This blog started as a place to collect favorite passages (and sometimes images)—saving them in a place where I can search for them again and also offering them to others. I organize these under three categories that you can read about at the bottom of this page. As a collection of favorite passages, this blog functions as a kind of commonplace book. Long histories of such collections—know as anthologia (“a garland”), florilegium (“a gathering of flowers”), silva rerum (“a forest of things”), and commonplace books—stretch back in time and inspire me. Although I have found my blogging practice to be helpful, only tenuous connections exist between a blog such as this and the many tangible practices connected to commonplace books.
Desiderius Erasmus inspired the name for my blog. He appreciated the compiling of commonplace books (essential to his rhetorical theories in Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style) and described this habit when writing about the daughters of his good friend Thomas More:
As they flit like so many little bees between Greek and Latin authors of every species, here noting down something to imitate, here culling some notable saying to put into practice in their behavior, there getting by heart some witty anecdote to relate among their friends, you would swear you were watching the Muses at graceful play in the lovely pastures of Mount Helicon, gathering flowers and marjoram to make well-woven garlands.
Flowers are a glorious image of abundance:
Yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. (Matthew 6.29)
Authors, past and present, labored long to plant these fields and gardens in which we may wander freely. As a simple discipline amid these fields—to help me reflect on these passages and to make very basic connections between them—I place these passages into one of these three categories:
- Beauty and priests: Has to do with experiencing, seeing, attracting, displaying, enjoying, reverencing, protecting, and preserving qualities such as holiness, purity, glory and beauty. This also involves creating, cleansing, interceding, offering, feasting, thanking and praising within space and time through habitual cycles and patterns. (Neglect or disorder in this category leads to ugliness, blindness and idolatry.)
- Goodness and kings: Has to do with planing, building, judging and executing with qualities such as wisdom, justice, righteousness and goodness. This also involves contemplation, forethought, understanding of the human condition and a vision of human flourishing. (Neglect or disorder in this category leads to destruction, death and tyranny.)
- Truth and prophets: Has to do with teaching, demonstrating, confronting, exciting and giving hope with qualities such as insight, integrity, boldness, humility and truthfulness. This also involves learning, engaging, speaking, writing and longing. (Neglect or disorder in this category leads to ignorance, lying, flattery and fear-mongering.)
These three pairs come from lining up the classical triumvirate of ultimate values with the three offices of Adam and Christ (developed extensively across all of the scriptures as the universal and essential human callings). Since these categories are all fundamental to our humanness, most quotations will touch on all three in some respects. However, forcing myself to connect each quotation with just one of these three pairings, helps me to focus and interweave my initial responses to what I read. (Some further reading on these categories: here, here, and here.)
Finally, more recently, I have decided to add a fourth category called “my own writing.” These musings of my own are typically in response to my readings and are just “seed ideas” for possible future consideration and development.