Friday, April 16, 2010

Pure Mathematics of the Spirit

"The spirits of the living world were never meant to be so neighbourly with the spirits of that other. "Grant to them eternal rest, O Lord. And let light eternal shine upon them." Let them rest in their own places of light; far, far from us be their discipline and their endeavour. The phrases of the prayers of intercession throb with something other than charity for the departed; there is a fear for the living. Grant them, grant them rest; compel them to their rest. Enlighten them, perpetually enlighten them. And let us still enjoy our refuge from their intolerable knowledge.

"As if in a last communion with the natural terrors of man, Margaret Anstruther endured a recurrent shock of fear. She recalled herself. To tolerate such knowledge with a joyous welcome was meant, as the holy Doctors had taught her, to be the best privilege of man, and so remained. The best maxim towards that knowledge was yet not the Know thyself of the Greek so much as the Know love of the Christian, though both in the end were one. It was not possible for man to know himself and the world, except first after some mode of knowledge, some art of discovery. The most perfect, since the most intimate and intelligent, art was pure love. The approach by love was the approach to fact; to love anything but fact was not love. Love was even more mathematical than poetry; it was the pure mathematics of the spirit. It was applied also and active; it was the means as it was the end. The end lived everlastingly in the means; the means eternally in the end."

From Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell, pp. 68-69

Monday, April 05, 2010

Austin Farrer, A Rebirth of Images

Austin Farrer, A Rebirth of Images (London: Dacre, 1949).
No one has applied himself to the question of the literary art of the Apocalypse with more relentlessness than Austin Farrer. The book is a masterpiece and a puzzle, at once impressive and bemusing. The entire book is dominated by the conclusion (or shall we say, conviction) that the Apocalypse “is the one great poem which the first Christian age produced” (6). Accordingly, in this study of the book of Revelation, Farrer claims “to introduce into the field of scriptural divinity a known method of poetical analysis” (20). The origins of Christianity were, in fact, a “rebirth” of the imagery of the Jewish Scriptures. The most complete rebirth was accomplished in Revelation; in John’s poetical labor, the images of the Old Testament were reborn completely with Christ as the new center. Farrer saw, more than many, the sophistication of the book. He approaches the book as a work of genius, not that of a madman, though the difference between the two has often thought to be slight. He traces the themes of the Apocalypse much like one might trace the genius of Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno. In fact, the result of the Farrer’s analysis is so complex and dense, one might wonder whether Farrer has seen more than is actually there.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Peter of Damascus a propos the day

Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day for remembering yesterday and hoping for tomorrow. Funerals are interesting times, usually filled as much with laughter and smiles as with tears and weeping--and all of that is mourning. But I suspect the laughing and the weeping, the chattering and the condolences are basically a way to fill the silence. Not silence in general, but a specific silence. We remember the life of our beloved, we tell each other stories of his or her life and we wish aloud he or she was still with us. All of it because we no longer hear or see that beloved until kingdom come.

I intended to use this piece from Peter of Damascus yesterday in the Good Friday service, but perhaps it is just as appropriate today.

"Who is not amazed when he thinks of Thy inexpressible self-abasement? For being God, inscrutable, all-powerful, and ruling all things, enthroned above the cherubim--who are figures of wisdom in its multiplicity--on account of us, who have provoked Thy anger from the beginning, Thou has humbled Thyself, accepting to be born and brought up among us. Thou hast endured persecutions, stoning, mocking, insults, cuffs and blows, ridicule and spitting, then the Cross and the nails, the sponge and the reed, vinegar and gall, and all the rest that I am unworthy to hear about. Then a spear pierced Thy most pure side, and from this wound Thou hast poured forth for us eternal life: Thy precious blood and water.

"...Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Logos of God, the most tender name of our salvation, great is Thy glory, great are Thy works, marvellous are Thy words, 'sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb' (Ps 19.10). Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee. Who can glorify and hymn Thy coming in the flesh, Thy goodness, power, wisdom, Thy life in this world and Thy teaching? And how is it that Thy holy commandments teach us the life of virtue so naturally and so easily? As Thou didst say, Lord: 'Forgive, and you will be forgiven' (cf. Matt 6.14); and again: 'Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you' (Matt 7.7); and: 'Whatever you would that men should do to you, do also to them' (Matt 7.12). Who, having understood Thy commandments and other sayings, will not be astonished when he perceives Thy boundless wisdom? For Thou are the wisdom of God, the life of all, the joy of angels, the ineffable light, the resurrection of the dead, the good shepherd 'who gives His life for the sheep' (John 10.11). I hymn Thy transfiguration, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, Thy enthronement at the right hand of God the Father, the descent of the Holy Spirit and Thy future advent, when Thou wilt come with power and great, incomprehensible glory.

"I grow weak, my Lord, before Thy wonders and, at a loss, I long to take refuge in silence. Yet I do not know what to do. For if I keep silence, amazement overwhelms me; but if I dare to say something, I am struck dumb and rapt away. I regard myself as unworthy of heaven and earth, and as deserving every punishment, not simply because of the sins I have committed, but much more because of the blessings I have received without my showing any gratitude, contemptible as I am. For Thou, Lord, who dost transcend all goodness, hast filled my soul with every blessing. I dimly perceive Thy works and my mind is amazed. Merely to look on what is Thine reduces me to nothing. Yet the knowledge is not mine, nor the endeavour, for it is Thy grace. Therefore I will lay my hand on my mouth, as Job once did (cf. Job 40.4), and will take refuge in Thy saints, for I am bewildered. ..."

From "Eight Stages of Contemplation," Fourth Stage, transl. from The Philokalia, pp. 128-9.