Log in

No account? Create an account
Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Teaching Anselm of Canterbury; The Power of Reason; Science and Religion 
7th-Nov-2007 09:29 am
What Is A Theologian?
We had a good pair of sessions on Anselm of Canterbury yesterday. I was still not satisfied with that lesson after having already taught it for two semesters. I just seemed that the students were not really getting the impact of the material, and I had a distinct feeling that the lecture portion of my class was not illuminating and empowering the discussion portion for them at all. As I thought about it, though, I really began to think that the reading from Cur Deus Homo? (perhaps most accurately translated as Why the God-Man?, but more comfortably, if loosely, in English as Why Did God Become Human?) was in fact the most difficult selection in the Department's Introduction to Theology reader. It doesn't help that you have four chapters that aren't connected – 3, 14, and 24 from Book One, and 7 from Book Two – though they represent key parts of Anselm's argument.

So I decided a much slower walk-through was appropriate for this text, starting from the assumption that they really didn't understand the text, rather than from an assumption that they would have gotten the gist of it and proceeding from there. So I had them simply try to outline the argument for their written homework, and then they opened class working in groups, comparing their various outlines and trying to come up with a stronger and more complete group summary, tempered by one another's insights and criticisms.

But there was so much that they hadn't really seen before, that even in groups, they had no words for. The fact that Anselm's philosophical argument was largely an aesthetic one was something they needed help with. What did Reason have to do with Beauty? How could one make an argument based on Beauty? With "beauty" in our culture having been reduced to a commodity – supermodels selling us washers and dryers – I had to slow down and backtrack to the relationship in classical philosophy of the areas of Metaphysics, Ethics, and Aesthetics, of dealing with questions of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and how all these were inter-related. The medieval philosophers had a much wider concept of Beauty as that "fittingness" or symmetry or harmony that one found through nature or reality. The students could see that kind of language scattered through our art, but also through our mathematics, our physical sciences, and literature. They had just never tied this altogether under the category of "Beauty," and considered what philosophical implications or usefulness the idea of Beauty might have.

Beyond that, once we had wrapped up coming to terms with the intentions of the text and the nature of Anselm's argument, I asked them the basic question out of the introduction to the chapter as to why Anselm is called the "Father of Scholasticism," even if he was before the rise of the universities and the philosophical/theological method of those of the schools. After getting them to simply do the "trivia" of defining scholasticism and refreshing themselves on the historical note – important to know as a point of historical data and contextualization, yes – I hit them with the real question: After looking at the text itself, what could we say that it showed us about Anselm's beliefs about the status of human reasoning? What was the extent of Reason's power? Reason had the power to let humanity "decode" even the actions and intentions of God: Reason could connect the finite to the infinite, to give us finite creatures access to the infinite Creator.

Perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise, but the implications of things we often say or take for granted – of words we are too used to hearing – those implications sometimes escape us if we don't go looking for them. Christianity had always taught that it was that aspect of God – the Logos in Greek, the Word, or variously translated as Reason or the Tao – that had become human in the man Jesus of Nazareth. But this medieval declaration about the power of Reason connecting God and the human mind had deeper implications. This was the great breakthrough. As any historian of science will tell you, it was this moment, this "leap of faith" that not only said Reason could help us "decode God," but also to decode the universe, God's creation. Thus Europe's intellectuals, through this act of faith, without any evidence to back them up, put in the decades and centuries of work that would become "modern science," and which would eventually start paying off in the immensely concrete benefits of the technology this version of science would produce. The irony would be that the anti-Christian philosophers of the 18th century would swoop in and claim credit for science just as it started paying off, and to create the "science versus religion" propaganda that is still with us today, casting the new science as the product of an anti-religious radical skepticism, despite the historical facts of Modern science's origins, like a teenager rebelling against his parents, or, more oddly, claiming not to have had any.

It let us end the session with some thoughts on the unity of Faith and Reason, which in our Enlightenment philosophy are taught to us as opposites, but which in reality are inextricably related. Religious faith, where "faith" means more "trust" than "belief," is like other human trusts: given through reflected-upon experience. We reason from our data and experience who it is in our lives that we will trust. Likewise, one of the Post-Modern insights into the Modern sciences has been to realize that science, too, acts on certain unprovable first principles – faith – such as the idea of the universal applicability of what we call "scientific laws," even though we have no access to almost the whole of the universe. Science as a system works because we assume that what holds true on both sides of the Earth also holds true on both our side of the universe and the opposite side, even though we have no proof at all that this is the case.

Getting past the cheap propaganda of "science versus religion" or "faith versus reason" is in many ways one of the chief goals of my class: I just want the students to slow down and ask questions. Our crappy thinking about these matters today is largely because people accept glib thinking on these matters without careful examination, whether that glib thinking is skeptical anti-supernaturalism or the superstition of much popular religion, both Christian and neopagan. If I can get the students to habitually think about this sort of thing, in the face of all the pressure our culture has to not really think, then I've won.
7th-Nov-2007 05:16 pm (UTC) - aesthetic argument+ a proposal to you
"When at the last Transfiguration retreat
I asked Michael Allison why anyone should suppose
human beings were the culmination of the evolutionary process,
rather than another moment to be passed through, he said
because otherwise evolution would be bad art.

John Chico Martin in "Becoming Divine"
posting link again because if you have time
I would like your response or even if you wished
and in some haste a contribution of not great length
to the potential final major publisher book of it...
in this case float concept to me after looking at
book as it stands.

as to argument I believe also intuition as well
as aesthetic is a basis for "proof"
7th-Nov-2007 05:23 pm (UTC) - Re: aesthetic argument+ a proposal to you
I'm not sure what you're asking me here, I'm afraid: it sounds like you're asking me to submit a proposal for a book chapter to a book that's already been published, which is of course problematic. :-)
7th-Nov-2007 05:28 pm (UTC) - lulu
Lulu makes very nice books as this is
but rights are retained and you can add
as you go along until you push it to an isbn
we have now two poems in this book
(of papers essays and poems) which were not
in when it was first announced for sale

I hope also that we can get the finished project
awaiting paper or poem from john mcguckin of
union/columbia and a brief paper from ilya grits
to a somewhat major publisher outside
of lulu
7th-Nov-2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
our mutual lj friend john bostwick has
a paper in the book of course he was present
and the core is
the keynote paper and responses at a fr men
evening in new york(christensen perkins plekon
cherniak bostwick) and papers also from
transfiguration retreat on same theme the
weekend before(christopher of new skete, chico
martin) and then friends of ours in same
extended circle novelist dave athey poet
dick dauenhauer jim anderson of st cloud

and mcguckin who was absent in new york those
days(being in spain)
7th-Nov-2007 05:48 pm (UTC)
Interesting! Even though I'm afraid I don't know Fr. Men (and given how much you mention him, I really ought to read some of his stuff), I'll spend some time this afternoon looking at this this, thinking about theosis and some of this aesthetic approach of Anselm's, and then I'll see if I can give you a proposal that might be worth something. I'll let you know, either way, by tonight. Will that suffice?
7th-Nov-2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
yes but also get the book it is but
850 and I have no extra copy now
and then see if it fits the general view
which in a word of theosis
("Becoming-As-Divine" in Chico's expression)
as being not simply individual and subjective
but also societal and cosmic
these three dimensions are the dimensions of
life and indeed theosis is the sharing of
life, there is only one life that of God
finally himself.
God is the source of Life which we will never
be but in theosis we share that one life in
all its dimension from the inwardness of the
hermit to the distances of the starfarer

my off the cuff of course but in other
words not focused simply on palamas said
this but aquinas said that but what the heck etc
7th-Nov-2007 05:52 pm (UTC)
and any contribution can be short
compressed and pithy ...gnomic even
like old 'centuries' of maximus etc
8th-Nov-2007 08:07 am (UTC)

I have only just finished tonight's work, at 2:06am, and my mind is not what it was. I will have to hold off until tomorrow afternoon to try to finish my proposal for you, but I have been thinking....

Peace to you.
12th-Nov-2007 06:39 am (UTC)
Okay, how about this?

I was thinking in terms at first of a more academic paper, historically pointed toward Anselm since he in this entry had captured your attention, but that would be leaning more toward the "Palamas said
this but Aquinas said that" form that did not seem to so much capture your attention.

But then I started thinking of a more free-ranging, speculative piece of theological writing, not an analysis of historical theology (not that that isn't always a treasure trove of projects worth doing), but a little more of the creative association of thoughts and themes. In that case, would you be interested in an essay where I start thinking in terms of a Western counterpart to the more Eastern language of theosis, and take this curious aesthetic argument of Anslem's as my starting point. In speaking over his notion of "fittingness," a powerful word through which he sets up his argument about the logic of the Incarnation happening as it did, I can explain how this concept was something others could run with, such as Aquinas' use of it, and speak of "fittingness" as describing a sort of aesthetic perspective of a logic that unites God and the universe, Creator and creation. We are, of course, here playing on a variation of Logos-theology, as I think a theosis-theology must. This unity is what an Aristotelian theology such as Aquinas' might think of as the substratum linking the Potential and the Actual, not in a pantheistic way, but one here utterly dependent on the insights of the doctrines of Creation and the Incarnation.

From these thoughts I would vere toward the language of that contemporary appropriator of Anselm and Aquinas, Karl Rahner, and his essay on Matter. There, in his own spin on a Thomistic style of thinking, he articulates ideas very similar to those I quoted in another last week that are known in the Orthodox tradition:
Through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and stone, through relics and church buildings and the Cross, through angels and humans, through all creation visible and invisible, I offer veneration and honour to the Creator and the Master and Maker of all things, and to Him alone. For creation does not venerate the Maker directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens declare the glory of God, through me the moon worships God, through me the waters and showers of rain, the dew and all creation, venerate God and give Him glory.
– Leontius of Neapolis, Cyprus, c. 590-650
Rahner, however, is trying to do this in a language amenable to the scientific language of the contemporary West. I would take that a step farther in specifically bringing it to language of theosis and discuss how for theosis to occur, it must necessarily involve the societal and cosmic dimensions you are interested in articulating because of our own intrinsically societal and cosmic dimensions as matter, as life, and as animal, much less as human. That the Incarnation involved the Logos becoming each of these things – not incidentally, but critically to the achieving of salvation itself – will be addressed, with a meditation on the likelihood that it was no hyperbole after all for Jesus to say that if the crowds did not praise him, the very rocks would cry out Glory to the Highest.

Would something like that do, or are you looking for something else?
12th-Nov-2007 04:42 pm (UTC) - from Marquette. andrei orlov and "the youth"
I think you pointed out to me before
the Jewish mysticism materials from Marquette
I find this online from there on the problem
of Metatron at
from andrei orlov (I wonder if he is Christian?)
that would make two russian metatron men
somov already working on two metatron papers.
his paper,orlov's, is interesting in its treatment
of the title Na'ar --the youth--which fascinates
12th-Nov-2007 04:47 pm (UTC) - wonderful! (second posting if first lost)
I replied in a little detail but yes
(in case it is lost) that is wonderful!
Go to it! thank you so much.
just a few pages in scale of book 3-5
or so maximum?
panentheism is not to be feared
it is in a way the mystery of theosis isnt
it...? the inner coherance of all of
Reality(simeon frank's expression for what
he also called the Pan-Unity, like augustines
totus christus but in relation to created
and uncreated)
7th-Nov-2007 05:19 pm (UTC)
If I can get the students to habitually think about this sort of thing, in the face of all the pressure our culture has to not really think, then I've won.

Amen, brother.

I think, sideways, of a Camille Paglia essay, the ending of which got circulated during my undergrad years in a hundred .sig files:
I have a dream: in my dream, based on the diner episode in "The Blues Brothers," Aretha Franklin, in her fabulous black-lipstick "Jumpin' Jack Flash" outfit, leaps from her seat at Maxim's and, shouting "Think!," blasts Lacan, Derrida and Foucault like dishrags against the wall, then leads thousands of freed academic white slaves in a victory parade down the Champs-Elysees.
7th-Nov-2007 05:24 pm (UTC)
What an image!
8th-Nov-2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
Science as a system works because we assume that what holds true on both sides of the Earth also holds true on both our side of the universe and the opposite side, even though we have no proof at all that this is the case.

But if these theories didn't hold true on the other side of the universe, the universe wouldn't exist.
This page was loaded Mar 22nd 2019, 1:17 pm GMT.