what would have been the good?

It is a terrible thing to have to wake four people, all older than yourself and all very tired, for the purpose of telling them something they probably won’t believe and making them do something they certainly won’t like. “I mustn’t think about it, I must just do it,” thought Lucy.

This passage reminded me of the task faced by teachers (to some small degree) on most days. It comes from the end of a longer passage with much to say about discipleship and the prophetic office (chapter ten of Prince Caspian):

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so-”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I – I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right – somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me – what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

“…Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.”

and still looked like men

Ever perceptive, Lucy has the following thought (from Lewis’ Prince Caspian chapter 9):

“Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day, in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?”

“We’ve got enough to bother about here and now in Narnia,” said the practical Susan, “without imagining things like that.”

Some talking animals evidently went back to being wild and witless during the long reign of the Telmarines kings. When Trumpkin and the four children have just shot a bear for food on their march to join Caspian, they worry briefly that it may have once been a talking bear.

by your humble birth

Prayer by Abbess Bridget of Kildare, from the Ancient Christian Devotional, pages 192-193.

Rouse us, O Lord, from the sleep of apathy and from tossing to and fro in our thoughts, that we may no longer live as in a troubled dream but as people awake and resolved to finish the work you have give them to do. By your humble birth root out of our hearts all pride and haughtiness, that humble ways may content us, if so be that we may serve the humble. By the life of compassion for those who labor and are heavy laden, teach us to be concerned one for another and to bear one another’s burdens. By your hallowed and most bitter anguish on the cross, make us to fear you, and love you, and follow you, O Christ. Amen.

concience as captive to the Word of God

While many of the criticisms that Roman Catholics and the Orthodox direct at Protestant use of the Bible are legitimate, both the Catholic appeal to magisterial teaching authority and the Orthodox appeal to unbroken liturgical tradition appear to me to have just as serious problems in using Scripture as Protestants do–though their problems are admittedly different. Nonetheless, especially as a Protestant historian, I’m very much aware that if Martin Luther’s appeal to his conscience as captive to the Word of God solved some very important problems, it also created other and quite serious problems as well.

…The Bible per se is too easily the source of what Luther called “delusions” that arise when the individual conscience runs wild through the scriptural landscape. Instead of the Bible per se, Luther presented the Bible as narrating a particular account of how God encounters human kind. That account is certainly biblical, but it is the narration or message of redemption in Scripture as a whole that can become satisfactory grounding for Christian learning.

“The Place of Scripture in the Modern Christian University” by Mark Noll from The Cresset (June 2011) pages 10 and 12.

thistles eat the thorns

There are several passages piled up for today’s little verbal oblation, but I’ll go with some more lyrics that have a thistle reference. These lines are from the song “Lantern” by Josh Ritter. All of his lyrics achieve an impressively subtle and lovely poetry.

Where the thistles eat the thorns
And the roses have no chance
And ain’t no wonder that the babies
Come out crying in advance
And the children look for shelter
In the hollow of some lonesome cheek

celebrating a victory

This is the conclusion from a section of The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education (by Zimmermann and Klassen) that analyzes how both liberal (or mainline Protestant) Christians (enamored with the Social Gospel) and Evangelicals (enamored with an intellectual defense of the fundamentals as well as the practice of an often private or individualistic faith and piety) are each inadequate responses to the secular humanism of the Enlightenment. Both parties within the church fall prey to several dualistic splits between the public and private life of the church, trust and reason, etc. that have left them weak and vulnerable in the modern secular world. In the last sentence, the “game [that American Evangelicals] really should not have been playing” refers to the way in which Evangelicals took on the mainline Protestant church and their secular counterparts on their own intellectual turf, without critically assessing some of the most fundamental flaws in secular scientific humanism before engaging it.

Undeniably, each of these reactions preserves important elements of Christianity orthodoxy. The Social Gospel upholds the church’s mandate to live the life of the new age, testifying to redeemed humanity and creation by social action. Evangelical Fundamentalism retains the church’s emphasis on evangelization and Spirit-filled, vibrant and relational Christianity. But both are incomplete halves of the full gospel. In the end the humanistic Social Gospel and fundamentalism would both be caught off guard by the collapse of Enlightenment ideals from the nineteen sixties onward. The one by finding itself bereft of its old intellectual buddies, the other by celebrating a victory it had not really won in a game it really should not have been playing.

The Passionate Intellect, Chapter 5.

fill in the holes

I begged you to hear me, there’s more than flesh and bones
Let the dead bury the dead, they will come out in droves
But take the spade from my hands and fill in the holes you’ve made

But plant your hope with good seeds
Don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds
Rain down, rain down on me

Some of the lyrics from “Thistle & Weeds” by the band Mumford & Sons.

back to the rough ground

We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!

From in Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein, part I, 107.

In this iconic passage, Wittgenstein is speaking of the failed effort by the logical positivists to develop or describe an ideal language, one that had a perfect logical consistency. We need the messiness of metaphor, irony, etc. to make language useful to our actual human needs.

[Note: See this passage for an earlier version of Wittgenstein’s assessment regarding the limitations of language.]

ends of the things themselves

Thomas [Aquinas] conceived of the intellectual process as analogues to the union between lover and beloved, a union between the learning subject and the object of study. The Latin word from which the word study derives, studium, can also be rendered desire. Learning engages the whole of the subject, who is in relationship all the time. Rather than learning being preparatory so that one can have a better relationship with the divine or with others, because one better understands Physics or Shakespeare and has learned how to reconcile what one learned in class with what one reads in the Bible, the learning process enacts relationship. Every act of study is an aspect of the comprehensive relationship we all have with God. For Thomas, because God upholds the world, there is no time in which we are altogether lacking a relationship with God. The truths of reason are to be found in a participatory, relational understanding of what occurs between subject and object. Learning in and of itself provides spiritual and moral formation.

Thomas found lots of support in Aristotle for this understanding of the learning process. The Greek philosopher exhibited just such respect for and relationship with the world of objects around him. He did not look at objects in terms of their usefulness for someone or something else’s ends. Rather he expressed unparalleled interest in the ends of the things themselves that he studied, whether in biology or political science. All things have a specific end and are not properly themselves until they have achieved this end. In his understanding of the cosmos, everything is in motion, put in motion by the first mover and staying in motion until there’s a perfect fulfilling of ends, resulting in perfect rest. The desire for this fulfillment of ends keeps thing in motion. The universe operates on the principle of cosmic love.

From The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education by Norman Klassen & Jens Zimmermann, Chapter 2.

charged with the task of visiting other cities

The word “theory” comes from the ancient Greek word theorein, meaning “to see.”

…Over time, it came to describe a special and intensified form of “seeing” in the Greek world. Certain designated city officials— theoroi—were charged with the task of visiting other cities, to “see” events such as religious or theatrical or athletic festivals, and to return to their home city, where they would then give an account of what they had seen. To “theorize” was to take part in a sacred journey, an encounter with the “other” in which the theorist would attempt to comprehend, assess, compare, and then, in the idiom of his own city, explain what had been seen to his fellow citizens. This encounter would inevitably raise questions about the customs or practices of the theorist’s own city. Why do we do things this way? Might there be a better way of organizing the regime? Might there be a best way of life that is not our way? This tension between the theorist’s role as critic and the city’s imperative to protect its way of life is deeply embedded in the history and the practice of political theory.

Patrick J. Deneen in “Patriotic Vision: At Home in a World Made Strange” from The Intercollegiate Review (Spring 2002), pp. 34-35.