St. Justin Martyr

Hasty Transitions

The problem with most up-to-date thinkers is that they are eager to transcend what they have never traversed, to overcome what they’ve never come to, and to leave forever behind what they’ve never had before them. Every post-this and every post-that is seized upon as another progressive purchase on tomorrow, although the converging energies of the past are still conditioning every thought and desire that arise. Supposed originality, cut loose from one’s own origins, breeds caprice and adolescent conceit.

The truly original worked willingly within their tradition and drew sap from its roots for yet undreamt-of branches and fruits. Virgil imitates Homer to a fault, but doesn’t become another Homer; he becomes Virgil. Dante, in turn, imitates Virgil, and we get the Comedy – as full of newness in regard to the Aeneid as Virgil’s epic is in regard to Homer’s. Shakespeare famously plagiarizes the best stories he can find, and they rise magically into new galaxies. Even atonal Schoenberg worshipped at the altar of Bach.

I am not speaking of antiquarianism or mere conservatism, but of the only revolution that matters – the one that “turns again” (re-volves) within the truths that perdure, and finds true novelty nourished by a tradition freshly pondered and developed by new generations. Confucius, as so often, put it best: “Only that person can be a teacher who has learned to bring forth what is new by keeping warm what is old.” (Analects, II, 11)

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