Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


VDMA

Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.


Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

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16 September 2010

Wheel-Of-Fortune. Rota For-tuna.

Trying to capture the phrase like the start of the TV show, not sure if it works.

While we're on my namesake Terence, there's quite a story behind the fact that an apparently purely entertainment -- OK some might say mindless -- TV game show actually references one of the more important topics in philosophy with a history back to ancient Rome and an influence for centuries thereafter.

It all comes from the Latin phrase "Fortes fortuna adiuvat" which is usually translated "fortune favours the brave" and generally taken to mean than those who take risks, or at least action, are going to be luckier, or at least get more results, in life than those who don't.

There's a bit more to it than that. Here it is.

First, the phrase itself. I think I learned it "Fortuna fortes adiuvat". OK, "adiuvat" is the verb and verbs go at the end of a sentence in Latin, so at least that part's right. It means "helps" or "assists" or "aids", and you can see it in the English word "adjutant", which means a helper, or assistant, or aide. So what's "fortes"? The direct object of the verb, the one helped or assisted or aided, and means "the brave" or "the strong", and you can see it in the English word "fortitude" for courage aka guts or grit.

So, the generally accepted Latin form is "fortes fortuna adiuvat" and the generally accepted English translation is "fortune favours the brave", and it was widely used as a proverb and first appears in a play by Terence, namely, line 203 of Phormio. End of story? Oh hell no.

For one thing, the first of many, some Latin scholars contend that it should be fortis fortuna adiuvat. Huh? Well, Latin is an infllected language, which means that the function of words is shown by differences in how the word ends rather than by prepositions and word order as in English. These differences are classified into typical uses of words, called cases, and direct objects, which are that to which the action of the verb is applied, go in what is called the accusative case.

Some say that while "fortes" is the overall ending of the word in the plural accusative in Latin generally, in Terence' time, which was the era of the Roman Republic, before the Roman Empire -- Terence lived from either 195 or 185, depending on which ancient source got it right, to 159 BC, which according to some ancient sources was when he was lost at sea, making him either 26 or 36 when he died -- the accusative plural was then fortis, not fortes, and so in his play it's actually fortis fortuna adiuvat. I ain't got a copy of the Latin text so maybe Father Hollywood can jump in and check that out for me.

The next thing is, fortes literally means the strong, as in physically powerful, not the brave, but just like "strength" itself, the word took on a figurative meaning of brave or courageous from the associated connotation of those characteristics with the physically strong -- like we may say "Be strong" meaning to man up and get through it rather than start working out. So that makes it literally "fortune favours the strong".

Next thing, about the verb. "Favours" is a little different than "aids' or "assists". "Favours" is more a general reference to your overall chances, but "aids" or "assists" or "helps" means that someone or something is actually actively helping or assisting you. That's a real big difference, and that's where "fortuna" comes in. The word is obviously the root of the English words "fortune", "fortunately" and the like, but while now it's like random chance or good luck or something like that, in Latin and to the ancient Romans it wasn't just that but the goddess Fortuna in charge of it. So that makes it more like the goddess "Fortuna helps the strong".

That was a real big deal. Fortuna's sacred day was 11 June -- holy crap, that's the day before my damn birthday, and holy crap again the later state church of the Roman Empire, which still survives in an RC or EO parish near you, has holy days for its "saints" still! -- and the cult of Fors Fortuna (hey, there's that "strong" thing again) was found all over the Roman world and was a festival on 24 June.

Now Fortuna was known as Tyche to the Greeks, from whom the Romans took much of their original state religion, and as Tyche was all over the Greek world before the Roman world. The Roman name comes from Vortumna, which means "she who spins the year" and if you're paying attention, there you go with a "wheel of Fortuna" as she spins the year and what happens to you shakes out. Thing is though, you don't get to buy any damn letters to move things in your, uh, favour, so instead, you'd better hit her temple and make her happy or else just say she's a fickle whore who does what she damn well pleases, both opinions and behaviours common in the ancient world.

Now is this just some more musty old stuff from Past Elder? Hey why do you think books with titles like "Purpose Driven Life" and "Man's Search For Meaning" are best sellers for years? Why do you think people say "shit happens"? Judas H Priest, the whole question of is life just a bunch a random stuff that happens without any meaning or any ability to change it much or does it have a meaning, maybe even a reason or purpose, and you can get in there and affect it, has been bugging Mankind since there's been Mankind. It's the biggest question of all -- Why?

So we've got the wheel of the goddess Fortuna, and the original Wheel of Fortune, which is Rota Fortuna in Latin. As she spins the wheel, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, stuff just seems to happen, and here we are wondering if there's any rhyme or reason to it, to life. A lot people still wonder like that.

Another guy from Carthage, good old Augustine, took her on in De civitaitis Dei contra Paganos (On the City of God Against the Pagans). By his time the phrase was commonplace and had been used and/or quoted by heavyweights of Roman literature. Pliny uses it in his Epistles (don't freak, no lost works of the Bible here, just means "letters"). Cicero referred to it as a proverb. Virgil used it in the Aeneid (Book Ten, Line 284) as audentis fortuna iuvat. Audentis is where English gets audacious, iuvat is just plain helps, the "ad" intensifies the intention toward (that's what ad is, toward) someone, so you get the idea. And Ovid topped that in his Metamorphoses (10/86), saying not just Fortuna but God himself helps the bold. Well OK he actually wrote audentes deus ipse iuvat.

Gus wrote The City of God right after the Visigoths trashed Rome in 410. The Romans were wondering if maybe that happened because the state had abandoned traditional Roman religion for the new state Catholic Church, established by the co-emperors Theodosius in the East and Gratian and Valentinian II in the West with the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380, as we saw in the post a few days ago here. As part of making the case that this is not so, he says Fortune, since she brings good things to good and bad people alike is unworthy of worship -- his answer to why good things happen to bad people I guess, along with why abandoning stuff like that didn't bring down the whole damn Empire.

But Boethius, writing over a century later, about 524, as he was waiting to be executed, took a different slant on Fortuna. Holy crap, executed for what? Well, more Goths, this time of the Ostro kind. Visigoths were from what is now Spain, Ostro or East Goths were from the Balkans. The Western Roman Empire was gone by then, the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustus, having been deposed by Odoacer, of uncertain origin though his name is Germanic, on 4 September 476. Theodoric and Odoacer's forces slugged it out all over Italy. Both these guys were Arian Christians. Anyway, a treaty was signed and a celebration arranged, at which Theodoric proposed a toast then killed Odoacer personally.

Theodoric was interested in keeping the culture and institutions of the Roman Empire going, and appointed Boethius his Master of Offices (magister officiorum), the head of the government bureaucracy. Theodoric was educated in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Empire, and kind of worked out a deal where the defeated Roman could continue their thing under his rule while the Goths continued the Goth thing. As part of this, Theodoric, though an Arian, was pretty favourable toward the Pope, head of the Catholic Church, about the only major institution of the Roman Empire in the West to surivive. Theodoric was effectively but unofficially the new Western Roman Emperor.

Boethius, a Roman, was a Trinitarian, or Nicene, Christian, which is to say Christian in the usual sense now, and eventually Theodoric, the Arian Christian, came to distrust him, thinking he might be more in sympathy with the effective AND official emperor of the surviving Eastern Roman Empire, Justin, also a Nicene Christian. So he ordered him tried and executed for treason. Thing is, while he is awaiting execution, he writes this book, one of the most influential books ever and for some time THE most influential book in philosophy, as a consolation, but it's not the Consolation of Christianity but the Consolation of Philosophy. Well, De consolatione philosophiae, actually. Christianity is never mentioned or treated by name, but it sounds a lot like Christianity, and that's because since Augustine Christianity sounded a lot like Plato.

The basic idea of the Consolation is pure Platonism -- even if everything looks like it's going right straight to hell it ain't. Now you might say well hell, don't Christians believe that too, and yes they do but with a different idea about why that is. For Christians it's not just a matter of an ideal world that is truly real beyond the mess we see, old Fortuna spinning her wheel, here in what appears to be real.

But Boethius, and this is typical of everything about him, blended Christianity and Roman/Greek philosophy to-gether, so that while Fortuna may indeed spin her wheel, apparently at random and pretty much indifferent to the results, nonetheless, distinct from Gus' take that therefore she is unworthy of worship, she is herself subject to God and her effects and any other such effects all bend to the unseen plan of God, so it's all good even when it looks like pure crap. So the Consolation is kind of like the Book of Esther, in which as the rabbis pointed out God is not mentioned yet he is everywhere present in it.

OK full disclosure, some read him yet, including me. I like the dude. He was on a mission, and the mission was, to pass on the learning and wisdom of the Greek/Roman world falling apart to the new world emerging from it. In which he translated in the new language of learning, Latin, the great works of classic learning in Greek.

Hell, I wrote my damn doctoral dissertation on him, specifically his attempt to pass on the system for organising and teaching knowledge outlined in De arithmetica, which you may have heard of as the Seven Liberal Arts, and more specifically on his four-fold division of one of those arts, called musica but it means a hell of a lot more than we do by that, what we mean by music being the lowest level of it and best left to the uneducated. Well hell, you didn't think the future Past Elder was gonna write another music theory dissertation in which some obscure piece or musical relationship is analysed into further obscurity while putting everyone who isn't into such things, which is nearly everyone, to bloody sleep, now did you? Hell no.

Boethius succeeded in his mission. His works would form the backbone of the learning system for centuries in the new world that emerged from the ancient. The Consolation was one of the bedrocks of education and formation for hundreds and hundreds of years to come. King Alfred of old England, Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth (not the current one the first one, Judas) all translated it, it's all over Dante and Chaucer's original works, Shakespeare too, and students read and studied it for a thousand years after.

The Wheel of Fortune was, and endures as, an allegory. You can get all hung up in why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people and whether there's anything to life but a bunch of stuff that happens and then you die, but what you gotta see is that the wheel keeps on turning. Big wheel keeps on turning, proud Mary keeps on burning, just like Tina Turner said. Things change, and you can't get all hung up on one point in the process. The mighty fall, the lowly rise. Riding high in April, shot down in May, like the Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon song written for Sinatra says. Hey, that made it into the Tony Hawk video game Underground 2.

Stay in the process, not one point of it, and that applies equally to when things look good as to when things look bad. You can't put your trust in any one point, whether you like that point or not, in the process, because the process is gonna keep right on processing. There ain't no Fortuna, and the process itself ain't God either. And just like Boethius -- not to mention St Paul -- said, there is a God and while things aren't all good all things do work to-gether for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Fortune does favour the brave. And as Ovid tweaked it, God himself's gonna help ya. Except Ovid didn't know how. None of us (Mankind) do, did, or can, which is why the whole life thing bugs us so much and we come up with all sorts of answers to it. God himself helps you with finding out how too. He reveals it, first in the Law of Moses, then in the Gospel, or Good News, of Jesus Christ. The wheel stops there even if it keeps on turning in the world. Sooner or later the world is gonna stop too. But the good news is, you're free even when you remain here, Jesus paid your price on the cross, he gives you new life in him in Baptism, his Law and Gospel are proclaimed to you in preaching by the Office of Holy Ministry, and he gives you his body and blood in Holy Communion that he gave for you at Calvary as his sure pledge.

Besides, Vanna is way better looking than any representation I ever saw of Fortuna. It didn't occur to me while it was happening, but it's kind of a wild ride that a guy who doesn't start out with the name Terence says something that goes right into Boethius, the major force in the intellectual transition from the ancient world to the modern one, then as the postmodern one is emerging from that another guy who doesn't start out with the name Terence becomes a Philosophiae doctor writing about it for the postmodern world.

So take it from Terence, either one of us -- Fortuna fortes adjuvat. Yeah I know I wrote adiuvat above but since I'm saying it as I remember being taught it I'm writing it with the spelling more common to ecclesiastical Latin as I was taught to write and pronounce it. But more importantly, take it from God how that works out, as he revealed it to us in the Law and Gospel of Scripture.

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