Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Book Too Far

Sometimes one can become so immersed in a literary/academic project for so long that one comes to suffer what the Early Church Fathers called apatheia. At times like this, my old friend Wordsworth has a few words to say about it.

The Table Turned by William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.



  1. As I've seen it used, many of the Early Church Fathers considered apatheia a good thing. The Neoplatonists used it as emotionlessness, but I thought the church saw it as healthy detachment from the world - appreciating the things of creation without feeling needful of them.

  2. Hi Matthew,

    Yes, many of the Early Church Fathers considered apatheia as neutral or good. They often used it to means a form of detachment from the world. This concept was heavily influenced by Greek Stoic philosophy. I believe the concept of apatheia or detachment was taken further by the via negativa movement of the Spanish mystics.

    My personal comment is that when I find myself deeply involved in a period of theological research and writing, the activity has a tendency to draw me away from people, community and even from God! That is a scary thought.