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40 Posts

Posted - 02 Oct 2004 :  17:01:31  

The element of air according to Isidore of Seville(b 560), the brother of Bishop Leander of Seville, was the essential and constant element that illuminated the conduct and deeds of the strong and wise man throughout the trails of his particular and, very often hazardous journey against the course of fate. Isidore identifies both the Homeric epics and the Book of Job as heroic poems ("heroicum carmen") that represent the hero as a strong and wise man ("propeter sapientiam et fortitudinem") who overcomes his temporal nature, and the walls of fate for a greater coming-to-perfection, in which the hero substantiates and eclipses the human possibility of all mankind by his adherence to a divinity reached only by endurance, remembrance, strength and wisdom. These heroes who are the pivot subjects of these texts are literally depicted as airy men who are worthy of heaven (“viri quasi aerei et coele digni”) because of their abundant wisdom and fortitude (“vir fortis et sapiens”). The word air Isidore explains as that which derives from the name of the Greek goddess Hera who represents the heavenly realm (aer) where heroes (“viros aerios”) desire to dwell (“ubi volunt Heroas habitare”).

The word dwell may seem a peculiarly laden and immobile word when it’s associated with the insuperable desire of the hero or wise man whose constitutional sapience indwells not in external appearances but rather in the source of knowledge itself ("ad cogtionem suam”) as a form of spiritual enclosure in his own being. Often blindness becomes the defining metaphor for wisdom, in that this insensible knowledge often faithfully reminds the hero about the true causes of outward misfortunes and temptations during his taxing tribulations which are frequently accompanied by despairing moments of dark, abysmal anguish. Yet it is what is called fate, that brings these men into the possibility of dwelling, of self-knowledge, and of being open towards the true desire or calling to become what is remembered or carried forthwith by what indwells and brings forth the wise man into those virtues whose fuller sense of actually being is realized in this knowledge not generated within the natural cyclical process of time nor the delineations of a strictly limited sense of human justice.

It is in the element of air, as in the symbols of sky and cloud, of sun, stars and moon, of poetry, music, abstraction, of those spirits of the air that haunt the imagination of the spiritual landscape from whence the wise man mediates under and wishes to think and dwell within. Within this distinctive quality of air which Gregory the Great responds too when he describes Job as not merely a hero who outwits fate by intelligence and strength in order to return to his true Homeland like Odysseus, but also as a philosopher who is a wise man (consiliator) through sorrowing (dolens); Jobs thoughts have hastened from temporal to eternal things, and although still in the world, mentally he passes beyond it, where he dwells near the order of true being (“mente iam extra mundum surgit”). To do so is to share in the immutability and perfection of the angelic nature through the awareness of ones own mutability, the wayfarer who like Job is steadfast in endurance (“quae manentia intus”) is one who is guided and instructed through the medium of the air, which represents the true substance of the wise one who no longer desires to remain with transitory things but to arrive at eternal source of things.

The Job who purposely sits upon his dunghill is also the Job whose being wishes to dwell in this immutable order which he can contemplate and experience in the ulcerous body which quickly returns to stench (“quod festine corpus ad fetorem rediret”) as noted by Gregory. The postlapsarian condition is one of mutability and bodily corruption, yet the desire too dwell in the heart of a perfected creation could not take seed without such mortal roots, that plant man literally in the clay of imperfection which allows Job to yearn for a fuller sense of being. The Job who angrily and bitterly curses his birth and by default the whole order of Gods creation upon the Earth, learns to endure, remember and refine his virtues through a higher spiritual sense analogous to taste (“dictus a sapore”) as he becomes naked by been exposed to the winds which loossen what is superflous and false to the being who is born too dwell wisely.

Dwelling or to dwell is related in English originally to the sense of how a person is, literally to be situated in a place, and it corresponds with the German word bauen (to build) which is intrinsically related to wohnen (to dwell). The German Philosopher Martin Heidegger presented an examination of these themes in a series of lectures in the early 1950s on “Building Dwelling Thinking” (“Bauen Wohen Denken”) were he signifies dwell to mean the way “we human beings are on the earth”. He also draws attention to the origins of the verb phuein, which also means the coming to light of things that grow in time from the earth skyward. The sky under which the Joban hero dwells as he sits upon his dung heap and, from which the “rulers and preservers of cities" according to Plato “who have set out from here” namely, from heaven (the realm of pure air), “return there” amongst the stars when human souls preserve their dignity by living according to reason; also implies that virtuous conduct and wisdom come only with the sense of true remembrance that requires not only fortitude, but also an act of imagination which allows the mind to speculate and the heart to settle around the source of what is as beautiful as it is perfect, and as noble as it is supremely good.

In German the word dwell also signifies delight and contentment which the wise man comes to know through the opening out into another form of being whilst he lives on the earth but comes to dwell elsewhere through the in-forming of this pre-existing and pre-dating being who needs yet desires not to be mortal in order to be. The bringing out or engendering of things in their true light is related to the fact that Job is a “true man” ("homo verus”) because he has safeguarded the timeless divine image within a mortal man in which he was created. In contrast when Odysseus returns home after his adventures he still lives but, even in this sanctuary he has striven hard and bravely to arrive at; his being now appears no longer to dwell or blaze inwardly as once it did, which is very different to Jobs whose heart has now become a total being who dwells elsewhere by overcoming life in the act of sensing and, becoming imtimate in the knowledge about the true source of its being.



615 Posts

Posted - 03 Oct 2004 :  13:46:31  


Hi James
What's the name of Isidore's work? Is it available on-line in English? It is very interesting (at least the way you present it).

Maybe the importance of air is also connected with aether, the higher and luminous part of air, a divine substance proper to the life of Gods - as I guess from the use of aer together with coelum and the etymology which connects it with Hera.
Another thing I'd like to understand in Isidore's text, is the wise man's fight against fate, because this (together with the notion of the hero and the cyclical process of time) certainly belongs to ancient concepts, the Christian concept being a fight against demons.

The connection of wisdom with taste is also very interesting, and I wish you told us more about it.

From what you say Isidore seems to present the saint as a hero, which means that what he achieves, it is achieved by his own powers. Yet this is not the case in Homer (where Odysseus is constantly being helped by Athena) and it is not the case with a saint, who is constantly being helped by Christ. Does Isidore write about the Hero/Saint actually seeing the Christ?

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40 Posts

Posted - 03 Oct 2004 :  22:03:11  


Hello George

Unfortunately there does not appear to be an English edition of Isidore's Moralia in Iob (A.D 595) on the Internet. The book I was using to quote from only had extracts of Isidore's text, so the complete edition in English may be hard enough to obtain. Anyway George, I shall try to expand on some of the interesting questions you raised, although it's possible more questions then answers will be the likely outcome!.

In Cicero's, De natura deorum the author states that nature raised mortal man up from the earth, giving them erect bodies, in order that, beholding the sky they might gain knowledge of the Gods: "ut deorum cognitioneum caelum intuentes capere possent". Thus it is the divine reason of the wise man who has penetrated and, dwelled well within the circuit of heaven that his deeds while living as a mortal man become identical with the divine ratio that governs the fated course of the material universe. Is it not a surprising fact that the hero in literature or in life is often seen to literally carry the fate or weight of destiny in the ethereal promptings of prophecy. The inattention or forgetfulness of the hero to remember their presence or too misread or ignore these divine prompts can prove fatally destructive for him or his city, state or country.

So it was with those traditional virtues of the battlefield which often became useless or unreliable, unless the hero possessed the intellectual virtues which granted him the ability to penetrate and read the wisdom of the divine order (literally to divine things well), which also meant that he had the constant capacity (like Job) to dwell upon these thoughts or signs that effected the course of fate in the material world of change.

Yet it is the gentile Job, a man selected from outside the House of Abraham in the land of Hus, who God choose out to be tested. It is not perhaps in this salient act of choosing this unhoused man of excellent veracity ("homo verus”) that the God of all creation decided to transpire and expand His wisdom beyond the bounds of a divine order in, which all the men of creation had became too familiar with, and consequentially lost the defining sense of awe and reverence which the divine order demands to be respected and honored with. Job who is this homo verus, represents a divine expansion of the covenant of the Jews, as his trueness should be seen in the context of him not been necessarily better or more virtuous than the Jews, but rather as a man who is as true as to everyman in any race or time, and this is what Jobs selection possibly signifies. Job it is said has "taught many" and "strengthen weary hands", and he praises the Lord as one "so wise in heart and mighty in strength" that no one (of any race) can resist Him.

Yet it is when Job responds to Yahweh’s majestic speech out of the whirlwind with the words "I know that thou canst do all things, and no thought is hid from thee" that we come to an understanding of how deeply Job compares and comprehends the nature of Gods faithfully love for him, this weak, sorrowing naked man who understands that his losses are of nothing in comparison with this vision of a Lord; who is wise, strong and loving to his faithful servants who honor the divinity and wisdom of creation.

In this creation there must be what the worldly Job once undertood as the unjust states of fortune in which Satan acts almost like a guardian against those who would "become as Gods" without suffering and been tested like Job who becomes the wise virtuous hero or saint by his mental constancy (constantia mentis) especially in equiring a self-knowledge that engenders and dwells near the divine source (We must remember that the stories of Satans fall particularly in the early Jewish and Sufi texts of the Arabs relates to the fact that he could not comphrehend how God could see fit to let such men of spiritual impurity (clay) become part of the divine order of being). Paradoxically it this archaic or irrational element which may be personified in Satan, with weapons of ill-fortune that produce the radical choice that allows God to fulfill His contract of bringing every being back to the source, by freely allowing the created man or woman to remember the incorruptible image that can only be found through tribulations similar to Jobs.

The platonic order that existed in the Hellenistic world as the heavenly realm, where the virtuous man not only sets his mind upon, but also his whole being and conduct towards while he is alive; is also the place that required that greatest preparation, virtue and wisdom to obtain. As it was Socrates who implied that so few men are ready to dwell in the divine order because of our dislike truth, virtue and wisdom, which he maintained required a sacrifice that both he and Job ultimately made.

It is perhaps this notion of sacrifice in the sufferings of Job, rather than the rational contemplation which Socrates used to exami life with, and which made him see his own death, calmly as if he were welcoming back a lost friend. It is this remarkable state of being that is quite alien to most men as so few ever acheive such a virtuous form of "divine rationalism" that was excersied constantly within him, like the body of a wrestler that becomes more firm and supple from going against a stronger opponent in the arena everyday. The wrestler is also a suitable symbol for Job, who unlike Socrates accepts the inherent irrationlism in life, which he overcomes by submitting to the divine wisdom of the Lord, whom he loves and will dwell with in perfection. Job becomes the natural prefiguration for Christ who also transforms the irrationalism of the created order by bringing order into it, not through the rare type of rationalism acheived by Socrates, but rather by infusing it with a greater form of irrationalism, namely eros, which Socrates also considered Mans greatest God.

Best regards

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