St. Peter Damian, Omnipotence

Brandon’s post on St. Peter Damian inspired me to hobby translate the opening chapter of de divina omnipotentia (Spade’s translation, which Brandon links, skips over large swaths of text).  An enjoyable diversion, and an excellent precursor text for St. Anselm’s treatment of divine attributes in Proslogion!  I plan to go back to format and clean-up later, probably to set up a text for teaching St. Anselm in the future.  Still draft-y, but voici:

Who is snatched alone from the gales of the sea’s surge, while he sees still that a net endangers between the cliff and the rocks, between between threats and swelling heaps of waves, is inhuman if he does not deplore his allies laboring in distress.  I therefore, dismissed from the episcopate, rejoice that I am as one exposed on the sand; but that you by winds and blasts are ground, and bob among the gaping maws of the sea, I sigh not without fraternal compassion.  He errs, father, he errs, who pledges himself at the same time to be a monk, and to abandon care.  How wickedly he merits, who presumes to desert the monastic cloister that he may be hale to bailiff the soldiery of the world.  The healthy fish is plucked from the waves, not that he may live for himself, but that he may feed others.  We are called, we are drawn; but that we may live for others, let us die to ourselves; the hunter loves the stag, but that he may make it food for himself; he pursues the goat, he slays the hare; but, that he himself be well, those things nothing.  Men also love us, but not for us; they love for their own selves, they desire to turn us into their delicacies.  And while we describe them, small marvel, in exteriors, what repudiation do we give them other than our monk, who hides inwardly?

Quos nimirum dum in exteriora prosequimur, quid aliud quam monacho nostro, qui latebat intrinsecus, repudium damus?

Soon indeed is the state of life stretching toward highest things overturned, the rigor of discipline sapped, and libido suggests anything whatever for outflowing, prayer grows slack.  Whence it proceeds, and because now there occurs to memory: whether God be able to repair a virgin after ruin.  For whilesoever, as you may be able to remember, the two of us reclined at table, and there arrived in the middle in the words of Blessed Jerome; daringly, saith he, I say: although God be capable of all things, He is not able to restore a virgin after ruin.  A certain one is hale to free from pain, but not hale to crown the corrupted.  I although panicked, inasmuch as I, who dare not dispute lightly with the testimony of such a man, although to a like-souled father, to you that is, I said simply what I felt.  “This sentence,” I said, “I confess, was never able to please me.”  Not of course that I attend by whom it was said, but what is said.  Obviously it seems exceedingly ignoble that to Him who is capable of all things, so lightly be ascribed impossibility except under the sacrament of a higher (deeper?) intelligence.  You however responded from the contrary: “It is certain, what is said, and authentic enough, that God obviously is not able to restore a virgin after ruin.”  Whence by long and prolix argumentation running through many things, you arrived at such a close of your definition, when you said that God, for no other reason than this is not able, except that He does not will.

ad hoc tandem definitionis tuae clausulam perduxisti, ut diceres:

To which I: “If,” I said, “God is capable of none of those things which He does not will…yet nothing, except what He wills, does He do…then He is altogether able to do nothing that He does not do.  It follows then, as we should freely confess, that God today did not make it rain because He is not able; therefore He does not slay the wicked, therefore He does not free the saints from their oppressions.”  These things, and for that reason many others God does not do because He does not will, and because He dose not will, He is not able; it follows then that whatever God does not do, He is altogether not able to do.  Which thing assuredly seems so absurd  and so ridiculous that not only can such an assertion not be congruous to an omnipotent God, but it would not be able to suit a given fragile human.  Accordingly many are the things which we do not do, and nevertheless are able to do.  If ever ne’ertheless such a thing move us to investigate something in the mystic and allegoric Scriptures, [cante–I amend: caute] rather is it to be accepted cautiously and reverently than sticking close to the letters audaciously and freely to be advanced.  Thus is that thing, which was said by an Angel to Lot fleeing for Segor: “Hasten and be safe there, for I will be able to do nothing until you arrive there (Genesis 19:22)” and “It pains Me to have made man (Genesis 6:6)”  And because God guarding against the future, should be touched in the inward sorrow of heart, and many things of such kind.  If then any such thing be found inserted in the divine pages, it ought not be made trivial with a pushy and presumptive daring quickly and all over, but should be put forth under the modest discipline of sober speech;

non mox passim procaci ac praesumptiva vulgari debet audacia, sed sub modesta sobrii sermonis proferendum est disciplina;

for if this is diffused in common speech, so that God in some case–to say which is anathema–be claimed to be impotent, on the spot is an untutored people confounded, and Christian faith is disturbed not without great distress of souls.

In that plain mode God is said to be not capable of something how also to be ignorant: obviously whatever is evil, just as He cannot do it, so He does not know how to do it.  Indeed He is not able either so to deceive, or lie, or do anything unjust, although it be said through the prophet: “I the Lord forming light and creating shadows; making peace and creating evil (Isa. 65).” Or again what is said in the Gospel: “But concerning that day or hour, no one knows, neither angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24, Mark 13).”

hoc procul dubio intelligendum est, quod discipulus hoc tantummodo nesciat, qui sibi nil prorsus ignorat.

Far from doubt is this to be understood, that the disciple alone would not know this, who was ignorant of absolutely nothing in himself.  Since indeed Jesus, namely the Word of the Father, founded all times, all things accordingly were made through Him (John 1); by what consequence was He who knew All ignorant of the Day of Judgment, a mere part of time?  But above [about?] the same Savior wrote the Apostle: “In whom are all all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden (Colossians 2).”  Why then hidden, except that not manifest to all openly?  For about the same Day of Judgment after the Resurrection again having been queried by his disciples, He said: “It is not yours to know the times or the moments which the Father has placed in His power (Acts 1).”

Ac si dicat: Non vobis hoc expedit nosse, quatenus dubietatis ista suspensio in operibus pietatis vos magis, ac magis semper exerceat, et ab omni, si qua possit obrepere, vanitate compescat.

As if He would say: It is not useful for you to know this, how long that suspension of doubt should train you more and ever more in works of piety and, if ever it be able to sneak in, restrain you from every vanity.  He knows, then, for Himself, what He does not know for the apostles.

Quod in hoc procul dubio probat, cum Patrem, cum quo videlicet unum est, hoc nosse denuntiat: Ego enim, ait, et Pater unum sumus (Joan. x).

Which in this matter proves far from doubt, since it would deny that the Father, with Whom He obviously is One, knows this: “I indeed,” He says, “and the Father are One (John 10).”

Sic enim juxta verbi sonum, asserit se quasi nescire, quod Pater; sicut aliquando significatur quodammodo non habere, quod Pater.

So indeed [sticking close to the sound of the word] He asserts that He in a way does not know what the Father knows, just as other times is is signified in a way that He does not have what the Father has.

Whence it is also what the Apostle says: “When he will have handed over the Kingdom to God, and to the Father (I Cor 15),” as if while He held the kingdom, the Father did not; and when He will have handed it over to the Father, He would no longer hold it.  Since to hand over the Kingdom to God the Father, nothing else is joined to sober understanding, than to lead believers to contemplating the face of God the Father.  Then of course the Kingdom is handed over to God the Father by the Son, when, through the Mediator of God and humans, the multitude of the faithful are transferred into contemplation of eternal divinity; that is, when it is necessary no longer for the dispensation of similitudes through angels and principalities and powers and virtues: of whose person not unfittingly it is understood to be said in the Canticle of Canticles to the Beloved: “Similitudes of gold will we make for you with marks of silver until at last the king is in his chamber (Cant. 1),” that is, until at last Christ is in His secret place.  For our life is hidden with Christ in God: “When Christ,” it says, “our life shall appear, then also you will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 1).”  Before this happens, we see now through a glass in darkness, that is, in similitudes; then however face to face (I Cor 13).  Indeed this contemplation is promised to us the end of all actions, and eternal perfection of joys.  “Sons of God indeed are we, and not yet has it appeared what we will be. We know that when it appears, we will be like Him; for we will see him just as He is (I John 8).”  Which indeed He said in His servant Moses: “I am Who am (Exodus 3).”  And: “You will say therefore to the sons of Israel: Who Is has sent me to you. (John 17)”: there we will be seen, since we will see Him in eternity.  So of course He says: “And this is life eternal, that they know You, the One True God, and Whom You have sent, Jesus Christ (I Cor 4).”  This will happen when the Lord shall have come and illuminated hidden things of shadows, since the shadows of this mortality and corruption shall have passed away.  Then will be our morning, about which it is written in the Psalm: “At morning I shall attend you, and I shall see (Psalm 5:5).”  Concerning this contemplation is understood the saying, “when he will have handed over the Kingdom to God and Father (I Cor 15),” that is, when He will have led the just, in whom now living from faith He will rule, the Mediator of God and humans, the man Jesus Christ, unto contemplation of God the Father (I Tim 2).  In sum, many such things are explained in the sentences of the Scriptures, which if we are content to accept joined at the superficial level of the letter, will not be able to infuse in us the light of truth, but rather produce a fog of shadows.  So this thing which is said, that God is not capable of anything evil nor does He know how to, is not to be referred to ignorance, or impossibility, but to rectitude of perpetual will.  Indeed that He does not will evil is rightly said, since He also does not know it, nor is He capable of anything evil.  Anything whatsoever that He wills, indubitably He is able to do, with Scripture testifying: “You however, the dominator of virtues, judge with tranquility and with great reverence You dispose us; it is within Your reach, when You will, to be able. (Wisdom 12:18).”


Some oddities of grammar worth noting (which are probably not odd to a Medievalist, but hey, I never claimed I was one…)

A truly bizarre verb, bajulare, rears its ugly head early in this text.  Whyever ferro or porto could not do here…or pick a soldiering verb.  Anyway, it has its roots in Cicero, who uses the noun form…but we have no good etymology beyond his usage that I can easily find.  This may become a project, cuz that word ain’t Latin not nohow.

SPD likes to use a weirdly intensified version of sine dubio (without a doubt)–procul dubio.

He also has chosen to use iuxta when he wants to describe sticking to the surface, literal interpretation of a text (iuxta verbi sonum, iuxta litteras).  Litterim (cf. verbatim) would do a decent job right?

Super eodem Salvatore??  Ugh.  What a weird replacement for de eodem Salvatore, about or concerning!  What did they do to this poor language as time went on…

Ac si dicat is one of the strangest uses of ac.  SPD is clearly giving a re-rendering of the previous quotation from Jesus.  Ac si has to be given the sense of Quasi here, or you have to interpolate something like “And it is as if He were to say…”

A muddy pdf scan is probably the culprit for the nonsense “cante” instead of caute (cautiously).  Sadly, a great many online .doc variants perpetuate the “cante” gibberish.  I amend!


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