"O tempora, o mores!" Not An Appropriate Sentiment?


#1

Salvete, omnes!

Very often, you hear people lamenting that former times were (morally and otherwise) better than those during which we now live.

Yet, in Ecclesiastes 7:10, we seem to read that we should not ask why this is so.

So, does this mean that all periods of time are equal, morally and otherwise? Is that why we shouldn’t ask questions like this?

Is this passage even referring to “ages of time” or “eras”, or, is it referring to shorter periods of time, such as the beginning of one’s lif versus the end (as this was just what the author had been talking about prior to this statement)?

Or, is this passage saying that we should not inquire into the “reasons” for any apparent decline? After all, the author does say that we should not ask “why” these things happen. Still, why would it not be wise to inquire into the causes for this? Are they unable to be found out, no matter how hard we look, no matter in what era of scientific inquiry we find ourselves? I mean, I could give an answer to why morals decline such as “moral instruction is not what it once was” or “we gave the devil an inch and he took a mile”. These could be perfectly logical explanation, could they not? So, then, why would asking this question not be from wisdom?

Or, rather, is our author saying that we should not (in a lamenting way) ask “O why were the good old days so much better than now?!” possibly in a similar vein to Cicero’s “O tempora, O mores!” (“Oh, [what horrible] times, o [what wretched] morals!”)? Yet, again, though, why should we NOT lament the times ifw e feel badly about what is happening during them compared to previous ages?

Rather, is our author advising against our considering the “good old days” as qualitatively better than the present and, in some sense, wishing to go back to them because, perhaps this shows a lack of contentment? I do have to admit, however, I myself look back on previous times (or at least certain select aspects of them) and do wish the things pertaining to the negative had remained the same. Is it somehow wrong to think like this? To me, it is only natural to think like this, though I am also quite pleased with many aspects of our current age.

Or, is the author’s point that human nature hasn’t changed necessarily, so, in that sense, times are not worse than they are today. Only permissiveness, perhaps, has changed, but not human nature itself? So, then, in this light, would an expressing, say, of disdain for the permissiveness in our present age be allowed by Sacred Scripture, such as that found in the Ciceronian sentiment?

So, then, what is this passage saying? What is not wise about speaking of former times being better than now?

Gratias vobis.


#2

Read the Popes Monday himily about people who obstinately live in the past.


#3

From Haydock’s Commentary on this verse:
Men endeavour to excuse themselves by the manners of the age. But there have always been both good and evil, chap. i. 10. (Calmet) — Corruption was prevalent in former times as well as now. (Menochius) (source)


#4

Sure, there is corruption in all ages. I’m not arguing that point.

What I’m saying is that, in some cases, morals in a society are “looser” in some ages than in others, mainly, as I believe, due to increased permissiveness, reduced or lack of moral education, etc.

Is it not then permissible to lament when we see morals overall on the decline?


#5

We can lament anything we want to, but we cannot obstinately despair and fail to see the good in the current age, or fail to believe that the world is still moving forward.


#6

Couple of interesting thoughts since my first post:

One commentator I was reading on this suggests, among other things, that the author was stating that it is not wise to question the Providence of God when we see that some former time in our lives or even before that may have been better in some way than the current times. That, he says, is whence the lack of wisdom derives.

Also, anotehr thought of my own: It has been well-commented-on that it is likely that the author of this text “experimented” with living an entirely materialistic life without God’s principles to guide him. So, in this tate of mind, perhaps our author is stating that, since there is no real rhyme or reason to things, nothing beyond material existence, that it is futile (“vain”) to even to question (why morals or anything else) are worse today than before, since “all is vanity”, according to his (former) materialistic way of thinking which (apparently?) had an imperfect knowledge ofthe LORD God. (After all, we cannot forget to notice that our author does mention God even in what we may term his times of materialism.) In this way ofthinking, God has determined the times as they are and there is really no sense in trying to understand them. They just are, no reason (at least no understandable one) about them. Again, this is obviously Solomon’s prior imperfect understanding of life and God with human wisdom and without the Divine Wisdom, at least initially, truly guiding him – one possible understanding. (Or, I suppose we could say that he permitted himself, despite all of what he had heard from his youth, to see for himself whether it all was true.) At any rate, I digress.

At any rate, what do you guys think of this understanding? In the first case, the sin is not in the lamentation about degrading times but in the misunderstanding of it in terms of the All-Good Providence of God. In the second case, the sin would be in the perspective that the only thing that is is material and material pleasure, that there is no additional rhym or reason and that, therefore, it is not even worth asking – it is not at all wise to ask – questions about why things seem worse now than before, even that it is not worth lamenting over such if there is no moral rhyme or eason to things.

I guess my only concern, particularly about the latter interpretation is that, immediately before this verse, you have a very wise/moral saying on anger which might suggest that this next verse is not a part of his “materialist/imperfect” phase.

Thoughts on any of this? Is any or all of this valid? Invalid? Why? Why not?


#7

Well said.


#8

[Luke]
{23:28} But Jesus, turning to them, said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep over me. Instead, weep over yourselves and over your children.
{23:29} For behold, the days will arrive in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the breasts that have not nursed.’
{23:30} Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall over us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’
{23:31} For if they do these things with green wood, what will be done with the dry?”

The wood was green in the time of Jesus, and much later it will be dry. This figure indicates that secular society gets worse and worse, more and more sinful, as the centuries pass. Eventually, society will be so sinful that it will utterly reject Christianity:

[Matthew]
{24:9} Then they will hand you over to tribulation, and they will kill you. And you will be hated by all nations for the sake of my name.


#9

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.