Thursday, April 29, 2010

Docile humility and grazing cows

Baron Friedrich von Hugel (1852-1925), was a Roman Catholic lay theologian who lived most of his life in Great Britain. He was well known as a scholar, writer, and spiritual director. He was, in fact, Evelyn Underhill's spiritual director, and it is clear that she followed his example in communicating spiritual truths in homely and practical ways.

At the heart of his teaching was the conviction that a balanced Christian lives in a creative tension between three elements: the intellectual, the institutional, and the mystical.
This classic passage is from Letters from Baron Friedrich von Hugel to a Niece (London: J.M. Dent, 1928):

Von Hugel in said to his neice that a spirit of humility was necessary because ". . . there exist oceans of reality - of things and laws beautiful, true, good and holy, beyond this our present insight and operation. I so love to watch cows as they browse at the borders, up against the hedges of fields. They move along, with their great tongues drawing in just only what they can assimilate; yes - but without stopping to snort defiantly against what does not thus suit them. It is as though those creatures had the good sense to realize that those plants which do not suit them - that these will be gladly used up by sheep, goats or horses; indeed, that some of these plants may suit them - the cows themselves - later on. So ought we to do: not sniff and snort at what we do not understand here and now; not proclaim, as though it were a fact interesting to anyone but ourselves, that we do not, here and now, understand this or that thing; but we should just merely, quite quietly, let such things stand over, as possibly very true, though to us they look very foolish - as indeed, possibly, things that we ourselves will come to penetrate as true and rich indeed. In a word, we can and should be sure of all that is positive and fruitful for us in our outlook; sure, also, that whatever really contradicts that is false. But as to possible further truths and facts, we will leave ourselves peacefully docile and open."


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