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For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Typology in an Idle Hour

I think I remember (I stand to be corrected) that Florence, sometime in the Middle Ages, tried to rename the days of the week with Saint's names. I don't think it would catch on, because the days are of course named for the planets, and I suppose one would have to rename these as well. There has been some compromise, in that the romance languages have a version of Dies Domini for Sunday e.g. domenica in Italian. But what if one was to dedicate the other days? This might sound rather odd, but it was the subject of a recent conversation I had, half in jest. (I think I was being humoured. And if you don't enjoy typology, then I suggest you stop here.)

There is of course an obvious starting point, the Days of Creation: each day already has a canonical significance that is brought out in the Vespers hymns of the Breviary. Further, both the first (Day of Resurrection) and sixth (Day of the Passion) have a ready-made Christian association. In addition there is of course the seventh day, Saturday, which is normally dedicated to Our Lady, leaving just the second to fifth days needing a new dedication.

Added to the Christian dedication, we thought it would be fitting if each of the new dedications had a kind of link with their Roman or Norse equivalents. Sunday is an obvious example where there is a continuity between the sun, Christ as Sol Invictus and Oriens Ex Alto (pagan meaning) and the idea of the Alpha of creation, its First Word or Logos, and the New Creation beginning with Christ's rising, the making of all things new on the Day of Resurrection, which is mystically both the first and eighth day (Christian meaning).

The next thing to do was to decide the dedications of the remaining days: so many possibilities, so few days. But then, we thought of the Confiteor of the Breviarium Romanum, which invokes the Blessed Virgin and these others: St John the Baptist, St Michael the Archangel, SS Peter and Paul, and All Saints. Here are four groups for our four remaining days. I will give you the dedications, and the reasoning, starting with Tuesday (We will eventually get back to Monday).

Third Day (dry land from water, and green things bearing fruit); Tuesday or Mars'-day (both gods of War). This we dedicated to St John the Baptist. Yes, I know that St Michael was the obvious attribution because of his association with the War in Heaven, and his bellicose nature would have fitted the bill. But we were working towards an association with the relevant Day of Creation primarily: and here we have the water falling away from the earth, the dry land being exposed to the breath of the Spirit as it emerges, the vegetable growth providing food rising from its soil. St John the Baptist's medium is water, the water of baptism from which one emerges as a living thing. Remembering that the different days are parallel, so to speak (light on the first = luminous bodies on the fourth, water and air on the second = fish and birds on the fifth), there is a parallel between the water falling away from the earth for living things to grow on the third day, and the creation of animals and mankind as the fulfillment of the earth on the sixth. So there is the forerunner, St John the Baptist, the one who baptises and then decreases, and the One Heralded, the Son of Man who fulfills and completes the divine work. But what is the connection between Mars and Tiw and the Baptist? It is as antitype: the Baptist makes war by his pacific nature: he takes off the weeds of war and wears skins, eats from the land and shuns fattened flesh, he conquers the city by retreating to the wilderness, preaches repentance and constrains none, washes in water not blood, stands aside rather than usurping when the Messiah appears, and his final act is to have his head cut off for witness to truth. And I had almost forgotten: he tells the Roman soldiers not to do rapine and violence. All of these are acts opposite to war: and yet I think that there is something very warlike about John the Baptist in the popular imagination. He is almost a Herculean figure, never effeminate in art.

Fourth Day (the heavenly bodies, times and seasons); Wednesday or Mercury's-day. This day we dedicated to St Michael, who because he stands in for all angels, is a fitting patron of the day of the heavenly luminaries. The idea is of the angelic powers in the heavens, governing the eras of the world; and through their benignant influence, guiding the Wise Men to the Christ Child, and hence leading the Gentiles to the lowliness of God Incarnate. Woden is the god of poetic ecstasy and fury, and Mercury the messenger of the gods: and St Michael and all angels are the divine messengers (and messages are often given through inspiration coming via the Angelic Forms of creation), thus tying in neatly with the day's pagan names.

Fifth Day (fish and birds); Thursday or Jupiter's-day (the High King of the gods, and god of sky and thunder). This day receives a dual dedication, to SS. Peter and Paul, the two "princes" of the church, chief among the Apostles, exercising the kingly power of our Lord through the gifts of pastoral authority and prophetic word respectively. There is an obvious link of St Peter to fish, given his role as a "fisher of men"; St Paul carries the seed of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Fish and birds populate water and air, and SS Peter and Paul are over the nations (the teeming shoals of the sea) and the cause the spirits of mid-heaven (the fowls of the air) to be subject to our Lord through the divine word. They, rulers of the Church militant and triumphant, exercise the rule of Christ over nations and spirits. As for the link with Jove and Thor, St Paul carries the sword of the spirit, the hammer which smashes the world; St Peter carries the keys that open the kingdom of heaven, of the skies. And both received their martyr's crowning where the Eagle of Jupiter stood enthroned over the world.

Admittedly, the fifth day is a somewhat tenuous analogy. When we came to Monday, we were a little stuck: All Saint's? Until my companion had an excellent idea. But first a brief resume of the other days. Sunday, I have already mentioned, which leaves Friday and Saturday.

The Day of the Passion, the finishing of the work of creation and its crowning by the creation of Man who governs all the animals, is the Sixth Day: here we have the naming of all things by the Logos (naming and subduing the animals, types of the desires of the soul and the passions), who gives all history its meaning and enters into his Eternal Kingship through his completed suffering. He is the Image of God in the midst of the creation. The typology of Venus in this connection, pagan patroness of the sixth day, is as a subversive antitype: for the Passion of Christ is a passion of obedience, of everlasting love, and of humiliation and not of wantonness, caprice and selfish desire. As for Frigg, the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named, she is also an antitype - for she sits in the High Seat of the gods and is granted knowledge of things to come, but does not reveal the prophecy that she knows. Our Lord descends from the Throne, that He might reveal the innermost secrets of the heart of God to the lowliest.

On the Sabbath, the Day of Rest and God's Pleasure, Saturn's-day, we celebrate St Mary, primarily as the Theotokos, the one who accepts the Annunciation. On this day of Annunciation, God comes to rest in Mary as He came to rest on earth on the Sabbath. He is well pleased with his divine work, Mary the type of his immaculate creation who is filled with his gifts; full of grace. "Here", He says, of the Blessed Virgin, City of Jerusalem, "will I rest, for I have a delight therein". This, the seventh day is the final day of the old creation, and the first of the new, the eve of the eighth day, when all things will be made new. The link with Saturn is an easy one, and no need to stretch the idea to fit the Annunciation: the Sibylline oracles foretold the coming again of the age of gold, the blissful rule of Saturn returning and the coming of the Child who would bring back the days of universal peace.

Finally then, for Monday, the day of the Moon and the second day of creation, of the parting of the waters of chaos and the creation of the air. My friend's suggestion was, rather than All Saints, what about dedicating the day to St John Apostle and Evangelist? He stands in very well for All Saints (the symbol of the church at the foot of the Cross). He is the mystic, the one beloved of Jesus who sees further and deeper into the heart of Christ in his gospel. Thus St John accords well with the air separating the primitive waters, a symbol of the Spirit which speaks in his works as the Spirit of Truth. And the Moon is the reflection of the Sun: and so the light of Christ is given to the world through the love of God in the Church, the company of the Faithful, in place of whom St John stands beneath the Cross.

Perhaps I can persuade an MP to try to introduce the new names for the days of the week in a Private Member's Bill.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Farrer and Fideism (Part 2)

Farrer's view on arguments for God's existence certainly changed during his lifetime and in his published writings. In his early Finite and Infinite (1943) he plumps for a version of Aquinas's argument from the distinction between essence and existence.

(1) Everything around us is a certain kind of thing (has an essence).
(2) Some things - above all, people - are organised so as to have a kind of autonomous activity. Our existence isn't just a collection of qualities, but is something active, free and responsible.
(3) The kind of thing that we are (essence) is obviously distinct from the fact that we are. We don't find anything necessary in our being active beings because we aren't the sole cause of our own existence. (Our essence is distinct from our existence.)
(4) We see it to be necessary that God's essence is His existence, when we understand that God is the ground of our being and of everything else's being. He is the one in Whom existing and the kind of thing that He is are not separate. What He is, is necessary existence. It is in we His creatures that existence and essence are separable.

What Farrer presents in Finite and Infinite is more or less a version of Aquinas's cosmological argument. Later on, he seems to abandon this kind of argument, and appears to be content to ground the idea of God in the faith and experience of the believer - particularly in Faith and Speculation (1967). Thus the claim that he moved from a religious rationalism to moderate fideism.

I wonder, however, if Farrer's later writings point to the potential for the construction of a different kind of argument, which I shall call for convenience the "personal argument" for God's existence.What Farrer works out in Finite and Infinite is a very detailed account of personal existence: he then fails to carry this over into his conclusions when he goes back to apply this account to arguments for God's existence. But what if he had? Then, I think the argument would come out something like this.

(1) We don't experience ourselves as the cause of our own existence: we are called into personal existence by confrontation with and communication with another person who is (so to speak) already there.
(2) This person is in turn, not the ground of their own personhood, so we look to them in vain for the ground of our personhood, even if they have awakened us to a consciousness of our own personal existence.
(3) What we require for an adequate account of personal existence is Someone who is the ground and unity both of the I that is awakened, and the Thou which awakens us. There is a personal meaning which is there prior to either of us, and one knows this experientially but beyond our consciousness as "the Centre, the Fund, or Bottom of the soul" (William Law).

I would like to say that here is an inchoate germ of a "personal" argument for God's existence. But why would it be a preferable argument to any other? I think there are three main reasons. The first is that, unlike the cosmological argument, it requires a personal acknowledgment of a God as the unity and ground of one's own existence, rather than the merely intellectual acceptance of an impersonal Cause. One of the standard Reformed criticisms of the cosmological argument is its impersonal form: it does not lead, it is argued, to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Second, and because of this demand for personal acknowledgment in the argument, it is in some sense an evangelical proof, rather than a discursively rational one. The rationality of the proof is embedded in the personal demand for recognition of One upon whom one's very selfhood depends. Part of its certainty (as opposed to probability, the bugbear of Vatican I) is dependent on "giving in" to God's ownership of one's existence. And thirdly, it is a proof grounded in "natural" reason, and therefore satisfies the intuition that our rationality should point back to God as its source if it is in fact His creature. I would argue that one cannot hope to find a more universal "natural" rationality than personal existence.

I wonder - allowing that the argument as I have sketched it needs a lot of work and fleshing out - if this counts as a piece of intellectual Anglican patrimony? It seems to me that the late Farrer, in particular, was a thoroughly, typically Anglican thinker in the best sense. His later notion of rationality was less a discursive, scholastic view of reason, and much more an idea of reason embedded in human culture, and in faith and tradition. It is that particular heritage that I think worthwhile to take from Farrer.

Farrer and Fideism (Part 1)

Part of my background reading for my MPhil thesis (may it rest in peace) on Austin Farrer took me to a PhD thesis by a Divinity student who was writing about whether Farrer was a fideist or a religious rationalist. For a little bit of background, Farrer was an Oxford don and Anglican priest whose works include: (1) philosophical approaches to God and faith e.g. Finite and Infinite (very tough), Saving Belief and Faith and Speculation (more easily approached) and probably his best known work The Freedom of the Will; (2) typological biblical commentary (The Rebirth of Images: the Making of St John's Apocalypse is my favourite); (3) writings on the idea of biblical and poetic inspiration (e.g. The Glass of Vision).

I think Austin Farrer is one of the great twentieth century theologians, but who suffers a common Anglican fate. He isn't wrong enough to be read by everyone: or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he isn't wrong enough to be quoted by everyone as if they had read him. Protestant theologians, it seems to me, get heard - like Barth - by saying something either plainly unorthodox or easily distorted but that sounds "new" or "distinctive". My justification for saying that Anglicans suffer neglect from this kind of treatment is simply to point to Anglican divines like Hooker and Andrewes, and then to Calvin. One may be able to defend Calvin from the rather drastic views of divine agency overruling human will that are attributed to him, but his supposed notions of predestination are what his name carries around. Hooker, on the other hand (whatever injustices have been done to Calvin) doesn't even get a heresy attached to him, apart from a vague idea that he backed the Anglican Elizabethan compromise against the Puritans and gave some kind of notion of balancing reason, tradition and Scripture. Yet I think that ten pages of Ecclesiastical Polity would convince most readers that here is a breadth of mind and judgment out ahead of Calvin's, after comparison with ten pages of the Institutes. And I think that Farrer, with his fine-tuned judgments, suffers the same fate in the twentieth century as Hooker in the sixteenth.

Fideism, the notion that a belief in the existence of God or the foundational tenets of the Faith cannot be demonstrated by reason, stands over against religious rationalism, which says that at the very least the existence of God can be rationally demonstrated. One of the anti-modernist pronouncements of the First Vatican Council was that the existence of God can be demonstrated by the natural exercise of reason, not just probably but certainly.

The PhD on Farrer, mentioned above, placed him as a moderate fideist, and definitely not a religious rationalist as defined by Vatican I. While the "rationalism" of Vatican I may seem very scholastic, high and dry, I am not sure that I like the alternatives. It seems to me prima facie rather odd to say that everything, including all our powers of intellect and reason are (1) created and given to us by God but (2) don't lead to a reliably certain demonstration of His existence. I know that (2) may be justified by all kinds of caveats about the limited powers of reason, the idea that God's existence is not the kind of thing that can be demonstrated, etc. But - as will be discussed in the next post - I think that Farrer's thought points the way to an approach to this question that puts things in a new light.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Apple of Youth

During a recent lying abed with 'flu, I re-read C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. I have read the Chronicles of Narnia many times, but perhaps not for two or three years now. There was a time when I lived on Lewis's writings and swallowed them whole, but I have become a little bit more picky about my Lewis lately.

I opened the book with some hesitation, therefore, hoping not to spoil the memory of a childhood pleasure even a little. I needn't have worried, for it was a fresh pleasure and great nourishment to read. That said, I have a few criticisms. I think that there are weaknesses in Lewis's writing for children. For instance, some of the children's slang is out of date; and I don't think he is particularly good at "action writing", where the events move along swiftly.

Three things struck me by the time I had laid down the book.

(1) Lewis excels at myth-making. There is The Wood Between the Worlds, a sleepy, silent place of deep green shade under the trees with pools opening into different worlds; there is accursed Charn with its dying sun, the house of the images sitting in their pride and the bell that wakes cruel Jadis; there is the music of Aslan uttering into being the world of Narnia; the Apples of Youth growing in the garden in the midst of the mountains. In one sense, it doesn't really matter whether Lewis's action writing is good or not. That is not why one reads such a story.

(2) Lewis is very good at uncovering what it is like to do right in the moment of decision. For instance, when Digory strikes the bell that wakes Jadis, he is secretly pretending to be impelled by the enchantment heavy in the air; and when he is tempted to steal one of the Apples of Youth for the healing of his dying mother (he knows he must not steal it, because the Apple of Youth is meant for another purpose, the protection of the new world of Narnia), he must make the most terrible choice. The point in both cases, revealed to him clearly when confronted by Aslan, is that although the choice is difficult for the will, or even not utterly clear for the mind, one has just sufficient light and strength to do the right thing.

(3) Aslan is another great triumph of the book, and this is no mean feat: how often does one have God done convincingly in a piece of art? Sometimes - witness Milton - it goes badly wrong. Aslan is compassionate, but unbending in his demands, and one cannot lie to him: at least, not unless one's own mind has lost the possibility of truth. And he is never presented as capricious. There is always a reason for obedience. The Apple of Youth, if picked selfishly or stolen may still possess great power, but had Digory given it to his mother after its theft "The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness". As it is, Aslan tells him to pick an apple that has grown from the seeds of the Apple of Youth, and when Digory takes it to his mother she is healed. But this apple is a gift, not stolen, and is therefore a health-giving thing.

Now I must decide which of the Chronicles to pick up next.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

What this blog is about

I intend to write about several things on this blog. (1) I am a member of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham, a lay member. I don't know of any blogs run by the laity in the Ordinariate: I am interested in the whole idea of Anglican patrimony, or of a heritage that can be carried into the Ordinariate not only in the liturgy, but also in devotion, in everyday traditions, and in the understanding of the Faith. It is not the idea of this heritage that I wish to write about, but the things that (for me) make that heritage. (2) I love books, and like to stir up other people's interest in books that seem to me worthwhile. (3) I am always on the lookout for others of that rare breed, Christian Platonists, and have difficulty finding many: writing about my notions in this public way might put me in touch with a few more.