Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fly Curiosity

From the Commentary of St Bonaventure on the Book of Ecclesiastes (I, 27. 28-34 (On Eccles 1:12-14)):

Curiosity – the prostitution of the mind to any chanced-on truth. 

I, Ecclesiastes, was king in Jerusalem. [(Eccles 1:12)] He has shown the vanity in things. Now from a reflection on the changeableness of reality he reprimands his curiosity. 

In this section he describes curiosity about works of nature or about reflection on divine works. First, he looks at the suitability of the one studying. Second, the curiosity of this person. Third, the severity of divine judgement. Fourth, he concludes with vanity

(Verse 12). So first, on the suitability of the person studying, he says: I, Ecclesiastes. And since he had wisdom, he calls himself Ecclesiastes, that is, preacher. He also had power. So he says: I was king. He also had peace. So he adds in Jerusalem, a word meaning a vision of peace. Sirach 47:15 says: “Solomon ruled in the days of peace.” 1 Chronicles 22:9 reads: “The son, who shall be born to you, shall be peaceful.” Because he had all these qualities, he did not refrain from study. 

(Verse 13). And I proposed in my mind [to seek and search out wisely concerning all things that are done under the sun]. Here in a second point he treats of his own curiosity, because he wanted to know and subtly investigate everything. So he says: And I proposed in my mind to seek, that is, from someone else, and search out wisely, by myself. And this is curiosity. Romans 12:3 has: “Do not be more wise than it behooves to be wise, but be wise unto sobriety.” Thus Proverbs 25:16 states: “You have found honey. Eat what is sufficient for you, lest, being glutted with it, you vomit it up.” – Concerning all things that are done under the sun. This is excessive curiosity because it is about everything. Sirach 3:24-25 reads: “In unnecessary matters be not over curious, and in many of his works you will have been inquisitive. For many things are shown to you above human understanding.” 

This worst occupation [God has given to men and women to be exercised therein]. He treats here of the third point, namely, the severity of divine judgement, because this condition comes from the divine judgement on the sin of the first parent. The sentence is that our rational ability may so freely run riot in the knowledge of earthly matters. So he says: this worst occupation, because it is not only culpable, but also a punishment. God has given to men and women, that is, allowed it to be given or gave it justly as a punishment. To be exercised therein, and so become forgetful of their own salvation. 

Note that an occupation is bad, because it comes from weakness. Sirach 40:1 states: “Great labour is created for all men and women, and a heavy yoke is upon the children of Adam, from the day of their coming out of their mother’s womb until the day of their burial into the mother of all.” – An occupation is worse, because it comes from ignorance. About this Job 3:5 says: “Let darkness and the shadow of death cover it. Let a mist overspread it, and let it be wrapped in bitterness.” – A third occupation is from curiosity, and this is worst. And it is of this that the author is speaking here. 

Note what Hugh [of St Victor] says: “An occupation is a distraction of the mind that turns away, distracts, and traps a soul from being able to think of what concerns salvation.” [(In Ecclesiasten, Hom. 5)] [And Hugh of St Cher says: “]Curiosity, however, is a wilful prostitution of a human mind, embracing any truth it chances on and being adulterous with it, because the first truth is the soul’s only spouse.[” (In lib. Ecclesiastæ, ad loc.)] 

(Verse 14). I have seen all things that are done [under the sun. And behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit]. Here in a fourth place he treats of the vanity he has found, because he makes no further progress except that in his consideration he has found vanity. And so he says: I have seen all things that are done under the sun, that is, I have reflected on everything. And behold, all is vanity, that is, vanity is clearly evident in them because according to the Apostle in Romans 8:20: “All creation was made subject to vanity, but not willingly.” Indeed, not only subject to vanity, but also vexation of spirit

– But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us.  R/.  Thanks be to God.

RESPONSORY (Cf. Ecclus 3:22a,23,22b,24,26 (Vulg.))

R/. Seek not the things that are too high for you, and search not into things above your ability. For it is not necessary for you to see with your eyes those things that are hid. * But the things that God has commanded you, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious. 
V/. In unnecessary matters be not over curious, and in many of his works be not inquisitive. The investigation of them has deceived many, and has detained their minds in vanity. * But the things that God has commanded you, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious. 


My source for this scholastic exegetical text is  St Bonaventure's Commentary on Ecclesiastes, translated by Campion Murray & Robert J. Karris, in the "Works of St Bonaventure" series, Volume VI, (St Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2005) 29,118,119-121. 

In quoting this, the quotations of Eccles 1:12-14 have been filled out from the translation of Ecclesiastes given on page 29 thereof, and appropriate citations from nn. 93-94 on page 119 have been inserted. All such additions are given in square brackets. 

The responsory is a new composition, based on the citation of Ecclus 3:24-25 in the quoted text (I,30). 

The slightly longer original text of St Bonaventure’s quotation from Hugh of St Cher is: “Curiosity, however, is nothing other than the wilful prostitution of the human mind, embracing any truth it chances upon, and fornicating with it, or to speak more truthfully, being adulterous with it. For the first truth, which is God, is human mind’s only spouse.” (In lib. Ecclesiastæ, ad Eccles 1:13.) 

For an analysis of the virtue of studiousness [studiositas] and the opposing vice of curiosity [curiositas], I would recommend recourse to St Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiæ, II-II, 166-167. 

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