24 February 2015

The Preparation before Mass: Cenodoxia

Do you know the feeling of having said a prayer any number of times, and then, all of a sudden, a word in it - previously passed quickly over - suddenly brings you to an abrupt halt? I had that experience the other Sunday, saying the 'Sunday' portion of the 'prayer of S Ambrose' before Mass.

"Repelle a me ... spiritum superbiae et cenodoxiae". "Send far from me the spirit of ... pride and", er, what? Keno- is the Greek root for empty. -doxia suggests 'thinking' or 'glorying'. Does it mean letting the mind dwell on empty, vacuous things? It occurs in the writings of my favourite Greek philosopher, Epicurus, and in Wisdom 14:14, where we are told that Idolatry, whoring after false gods, is not part of God's eternal creation but came into the world through the kenodoxia of men. Glorying in what has no basis in fact leads men astray. The Devil, unable himself to create anything, likes nothing better than to get us chasing after what doesn't exist. Glorying without proper matter for glorying leads to the dictionary translation of kenodoxia as 'Vainglorying'; and the Vulgate at Philippians 3: 2 translates kenodoxia as 'inanis gloria' .

Preoccupation with what has no reality: Idolatry is a kenodoxia. When that Idolatry is a preoccupation with excellences which I complacently think I possess, when I don't, kenodoxia is a distinctly dangerous sort of flaw in my character.

Printers shouldn't print it 'coeno-' or caeno-', because that makes it look as though it comes from koino-, meaning 'common', which, as far as I can see, it doesn't.

Or have I got all this completely wrong?

I have preserved two interesting comments attached to an earlier version of this post.


edcryer said...

I've selected two sentences from surviving quotes from & about Epicurus; and attempted a translation.

29 Τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν αἱ μέν εἰσι φυσικαὶ καὶ (ἀναγκαῖαι͵ αἱ δὲ φυσικαὶ καὶ) οὐκ ἀναγκαῖαι͵ αἱ δὲ οὔτε φυσικαὶ οὔτε ἀναγκαῖαι͵ ἀλλὰ παρὰ κενὴν δόξαν γινόμεναι. (φυσικὰς καὶ ἀναγκαίας ἡγεῖται ὁ Ἐπίκουρος τὰς ἀλγηδόνος ἀπολυούσας͵ ὡς ποτὸν ἐπὶ δίψους· φυσικὰς δὲ οὐκ ἀναγκαίας δὲ τὰς ποικιλλούσας μόνον τὴν ἡδονὴν͵ μὴ ὑπεξαιρουμένας δὲ τὸν ἄλγημα͵ ὡς πολυτελῆ σιτία· οὔτε δὲ φυσικὰς οὔτε ἀναγκαίας͵ ὡς στεφάνους καὶ ἀνδριάντων ἀναθέσεις).

30 Ἐν αἷς τῶν φυσικῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν μὴ ἐπ΄ ἀλγοῦν δὲ ἐπαναγουσῶν ἐὰν μὴ συντελεσθῶσιν͵ ὑπάρχει ἡ σπουδὴ σύντονος͵ παρὰ κενὴν δόξαν αὗται γίνονται͵ καὶ οὐ παρὰ τὴν ἑαυτῶν φύσιν οὐ διαχέονται ἀλλὰ παρὰ τὴν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου κενοδοξίαν.

29. Of the desires some are natural and (necessary, some natural and) not necessary, while others are neither natural nor necessary, but are based on vain opinion. (By "natural and necessary" Epicurus means those that relieve pain, such as drink with thirst; by "natural but unnecessary" those that merely embellish pleasure without removing pain, such as expensive foods; by "neither natural nor necessary", such as garlands and statue ornaments.

30 As for the natural desires that won't lead to pain if not checked, he displays enormous energy. These are based on empty opinion; and it's not due to their very nature that they survive but due to the vain-glory of man.

Maybe "fama inanis" would be a better Latin translation for "cenodoxia".


edcryer said...

It seems to me that we've hit upon a very central point of dispute in ancient philosophy here.
Ancient Greek (and subsequently Roman) philosophy was very practical; how to live your life. And there's an unresolved tension in it that I see as having surfaced in early Christianity, as well as the writings of many pagan thinkers of the Greek and Roman worlds.
It's this question of "cenodoxia" (whether it's natural or not; "secundum naturam" ("kata phusin")) and whether to seek worldly fame was a fit pursuit for a man or not.

Both Stoics and Epicureans took "secundum naturam" as a watchword, but you wouldn't have found many Epicureans in the corridors of power. People such as Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca et al. couldn't have lived the quiet, reflective life of the Epicurean commune; while an Epicurean would have found lots of "cenodoxia" in Cicero's speeches. And, to us, both Seneca and Marcus Aurelius seem very hypocritical to have praised the simple life while living at the top of society.

Is there a class difference here? Something that's in conditioning rather than nature itself?


jasoncpetty said...

Don't forget about Cenodoxus, the early (earliest?) Doctor of Paris play by Bidermann, the Austrian Jesuit.