Mars Hill Group, Feb. 15, 2020

Presentation by Paul S. Julienne ( concerning the flattened, immanent imagination of secular modernity, and the expansive, wholistic imagination of the Christian vision of Reality, a vision of participation in a transcendently given immanent order unfolding towards good ends.

We first listened to Paul Tyson’s talk from Mars Hill Audio 139. These are his key points:

  • There is no epistemological Switzerland–a neutral place from which to see Reality: we are always already situated in it.
  • What we think about Reality deeply colors how we live, and vice versa.
  • According to the modern conception, what is real is what is material, measurable, and is a-moral; knowledge is disconnected with the good, the moral.  Its ethics are grounded either in personal fulfillment or in arbitrary rules–there is no real moral order “out there.”  The idea of God or a universal order of Reality is publicly implausible and reduced to the sphere of private belief or values.
  • Modern people seek instrumental power, sub-rational pleasure, and avoidance of pain; we can manipulate the world to fulfill our desires: “we are all Marxists now.”
  • C.S. Lewis: ancient wisdom: to conform the soul to reality; modern action: to subdue reality to the wishes of men.
  • The modern mind is not based on order and reason but meaningless matter and instinctive facts, giving rise to a meaningless pragmatism.
  • Christians have a different posture on ALL OF REALITY
  • The crisis forced by Jesus in John’s gospel–believe or reject.  Hard to grasp the depth of Jesus’s “crisis”.
  • Radical challenge to life as we know it: Repent!  Metanoia–change your heart and mind; do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
  • Modernity: fragmentation, separation of things that belong together.
  • Especially, this world and the transcendent.  Real knowledge is sealed off from the transcendent.  Thus knowledge and meaning are separated.  Affects all of our institutions, all ordinary living–caught up in it whether we like it or not.
  • A theological origin (Peter Harrison), meaning separated from factual knowledge.
  • Ancient: meaning precedes knowing; modern, knowing (subject) produces meaning
  • Christian: God is the ground of ALL reality.  Wisdom and knowledge come from the LORD. The world is first towards us, not us first towards the world. 
  • Where do we start?
    • Belief in a world founded on the knowledge of the Creator, the Divine Mind.
      • We participate in that knowledge.  How?
    • Meaning is given from without, not a gloss on pure fact.
    • Not an academic pursuit.
      • Can not isolate life from the common good, or only hold a personal, private faith isolated from the public sphere.
      • Do we act for the renewal of all things?
  • Can we ground knowing in wonder?  Wonder that there is anything at all, a grounding in abundance and delight.
  • Meaning is aboriginal.  A little child knows that the world is magical, there is meaning, the world is a love song.
  • Love is the truest knowledge, not graspable by modern reductive views.

Paul Tyson,  in Returning to Reality: Christian Platonism for Our Times, p. 50 (Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015):

“… arguably it is Francis Bacon who is the greatest herald of the modern age. Bacon is not remembered as a philosopher or a scientist, yet he planted the seed of a great idea that is central to the modern world. Knowledge gives us power over nature, thus the central criteria of deciding “is it true?” becomes “does it work?” Once this stance is accepted as valid, questions of metaphysics and theology are simply irrelevant to matters of public truth and technological power. Reason and knowledge can now be free from the restrictions and fantasies of speculative thought and religious power.”

This causes us to ask: can “science” have a sounder grounding than brute “fact” and technological exploitation?  Can wonder return?

Through wonder men began to philosophize, both now and in the beginning. (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book 1, 982b)

For this is an experience which is characteristic of a philosopher, this wondering: this is where philosophy begins and nowhere else. (Socrates in Plato’s Theaetetus, 155d)

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.” (Albert Einstein, in The World as I See It, 1949)

Albert Einstein also wrote:

“The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility… The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.”

Einstein’s article appears in his original German, in the March, 1936, edition of the Journal of the Franklin Institute under the title “Physics and Reality.” Einstein’s original sentence is, “Das ewig Unbegreifliche an der Welt ist ihre Begreiflichkeit,” which can better be rendered “The eternally incomprehensible thing about the world is its comprehensibility.” (The German verb greifen means to grab, to grasp, to take hold of.)

Can we have knowledge deeper than words?  St. Paul says to the Ephesians :

“that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know (ginosko) the love of Christ which surpasses (huperballo) knowledge (gnosis), that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:17-19)

Consider what Scripture says about the path to knowledge and wisdom:

Dan. 2:21 He changes times and seasons;
 he sets up kings and deposes them.
 He gives wisdom to the wise
 and knowledge to the discerning.

 Prov. 2:6 For the LORD gives wisdom,
 and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

 Job 32:8 But it is the spirit in a man, 
 the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.

 Prov. 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
 and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Isaiah 47:10 (to the Babylonians):
You have trusted in your wickedness
 and have said, ‘No one sees me.’ 
 Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you
 when you say to yourself,
 ‘I am, and there is none besides me.’ 

Can the world itself speak to us about what lies beyond visible perception?

Psalm. 19:1-6
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice
is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.       
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

In a letter to Thomas Poole (1801), Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:

“Newton was a mere materialist–Mind in his system is always passive–a lazy Looker-on on an external World.  If the mind be not passive, if it be indeed made in God’s Image, & that too in the sublimest sense–the Image of the Creator–there is ground for suspicion, that any system built on the passiveness of the mind must be false, as a system …” (From Mariner, a biography of Coleridge by Anglican priest Malcolm Guite, p. 400)

The following is from Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, On Truth (Article 1: What is truth?):

… that which the intellect first conceives as, in a way, the most evident, and to which it reduces all its concepts, is being. 

… there is something which is such that it agrees with every being. Such a being is the soul, which, as is said in The Soul, “in some way is all things.” The soul, however, has both knowing and appetitive powers. Good expresses the correspondence of being to the appetitive power, for, and so we note in the Ethics, the good is “that which all desire.” True expresses the correspondence of being to the knowing power, for all knowing is produced by an assimilation of the knower to the thing known, so that assimilation is said to be the cause of knowledge.

Paul Tyson, in Returning to Reality: Christian Platonism for Our Times, p. 43 (Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock Publishers):

“In one of Shakespeare’s famous plays there is a scene in which some of Hamlet’s former schoolfellows flatter him about his breadth of mind. Hamlet’s response shows that he is well aware of the dark political subtext to this flattery, but his response also demonstrates precisely the kind of conceptual expansiveness he ironically denies. Refusing the compliment that Denmark is “too narrow for [his] mind” Hamlet says, “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.” [Act 2, Scene 2]”

Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologiae, Part I, Article 79, “Of the Intellectual Powers,”  Sections 3,4:

… We must therefore assign on the part of the intellect some power to make things actually intelligible, by abstraction of the species from material conditions. And such is the necessity for an active intellect.  …

… [It is] necessary to assign to the human soul some power participating in that superior intellect, by which power the human soul makes things actually intelligible.  … Wherefore the human soul derives its intellectual light from Him, according to Ps. 4:7, “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us.” …

… nothing prevents one and the same soul, inasmuch as it is actually immaterial, having one power by which it makes things actually immaterial, by abstraction from the conditions of individual matter: which power is called the “active intellect”; and another power, receptive of such species, which is called the “passive intellect” by reason of its being in potentiality to such species. …

Malcolm Guite, in Mariner, p. 403, written by Coleridge near the end of his Biographia Literaria:

“The imagination, then, I consider either as primary or secondary.  The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.  The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree and in the mode of its operation.”

From Exodus 3:14-15

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’

From Malcolm Guite, Mariner, p. 401:

“For Coleridge, the physical universe, which is the supposed ‘object’ of our perception, is not something that merely strikes us from the outside, but something that is, as it were, being formed continuously, both from our side of it by our perceiving Imaginations, and from an apprehended but as yet unknowable other side beyond it.  … there is a deep connection between that which is below the level of our consciousness and is continually giving us the gift of ourselves and our mind, and that which is behind or beyond the phenomena and is continuously giving them their being, allowing them to well up from its own inexhaustible depths.  Even so seemingly so simple a thing as perception itself, let alone composition or art, results from the active powers of our imagination, meeting and reflecting the active power of that Imagination which is always causing all things to be.”

To put it another way: The little “I am’s” that “we are” (old African proverb: “I am because we are”) participate through our active imaginations (imaging God) in the GREAT I AM, in Whose Imagination (the Mind of God) are all things that are.  All things participate in an inexhaustible depth of being that is granted them by God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the eternal Source (arché, John 1:1) of all things.

     In the beginning was the Word ... (John 1:1)
                Greek: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος ... (En arché ēn o Logos ...)
                Latin: In principio erat Verbum ... 
      … and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
     He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, 
     and without him was not any thing made that was made.  …  
     And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, 
     and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, 
     full of grace and truth. … 
     No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, 
     he has made him known.

From Malcolm Guite, Mariner, p. 403, quoting from Coleridge near the end of his Biographia Literaria:

“Christianity, as taught in the Liturgy and Homilies of our Church, though not discoverable  by human Reason, is yet in accordance with it; that link follows link by necessary consequence; that Religion passes out of the ken of Reason only where the eye of Reason has reached its own Horizon; and that Faith is but then but its continuation: even as the Day softens away into the sweet Twilight, and the Twilight, hushed and breathless, steals into the Darkness.  It is Night, sacred Night!  The upraised Eye views only the starry Heaven which manifests itself alone: and the outward Beholding is fixed on the sparks twinkling in the aweful depth, though Suns of other Worlds, only to preserve the Soul steady and collected in the pure Act of inward Adoration to the great I AM, and to the filial WORD that re-affirmeth it from Eternity to Eternity, whose choral Echo is the Universe.”

The first of 7 “Advent Antiphons:”

 O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
 reaching from one end to the other mightily,
 and sweetly ordering all things:
 Come and teach us the way of prudence. 

O Sapientia, O Wisdom, a poem by Malcolm Guite:

 I cannot think unless I have been thought
 Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken
 I cannot teach except as I am taught
 Or break the bread except as I am broken.
 O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
 O Light within the light by which I see,
 O Word beneath the words with which I speak
 O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me
 O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me
 O Memory of time, reminding me
 My Ground of Being, always grounding me
 My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me
 Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring
 Come to me now, disguised as everything. 

Finally, a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, quoted by Victor F. Weisskopf, Professor of Physics, MIT, in an essay, “Is Physics Human?” in Physics Today, June, 1976, pages 23-29: