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Tertullian: what was
he on about?
 
 
Quotes: misquoted, oft-quoted, too oft quoted.
 
Never mind that nobody ever said "Play it again, Sam" or "Come up and see me some time", "When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun" – sometimes misquotes are snappier than the original. But some quotes are oft-quoted with the wrong meaning, or misquoted, or misattributed in a way that matters. Or oft-quoted to support a point of view they actually demolish.
 
“If t’were done when ‘tis done, t’were well it were done quickly.” Macbeth meant “If it’s over when it [the murder] is done, it’s better to do it quickly”. (That's dramatic irony.)

to the manor born    Hamlet said "to the manner born".

Ignorance is bliss.    The whole line goes: "If ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise."

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.   Said Winston Churchill? When Mark Twain mentioned this pithy saying in his autobiography, he credited it to Benjamin Disraeli.
 
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.” What was Horatio’s philosophy? Was Horatio a Protestant who didn’t believe in purgatory? Or did Hamlet just mean “philosophy”? Whatever he meant, it doesn't prove that UFOs are flown by little green men, or that homeopathy is medically useful.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.     From Marmion by Sir Walter Scott. (But when we've practised for a while, how vastly we improve our style.)

Honesty is the best policy.     Policy used to mean something like diplomacy, so this means "honesty is the best kind of deviousness".

Every sperm is sacred.    From an amusing comedy skit by those zany jokesters, Monty Python, not promulgated by the Pope.

Thou shalt not kill, but need'st not strive/ Officiously to keep alive.    These lines by Arthur Hugh Clough are often quoted to support the view that abortion, embryo research and euthanasia are acceptable. They are from his poem The Latest Decalogue which is a satire of the ten commandments. Other commandments in his list: "Thou shalt have one God only - who/ would be at the expense of two?/ Adultery do not commit -/ Advantage rarely comes of it." You get the idea?

Religion is the opium of the people.   Marx is often dismissed for being anti-religious. After all, didn’t he say "Religion is the opium of the people"? He did, but in context it means something more like "Religion is the Prozac of the people, and if you don’t want people to take Prozac you should make sure they don’t need to."
 
Here's what he actually said: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions."

The bells! The bells!     Catchphrase of Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Actually said by Henry Irving in a famous melodrama in which he played a character called Matthias who was haunted by the sound of the sleighbells of the man he murdered.

Give me a child until he is seven years old, and he is mine for life.     Said St Ignatius. Or was it a Jesuit? Or the Jesuits? Until he’s seven? When he’s seven? For six years? For the first six years?

I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.       Said Voltaire. Or did he? The phrase was invented by a later author as an epitome of his attitude. It appeared in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the pseudonym S[tephen] G. Tallentyre... probable source for the quotation was a line in a 6 February 1770 letter to M. le Riche: ``Monsieur l'AbbĂ©, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write. (Web))

Webster was much obsessed with death.    Actually T.S. Eliot wrote that he was  “possessed” by it.

Wherefore art thou, Romeo?    Means “Why are you ‘Romeo’?”, not “Where are you, Romeo?”

The poor are always with us.      Jesus didn't mean that any effort to eliminate poverty won’t work. He said, foretelling his death: “The poor are always with you, but I will not always be with you.”

slouch towards (“much of western Europe has slouched toward the decriminalisation of cannabis”)    It doesn't mean reach your destination in a slack and disorganised way, but fulfil a date with destiny. W.B. Yeats asked: What rough beast/ slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The truth is seldom pure and never simple.     Oscar Wilde
What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.    Francis Bacon, Essays, Civil and Moral
 
Both of these are wheeled out by people who are losing an argument through lack of data or logic. They should read Bacon's next sentence: “Certainly there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting.”
 
Credo quia impossibile.    Tertullian said he believed in Christianity because it was impossible. Or did he? (And even if he did, does that mean we should believe the impossible?) What he really said was:
 
“Crucifixus est dei filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est. Et mortuus est dei filius; credibile est, quia ineptum est. Et sepultus resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile.”

“The son of God was crucified: it does not shame, because it is shameful. The son of God died: it is believable because it is absurd. And arose from the grave: it is certain because it is impossible.”

Here’s what the Catholic Encyclopaedia says:  ‘There is a controversy whether the same truth can be an object both of faith and of knowledge. In other words, can we believe a thing both because we are told it on good authority and because we ourselves  perceive it to be true? St. Thomas, Scotus, and others hold that once a  thing is seen to be true, the adhesion of the mind is in no wise  strengthened by the authority of one who states that it is so, but the  majority of theologians maintain, with De Lugo, that there may be a  knowledge which does not entirely satisfy the mind, and that authority  may then find a place, to complete its satisfaction. -- We may note here  the absurd expression Credo quia impossibile, which has provoked many  sneers. It is not an axiom of the Scholastics, as was stated in the  "Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale" (March, 1896, p. 169), and as was suggested more than once in the "Do we believe?" correspondence. The  expression is due to Tertullian, whose exact words are: "Natus est Dei  Filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est: et mortuus est Dei Filius; prorsus  credibile est, quia ineptum est; et sepultus, resurrexit; certum est,  quia impossibile" (De Carne Christi, cap. v). This treatise dates from Tertullian's Montanist days, when he was carried away by his love of paradox. At the same time it is clear that the writer only aims at  bringing out the wisdom of God manifested in the humiliation of the Cross; he is perhaps paraphrasing St. Paul's words in 1 Cor., i, 25.’ 

 
And here is some meaningless uplift...

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.    Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We need'st must love the highest when we see it.    Tennyson
 
Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.   "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds ... With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do,"  said Ralph Waldo Emerson. But he was wrong.
 
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?     Robert Browning But was he being ironic?
 
 
We know what Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein are doing in the afterlife – churning out pious platitudes for automatic spam tweets. Why not add these to the fortune cookie database?

If you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Real freedom is about living with limitations. (Template: real x is [the opposite of X].)

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Soren Kierkegaard

Only a life lived for others is a life worth living. Albert Einstein (allegedly)

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. Mahatma Gandhi

Life begets life. Energy creates energy.

It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.
Sarah Bernhardt

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.

Evil is obvious only in retrospect.


The purpose of life is to fight maturity.


The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.


You have to meet life on life’s terms.
Geri Halliwell

That which does not destroy me makes me stronger.

The purpose of life is to live it.


Catholics believe that the purpose of life is to have life and have it more abundantly.
 
Man is disturbed not by things but by the views he takes of them.     Epictetus (This isn't meaningless so much as wrong.)