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

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Is and Ought

Is morality, right and wrong, a consequence of the essentially sacramental nature of reality, of creation? This is an idea that has been slowly coalescing in the back of my head for a long time, but I still don't know how to articulate it properly.

Just say Coleridge is right, and Imagination - an iteration of the divine creative act in us, that unites sense and ratio into sacramental symbol - is constitutive of what things are. In that case, morality and obligation flows from what things mean, what they are as symbols, and it requires an act of imagination. For example, the obligation to love our neighbours as ourselves is rooted in an imaginative grasp of who or what my neighbour is, as an image of God. The commands of the Decalogue begin with the rejection of all images precisely because God made them to reveal Him, in the sense that they are His creative acts (and by derivation, our creative acts). They do not reveal Him as objects that are severed from Him (and from us), standing over against Him as autonomous things; they reveal Him as living acts. Even the sacraments in which we are said to receive His life are acts with a divine meaning, accomplished by the symbols; and whatever hyperbole is applied to the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, Communion is properly eating and drinking. No worship ought to be done to the phenomena of bread and wine but to the noumenal Christ whose saving acts they both reveal and hide.

It was an axiom of Hume's philosophy that you cannot get an "ought" out of an "is". Natural law moral theorists try to overcome this by talking about the telos or goals of our actions, but are then driven to explain their ideas of the overall purpose of human actions to get back to an "ought" that is based in an ultimate right or wrong. But the overall purpose of human acts in the world is surely rooted in what we are, and what the things around us are. And so we are back to the "is" of the symbolic and sacramental nature of creation, to get the "ought" of ethics.

I have been reading bits and pieces of James Jordan's and Peter Leithart's commentary on the Old Testament, and the Pentateuch in particular, on the Biblical Horizons website. What strikes me about his typological readings is the principle that what is being revealed in the obscure Mosaic code of ritual purity and sacrifice is in fact a symbolical and sacramental approach to nature; the Christian's task is to uncover the spirit of the types as pointers to Christ, and then be transformed by that spirit in one's daily acts, encompassing both one's treatment of others and one's behaviour to "nature".

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