Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Pope on the nature and state of man

The quake in Italy was felt in Rome. There are those who will say it was 'an act of God', those who will say it was 'a sign' and those who will gather in St Peter's Square in Rome at the weekend and 'pray for the victims'. The rescue of a 98-year old will be hailed as a miracle.

When we reflect, as we do during times of tragedy, on the nature and state of man and his religious and ethical institutions, in this case they are to be found in Rome, do we do right to wonder for example if any Mexican gold from the time of Columbus fell from the ceiling of the Vatican during the shaking of the earth, or if any hairline cracks appeared in the mighty Vatican dome?

There will be those who will point out that quakes are common in Italy, a land that is in geological reality a part of Africa; a continent pushing its way with a boat-people's persistence into Europe. In fact it could have been a lot worse. It will get a lot worse. Italy is the site of the mighty and dependable Vesuvius who sits quietly smoking his pipes and waiting for the moment of his next fiery outburst.

"alike in ignorance [...] created half to rise"

Of the Nature and State of Man With Respect to Himself, as an Individual

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the skeptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer,
But born to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)


  1. Too true - oh too true Poet.
    Did you know that in the developing world twenty seven thousand babies die every day? That puts this earthquake into some kind of perspective I think.

  2. Managed (eventually) to see the photographs. Is the one you like best - the one of Judas - the fifth one along? I really enjoyed looking at them>
    I "did" Harrison Birtwistle at University - so know quite a bit about him and his work - quite a man I think.
    PS Is the photograph of you and if so what are you holding on the end of that blue string? I was hoping it was a dog but it looks more like a pile of stones.

  3. Weaver, thanks for the info about the babies which, as you say, puts things in perspective. The latest news from Italy is that the other Pope, not Alexander the poet, is to visit the earthquake zone the week after next. PM Silvio B is already there and has angered survivors in tents by telling them to think of it as 'a camping holiday'. Normally I'm critical of the 3-B's (Bush, Blair, Belusconi) but this time I think I understand Silvio B. and he has a point. Put a brave face on it he is saying, try and take something positive from the experience, keep your chins up. Do not be defeatist.
    Yes, Judas photo is I think 5th along. He stands alone looking up. Clear voice, good delivery, fine acting.
    If you click on my picture it should enlarge. You will see it's a cable and that it's fastened to a rock.


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