Christian Fragments

Quotes on faith, love, story by JP the Great, Tolkien, Lewis, Balthasar and other notable Christian writers 

"We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his son." ~ John Paul the Great (WYD Homily Toronto, July 28, 2002)

"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." ~ Hans Urs von Balthasar

"Genuine faith: it is absolute dedication to things which are not seen, but which are capable of filling and ennobling a whole life." ~ John Paul the Great

"Faith is the ability to go beyond our own human, intramundane and personal truth and apprehend the absolute truth of the God who unveils and offers himself to us, acknowledging it to be the greater truth, allowing it to be the decisive factor in our lives" (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer [trans. G. Harrison; San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986] 33).
"In the study of creatures one should not exercise a vain and perishing curiosity, but ascend toward what is immortal and everlasting." ~ St. Augustine

“Seek the reason why God created, for that is true wisdom.” ~ St. Maximus the Confessor

"The less perfect is ordered to the more perfect as toward its end." ~ Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

"Love consists of a commitment which limits one's freedom -- it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one's freedom on behalf of the other. Limitation of one's freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love. If freedom is not, is not taken advantage by love it becomes a negative thing and gives human beings a feeling of emptiness and unfulfilment. Love commits freedom and imbues it with that to which the will is naturally attracted -- goodness." ~ Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 135.

"Nothing is inexorable but love. ... For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected -- not in itself, but in the object. ... Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love's kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire. ... Can it be any comfort to them to be told that God loves them so that He will burn them clean? ... They do not want to be clean, and they cannot bear to be tortured. ... When we say that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless? No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. ... The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear. ... For that which cannot be shaken shall remain. That which is immortal in God shall remain in man. The death that is in them shall be consumed. It is the law of Nature -- that is, the law of God --that all that is destructible shall be destroyed." ~ George MacDonald

"For He regards men not as they are merely, but as they shall be; not as they shall be merely, but as they are now growing, or capable of growing, toward that image after which He made them that they might grow to it. Therefore a thousand stages, each in itself all but valueless, are of inestimable worth as the necessary and connected gradations of an infinite progress. A condition which of declension would indicate a devil, may of growth indicate a saint." ~ George MacDonald

"What the Christian is obliged to bring about is granted him by Christ as already effected, without however removing the necessity for striving after perfection...His death and resurrection, as an accomplished fact, was the grace communicated to them, and this primary grace of Christ became the ethical ideal they were called to realize subsequently." ~ Balthasar

"For the Son is not just any word, but the Word breathing love." ~ St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, q. 43, a. 5, ad 2.

"Faith presupposes reason and perfects it; and reason, illuminated by faith, finds the power to elevate itself to an awareness of God and of Spiritual realities." ~ Pope Benedict XVI, "Angelus"

"For each, God has a different response. With every man He has a secret—the secret of a new name. In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter." ~ George MacDonald

"Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good; Love alone lightens every burden, and makes the rough places smooth. It bears every hardship as thought it were nothing, and renders all bitterness sweet and acceptable. The love of Jesus is noble, and inspires us to great deeds; it moves us always to desire perfection." ~ Thomas a Kempis

"Take for your motto: Love has conquered me, it alone shall possess my heart." ~ St. Margaret Mary

"A Christian should always remember that the value of his good works is not based on their number and excellence, but on the love of God which prompts him to do these things." ~ St. John of the Cross

"A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works; indeed, he certainly won't know how it works until he's accepted it." ~ C. S. Lewis

"Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance." ~ C. S. Lewis, "Heaven"

"Man is the perfection of the Universe. The spirit is the perfection of man. Love is the perfection of the spirit, and charity that of love. Therefore, the love of God is the end, the perfection of the Universe." ~ St. Francis de Sales

"One who prays truly will be a theologian, one who is a theologian will pray truly." ~ Evagrius Pontus

"When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o'clock. We must answer that it is magic. It is not a 'law,' for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. ...The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, 'charm,' 'spell,' 'enchantment.' They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched." ~ G.K. Chesterton, "The Ethics of Elfland"

"I decline to show any respect for those who first of all clip the wings and cage the squirrel, rivet the chains and refuse the freedom, close all the doors of the cosmic prison on us with a clang of eternal iron, tell us that our emancipation is a dream and our dungeon a necessity; and then calmly turn round and tell us they have a freer thought and a more liberal theology." ~ G.K. Chesterton, Everlasting Man, "Escape from Paganism" 2.5. In the same context Chesterton responds to "intelligent sceptics" who say that our "dogma" is "too good to be true" and "too liberal to be likely": "We say not lightly but very literally, that the truth has made us free. They say that it makes us so free that it cannot be the truth." ~ G.K. Chesterton

"It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart's choice. It is spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling that excludes, that, in our microcosm, kills the image, the idea of the hated." ~ George MacDonald

"No man who will not forgive his neighbor, can believe that God is willing, yea wanting, to forgive him. ... If God said, 'I forgive you' to a man who hated his brother, and if (as impossible) that voice of forgiveness should reach the man, what would it mean to him? How much would the man interpret it? Would it not mean to him 'You may go on hating. I do not mind it. You have had great provocation and are justified in your hate'? No doubt God takes what wrong there is, and what provocation there is, into the account: but the more provocation, the more excuse that can be urged for the hate, the more reason, if possible, that the hater should be delivered from the hell of his hate. ... Every sin meets with its due fate -- inexorable expulsion from the paradise of God's Humanity. He loves the sinner so much that He cannot forgive him in any other way than by banishing from his bosom the demon that possesses him." ~ George MacDonald

"The longer I looked into it the more I came to suspect that I was perceiving a universal law. ... The woman who makes a dog the centre her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication....Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made.
Apparently the world is made that way. If Esau really got the pottage in return for his birthright, then Esau was a lucky exception. You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, What things are first? is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone....What is the first thing? The only reply I can offer here is that if we do not know, then the first and only truly practical thing is to set about finding out." ~ C.S. Lewis

Tolkien on the Gospel's Truth

"The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essences of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels — peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: 'mythical' in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfilment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. The story begins and ends in joy. It has preeminently the 'inner consistency of reality.' There is no tale ever that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.…To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be primarily true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythological or allegorical significance that it had possessed.…The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the 'happy ending.'"
J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories,” reprinted in The Tolkien Reader (New York: Ballantine, 1966) 71–73.

Lewis on Myth in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings

"The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by "the veil of familiarity". The child enjoys his cold meat (otherwise dull to him‚ by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat. If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves. This book applies the treatment not only to bread or apple but to good and evil, to our endless perils, our anguish, and our joys. By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly. I do not think he could have done it in any other way."

Happiness, by Malcolm Muggeridge

"The pursuit of happiness, in any case, soon resolves itself into the pursuit of pleasure, something quite different—a mirage of happiness, a false vision of shade and refreshment seen across parched sand.
Where, then, does happiness lie ? In forgetfulness, not indulgence, of the self. In escape from sensual appetites, not in their satisfaction. We live in a dark, self-enclosed prison which is all we see or know if our glance is fixed ever downwards. To lift it upwards, becoming aware of the wide, luminous universe outside—this alone is happiness. At its highest level such happiness is the ecstasy which mystics have inadequately described. At more humdrum levels it is human love; the delights and beauties of our dear earth, its colours and shapes and sounds; the enchantment of understanding and laughing, and all other exercise of such faculties as we possess; the marvel of the meaning of everything, fitfully glimpsed, inadequately expounded, but ever-present.
Such is happiness—not compressible into a pill; not translatable into a sensation; lost to whoever would grasp it to himself alone, not to be gorged out of a trough, or torn out of another's body, or paid into a bank, or driven along a motorway, or fired in gun-salutes, or discovered in the stratosphere. Existing, intangible, in every true response to life, and absent in every false one. Propounded through the centuries in every noteworthy word and thought and deed. Expressed in art and literature and music; in vast cathedrals and tiny melodies; in everything that is harmonious, and in the unending heroism of imperfect men reaching after perfection.
When Pastor Bonhoeffer was taken off by his Nazi guards to be executed, as I have read, his face was shining with happiness, to the point that even those poor clowns noted it. In that place of darkest evil, he was the happiest man—he, the executed. I find this an image of supreme happiness."
[BBC broadcast, 10.5.1965; source]
Finding Faith, according to Malcolm Muggeridge

"...[F]or me, at any rate, doubt has been an integral part of coming to have faith; nor has there been, as I've said, any dramatic moment, any time when there it was, like has happened, for instance, to Pascal -- people like that -- or to Augustine. It's a process which I am quite sure will certainly continue until I depart from this life, which I shall fairly soon, and which maybe goes on into the next life for all I know; but an integral part of belief is to doubt. Now, why did this longing for faith assail me? Insofar as I can point to anything it is to do with this profession which both you and I followed of observing what's going on in the world and attempting to report and comment thereon, because that particular occupation gives one a very heightened sense of the sheer fantasy of human affairs -- the sheer fantasy of power and of the structures that men construct out of power -- and therefore gives one an intense, overwhelming longing to be in contact with reality. And so you look for reality and you try this and try that, and ultimately you arrive at the conclusion -- great oversimplification -- that reality is a mystery. The heart of reality is a mystery."
Mugg's interviewer, William F. Buckley, asked him "why should that mystery lead you to Christian belief?" Mugg's reply:

"Because it leads you to God. The mystery - and I think the best expression for it I've ever read is in a book I'm very fond of and I'm sure you know, called The Cloud of Unknowing, and it's when you are aware of the cloud of unknowing that you begin to know, and what you know - to simplify and put it very simply, is God. That's the beginning of faith for me."
[Firing Line interview; 9.6.1980]

***

“Child, if you will, it is mythology. It is but truth, not fact: an image, not the very real. But then it is My mythology. The words of Wisdom are also myth and metaphor: but since they do not know themselves for what they are, in them the hidden myth is master, where it should be servant: and it is but of man’s inventing. But this is My inventing, this is the veil under which I have chosen to appear even from the first until now. For this end I made your senses and for this end your imagination, that you might see my face and live. What would you have? Have you not heard among the Pagans the story of Semele? Or was there any age in any land when men did not know that corn and wine were the blood and body of a dying and yet living God?” (Pilgrim's Regress IX, v)