Saturday, June 27, 2009

"... the supreme master of stunts..."

As we should know by now, sometimes a very serious discussion can contain some very fragrant humour - and sometimes the humour is a bit disconcerting. Here is a very important fragment from SLJ's autobiography which adds to our collection of his writing about miracles - a major topic for us of the Duhem Society, who are serious about faith and reason simultaneously, and like Charles Babbage, admit the possibility of miracle as befits authority of the Supreme Programmer of the Universe. [For more see SLJ's Brain, Mind, and Computers on CB's Ninth Bridgewater Treatise]

Today's excerpt is worth study, especially when united with Jaki's God and the Sun at Fatima and Miracles and Physics as well as various texts by Chesterton. But this excerpt definitely has a degree of humour as well, which does not leap off the page as some of our previous selections have. No, it rather gives me the same feeling as an almost parallel quip from Chesterton's essay on a parallel topic, which may give you a quicker effect:
When first the giraffe was described by travellers it was treated as a lie. Now it is in the Zoological Gardens; but it still looks like a lie.
[GKC ILN Oct 21 1911 CW29:176]
The topic was the legendary "Sea Serpent" or so it appeared - but as usual Chesterton was saying far more. So, in this case, does Father Jaki.

Think, if you can; laugh if you will.

The realist epistemology of the Bible, which I tried to trace out to some extent in Bible and Science, imposes a ready acceptance of biblical miracles, and especially those that involve a major interference with the physical laws of nature. Such are the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea and of the Jordan, of Isaiah's pushing back the sun's shadow, the miraculous multiplication of the bread by Jesus, and the darkening of the sun at the hour of His death. For if one does not see in those events some real interference with the laws of nature by the Author of nature, one begins to tamper with the realist language of the Bible and ultimately undermines the possibility that it can carry a real message to real men immersed in a real world.

Of course, one can go a long way in having recourse to the interplay of purely natural forces in explaining those miracles. One should, however, refrain from taking them for purely natural events, however fortuitous. Also, the God who performs miracles should not be thought of as a supreme master of stunts. In Bible and Science I took for my guideline the verse in Psalm 76 (77) which states that, although God Himself passed through the storm that pushed back the waters of the Sea of Reeds, no one could see His footprints. God does not make a miraculous event so overwhelmingly obvious as to literally force man's free will to accept it. No one respects man's free will more than that very God who created it and creates every act of it. Only a man who worships freely can offer a service that pleases God.

Therefore miracles should have a certain chiaroscuro to them, although here, too, the exegete should be aware of some limits. The chiaroscuro always finds a potent source in man's proverbial forgetfulness which begins at the very moment when the sensory impression is no longer in the focus of one's perception. The principle, "out of sight, out of mind," is valid not only of that marvel which a woman can be, but also of immensely greater marvels. Shortly after the miraculous multiplication of the bread, Our Lord had to remind the Twelve, almost in vain, of what they had just seen with their very eyes and grabbed with their very hands. One may be prompted to deplore the Twelve or to commiserate with them, but one should not fasten on them the idea that the multiplication of the bread was for them the fruit of the outpouring of brotherly love: all knapsacks were opened, all loaves and fish shared, and all had their fill.

Such an idea, fully discredited a century ago, has lately become a fad among some Catholic exegetes. Any victim of such a fad would assert that he accepts on faith what his "scientific" method of exegesis forbids him to accept by his reason. Apparently, nothing is remembered about the Church's condemnation of fideism and about the earlier battle of the Church against the principle of double truth. But about the theological training in vogue even in Pontifical Universities, let alone in lower-level Catholic theological faculties, where anyone, including students, can freely pontificate, one cannot say anything more appropriate than melius silere quam loqui. I do not wish to waste much time on "leading" Protestant schools of theology. In more than one I was greeted with a condescending smile as I stood up on behalf of the physical reality of biblical miracles. The wages of theological liberalism are not only spiritual death, but also a chronic and contagious intellectual schizophrenia.
[SLJ A Mind's Matter 156-8; the Latin means "better to be silent than to speak".]

No comments: