Under The Aspect Of Eternity

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Lightness of Being, by Chris Levine, 2004

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From all this it now follows that the content of ethical problems can never be discussed in a Christian light; the possibility of erecting generally valid principles simply does not exist, because each moment, lived in God’s sight, can bring an unexpected decision. Thus only one thing can be repeated again and again, also in our time: in ethical decisions a man must consider his action sub specie aeternitatis and then, no matter how it proceeds, it will proceed rightly.”

1 Corinthians 1:26–31

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.


Rick WilcoxEngland’s Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch in British history. By all accounts she has held her role with deep regard for its responsibility to history and the British people.  She is famously private and guarded of her personal beliefs and emotions.

In 2004, artist Chris Levine, while commissioned to take her official portrait, caught the image shown here in between takes as she rested her eyes.  The meditative state of repose is engaging because it makes her somehow more accessible, more human.  We can almost sense her thoughts.  If you know a little about her, you might know of her beloved Corgis. The dogs have been associated with the Royal Family for years. Queen Elizabeth says she enjoys her Corgis because they don’t know she is Queen.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” wrote Shakespeare in King Henry the Fourth, and we get it.  It’s the feeling of modern adulthood. We are jugglers, plate spinners and multi-taskers in the kingdom of our own making.  No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with props and material possessions to make us feel successful and accomplished, we all know that, as Montaigne said, “on the loftiest throne in the world we are still only sitting on our own rump.”

The Germans have a word for this condition: Zerrissenheit (loosely, “falling-to-pieces-ness”).  This is the loss of internal coherence that can come from living a multitasking, pulled-in-a-hundred-directions existence. This is what Kierkegaard called “the dizziness of freedom.”  When external constraints are loosened, when a person can do what he wants, when there are a thousand choices and distractions, then life can lose coherence and direction if there isn’t a strong internal structure.

It’s what happens when we make ourselves our own God.

The folly of this lifestyle can only be remedied by seeing the world through God’s eyes – sub specie aeternitatis – under the aspect of eternity.

In plain talk, what that means is that only God’s perspective matters. Regardless of what other people think of us (good or bad) or what society says is right or wrong, the only measure of our life is how obedient we are to God.

All of the importance and significance we seek in pleasures and material possessions is completely misplaced.  We are the pinnacle of God’s creation and our self worth is realized through the reconciliation of grace back into His fellowship.

 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Sub specie aeternitatis

Latin for “under the aspect of eternity”, is, from Baruch Spinoza onwards, an honorific expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the temporal portions of reality.

In clearer English, sub specie aeternitatis roughly means “from the perspective of the eternal”. Even more loosely, the phrase is used to describe an alternative or objective point of view.

Spinoza’s “eternal” perspective is reflected in his Ethics (Part V, Prop. XXIII, Scholium), where he treats ethics through a geometric investigation that begins with God and nature and then analyzes human emotions and the human intellect. By proceeding sub specie aeternitatis, Spinoza seeks to arrive at an ethical theory that is as precise as Euclid’s Elements. In the history of philosophy, this way of proceeding may be most clearly contrasted with Aristotle’s manner of proceeding. Aristotle’s methodological differences in his “philosophy of human affairs” and his natural philosophy are grounded in the distinction between what is “better known to us” and things “better known in themselves,” or what is “first for us” and what is “first by nature” (discussed, among other places, at Metaphysics Z.3, 1029b3–12), a distinction that is deliberately discarded by Spinoza and other modern philosophers.

 

 

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

GENEALOGY OF MORALS

FIRST ESSAY
GOOD AND EVIL, GOOD AND BAD

Is there anyone who would like to take a little look down on and under that secret how man fabricates an ideal on earth? Who has the courage for that? Come on, now! Here is an open glimpse into this dark workshop. Just wait a moment, my dear Mr. Presumptuous and Nosy: your eye must first get used to this artificial flickering light. . . . So, enough! Now speak! What’s going on down there? Speak up. Say what you see, man of the most dangerous curiosity—now I’m the one who’s listening.—
“I see nothing, but I hear all the more. It is a careful and crafty light rumour-mongering and whispering from every nook and cranny. It seems to me that people are lying; a sugary mildness clings to every sound. Weakness is going to be falsified into something of merit. There’s no doubt about it—things are just as you said they were.”
—Keep talking!
“And powerlessness which does not retaliate is being falsified into ‘goodness,’ anxious baseness into ‘humility,’ submission before those one hates to ‘obedience’ (of course, obedience to the one who, they say, commands this submission—they call him God). The inoffensiveness of the weak man, even cowardice, in which he is rich, his standing at the door, his inevitable need to wait around—here these acquire good names, like ‘patience’ and are called virtue. That incapacity for revenge is called the lack of desire for revenge, perhaps even forgiveness (‘for they know not what they do—only we know what they do!’). And people are talking about ‘love for one’s enemy’—and sweating as they say it.”
—Keep talking!
“They are miserable—there’s no doubt about that—all these rumour mongers and counterfeiters in the corners, although crouched down beside each other in the warmth—but they are telling me that their misery is God’s choice, His sign. One beats the dog one loves the most. Perhaps this misery may be a preparation, a test, an education, perhaps it is even more—something that will one day be rewarded and paid out with huge interest in gold, no, in happiness. They call that ‘blessedness.’ ”
—Go on!
“Now they are telling me that they are not only better than the powerful, the masters of the earth, whose spit they have to lick (not out of fear, certainly not out of fear, but because God commands that they honour those in authority)—they are not only better than these but they also are ‘better off,’ or at any rate will one day have it better. But enough! Enough! I can’t endure it any more. Bad air! Bad air! This workshop where man fabricates ideals—it seems to me it stinks from nothing but lies.”
—No! Just wait a minute more! So far you haven’t said anything about the masterpiece of these black magicians who know how to make whiteness, milk, and innocence out of every blackness. Have you not noticed the perfection of their sophistication, their most daring, refined, most spiritual, most fallacious artistic attempt. Pay attention! These cellar animals full of vengeance and hatred—what are they making right now out of that vengeance and hatred? Have you ever heard these words? If you heard only their words, would you suspect that you were completely among men of resentment?
“I understand. Once again I’ll open my ears (oh! oh! oh! and hold my nose). Now I’m hearing for the first time what they’ve been saying so often: ‘We good men—we are the righteous’—what they demand they don’t call repayment but ‘the triumph of righteousness.’ What they hate is not their enemy. No! They hate ‘injustice,’ ‘godlessness.’ What they believe and hope is not a hope for revenge, the intoxication of sweet vengeance (something Homer called ‘sweeter than honey’) but the victory of God, the righteous God, over the godless. What remains for them to love on earth are not their brothers in hatred but their ‘brothers in love,’ as they say, all the good and righteous people on the earth.”
—And what do they call what serves them as a consolation for all the suffering of life—their phantasmagoria of future blessedness which they are expecting?
“What that? Am I hearing correctly? They call that ‘the last judgment,’ the coming to their kingdom, the coming of ‘God’s kingdom’—but in the meanwhile they live ‘in faith,’ ‘in love,’ ‘in hope.’ ”
—Enough! Enough!

JAMES 1:13–15

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.


Rick WilcoxHere is sin’s dirty little secret – seduction requires collusion.  From Goethe’s Faust to Kierkegaard’s Repetition literature is filled with dealing with the Devil. The heart of every sin is idolatry because it all comes back to us trying to be our own god. Sadly, the real desires we are working to fulfill are God-given and come with a perfect path of fulfillment, but we usually aren’t willing to either wait or follow direction. Augustine said temptation has three stages – suggestion, imagined pleasure and consent. We get into trouble with step two.

If you earnestly want to be in a loving relationship with God, He’s ready and able to help. If you would rather shut God out and serve yourself, there’s a darker voice who will encourage you to open the cracked door. Just remember, it’s your choice. As Nietzsche said, “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

At his best, which by any measure is most of the time and in his opinion all the time, Nietzsche provokes dialogue. Does anybody agree with all his conclusions? Can anyone forget the experience of reading him? Nietzsche insists that we follow any argument all the way to its logical end, even if the end is awful. He is right to demand this consistency of us.

A delightful thing about Nietzsche: He has no time for poseurs of any sort. He loathes Christians, but he is equally mocking of the effete atheists of Parisian cafe culture. It has been stimulating to think of the scorn he would’ve had for a middle-brow “great books” reader such as this one. If one thinks reading “greats” will magically produce wisdom, Nietzsche is a needed slap in the face. He doesn’t suffer people who study philosophy to fake their way through happy-hour chatter or a Katie Couric interview.

What do you really want?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

 

 

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


On Genealogy of Morals

Fred Sanders

God was dead, to begin with. If you want to understand the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, you have to start where he started, with the premise that there is no God and that Christian monotheism had all been a big mistake. As far as Nietzsche was concerned, the best thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century had altogether undermined Christian truth claims: Strauss’s Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1846) and Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity (1855) were among the important books that had settled things (two books, by the way, that novelist George Eliot made sure to translate so they could have their effect for English readers). By the 1880s, anybody who still clung to Christianity was either not paying attention or was fooling themselves. The master of melodrama and bombast in the intellectual life, Nietzsche looked back on recent Western thought and said, “We have become God’s murderers.”

So God was dead as a coffin-nail, and Nietzsche knew it. He also knew that the educated people of his day knew it. But what bothered him was that they didn’t act like it. Though sound scholarship had demolished Christian theology, Christian morality was still alive and well. So Nietzsche appointed himself the official whistle-blower on the death of God, and like many of the radicals of the late nineteenth century, he insisted that we should follow out the logic of godlessness to its conclusions.

The very people who had spent the nineteenth century driving God out of their worldviews were failing to draw the necessary conclusions about their morality. Even without God, they held on to absolute truth, to reason, to the binding claims of right and wrong. Worst of all, the godless moderns still had a conscience, and it continued to condemn them when they violated its dictates. Nietzsche spent half his time reminding them that they had no right to hold on to the benefits of monotheism after murdering God, and the other half of his time rejoicing that there was no longer any ground on which conscience could stand.

———

“If God is dead, anything is possible,” mused Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, and it was Friedrich Nietzsche who set himself to the task of showing what that meant for ethics. Since morals didn’t come from a God, where did they come from? He answered that question in 1887 with his Genealogy of Morals, which is the best, and by far clearest, introduction to his overall project.

In short, the first essay in the three-part Genealogy argues that morality itself, the whole idea of good versus evil, came about when weak people figured out a way to make strong people feel bad about being strong. The reason we feel we should take pity on the weak, or feel bad for imposing our wills on others, is that long ago, in some dark, underground workshop of the spirit, the weak had invented “morals” to compensate for their weakness. Instead of just straightforwardly hating their enemies, they declared that their superiors stood under the judgment of a higher authority—God—whose law condemned them. And then, amazingly, they had convinced the strong to accept these twisted ideals as “the way things ought to be.” This was the slave-revolt at the beginning of the epoch of morality, and the slaves have been in charge ever since.

Until Nietzsche, that is, who claimed to be writing with a prophetic voice that announced a new, natural way of valuing things: Whatever affirms and perpetuates life is good, and whatever denies or suppresses life is bad. All of this has to be read in Nietzsche’s own words, though, because they are so powerful (“I can write in letters which make even the blind see,” he said).

Christian readers have trouble engaging Nietzsche because, to state the obvious, they don’t share his presupposition that the arguments of Victorian atheism were in fact conclusive. They would like to reserve the right to go back and have those debates about truth. But as hard as he is to engage, Nietzsche is well worth coming to terms with for several reasons. He pioneered the strategy of discrediting Christianity by ignoring the question of its truth, in order to cut straight to his major complaint: Christianity is bad for human beings and other living things like the mind, the arts, and freedom. That attitude is probably the dominant tone of popular atheism in our time.

Nietzsche is also the one whose systematic, genealogical suspicion toward the whole vocabulary of Christian virtue (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) has burned away so much of the faith’s credibility. Christianity has always been called into question by the bad conduct of its adherents. But Nietzsche (who grew up in a pastor’s home and maintained a commitment to Christ well into his teens) transformed that anecdotal criticism into a wholesale deconstruction. Genealogy of Morals is the book where he did so, and if this book is right, then every word of the New Testament is a mendacious lie. At least, all the significant nouns.

Fred Sanders, PhD, is an associate professor of Systematic Theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. He lectures frequently on the Trinity and Christian art, and is the author of several books, including The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

The Devil in Literature

The English word devil derives through OE deofol and Lat. diabolus from Gk. diabolos, meaning “slanderer” or “false accuser.” The Greek term is the LXX translation of Heb. śatan, “adversary” or “obstructer.” The devil is to be distinguished from the demons, identified in Christian tradition with the angels who followed Lucifer in his fall, and from other lesser evil spirits. The devil has been given a number of names by tradition. Most commonly he is called Satan or Lucifer, but he sometimes takes the name Beelzeboul or Beelzebub, Belial, Azazel, Mastema, Satanail, Sammael, or Semyaza, all of which names derive from the OT and Intertestamental literature. In modern times he also bears the name Mephistopheles. Legend and literature sometimes assign these names to different characters, usually for dramatic purposes; thus frequently in medieval and modern literature, Satan, Lucifer, Belial, and others play different parts.

In the OT, śatan was originally a common noun (e.g., 2 Sam. 19:22), but gradually it became the title of a particular being. Early biblical references picture a creature of God who prompts evil (1 Chron. 21:1), accuses the righteous (Job 1–2), or even opposes God’s will (Zech. 3:1–2). From these passages there developed the more fully defined rebellious angel of later tradition. Two key OT passages which were not originally intended to apply to the Evil One came to be associated with Satan. The serpent of Eden was not identified with the devil until the Intertestamental period (see Rom. 16:20). Isa. 14:12–15, which relates the fall of “Lucifer, son of the morning,” refers explicitly to the king of Babylon, but this passage also (and the name Lucifer) became associated with the devil during the Intertestamental period. The Isaiah passage is attached to the devil in 2 Enoch 29:4-5 in the apocalyptic Life of Adam 14.16 and apparently in Luke 10:18, but the identification was not clear and definite before the writings of Origen (A.D.185-251). On the whole, the OT devil is still a shadowy and inchoate figure.

In the postexilic period, the suffering of the Jews under Greek and Roman rule prompted an intense concern with the problem of evil and the powers of evil. In 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a portrait of the devil began to emerge in which he is the head of a band of evil angels in rebellion against God and enmity against humanity. The Qumran community, with its intense dualism, envisioned scenarios in which Satan led an army of evil angels and evil humans against the divine host, and the NT reflects similar Jewish traditions.

The temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan (Matt. 4 and Luke 4:1–13) is the most dramatic NT episode involving the devil, but his sinister power is referred to frequently (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 5:10–16; 1 Pet. 5:8). The essential function of the NT Satan is to obstruct the kingdom of God; one of his strategies is possession. Christ’s exorcisms and cures are blows struck against the devil’s power and signs of the imminent victory of God’s kingdom over Satan (Matt. 12:22–32). The devil is “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) but his lordship is being broken by Christ (1 Cor. 15:20–28), a process culminating in the eschatological triumph of Christ and his elect (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:7–12).

Patristic diabology can be best understood in the context of the struggle against Gnosticism and, later, Manicheism. The Gnostic-Manichean view combined apocalyptic diabology, Iranian dualism, and Greek Orphism to produce a mythology which posited a cosmic struggle between a good God of spirit and an evil god of matter, the latter being equated with Satan. In its strongest and most coherent forms, this dualism denied monotheism and was therefore unacceptable to Judaism and the Christian community. Early patristic writings such as The Epistle of Barnabas, and works by Didymus, Hermas, and St. Ignatius of Antioch, show both a reaction against gnostic dualism and some influence from it, the influence manifesting itself in a doctrine of a strong dichotomy between the followers of good (often identified with the Christian community) and the followers of the devil (often identified with pagans and heretics). The power of gnostic dualism was evident still in the writings of Lactantius (ca. 245-325). The classic elements of Christian diabology, however, were established by Origen and St. Augustine (354-430) and were popularized in the West by St. Gregory the Great, especially in his Moralia in Iob.

In Gregory’s account, God created the angels good and gave them free will. Lucifer, one of the highest angels, sinned through pride and envy, choosing his own will over God’s, and he led many of the other angels after him (these became the demons). Envious of God’s love for humanity, Satan used the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve to transgress his divine ordinance. God punished fallen humanity by leaving it in the devil’s power, though this power was ultimately limited by God’s sovereignty. In his mercy, however, God the Father sent God the Son to liberate humanity from this slavery to Satan. The Incarnation and especially the Passion of Christ restored human freedom. Those who accept Christ form the community of the saved, “the city of God.” Those who do not accept Christ are cut off from salvation and form “the city of this world.” From the Incarnation until the end of the world, some will be continually added to the kingdom of God through faith in Christ; Satan continues to attempt, however vainly, to block that saving work. In the last days, Satan and the Antichrist will make a last pitched battle against the Christian community but will be foiled by the Second Coming of Christ, who will bring his kingdom to fulfillment and utterly destroy the power of Satan (cf. St. Ephraim Syrus, Nisibene Hymns; Hymns of the Nativity).

Through the influence of Gregory the Great and the other Fathers, such views were firmly imprinted on OE literature, most clearly in the homilies of Aelfric and the poems Genesis B, Christ and Satan, and in the “harrowing of hell” narrative. These works offer a powerful extrabiblical rendering of the history of the struggle between Christ and the devil, to which further details were gradually added by folklore. Medieval theology reduced the patristic emphasis on the devil by tending to replace the ransom theory (which saw the act of salvation as God’s payment of a ransom for mankind to Satan) with Anselm’s satisfaction theory in Cur Deus Homo? (which made it a sacrifice offered by the incarnate Son to the Father and put Satan in the background), but literature on the whole preferred the more dramatic ransom theory.

The devil is a powerful figure in Langland’s Piers Plowman, usually behind the scenes but sometimes overtly, as in his attack on the Tree of Charity in C.16 and in the harrowing of hell (B.18; C.20). Chaucer, for the most part, prefers to present the devil satirically (Monk’s Tale; Friar’s Tale and Prologue), an approach taken also frequently in the morality plays. His most dramatic appearances in ME literature are in the York, N-Town, Towneley, and Chester mystery plays, especially in the plays centered on his fall, the temptation of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the harrowing of hell. Sometimes frightening in these plays, he is more often a fool, as the playwrights exploit the audience’s knowledge that all of his posturings against the kingdom of God will be foiled. By the 14th cent., then, the devil had, in literary treatments at least, become more often comic than fearsome. This trend was reversed, however, during the 15th through 17th cents., the period during which Satan’s power was perceived to be at its height.

The leading Protestant Reformers, especially Luther (who came to the subject with strong Germanic convictions about the existence and power of demons), returning to what they saw as a biblical emphasis upon the power of Satan, added to the new fear of the devil. The legend of Faust, homocentric, pessimistic, and individualistic, reflected this view; it also produced, in the German Faustbook of 1587, the first use of the name Mephistopheles. Marlowe’s adaptation of the legend in Doctor Faustus (1588 or 1589) produced the first major diabolical portrait in modern English literature in the character of Mephistopheles, here Satan’s agent, rather than the devil himself. Spenser shows the devil in human guise (e.g., Archimago, Orgoglio) and in the form of a dragon. Shakespeare presents humans demonized by their sin (Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Richard in 3 Henry 6 and Richard 3, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Edmund in King Lear, and Iago in Othello), though in both Hamlet and Macbeth the devil’s evil, destructive power can also be felt more directly.

Although belief in the devil’s power was almost universal among both the elite and the uneducated during the early 17th cent., English philosophers such as Francis Bacon (1561-1628) and John Locke (1632-1704) laid the basis for skepticism regarding both witchcraft and the devil. English writers, as a result, were divided over whether to treat the devil seriously (as in Barnabe Barnes, The Devil’s Charter [1607]), or satirically. The comic Satan of Ben Jonson’s The Devil Is an Ass (1616) clearly indicates Jonson’s skepticism; John Webster’s The White Devil (1608) and Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling (1623) emphasize the evil in humanity. Sir Thomas Browne argues in Religio Medici (1.30, 31, 37; cf. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1.10, 11) that the denial of supernatural evil is tantamount to atheism, that the devil, being the father of lies, often seduces people into a skepticism concerning his own existence in order to pursue his diabolical ends.

John Bunyan, in his characterization of Apollyon in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Diabolus in The Holy War, presents a potent Satanic presence. But the most vivid (and influential) portrait of the devil in English literature is unquestionably that of Milton in Paradise Lost (1667; rev. 1674) and Paradise Regained (1671). Milton added a wealth of detail, color, and texture to the traditional story, but the two most important effects of his poems on diabology were first to set the story in language so powerful and memorable that it was henceforth fixed in the literary imagination in Milton’s terms even more than in the Bible’s, and second to portray the devil’s character in a “heroic” vein. Critics still argue whether Milton made Satan more heroic than he intended; whatever one’s critical position, it is undeniable that Satan, “High on a Throne of Royal State, which far / Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,” can be seen as a figure of immense majesty (PL 2.1-2).

The deism and skepticism of the 18th cent. undermined belief in the existence of the devil, the key philosophical text being David Hume’s “Essay on Miracles,” the tenth chapter of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748). Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil (1726) affirms orthodox belief in the devil’s existence, but his interest in the subject is not apologetic but “aesthetic”: stories about diabolical encounters are intrinsically fascinating. By the end of the century, traditional beliefs had eroded to the point that Satan could scarcely be taken even as a credible metaphor. “Gothic” writings degraded the “sublime” to produce horrors and thrills by portraying the grotesque, the decadent, the wild, and the monstrous. Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), and Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830; 1884) exemplified this attitude, using demons alongside ghosts, corpses, and witches for the purpose of inducing horror.

The French Revolution acted as a catalyst for a radical revision of the concept of the devil. English writers perceiving the Revolution as a just rebellion against a tyrant king recharacterized Satan as heroic rebel against the tradition and authority of the evil tyrant, God. Thus William Blake (1757-1827) reinterprets Milton’s devil as a hero in the struggle against tyranny, church, and convention. Satan is good, and Jesus is Satanic because he acts from feelings rather than rules and breaks the commandments out of mercy. But Blake’s Satan is also evil, representing hardness of heart, insensitivity, lack of love, and obstruction of the creative processes of art. The evil of both God and Satan are underscored in The Book of Urizen (1794), where Urizen represents Jehovah, the blind tyrant of rules and laws; Orc struggles for liberation from Urizen’s tyranny, but Orc’s violence and hostility make him evil as well. On the whole Blake tends to perceive God and devil, heaven and hell, good and evil as elements of a shattered whole which seeks reunion, centering, and integration. Real evil lies in anything which obstructs that process of integration.

The Romantics perpetuate Blake’s ambivalence toward the devil. Lord Byron’s Cain (1821) asks who is the more evil, Lucifer, who gave Adam and Eve knowledge, or Jehovah, who drove them out of the Garden to exile and death? But Lucifer also is blind and selfabsorbed, rejecting the only possible creative road, his integration with Jehovah. In his treatise On the Devil and Devils (1821), Shelley argues that Manichean dualism affords a valid insight into the divided state of the human soul. For Shelley, Milton’s great insight lay in his making his God no better than his devil. In Prometheus Unbound (1820) Shelley recognizes the difficulty in making Satan a hero and so shifts the qualities of heroic rebellion to Prometheus, who is free of the aggressive, stingy, unloving elements which make Satan an inappropriate hero for the Romantic ethos. Meanwhile Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) took a great step in shifting the focus of terror from the demon to the monster and from the supernatural to science fiction, presenting a character who was made a monster by a humanity which first created and then abused him. The early Romantic experiment with making the devil a symbol of good was gradually replaced with the tendency to divorce the devil from serious discussions of good and evil. He is frequently made the subject of light or humorous stories such as Thackeray’s “The Devil’s Wager” (1833) and “The Painter’s Bargain” (1834), reviving an earlier folklore motif concerning battles of wits between the devil and humans over a bargain which had been struck between them (cf. Max Beerbohm’s “Enoch Soames” [1917], Stephen V. Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” [1937], and more recent stories, some collected in Basil Davenport’s Deals with the Devil [1958]).

In 19th-cent. America the tendency to center evil in humanity rather than in the supernatural was even more pronounced than in England. For example, in stories of real horror Poe always eschewed Satan; his devil stories, such as “The Devil in the Belfry” (1839) and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (1841), are humorous. The devil appears incidentally, however, in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) and his presence is evident in Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and The Confidence-Man (1857), the latter of which presents a demonic trickster who makes fools of the passengers on the riverboat Fidèle.
The revival of the occult at the end of the 19th cent. produced some late Romantic sympathy for the devil (Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan [1895]) and the explicit Satanism of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), but ironic treatment remained the norm, as in the “Don Juan in Hell” section of Shaw’s Man and Superman (1903). The attack on traditional views by Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud had demolished the old concept and opened the door to a nihilism seen at its bleakest in Mark Twain’s work on “The Mysterious Stranger,” which appeared in three main versions, the latest of which was No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (1982). At its conclusion the devil announces that there “is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream.”

The horrors of the mid and late 20th cent., which have contradicted liberal optimism about the essential goodness of human nature, have prompted the revival of serious treatments of the traditional devil, as in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (1942) and Perelandra (1944), Dorothy Sayers’s The Devil to Pay (1939), and Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away (1960). John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick affords a recent noteworthy devil-portrait, one which has also found its way into film, alongside The Omen, The Exorcist, and other “popular” tales of diabolical horror.

Bibliography 

Baine, M. R. “Satan and the Satan Figure in the Poetry of William Blake.” DAI 35 (1974), 5335A-36A; Bercovitch, S. “Diabolus in Salem: Bunyan and Hawthorne,” ELN 6 (1969), 280-85; de Bruyn, L. Woman and the Devil in Sixteenth Century Literature (1979); Cuddon, J. A. B. “The Transition from the Late Medieval to the Renaissance Conceptions of Satan in English Literature with Especial Reference to the Drama.” Unpubl. B. Litt., Oxford, 1958; Cushman, L. W. “The Devil and the Vice in the English Dramatic Literature Before Shakespeare.” SzEP 6 (1900), 1-148; Dunaway, R. K. “The Formative Impact of the Devil Upon Selected Renaissance Dramas,” DAI 36 (1975), 1480A; Dustoor, P. E. “Legends of Lucifer in Early English and in Milton.” Anglia 54 (1930), 213-68; Gardner, H. Milton’s Satan and the Theme of Damnation in Elizabethan Tragedy (1948); Gokey, F. X. The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers (1961); Kubis, P. L. “The Archetype of the Devil in Twentieth Century Literature.” DAI (1976), 3604A; Levenson, G. B. “That Reverend Vice: A Study of the Comic-Demonic Figure in English Drama and Fiction.” DAI 38 (1977), 283A; Lynch, J. J. “The Devil in the Writings of Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe.” New York Folklore Quarterly 9 (1952), 111-31; Marx, C. W. D. “The Devil’s Rights and the Deception of the Devil: Theological Background and Presentations in Middle English Literature.” DAI European Abstracts 44 (1983), 22C; Mallory, T. O. “The Devil and Thomas Hardy: A Study of the Manifestation of Supernatural Evil in Hardy’s Fiction.” DA 27 (1966), 2012-13; Rudwin, M. The Devil in Legend and Literature (1931); Russell, J. B. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Early Christianity (1977); Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (1981); Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (1984); Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (1986); Steadman, J. M. “Archangel to Devil: The Background of Satan’s Metamorphosis.” MLQ 21 (1960), 321-35; Stein, W. B. Hawthorne’s Faust, A Study of the Devil Archetype (1953); Stock, R. D. The Holy and the Daemonic from Sir Thomas Browne to William Blake (1982); Trefz, E. K. “Satan as the Prince of Evil: The Preaching of New England Puritans.” Boston Public Library Quarterly 7 (1955), 3-22; “Satan in Puritan Preaching.” Boston Public Library Quarterly 8 (1956), 71-84, 148-57; Williams, P. N. “Satan and His Corpus: Cultural Symbolism in the English Mystery Plays.” DAI 37 (1977), 5813A; Woolf, R. “The Devil in Old English Poetry.” RES 4 (1953), 1-12.

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

Thomas Aquinas: High Middle Ages (1225–1274)


SUMMA THEOLOGICA
Whether God Exists? (I.2.3)

Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.

On the contrary, It is said in the person of God: “I am Who I am” (Ex. 3:14).

I answer that, The existence of God can be proved in five ways.

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act.

For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another.

If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand.

Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one.

Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence—which is absurd.

Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being. . . . Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says (Enchir. xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.

Reply to Objection 2. Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.


According to Augustine in On Christian Doctrine , one skilled in speech should “so speak as to teach, to delight, and to change; that is, to teach the ignorant, to delight the bored and to change the lazy.” To that hopeful end, the first words that Thomas Aquinas spoke in his inaugural sermon as a newly minted Master of Theology were from Augustine’s work. In the days and years to come however, where Augustine synthesized rhetorical and theological styles, Aquinas separated them.

In his book European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, Ernst Robert Curtius writes “This rhetorical-theological divide was implicit in the Aristotelian distinction between rhetoric (the art of persuasion) and dialectic (the art of reasoning) that became explicit when theology was declared a “science” and elevated beyond the liberal arts.” Aquinas is not casual reading.

John Mark Reynolds, writing in his book The Great Books Reader adds:

Thomas, of all men, knew that sacred and secular must come together in the beating heart of man as created in the image of God. He lived as he thought, and his hymns are as beautiful as his philosophy is profound.

Argue with Thomas, because that is what he wants you to do, but follow his argument carefully, for it is very subtle. Few readers, perhaps, will agree with everything he says—even the Church of Rome does not—but it’s always worth considering.

Once you get the trick of reading Thomas, he is easy to “get” but also hard to exhaust. His argument is clear, but it’s also subtle, and what seems like an obvious problem will be filled in later or is anticipated in his careful wording.

How do you force yourself to read slowly and deliberately when the text requires it?  Is this difficult for you?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


The Truth of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Peter Kreeft

I am totally convinced that Saint Thomas Aquinas was the greatest, wisest, most intelligent merely human theologian who ever lived.

Why? Let the first reason be that he told the truth. Nothing trumps that.

Second, he’s the master of common sense. What he says is always what sound reason says, even though he says it in his difficult, technical, medieval-Aristotelian vocabulary. G. K. Chesterton’s Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox proves this brilliantly.

Third, he was not just a head but a heart: a saint and a practical man. Kings, peasants, and popes wrote to him for advice and always got back sound wisdom. (Example: his cure for depression—a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a good night’s sleep.)

Fourth, he combined the two essential goals of thinking better than anyone else: profundity and clarity. He wrote about the most difficult and profound questions a man can ask: God and man, good and evil, life and death, virtue and vice, soul and body, intellect and will, predestination and free will, nature and grace—and he did it clearly and simply. Though at first he seems difficult, he becomes amazingly straightforward and simple on subsequent readings, once the vocabulary obstacle is overcome. He is a transparent window; there are no impositions of his personality, no rhetorical tricks, no extra words, no digressions, all bottom-line, right-to-the-point answers, and always with compelling logical reasons.

Fifth, he fulfilled more than anyone else the essential medieval program of a marriage of faith and reason, revelation and philosophy, the biblical and the classical inheritances. He “baptized” philosophy, especially Aristotle. He did not turn the Christian faith into a purely rational philosophy; he turned Aristotle’s purely rational philosophy into a servant of Christian faith.

Sixth, he also combined elaborate, careful detail with “the big picture,” his cosmic perspective, which is breathtakingly big.

———

Thomas Aquinas wrote many thousands of pages in addition to his unfinished four-thousand-page masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae, which he dictated to four secretaries at once, sentence by sentence, never changing a word. Then he stopped writing and called everything he had ever written “straw” compared with “what has been revealed to me” (or, in another account, “what I have seen”). His fellow monks heard a heavenly voice ask him, “You have written well of Me, Thomas, what will you have as your reward,” and heard his absolutely perfect, absolutely simple answer: “Only Thyself, Lord.” Never was more said in fewer words.

By the way, Protestants and Anglicans and even agnostics often love and respect Thomas as much as Catholics do. Certainly, there was no greater thinker for two thousand years between the death of Aristotle and the publication of Descartes’ Discourse on Method (except perhaps Augustine). Whoever you are, your mind will get a wonderful workout in clarity and logic, as well as orthodox theology, by reading him.

Reading Thomas Aquinas is like eating spinach. It tastes strange at first, but it makes you stronger. His habits of clarity and order rub off on you, even when you disagree with him.

Nevertheless, read him slowly. The Summa is not a novel but a reference book.

Furthermore, Summa is an ordered summary, not a closed system. Its structural outline is a mirror of reality. It begins in God, “in the beginning,” then proceeds to the act of Creation and God’s continuing providence in dealing with creatures, centering on man, who alone is created in God’s image; it ends with man’s return to God, his end, through his moral and religious life, and finally man’s means to this end of salvation, namely Christ, who saves man through His body and His church (which is His body). It’s the universal drama of God as Alpha and Omega of all time and change. God pumps the blood of being through the arteries of creation into the body of the universe, which wears a human face, and receives it back through the veins of man’s life of free choice of faith, hope, and love. This is a cosmic circulatory system.

———

It’s good to be aware that, though logically outlined into many sub, sub-sub, and sub-sub-subdivisions, the basic unit of the Summa is the “article,” typically a page or two long, which has five structural parts:

1. The question is formulated in a yes or no format, beginning with “Whether . . .”

2. Objections to his answer are given, fairly and clearly and completely, beginning with “It seems that . . .”

3. An argument from a past authority is given, with the formula “On the contrary . . .”

4. The body of the article, beginning with “I answer that . . .” is his main proof for his position, with explanations along the way.

5. Finally, each objection is answered, usually by distinguishing what is true and what is false in it.

This is no merely local and quaint medieval format. Not one of these steps can ever be omitted if we want to have good grounds for settling any controversial question.

———

Thomas Aquinas is scrupulously fair. Though his prosaic, literal, bottom-line logical style is an extreme contrast to Augustine’s charming, rambling, and singing poetry, his single-minded, pure passion for truth is strikingly similar. Neither of them seems even capable of dishonesty.

If you were a CIA agent recruiting among philosophers for spies, no two would be more hopelessly inept than these.

Peter Kreeft, PhD, is a professor of Philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College, New York. He is an acclaimed author and speaker on many philosophical and theological topics.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Augustine: Late Roman/Early Medieval (354–430)

 CONFESSIONS
(The beginning)

“Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised . . . And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation . . . Still he desires to praise thee . . . Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.


Augustine was a seeker.  He invested countless hours mining the great questions of mankind in his voluminous writing, but his greatest quest was one of the heart.  He is usually depicted in art accompanied by a flaming heart representing his deep love for God. Rather than shying away from his uncertainties and doubts, he worked them out in print for us.

As John Mark Reynolds wrote in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Some Christians believe that the harder one thinks, the colder faith will grow. Augustine grew more brilliant as he grew more pious, more creative as he became more orthodox. His period of heresy was imitative, but his traditional Christianity took mental risks.

Augustine wrote so much, so well, for so long that he always is capable of surprising us. Moderns, and even some Christians who should know better, like to blame anything they don’t like in Western culture on Augustine, but most of their accusations are oversimplifications of his complicated thought.

Augustine stood at the moment when all of civilization in the West might have vanished. He placed the weight of his mind, his heart, and his actions into creating a new Christendom on the wreckage.

 

Have you ever kept a journal of your most intimate thoughts and confessions?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


The Influence of Saint Augustine

Peter Kreeft

Every person now living would be very different, or would not be at all, if Augustine had been different, or had not been. No Christian in history since the apostle Paul has had more influence. Almost singlehandedly, Augustine forged the medieval Christian mind. Since the Reformation, he is the only extra-biblical writer whom both Roman Catholics and Protestant Reformers have loved, appealed to, and claimed as their own.

Augustine lived during the troubled times at the end of one age (the ancient Roman) and the beginning of another (the medieval Christian). He lived through the fall of Rome in AD 410, and he died as the smoke and fires of the barbarians were burning his native North African city. Rome was not just a city but “the eternal city”; not just an empire but civilization itself. The equivalent of a nuclear winter was descending.

To such a powerful crisis, Augustine did one of the most powerful things a man can do: he wrote books, very many of them, but especially two of the greatest, most popular, and most influential ever written.

One, the 1,500-page The City of God, is the world’s first philosophy of history. It interprets all of the human story, from Creation to the Last Judgment, as the drama of divine providence and human free choice (both of which Augustine strongly defended), especially the choice between the two most fundamental options of membership in one or the other of the “two cities.” The City of God is the invisible community of all who love God as God; the City of the World is all those who love the world and themselves as their God.

“Two loves have made two cities.” This produces history’s central plotline and drama, culminating in heaven and hell. (Nothing is more dramatic than that.)

———

The other book, the Confessions, is the very same dramatic story in Augustine’s own soul and life. It is the most beloved and influential book ever written by a Christian, next to the Bible, and it begins with the most frequently quoted Christian sentence outside the Bible, which summarizes both this book and the fundamental meaning of every human life: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and [therefore] our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” It’s the gospel of the restless heart.

Augustine wrote Confessions in the form of a prayer. Like Job’s speeches, it is addressed to God; we human readers are only eavesdroppers. This accounts for its ruthless, searing, Job-like honesty: it’s written face-to-face with the One who knows all. That’s also why it contains more questions, more interrogative sentences, than any other great book that isn’t in literal dialogue format. Augustine simply could not stop asking searching questions, with both his mind and his heart.

Confessions is laced with scriptural quotations, literally hundreds of them. Scripture was more than an object of Augustine’s gaze; it was in the heart of the gazer; it was not merely a book but the eyes through which all books, and life, were read. And this was done as naturally and spontaneously as breathing.

No author who ever lived has had both a more brilliant and searching mind and a more burning, passionate heart. These two qualities, which can tear other souls in two, united Augustine’s. Medieval statuary almost always has him holding an open Bible in one hand and a burning heart in the other.

Yet, paradoxically, it is this very uniqueness and distinctiveness of Augustine, the combination of great mind/great heart, that makes him Everyman writ large. These are the two deepest facets in each of us, the two powers that flow from the fact that we are made in the finite image of infinite intelligence and infinite love.

Intelligence, reason, truth—this is of absolute value for Augustine. But it is the heart that is the deepest. Heart, in Augustine, as in Scripture, does not essentially mean sentiment or emotion; it means love. Amor meus, pondus meum, he says: My love is my weight, my gravity, my destiny. I go where my love draws me. To love is to will, to choose, to take one fork in life’s road rather than another.

The Confessions is the story, both inner and outer, of the twofold journey of Augustine’s mind and heart. Again, like Job, it is apparently the story of man’s search for God, but it’s really the story of God’s search for man. And in the case of Augustine, God’s finding him was momentous. This is the story of the making of that man.

The Confessions must be read thoughtfully, not swallowed quickly like a pill but slowly chewed like gum. It is not water; it is rich, fine wine.
It’s full of poetic beauties. It sings. It cries. It shouts. It bleeds. So does your soul, if you dare to set it down here in the lines of this book.
These excerpts are just short samples, snippets, “highlights.” Please find and read the whole work, and be sure to get Frank Sheed’s translation; no other comes close to doing justice to Confessions’ beauty.

Peter Kreeft, PhD, is a professor of Philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College, New York. He is an acclaimed author and speaker on many philosophical and theological topics.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Plato: Classical Greek (428/427–348/347 BC)

THE REPUBLIC
2.II

Socrates—Glaucon

With these words I was thinking that I had made an end of the discussion; but the end, in truth, proved to be only a beginning. For Glaucon, who is always the most pugnacious of men, was dissatisfied at Thrasymachus’ retirement; he wanted to have the battle out. So he said to me: Socrates, do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded us, that to be just is always better than to be unjust?
I should wish really to persuade you, I replied, if I could.
Then you certainly have not succeeded.


When Saint Augustine said “All truth is God’s truth” he surely must have had Plato in mind.  Plato was not a Christian, but that does not make his teaching untrue.  This can be threatening for those who believe in sola scriptura (Latin: by scripture alone), that the Christian scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice.  Augustine is considered a Neoplatonist who interpreted Plato as a thinker who “understood the eternal truth” consistent with later Christian ideology.

In his book The Great Books Reader, John Mark Reynolds said:

Three things must be kept in mind when reading Plato.

First, he wrote in dialogue form. He believed certain things, but those beliefs were less important to him than the process of reaching those beliefs. He wrote in a way that would provoke argument. Don’t be afraid to be bored . . . and then ask why Plato is going on and on. Ask, and you find an answer.

This is because Plato wrote with great care. He was interested in numbers and grew up on the measured poetry of Homer. Perhaps the highest difficulty in reading Plato is knowing when to stop examining a page, a paragraph, a sentence, a word. The first word of Republic says Socrates is “going down,” and the rest of the book contains a series of upward and downward motions.

Second, Plato does not speak in his own dialogues. Socrates is the main character in most (and certainly in Republic), but that does not mean Socrates is always speaking for Plato. The historic Socrates, like Jesus, wrote nothing, and like Jesus, he died for his virtues. Unlike Jesus, though, Socrates was not the perfect son of God. Be willing to argue with Socrates or question the persuasiveness of his arguments. Note that his best students do so at the start of Republic’s Book II.

Third, many Christians, from Justin Martyr through Augustine to C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, have found useful philosophy in Plato. His works contain ideas that are not only compatible with Christianity but can also be used to understand the faith. He anticipated many Jewish and Christian ideas.

Do you believe that “all truth is God’s truth?”  How does your belief inform your Bible study?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 On Justice in the Republic

Gary Hardenberg

The Republic, Plato’s masterpiece of philosophical writing, challenges readers by asking us to examine both our notions of justice and our motivations for just living. The dialogue—while treating subjects that range from ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology to politics, psychology, education, music, theology, art, and mathematics—is centrally a discussion of the nature of justice. In particular, Plato, through the literary lens of Socrates’ first-person point of view, poses three questions about justice:

1. What is justice?
2. Is justice a virtue?
3. Is justice better than injustice?

To unify and oversimplify his answers, we can say that justice is the virtue that organizes the capacities of the soul into a stable, harmonious whole and that, since stability and harmony are objectively better than instability and discord, justice is preferable to injustice.

Plato investigates the nature of justice through an analogy between the soul and the polis. Although the discussion of politics is at the forefront of the Republic, the true purpose of that discussion is not political: Its point is to get a better view of the human soul (see 368e–369a), which in itself is very difficult to apprehend. Hence, when Plato argues (in a section not included here) that rulers must expunge immoral poetry from their communities, the reader must remember that Plato’s concern is not so much with cities or nations but with individuals. His lesson is that it would be better for us if we did not allow ourselves to accept immoral art as a teacher and an authority. Whether such censorship becomes public law is another, secondary, matter.

The concept of the tripartite soul, which has fairly distinct rational, spirited, and desirous elements, is one of Plato’s legacies to Western thought. In the Republic, the account of the tripartite soul is essentially connected to the account of justice: justice is present in the soul when each part of the soul is doing the work it is best suited to do.

Reason should be in charge of the soul, because it is the only aspect with both the foresight needed for long-term planning and the insight needed for knowing what is good. Desire does not know what is best because it “knows” only what it wants, which is whatever will satisfy it in the moment. Because desire is by nature insatiable, reason’s capitulation of its ruling office to desire is the primary way through which most people’s souls become disordered.

According to Plato, there is nothing wrong with desire itself. Desire, though, causes problems when it is put in charge of choosing. All the same, reason is too weak to maintain order by itself. It needs the assistance of the spirited element, which, as the seat of anger and courage, rouses individuals to action. Because this element of the soul can be aligned with either reason or desire, it must work with the rational part to maintain the soul’s order—otherwise, disorder ensues.

A number of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians throughout history have adopted this notion of the soul’s harmony because it makes sense of the Christian doctrines of sin and sanctification, and it provides a model of Christian education. According to C. S. Lewis, for example, sanctification is a matter of integrating the dimensions of the human person by repairing the disintegrating effects of sin and advancing the soul’s capacities into greater harmony with itself and unity with God.

Of course, Lewis does not think such sanctification can be accomplished without divine grace. Lewis also argues that, because a person’s character is set largely by whether the spirited element sides with reason or desire, a central goal of education is to instruct students’ sentiments in ways that align them with reason. According to the Christian Platonism of Lewis, education that does not train the sentiments, which are seated in the spirited element, creates students “without chests” who are unable to do what is good even if they have true opinions about it.

It is noteworthy that Plato, living before the time of Christ and probably without any exposure to Jewish Scriptures or teachings, was able to apprehend so clearly the nature of justice. That he was able to maintain his commitment to justice in the face of significant pressure to lend approval to the less scrupulous cultural and political élite of Athens is even more impressive.

Furthermore, Plato defends the goodness of justice without recourse to any utilitarian motivation, including the motivation of rewards in either this life or in the afterlife. A gripping picture of the perfectly just person given in the Republic is of a man who, while being completely just, is thought by everyone to be unjust and is persecuted and killed because of it. Plato argues that if this man is just, it is better for him to suffer these things than to be unjust, and not because he will be rewarded in the afterlife.

From what we can tell from his writings, Plato did not believe in a final end to history. The cosmos simply continues forever, and within the cosmos our souls pass from our bodies at our deaths until they take on temporary homes in other bodies and begin embodied life again. This means that although Plato tells a story at the very end of the Republic about individuals who face postmortem judgment, he does not think such judgment is either irremediable if one has lived unjustly or irrevocable if one has lived justly. Thus, it is remarkable that Plato does not think a person should be just simply because the just person will fare well in the afterlife.

As contemporary readers of the Republic, then, we are left to ponder on a personal level whether we love justice and goodness for their own sakes or only for the benefit of just living promises for the afterlife.

Plato seems to have thought that being just so things turn out well after death is pitiful utilitarianism. In his view, we only love goodness when we love it for its own sake. In pressing for this conclusion, Plato did not know the true nature of what he was arguing for, though surely we can marvel at the fact that he bent all his powers to plead for as much as he did.

Gary Hartenburg is assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Honors College at Houston Baptist University. He earned his PhD in ancient philosophy from the University of California, Irvine.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Making All Things New

Wheat Field with Reaper and Sun
Vincent van Gogh
Date: 1889; Saint-rémy-de-provence, France

CONFESSIONS
Saint Augustine of Hippo

I asked the earth and it answered, “I am not He”; and all things that are in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they answered, “We are not your God; seek higher.” I asked the winds that blow, and the whole air with all that is in it answered, “Anaximenes was wrong; I am not God.” I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and they answered, “Neither are we God whom you seek.” And I said to all the things that throng about the gateways of the senses: “Tell me of my God, since you are not He. Tell me something of Him.” And they cried out in a great voice: “He made us.” My question was my gazing upon them, and their answer was their beauty.

Revelation 21:1–8
All Things Made New

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”


Vincent wanted to be a preacher.  On a pretty Sunday in 1876, he preached his first sermon.  It went well enough, but his eyes only began to sparkle as he described God’s beauty in the world.  He said

I once saw a very beautiful picture: it was a landscape at evening. In the distance on the right-hand side a row of hills appeared blue in the evening mist. Above those hills the splendor of the sunset, the grey clouds with their linings of silver and gold and purple. The landscape is a plain or heath covered with grass and its yellow leaves, for it was in autumn. Through the landscape a road leads to a high mountain far, far away, on the top of that mountain is a city wherein the setting sun casts a glory. On the road walks a pilgrim, staff in hand.

Not much came of Vincent van Gogh’s hopes for ordination. He pursued theological studies in Amsterdam in 1877 unsuccessfully before moving to Belgium to begin a ministry without it. By the end of 1879 he had become convinced that he was a failure and decided to take a break to figure it out.  He thought painting would help him relax until God’s will for his life became clear.

The Creator delights in creation, especially when it occurs in its pinnacle – that which he made in His image.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

God loves to take what is old or worn or broken or useless or tired and transform it. God loves to take into Godself all the hate, all the sin, all the excruciating pain and mind-numbing, heart-freezing sorrow of human existence and then do something marvelous and wonderful with it, offering something new in its place. God loves to take all of our tears and our hurts and our regrets, our shame and our guilt and then do something extraordinary with them, transforming them. God takes on every death force in ourselves, in our families and relationships, our communities, nations, and world and decisively redeems and restores. That’s the goal, that’s the purpose, that’s what God is doing now and that’s the direction of God’s time. It’s the promise of the Christian experience.

I invite you to meditate on 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new,” this week and claim this vision for yourself; ask yourself:

What does this verse mean in this season of your life?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


You can read all the biographies you want about him, but through it all van Gogh will still not have revealed himself to you. For van Gogh to reveal himself to you, you need to look at his paintings. As the Greek Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras writes: “We know the person of van Gogh, what is unique, distinct and unrepeatable in his existence, only when we see his paintings. There we meet a reason (logos) which is his only and we separate him from every other painter. When we have seen enough pictures by van Gogh and then encounter one more, then we say right away: This is van Gogh. We distinguish immediately the otherness of his personal reason, the uniqueness of his creative expression.”

The difference between the arts and the sciences now becomes clear. When I see a painting by van Gogh, I know immediately that it is his. But when I come across a mathematical theorem or scientific insight, I cannot decide who was responsible for it unless I am told. The world is God’s creation, and scientists in understanding the world are simply retracing God’s thoughts. Scientists are not creators but discoverers. True, they may formulate concepts that assist them in describing the world. But even such concepts do not bear the clear imprint of their formulators. Concepts like energy, inertia, and entropy give no clue about who formulated them. Hermann Weyl and John von Neumann were both equally qualified to formulate quantum mechanics in terms of Hilbert spaces. That von Neumann, and not Weyl, made the formulation is now an accident of history. There’s nothing in the formulation that explicitly identifies von Neumann. Contrast this with a painting by van Gogh. It cannot be confused with a Monet.

The impulse to create and thereby give oneself in self-revelation need not be grand, but can be quite humble. A homemaker arranging a floral decoration engages in a creative act. The important thing about the act of creation is that it reveal the creator. The act of creation always bears the signature of the creator. It is a sad legacy of modern technology, and especially the production line, that most of the objects we buy no longer reveal their maker. Mass production is inimical to true creation. Yes, the objects we buy carry brand names, but in fact they are largely anonymous. We can tell very little about their maker. Compare this with God’s creation of the world. Not one tree is identical with another. Not one face matches another. Indeed, a single hair on your head is unique-there was never one exactly like it, nor will there ever be another to match it.

The creation of the world by God is the most magnificent of all acts of creation. It, along with humanity’s redemption through Jesus Christ, are the two key instances of God’s self-revelation. The revelation of God in creation is typically called general revelation whereas the revelation of God in redemption is typically called special revelation. Consequently, theologians sometimes speak of two books, the Book of Nature, which is God’s self-revelation in creation, and the Book of Scripture, which is God’s self-revelation in redemption. If you want to know who God is, you need to know God through both creation and redemption. According to Scripture, the angels praise God chiefly for two things: God’s creation of the world and God’s redemption of the world through Jesus Christ. Let us follow the angels’ example.

Global Journal of Classical Theology 1 (1999).

Eternal Life Is Now

church
The Triumph of the Church Peter Paul Rubens c.1625

WALDEN
Henry David Thoreau

For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished.  Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest.  My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.

Ephesians 5:15–19

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.


RickIt’s only hard to imagine eternal life if you are enslaved by your calendar.  There are actually only two times – then and now, and then is just an illusion.  All of the past you carry like chains has come and gone and tomorrow, as they say, never comes.  Thoreau urged us to simplify and Emily Dickinson said it best with “Forever is composed of nows.”  The distance between now and then belongs to you and is entirely your accountability.  If now is squandered it is forever wasted and becomes regret with which another now is wasted.

In his book City of God St. Augustine wrote “There can be no doubt that the world was not created in time but with time” because “God, in whose eternity there is no change at all, is the creator and director of time.” Your now was the gift you received when God woke you this morning, and not everyone received it.  When scripture speaks of “redeeming the time” it simply means you have a choice.  Your life will be filled with joy if you invest your now in that which is eternal because joy is greater than happiness. Happiness comes and goes because it is dependent on happenings, and let’s face it – bad things happen. Here’s your power in Christ – you are more than your circumstances.

 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

De Magistro by Malcolm Guite

SL7I thank my God I have emerged at last,
Blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars,
Bewildered by the shadows that I cast.

You set me on this stair, in those rich hours
Pacing your study, chanting poetry.
The Word in you revealed his quickening powers,

Removed the daily veil, and let me see,
As sunlight played along your book-lined walls,
That words are windows onto mystery.

From Eden, whence the living fountain falls
In music, from the tower of ivory,
And from the hidden heart, he calls

In the language of Adam, creating memory
Of unfallen speech. He sets creation
Free from the carapace of history.

His image in us is imagination,
His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath
Upon the letters of his revelation.

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path
That leads back to the springs of truth in speech.
You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

You showed me how my halting words might reach
To the mind’s maker, to the source of Love,
And so you taught me what it means to teach.

Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove,
Climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.
Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,

As fellow pilgrims on a needful journey.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


Most of us can point to a special teacher who made a material difference in our lives.  They stand out beyond the spark they created in our minds, because it was their personal interest in us that endeared them.  The title of today’s poem means ‘of the teacher’ and it is also the title of a work by St Augustine co-written as a dialogue with his son.

In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite writes:

Augustine tells how father and son explore together what it means to learn and to teach and come to the conclusion that at any moment when we suddenly ‘recognize’ a truth, and make a glad, inner assent to it, it is not the outward and visible teacher, the person in the room, who is the ultimate source of that truth and that assent, but rather an ‘inner’ teacher, deep within us, a source of light and truth to whom we have brought each proposition for confirmation, and that teacher, said Augustine is Christ, himself, the Logos, the Word in each of us, who guides us through the wilderness. At such moments of joyful recognition both teacher and pupil discern the Word in and through one another, and in and through the words they share.

Describe a teacher who made a significant impact on your life.

John 13:13

Jesus said “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.”

 

Dig Deeper: Art, Literature & Liturgy

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 453.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

Art: Henri de Triqueti – Dante and Virgil – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – 1861-2

The Song of Wandering Aengus by W.B. Yeats

the-wanderer-above-the-sea-of-fog.jpg!HD

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.


 

Rick WilcoxIn his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”  We all understand the restless heart.  In younger days, we dreamt of adventure and pursued visions which were compelling if not clear.

The so-called midlife crisis is often a season of disappointment when the evaluation of one’s life falls short of its earlier aspirations. The imago Dei – the image of God in which we are created longs for the eternal, and we finally find our footing on that fulfilling path when we turn and return to our Creator.  His calling is specific and He knows us by name.

Commenting on the Yeats poem today in his book The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite says this:

A vocation is a calling, and to have a Christian vocation is to have been called, called by name. The Lord of life and love calls us out of nothingness into being, calls us out of darkness into light, and calls us, personally, to turn and begin our lives anew in him. All our lives, all our journeyings ‘through hollow lands and hilly lands’, are a response to that call. Our quest, like that of the wondering Aengus, begins at dawn and is an ‘orientation’: a turn towards the growing light. But this is not light as an abstract, it is light embodied in a person, and it calls to a vision and a realm beyond what is possible for us in this world.

What do you yearn for?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


William Butler Yeats

(1865–1939). One of Ireland’s finest writers, William Butler Yeats served a long apprenticeship in the arts before his genius was fully developed. He did some of his greatest work after he was 50 years old.

Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, on June 13, 1865, the eldest son of an artist. Although the family soon moved to London, the children spent much time with their grandparents in County Sligo in northwestern Ireland. The scenery and folklore of this region greatly influenced Yeats’s work. For a while he studied art, but during the 1890s he became active in London’s literary life and helped found the Rhymers’ Club.
Yeats’s early work was not especially Irish. Soon, however, he began to look to the ancient rituals and pagan beliefs of the land for his artistic inspiration. He tried to merge this interest with his aristocratic tastes to create an original Irish poetry and to establish his own identity.

Believing that poems and plays would create a national unity capable of transforming the country, Yeats devoted himself to literature and drama. In his work for the Abbey, which opened in 1904, he persuaded John Millington Synge to return to Irish folklore for subject material, and Synge wrote some of the finest Irish plays ever produced. Yeats, Synge, and Lady Gregory were among the leaders of the Irish literary revival. In 1923 Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

As time passed, Yeats’s poetry became more polished and profound. “The Tower” and “The Winding Stair” were his last great poetic works. In his last years he lived on the Irish coast in an old tower that served as a symbol in much of his later poetry. In a prose work called A Vision, Yeats set forth his theories of history and of human personality. Always controversial, Yeats caused much discussion with his edition of The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, published in 1936. Some critics thought the selections in the anthology were too individualized, reflecting Yeats’s own interests and attitudes.

Yeats died on January 28, 1939, in Roquebrune, France. His body remained buried there throughout World War II, but in 1948 it was brought back to Ireland for burial in County Sligo. In a poem composed in his memory, W.H. Auden wrote, “Earth, receive an honored guest; William Yeats is laid to rest.”

“Yeats, William Butler,” Encyclopedia Britannica Noet Edition (Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015).

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke
ART: The wanderer above the sea of fog by Caspar David Friedrich
Date: 1818; Germany *
Style: Romanticism
Location: Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany and his own acclaimed poetry.
 

Longing

18740379_1632128180160159_1003481258552073526_nGRACE
On the Memorial Service to C.S Lewis
Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, 22 November 2013
Holly Ordway

Noon-tide on Saint Cecilia’s day, and here
In England’s royal church, I sit and watch
The winter sunlight streaming in, gold, clear,
Silent, pure, almost solid to the touch.
Nor is it fairy-gold; it does not fade.
For though that glorious beam of autumn light
Sank down to dusk, to darkness, died that day,
In living memory it still shines bright.
Within that golden light, the choir sings –
The notes resound in blood and bone, as if
I breathed the music in like air; it brings
Me to the point of tears, this time-bound gift
So unexpected, undeserved: a grace
To hold with joy through all my dying days.


In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” We all understand the restless heart. In younger days, we dreamt of adventure and pursued visions which were compelling if not clear. The so-called midlife crisis is often a season of disappointment when the evaluation of one’s life falls short of its earlier aspirations. The imago Dei – the image of God in which we are created longs for the eternal, and we finally find our footing on that fulfilling path when we turn and return to our Creator. His calling is specific and He knows us by name.

In her book,  Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Holly Ordway wrote:

In the previous chapter, we considered the problem of suffering and noted that we recognize evil precisely be- cause we have a deep underlying sense of what goodness is. No matter how pervasive or inescapable suffering is, we somehow recognize that it does not, or should not, have the last word. This ‘problem of good’ opens up the possi- bility of our intuitions and desires pointing us toward the truth. The value of building on our deep-seated longing for the good and the beautiful is so great that it is worth taking the time to develop a well-rounded imaginative apologetics approach to it.

We do not merely prefer what is good, beautiful, and meaningful if we can get it. We deeply desire and are al- ways restlessly searching for it, even if we aren’t quite sure exactly what we seek or where we can find it. Although it is possible (and unfortunately all too common) to have one’s longings for goodness, beauty, and meaning dulled and misdirected, it is part of our common human nature to experience longing for something more than what we experience in the here-and-now. C. S. Lewis called it “Sehnsucht” and observed that it could not be identified with any particular experience or pleasure, but was something beyond all of those. This longing can be felt in personal terms—as a desire for meaning and beauty in one’s own life—and also as a profound desire for justice, peace, reconciliation, and love in one’s society, over against the daily injustices, conflict, hatred, and instability that we see in the news and in our own families and neighborhoods.

 

 

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John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Meet The Author


Holly Ordway

Ordway author photo

Dr Holly Ordway is Professor of English and faculty in the M.A. in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University; she holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She is the author of Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Emmaus Road, 2017) and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius, 2014), and she has contributed chapters to C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner (edited by Michael Ward and Peter S. Williams), C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books that Influenced Him Most (edited by David Werther) among other volumes; she is also a published poet, with poems in Word in the Wilderness and Love, Remember (edited by Malcolm Guite).

Her academic work focuses on the writings of the Inklings, especially C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Her current book project is Tolkien’s Modern Sources: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (forthcoming from Kent State University Press, 2019).

She lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and travels regularly to speak on Tolkien, Lewis, and imaginative apologetics.

Dig Deeper at HollyOrdway.com and buy the book HERE.

Photo of Holly Ordway by Lancia E Smith

Epiphany

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The crib becomes an altar: therefore dies
No ox nor sheep; for in their fodder lies
The Prince of Peace, who, thankful for his bed,
Destroys those rites in which their blood was shed.

~Sir John Beaumont, from Of The Epiphany


The Christian season of Epiphany has almost faded into obscurity.  How ironic. The word means ‘manifestation’ and indeed, we are most grateful to serve a speaking God.  Absent God’s revelation of Himself, we would forever be lost to the darkness of sin in which we have eternally sequestered ourselves.  We longed for His coming during Advent and rejoiced at His incarnation during Christmas.  Now, at Epiphany we worship His revelation.

At Epiphany, the Western church focuses on the Magi who traveled far to bestow their treasures in humble reverence, and before that, the Eastern church understood the season to be of Christ’s baptism where we see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit manifested to man. In each the church bows in the presence of Emmanuel.

Our modern minds carry us only so far, for modernity’s reason knows Descartes to be lacking.  It is not Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) but rather  Credo ut intelligam (I believe in order that I may understand.)

God spoke, therefore I am.  Worship is the only adequate reply.

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Isaiah 60:1–7

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. “Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather together, they come to you; Your sons shall come from afar, And your daughters shall be nursed at your side. Then you shall see and become radiant, And your heart shall swell with joy; Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. The multitude of camels shall cover your land, The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba shall come; They shall bring gold and incense, And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together to you, The rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; They shall ascend with acceptance on My altar, And I will glorify the house of My glory.

 

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Art: Shadows and Silhouette. Photo and design by Josephine R. Unglaub

Liturgy: Epiphany (Gk. ἐπιφάνεια, ‘manifestation’; later τὰ Ἐπιφάνια is used of the feast). Feast of the Church on 6 Jan. It originated in the E., where it was celebrated in honour of the Baptism of Christ (sometimes also in connection with the Nativity) from the 3rd cent. onwards. *Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215) reports that the *Gnostic sect of the *Basilideans observed a feast in honour of the Baptism of Christ around this time of year (Strom. 1. 21), and from the 4th cent. there is ample evidence for the feast, which then ranked with *Easter and *Pentecost as one of the three principal festivals of the Church. One of its main features in the E. is the solemn blessing of water.

It was introduced into the W. Church in the 4th cent. but here lost its character as a feast of the Baptism of Christ, which it has retained in the E. Church down to the present day. Instead it became associated with the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the person of the *Magi, as is borne out by the Homilies of *Leo I on the ‘Theophania’ (an alternative name of the feast). In the Mass and Office the Magi were given the chief place, though mention is also made of the Baptism of Christ and of the miracle at Cana. In 1955 both the Octave and Vigil of the Epiphany were abolished, but the Sunday after Epiphany was made a separate feast of the Baptism, which had figured largely in the liturgy of the Octave. In England the Sovereign makes offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh in the *Chapel Royal on the feast.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 557.

Credo ut intelligam: Augustine is widely known for his writings on the Trinity, grace, free will, and epistemology (the study of knowledge). Regarding epistemology, Augustine is perhaps best known for his words credo ut intelligam, a Latin phrase that may be translated “I believe in order to understand.” The meaning of this statement has been debated for centuries, with many people believing that Augustine gave faith a logical priority in the relationship between faith and reason in the Christian life. Augustine’s view, however, was more complex. He actually saw faith and reason operating in a reciprocal manner in Christian thinking.

Nash, Ronald H.,”Faith and Reason,” p. 88

Literature: Of The Epiphany, by Sir John Beaumont (1582-1623)

Fair eastern star, that art ordained to run
Before the sages, to the rising sun,
Here cease thy course, and wonder that the cloud
Of this poor stable can thy Maker shroud:

Ye heavenly bodies glory to be bright
And are esteemed as ye are rich in light;
But here on earth is taught a different way,
Since under this low roof the Highest lay.

Jerusalem erects her stately towers,
Displays her windows and adorns her bowers:
Yet there thou must not cast a trembling spark,
Let Herod’s palace still continue dark;

Each school and syngogue thy force repels,
There Pride enthroned in misty error dwells;
The temple, where the priests maintain their quire,
Shall taste no beam of thy celestial fire,

While this weak cottage all thy splendour takes:
A joyful gate of every chink it makes
Here shines no golden roof, no ivory stair,
No king exalted in a stately chair,

Girt with attendants, or by heralds styled,
But straw and hay enwrap a speechless child.
Yet Sabae’s lords before this babe unfold
Their treasures, offering incense, myrrh and gold.

The crib becomes an altar: therefore dies
No ox nor sheep; for in their fodder lies
The Prince of Peace, who, thankful for his bed,
Destroys those rites in which their blood was shed:

The quintessence of earth he takes, and fees,
And precious gums distilled from weeping trees;
Rich metals and sweet odours now declare
The glorious blessings which his laws prepare,

To clear us from the base and loathsome flood
Of sense and make us fit for angels’ food,
Who life to God for us the holy smoke
Of fervent prayers with which we him invoke,

And try our actions in the searching fire
By which the seraphims our lips inspire:
No muddy dross pure minerals shall infect,
We shall exhale our vapours up direct:

No storm shall cross, nor glittering lights deface
Perpetual sighs which seek a happy place.

Source: A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885)

Also see

epiphany (Gk ‘manifestation’) The term primarily denotes the festival which commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi. The feast is observed on January 6th, ‘Twelfth Night’, the festival of the ‘Three Kings’. More generally, the term denotes a manifestation of God’s presence in the world. James Joyce gave this word a particular literary connotation in his novel Stephen Hero, part of the first draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was first published in 1916. The relevant passage is:

“This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual mani- festation [my italics], whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments. He told Cranly that the clock of the Ballast Office was capable of an epiphany.”

A little further on he says:

“Imagine my glimpses of that clock as the gropings of a spiritual eye which seeks to adjust its vision to an exact focus. The moment the focus is reached the object is epiphanized.”

Joyce elaborates this theme at considerable length. The epiphany is a symbol of a spiritual state. This aspect of aesthetic theory is left out of A Portrait, but a knowledge of it is essential for an understanding of Joyce as an artist. Dubliners, A Portrait, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are a series of increasingly complex and revealing insights of grace as well as intuitions of immortality. However, Joyce’s description of such an experience does not imply a discovery on his part. Many writers, especially mystics and religious poets, have conveyed their experience of epiphanies. Striking instances are to be found in the poems of George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and Gerard Manley Hopkins. And there are particularly fine passages in Wordsworth’s Prelude (Book VIII, 539–59, and VII, 608–23) which describe epiphanies (the term he uses is ‘spots of time’). Shelley calls these visionary occasions ‘moments’; De Quincey, ‘involutes’.

Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory

 

 

The Cloud of Unknowing

 

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Ad Reinhardt
Painting, 1958

EXPOSITIONS OF THE PSALMS
St Augustine of Hippo

There is a different kind of prayer without ceasing; it is longing. Whatever you may be doing, if you long for the day of everlasting rest do not cease praying. If you do not wish to cease praying, then do not cease your longing. Your persistent longing is your persistent voice. But when love grows cold, the heart grows silent. Burning love is the outcry of the heart! If you are filled with longing all the time, you will keep crying out, and if your love perseveres, your cry will be heard without fail.

Matthew 6:6

But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.


What exactly is prayer?  The fast answer is that it is talking to God, but what does that entail?  Must it be spoken words, or can it be thought words – or no words at all?  The disciples clearly recognized the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life because they asked Him to teach them to pray.  What we call the Lord’s Prayer was His template or model.

We all know what it means to feel a longing for God that defies our vocabulary.  Over seven hundred years ago an unknown monk wrote an essay to his student who had asked for help with prayer.  That document, now known as The Cloud of Unknowing is among the oldest English language works, and it has been in continuous print ever since.  Listen to its rich prose:

You only need a naked intent for God.
When you long for him, that’s enough.
We can’t think our way to God.
That’s why I’m willing to abandon everything I know,
to love the one thing I cannot think.
God can be loved, but not thought.

The book speaks of seeking God through contemplation, by emptying your mind rather than filling it with thoughts.  In this sense, prayer picks up where our earthly abilities fail.  It is the great equalizer – leveling the simple and the genius, the child and the adult.  We unite with God as Romans 8:26 says “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

T. S. Eliot is one of many literary figures influenced by The Cloud of Unknowing and its opaque, but luminescent spirituality. Eliot’s Cloud-inspired words, from East Coker say

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.

Prayer emphasizes God’s mystery, inscrutability, and immanence—God is closer than our very breath. We get to know God not by the route of information, but by holding in abeyance what we think we know about God, or even ourselves, in order to let His love and fellowship flood our beings in a way that lies beyond our senses.

In his book New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton said:

We thank Him less by words than by the serene happiness of silent acceptance. It is our emptiness in the presence of His reality, our silence in the presence of His infinitely rich silence, our joy in the bosom of the serene darkness in which His light holds us absorbed, it is all this that praises Him.

As Acts 17:28 says “for in Him we live and move and have our being.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


The Cloud of Unknowing

The Cloud is an anonymous book on contemplative prayer, written c. 1390–95, most probably by a Carthusian of Beauvale Priory (Notts.). While the Cloud is not primarily controversial, there are marks of the same concern which is found in *Walter Hilton (c. 1343–96) to present traditional spiritual methods and aims in the face of Lollardy, as well as warning against attachment to the ‘heat, sweetness and song’ associated with Richard Rolle (d. 1349). There is evidence of some interaction with Hilton, but whereas Hilton addresses overall a wide circle of readers, the Cloud (and its corpus) are directed particularly to contemplatives.

The book’s title is drawn from the writings of *Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500), where the author affirms that all the teaching of the Cloud may be found in (Pseudo-) Dionysius. The core of Pseudo-Dionysius’s apophatic Mystical Theology is the search for union at a supra-intellectual level with God, who in his transcendence exceeds both all that may be affirmed and all that may be denied of him. This union occurs in the ‘luminous darkness’ (exemplified by Moses’ ascent of Sinai), or the excess of God’s light experienced as darkness, as all that can appeal to sense or intellect is left behind. The Cloud speaks of leaving created things under a ‘cloud of forgetting’, in order to penetrate with a ‘sharp dart of longing love’ the cloud of unknowing that veils God’s presence. The author of the Cloud knew Pseudo-Dionysius through such Latin mediators as John Sarrazin (1140–67) and Thomas of Vercelli (d. 1246), who in various respects modified Pseudo-Dionysius. Latin theology makes more explicit that the soul’s ascent towards union with God is an act of love, a gift of God’s grace. Among other Latin writers in the Dionysian tradition, the Cloud’s author certainly knew something also of the De Mystica Theologia of the Carthusian Hugh of Balma (1289–1304), echoing (inter alia) his account of imageless prayer without premeditation, a movement of love and not of intellect.

In fact the Cloud is firmly rooted in the monastic tradition of spiritual guidance, and in Latin theology. There are echoes of *Augustine (354–430), Gregory the Great (c. 540–604), *Bernard (1090–1153) and *Richard of St Victor (d. 1173). Augustine’s teaching on the ordo caritatis, the rightly-ordered love of God and of neighbour, is fundamental. Humility and charity are the two interdependent virtues in which the whole Christian moral life is implied. The author is also in accord with *St Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–74) at various points: on the name ‘Is’ as the most appropriate to God (in contrast to Pseudo-Dionysius, who prefers ‘Good’); on the capacity of charity to unite us directly to God while we are unable in this life to know him as he is; and on the theology of ‘operant grace’. In the latter mode, as distinct from that of ‘co-operant grace’, where there is deliberate conjunction of the human will with grace, God moves the will directly and without impediment, yet with the will’s consent, ensuring the soul’s spontaneous conformity to his will. The Cloud sees this as concomitant with ‘perfect humility’, which has regard only to the greatness of God in his love and worthiness, and so is self-forgetful. In contrast, ‘imperfect humility’ has regard to one’s own qualities, especially to one’s own sinfulness, and thus is necessary but is still self-regarding. Entry into the ‘cloud of unknowing’ opens the way to ‘perfect humility’.

The Cloud thrice refers in passing to ‘another man’, who may well be Walter Hilton. The third reference is mildly critical, as if the (Augustinian and Gregorian) approach to God by introversion—the search for the ‘image of God’ within and yet beyond the soul—favoured by Hilton and by many others might seem to ‘localize’ God. The Book of Privy Counselling, intended to elucidate difficult points in the Cloud, answers just such criticisms of the Cloud’s presentation as the profoundly incarnational Hilton might have made. Comparison of Cloud and Privy Counselling shows no doctrinal difference between the two books. But what is stated in passing in the Cloud is, where necessary, restated more clearly and emphatically in Privy Counselling. The latter explicitly identifies the rejection of distinct images of God and the entry into the ‘cloud of unknowing’ with response to Christ’s call to deny oneself and take up the cross (Mt. 16:24), a text used by Hilton in Scale, 1. Privy Counselling also seems to echo Hilton in its use of John 10:9; 10:1; to insist that conformity to the virtues of Christ in his incarnate life is the only true way to contemplation. Again, Privy Counselling has a forceful passage on the sanctifying value of spiritual aridity which goes far beyond anything in the Cloud but accords with Hilton. The use of John 16:7 in this context (echoing Augustine) stands close to the use made by Hilton of more particularly Bernard’s teaching on the transition from the carnal to the spiritual love of God in Christ. Privy Counselling also marches with Hilton’s Scale, 2 on a fluctuation between aridity and awareness of God’s presence within contemplation. Conversely, Hilton’s Scale, 2 seems to draw on the Cloud for its teaching on imperfect and perfect humility, and ‘operant grace’ as ensuring (for the duration of the experience) conformity to God’s will.

There is no evidence that the Cloud was known outside England until the late sixteenth century, through an English Carthusian copy used by Benet Canfield (1562–1611) and later by Augustine Baker (1575–1641). Parallels have been drawn between *St John of the Cross (1542–91) on the ‘dark night’ and the Cloud (and Hilton), but St John cannot have known the English writers. However, the Cloud’s apophatic and affective theology, in conjunction with Harphius (Henry Herp, d. 1477), Blosius (Louis of Blois, 1506–66), Canfield and Constantin Barbanson (1582–1631), became an important constituent in Augustine Baker’s teaching.

Sources & Resources

Art: Ad Reinhardt Painting, 1958: Art as Negative Theology

“Consider, for example, the twentieth-century abstract expressionist Ad Reinhardt, who was deeply influenced by Theosophy. He “developed a religious perspective that blends Eastern and Western mysticism to form what is, in effect, an artistic via negativa,” says postmodern theologian Mark Taylor. Reinhardt is best known for a series of black paintings that represent, in his own words, a “mystical ascent.” The mind leaves behind “the world of appearances” composed of separate images until it reaches an “undifferentiated unity.” In this state, there is “no consciousness of anything” and “all distinctions disappear in darkness.” The mind attains “the divine dark.” It has immersed itself in the cloud of unknowing.

“We might borrow a label from Francis Schaeffer and call this a form of “mysticism with nobody there.” An experience like this may lift us out of the mundane world, but to connect with what? Not with a transcendent person who loves us, but with sheer silence and emptiness. Novelist Susan Sontag calls it a mysticism that ends “in a via negativa, a theology of God’s absence, a craving for the cloud of unknowing beyond knowledge and for the silence beyond speech.” In the same way, Sontag says, abstract art tends toward “the elimination of the ‘subject’ (the ‘object,’ the ‘image’), the substitution of chance for intention, and the pursuit of silence.”
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Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville: B&H, 2010).

Susan Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence,” Aspen nos. 5 & 6 (a multimedia magazine of the arts published from 1965 to 1971).

John P.H. Clark, “The Cloud of Unknowing,” The Dictionary of Historical Theology (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press, 2000), 129–131.

Texts (critical editions): The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counselling (ed. Phyllis Hodgson; London, rev. edn, 1958);

Deonise Hid Diuinite and other Treatises on Contemplative Prayer (ed. Phyllis Hodgson; London, 1958);

The Cloud of Unknowing and Related Treatises (ed. Phyllis Hodgson; Salzburg, 1982).

Texts (modernized versions): The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Treatises (ed. J. McCann; London, 6th rev. edn, 1952), includes Augustine’s commentary on the Cloud;

The Cloud of Unknowing (ed. James Walsh; Mahwah, NJ, 1981);

The Cloud of Unknowing and other Works (ed. C. Wolters; Harmondsworth, 1961).

Studies: D. Knowles, The English Mystical Tradition (London, 1961);

W. Johnston, The Mysticism of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ (New York, 1967);

J.P.H. Clark, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’: An Introduction (3 vols.; Salzburg, 1995–6); R. Tixier, ‘Mystique et Pédagogie dans “The Cloud of Unknowing” ’ (PhD thesis; University of Nancy, 1988).