Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Uses of the Unicorn

"But then how can we trust ancient wisdom, whose traces you are always seeking, if it is handed down by lying books that have interpreted it with such license?"

"Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means, a precept that the commentators of the holy books had very clearly in mind. The unicorn, as these books speak of him, embodies a moral truth, or allegorical, or analogical, but one that remains true, as the idea that chastity is a noble virtue remains true. But as for the literal truth that sustains the other three truths, we have yet to see what original experiences gave birth to the latter. The literal object must be discussed, even if its higher meaning remains good..."

"Then higher truths can be expressed while the letter is lying," I said. "Still, it grieves me to think this unicorn doesn't exist, or never existed, or cannot exist one day."

"It is not licit to impose confines on divine omnipotence, and if God so willed, unicorns could still exist. But console yourself, they exist in these books, which, if they do not speak of real existence, speak of possible existence."

"So must we then read books without faith, which is a theological virtue?"

"There are two other theological virtues as well. The hope that the possible is. And charity, toward those who believed in good faith that the possible was."

--Adso of Melk and William of Baskerville, in Umberto Ecco's The Name of the Rose (1983).

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