Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mind of the Maker Book Study chapter 3

Here is Chapter 3:  Idea, Energy and Power online.
Here is Cindy's post and linky page for this chapter.

Mystery of Really Important Things

God is mysterious, and so (for that matter) is the universe and one's fellow-man and one's self and the snail on the garden-path; but none of these is so mysterious as to correspond to nothing within human knowledge.  
 It isn't just God that is mysterious to us as humans.  Everything is.  But this mystery isn't the kind that stops all inquiry at the source, as if we couldn't even think about God (or fellow man or snail), or that we couldn't have any certainty that our thinking had a relationship to truth.       In On the Trinity, Augustine writes:

Holy Scripture, which suits itself to babes, has not avoided words drawn from any class of things really existing, through which, as by nourishment, our understanding might rise gradually to things divine and transcendent....For divine Scripture is wont to frame, as it were, allurements for children from the things which are found in the creature; whereby, according to their measure, and as it were by steps, the affections of the weak may be moved to seek those things that are above, and to leave those things that are below.
I like this because it seems like an example of Divine teaching.    God tells us things on a level that is accessible to our sensory understanding, but He doesn't intend to leave it there, as if we should really think that God has wings, say, or that we should really think God is ruled by passions like material beings. 
For, in speaking of God, it has both used words taken from things corporeal, as when it says, "Hide me under the shadow of Your wings;" and it has borrowed many things from the spiritual creature, whereby to signify that which indeed is not so, but must needs so be said: as, for instance, "I the Lord your God am a jealous God;" and, "It repents me that I have made man." But it has drawn no words whatever, whereby to frame either figures of speech or enigmatic sayings, from things which do not exist at all.
  I notice that this exegetical guidance of Augustine also applies to, say, the parables.    When as a child, you hear the story of the widow and the unjust judge, or the story of the Prodigal Son, you might wonder why Jesus seems to put God in the role of "unjust" or you might feel sorry for the older brother of the Prodigal.

As time goes on, you (hopefully) grow your understanding of these words.     Perhaps, beyond beautiful language, this is part of the reason why Scripture thoughtfully pondered could and sometimes did comprise almost an entire literary and philosophical education.   Scripture's high reach beyond common understanding, but not forsaking common understanding, trains us to look above and beyond mere phenomena;  the discipline necessary to make proper sense of necessary ambiguity and analogy teaches us not to jump at conclusions or settle for a half-understanding.     Most of all, Scripture's firm emphasis on putting God and our relationship with Him at the center of the story, of course, and its insistence on our response in living and expressing the truth; we can't speak of God as He is, we don't have the words except in respect to by what we know by our senses, yet we are obliged to teach, to transmit the faith and instruct newer believers, particularly our own children.

Augustine writes:

All instruction is either about things or about signs; but things are learned by means of signs...No one uses words except as signs of something else; and hence may be understood what I call signs: those things, to wit, which are used to indicate something else. Accordingly, every sign is also a thing; for what is not a thing is nothing at all.
Mysterious because it is Universal?

Dorothy Sayers uses Augustine's commentary on the Trinity to show that it is proper to understand God by means of analogy, and that the Trinity isn't as remote from our understanding as some might believe.    This leads me to my favorite part of the chapter:
We may perhaps go so far as to assert that the Trinitarian structure of activity is mysterious to us just because it is universal-rather as the four-dimensional structure of space-time is mysterious because we cannot get outside it to look at it. The mathematician can, however, to some extent perform the intellectual feat of observing space-time from without, and we may similarly call upon the creative artist to extricate himself from his own activity far enough to examine and describe its threefold structure.   Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers
 I like the idea of us being in reality immersed in the Trinitarian structure.    My very young children don't hesitate to accept the notion, any more than they question why their senses are reliable sources of information, or why words are signs of things.     I suppose children are more comfortable with mystery in the everyday because as Chesterton points out, everything is mysterious to them:

A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales--because they find them romantic

Analogy of Writer's work to Trinity

Sayers uses the analogy of a writer's art to clarify the idea of the Trinity.    There is the Idea, the Energy (or Activity) which carries it out, and the Power (which means the meaning and the "response in the lively soul.").     But these things are all one, she explains, because strictly speaking the Idea IS the carrying out and the going forth into the world; and true in the other directions too.

.... how can we know that the Idea itself has any real existence apart from the Energy? Very strangely; by the fact that the Energy itself is conscious of referring all its acts to an existing and complete whole. In theological terms, the Son does the will of the Father. Quite simply, every choice of an episode, or a phrase, or a word is made to conform to a pattern of the entire book, which is revealed by that choice as already existing.

I wonder if you can make an analogy to the teacher, as well as to the writer.... I don't think I understand it well enough to know.   If the analogy has some validity, the response called for in other souls (your students) of course can't be guaranteed or predicted using human means.  The Holy Spirit's work does not bear fruit in everyone, either, or so I understand it.   However, the potential is there, the conditions are given; "wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the streets".

“Without a doubt the master-key to Christian contained in the statement that the Trinity of Persons constitutes the structure of Being, and that love is therefore as primary as existence.....The mystery of history is summed up in God’s design of giving His spiritual creatures a share in the life of the Trinity.” Jean Danielou
 I put that in because in talking of the Trinity, it is quite impossible to avoid talking about love.   If God was only One, it might be possible to say He couldn't love without a creation to give love to, which would mean love would NOT be essential to Him, but since He is a Trinity, love is the fundamental truth of the Trinity in itself, and creation and redemption, salvation were all superabundance, free gift. 

To say that God depends on His creation as a poet depends on his written poem is an abuse of metaphor: the poet does nothing of the sort. To write the poem (or, of course, to give it material form in speech or song), is an act of love towards the poet's own imaginative act and towards his fellow-beings. It is a social act; but the poet is, first and foremost, his own society, and would be none the less a poet if the means of material expression were refused by him or denied, him.
 Science's Flight from Analogy?

 Sayers writes of science that:
This difficulty which confronts the scientists and has compelled their flight into formulae is the result of a failure to understand or accept the analogical nature of language. Men of science spend much time and effort in the attempt to disentangle words from their metaphorical and traditional associations; the attempt is bound to prove vain since it runs counter to the law of humanity.
 I wonder if this is true?  Something to think about.   I do notice from reading various layman-oriented science books that scientists unavoidably do use analogy as soon as they try to teach the ordinary man, or explain the meaning of their scientific work.  Perhaps this is an argument for a liberal education for scientists as well as for the non-scientist.  If you are knowledgeable about some specific province of science, but naive in any area outside your specialty, you run the risk of falling into simply-avoided errors, even falling into the trap of your own analogy and over-extending it.   I have seen that happen.

 On the other hand, I think liberal education should include some science and math training because it can easily happen that majors in the humanities/fine arts have trouble thinking logically; their minds can get accustomed to operate by association, which is probably a kind of undisciplined analogical train of thought.   (Charlotte Mason says something like that in Habits of Mind)

Anyway, I still have some thinking to do about the scientific side of things.  I think I get most frustrated with what might be called hidden scientific analogies.  For example, post-Enlightenement science emphasized the observer's stance, as if you could find some position within the universe where you could see it from outside.    This view was adopted not analogically but literally by the general public who applied it to all sorts of things like history or comparative religion, and made naive thinking errors as a result.   "Objectivity" became something to strive for and "subjectivity" lost all sense of truth value except possibly in the declarative sense of "ouch" that Sayers mentions in her end-of-chapter note.

"Progress" might be another such analogy that is vastly over-extended.   

Well, that last part is going to have to remain a muddle.  Indeed, this whole post is a muddle.  I suppose that's because this chapter raised various questions that in the end, I wasn't able to resolve in my mind.

 I note that Sayers has references to scientific thought in each chapter so far and so I am thinking that she intends to keep this thread running through the book.  Otherwise the final remarks on science and analogy would seem sort of "by the way" and puzzling to me in the context.


  1. I like the way you question your way through this. I tend to just feel in over my head and accept that a greater mind than mine has figured something out. Now I feel like I should read the chapter again more critically.

    I tend to be happy when someone lets me off the hook for my unscientific way of thinking. Charlotte Mason often does this too, as you pointed out but if there were a way to think scientifically and think in analogically I would like to understand it.

    I have not read Sister Miriam Joseph as I was always afraid she was more on the logical end of the spectrum where I am very uncomfortable rather than the poetic side.

    1. No answer for how to think scientifically AND analogically, except that I think that it's pretty much impossible NOT to think analogically (as Sayers points out) and if that is the case, the choice is whether to do it well or badly.

      One trap is to overextend the analogy -- I've seen people do that when they read the Bible badly, and I've also seen the cultural community over-extend a scientific analogy -- "survival of the fittest" the "relativistic nature of reality" or "laws of nature" are all examples that come to mind.

      So I think analogy is primary to the human thought process and even scientific thought operates by a kind of analogy, but it doesn't always acknowledge that foundation. Einstein and Richard Feynman come to mind, two notable physicists who also seemed to be very creative, associative thinkers, and both seemed to realize the importance of this kind of thinking in their work. But not everybody does.

      I can't read Sister Miriam Joseph, either. : ( I really tried too. I finally had to sell the book as it wasn't doing anyone any good sitting there on the shelf.

      I was thinking while reading your post that your discussions always are strong in "power" to use Sayers' trinitarian analogy. Poets and Socrates put ideas and images and questions out there and leave openings for a response from the "lively soul" and that is how you operate too. It does not seem "unscientific" per se but more like giving a framework and letting others fill in the details -- more of a maieutic way of bringing things to life (you know, like Socrates saying he was a midwife of the mind). I suppose you do it because your intuition jumps to the heart of the issue and you aren't so interested in tracing out all the steps -- but so much the better, I think it is a gift : ).

  2. Bummer, Willa. I thought I'd responded to this here, but I don't see a comment. I'll have to come back later!

    1. thanks, Cindy! I am enjoying discussing this book with you and others!

  3. Willa, your posts are a feast!

    I wonder if it *only* the existence of the Trinity that allows Scripture to say truly that "God is love." One cannot love in solitude, right?

    You also have me wondering what the harm would be of reintroducing subjectivity to science. Why is objectivity alone the only way to do science? It reminds me of journalism, in a way. Journalists often *believe* they are objective, but it is almost as if their subjectivity is so much *worse* because they deny it, do not see it for what it is.


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