Archive for August, 2011

August 31, 2011

he can only woo

Speaking of God’s relation to humans, Lewis writes:

Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves….

From The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1943), 45-46.

I like the language of wooing and cake eating that Lewis uses, but I’m not so sure that God never ravishes. Certainly, God’s felt presence in any full sense would entirely overwhelm us, but his wooing at times can be fierce. I am reminded of this poem about God’s ravishing, the teachings of Maximus the Confessor, and Hendriksen’s definition of kingship as harmony with God’s will.

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August 30, 2011

double darkness

Prayer by Thomas Aquinas

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding. Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance. Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally. Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm. Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion. I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Cited in Jens Zimmermann and Norman Klassen. The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education (197-198).

August 29, 2011

back to your nurse

The man without a moral code, like the animal, is free from moral problems. The man who has not learned to count is free from mathematical problems. A man asleep is free from all problems. Within the framework of general human ethics, problems will, of course, arise and will sometimes be solved wrongly. This possibility of error is simply the symptom that we are awake, not asleep, that we are men, not beasts or gods. If I were pressing on you a panacea, if I were recommending traditional ethics as a means to some end, I might be tempted to promise you the infallibility which I actually deny. But that, you see, is not my position. I send you back to your nurse and your father, to all the poets and sages and law givers, because, in a sense, I hold that you are already there whether you recognize it or not: that there is really no ethical alternative: that those who urge us to adopt new moralities are only offering us the mutilated or expurgated text of a book which we already possess in the original manuscript.

From Lewis’ “On Ethics” (56) quoted in The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education by Jens Zimmermann and Norman Klassen (181).

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August 27, 2011

books written in a very foreign language

Letters To a Young Poet
Letter Four (16 July 1903)

You are so young; you stand before beginnings. I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

– Rainer Maria Rilke (Translator: Stephen Mitchell)

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August 26, 2011

grateful recipients of common grace

We now turn to the notion of common grace, the idea that God’s incarnation enables you to roll up your sleeves and explore knowledge not only without fear but also in confidence that in God’s providence non-Christian minds have provided many great ideas that contribute to our renewed humanity.

…Common grace is a two-way street, and our full understanding of this issue will allow us not only to tolerate non-Christian contributions to knowledge but actually to seek truth in them that contributes to the renewal of our minds. We are not merely agents but also grateful recipients of common grace.

…John Calvin defined the inability of the fallen mind to see reality in the context of God’s love as the corruption of the entire person, including the mind: “Calvin did not think of corruption as affecting the being of the mind itself, for the mind is still maintained in being by the direct action of God. As a natural gift it is not removed but perverted.” Contrary to Enlightenment thinkers, Calvin did not separate the mind from the rest of the person. For Calvin, the mind has not lost its ability to think per se, but it has lost its proper framework for applying its insights; reason has lost its God-directed coordinate. Reason, as he put it, is corrupted “as far as its rectitude is concerned.”

…The mind itself and its Christian and non-Christian achievements alike are a glorious testimony to God’s gift of reason. Non-Christian insights are “wrong” only insofar as they miss the context in which all knowledge gains its full measure, namely, when it is dedicated and used for the glory of God. Intellectual achievements are not, in other words, the exclusive domain of the Christian. And so Calvin insists that we should learn from non-Christians in “physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other similar science … [lest] we be justly punished for our laziness.

The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education by Jens Zimmermann, Norman Klassen

August 25, 2011

that is not what a star is

Listening to Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader read yesterday with my children, we came to this familiar passage.

“I am Ramandu. But I see that you stare at one another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.” “Golly,” said Edmund under his breath. “He’s a retired star.” “…In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” (from chapter 14: The beginning of the end of the world)

I’ve posted here on this same theme before.

August 24, 2011

ravish me

John Donne
Holy Sonnet XIV

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee, ‘untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

“Burn me” and “ravish me” take us into priestly territory, although much of the language in here is kingly: regarding our self as a municipality (in need of new rulership) and echoing the royal marriage motif between God and Israel. In Book X of Confessions, Augustine also compares our inner world (memory) to a busy and often unruly city. But this poem ends in priestly territory, with the need for the whole city, the bride, to be purified by an overwhelming vision of God’s glorious beauty.

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August 23, 2011

the whole earth was glad

Finally Isis wrapped Osiris’s body in linen, so that he became the first mummy. But as soon as she wrapped him in linen, he came back to life again. The whole earth was glad to see Osiris alive again! The Nile filled back up and overflowed its banks, so that all Egyptians had water to drink, and their crops began to grow again. And that’s why the Nile overflows every year–because it remembers that Osiris came back to life.

From The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child (Volume 1: Ancient Times) by Susan Wise Bauer (pages 32-33). With that kind of understanding of the world, it’s no wonder that so many pagans understood the gospel. Ears that can hear nothing from the preaching of flooded rivers, are unlikely to hear the true gospel preached by Christ’s apostles.

August 22, 2011

broken Hallelujah

A couple lines from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I heard it recently from a friend and teacher. With several versions during Cohen’s long career and recordings by some 50 artists, the lyrics seem to vary slightly each time.

It’s not the laughter of someone who claims to have seen the light
No, it’s a cold, and it’s a very broken Hallelujah

…There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

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August 20, 2011

receptivity to the ‘otherness’

Gadamer argues that education is not primarily the storing up of facts but the movement away from one’s own narrow horizon into the greater context of how people have thought concerning the great human questions throughout the ages…: “It is not enough to observe more closely, to study a tradition more thoroughly, if there is not already a receptivity to the ‘otherness’ of the work of art of the past.”

From The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education by Jens Zimmermann and Norman Klassen

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