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

Friday, 17 January 2014

From Origen to Barfield via Dr Pusey

I have just stumbled, quite fallen over, such a tremendously important connection in theology and the history of ideas that I feel rather like Mole when he and Rat bang their shins on the boot-scraper outside Badger's house in the deep snow. Even after finding the doormat Mole still doesn't grasp what the exasperated and quick-witted Rat, digging away furiously, gives up trying to make him see: that a doormat implies a Door.

There are strands of ideology and history of thought that I find fascinating:

1) Christian Neoplatonism, and the typological approach to Scripture of the Fathers, with Origen of Alexandria as its greatest exponent. It is more than just an approach to Scripture, but re-interprets Creation through the same lens, as an image of its Creator.

2) Romanticism, and Coleridge in particular, especially its revival of Neoplatonism in its view of the world as a type of the divine; the Inklings, particularly the "peripheral" Inklings if I could so call them (i.e. Owen Barfield and Charles Williams rather than Lewis and Tolkien) as twentieth century expositors of this philosophy.

3) The phenomenal approach to nature of Goethe, and the ideas about Archetypes of the psychologist Jung - not his outworking of the significance of the archetypes, but the idea that something like this theory could be incorporated into the scientific understanding of human beings in order to put together what modern science has put asunder, viz. the physical and the psychological, the body and the mind.

I also happen to be a member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which not unsurprisingly looks back to the Oxford Movement as its precursor and forerunner, the best known names of which Movement were Pusey and Newman. Of course they went back to the Church Fathers and were learned in typology; of course they were influenced by the currents of their time, Romanticism being one of the strongest. But until today I hadn't consciously made four out of two squared.

Then, a serendipitous nosy around prompted by the Ordinariate priest and blogger Fr Hunwicke led me to this doctoral thesis, and the light dawned. Not only was Pusey a learned Church Historian, a Hebraist and Old Testament commentator; not only was he a brilliant Patristic scholar; he also had something to say about typology. Rather a lot, and more besides.

Dr Pusey makes the typological understanding of the Old Testament a theological concern, a matter touching upon Christology. More, he makes the understanding of such images in such a fashion a question of the right kind of epistemology, stemming from a right view of knowledge as participating in God, and as grasping the purpose of created images. More, he views the emerging Higher Criticism - sharing presuppositions in common with scientific rationalism - as suffering epistemologically from a lack of such a basic Christian orientation of mind and heart. And more still, he calls in the Romantics and Coleridge with their understanding of poetic images to witness to his contention of the transforming power of the prophetic images in making us anew in the image of God. And thus does he open the door for a new vision of the natural world, via engagement with the science of Goethe, of Jung and even of Steiner: an authentically Christian reworking of their ideas is required, a baptised science that would start from Christan presuppositions about Man, Images and Meaning.

There I was, just a few feet from Badger's door all the time. It looks like other people have been digging in the snow with more wit than I: but I am an excited Mole nonetheless. Transferring the theological understanding into the scientific inquiry will be very difficult, and will require a complete rewriting of method and reordering of instincts and a lot of imagination along with hard empirical work. And I don't think one person can do it by themselves.

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