As always, be sure and look up the words that you don’t know; don’t guess. Father Andrew sweated those words, so we need to make sure we understand exactly what he’s saying.
Speaking of that topic, in the first chapter, Disassociation of Sensibility, Father Andrew lays out the basic problem that he wants to address: the gap between our hearts and our minds. He talks a bit about how this problem manifests itself in our psychological lives, in art and in literature, but he moves fairly quickly to the academic world and spends most of the chapter focused on the way that theology as become separated from spirituality. He briefly traces how this separation emerged, focusing on the rise of nominalism and then science; he emphasizes the importance that ‘method’ now plays in how we approach knowledge, and he points to the difference between how the scientific method functions and how tradition functions.
This week, there are a whole lot of names that it would be worthwhile to google (especially if you just have never heard of these folks, but it won’t take too long. We’ll start with the ecclesiastical figures: St Basil, St Bernard, St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine, Abelard, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Thomas a Kempis, and Erasmus. The other people are thinkers and writers: T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Ruskin, Descartes, Locke, George Steiner, Hegel, Zeller, Lampe, Zeller, Windelband, Grosseteste, Schleiermacher, Voltaire, and Spinoza. There are a few other names that Father Andrew identifies in the text itself, and, basically, you don’t need to know much more about these folks than what is necessary to have a general sense of when they lived and what they did.
Again, the challenge for most of us is to figure out what this discussion has to do with our lives: the answer is, Lots. For example, on pg 2, while describing what he means by the separation of the heart and the mind, Father Andrew states, “Beauty, instead of being something that we might find in life, something that has to do with life, is relegated to the fringes of life”. How many of us worry that there is not enough beauty in our lives? Is that even a concern for most of us? We have more leisure time and more financial flexibility than any other society in recorded history; in other words, we don’t have to hunt for food or fight off rival tribes, so we have time to create and enjoy beauty, but how much of our time and money to we spend on that—as opposed to, say, sheer entertainment?
Or, again, on pg 11, Father Andrew writes, “The writings of the past reveal a world that is different from ours, they show us a path that is remote from us”. A central problem for modern Christians is how to relate the world of the Bible to our day and age. A good part of the chapter is taken up with discussing various solutions to that dilemma. The most common solution is to approach Holy Scripture from an historical-critical perspective, but, as Father Andrew notes on pg 16, this approach is basically a “way of explaining away what does not fit within a fairly narrowly-defined, rationalistic enterprise”. This is often a tremendous problem for men who attend seminary, because they enter that sort of training believing that they are going to be taught how to draw closer to the Most Holy Trinity, and what they discover is that they are being taught something (a method) that, for all intents and purposes, actually undermines their relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So, this is a huge deal for any clergymen that may one day serve our parish community. But it’s also a huge deal, right now, for each of us. Consider it like this: If you read the Bible each day—or a selection from the Synaxarion, The Lives of the Saints—after you complete your next daily reading, ask yourself: Is this the world in which I live? Do I really believe that I inhabit the same cosmos that I just read about in this gospel lesson or in the life of this saint? Am I convinced that miracles can occur and angels can appear and the spiritual world can be made manifest in my life, or does that just happen in some other existence?
To the extent that we grapple with that question at all, most of us just set it aside. In other words, we are willing to live in two different worlds: one private and religious, one public and scientific. But is that honest? Is it even workable?
Those are just some of the issues that are at stake in this discussion.