Friday, November 21, 2008

Farrer on form and content of early Christianity

After mentioning 'the common hypothesis' that the transformation of images of the Old Testament that flowered in Christianity originated not with Jesus, but with his disciples, Farrer brilliantly observes,
This elaborate and uneconomical supposition was the product of a prejudice which ought to outworn now. It was supposed that the Christian Faith could be divided into two parts, a vital content of ethical spirituality, and a mythological or theological frame constructed to set it off and give it emphasis. The spirituality, as being the primary fact and real motive cause, was then assigned to Christ; the theology could naturally be left to accumulate round it in the course of the Church's life. We shall not now accept such a distinction as corresponding with historical realities. It is, no doubt, always the pressing concern of religion to seek after and seize its own vital essence and spiritual centre, but that is a poor reason for supposing that spirituality came naked into the world, or could exist without the images which condition it. (14)
I couldn't resist inserting this marvelously worded gem, either:
Symbol endeavours, as it were, to be that of which it speaks, and imitates reality by the multiplicity of its significance. ...There is a current and exceedingly stupid doctrine that symbol evokes emotion, and exact prose states reality. Nothing could be further from the truth: exact prose abstracts from reality, symbol presents it. And for that very reason, symbols have some of the many-sidedness of wild nature. (19-20)

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