“It is only by going some distance into a single problem of knowledge that we are made aware of our natural indolence and woolly mindedness, and of how many particulars are needed in order to make a single generalization.”—W. H. Auden, reviewing Adler’s How to Read a Book. (via garbandier)
“'I too have been for some time greatly dissatisfied with the Congregationalists, as they seem to be trying more and more to save the world from the outside by politics, and not by the rule of the Kingdom in the individual heart'”—
George MacDonald (p 263 in William Raeper’s Biography on the life of GM. From a letter GM wrote to his cousin James at ‘The Farm’ in 1893) Via Craig Castleman.
Politics has an important place, but it is not salvation, even in the corporate sense.
“[T]he message of the early Christians, which lies at the heart of the notion of a Christian foundation whether it be a University or a hospital or a family or indeed a country, is that true greatness comes through sacrificial love, that true leadership consists in self-giving service, and that truth itself, the ultimate quest of all University life, is not something we can simply discover, put in our pockets, and use to our own advantage. Truth, as the best researchers in every field know well, is more mysterious than that, because the world, and particularly human beings, are more mysterious and interesting than that. Truth is something that happens when genuinely humble people pause long enough before their subject of study to hear and see what is truly going on, rather than inflicting their own theories on it. Truth then comes to expression when they, or others, purify the dialect of the tribe, and manage to say the new thing, whatever it is, in new and appropriate ways. Universities exist to foster the conditions within which that birthing of truth can take place.”—N.T. Wright, “The Great Story” (via pejohnston)
The purification of Curdie’s hands in the fire of roses, which gives him such powers of discernment and knowledge, is a difficult scene to illustrate, though this version is pretty evocative.
Curdie dared not stop to think. It was much too terrible to think about. He rushed to the fire, and thrust both of his hands right into the middle of the heap of flaming roses, and his arms halfway up to the elbows. And it did hurt! But he did not draw them back. He held the pain as if it were a thing that would kill him if he let it go — as indeed it would have done. He was in terrible fear lest it should conquer him.
But when it had risen to the pitch that he thought he could bear it no longer, it began to fall again, and went on growing less and less until by contrast with its former severity it had become rather pleasant. At last it ceased altogether, and Curdie thought his hands must be burned to cinders if not ashes, for he did not feel them at all. The princess told him to take them out and look at them. He did so, and found that all that was gone of them was the rough, hard skin; they were white and smooth like the princess’s.
I have wondered if T. S. Eliot took his fire and rose imagery in Four Quartets (used, among other places, in the closing lines of “Little Gidding”) from MacDonald’s story, or if both are drawing from somewhere else. Apparently Dante also uses the image in the Comedy.
“Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to rouse the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood; and theirs in general is the inhospitable reception of angels that do not come in their own likeness. Doubt must precede every deeper assurance; for uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed.”—Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald: The Voice of Job
“When Calvin says, “The only true knowledge of God is born of obedience,” he’s saying you have to be very alert to the occasions in which God lets you understand what obedience might be. And in that context, obedience and courage are simultaneous.”—
I like the Calvin quote, which is oddly reminiscent of George MacDonald. I don’t understand Robinson’s gloss on it, which might be an indicator of why “mainline” Protestantism is in trouble.
What she holds out in the larger interview is very appealing, but I don’t see a path there from contemporary non-Evangelical Protestantism. Many of the more liberal branches seem ossified in their thrall to the secular culture and their need to be liked. Perhaps the emerging Anglicanism can contribute, if it can forge an identity distinct from its evangelical brethren.
For Bohr, physics was not about finding out what nature is, but about what can be said about it. Quantum mechanics was a complete theory of the behavior of matter and light, and we just have to come to terms with the limitations it places on what can be known, for example as illustrated by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Einstein was having none of it. He believed that there is an objective world out there and that it is the job of scientists to describe it. The appearance of probabilities in the theory was, for him, evidence of its incompleteness. …
In the late 1970s, I had the pleasure of talking with John Bell about the Bohr-Einstein debates during a train journey from Oxford to London. Every seat was taken, so we had to stand. Pressed against me by sullen commuters, Bell summarized his apparently reluctant conclusion as we pulled into Paddington station: “Bohr was inconsistent, unclear, willfully obscure and right. Einstein was consistent, clear, down-to-earth and wrong.”
Mine was not an Enlightened mind, I now was aware: it was a Gothic mind, medieval in its temper and structure. I did not love cold harmony and perfect regularity of organization; what I sought was variety, mystery, tradition, the venerable, the awful. I despised sophisters and calculators; I was groping for faith, honor, and prescriptive loyalties. I would have given any number of neo-classical pediments for one poor battered gargoyle.
The men of the Enlightenment had cold hearts and smug heads; now their successors were in the process of imposing a dreary conformity upon all the world, with Efficiency and Progress and Equality for their watchwords—abstractions preferred to all those fascinating and lovable peculiarities of human nature and human society which are products of prescription and tradition. This desert of salt would be a cheerful place by comparison with the desolation of the human heart, if the remains of Gothic faith and Gothic variety should be crushed out of civilization.
”—Russell Kirk, Confessions of a Bohemian Tory (New York: Fleet, 1963), 23.
“We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past—whether he admits it or not—can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”—Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics
“When you talk to someone, above all refrain from upsetting him by aggressiveness, or by expressing an opinion directly opposed to his, from an obvious desire to have your own way. It is the enemy who inspires you to do this, in order to start an argument and by this means to bring about discord. Avoid equally speaking of spiritual things in order to display your own wisdom. This too is a suggestion of the enemy, and if you follow it you will be laughed at by men and will gain God’s displeasure.”—Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894) as found in The Art of Prayer: an Orthodox Anthology edited by Igumen Charition of Valamo
“Anyhow, it isn’t what happens to you that really counts: it’s what you are able to do with it. The streets are crammed with people who have had the most extraordinary experiences—been shipwrecked, chased out of Calliph’s harems, blown sky-high by bombs—and it hasn’t meant a thing to them, because they couldn’t distill it. Art’s distillation; experience is wine, and art is the brandy we distill from it.”—Robertson Davies, A Mixture of Frailties; speaker is Sir Benedict.
“At the present time we witness everywhere the following paradoxical situation. Non-western peoples are eager to master every element in the science and techniques of the western world, but are almost totally uninterested in enquiring into the roots of the tree on which these fruits have grown. Western man, apparently embarrassed about his ancestry like a schoolboy who is embarrassed about his parents, goes out of his way in his contacts with the rest of the world to avoid any suggestion of commitment to the religion of the Bible, but shows himself passionately interested in studying the minutest details of the origins of the non-western religions and cultures. Yet his study of them is always with the tools of thought which western science has developed and not with the tools of the non-western cultures and languages… . It is to be hoped that a time will come when, both in the west and elsewhere, it will be recognized that the study of the origins of modern science is of at least as much importance to an educated man as the study of Caesar’s wars or Vergil’s poetry. When that time comes there will be less need to argue for the relation of the Bible to the roots of the scientific world-view.”—Lesslie Newbigin, Honest Religion for Secular Man (1966 ed) pp25-26 (via newbigin)
C.S. Lewis once observed that while many people use art, only a very few receive it. The texts that get called scriptures by various religious traditions are often used by individuals (mostly quoted out of context) to pepper speeches, buttress bad arguments, and, on occasion, to avoid awareness of responsibility for our actions. We read and quote selectively to better justify what we’ve already decided to do. Where is the self-awareness in any of this, the sense that our scriptures can, and should, change the way we think and act? … Are we up for a redeeming word?
We only receive art when we let it call our own lives into question. If the words of Jesus of Nazareth, for instance, strike us as comfortable and perfectly in tune with our own confident common sense, our likes and dislikes, our budgets, and our actions toward strangers and foreigners, then receiving the words of Jesus is probably not what we’re doing. We may quote a verse, put it in a PowerPoint presentation, or even intone it loudly with an emotional, choked-up quiver, but if it doesn’t scandalize or bother us, challenging our already-made-up minds, we aren’t really receiving it.
“For Jesus “feast” was not just a “metaphor” for the kingdom. As Jesus announced the feast of the kingdom, He also brought it into reality through His own feasting. Unlike many theologians, He did not come preaching an ideology, promoting ideas, or teaching moral maxims. He came teaching about the feast of the kingdom, and He came feasting in the kingdom. Jesus did not go around merely talking about eating and drinking; he went around eating and drinking. A lot.”—Peter Leithart (via germerian)
“The only way for a Christian to be loyal to his central commitment is to be as honest as he knows how to be. It is important to survive, but it is even more important to tell the truth, and we can never tell the truth if we are seeking, primarily, to prove a point.”—Elton Trueblood (1900-1994), The Future of the Christian, Harper & Row, 1971, p. 9, via CQOD
“If we Christians have the truth, and that truth is beautiful – more beautiful than any other message or religion out there – and then we present it in stammering, clumsy, irreverent, or ugly ways, well, we’re hypocrites. We’re living unfaithfully to the Truth. But if we live in a state of celebration and joy and gratitude, and if our words and our art and our presentations of that truth hit people like the smell of baking bread, then we’re getting somewhere.”—Truth and Beauty: A Conversation with N.D. Wilson : Kingdom People
“Meaning is the bread on which man, in the intrinsically human part of his being, subsists. Without the word, without meaning, without love he falls into the situation of no longer being able to live, even when earthly comfort is present in abundance. Everyone knows how sharply this situation of ‘not being able to go on any more’ can arise in the midst of outward abundance.”—Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (via invicemsunt)
“If there is to be a true universal history, it will be written on the basis of a faith about the destiny of man which is true. At this point the alternative to faith is not demonstrable certainty but uncriticized prejudice.”—Lesslie Newbigin, Honest Religion for Secular Man (1966 ed) p21 (via newbigin)
We’ve been trying for decades, since the advent of hypertext fiction, of media-rich CD-ROMs, to enhance the experience of literature with multimedia. And it has failed, every time.
Yet we are terrified that in the digital age, people are constantly distracted. That they’re shallower, lazier, more dazzled. If they are, then the text is not speaking clearly enough. We are not speaking clearly enough. Like over-stuffed attendees at a dull banquet, the mind wanders. We are terrified that people are dumbing down, and so we provide them with ever dumber entertainment. We sell them ever greater distractions, hoping to dazzle them further.
Literature is an active process: the communication between writer—who wishes to tell the reader something, and imagines that reader in their mind in order to best adapt their writing for their understanding—and reader, who reconstructs and reanimates the text in their own mind. Any other input, audio or video, however pleasurable in certain contexts, diminishes the reader’s capacity for imagination and understanding. All else is distraction. Other—particularly visual—media reduce the bandwidth of the imagination.
“The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the *saints* the Church has produced and the *art* which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No, Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty — and truth — is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of hell…. A theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous. Blindness and deafness toward the beautiful are not incidental: they necessarily are reflected in his theology.”—Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (1985)
“Perhaps her greatest strength was that she never overstepped the limits of her talent. She knew precisely what she could do and she did it well. For over fifty years this shy and conventional woman produced murder mysteries of extraordinarily imaginative duplicity.”—
P. D. James on Agatha Christie in Talking About Detective Fiction
This strikes me as high praise. Many people of great ability do not know or respect their limits. It’s not possible to push your limits if you don’t know what they are.