Epistle of the Elder of Omaha
“whom I love in Truth, “2 John 2:1
The addition this week is a post under the label “Romanticism,” perhaps the more academic of the areas. It is the promised review of Michael Rectenwald’s paper, From Romantic Catastrophism to Victorian Gradualism: A Reading of Epistemes. Words like “epistemes” are very likely to be scary, but the word simply means “how do we know what we know.” That is a very good question to ask oneself. Every time I set out to prepare a sermon, I ask myself, how do I know what I think I know? It has saved me innumerable times from folly. I would recommend it to politicians, to all kinds of so-called experts, and, well, to just about everyone.
Rectenwald’s exploration was how people at the heart of the 19th Century England began thinking one thing about the physical world and changed their mind and thought something else. In particular, his paper tries to identify how Darwin came to the conclusion that the physical world evolved, a conclusion that still stirs debates among us. As the paper makes clear it did not come about easily. The review challenges Rectenwald to refine his hypothesis with better understanding the Romanticism. It was Romanticism, the review argues, that prepared the grounds for Darwin’s hypothesis. In the aftermath of Darwin’s thesis, the review argues that a Faustian bargain was made between the cultured and religious elites on one side and scientific elites on the other. Science was allowed to pursue an empirical science which was not questioned by morality. The intellectual elite was allowed to define moral values which could not be questioned by experience. It should not be too hard to see that it is this divorce that has been involved in the disasters of the 20ieth century and which still roils our present.
This week I am turning my attention to Jesus and intend to publish under the fourth label “Jesus and the Meta Narrative,” a poem from my new collection, On Giving My Word, the Collected Poems and Aphorism of a Priest in Retirement. This poem attempts a narration of the baptism of Jesus and of the time he following spent in the wilderness. The poem, “From Hasid to Son,” is now a few years old, but recently surfaced my thoughts due to a close reading Milton’s Paradise Lost. Had been asked last year at this time, if I had any thought of rereading Paradise Lost, I am quite certain I should have said it was very unlikely. The lengthy poem, 10,000+ lines, built around the Biblical account of the Fall of Adam and Eve filtered though a long question view of salvation, was published in 1667. My first encounter with it was in my father’s eclectic library in the form of a folio edition illustrated by Gustav Dorė engravings.
I suppose this was when I 10 or so, before I had any exposure to the church, so my first theology was rather black and white, lasting well into my early theological education.
But I am addicted to edX, on-line education, and when Dartmouth announced a course on Milton’s Paradise Lost, I could resist. It has been most interesting, but suddenly became quite challenging when I extended the read into Paradise Regained, its sequel. I discovered to my shock that it is focused on a re-imagining of the baptism of Jesus and the temptation not on the Cross as the means of regaining Paradise! Had Milton already done what I had set out to do in my poetic effort? But the difference between Milton’s version and my own, however, is stunning. In fact it rather vividly underlines the importance of the subject of this blog. Milton understands the issue of salvation as question of reason.
Victory and triumph to the Son of God
Now entering his great duel, not of arms,
But to vanquish by wisdom hellish wiles. [ 175 ]
Therefore he did not create a narrative, but a myth. The sense of my poem, is that it is about history. Salvation is not a question of getting the point or not, it is about how one participates in the history, how one becomes part of the story. The post will be up before the weekend.
I will close with the note that the 14th of September is approaching which is the Feast of the Holy Cross, some times called “the Invention of the Holy Cross. It marks the day on which Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine is said to have found the true cross. According to the legend, after everyone failed, the Empress saw some basil growing on the ground and bent to pick it as be fits a good Roman mother! Lo, as she looked into a hollow next to it, there was the cross. For those of us keeping Summer Lent with St. Francis of Assisi, we mark this day as the day on which the climax of Francis’s vision occurred, the moment in which he received the marks of the Holy Cross in his body. How about that for participating in the history!