Public judgment is constrained by this limit, and in its struggle to wrest the initiative from private judgment, it loses the ground of its authority if it succumbs to immodest pretensions. It is not only that there is more truth to be known than it can know; there is also more judgment to be given than it can give. Its work lies on the surface of things, and only anticipates the deep judgment of God by not pretending to forestall it. To the extent that it exceeds its limits it loses credibility as a community undertaking, and appears in the world as a prophetic, didactic, or ideological force, armed with an authority springing from beyond community discourse.
What, then, are the limits of practicability that constrain a judgment performed in public on the community’s behalf? They are three: (i) that not everything known can be publicly expressed or certified; (ii) that judgment has only certain modes of expression open to it; (iii) that it lacks final authority.
From The Ways of Judgment (Bampton Lectures) by Oliver O’Donovan, pages 27-28.
For the pleasure of pedantry I will call it the Doctrine of Conditional Joy. Touchstone talked of much virtue in an “if”; according to elfin ethics all virtue is in an “if.” The note of the fairy utterance always is, “You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire, if you do not say the word ‘cow'”; or “You may live happily with the King’s daughter, if you do not show her an onion.” The vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.
From “The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter III in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton [Note to self: Touchstone is the court fool in Shakespeare’s play As You Like It.]
For some time now, I have been growing in my understanding of how many cultural disorders are related to hatred of limits. The aspiration to limitlessness was embedded in the first temptation and the original sin, it informed the earliest docetic and Gnostic heresies, and it inspired the founding intellects of modernity. Many sincere Christians still have some sense that being limited is an effect of sin, rather than a condition of the Creation. Both Genesis accounts of Creation (in chapters 1 and 2) resound with the establishment of boundaries—in time, in space, in ontology, and in vocation. God created all things (including his image-bearers) to thrive within limits, and he then asserted that this circumstance of Creation is very good. After delivering the mandate to serve as his regents and stewards over all Creation, God reminds Adam and Eve that they are creatures who are bounded. They do not exist independently, but must turn to the earth (from which they came and to which will return) for food, for the stuff of life. But not all the food in the Garden was on the menu. Man was limited and needy in his created state, and his continued fellowship with God required the recognition of boundaries.
Almost all human cultures have pursued the task of defining and governing boundaries in human behavior. Philip Rieff argued (in The Triumph of the Therapeutic) that every culture survives “by the power of its institutions to bind and loose men in the conduct of their affairs with reasons which sink so deep into the self that they become commonly and implicitly understood.” The story of modern Western culture, however—a culture built around the ideal of the sovereign self—is a story of the abandonment of restrictions and restraints in the name of human freedom. Our institutions have increasingly been defined in terms of encouraging liberation from limits rather than cultivating a conscientious honoring of limits.
…With echoes of numerous theologians who have related the imago dei to our essential relationality, Berry questions the understanding of freedom that dominates modern culture. “In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define ‘freedom’ for example, as an escape from all restraint. But, as my friend Bert Hornback has explained in his book The Wisdom of Words, ‘free’ is etymologically related to ‘friend.’ These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of ‘dear’ or ‘beloved.’ We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. All this suggests that our ‘identity’ is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections.”
Ken Myers rarely has a thought that is not backed up by much reading and reflection. These thoughts of his from an online posting spoke volumes to me in several areas.