Giuseppe Barzaghi – Discipline and Faith

Discipline and faith.

The idea of discipline in the context of a religious life, above all in the Christian faith, is not immediately associated with rules. The idea of discipline is bound to Discipleship.

Discipleship means that there is a disciple and there is a master. And this Discipleship does not necessarily require subordination or a tendency for subjection. It is important to look closely at the words and their etymology. Within the word discipline we find the word disciple, discipulus in Latin, and the most interesting thing is that this word contains an extraordinary root, dic. Dic is one of those roots which contains within itself the idea of brightness.

For example, when we tell day from night, we indicate the bright part of the day with day (dì), and the dark part of the day with night (notte).

That dì falls evocatively within the root dic, from which we get discipulus, disco and also the Greek didasco, which however means teaching, not learning. Disco means to learn in Latin, didasco in Greek means teach, instruct, educate.

Another way to highlight the importance of this root is to be found in dire (to say), indicare (to indicate) and in the link with the Divine. Divine in Sanskrit (Div-Devàs) comes from the same root.

The Latin Divus, from which we get Dius and Deus is connected to the Sanskrit Div-Devàs, which means the Bright one.
Everything related to showing, seeing and indicating is hidden within the expressions discipline and discipleship. And therefore discipline, rather than being a sum of rules, is an attempt, a desire for clarification which in some way aspires to clarity and which has a set route. The disciple places his/her trust in the master, while at the same time the master assumes the responsibility of clarifying the disciple’s soul. All of this implies precisely the idea of Faith, or rather trust.
By Faith we do not mean an effort to reach an objective or to win something. Faith is something which belongs to the class of captivation and captivation is something which we feel. Perhaps in order to keep this feeling of captivation more intensely we require a cleaning of the soul, the relationship between the disciple and the master is a relationship of great importance as it does not immediately require subordination.
Indeed, regarding this subject we should remember the great Aristotle who said: “A man is perfect when he succeeds in making another man similar to himself.” If we apply this idea of altruistic improvement as a conscious expression of one’s own perfection to the master/disciple relationship, if he who is considered perfect is called so because he has managed to make another person similar to himself then we can say that the master is a master when he manages to make the disciple into another master. The master is a master when he manages to make the disciple another of him, that is another master and therefore until it has been done, the master is not aware of being a master. He becomes a master when he has made another person similar to him.
This concept eliminates the idea of subordination, or rather that sense of almost enslavement.
This idea could be made clearer with the help of technical examples, actually it would be more accurate to use a nobler term: theoretical examples. Theorein in Greek means to see, and it is always associated with the idea of going to clarify something, to see brightly.
If we take the disciple/master relationship as the relationship between numbers, between 10 and a lower number such as 2, it is evident to think that 2 is not the same as 10. 10 is greater than 2 by 8 units. However, that fact that 10 is 8 units greater than 2 does not mean that 10 despises the lesser number 2, because we all know that if we take the 2 away from the 10, the 10 is no longer 10. And so, if the disciple represents the 2 and the master represents the 10, and the 10 contains the 2, then the master (magis stat) contains the disciple and consequently just as the 10 cannot depreciate the 2 without depreciating itself, the master cannot depreciate the disciple. The master must appreciate the disciple because in a certain sense one is part of the other.
It is as if the master sees a certain homogeneity between himself and the person who is entrusted to him as a disciple. At the same time, the disciple must also have a certain wit, a certain intuition when looking at the master, so that if he is aware of himself, the 2 should be able to recognise itself within the 10. It is impossible that the 2 could see itself as equal to the 10, given that it would require 8 more units to be the 10. However, if we look deeper we should think like this: when I say 2, so that 2 can have a meaning, I must establish a base. If I say that 2 plus 2 is 4 it is safe to say that our base is the decimal system, but if we change the base then 2 plus 2 is not 4. Let’s take the binary system as a base where the whole is 2: 2 plus 2 is no longer 4, rather it is equivalent to what would be 20 in the decimal system. Therefore when we say a number we must also define the base which holds up the sense of this number. Therefore it is true that when 2 is compared to 10 it has 8 units less, but its meaning is such that it contains the same base as 10 inside it, that is the decimal system. If 10 is the master, in a certain sense there is a part of 10 in the 2 and there is a certain teaching in the disciple, a certain mastery, precisely that which the master must bring forth didactically. That is why this relationship is educational.
The relationship between disciple and master is a relationship of faith, not only the usual faith which is taken for granted between disciple and master, but above all of reliance which is divine faith. The only master is Christ and therefore we must rely on the divine persuasion which comes from Christ’s mastery. And the accomplishment of this journey is one which does not travel outwards but inwards. If the master is the master because he manages to make the disciple similar to himself, he must bring him to the same profoundness. Therefore it is an attitude of introspection. When we say education, ex-duco, I take something out, I don’t put anything in, it is not instruction. Instruction means inner preparation, but of what?
If introducing something were only positive it would always be labelled as such, it would be like the role of the teacher. The teacher is a civil servant. “Put these notions in”, and the disciple puts them in. But the pupil has no time to react, to have the ability to mature. The master on the other hand, does not have this task of simple instruction, but of educating: he educates so that he can bring out that veiled mastery which is inside the disciple.
Therefore the master must be capable of guessing what mastery lies within the disciple, just as the disciple must feel this homogeneity of clarification and this mastery from the master.
Even if sometimes we talk about “regularity”, that is a call to the “rule”, the regularity in these situations is always quite foreign, sometimes we would say a bit cold, but it also has a meaning. Cold in the sense that if the rule is a rhythm, we have a regular life, when the bell rings we know what time it is, what time must be celebrated, if there is Mass, if there is common meditation. This regulated life is also called rhythmic. So, I say that if one thinks of discipline as a rule, as a rhythm, but forgets the substance of this rhythm, it is like ignoring the profoundness of the idea of discipline as internal clarification.
Let’s take an example: the rhythm of life. We are talking about the rhythm of life. How does one feel it? We put our finger to the jugular and we feel the rhythm of life: thump, thump, thump, we feel the heart-beat; but the heartbeat indicates that there is life, it is not life itself. So the rhythm of life has to be moved to the stress which we give to vitality. And so also discipline is not intended solely as a rule, but above all as vitality.
Therefore, what we see in the spirituality of the master and the spirituality of the disciple is a marriage of contagion. On the other hand, it is also important that when one meets a great master, the gratitude towards him is not so much a debt of repayment, it is rather the perception of living contact. Simple repayment deals with the rules of pure outwardness: in ethics they say that repayment tends towards medietas rei, it is indisputable. Does it cost 100 lire? It costs 100 lire! No more, no less.
Virtue however is another thing. How should I behave when one person is different from another? In this case? Where did it happen? Here we need a certain mastery. When one has had a master, the gratitude of the disciple towards the master means feeling a part of that mastery, and so the former talks about the latter willingly. It is rare, but I can see it as remembering who my teachers were, although only one of them was my master. So I don’t say: “I had him as my master, and him, etc. … I say: My master was such and such.” And therefore the relationship between disciple and master is a relationship of contagion. So the disciple understands the mastery of the master, and his method by contact, by contagion.
There is a beautiful example from Saint Thomas Aquinas. He was talking about angels but I have interpreted it in another way, in order to define this relationship between disciple and master. There is a passage in the Summa Theologica where he states that the only thing that exists is not the instruction from a superior to an inferior, with the chipping away of complex (difficult) ideas to make them easier for an intelligence that still lacks the important material in a new subject. But he says that the strengthening of intelligence by vital contact also exists. And he gives the example of two stones, one boiling and one cold. If I move the boiling stone to the cold one, the cold stone warms up. Because the boiling one contains the motion which gives heat while the cold one is inert. Therefore, this contagion, this communication, gives gratitude as a result.
That is why remembering one’s own master is wonderful. “That was my master!”. This means feeling the same contagion which our master created in us, as his disciples. It will be the same contagion which we create as masters in another disciple. This is the communication of mastery.
This is also the substance of thought when talking about discipline within faith and always in a vital sense. Once again Saint Thomas Aquinas, when applying the idea of law to the Christian life, or showing in what sense one should talk about law in the Christian life, the spiritual law, said the following: if one thinks about the law as a collection of regulations which must be obeyed, or that if you disobey you will be punished, you are an outlaw, you are subjected to it like a slave. For example: it is like seeing “No Smoking” on a wall. I should smoke but it’s prohibited. You feel like a slave to that regulation. But what if you don’t smoke? Do you go into that room and check to see if there’s a no-smoking sign? Of course not. So that “No Smoking” is imposed on those who smoke, but descriptive for those who don’t. The law in the Christian life is this spiritual law. In this case it is being infected by the Div-Devàs, the Bright one which makes the disciple bright too.
The opposite of Discipline.
The opposite of discipline is confusing the rule with the goal. This is catastrophe. Confusing the rule with the goal means celebrating the rule instead of passing through the rule to reach the goal. The goal should be celebrated, the rule depends on the goal.
We can look at an example. Someone studies and is disciplined about something in order to mature and make their understanding vital; but if that person studies only in order to study and to pass the exam then they are celebrating the rule and this really would be a defeat.
The words of Christ come to mind: “Not even an iota should come from the law and from the prophets.”But not because this is important in the Christian picture, rather because it is the Christian picture which makes the celebration possible: an iota, the peaks, and the least things in the ancient laws are found in Christ.
Therefore, independently from Christ the celebration of regularity is idolatry. In Christ regularity becomes mature and vital and therefore we must always think about this accomplishment. The idea is that of accomplishment. The idea of accomplishment is that the disciple is matured by the master’s mastery and the master becomes master when he sees that the disciple has become similar to him in mastery. Outside of this, thinking that a rule is important independently of the goal is idolatry. Let’s have another example. The brick is the rule, the wall is the goal. Can we celebrate the brick? The brick is the brick.
If someone says: “Thank goodness for the brick.”
-For what reason?
-For making the wall.
-And once the wall has been built, do you call the wall brick? Do you say: this collection of bricks? That is the wall, you don’t see the brick anymore. The brick is there and it is indispensable, but you don’t see it anymore.
Trying to pull the brick out to see how important it is destroys the wall. Everything is fulfilled in Christ.
Another beautiful evangelical example is when, with a touch of irony, we read: “Some people were looking at the beautiful stones the temple was made from.” So does one go to look at the temple or the beautiful stones used to build the temple? Jesus said of that temple: “Nothing will remain. But I can make it again in three days.” However he was speaking about his own body, that is the holy temple. Therefore, thinking about a law as independent from the goal, or celebrating it as a simple law, means divesting the value of the law.


Giuseppe BARZAGHI O.P., Dominican priest. Born in Monza (MI) on 03/05/1958. Doctor of Philosophy (Univ. Cattolica of Milan, where he had as teachers G. Bontadini and A. Bausola) and Theology (Pont. Univ. St. Thomas in Rome). Professor of fundamental and dogmatic theology at the Theological Faculty of Emilia Romagna and of theoretical philosophy at Dominican Philosophical Studio of Bologna. He is contributor member of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas and he directs the “School of Anagogia” of Bologna founded by his Eminence Cardinal Giacomo Biffi. He has directed for eighteen years the magazine “Divus Thomas” and he has taught for ten years Introduction to Theology at the Catholic University of Milan and then in specialized courses in Thomistic theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He is a researcher of the thought of Thomas Aquinas, and he is particularly concerned with the dialectic of metaphysical thought, as well as of the structure of the logic rhetoric.
He published the following books:
– Metaphysics of Christian culture, ESD, Bologna 1990.
– Meditation, ESD, Bologna 1992.
– Being, reason, persuasion, ESD, Bologna 1994.
– The philosophy of preaching, ESD, Bologna 1995.
– God and reason. The philosophical theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, ESD, Bologna 1996.
– Dialectic of Revelation. Proposal for a systematic theology, ESD, Bologna 1996.
– Polish version of The philosophy of preaching …
– Metaphysics of Christian culture (second ed. With Appendix of Art Concept), ESD, Bologna 1996.
– Diary of metaphysics. Concepts and digressions on the sense of being, ESD, Bologna 1997.
– Soliloquy the divine. Meditations on the secret Christian, ESD, Bologna 1997.
– Philosophy tabbed. Compendium of logic, metaphysics, cosmology, anthropology, ethics, ESD, Bologna 1998.
– Being, reason, persuasion, ESD, Bologna 1998 (second ed.).
– Philosophia. The pleasure of thinking, The Polygraph, Padua 1999.
– Besides God, that omnia in omnibus. Thoughts of God, the divine, the Deity, Barghigiani publisher, Bologna 2000.
– Meister Eckhart, and. San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo 2002.
– Anagogia. Christianity sub specie æternitatis, ETC, Modena 2002.
– The eye of God. Essays theology anagogic, Preface of Card. Giacomo Biffi, Edizioni Cantagalli, Siena 2003, pp.469.
– Compendium of systematic philosophy, ESD, Bologna 2006.
– The geography of the soul. The scenario dell’agone Christian, ESD, Bologna 2008
– The sum of Theology in St. Thomas Aquinas in the compendium, ESD, Bologna 2009
– The Escape. Exercises philosophy, ESD, Bologna 2010
– The look of suffering, ESD, Bologna 2011
– The understanding of faith. Believe to understand to know to believe, ESD, Bologna 2012.
– The eye of God. New essays on theology anagogic. Preface of Card. Giacomo Biffi, ESD, Bologna 2012.

• 26 January 2015

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