Marrou on “contemplation, praise, love”

Marrou on "contemplation, praise, love"
Henri Marrou 1904-1977
Henri Marrou wrote some fine books on Augustine; a brief lecture he gave at Villanova contains a wonderful passage on the beauty of the world and the resurrection [The Resurrection and Saint Augustine’s Theology of Human Values, St. Augustine Lecture 1966 (Villanova: Villanova University Press, 1967)]
Marrou asks, must a true humanism reject other-worldly aspiration because it is not thereby “true to the earth”?  Nietszche and Heidegger advance this claim. What are these cherished values at risk by religious faith, Marrou queries? As he learned from Augustine and other Church fathers, he proposes  as great human values “contemplation, praise, love.” Marrou says “it is not by clinging desperately to what is ephemeral, passing, declining, that man can satisfy the deepest demands of his nature.” It is by living “liturgically,” oriented towards heaven, that we can celebrate, and redeem, the world’s good. Marrou found a passage about death in the Memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir to provide a point for his consideration of Augustine. She wrote:

I think with melancholy of all the books read, the places visited, the knowledge acquired, which will no longer exist. All the music, all the painting, all the culture, so many places: suddenly, nothing . . .

Marrou disagrees, that there is nothing to redeem. “Nothing of all that will rise again?” Only if those venues “were ed to the effervescence of our pride, greed, untruthfulness, sin” are they lost. But here is the living faith he proposes — if the experience of the beautiful opened our heart to a “new found happiness” and was an occasion of “a sacrifice of praise”; if the music “served, not to nourish concupiscence, but by silencing the tumult of thoughts and imaginations to re-establish in us the interior silence which permits the expectation of and the meeting with God”; so too “for every human love” — then on the contrary, “nothing of all of this will be lost.”
Sheldon Vanauken also wrote about the moments of beauty as “moments precisely without the pressure of time – moments that might be called, indeed, time-ful moments. Or time-free moments.” Inevitably, the experience of time always crashes back onto us, and so the yearning for a timeless moment is frustrated, it is not truly available to us in this life. So we must look to the future or the past, beyond the present and the ticking clock — “The future dream charms us because of its timelessness; and I think most of the charm we see in the ‘good old days’ is no less an illusion of timelessness.” He concludes from these signs that we must be oriented to the “eternal” in anticipation of the eternal home.

if we complain of time and take such joy in the seemingly timeless moment, what does that suggest? It suggests that we have not always been or will not always be purely temporal creatures. It suggests that we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed at it – how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We aren’t adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.

What I take from these writers is the idea that the appreciation of beauty and goodness of this earth, the moments of the fleeting experience of places and people, art and music, knowledge and insight, are not diminished by a religious belief in an after-life and an eternal God, but rather their true value is disclosed through contemplation, praise, and love.


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