Memory and repentance

Hans Boersma writes on Lent and the relationship between memory and repentance:

Memorization is underrated. But it’s understandable that contemporary society puts it down: Why worry about mental storage when we have digital storage?

One answer is that repentance depends on memory. Thus, memorization is a Lenten practice, a repentant turning back to the memory of God. The link between memory and character formation was recognized long ago. Cicero insisted in the first century b.c. that we can only make prudent moral choices by consciously drawing on past experiences. He linked memory to prudence as one of its three constitutive elements. Memory, he explains, is the faculty that “recalls what has happened.” It deals with the past. Along with intelligence and foresight, memory allows us to make prudent decisions.

Thomas Aquinas also recognized the close link between memory and prudence. In the Summa Theologiae he deals with the topic of memory as part of a broader discussion of prudence. Aquinas thought of memory as an intellectual virtue that allows us to make practical moral decisions. “Experience,” he explains, “is the result of many memories…and therefore prudence requires the memory of many things.” …

Ordered thoughts make for ordered lives.

We may be tempted to think that digitization makes memorization redundant. The truth is, rather, that digitization yields distraction. I can select whatever I want from online storage at any time. The possibilities are endless, and so the order, steadiness, and peacefulness to which Hugh alludes consistently escape us. …

Memorization is a Lenten practice, reshaping our memories to be like God’s. When our memories are reshaped and reordered according to the immutable faithfulness of God in Christ, we re-appropriate God’s character—his steadfast love, his mercy, his compassion. Repentance, therefore, is a turning back to the virtues of God as we see them in Christ.  Being united to him, we are united to the very character of God, for it is in the God-man that God’s virtue and human virtue meet. The hypostatic union is the locus of our repentance: In Christ human memory is re-figured to the memory of God.

Because the internet is a messaging system, not a library, it is also in some sense a tool for forgetting, in the sense that the ephemeral is the inverse of the perpetual.

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