoretically, not from personal experience)—to build virtues that will allow us to act appropriately in times of necessity. Thus, the early christians practiced extreme asceticism so that when they were confronted with martyrdom, they would have the courage to stand firm We are simply too flappy, too soft (which also, I believe, means that we are unable to genuinely gentle and compassionate).

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