The God of the Philosophers (Herbert McCabe)

It is true that philosophers, generally speaking, are the most dogmatic of men, but they cannot claim any divine authority for their dogmatism.  The kind of philosophical reflection that is called “natural theology” exists because God made the world and men.  I think that this reflection can lead to the conclusion that there is a “beyond” that transcends all that we can know.  Broadly speaking, we look at the world and it has a created look about it, which is as far as we can go.  There used to be an idea (invented, I think, by Pascal) that the God of the philosophers was a different kind of being than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Now of course the God of the philosophers that Pascal had in mind may very well be different from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the God of my philosophy (and here I am at one with St. Thomas) is not well known enough to be different from Yahweh of the Old Testament.  Philosophy tells us almost nothing about God, certainly not enough to set up a rival religion.  –The New Creation

Lewis Carroll’s Purification

Lewis Carroll’s private journal, 7 January 1856:

Am I a deep philosopher or a great genius? I think neither. What talents I have I desire to devote to His Service and may he purify me and take away my pride and selfishness. Oh that I might hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

“For Thou Art God Ineffable, Unknowable, Invisible, Incomprehensible…”

One of the most fascinating claims of Orthodox Theology is that when we attempt to conceptualize God we invariably fashion an idol.  I find that a dark saying, I admit; I have puzzled over it long and often.  (I have spent much of my life waiting for the dawning of dark sayings.)  But today I ran across this in Eckhart, and I take it to expand the dark saying (without, alas, making it brighter):

Man’s last and highest parting occurs when, for God’s sake, he takes leave of god.  St. Paul took leave of god for God’s sake and gave up all that he might get from god, as well as all he might give–together with every idea of god.  In parting with these, he parted with god for God’s sake and yet God remained to him as God is in his own nature–not as he is conceived by anyone to be–nor yet as something to be achieved–but more as an “is-ness”, as God really is.

Puzzle me that.

Browning and Kierkegaard on Oblique or Indirect Communication

Browning from near the end of The Ring and the Book:

…learn one lesson hence
Of many which whatever lives should teach:
This lesson, that our human speech is naught,
Our human testimony false, our fame
And human estimation words and wind.
Why take the artistic way to prove so much?
Because, it is the glory and good of Art,
That Art remains the one way possible
Of speaking truth, to mouths like mine at least.
How look a brother in the face and say,
“Thy right is wrong, eyes has thou yet art blind;
Thine ears are stuffed and stopped, despite their length:
And, oh, the foolishness thou countest faith!”
Say this as silvery as tongue can troll–
The anger of the man may be endured,
The shrug, the disappointed eyes of him
Are not so bad to bear–but here’s the plague
That all this trouble comes of telling truth.
Which truth, by when it reaches him, looks false,
Seems to be just the thing it would supplant,
Nor recognizable by whom it left;
While falsehood would have done the work of truth.
But Art, –where in man nowise speaks to men,
Only to mankind, –Art may tell a truth
Obliquely, do the thing shall breed the thought,
Nor wrong the thought, missing the mediate word.
So may you paint your picture, twice show truth,
Beyond mere imagery on the wall, —
So, note by note, bring music from your mind,
Deeper than ever e’en Beethoven dived,–
So write a book shall mean beyond the facts,
Suffice the eye and save the soul beside.

And now some of Kierkegaard, from The Point of View:

No, an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed.  If it is an illusion that all are Christians–and if there is anything to be done about it, it must be done indirectly, not by one who vociferously proclaims himself an extraordinary Christian, but by one who, better instructed, is ready to declare that he is not a Christian at all.  That is, one must approach from behind the person who is under an illusion.  Instead of wishing to have the advantage of being oneself that rare thing, a Christian, one must let the prospective captive enjoy the advantage of being the Christian, and for one’s own part have resignation enough to be the one who is far behind him–otherwise one will certainly not get the man out of his illusion.

Supposing then that a religious writer has become profoundly attentive to this illusion, Christendom, and has resolved to attack it which all the might at his disposal (with God’s aid, be it noted)–what then is he to do.  First and foremost, no impatience.  If he because impatient, he will rush headlong against it and accomplish nothing.  A direct attack only strengthens the person in his illusion, and at the same time embitters him.  There is nothing which requires such gentle handling as an illusion, if one wishes to dispel it.  If anything prompts the prospective captive to set his will in opposition, all is lost.  And this is what a direct attack achieves, and it implies moreover the presumption of requiring a man to make to another person, or in his presence, an admission which he can make most profitably to himself privately.  This is what is achieved by the indirect method, which, loving and serving the truth, arranges everything dialectically for the prospective captive, and then shyly withdraws (for love is always shy), so as not to witness the admission which he makes to himself alone before God–that he has lived under an illusion.

The religious writer must, therefore, first get into touch with men.  That is, he must begin with aesthetic achievement.  This is earnest-money.  The more brilliant the achievement, the better for him…Therefore, he must have everything in readiness, though without impatience, with a view to bringing forward the religious promptly, as soon as he perceives that he has his readers with him, so that with the momentum gained by devotion to the aesthetic they rush headlong into contact with the religious.

Comments to come.

It’s not “human nature” !

A useful reminder.

A vow of conversation

The popular idea that Christianity says “human nature” is inherently bad is actually the opposite of what the earliest Christian theologians believed. This book challenges the popularized negative view by proposing a prophetic alternative grounded in early Greek Christian sources. It draws on the wealth of early theological reflection, the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers, and the heritage of Eastern Christianity to discover what God has made us to be.

Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation (Baker Academic, 2010), 5.

This book arrived several months ago. I have dipped into it, and have wanted to get down to a serious reading of it many times, but let’s just say that other things have intervened. I don’t intend blogging on it in detail, worthwhile though that would be, because such an intention would no doubt simply go the way of all my other…

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