St. Augustine and the daughters of hope

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

Attr. St. Augustine.

This didn’t meet the “sounds right” test to me–St. Augustine is generally not one for extended metaphors like this. He does do extended similes, but not metaphors.

Wikiquote has this on the talk/disputed page, given a citation from Spirituality and Liberation: Overcoming the Great Fallacy (1988) by Robert McAfee Brown, p. 136. That book happens to be searchable at Google Books, but the alleged quotation is not found there. (Perhaps Google doesn’t have the whole thing searchable.)

I went searching through Google Books for the phrase. It turns up in a lot of books connected with liberation theology (which doesn’t make the attribution false). One of the hits does have a footnote, but it simply cites a somewhat earlier (1987) book and says that there’s no citation given in that book.

I then found another book by Robert McAfee Brown in which he calls it “a reflective comment whose location in the Augustinian corpus I wish I could pinpoint” (Speaking of Christianity, p. 74). In other words, he doesn’t know where it’s from either.

Then I found this from Archbishop Chaput: “The words are apocryphal. There’s no real evidence that Augustine ever wrote them” (Strangers in a Strange Land, p. 162). (He goes on to add, “But their content is clearly true and worth remembering as a guide to Christian discipleship.”)

I poked around a little more but couldn’t find much of anything more helpful. Google Books doesn’t have anything before 1987. Given the amount of negative evidence, I’m not going to try guessing at Latin phrases to search for in Augustine’s work. I’m just going to say that however beautiful and helpful the thought may be (cf. +Chaput, above), it didn’t come from the mind of St. Augustine.

Benedict XVI and the Mustard Seed

I have a mustard seed and I’m not afraid to use it.

Attr. (falsely, not to spoil the ending or anything) to Pope Benedict XVI, who would never have used such a colloquial American-sounding phrase. I’m fine with colloquial Americanisms, but I find it unlikely in the extreme that B XVI is familiar with them, much less familiar enough with one to use it like this.

Pope Benedict did talk about the mustard seed in one of his interviews with Peter Seewald, and apparently around the time of his election a commentator used the saying that became the fauxtation to summarize his views of then-Ratzinger’s approach. It then got picked up by a few other people, then got used in quotation marks without attribution as the title of a blog post, and thence passed on into fauxtationdom.

St. John Paul II and animal souls

The animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren. All animals are fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect and they are as near to God as men are.

Attr. Pope St. John Paul II

To the extent that this alleged quotation is a real quotation, it comes from the Holy Father’s Jan. 10, 1990 general audience. paragraph 4. Unfortunately, there is no English translation on the Vatican website, only Italian (presumably the original) and Spanish. Fortunately, I have a friend, Fr. Bryan Jerabek, who knows Italian.

If you know Italian too, you can translate this for yourself:

Altri testi, tuttavia, ammettono che anche gli animali hanno un alito o soffio vitale e che l’hanno ricevuto da Dio. Sotto questo aspetto l’uomo, uscito dalle mani di Dio, appare solidale con tutti gli esseri viventi. Così il Salmo 104 non pone distinzione tra gli uomini e gli animali quando dice, rivolgendosi a Dio creatore: “Tutti da te aspettano che tu dia loro il cibo in tempo opportuno. Tu lo provvedi, essi lo raccolgono” (Sal 104, 27-28). Poi il Salmista aggiunge: “Se togli loro il soffio, muoiono e ritornano nella polvere. Mandi il tuo soffio, sono creati e rinnovati la faccia della terra” (Sal 104, 29-30). L’esistenza delle creature dipende dunque dall’azione del soffio-spirito di Dio, che non solo crea, ma anche conserva e rinnova continuamente la faccia della terra.

And if you need an English translation better than Google Translate can provide, here’s what my friend provided:

Nevertheless, other texts admit that even animals have a breath of life, received from God. Under this aspect, man, having come forth from the hands of God, appears in solidarity with all living beings. Thus Psalm 104 does not make distinctions between men and animals when it says, addressing God the Creator, “They all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” (Psalm 104:27-28). Then the psalmist adds, “when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:29-30). The existence of creatures thus depends upon the action of the breath-spirit of God, which not only creates, but even conserves and continually renews the face of the earth.


Accurately translated, then, and in context. the Holy Father was making the point that animals too have the breath of life, which can come only from God, and that God sustains all life in existence. But he never said that we must love animals and feel solidarity with them; he said nothing about having respect for them; and above all, he never said anything at all about animals being as close to God as men are.

If you’re thinking, “Well, maybe the Spanish version is different,” well, I do know Spanish, sort of, enough to tell that it’s not significantly different from the Italian text as translated above.

So the alleged quotation started from something that Pope St. John Paul II did say, but it adds to it many things he never said.


Isaac Newton finding answers in prayer

All my discoveries have been made in answer to prayer.

Attr. Isaac Newton

This is all over the Internet, never attributed. But it’s not on the Isaac Newton page of Wikiquote, nor on its discussion page (where disputed or disproven quotations go). Eventually I found a extended cut of the quotation, which goes like this:

There are more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history. All my discoveries have been made in answer to prayer. I can take my telescope and look millions of miles into space; but I can go away to my room and in prayer get nearer to God and Heaven than I can when assisted by all the telescopes of earth.

I tried searching for the first sentence, and that has a long and distinguished history, going back at least to 1791, and with a source: “Dr. Smith, late Master of Trinity College,” from whom the author (a Bishop Watson) heard the statement.

But here’s the problem…. the rest of the alleged quotation is not attached. I tried searching for most of the last sentence and found a variant from 1910:

I can take my telescope and look millions and millions of miles into space, watch the blazing suns and rolling planets in the infinite depths of immensity, but I can lay it aside and go into my room, shut the door, get down upon my knees in earnest prayer, and see more of heaven and get closer to God than I can assisted by all the telescopes and material agencies of earth.

The problem is that this doesn’t have the middle sentence, the one about all Newton’s discoveries being in answer to prayer.

So I’m not able to reach a good verdict on this one. It’s not impossible, but I’m not going to be convinced until I see a source at least as good as “Dr. Smith, late Master of Trinity College, told me this.”

Mother Teresa: Blessings and lessons

Some people come into your life as blessings. Some come into your life as lessons.

Attr. Mother St. Teresa; I’ve seen a version with “in” in place of “into,” but it’s the same idea either way.

The saying doesn’t pass the sounds-right test to me, but I went looking because I’ve been fooled on Mother Teresa quotations before.

Here’s what I found:

  • It’s not in Wikiquote at all, either on the verified quotations page or on the discussion page for dubious “quotations.” This is significant because it suggests that the association of the saying with her is fairly recent.
  • It’s not on the rather cumbersomely-entitled “Quotes falsely attributed to Mother Teresa and significantly paraphrased versions or personal interpretations of statements that are not her authentic words” web page. This suggests that it’s either authentic or that it got associated with her after 2010, when that page was last updated.
  • Googling the quotation with her name turns up only the usual suspect and reference-free sites, along with a smattering of blogs etc., also providing no references.
  • Googling without her name … would you believe it’s on Zig Ziglar’s Facebook page? It’s in lots of other places, too, never with an attribution. The earliest I can find it on a website that gives a date is around 2012. (Mr. Ziglar’s post is from 2014.)
  • Trying Google Books: The only places it shows up connected with St. Mother T are books that are just the contents of Internet “quotation” sites shoveled into a book. It doesn’t show up at all, attributed or not, before 2012.

Put it all together, and there are two possible conclusions:

(a) Mother Teresa actually said it, but it got detached from her name for 15 years and then somehow reattached; or
(b) She didn’t say it.

I’m going with (b).