Acts, habits, character … Thomas à Kempis?

Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.

Attributed, I know not how, to Thomas à Kempis. It sounds nothing like him, and a quick Google search showed:

  • This is a truncated form of the saying, which goes like this:

    Watch your thoughts, they become words;
    watch your words, they become actions;
    watch your actions, they become habits;
    watch your habits, they become character;
    watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

  • It’s attributed to all sorts of people.
  • The Quote Investigator got there long before I did, and Thomas à Kempis is not among the sources he found.
  • The earliest attribution to Thomas à Kempis I can find is in the 2006 book Big Wisdom (Little Book) by Thomas Nelson.
  • The oldest place I can find the quotation on the same page as Thomas à Kempis’s name is from 1920 in the Confectioner’s Journal, vol. 46, p. 176, in a set of “Short Sayings by Great Men” on the topic of habits. Note that the saying isn’t attributed to him here (Thomas à Kempis did say, “Habit is overcome by habit“), but at least his name is on the page. I suspect that  Thomas Nelson, or his source, found a similar set of sayings and associated the wrong name with the fauxtation in question.

Working and praying with St. Augustine, St. Ignatius, et al.

Work as if everything depended on you; pray as if everything depended on God.

Attr. to St. Augustine. Also to St. Ignatius of Loyola. And to Martin Luther.

A generic Google turned up the usual fluff, but it also found the quotation attributed to St. Ignatius in CCC 2834, footnoted as “Attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola, cf. Joseph de Guibert, SJ, The Jesuits: Their Spiritual Doctrine and Practice, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1964), 148, n. 55.” That’s scarcely a primary source. But I got to wondering what the Latin text of the CCC gives as a citation, and it gives a better one: “Dictum sancto Ignatio de Loyola attributum; cf Petrus de Ribadeneyra, Tractatus de modo gubernandi sancti Ignatii, c. 6, 14: MHSI 85, 631.” [Saying attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola; cf. Peter of Ribadeneira, Tract on the method of governing of Saint Ignatius.]

Peter of Rebadeneira was one of the early Jesuits, well-acquainted with St. Ignatius, and the first person to write a biography of him. I can’t locate an online copy of the work in question, but I’m willing to call this one for St. Ignatius pending further information.

St. Josemaría Escrivá: Saints and sinners

A saint is a sinner who keeps trying.–attr. St. Josemaría Escrivá

This saying is also attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta and to Nelson Mandela. The closest form of it I can find in St. Josemaría’s work is this:

Don’t forget that the saint is not the person who never falls, but rather the one who never fails to get up again, humbly and with a holy stubbornness.–In the Footsteps of Christ, 131.

Without disrespect to St. Josemaría, I will say that I strongly doubt that the idea is original to him, and I doubt even more that he’s responsible for the original quotation.

As for Nelson Mandela, the closest I can find is this:

No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.–Letter to Winnie Mandela (1 February 1975)

I can’t find a reliable source attributing it to Mother Teresa at all.

ETA: A friend tells me that it’s also attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson. Wikipedia tells me that RLS was a self-professed atheist, and a Google Books search through his works turns up nothing.

St. Francis de Sales on anxiety

Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul, except sin. God commands you to to pray, but He forbids you to worry. — Attr. St. Francis de Sales

The first sentence of the quotation is authentically St. Francis de Sales, from Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter 11. (Almost authentically; it’s been shortened and meme-ized.) But the second sentence of the alleged quotation isn’t from Devout Life; in fact, it doesn’t come from St. Francis de Sales at all. Google will quickly tell you that it comes from St. John Vianney, but usually without a reference. My friend Fr. Jerabek found the reference for me; it’s from one of the Curé’s homilies on refraining from Sunday labor. (“Il vous commande la prière, mais il vous défend l’inquiétude.”)

I was curious to see if I could tell when the two quotations were joined together. The earliest conjunction I have found is from 2009, when it appeared on EWTN’s website.

Taking a shine to C.S. Lewis

Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine so that through you, others can see Him.

Attributed to C. S. Lewis, but not by him. Someone already did the work on this for me.

Earliest known attribution to CSL is 2014. It’s not even on the discussion page for Lewis at Wikiquote, so I knew it was mostly likely a recent misattribution.

Additional thought: This sounds an awful lot like something from Cardinal Newman’s meditation on radiating Christ, which is the foundation for the Missionaries of Charity’s prayer discussed here.

St. John Chrysostom and Skulls

There are various forms of a quotation, all attributed to St. John Chrysostom: “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops,” or: “The road to Hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lamp posts that light the path.”

It’s an ancient fauxtation–John Wesley uses it–and known for well over 150 years to be a fake. I give you T.J. Buckton in Notes & Queries ser. 1. V.117 (1852) p. 92:

Hell paved with the Skulls of Priests (Vol. iv., p. 484.).  [This refers to the volume in which the question was asked whether the quotation was accurate]— The French priest referred to in this Query had most probably quoted, at second or third hand, and with rhetorical embellishment — certainly not from the original direct — an expression of St. Chrysostom, in his third homily on the Acts of the Apostles :

“οὐκ οῖμαι εῖναι πόλλους ἐν τοῖς ἰερευσι τοὺς σωζομένους, ἀλλὰ πολλῳ πλείους τοὺς ἀπολλυμένους”

I know not if there be many in the priesthood, who are saved, but I know that many more perish.”

Gibbon has also quoted this passage at second hand (v. 399. note z.), for he says :

“Chrysostom declares his free opinion (tom. ix. hom. iii. in Act. Apostol. p. 29.) that the number of bishops who might be saved, bore a very small proportion to those who would be damned.”

It may be safely asserted that the above expression of Chrysostom is the strongest against the priesthood to be found in any of the Christian Fathers of authority in the Church.

T. J. Buckton.

There is really little excuse for a knowledgeable Catholic (or knowledgeable anything else) to continue to attribute the saying to St. John Chrysostom.

Further reading (and the places that told me where to look on Google Books):

Pagan Nonsense in the Name of St. Thomas Aquinas

A well-known Catholic page published a meme that I refuse to quote in anything approaching its entirety. It begins with the words, “How is it that they live for eons in such harmony.” St. Thomas didn’t write it; anyone who is familiar with St. Thomas’s work at all should recognize it for the forgery it is.

The actual author is a man named Daniel Ladinsky. He claims to be only the translator, but I’ll let one of the Amazon reviews tell you what’s going on:  “Daniel Ladinsky has a history of writing his own poetry and selling it as though it were translated material. Many people in the West know the name of the Iranian poet, Hafiz, through Ladinsky. Although Ladinsky has admitted at times that his writings are not translations of Hafiz but are based on his vision of Hafiz, he has continued to market his material as though it were actually authored by that poet.”

It might be that the “translator” took “inspiration” from something St. Thomas really did write, though I can’t imagine what. I am sure that St. Thomas would not be happy having his name attached to some of the thoughts in the poem.