This week we’re reading the chapter entitled “Science and Mystery”, and it’s in this section of the book that Father Andrew begins to talk about things in which we are really interested: the Christian life, the role of tradition, the connection between how we live and how we perceive reality. In the first several pages of the chapter, Father Andrew continues to talk about the difference between theology and the sciences, and he considers whether theology should adopt any of the methodology of the sciences. In this discussion, he backtracks a bit, and he considers the views of two highly influential 20th century Protestant theologians, Karl Barth and T.F. Torrance.
But it’s when Father Andrew begins to consider the views of F.J.A. Hort and Michael Polanyi that things really get rolling: Hort reminds us that the spiritual/moral condition of the person who is seeking knowledge has an impact on that person’s ability to perceive the truth, and he also emphasizes the role of tradition in the acquisition of all knowledge; Polanyi also focuses on the role of tradition, which he describes as tacit knowledge. The upshot of all this is that Father Andrew comes to the conclusion that the sciences really have no unique take on the truth, and he also adds that what modern theorists are discovering about how we perceive truth is already built into the very life of the Church.
Pages 64-72 are really worth the price of the whole book, and I would encourage you to read them carefully and look up all the words you don’t know. Of course, if you skip pgs 45-63, you won’t appreciate the depth of what Father Andrew is saying, so go ahead and suffer through all that material—besides, we’re in the Triodion; it will be good to give your brain a workout.
One of the keys in the final portion of the chapter is Father Andrew’s extensive discussion of the concept of mystery. This is obviously central to the entire book, so pay close attention to what he’s saying: Mystery, for Father Andrew, doesn’t simply refer to a particular kind of knowledge or experience; in his opinion, it’s the best concept we have to describe what is at the heart of truth.
Again, though, some folks are going to wonder: “What does this have to do with my life in the Church?” Think about this: When Michael Polanyi talks about tacit knowledge and focuses on activities like riding a bicycle or rowing, what does that tell us about our prayer life or our participation in the Divine Services or our first response in a situation of stress or trauma? Or again: When F.J.A. Hort makes the point that “the perception of truth depends on the state of him who desires to perceive” should the fact that Karl Barth had a decades long affair with his personal secretary have any sort of impact on our evaluation of what he taught and wrote—not as a moral judgment, but as a matter of accuracy and precision? If we’re having a hard time understanding what Father Andrew is saying, is that more of a reflection of the state of our intelligence or of the depth of our holiness?
Those are the sorts of issues—and there are many, many others—that we will be talking about during the Pascha Book Study as we discuss Father Andrew’s book.