Sunday, August 16, 2009


     When I, a heedless child, was instructed in the highest secrets of the faith—namely the Holy Trinity—by Mr. Bret the catechist1, it was not at all strange to me that there were three personages of God; for me there I simply recognized three gods in heaven the way I recognized three gods on earth—the notary public, my father, and the chairman of the parish council, having chosen those three among other the others for their physical size. It was something else that bothered me: what exactly did the Holy Spirit do and what was its purpose? The business of God the Father was clear to me—the creation of the world is a tangible work, after all. God the Son was at least a man, and had once been a child, and I could color his clothes with the most beautiful red and blue colors in the Bible stories I had. I just didn’t know what to do with the Holy Spirit; I didn’t know what he looked like and I couldn’t define exactly what his function was; he seemed to me a little undervalued and occupied by internal affairs, without a defined and practical sphere of action. I maintain that everyone had the same problems with the Holy Ghost.

     Since that time I have not made much progress in matters of religious expertise, having instead been forced to turn to more humanistic concerns, and it is still a question of spirit which makes my head spin. For even we people know full well how to value material work and control over matter; we know how to love out hate human leaders, saviors, and the shapers of the church; but our stance on the mere soul which does not do this or that is uncertain, diffident. The human spirit concern our very faith in humanity, but does not have a defined sphere within it; we regard intelligence or education as some sort of honor or adornment, but not as a worthy goal or sense of living. Not long ago a survey of pedagogues resulted in a distaste for impractical education, which supposedly was poor preparation for a useful life. Yes, the spirit, which does not serve strictly practical needs, seems somehow useless and poorly regulated; we esteem it but we do not know what to do with it. It is the same with the Holy Spirit; it rules nowhere, but makes everywhere sacred. It cannot be measured by the results of its work; its sphere is everywhere.

     For that reason we should celebrate the human spirit at this year’s holidays, that tongue of flame and universal language; the spirit, which did not create this world and does not lead it, but sanctifies it; a spirit wholly impractical and unfettered, useless, unregulated by defined limits. It is difficult to define the function of the spirit, of education, of culture; we know that we cannot find it and we cannot sow a field or grease a wheel with it. It may be more personally valuable for us to recognize it in the actions of the law than in music; it will clearly be more fruitful to manufacture nails than read verses, and it is certainly more useful to cultivate turnips than to cultivate atomic theory. Culture is indefensible on practical terms, but that was the case millennia ago, when people composed useless music, verses and paintings and enumerated the stars and wasted their time in hundreds of similar ways, as we do today. Education too is indefensible except by saying that whoever that exciting tongue of flame descends upon recognizes through some secret fashion that it is all worth it, that it is worth more than any sort of useful or profitably or popularly-regarded deed. In its ultimate sense the spirit serves nothing else at all besides humanity; it does not exist for any other reason.It does not nourish anyone, or lead anyone anywhere, but it grants one thing: a life of value.



1 Mr. Bret the catechist--teacher of religion and friend of the Čapek family in Úpice, who is also mentioned by [Karel's brother] Josef Čapek in his autobiographical writings and by [their sister] Helena Čapková in her autobiographical work Malé děvče [Young Girl].

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