Presence and Promise: an unpublished book
In 1989-90 I completed a book but failed to get it published. It contained most of the key philosophical theological ideas to be found in my Western Culture in Gospel Context and in my second book in progress, In the Deep Context of God. At that time, an anonymous reader for Cambridge University Press wrote:
Below is the full text of this book. It will be of interest to those who wish to probe
further into the philosophical, logical and linguistic implications of Part One
of my book Western Culture in Gospel
Context, and of the material presented in my part-completed In the Deep Context of God which is
displayed elsewhere on this website under ‘work in progress’. It includes some
engagement with the logic of question and answer, the work of Jean Piaget, and the
themes of eschatology and emergence.
Vitally, the appendix ‘further into logical theory’ explores how the logical rules which reflect our experience of theoretical knowledge may be understood in the setting our most lively, personal knowledge. They derive from the formation of what Karl Heim, in God Transcendent, called ‘logical spaces’, ordered by logical priority. This will not attract the interest of every theologian, but I regard it as an important explication of my work for those who remain concerned to understand the relation between religious paradox (and the wider ‘logical impropriety’ of religious language, as Ian Ramsey called it) and the accepted rules of Aristotelian logic.
Presence and Promise
Beyond Enlightement: Recovering our Response to the Mystery of God
INTRODUCTION: MYSTERY AND THE COHERENCE OF THEOLOGY
Some years ago an orchestra gave up trying to play a piece of modern music because when the performers paused from playing it, they could never agree on how far they had executed the score.
To engage in theology today is to find oneself involved in a project with no obvious coherence. One cannot fail to be struck by the enormous difference between what the extremes of evangelical and liberal faith mean by 'God'. Often one notices an odd disparity between the preoccupations of theologians and one's personal religious experience - between the God of head and of heart. Again one finds conflicting views of theology, whether, it is by nature 'faith seeking understanding' or is to be located within the frame of religious studies.l And then there is the great difference between anglo-saxon and continental traditions of scholarship in their approach to philosophical theology. These divergences might not suggest any incoherence in theology were they the occasion of lively dispute and dialogue; but more often they are the occasion of mutual alienation and dismissal.
The second notion is that theology is concerned merely with a set of (religious) 'values', a personal outlook on life by which we give meaning to our world and our existence in it. Again, this notion is false. Religious faith addresses the truth of ourselves and our world. It engages this as a real question; it also addresses implicitly the question of the coherence of this question itself. In other words theology does not acquire its coherence by fiat as the explication of some unreflective 'way of seeing things'. Rather, its coherence hinges- practically upon what we discover as we address and respond ever anew to the mystery of God.
Unfortunately, the two mistaken notions of theology and its coherence I have just described are often held, and indeed they will be scarcely avoidable if it is our habit to interpret all that we ever experience by reference either to our technical knowledge and skills or to the influence of subjective 'values'. This habit has been precisely the trend in cultures shaped by the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment.
Neither religious experience nor theology can be understood in these terms. Nor can that crucial knowledge in which we are most fully 'involved' as persons: our practical knowledge in deeply personal, moral and creative affairs. But the problem is not merely that our experience of technical mastery and of unreflective values offers too narrow a base from which to understand such 'higher' knowledge. More seriously, as I shall argue, this higher knowledge is and always remains our primary experience of knowledge; and when we try to understand this knowledge by reference to our experience of technical knowledge and of values we invert reality. The effect of this inversion, both in our theories about the world and in our personal lives, is fragmentation.
Our need today is accordingly for a philosophical and personal conversion which restores religious, personal and moral experience to its primary place vis-a-vis our experience of technical mastery and of values. To this end we shall take bearings other than those offered by us the Enlightenment. We shall draw inspiration from the tradition of St. Bonaventure and the Fransiscans rather than the tradition of St. Thomas. Eventually we shall recognise ourselves called to shed some very basic philosophical attitudes which we have inherited from classical Greek philosophy and its 'essentialist', as opposed to dynamic and relational, understanding of the world.
Such a philosophical conversion is needed, I shall argue, for theology to be truly possible today. This book is about such a conversion. As a first step, I shall let religious experience speak for itself. I shall take seriously its personal testimony, including the elusive, marginal character it presents when this testimony is interpreted by reference to our technical and value-experiences. This will lead me to propose a connection between religious experience and the radical emergence (something which always presents a problem for post-enlightenment philosophy) of our technical and value-experience in the first place. Now these latter 'transitional' realms of experience appear, from the viewpoint of technical knowledge once attained, an ambiguous area between such knowledge and its absence. However, I shall argue that contrary to this appearance, it is here that we find the primary meaning of knowledge, here that we feel the cutting edge of understanding. In particular I shall claim that here in the radical emergence of understanding, knowledge and the intention of knowledge have their greatest vitality. In religious knowledge this vitality grows ever deeper and richer into the fullness of 'eternal life'; by contrast, technical knowledge and unreflective values arise through a lapse in this vitality.
The structure of this book is as follows. In Chapter One I further set the scene for my argument by elaborating on the general thrust of my concerns and their context. Drawing upon a range of authors including G. K. Chesterton, Gabriel Marcel, Michael Foster and Nicholas Berdyaev, I argue that the philosophical conversion needed today will restore the primal place of mystery -a matter in which the Enlightenment has bequeathed a legacy of betrayal and confusion. In particular I characterise this as a conversion to the paradox of grace: the paradox that when we are most faithfully responsive to the initiative of God, then we are at our most active and free as persons.
In Chapters Two and Three I start from the testimony of religious experience. This is, I would claim, a both valid and necessary way of proceeding. P. T. Forsyth wrote well that 'We know first, and then investigate the conditions of knowing. Solvitur ambulando. We cannot wait for knowledge until we have a satisfactory epistemology to license it.'2 What I write in these two chapters is by its nature addressed first to Christian readers, inviting their agreement and shared testimony; and then to other readers beyond, inviting them to see and understand for themselves in turn, the truths to which I testify.
From religious experience we characteristically testify, I claim, to what is at once a matter of uniquely personal address (that is, the question of God necessarily involves our fullest personal attention and commitment) and summons us not simply in one experience from among many but rather stands oddly as a dynamic horizon which offers bearings for all our experience. This oddness shows itself in the paradoxical character of what discloses itself to us religiously.
This paradox arises in two general respects. Firstly, God stands in paradoxical relation to all that we address and all that we know in general. Accordingly (as I show in Chapter Two) paradox discloses itself to us throughout religious language. Nevertheless this fact, far from undermining the claim made in such language to know God, rather reflects our truest personal knowledge of Him. I illustrate this in turn from imaginative spiritual writing, from Christian doctrine, and from the ministry and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
Secondly, our address of God stands in paradoxical relation to all our addressing and all our knowing in general. Thus, having considered what it is we know when we know God, in Chapter Three I consider what it is to know, when it is God that we know. Again I identify a ubiquitous element of paradox. Specifically I note the indissoluble link we find between our knowing God, our being known by God, and God's initiative in giving Himself to be known by us; again, between our knowing God, our knowing in communion with God, ,and our participating in His own 'being' and action; and finally between our searching and our finding (our questioning and our knowing, our intention and our action) in religious matters. I indicate support for my testimony from Jewish and Christian spiritual traditions and from the writings of P. T. Forsyth, Ernil Brunner, and Gerhard Ebeling, among others.
In Chapter Four I explore further the nature of religious experience and paradox as such. I discuss Donald Baillie's account of paradox in his classic book 'God was in Christ', Martin Buber's characterisation of God as the 'Eternal Thou', and Ian Ramsey's account of religious language and its 'logical impropriety'. Finally I explore the relation between religious language and metaphor: drawing upon the writings of Janet Soskice and psychologist Jerome Bruner I discuss the characterisation of religious language as 'irreducible metaphor', 'undying metaphor', and (by reference to Bruner) as 'creative' rather than 'pre-emptive' metaphor.
In the course of Chapter Four we shall be led to acknowledge within religious response an intention of 'open commitment' -a primary commitment towards the mystery of an emergent but as yet indeterminate reality. We shall be led to picture this commitment as an act of self-involvement in the 'direction of understanding as such'. We are now ready to explore, in Chapter Five, the relation between religious and other understanding. I do this by examining the place of personal self-involvement and of 'directionality' in the emergence of radically new understanding. I first consider childhood learning, discussing Jean Piaget's developmental theory and its revision by Margaret Donaldson (among others) as outlined in her book 'Children's Minds'; I then discuss Michael Polanyi's theory of personal knowledge.
From this discussion there emerges a fundamental thesis: common to religious experience and radical new insight is the intention of a primary, radical responsiveness constituted by the dual intention of receptivity and critical appraisal, valuing and evaluation, giving weight (to...) and weighing. Corresponding to this intention, the subject of radical responsiveness arises out of indeterminacy into the polarity of 'figure' and 'ground'.
In Chapter Six I show how, once religious experience is taken as the paradigm for our responsiveness to reality, it is possible to see the formation of concepts and our mastery of skills as arising out of a lapse of vitality in one or other pole of the polarity which originally addresses us as our subject. In the case of religious address, however, this polarity by contrast enriches endlessly. There also forms here an account of the
intention of personal evasion -a theme surfacing at several points in previous chapters. Such evasion appears now as an act of 'logical inversion' in which the intention of response is distorted, perhaps in the face of apparent incoherence and lack of progress towards deeper understanding, into a practical contradiction of this possibility. Our intention becomes actively distorted here towards one pole of the polarity which addresses us, while in self-deception we actively suppress the other pole.
In Chapter Seven, and with the intention of showing how our developing theory bears upon the enterprise of modern philosophical and logical analysis, I translate my proposals into an account of the logic of question and answer. The dual intention of receptivity and critical appraisal which marks radical responsiveness is now understood as the dual intention of 'owning' an utterance and of asking ourselves whether the question arises of our doing this. The 'direction' of the primary intention of understanding can now be characterised as 'from logically prior to logically consequent'. We now describe, as in Chapter Six, the formation of concepts, the acquisition of skills, and the intention of religious response and of personal evasion, each now characterised in terms of the logic of question and answer. The ultimately inescapable choice between religious response and radical evasion is now seen as the practical decision whether reality promises us ever more vital understanding -a promise we embrace practically in the intention of radical responsiveness -or whether incomprehensibility and futility, which we take into ourselves in personal evasion, rather have the last word upon us. Religion, properly understood, concerns the choice between invincible hope and insuperable despair.
In Chapter Eight we focus again on explicitly Christian faith, and I show how our theory bears firstly upon the doctrines of Creation and New Creation, then upon the doctrines of Sin and Salvation and the central place of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus for our understanding of these. The meaning of creation is found disclosed here in new creation; the meaning of sin, in salvation. I conclude this final chapter by noting that since these truths are a matter of radical responsiveness they concern as much our embrace of imperative and interrogative as indicative. And to 'own' them as such is to share the embrace of God himself.
A word finally about my method in this book. The reader will not find here a strictly 'philosophical' argument. By the nature of my subject -which is from one perspective, as I have said, a profound philosophical conversion - this would hardly be possible. My argument does not advance by successive steps along a line. Rather my method is, so to speak, to swipe at the undergrowth so as to bring out the promise of a possible way ahead, then to further clarify this promise by enlarging the opening made, and repeatedly to do this giving prominence to different aspects of the task at different points. The result remains no more than a promise of a possible way ahead. It is promise which personally I find utterly convincing. It is for others to say whether they find it so.
If I may say so, philosophy does seem to have a way of breeding high horses for people to sit upon. Sooner or later this becomes a recipe for immobility. Those who respond to what I have written in this book will find in it, I suggest, an invitation to get 'on foot' opening up the way ahead. I leave an enormous amount to be done in this respect. I appreciate that there are endless points where I have glossed over proper distinctions, left aside significant qualifications, or passed in silence over entire themes of importance. Other people with keener minds than my own will, I hope, develop the suggestions made in this book. In themselves, my suggestions do little more than present philosophical theology with a possible agenda.
1. See for example: Julius Lipner, 'Theology and Religious Studies: Thoughts on a Crisis of Identity', Theology, Vol.86 (May 1983), pp.193-201.
T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority (
CHAPTER ONE : THEOLOGY AND THE PHILOSOPHICAL AGENDA
(i) Foundations, Mystery and God
Sometimes it can seem that to live with Christian faith today is to live impossibly in two worlds at once. On the one hand we inhabit the secular world, and find taken-for-granted foundations for life in all that this places at our disposal and offers for our entertainment. On the other hand we inhabit the Church, where we find prior foundations for life in God, and in religious belief and practice. Each setting presents itself to us as nothing less than our 'world' in the sense of offering us the measure of what is real. There is no question of reconciling these two 'worlds' by seeing them as two alternative perspectives upon a single world which is prior to either. Each claims to be the world, the authoritative foundation of all our experience. Nevertheless, we can dwell wholly in neither. On the one hand, we know from experience that we shall never find our home in the secular world: there is more to us than this world can ever know or nourish. But neither can we leave this world and live wholly in some other world seemingly offered us by the Church, and we fail if we try. Each world claims us wholly; yet in each we are haunted by the other, we bring the other with. us. Therefore we are ourselves, to each world, a problem; from each we stand secretly isolated, alienated. By a short step we now become a problem to ourselves. We may find temporary refuge in compromise and evasion; but must we always remain fugitives? May we not hope for deeper integrity? But how can we hope to resolve our dilemma when its source seems to lie in ourselves?
The answer may be that our situation is not as it seems here. Instead, if we attend to our circumstances more fully and with greater self-awareness, we may find the secret disclosed to us that the taken-for-granted foundat- ions offered by our secular and religious 'worlds' are each a deception (and a matter of self-deception). Neither of them is what it seems. Neither affords a 'fixed point' from which we may take bearings; neither provides firm ground on which to stand. Rather, when we turn towards the Church, then if in reality it directs us towards God we now open ourselves towards growth into, and ever deepening involvement in, life and paradox; if in reality the secular world is Godless, then turning towards it we slip ever more deeply into, and are ever more deeply round up in, dying and self- contradiction. Moreover it is our inescapable situation, that we are already and inescapably involved in both paradox and self-contradiction.
These truths constitute a mystery from within which we always begin and in which we always remain involved. This is the mystery of life and of its enhancement or diminishment in us. And one fundamental feature of it is this: to 'own' our condition and acknowledge our involvement in mystery is already to turn towards God; while to deny this is to turn away from Him.
We see now that we had turned things on their head when we started out by granting some prior 'world' foundational status for our lives and for all that we understand, only then to find ourselves alienated from this world.
It is not that the world is unproblematic, and we the problem; rather the world is a mystery in which we are bound up. In reality, to understand ourselves and our world we have to begin by owning a mystery which embraces us so as to constitute our very life and understanding in the first place.
And, we might add, this truth is a matter of personal conversion; it is not just a matter of adopting some particular theoretical position.
Here, then, rather cryptically expressed, is the theme of this present book: the primacy of mystery, its loss in an 'inversion' of understanding, and the need for its restoration in an ensuing 'conversion' of understand- ing. My exploration of this theme will centre upon the nature of our intentional response to reality, and upon our essential self-involvement in such response. This may sound a very abstract topic, but we shall find that it bears closely upon our concrete and personal religious experience. We are helped to see this in, for example, the writings of G.K. Chesterton.
Take first his observations on the mysterious world of the fairy tale:
'Can you not see... that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is -what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is -what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. 1
What is more, in our early childhood the world 'dull and full of routine' was once itself filled with the wonder of the fairy tale:
'A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. (Nursery) tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.'2
Now the crucial question arises: when infants delight in such wonders do they put a colourful overlay on a plain world? Or could it be that they see things as they are seen by God himself, who secretly upholds our seemingly 'v routine and self-sufficient world?:
'Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.' 3
Chesterton wrenches 'priority' from a world of enduring entities and assured regularities and reawakens us to wonder and to God. He shows us both in the child and in God Himself a primary act of understanding rooted in vitality, and freedom. I shall argue that it is mistaken to conceive this act of understanding apart from its vitality and freedom; these character- istics are essential to the primary intentional act of understanding itself, which must always stand as the measure of other understanding in which such vitality and freedom have lapsed. Religious knowledge now shows itself as that activity in which the vitality of our childhood acts of understanding does not lapse, but rather endures and grows endlessly richer. We now see that religious knowledge belongs to no odd enclave within our experience of a taken-for-granted familiar world; rather, we shall dare to say, scientific knowledge belongs to an enclave within our religious experience of the mystery which is our world. We hear an echo of this in Chesterton's claim that all understanding is rooted in our response to a primal religious mystery:
'The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic... If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that... The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid... The Christian ...puts the seed of dogma in a central darkness; but it branches forth in all directions with abounding natural health.'4
However when we acknowledge the primacy of mystery in such terms we have to take care not to turn this act itself into an illusory taken-for-granted foundation for understanding. We shall avoid this if we remain aware of the paradox which confronts us in the very notion itself of the primacy of mystery. We might put it that properly understood our involvement in mystery always remains itself a mystery to us. I shall now consider this paradox as it appears, so to speak, in one particular cross-section as follows: To turn to God is to turn away from all foundations for understanding; to turn to God is to turn towards our truest foundations for understanding. I shall examine each pole of this paradox in turn.
God is the mystery in which we live not a foundation on which we stand Firstly, to turn to God is to turn away from all 'fixed points' or taken- for-granted, foundations for understanding. Ultimately there are no such 'prior' foundations in life; we have no choice but to begin from the mystery of God who embraces us. Nor can we turn God Himself into such a foundation. This last point must be emphasised wherever the Church seems at risk of forgetting it. Those foundations offered by 'fundamentalism' of any kind -whether through assent to a corpus of doctrine or conformity to religious law- are an illusion. Our involvement in mystery reflects, over against all such false sources of security, the truth of our freedom and nobility as sons and daughters of God.
It is easy to miss the radical thrust of this point. We may dare to urge it by claiming that the meaning of God is positively defined by 'mystery'.
Nicholas Lash finds support for such a claim in the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God and the account of mystery implied in it:
'It is an account according to which God is confessed from the outset as mystery, is met as mystery; an account according to which the concept of mystery functions more like a definition of "God", an indication of how the concept of God is and is not to be used, than it does as a marker ~ indicating the point at which some initial clarity collapses.'5
During the same discussion, Lash reminds us that the tendency to make a prior foundation out of God is not restricted to those of a 'fundamentalist' outlook. He finds the same tendency among those philosophers of religion who, with regard to the question whether God 'has a nature', take it for granted that this question is straightforward, and that the answer to it is 'of course he does, he has a divine nature'. Such an assumption contradicts the mystery of God, and we are urged by Lash in dramatic terms to eschew this by his summons to 'dispense with theism'. John Zizioulas similarly challenges the priority of the notion of a 'divine nature' for our understanding of God so as to affirm the primal place of the mysteries of freedom and communion in our understanding of the person of God.6
The mystery of God: our truest foundation
To turn to God is, then, to turn away from all prior foundations for under- standing. Equally, however, to turn to God is to turn towards our truest foundations for understanding. These are, paradoxically, foundations in which we are already involved as we turn towards them: here lies the great value of Chesterton's images of 'sanity' and 'health', and elsewhere of his image of 'keeping one's balance'. All of these concern a state of affairs we know simultaneously from within and as an implicit goal. For example, to seek sanity indicates a measure of sanity already present, and to be sane entails that sanity always remain an implicit goal for us. The greatest image of dynamic self-involvement is, of course, 'life' itself- in the sense of the mystery of a life into which we grow ever more fully. But perhaps there is a danger here that we shall take such images as commending a wrong kind of self-sufficient existence, and end up finding foundations after all in a prior 'self'? In this case we need the kind of image for self-involvement offered by P.T. Forsyth:
'The reality in religion is not something to stand on, but something to live from... It is more than ground that will not give way; it is a source that will not fail or dry. We draw life from it, and it is a medium in which we live... It supports us as food does, not simply as a floor does. We are rooted, and not only grounded, on our God.'7
Again let us not miss the radical thrust of this point regarding our self- involvement. Mystery is not alien to understanding, nor does our involvement in mystery undermine intelligent life; rather mystery defines the meaning of our life and understanding at their most vital and free. In reality the mystery we embrace in our knowledge of God is the measure of - all our knowledge. And as Forsyth remarks, 'Can anything be surer to a personality than that which realises it?'8
To affirm the primacy of mystery is itself, then, to own a mystery and to affirm a paradox. In brief, it is to acknowledge 'mystery' as defining 'understanding', and to own 'understanding' as defining 'mystery'.
Mystery and community
So far I have not spoken of how the primacy of mystery reveals the nature of our relations with other people. In order to do so, we need only to reflect that when we mistakenly count ourselves living impossibly in and between two 'prior' worlds we find ourselves living among and between the two groups of people who supposedly inhabit these worlds. When we awaken to the primacy of mystery, however, we see that these groups are, in a sense, illusory. The truth is that all of us alike are in the same condition: each of us is involved both in paradox and self-contradiction. The difference between one person and another in our relations to God have always to be seen as relative, in this context. To be sure, when the Church successfully directs us towards God, in the process it will tend to present us with people more fully involved in paradox than we ourselves, people ahead of us on the journey of faith; but we must never think of such people as, unlike ourselves, free from self-contradiction. To conceive unconditional involvement in paradox and total absence of self-contradiction would be to conceive life in the Kingdom of God. Again if the secular world really directs us away from God, in the process it will tend to present us with people more involved in self-contradiction than we ourselves; but we must never think of any such people as, unlike ourselves, utterly lost in self- contradiction. To conceive the emptiness of unlimited self-contradiction would be to conceive life in hell. As things stand this side of the Kingdom, all people alike are poised in the mystery of life between heaven and hell, between eternal life and eternal death.
At this stage I shall explain no further my implied identification of sin with self-concealed involvement in self-contradiction, and of the life of faith with acknowledged involvement in paradox. The meaning of such an identification will come to light gradually in the course of this book. The point I want to highlight now is this. Insofar as we acknowledge our involvement in and direct ourselves towards the mystery of God, we also acknowledge our involvement in and direct ourselves towards the mystery of communion. This is a communion at once with God, with other people and within ourselves; it is a communion in life and in understanding; it is rooted in mystery, and it finds its consummation in the Kingdom of God.
We have now ventured a little further along the paths I shall be exploring in this book. The guiding vision for our journey will remain the recognition that religious understanding, far from needing to be referred to any prior 'foundational' understanding, itself represents understanding at its most vital and free. It follows, of course, that it is an illusion and an inversion of the truth to imagine that as our modern scientific knowledge advances it makes endless new inroads into the substance of traditional religious belief. The truth is rather that scientific knowledge remains within the rigid frame of its own methodological presuppositions, while religious knowledge directs us beyond this towards an ever more active and self-involving understanding of reality in its wider personal, moral and religious dimensions.
Now the 'scientific method' I refer to here so permeates our thinking today that it determines the dominant shape of that needed personal conversion with which the primacy of mystery is concerned, and of its explication in theory. In order to elucidate this we must now give our attention to the theoretical resources undergirding scientific method which are found in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. This influential philosophical tradition has sponsored some powerful illusions or false foundations for understand- ing which must be exposed for what they are in the light of the primacy of mystery, and because they hide this primacy from us.
(ii) Enlightenment and the Paradox of Grace When we turn to modern philosophy we find that the movement of European thought which identified itself with enlightenment has strongly shaped both the conclusions of this philosophy and modern understandings of the task of philosophy itself. This creates a quite fundamental problem which demands at least cursory reference before we continue: the notion of philosophy which has been engendered by the Enlightenment conflicts with that which is necessarily entailed in what I have been saying.
The conflict concerned comes to ahead whenever a philosopher treats a theologian as beginning from a (theological) premise or commitment which the philosopher, as philosopher, does not share. By contrast, however, the implication of what I have been saying is that as theologians we start from no such adopted 'foundation' whatsoever: rather we begin by acknowledging ourselves embraced by mystery. We can only invite the philosopher to join hands with us in acknowledging that this is the case in order that we may explore together. It is the theologian who challenges the philosopher to lay aside the search for, or commitment to, prior foundations for understanding, and not vice-versa.
It must therefore be the first task of the philosopher, as for the theologian, to understand our involvement in mystery. Now according to Michael Foster, mystery held a central place in classical Greek philosophy:
'The attitude correlative to mystery is wonder. Plato and Aristotle both say in well-known passages... that philosophy begins in wonder, but this is not in itself sufficient to designate the special character of Greek philosophy. An investigation of nature which was scientific in the modern sense might equally be thought of as beginning in wonder. I wonder at something of which I do not understand the cause, but the end of my investigation is to remove the wonder when I discover the cause. The special character of Greek philosophy is that it continued in wonder. Its end was 'theoria', wondering contemplation of the divine, in which mystery was not dispelled but more fully revealed.'9
The difference between the 'end' of Greek philosophy and of modern scientific investigation points to a difference in the wonder from which each begins. Now the latter approach finds expression in the philosophy of the Enlightenment:
'What is new here is not only a new aim, namely power of technical control, to be gained by knowledge. There is a new method of gaining knowledge, namely that of compelling nature to answer questions framed by man. The new method is expressed by Bacon in his famous phrase of "putting nature to the question"' .10
When such 'scientific method' is made a norm for philosophical endeavour itself, however, philosophy loses its roots in mystery. This is a tendency encouraged by the Enlightenment. Of the analytical philosophy which has evolved in this way, Foster writes:
'The two following principles seem especially characteristic. "Thinking consists in answering questions". "If you want to think clearly, formulate your questions precisely." This two-fold principle is one of the chief engines for the expulsion of mystery .' 11
Where mystery has been expelled from philosophy, it is not hard to find the illusory prior foundation for understanding which has taken its place: it is the rational questioning subject. Descartes paved the way for this when he founded his philosophy on the knowing subject: 'Cogito; ergo sum.' When the Enlightenment later blossomed in the philosophy of Kant, the priority of the knowing subject was affirmed in a most comprehensive way. Kant saw knowledge as a combination of the organising activity of a rational subject and sense-data from the world outside. On the one hand are found the organising categories of the mind, which are immediate to the subject and are experienced in the form of 'categorical imperatives'. Here lies the formal principle of knowledge. However, a complementary foundation for knowledge is seen in the 'thing-in-itself', the source of the raw sense- data which presents itself to us. Insofar as Kant thus refers the act of understanding to two prior foundations, he offers us a philosophical system which is ultimately 'dualistic' -rather than one grounded in mystery.
Kant's achievement is impressive. However, as is generally recognised, his account of religious knowledge in particular is hardly adequate. And therefore insofar as other knowledge (notably personal, moral and aesthetic knowledge) is open towards religious knowledge his account of these is inadequate too. In fact, it might be said of the philosophy of the Enlight- enment as a whole that it describes well our experience of a world open before us to scientific exploration and exploitation, but not our most personal and spiritual experience as moral and creative persons. It portrays our freedom vis-a-vis a manipulable world, but crucially fails to describe that deeper freedom which finds expression in (among other things) our responsiveness to the proper aims of scientific endeavour itself. It describes what it is to be familiar with a piece of technical information, but distorts that 'higher' knowledge (as it has been traditionally called) in which we are most personally involved in a lively way.
Therefore the negative heritage of the Enlightenment has been the theoretical distortion of, and distraction from personal regard for, such higher knowledge. Now it is understandable up to a point, that higher knowledge should get neglected while technological advance showers upon us one liberation after another. The kind of benefits we have reaped from such diverse achievements as the invention of the internal combustion engine, the discovery of antibiotics and the development of telecommunications easily encourage a wrong preoccupation with technological progress as the source of personal hope. Nevertheless today this tendency is being checked increasingly by two factors arising out of the sheer scale and scope of modern technical activity and its effect upon our relation to other people and to the world. Firstly, (if I may so put it) where often in the past people first faced a common world and then faced each other, now we face each other from the beginning and at every turn. We fall increasingly into each others hands. And what do we find? We find that the technology we created to serve us can also be used to threaten us and to manipulate us.
We find it poised against us in every shape from weapons of mass destruction to the erosion of personal confidentiality and to the sophisticated advertisements which prey upon us and our children. Secondly, our common world no longer presents itself to us as an unlimited resource at our disposal. Rather it confronts us with ourselves as potentially dangerous exploiters and pollutors of an irreplaceable finite environment sustaining our life.
On both these counts the question of ourselves and our values acquires for us increasing urgency. Might it be that in our apprehension we shall find the will to address this question with much greater attentiveness and in a more deeply responsive way? If so we may yet hope for the Enlightenment to 'come of age'. We have come into possession of so much: our hope now lies more clearly than ever in finding the path to possession of ourselves under God.
The task before us here -which is a matter both of theoretical revolution and personal conversion -is to enlarge the scope of the Enlightenment vision: without abandoning its truest achievement, to rediscover what it has obscured from our view: the primacy of mystery for understanding.
Peter Baelz is among those who have urged an enlargement of the understand- ing of ourselves and our world which we have derived from the Enlighten- ment. He first draws our attention to the 'seeming conflict between, on the one hand, a theory of knowledge and reality structured on the basis of a scientific method of investigation and understanding and, on the other hand, the lived experience of man in his active dealings with the world around him'. He points out that scientific endeavour is itself one aspect, of this wider experience:
'The pursuit of scientific knowledge is itself a form of action. Even observation is an activity which calls for responsible care and attentiveness, for discrimination and judgement, rather than an impersonal, passive recording of momentary events and occurrences.'
If this conflict is to be resolved,
'.. we must be prepared to enlarge our understanding of experience, knowledge and reality so as to include that which comes to awareness through reflection on our total, lived experience as men engaged in responding to the world around us as well as in observing it, as agents as well as observers.' 12
Without such an 'enlargement of understanding' we can never give a worthy account of 'higher' knowledge and of our religious knowledge in particular.
Now Baelz has given us two leads: he points us beyond our experience of 'observing' to our wider experience of responding and of acting. Let us investigate these two leads briefly in turn. Now it might seem that the former commends itself more readily than the latter, as pointing the way towards religious experience. In keeping with this, Austin Farrer reminds us how a proper depth of response must itself be allowed to shape our philosophical tools if we are to give a philosophical account of religious matters:
'...if our philosophical equipment deals only with the logic of the sciences; of ethical reasoning "in abstracto"; of language as such, and of statements about a self which chatters 'to itself and others, profits from experience, keeps studied rules and exercises acquired skills: then I do not think we have any special cause to complain that there is a wide gulf between our philosophic practice and our religious faith. We are not suffering from too much logic, but from too little contemplation.'13
Farrer recognised such contemplation as imbuing the writings of Gabriel Marcel. And now we see something of the background to the remark quoted above: so different was Marcel's thinking from contemporary English philosophy that when Marcel lectured in Britain Farrer found it a spectacle which, as he said, 'reminded me of the kingfisher I once saw perched on a dead elder tree between the gas works and the canal. A visitant from another world, a lonely phenomenon, but as a reminder of the many-sidedness of things by no means to be ignored.'14
Those Gifford Lectures were titled, in characteristic manner, 'The Mystery of Being'. Marcel understood well the primacy of mystery. He grasped our self-involvement in mystery and distinguished 'mystery' in these terms from the 'problem':
'A problem is something met which bars my passage. It is before me in its entirety. A mystery, on the other hand, is something in which I find myself caught up, and whose essence is therefore not to be before me in its entirety. It is as though in this province the distinction between in me and before me loses its meaning.'15
He might have added that mystery, far from barring our way, opens the way forward for us. Marcel emphasises this important positive character of mystery as follows:
'We must carefully avoid all confusion between the mysterious and the unknowable. The unknowable is in fact only the limiting case of the problematic, which cannot be actualised without contradiction. The recognition of mystery, on the contrary, is an essentially positive act of the mind, the supremely positive act in virtue of which all positivity may perhaps be strictly defined.'16 (italics mine)
We might ask now how Marcel, the contemplative philosopher, speaks of that deep responsiveness which contemplation itself represents. In this connection, regarding the attitude of dedication and worship, he writes:
'...there is no question here of a passive state; to 'assert that would be to imply that the activity of the technician, as he takes, modifies or elaborates, is the only activity worthy of the name. We must, of course, recognise that we are in a state of utter confusion about this point and many others... We have completely lost sight of the classical idea, taken up and enriched by the Fathers of the Church, that contemplation is the highest form of activity: and it might be worth while to ask ourselves why. The moralistic point of view with its belief in the almost exclusive value of works, seems to be very largely responsible for discrediting the contemplative virtues. Kantianism still more, by bringing in constructive activity as the formal principle of knowledge, has had the same disastrous tendency; it refuses all positive reality to the contemplative virtues, were it only by the fatal separation which it made for the first time between theoretical and practical reason.'17
Properly understood, what Marcel points to here is the meaning of the paradox of divine grace: that when we are most open to receive and respond, and God reveals himself to us and acts upon us, then we are at our most active. I propose that we shall find in this paradox a primary indication of the ground of encounter between the. philosophy of the Enlightenment and the mystery of God. We therefore also discover here the shape of personal conversion to the primacy of mystery, and of the explication of this in 'theory, for us who stand in the tradition of the Enlightenment.
Marcel has directed us towards the paradox of grace via reflection upon the 'passive' pole of grace, in our experience of contemplation. But we can also approach the paradox of grace through reflection upon the 'active' pole of grace, as we experience this through our own action and agency.
Indeed it matters that we adopt both approaches -that we follow both of Baelz's leads towards an 'enlargement of understanding' -if we are to uphold explicitly both poles of the paradox of grace and so effectively affirm the primacy of mystery. For this reason we shall do well now to explore what it means to approach the paradox of grace from the opposite direction to Marcel -that is, through our experience of free agency. To this end we shall find guidance, I suggest, especially from the Russian Orthodox writer Nicolas Berdyaev. Listen to what he says of his own writing, and what he would also say of spiritual activity in general:
'...the whole problem lies just here, in the very fact that I must discover for myself that which God has hidden from me. God expects from me a free creative act. My freedom and my creative activity are my obedience to the secret will of God, who expects from man something much more than what is usually meant when we speak of His will.'18
In the first instance our freedom and creative activity are not constrained by God, but rather are positively endowed and upheld by Him:
'God is not a master and He does not dominate. No power is inherent in God. The will to power is not a property of His, He does not demand the slavish reverence of an unwilling man. God is freedom; He is the liberator and not the master. God bestows the feeling of freedom and not of subjection... Here we stand face to face with Mystery and to this Mystery are applicable no analogies with necessity, with causality, with domination... God is mystery, a Mystery towards which man transcends and with which he enters into communion.'19
As we try to explicate this paradox -the paradox that it is in our most radically free action that our obedience to God lies -we shall gain insight from those modern authors who have urged the importance of a proper understanding of practical reason. Among these stand G.E.M. Anscombe, ~ Richard Bernstein and John Maamurray.2O We shall be bound to sympathise with Anscombe, for example, when she asks 'Can it be that there is something that modern philosophy has blankly misunderstood: namely what ancient and medieval philosophers meant by practical knowledge?' Nevertheless we shall hesitate when she says later 'Certainly in modern philosophy we have an incorrigibly contemplative conception of knowledge'.21 For we shall want to uphold Marcel's grasp of contemplation as being the highest of all activities. We shall prefer to say that the modern misunderstanding she speaks of has arisen paradoxically because our conception of knowledge is not contemplative enough. The paradox of grace is such that in reality we can only hope to explicate together practical and contemplative knowledge in their full scope.
We saw earlier that the primacy of mystery exposes, as an inversion of understanding, our commitment to any prior objective world as 'foundation- al' for life. But now the paradox of grace reminds us that the primacy of mystery also exposes a similar inversion in any assumption of our prior, foundational status as subjects or agents. And it is here that the paradox of grace challenges the very heart of Enlightenment philosophy. Again it is Chesterton who exposes the truth of much that we today call action:
'It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness of our epoch. But in truth the chief mark of our epoch is a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle.'22
Chesterton goes on to speak of what we no longer do today for ourselves.
Now while in some matters this is of little consequence, in others it is of great importance; for the primacy of the mystery embracing us entails the primacy of the sort of action in which we expend ourselves very fully as persons. Understanding comes to birth with what we ask for ourselves and judge for ourselves, attempt for ourselves and manage for ourselves; and understanding remains at its most vital and free where we are most deeply involved as persons in such responsible action. Such action is to be found above all, as Berdyaev has said, at the heart of true religion.
It is surely a measure of the task before us in modern western society today, that the primacy of personally self-involving endeavour has been largely obscured from us. Illustrations of this abound. Whereas the food on the store shelf was once understood as something we might fall back on in the place of what we normally grew and cooked for ourselves, today many of us regard the food we find in the store as the real thing, and our own efforts a substitute for this. At one time we called in the qualified technician only when we could not perform our own repairs to car or household gadget; now the amateur is often seen as a substitute for, or even one who meddles in the realm proper to, the professional. Whereas once the specialist waited upon us and upon our exercise of common sense, often today the expert tells us what to do and the role of common sense seems to have atrophied. Once the mass media offered a qualified extension of the dissemination and evaluation of experience characteristic of local community life; now, for many people, to listen to News and Comment and the Soap Opera is to be in touch with a world more 'real' than any in which they participate actively and personally. Finally, growing centralisation in government and business operations confronts us increasingly with a power from which we are alienated, and which circumscribes such limited experience as we have of participation and self-determination. In many ways such as these we find concealed, the primacy of 'what we do for ourselves'.
There are great generalisations here, of course; but readers will see my point. For example, I can hardly claim that before our present age people 'did everything for themselves'. My point is that when they did not, then in the ensuing transactions between people the guiding vision of 'honest service' was reasonably alive and well. Again, I can hardly cla1m that this guiding vision was generally honoured; my point is that to many people today it seems barely intelligible. Its place has been usurped -through an inversion of understanding - by a guiding vision which might be described as that of 'concealed predation'.
Clearly these dimensions of the meaning of grace and the primacy of mystery have social and political resonances. It is beyond the scope of my present concern to pursue these now. I can only refer the reader to other books which, as it seems to me, point in the right direction. A simple account of some aspects of the legacy of the Enlightenment for our social life and outlook is given by Lesslie Newbigin in his book 'Foolishness to the Greeks'.23 Pointers to the social implications of the primacy of self- involving activity are offered in the writings of Ivan Illich; the title of his book 'Tools for Conviviality' is eloquent.24 Other pointers are surely offered in the well known but too easily dismissed 'small is beautiful' message of Ernst Schumacher and his son Christian, who are concerned that we should build on a 'human' scale.25 For a general theory of society which engages with a number of our own themes, the reader might turn to the extensive writings of Jurgen Habermas.
To summarise. The guiding vision of the Enlightenment has brought us, with the passage of more than two centuries, to the point where its critical failure to help us understand ourselves and our primary involvement in mystery is an evident matter of concern. The need is increasingly clear for what Baelz calls 'an enlargement of understanding'. I have argued that this enlargement will involve what appear as two distinct elements corresponding to the two poles of the paradox of grace. On the one hand we must discover afresh the meaning of contemplation and its unconditionally self-involving receptivity; on the other hand we must discover afresh the meaning of unconditionally self-involving activity and responsibility. Together these must be allowed radically to inform our understanding of ourselves and our world.
Our perception of what this 'enlargement of understanding' amounts to will depend upon which of these two discoveries we take as our leading idea.
When we take the former as our leading idea, it will seem to us that our rediscovery of the primacy of mystery arises through a withdrawal from the Enlightenment's preoccupation with the active human subject. But then we shall want immediately to emphasise that this does not mean a retreat to- mediaeval. philosophy: we have learnt once and for all of the elusiveness of God's presence in that world which is for us today accessible to scientific description and manipulation.
When we take the latter as our leading idea, it will seem to us rather that we look for an Enlightenment 'come of age' which understands not only technical knowledge and activity but also our 'higher', more self-involving knowledge and activity as freely spiritual, moral and creative persons. But then we shall want immediately to emphasise that this involves nothing less than a re-inversion in our 'cartesian' thinking- a copernican revolution of sorts in which we find our primary reference beyond ourselves. Ultimately our purpose here is to commend a unique 'paradigm-shift'; and we are bound to acknowledge (as one might say with due apology) that this paradigm will take some shifting.
This 'paradigm-shift' will be from commitment towards prior foundations in ourselves as cartesian subjects, to openness towards a primal mystery in which we are involved and out of which there originally arise for us the fathomless questions of our meaning as active subjects and of the reality which confronts us. It is a paradigm shift which places the mystery of God and our knowledge of Him together at the centre of our questioning.
The paradox of grace reminds us that we have always to explicate two things together -the mystery of the God to whom we respond and the mystery of our practical knowledge of Him, which is the mystery of ourselves as acting religious subjects. For not only does God hold a uniquely distinctive place amongst the things of the real world; knowledge of Him holds a uniquely distinctive place among our actions.
Nevertheless there is a real continuity between religion and other areas of our experience. And this continuity can be explored in an illuminating way provided we consistently address at once the meaning of an aspect of reality, and our knowledge of it. Indeed such exploration will prove an important part of the explication of the primacy of mystery. Are there theoretical resources available to us for such exploration?
(iii) Our self-involvement in religious and other knowing In the following chapters I shall draw upon a number of theoretical resources which can help us explicate the primacy of mystery by helping us to relate religious understanding to other kinds of experience. I want to introduce three of these resources briefly to the reader now. The first is Michael Polanyi's theory of personal knowledge; the second derives from child psychology; the third is Ian Ramsey's account of religious language.
Michael Polanyi has formulated a most discerning theory of personal knowledge. Crucial from our point of view will be his grasp of our essential self-involvement in knowledge. This self-involvement takes the form of a primary act of 'indwelling' by which we give ourselves to the world in our attempt to understand it. Understanding begins not from prior foundations, but from a committed yet always open act of indwelling.
Without the 'fiduciary commitment' we display in this act we attain to no significant new understanding. When such new insight is born, in this moment our response to reality takes the form of a polar relation between matters of our 'subsidiary' or 'proximal' awareness and matters of our 'focal' or 'distal' awareness. The primary intention of response can be seen, in this sense, to have a directional quality.26
Polanyi's theory of personal knowledge can be seen as challenging Kant's doctrine of an a priori organising subject. Colin Gunton writes:
'Instead of a dualism of passive sense and active reason, Polanyi presents us with the picture of a person as a compound of sense and reason, action and passion, acting upon the world not simply to dominate and control, but so as to receive. By this means the Kantian theory is stood upon its head. It is no longer necessary for an active mind to compensate for the deficiencies of the senses by imposing a conceptual pattern upon a chaotic and disorderly matter. Matter is not foreign to us in this way, because we can indwell it...'27
I shall discuss Polanyi's theory of knowledge in Chapter Five. Central to his understanding of knowledge, we shall find, is his account of how we ever come to know-how we learn, discover, recognise or gain insight into, new meaning. Now a paradigmatic case of such discovery is infant learning.
We might therefore ask whether among child psychologists we can find those who commend the role of self-involvement in infant learning, and so point like Polanyi to the primacy of mystery for understanding. Indeed we can.
These psychologists distinguish themselves on the one hand from those who have stressed the receptive passivity of childhood learning and have seen the infant mind virtually as a blank slate written upon by the society into which he or she has been born. They distinguish themselves on the other hand from those who have by contrast postulated in the child a prior innate framework for understanding, a kind of inherited 'black box' which enables him or her actively to master linguistic understanding. Standing obliquely to both these directions of thought, the psychologists of interest to us stress how the young child has to grope for understanding in a quite radical way, actively engaging and responding to the world so as to make sense out of it. The endeavour of understanding is seen as by its very nature embedded in such directed yet open activity. Such activity has its earliest context in the mutual exchanges of baby and parent, where there is exploration of shared attention and mutual communication of intentions.
This approach to childhood learning has been sympathetically described by Margaret Donaldson. She traces the trend of its thought through the writings of John Macnamara and Jerome Bruner, while noting resonances also in the work of L.S. Vygotsky.28 I shall discuss these theories in Chapter Five.
Chesterton, we shall recall, found the vitality of childhood awareness reflected in religious faith. The connection between religious knowledge and occasions of radical discovery which can be pursued by reference to Michael Polanyi and to certain child psychologists can also be investigated through the writings of Ian Ramsey. Ramsey maintains that religious language speaks of the disclosure or 'dawning' of a mystery. Such is the 'religious situation' in which religious language is grounded. Ramsey appeals to Samuel Butler in claiming that this situation is characterised at once by an odd discernment and a total commitment. He traces parallels between the religious situation and occasions of new personal insight or disclosure on the one hand, and occasions of personal commitment on the other. This odd empirical anchorage for religious language gives rise to characteristically odd logical behaviour. Ramsey gives an illuminating account of this logical behaviour, which reflects the role of religious language to mediate the religious discernment-cornrnitment.29 I shall discuss Ramsey's proposals in Chapter Four.
It is hardly surprising that we should find Ramsey interested in Michael Polanyi's account of the self-involvement which characterises acts of insight. He thinks that Polanyi's theory can find illumination from his own theory of 'disclosure', which can vindicate it from the charge of being 'mere psychology' .30 To what extent Ramsey's own solution to this problem is adequate is a matter we shall consider later. He too, like Polanyi, has been accused of dressing up psychology as logic. As we shall see later, this accusation reflects an underlying problem, that it is not possible adequately to urge the primacy of self-involvement by appeal solely to an account of the discovery of 'scientific' facts, nor is it possible to understand religious knowledge solely by such an appeal. For with regard to scientific knowledge it is possible to maintain the idea that self- involvement is, so to speak, a ladder which we can kick away when we have climbed it to the secure vantage-point of 'objective knowledge'. But to commend adequately the primacy of self-involvement we have firstly to appeal to an act of understanding which, far from concerning some 'kick- away' ladder, concerns rather an unending ascent into meaning. And we have secondly to maintain the primacy of such self-involving experience (of which religious experience is the paradigmatic case) for all understanding.
How shall we go about this?
(iv) Discovering the centre at the edge
We may begin, I suggest, by declaring our assent to the thesis that religious knowledge lies problematically on the 'edge' of understanding - only now to turn the tables on those who say this by claiming that in reality such knowledge defines the meaning of all understanding. Paul Van Buren, for example, describes religious language as lying 'on the edges of language'.31 The same claim is made by J. D. Crossan in his parable 'The Death of the Lighthouse Keeper':
"'Once upon a time there were people who lived on rafts upon the sea. The rafts were constructed of materials from the land whence they had come.
On this land was a lighthouse in which there was a lighthouse keeper. No matter where the rafts were, and even if the people had no idea where they actually were, the keeper always knew their whereabouts. There was even communication between people and keeper so that in an absolute emergency they could always be guided safely home to land."
In rather crude form that is the story in which the classical mind dwelt brilliantly for centuries. ..,
But now, Crossan proposes:
'...There is no lighthouse keeper. There is no lighthouse. There is no dry land. There are only people living on rafts made from their own imaginations. And there is the sea... One moment. If there are only rafts and these rafts are really language itself, what is this sea which is 'outside' language because it is beyond the raft? Maybe there is no sea either? If there is only language, then God must be either inside language and in that case... an idol; or he is outside language, and there is nothing out there but silence. There is only one possibility left, and that is what we experience in the movement of the raft, in the breaks in the raft's structure , and, above all, what can be experienced at the edges of the raft itself. For we cannot really talk of the sea, we can only talk of the edges of the raft and what happens there.'32
Notice how, in true Enlightenment tradition, Crossan gives us a parable in which the one assured reality is found in ourselves as active, thinking subjects. But the truth is surely that as subjects we are immersed in the sea of mystery not just up to the edges of any 'raft of meaning', nor up to any kind of 'body-surface' at all, but to the very core of our being. Nor do we need any raft to 'protect' us from this sea, for our immersion in it constitutes the mystery of our very life as subjects. And for that matter, we might add, the classical mind arguably knew itself more 'in the swim' of mystery than Crossan gives credit for.
I suggest that if we want a more faithful picture of life and its meaning we might adapt for our purpose a parable woven by the poet Charles Peguy.
In this parable his theme is the Christian virtue of hope, which he likens to the first bud showing on a tree in April:
'... and when one sees the tree... one sees such strength and such roughness, the tender little bud no longer seems to be anything at all.
It is the bud that looks as if it were the tree's parasite, as if it ate at the tree's table...
And yet it is from that bud, on the contrary, that everything comes.
Without a bud that once appeared, the tree would not exist... The rough bark is nothing but a hardened bud, a bud grown old... Without that bud which does not look like anything, which seems as nothing, all that would be as dead wood...'33
Hope is like the bud, says Peguy. And so too, we shall add, is our knowledge at its most vital: our newest insights in the moment of their birth, and that eternally new and deepening insight which constitutes our religious knowledge. By comparison our knowledge of bare facts and our mastery of technical skills are like the hard bark and frame of the tree.
It will become clear later that it is no chance matter, that 'hoper and 'religious knowledge' find a common image in Peguy's tale of the bud and the tree. We shall see later how the meaning of hope and the meaning of our acknowledgement of the primacy of mystery are indissolubly linked. Both can seem to lie on the fringe of life; in reality they both point to its heart.
Mystery and time
Because I have been especially concerned in the preceding pages with our heritage from the Enlightenment, and with what it means to commend the primacy of mystery in the context of this heritage, I have dwelt chiefly upon the paradox of grace and in particular upon the polarity of ourselves as subjects/agents and the reality to which we respond. However, the mystery of God embraces us through many such polarities. As we explore the primacy of mystery we shall need to address these other polarities. Not only so; we shall need to advance beyond every consideration of specific polarities to an analysis of polarity as such.
Among these many polarities is one which embraces us in our experience of time. Recall here my claim that the paradigm for all knowledge is to be found in our most radical acts of discovery and insight, and above all in our ever renewed discovery of and exploration into the unfathomable mystery of God. The paradigm for all knowing is to be- found in primary instances of the birth and growth of knowledge -in which, of course, knowledge is changing (Peguy' s parable is again relevant here) .
In general, of course, a change in our knowledge does not necessarily entail any change in the 'real' world around us. If I discover that my car has been stolen, this discovery does not in itself change the fact that it has been stolen. But we cannot think of our religious knowledge in these terms, because religious knowledge by its nature concerns the enlargement of understanding of the real world as such. We cannot describe our understanding (of God) by reference to any prior 'world' because our understanding -and everybody's understanding -of the world is itself necessarily enlarged and enriched with and through our understanding of God. For this reason our 'subjective' encounter with God and His 'objective' coming to us always remain inseparable. The God whom we know always remains for us the God whom we are coming to know and who is always in the process of caning to us .
The presence and activity of God always remains this mystery of a coming future Kingdom already among us. God is to us always a matter both of presence and promise. The meaning we embrace in the presence of God is for us a uniquely vital promise of meaning; it is a mystery which deepens and enriches endlessly into our future. Our present knowledge of God is thus always a matter at once of knowledge and hope -our hope in God being none other than our embrace of the promise God holds for us .
Presence and promise, knowledge and hope arise together, then, as a polarity grounding our experience of time; they embody the mystery of the God of our future. The primacy of mystery for understanding spells the primacy of the mystery of the 'eschaton' (the 'end of time' present among us before its time) for our understanding of time. We shall see later how this truth is reflected in the writings of Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jurgen Moltmann -although we shall need to remain wary of any unwitting tendency among these writers to retain Hegelian presuppositions.
Reference to Hegel serves as a reminder that I have myself posited polarity not only in the relation between ourselves and our world, or in our experience of historical time, but as a quite universal feature of all we conceive; and I shall include here the fundamental logical polarity between identity and differentiation, reference and self-reference. Our exploration of the primacy of mystery will lead us eventually to consider these fundamental logical matters. However, we shall not find ourselves following here in the steps of Hegel. Our account of the logic of polarity will turn out different from his.
The logic of polarity
I have said that as we raise our eyes from the agenda left us by the Enlightenment, we find the primacy of mystery commending itself to us through various polarities of which the polarity of inhabited world and inhabiting subject is but one. I have discussed a second basic polarity which arises in our experience of time; and a number of other such polarities have been described by modern writers. The question of the relation between one polarity and another now arises. In particular the question presents itself, whether or not various given polarities turn out upon inspection as corresponding to, and falling under, the 'prior' polarity of subject and object. This impression is given by some 'existentialist' writers. Consider the following passage:
'While the concept of "existence" differentiates man's being from the being that belongs to objects in nature, and so sets up a certain tension between man and nature, further analysis of what is involved in "exist- ence" reveals that existence itself contains tensions or polarities, and that the opposition between existence and nature is paralleled by oppositions within existence itself -some of them so sharp that man, as the bearer of such existence, is almost torn apart by them.34
Does the polarity of subject and world, existence and nature in truth possess a kind of logical priority over other polarities -a priority which requires that these be either descriptive of the inner character of one of the poles of this prior polarity as distinct from the other, or else parallel to, and ultimately an aspect of, this prior polarity itself? I suggest not, although the thought is, I would argue, one to which we are tempted by the heritage of the Enlightenment. But if we yield to it, we become in danger of expelling the dualism of world and subject by the door only to let it in through the window. When we posit one polarity as prior to others we serve only to undermine all polarity. In every case polarity is a primary affair; every polarity opens up a way into the primal mystery of God.
I am not claiming that the Enlightenment's distortion of the relation between subject and world reveals this philosophy as the ultimate source of all confusion on and betrayal of the primacy of mystery and its polarities.
It would be fairer to say that the Enlightenment has sponsored one particular form of distortion of a fundamental polar dynamic within which humankind always lives. In the Enlightenment such distortion had its focus in the denial of the polarity of subject and world. This distortion was already found, however, in classical Greek thought by comparison with Hebrew thought (this, granted the characteristic Greek awareness of mystery described by Michael Foster); elsewhere it was found in the thought of deuteronomic and post-exilic Judaism by comparison with the tradition of the prophets and the psalms. I appreciate the danger of making unwarranted assumptions and over-simple generalisations here -a danger familiar to students of biblical theology. Nevertheless, I believe there remains important substance to these claims, and the fact that this substance is elusive in semantic terms need not intimidate us from affirming it. We are concerned here with no less profound a theme than the inversion of understanding from, and the conversion to, the primacy of mystery, and their connection with culture.
Have we theoretical resources to help us handle this wider question of a universal polarity and the distortion of such polarity? One source of help is to be found in Trevor Williams' recent book 'Form and Vitality in the World and in God'. Williams bases this book upon the universal polarity of form and vitality -a polarity affirmed also by Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. Williams introduces the notion of polarity as follows:
'Our lives are set within a framework of complementary opposites, such as individual/society, subject/object, order/freedom, continuity/discontinuity. The word "polarity" is now commonly used of such paired concepts. ..
The character of a polar relationship may be illustrated by the analogy of the two touch-lines on a football pitch. Neither is dispensible; together they define the field of play. The action can develop between them in an infinite variety of ways, though the nearer one approaches to either touch-line, the less room there is for manoeuvre.'
The author now writes :
In the same way, the polarity of form and vitality may be seen as defining the field of evolutionary and historical play. The two poles do not exist independently, but define the sphere in which things can happen... It will be argued that the polarity of form and vitality represents a necessary condition of evolutionary existence.35
Williams goes on to show in an illuminating way how the history of faith in the Judaeo-Christian tradition can be understood in terms of the maintenance of this polarity, its loss and its recovery.
The relation implied here between polarity and evolutionary existence resonates in a promising way with the relation I have urged between the primacy of mystery and the primacy of eschatology for our understanding of time. I shall give attention to the more specifically 'evolutionary' dimensions of mystery in the final chapter of this book.
Meanwhile the particular analogy for polarity adopted by Williams -that of a game played between touchlines -invites discussion in two of its aspects. Firstly, the symmetry between two touch-lines regarding their possible relation to us as football players is hardly material to the point of the author's analogy. We might reflect that in cricket the field of play is defined in one sense by the wicket on the one hand and the boundary on the other. Would not this afford an analogy equally suitable for the purpose? This question now alerts us to another and fundamentally important question: could it be that the complementary character of any poles which together define the sphere of our existence extends to the Character of our very relation to each? Could it be that we are immediately and inescapably involved in, embedded in, polarity in such a radical way as this would imply? And if so, perhaps the various polarities of our existence can be aligned together as ordered pairs which exemplify in varied ways one single fundamental polarity which embraces us in radical and unconditional fashion? Here are questions by which we may probe the heart of the logic of polarity itself as expressed in the polarities of identity and differentiation, reference and self-reference.
Secondly, the fact that touch-lines are by their nature marked out within a wider world in which we live and move, and constrain us to perform between them movements which we can conceive ourselves performing equally well beyond them, is clearly not material to the point of Williams' analogy.
Thus we might equally well think of windsurfing as a activity performed between two 'limits' -these being irreversible loss of balance respectively forwards towards the sail and backwards away from it. Pictured in this way, loss of polarity invites description not as an external constraint imposed upon us by the immediate proximity of a boundary but rather as our involvement in a loss of freedom of manoeuvre, balance and control which takes the form of a relentless and irreversible pull towards one 'limit' or the other. Again, would this not make an equally suitable analogy? And this question should alert us to another and-fundamentally important question: could it be that the maintenance or loss of polarity is a matter which penetrates the nature of our very involvement itself, in the polarities of our existence? Once more the question of our radical, inescapable involvement in polarity is raised, in a different way.
Such issues regarding the logic of polarity must eventually receive our attention if we are to give an adequate account of the primacy of mystery.
However it is necessary that we prepare ourselves well for such an abstract exercise. I shall therefore return now to where I began and to my statement that religious knowledge concerns the primacy of mystery. In the next two chapters I shall attempt to convince the reader of this from religious experience .
1. G. K. Chesterton, 'The Dragon's Grandmother' , in Tremendous Trifles
2. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p.94.
3. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pp.106-7.
4. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pp.46-8.
Lash, Easter in Ordinary (
6. John Zizioulas, 'Personhood and Being', in Zizioulas, Being and
7. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, pp.40-1.
8. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, p.31.
Foster, Mystery and Philosophy (
10. Foster, Mystery and Philosophy, p.56.
11. Foster, Mystery and Philosophy, p.22.
Baelz, The Forgotten Dream (
13. Austin Farrer, 'God and Verification 1', in Farrer, Reflective Faith.
14. Austin Farrer, 'Freedom and Theology', in Farrer, Reflective Faith,
Marcel, Being and Having (eng.
Marcel, Mystery of Being (
17. Marcel, Being and Having, pp.190-1.
Berdyaev, Freedom and the Spirit (
Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom (
20. G. E. M. Anscombe, Intention (New York, 1969).
Richard Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (
John Macmurray, The Self as Agent (
21. Anscombe, Intention, p.57.
22. Chesterton, Orthodoxy , p. 228.
Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks (
Illich, Tools for Conviviality (
Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (
Christian Schumacher, To Live and Work, (Bromley, 1987).
26. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (London, 1958).
Gunton, Enlightenment and Alienation
Donaldson, Children's Minds (
Ramsey, Religious Language (
30. Ian Ramsey, 'Polanyi and J. L. Austin', in ed. T. Langford &
W. Poteat, Intellect and Hope (Durham USA, 1968) , pp.169-96.
Van Buren, The Edges of Language (
32. J. D. Crossan, The Dark Interval (Illinois, 1975), pp.41-4.
Peguy, 'Hope' , in Peguy, Men and Saints
Macquarrie, Principles of Christian
Williams, Form and Vitality in the World
and God (
CHAPTER TWO: PARADOX AND OUR EXPERIENCE OF GOD
I have claimed that to direct ourselves towards God is to acknowledge, at least implicitly, our involvement in a mystery which embraces us always and everywhere. In doing so we direct ourselves away from deepening involvement in self-contradiction and towards deepening involvement in paradox. How convincing is this characterisation of our religious faith? I want to enlarge upon my claim now, as an appeal from experience -an appeal, that is, to God as we experience Him. Later I shall appeal in similar fashion from our experience of knowing, when it is God whom we know. In other words, I shall reflect firstly upon what it is to know God, and then upon what it is to know God.
Let me clarify my intention here in two respects. Let me firstly say more about what is involved in my intended 'appeal from experience'. If the claims I have made in the previous chapter are well founded, then either experience of God is first-hand or else it is only in the most attenuated sense experience of God at all. Therefore, my appeal from experience of God has the intention that you, the reader, should look and see for yourself the truth and the meaning of what I say. Only if you address the question of God in this personal way can you hope to understand my appeal in the first place. It will be a matter of secondary consequence, in this context, whether my appeal happens to bring you new personal insight into God, or leads to recollection of and re-entry, into your past religious experience.
Nor will it matter greatly whether I happen to speak in the first instance out of my own 'original' experience, or embrace and pass on to you truths I have first learnt from others. In each case the crucial point remains: I urge you to attend deeply to what I say and to agree with it for yourself, out of your first-hand experience. What I am not asking you to do, is to conceive in second-hand fashion an experience of God which is not your own; there can b~ no such second-hand knowledge of God. Nor do I mean to appeal to any past religious experience of your own insofar as, in practice, it lies beyond your reach to re-enter the experience or insight in question.
It should be noted that to acknowledge personally in this way any religious truth entails that we first rise to religious questioning. Now such questioning has its proper meaning for us only when we are prepared within it to wrestle in a costly personal way with the whole of our experience.
This is what is involved in religious questioning. This heartfelt questioning demands of us more than we normally give; it requires that we be more open, more hopeful, more vulnerable than is generally our habit.
Accordingly the knowledge we attain through such questioning is, when we attain it, something won for ourselves at a price and personal to us. This is the kind of 'first-hand experience' involved in religion.
Here are important themes which I shall continue to develop during the course of this book. The point I want to emphasise now is that my appeal from first-hand religious experience directs the reader to similar experience, here and now, as the touchstone and context from which I write and from which my words must be read and appraised. In this sense, the natural readership for this chapter and the following comprises, in the first instance, those who live by Christian faith. But this implies no closed 'hermeneutic' circle. What I write makes the same appeal to all readers, but it will make greater demands upon those outside the community of faith, relative to their familiar experience. Christians are invited to address what I have written in the light of our common faith; others are invited to rise to religious questioning and to discover, at once, what I address and the light in which it may be addressed.
Let me clarify secondly what I mean by involvement in paradox. Once again, in one sense I shall pursue the meaning of 'paradox' as such throughout the course of this book. For the present, however, some brief clarification of my meaning will be of help. By 'paradox' my intention is firstly to denote, as such, the kind of utterance which, when we understand it in context, so baffles us when we then conceive it in the abstract, that we might say 'If I am bound to make sense of such an extraordinary utterance as this, heaven knows what I shall not have to call into question by way of my fundamental assumptions about just what does and does not make sense.'
Notice that here 'paradox' does not denote a property belonging simply to a form of words. The appearance of self-contradiction in a form of words spoken to us does not of itself constitute an encounter with paradox, for when we hear these words in the intended context of their utterance this seeming self-contradiction may disappear. 'The Great Britain has come home', I was once told upon my return to England after working overseas.
This showed itself as no paradox when it was explained to me that the Great Britain was a ship. Conversely a form of words may appear straightforward, yet their intended context in use may make their utterance an occasion of paradox. Superficially 'Jesus is alive' may sound like a straightforward claim for resuscitation, but the true intention of these words is the paradoxical cry 'Jesus (who is dead) is alive' .Only when we are and remain open towards personal participation in the intention of the speaker with regard to the context and presuppositions of an utterance, and yet continue to meet seeming self-contradiction, can we speak of being confronted by paradox.
Here, then, is a necessary condition of knowing ourselves met by paradox; but it is not a sufficient condition, for this does not specify how we can ever be confident that we do understand the intention of one who speaks in seeming paradox. This brings me to a second basic feature of paradox, as I intend it: we know ourselves met by paradox only when we find that the utterance we hear , while it remains enigmatic, offers convincingly to make new sense of things for us. Indeed we feel ourselves so surely on the path to deeper understanding that we might say 'I find in this direction so sure a promise of deeper sense, that were I not faithful to this promise I should call into question my very ability ever to grasp what does and does not make sense.' We have now become involved in paradox, and share this involvement with the person speaking to us. We shall now find that we can on no account betray the sense of reality and truth, both present and promised, to which this paradoxical utterance awakens us -even though we may (although not necessarily) be aware of the apparent self-contradiction in this utterance.
This brings us to a third feature of paradox, as I intend it. When we are involved in paradox we may not be explicitly aware of a seeming self- contradiction, but we shall always be implicitly aware of this. This will be so whether we become involved in paradox as we listen to someone else speaking or as we ourselves speak in paradox. In dialogue, for example, we show an implicit awareness of our commitment to paradox by the way we react when someone interprets what we are saying in some straightforward way: assuming we take recourse faithfully to our experience, we shall always reject any such straightforward account. Instead we shall continue to point linguistically (whether or not we are driven to speak at this point in explicit paradox) and say 'Do you not see for yourself what I see, and why I am therefore bound to say what I do?'
What I am suggesting is, of course, a very different understanding of paradox from that implied in much common attitude towards the great paradoxes of Christian doctrine, such as, that God is Three and yet One, or that Jesus was both man and God. In this context, 'paradox' signifies often for Christians that which they find incomprehensible to the point of self- contradiction but which they may yet be prepared to take on trust as both meaningful and true on the authority of the Church. From this viewpoint, paradox and understanding of course exclude each other. Having this outlook, when we trust that a paradoxical doctrine is true then most likely we are trusting that at least it is not paradoxical to, but is rather understood by, the Church and its learned-theologians. And if we should now be told that a doctrine is paradoxical also for the Church (and so, as it will seem to us, not understood by the Church either) then we shall trust that at least it is not paradoxical for, but is rather understood by, God Himself! From this viewpoint, paradoxical doctrine does not constitute any kind of positive understanding of God, but serves at best (an important function, this, to be granted) to fend off false claims to religious knowledge.
Now such an attitude towards paradox can remain ours while it seems to us that we, or failing us the Church, have recourse ultimately to some positive knowledge of God which stands unviolated by paradox. But what if we should now be told that every credal statement, every reference ever made to God, is essentially paradoxical? This will seem to us a denial of all knowledge of Him -including our own most central, personal knowledge of God. How should we test such a claim? We can only test its truth against our own truest personal experience of God, and interrogate our own knowledge. At this point we shall be thrown back upon ourselves and our faith: it will now be our task to explicate as fully and faithfully as possible our intention as we speak out of our personal knowledge of God, and to test this and the claim before us against each other.
I suggest that when we do this, we shall find that it is precisely part of our intention, once this has been fully and faithfully explicated, to speak in paradox. Now here at this point, if not before, we shall surely be trapped into reconsidering our attitude towards paradox. Can we betray our deepest experience of God even though the faithful expression of this involves us in paradox? There is no escaping our dilemma. We are bound now to acknowledge that paradox does not necessarily contradict the endeavour of understanding as such, but rather belongs at its heart. And now the further question will arise: could those other paradoxes familiar to us in religious doctrine be similarly grounded in personal knowledge of God? I now invite the reader to join me in personal exploration of the kind I have been describing, into our involvement in paradox. We shall firstly reflect on the way paradox is used by imaginative spiritual writers who bring us to a personal awareness of God. I shall then show how various Christian doctrines which may not seem at first sight to involve paradox are seen to do so when, properly explicated and understood, they 'come alive' for us. Finally I shall urge the place of paradox in the ministry of Jesus and in the Jewish faith against which his ministry was set. I shall offer illustrations in support of each of these claims, rather than attempt any kind of comprehensive survey.
(i) Paradox and insight gained from spiritual writers Many Christians feel an affection for particular writers who have brought them to new personal knowledge of God. Such are those authors who, rather than tendering information to add to our idea of God, have the knack of leading us to meet Him for ourselves. Isn't this the basis of the affection felt by many towards (for example) C.S. Lewis and George Macdonald before him, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, or John Donne? Such writers show us their own spiritual insight and authority by the mastery fashion in which they lead us to see and know spiritually for ourselves. Indeed does not their success in doing so constitute their authority for us?
Now very often it is by means of paradoxes and enigmatic images that such authors awaken us to God. These enigmas are not the standard paradoxes of traditional Christian doctrine, enunciated in conformity with the Church's teaching. Rather they are dramatic, novel, unexpected. Just as a striking metaphor or a good joke convey their force most powerfully when new to us, these paradoxes work powerfully to make us look and see with surprise. They get us attending in a new and deep way. If as Gerhard Ebeling has said, 'What language can and ought to achieve is made all the more clear, the more a statement provokes thought',l then these spiritual writers are masters of language. They get us thinking, responding, and wrestling for ourselves with the mystery of God.
Let me illustrate this by some examples. I might remind the reader firstly of the passages I quoted from G.K. Chesterton at the beginning of the previous chapter. How these urge upon us one dramatic paradox after another! And is it not the effect of these passages, precisely to open our eyes and set us wrestling to see and understand? Hilaire Belloc was surely right to say of Chesterton that he 'produced the shock of illumination. He made men see what they had not seen before. He made them know.' 2
Among the most boldly paradoxical writers of recent centuries was perhaps John Donne. Like Chesterton he repeatedly brings 'the shock of illumination'. Listen to these words of his:
'Heare us, for till thou heare us, Lord We know not what to say.
Thine ear to'our sighes, teares, thoughts gives voice and word.
O Thou who Satan heard'st in Jobs sick day, Heare thy selfe now, for thou in us dost pray.'3
'Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free, Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.'4
Donne uses language here in a highly imaginative way. But there is more involved in this than borrowing terms from one context and imaginatively applying them in another context supposedly specified by the term 'religious'. In particular, the 'religious significance' of his terms does not derive merely from giving them application to 'God' as, for example, when the term 'stump' acquires sporting significance through its application in the specified context 'playing cricket'. Rather their odd manner of use itself discloses their religious context and significance.
Ultimately this use arises out of faithful response to the mystery of God, and itself has the effect in turn of evoking a religious context and inviting a similar response from us.
We should notice that it is not necessary here for the writer's religious intention to be made explicit by the use of religious vocabulary or by any other prior indication of context in order that we should find ourselves responding religiously. By way of illustration, George Macdonald has written novels which set us pondering the mystery of God's ways without ever making any explicit reference to God. This is demonstrated, I suggest, by the following passage from his story 'At the Back of the North Wind'. In this story Macdonald introduces to us to the enigma of a personal source behind 'that which one cannot get behind' -that is, the north wind. A young boy meets the person of the 'North Wind' who invites him to go with her on her way. 'Never mind your clothes', she says. 'You will not be cold.
I shall take care of that. Nobody is cold with the North Wind'. 'I thought everybody was,' says the boy. 'That is a great mistake', she replies. 'Most people make it, however. They are cold because they are not with the North Wind, but without it.' Later, when he tells her he will go with her 'because she is beautiful', she leads him rather to notice her goodness, but now she warns him: 'What if I should look ugly without being bad -look ugly myself because I am making ugly things beautiful -what then? ' .She goes on to explain: 'If you see me with my face all black, don't be frightened. If you see me flapping wings like a bat's, as big as the whole sky, don't be frightened... Nay,... if I change into a serpent or a tiger, you must not let go your hold of me, for my hand will never change in yours if you keep a good hold. If you keep a good hold, you will know who I am all the time...'5
C.S. Lewis follows in the footsteps of Macdonald when he invents worlds such as Narnia which feature marvels ,of the kind which implicitly direct us to the enigmas of spiritual life as we really experience these.
Imaginative writers such as Macdonald and Lewis have often brought spiritual realities alive for people in a way that, for them, the classical dogmas of the Christian faith have never done. The question now arises: when this is so, have people yet understood these dogmas? I want to address this question now.
(ii) Paradox and Christian Doctrine
Turning to the traditional teaching of the church, we do well to begin by asking ourselves from where we think Christian doctrine has originated. Was doctrine originally given to the Church second-hand (so to speak) by God who himself alone knows first-hand the truth of his revelation? Or have doctrines originated by the process of rational inference from certain fundamental revealed theological premises? Or could it be that the doctrines of our faith are rooted in the kind of first-hand spiritual awareness and insight of which I have been speaking? In other words, are dogmas assured information about God and his affairs, or do they perhaps have their meaning rather as enigmatic clues which win and direct our attention towards ever richer personal understanding of a mystery?
If doctrines are by nature the latter, then we can only know them to be so, and only understand them, when they open our eyes and lead us personally to search the mystery of God. All too frequently, however, this does not happen. Gerhard Ebeling writes '... my heart beats more and more for those for whom the great traditional formulae of Christian doctrine are stones instead of bread'6 Nevertheless the unpalatability, for us, of a certain Christian doctrine hardly disproves that it has originated in a living awareness of God. Our lack of response to it may reflect only the large gap between the historical, cultural and personal context and presuppositions within which a doctrine has been formulated and those within which we now hear it.
How serious a problem is it that a certain religious experience of some past age remains opaque to us? Perhaps it does not matter overmuch if Richard Rolle's talk of heavenly music strikes no chord in us, or if we are not won by the courtesy of Mother Julian's divine knight, or if the legal or battlefield images of God's activity in the Old Testament do not stir us. But it will surely be a more serious matter if the church has seen fit to uphold through the centuries a particular doctrine as belonging to the Christian creed, and Christians today are able to find no illumination from it? And if a doctrine brings illumination to no-one, does there not remain a certain element of doubt about it? After all, we know from experience that even the most wise and authoritative of people can lack insight in certain isolated respects, and yet be unaware of the fact. Whole cultures, even, have their 'blind spots'. Can we be sure of the truth of doctrine unless it opens our eyes to the mystery of God?
Given the historical and cultural factors which can easily stand in our way, it will always remain important that we approach Christian doctrine ready and hopeful of discovering that it does indeed reflect an enigmatic and living insight into the mystery of God. Otherwise we may never know that it does so. We easily underestimate the intentions of earlier generations.
Take, by way of example, our attitude towards the biblical picture of God as 'up there' and hell as 'down there'. It is often said that our understanding of the universe today has exposed this picture of heaven and hell as an illusion. But the matter is not as simple as this. As Austin Farrer has pointed out, the Jews of biblical times never thought for one moment that the former might be reached by aviation or the latter by excavation.7 Properly understood, this consideration bears upon the very meaning of this ancient belief; we easily miss its religious intention.
Perhaps the crucial question we must now ask ourselves is: do we ever find that a Christian doctrine opens our eyes to a paradox through which the mystery of God engages us personally? Do religious dogmas ever 'come alive' for us in this way? Do we ever want to say 'I always thought I knew what this doctrine meant. But now I see that I never understood it at all; it points, I see now, to a mystery of inexhaustible meaning'? Or does doctrine always remain for us merely, either a supposed piece of information, or else a baffling contradiction? I want now to suggest some occasions when we may have found (or may now on reflection find) the mystery of God 'coming alive' for us through traditional Christian doctrine.
The paradox of forgiveness
The first doctrine I shall consider concerns an experience central to the life of faith, and is a prominent theme in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In the Apostles Creed we declare: 'I believe in the forgiveness of sins.' What does it mean, to forgive and to be forgiven? How are we to understand this?
Too easily here we fail to get beyond 'excusing the excusable'. This finds expression in two different ways. Firstly we may begin, so to speak, from the act of excusing, and then see -or at least trust -that what we had thought was inexcusable is in fact excusable. 'To understand is to forgive' becomes our motto. But in reality forgiveness concerns excusing precisely the inexcusable; it concerns excusing that which is by its nature a matter of shame and confusion, that in which persons can give no account of themselves, that which can not be understood, and in which they betray themselves and their Creator. We cannot forgive another person until we know and feel in ourselves the reality of their offence in terms such as these. Similarly we cannot know ourselves forgiven until we know and feel the reality of our own offence in these terms. Secondly we may begin from the fact of what is excusable, and think of forgiveness as conditional upon the sinner distancing himself from his sin. We condemn the sin, but we are ready to forgive the sinner -provided, of course, he makes this distinction possible for us. But in reality forgiveness addresses sinners even before they acknowledge their need for it, and itself opens their eyes to their need. To forgive and to know ourselves forgiven is to have our eyes opened to the mysteries both of forgiveness and of that with which forgiveness is concerned -our unforgivable sin -and to know the promise that the former has the last word over the latter.
The paradox of death and resurrection
The promise of forgiveness finds its focus for Christians in the crucifixion of Jesus, and here we meet a supreme paradox. We do not always register this paradox, however. One reason for this is that we think of Jesus' death too easily as a purposeful act rather than a senseless occurrence, an achievement rather than a display of gross futility. Did not Jesus accomplish something great on the cross - did he not die for our sins? Was not this God's plan from all eternity? And yet the truth is surely that when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane 'Not my will but yours' he gave God's assent to the one thing which above all other could never be God's will- that God's final initiative towards his people should end in their final rejection of him. Jesus prayed a paradox. What is the cross but an immeasurably potent intimation of God's defeat? And yet it is precisely this which becomes an immeasurably potent promise of His final victory. The most senseless event in human history, Jesus' killing opens our eyes to an immeasurably rich meaning and purpose at work among us. It was this paradox which the early Christians captured by the startling symbol of an empty cross or a cross bearing the victorious Christ. They approached this image, not (as some have suggested) with less readiness than ourselves to face the brutal reality of Jesus' suffering, but with an implicit awareness of what crucifixion meant -an awareness which we do not share -setting the victory of Christ in paradoxical conjunction with this.
Again we think of the crucifixion of Jesus all too easily as a tragedy which is in some way contained by or reversed in his resurrection. It then seems to us as though we can bypass the questions raised by the former and still understand the latter. But of course resurrection is not mere resuscitation; nor does it allow us simple hindsight upon the crucifixion.
It could be said rather that the crucifixion always remains ahead of us, the symbol of deeper grounds for despair than we yet know, grounds which are most fully conveyed by the image of a threatened final judgement. But the resurrection always lies 'beyond' this ill turn, the symbol of surer grounds for hope than we yet know, grounds which are most fully expressed in the image of a hoped-for final resurrection. 'The cross defeats our hope; the resurrection terrifies our despair'.8 Crucifixion and resurrection always remain for us, so to speak, inseparably locked together in dialogue. It might be said that the crucifixion spells the last word to despair over hope, and to futility over purpose, while resurrection grants the last word to hope over despair, and to purpose over futility. Each claims the last word over the other; and when by faith we know resurrection as being 'more truly' the last word, this finality is never anything but a continuing mystery and paradox to us. The claim of despair is never finally exhausted by any knowledge of the resurrection to which we attain before the final resurrection itself.
In this way the resurrection reaches us as light from the end of history and from God. The cry 'He is risen!' proclaims the paradox of a future which embraces us before its time. This paradox is the theme of 'eschatology'.
The light from the end illuminates the whole created universe known to us; Jurgen Moltmann is right to propose that 'eschatology is no longer to be understood in the light of creation, but rather ...creation is to be understood in the light of eschatology'.9 Especially, however, the person of Jesus and the mystery of God's act in him, revealed retrospectively by the resurrection and by the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us through this (c.f.
Romans 1.4, Luke 24.13 -32, John 15.26, etc.), is the paradoxical revelation of one who is to be revealed only at the end of time (2 Tim. 4.1, 1 John 3.2, etc.). The retrospective power of illumination of the resurrection has been notably described by Wolfhart Pannenberg.10 Every- thing is to be seen for what it is, together with Christ, in the light of the final act and gift of God which is given to us before its time through Jesus and through his resurrection.
As we have seen, resurrection always stands locked in dialogue with crucifixion. Because of this, in the same moment that Jesus' resurrection reveals the promise of God, his crucifixion reveals God as the One who empties himself unconditionally and expends himself utterly in order to embrace precisely the unconditional denial of this promise. We learn here of a paradoxical 'kenosis' or self-emptying in the heart of God himself.
We miss the force of this last paradox if we think of the incarnation as a unique excursus by a God whose relation to us is normally quite different from that implied by 'kenosis'. It was the contribution of Thomas Altizer's 'Death of God' theology to challenge this way of thinking. His challenge is portrayed by Austin Farrer as follows:
'You are in no danger of believing in a God who made and animated the universe until one fine Friday he threw up the job, got himself hanged, and turned into the soul of one race of creatures on one tiny planet. But you might perhaps be willing to consider that the Crucifixion is more typical of God's whole relation to his creatures than Christians have commonly dared to suppose. Our traditional thought, as Altizer complains, has seen the universe as a Byzantine theocracy with God for emperor.
Inside the framework of that august design, room has been left for a singular detail, the act of redemption: the monarch goes into the street as a beggar and gets killed in reconciling his disaffected subjects to his government.
Ought we not rather to think that the great monarch annihilates himself thoroughly and altogether wherever he moves out into creation, only entering into his creatures' existence under the very form of their own action and being?'ll
Farrer is surely right when he now goes on to qualify his use of the word 'annihilate': the paradox must be upheld, that when God expends himself utterly, then He is truly and eternally Himself. On the other hand, we cannot allow Farrer too easy a distinction between God as he is 'in himself' and God as he is 'wherever he moves out into creation'. It would be mistaken to conceive in God some divine nature and existence 'prior to' his act of self-giving love. There is a paradox here, hinted at by George Macdonald's avowal: 'I know nothing deeper in God than love'.12 Altizer and Farrer may perhaps be thought of as emphasising opposite poles of the same paradox.
I have sought to win the agreement of the reader concerning the place of paradox within Christian doctrine, and your agreement that characteristic- ally such doctrine comes alive for us when through it, we engage with paradox in a new way. But let me now acknowledge that some readers may be sceptical about the enigmas I have been propounding, and may claim that their own faith is anchored rather in the simple teaching of Jesus among the common people of the Galilean countryside. But can it reasonably be maintained that Jesus' teaching spares us the demands of mystery and paradox? We now turn to this question.
(iii) The place of paradox within the ministry of Jesus Are we spared paradox when we turn to the ministry and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth? There are factors which complicate the pursuit of this question which must first be noted. A problem arises, most obviously, from the difference between the New Testament world and our own, and the demands made upon our understanding of Jesus' words by this radical change of context. This is an especially important matter because, as we have seen, 'paradox' designates not an explicit form of words as such but rather an utterance within the context and presuppositions belonging to or intended by the speaker. Therefore insofar as we do not know and cannot enter into Jesus' original intention in speaking (as could his original listeners), what was in reality spoken in paradox by Jesus may not be recognised as such by us today. It follows that we have to study carefully the cultural context of Jesus' teaching before we can have any great confidence that we understand his. intention and so recognise when he spoke in paradox.
This problem is further complicated by the need also to manage a difference of context between Jesus' words as originally uttered and the (often) more general context within which they were understood by those who transmitted them and recorded them in the Christian gospels. The early loss of certain elements of the original context of Jesus' words may sometimes mean that already in the written scriptures their paradoxical thrust has been lost.
This risk is accentuated wherever there have been mixed motives at work in the preservation and transmission of Jesus ' words. No doubt there was a concern among early Christians normally to transmit faithfully the recognised enigmatic thrust of Jesus' words. But there was also a tendency to abstract Jesus' teaching from its original context in order to establish general truths applicable to the transmitting community's own life and its problems; a tendency also to drop sayings which could be given no such application; and a tendency to iron out any difficulties which arose about the meaning of Jesus' teaching. These processes can be seen at work in all the synoptic gospels, perhaps most insistently in the writing of St.
In passing, we do well to acknowledge that the same processes are at work today. There are familiar cases where, although biblical scholars have urged the enigmatic content of Jesus' words, we still find these words attributed a general meaning of the sort that will yield an invariant principle or rule. Such distortion is not confined among biblical 'fundamentalists'. Take, for example, Jesus' dramatic injunction to 'turn the other cheek'. I suggest that this comes alive for us when we embrace its challenge to address with absolute seriousness an action which seems to us an impossibility. However, those today of pacifist conviction would make of these words a demand for conformity to an invariant rule, which is quite another matter. Let us take another example. Jesus' injunction 'Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar -and to God what belongs to God!' entertains the former requirement in taken-for-granted fashion (hardly specifying its scope! ) in order only to emphasise the second. We are left addressing the mystery of God and of what belongs to Him and must be given to Him. However those today who would have the Church say nothing which bears upon the ever-widening domain of political power would make of Jesus' words the demand that we acknowledge two distinct and autonomous realms of allegiance. In each of these examples an enigma which provokes profound thought and invites personal conversion has been wrongly reduced to a straightforward rule for conduct.
Paradox in the parables of Jesus
Central to Jesus' teaching were his parables. 'With many such parables he used to give them his message, so far as they were able to receive it. He never spoke to them except in parables... '(Mark 4.33,34a). Now sometimes Jesus' parabolic speech has been interpreted as simple picture language designed to accommodate his message to the illiterate peasants around him.
Again, sometimes they have been interpreted as commending general moral principles. However, we find evidence in the gospels that Jesus' parables made great demands upon his audience, bringing a radical challenge to open their eyes to the secret of God's activity. Jesus' exhortation 'If you have ears to hear, then hear' (Mark 4.9) can be thought of as a rubric to all his parables. So scant was people's comprehension of his parables that their response was declared a fulfilment of Isaiah 6.9: 'they may look and look, but see nothing; they may listen and listen, but understand nothing' (Mark 4.12).
Often when we grasp Jesus' parables in context, they confront us with paradox. For example, many of his parables -more than was once realised - arise in the context of Jesus' conflict with the religious guides of his day and confront them with the paradox 'the first shall be last, and the last first'. In this connection many parables urge the priority of the paradox of grace, among them the parables of the workers in the vineyard, the prodigal son, the marriage-feast, and the pharisee and tax-collector.
By way of example let us consider the last mentioned of these. Too often this parable has been seen as a general exhortation to humility. However its true meaning is indicated by Eta Linneman. In the following passage she discusses the response which would have been elicited by Jesus' exaltation of the tax-gatherer over the pharisee:
'To them Jesus' verdict is quite outrageous... But.. it has the authority of the truth behind it, a truth which each of the hearers knows. Jesus has captured his listeners with the truth; if the standard by which man must judge himself denies him the right to existence, then he knows well that this standard is not the final appeal. He knows it with all the despairing strength of his hope, which makes him ask for salvation.
Jesus wants to win the agreement of his listeners for his decision; that is why he tells them the parable. They cannot casually put his words aside, for he has gripped them with the truth; but they can allow Jesus to be right only if they go through a radical conversion, and let God's grace be the final appeal for their own lives. This means nothing less than to give up taking the law as the measure of self-judgement even when one can stand before the law, and in fact particularly then.13
By parables such as this Jesus tries, where the paradox of grace is denied and people seek justification by means of conformity to 'the law of God', to awaken his listeners to the primacy of grace. But we should note that the paradox of grace is denied equally when people anticipate the arrival of God's kingdom in a final act of divine initiative which they will have only passively to acknowledge as a matter of observation. Jesus challenges this attitude too, in for example, the parables of the discovery of a pearl of great price and of treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of God, strange as it may seem, is to be seized in a joyful initiative, almost in an act of opportunism. This same paradox may also just possibly have been implied, as J. D. Crossan has suggested, originally in the parables of the lost sheep and of the lost coin, the role of God and ourselves having become re-inverted during the transmission 'of these parables.14
When Jesus speaks in parables his intention is always, to win the agreement of his listeners as they see for themselves the truth of a seeming self- contradiction. This is perhaps especially evident on those occasions when Jesus puts a question explicitly to his audience and invites them to 'own' a paradox by their answer. For example, when Jesus is asked 'Who is my neighbour?', he tells the parable of the good Samaritan and then asks his questioner in turn, 'Which... was neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' Since a Samaritan was the last person a Jew was ready to acknowledge as a neighbour, by this question Jesus invites his partner in dialogue to answer his own question in an 'impossible' way.
Jesus' concern that people should see and respond personally to the mystery of God is reflected in a number of texts which refer to spiritual darkness and light, blindness and sight. 'Is a lamp brought in to be put under the measuring bowl or under the bed? No, it is put on the lampstand. Nothing is hidden except to be disclosed, and nothing concealed except to be brought into the open' (Mark 4.21). In such a way, Jesus' enigmatic parables are intended for light and illumination, not darkness and obscurity; they represent disclosure, not concealment. The same theme of concealment and disclosure is echoed in St. Matthew's quotation from Jewish prophecy: 'I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret since the world was made' (Matth. 13.35). We shall therefore find it entirely appropriate that the gospel writers should identify, in Jesus' giving sight to the blind, a sign or acted parable for his entire spiritual ministry.15
And so Jesus confronts us with the question : do we have' eyes to see '? We cannot escape this question: 'The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eyes are sound, you will have light for your whole body; if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be in darkness. If then the only light you have is darkness, how great a darkness that will be!' (Matth.6.22-3). When we meet Jesus, we cannot avoid choosing light or darkness, sight or blindness. For the sight to which Jesus calls us is, as Linneman says, a matter of radical conversion: it concerns giving ourselves up to a truth which grips us -or else actively resisting and evading it. The truth of God therefore polarises, one from another, those whom it addresses: 'Those who have will be given more, and those who have not will forfeit even what they have' (Mark 4.25).
Paradox in the identity and status of Jesus
Our response to Jesus' ministry of teaching and healing: is a response to the person of Jesus himself. Who do we say he is? Here once again we face an enigmatic truth which we have to fathom for ourselves. And once again the truth polarises us one from another by our response. Jesus is the chief corner-stone upon which God builds, despite his rejection by the builders and seemingly by God himself (Mark 15.34). Some will acclaim him as such; others will only find this stone a stumbling-block or find themselves crushed by it (Mark 12.10-1,1 Peter 2.4f, etc.).
Who is Jesus, then? In the first instance we may identify him as the one who proclaims 'The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you.
Repent, and believe the gospel!' (Mark 1.15). As we have already remarked, by this proclamation Jesus declares a paradox -the paradox of the arrival of what remains future, the presence of blessing which yet remains a matter of promise and of judgement which yet remains a matter of threat.
Therefore, insofar as Jesus himself embodies the paradox he here proclaims, he is himself necessarily an enigma in the world. In Jesus and in the final act of obedience towards which he orients himself, we meet the mystery of one ahead of his time; present now among us, we meet the promised Messiah who is to come at the end of history. Here is a profound paradox.
We now see with what reason Jesus showed public reserve regarding his religious identity. There was, we know, a popular tendency in his day to think of the coming Messiah as apolitical figure who would liberate Israel from Roman occupation. Jesus eschewed the title of Messiah in order to avoid this misunderstanding about himself (his most public recorded display of Messianic.status -his 'victory procession into Jerusalem' -was of course such a parody of a military conqueror on his war-horse that it could hardly be misunderstood in this way, no matter what the crowd shouted).
Jesus preferred to link his identity in some mysterious way with the future 'Son of Man' -an other-worldy figure destined to come at the end of history on the clouds of heaven. Indisputably, by doing this he chose an enigmatic identity for himself.
Much has been written about the 'Messianic secret' implied in St. Mark's Gospel. However, from what I have written, the Messiah is by his very nature a radical secret, in the sense of an enigma which we have each to fathom for ourselves. Any talk of a Messiah who could in principle be other than 'secret' in this particular sense would therefore not constitute talk of the Messiah at all. And any account of the 'Messianic secret' in St.
Mark's Gospel which ignores this truth must surely be judged inadequate.
Our recognition of the Messiah is of necessity the discovery of a radical secret. It is not without reason that Jesus, having asked his disciples who they hold him to be and received Peter's reply 'you are the Messiah', responds '... you are favoured indeed! You did not learn that from any human being; it was revealed to you by my heavenly Father' (Matth.16.17).
Paradox in the 'sign' of healing
We have briefly discussed Jesus' teaching, and his personal identity and status; let us now consider his ministry of healing. Again we easily miss the significance of his miraculous healings in their original setting.
Properly understood, Jesus' acts of healing are signs disclosing the enigma of the arrival in power of God's coming kingdom. This is reflected, for example, in Jesus' search for faith among those who ask for healing and in his subsequent declarations that their faith has accomplished their healing (Mark 2.5,5.34,10.52, etc.). How are we to understand this 'faith'? Is it like the trust we place in the skill of a surgeon who is about to operate upon us -a trust that he or she can perform the specific service we ask? More than this is involved. The faith Jesus looks for is the faith which will find in an act of healing the power of the future kingdom breaking in here and now -with the demand for unconditional response which this brings. Such faith implies, of course, an acknowledgement of Jesus as the one who acts with special authority to inaugurate God's kingdom. This becomes explicit, for example, in the faith shown by a Roman centurion whose servant Jesus has healed. The centurion sees in Jesus one who bears the full authority of God to fulfil His purposes (Luke 7.1-10). It is faith of this sort (found here in a Gentile), and not merely trust in a 'faith- healer', which Jesus acclaims. Elsewhere the hidden Messianic significance of his healings is indicated when Jesus responds to disciples of John the Baptist who ask him 'Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?' (Luke 7.18-23). Jesus directs attention to his acts of healing and links them to Messianic prophecy. But he ends with a reminder that the truth will polarise people one from another by their response: 'happy is he who does not find me an obstacle to faith' (Luke 7.23).
Paradox in the Gospel of St. John
In the fourth gospel Jesus' miraculous acts are repeatedly presented as 'signs' which disclose the mystery of God's purposes at work in His Son.
St. John conveys their meaning by discourses which arise directly out of miracles which Jesus performs. For example, the feeding of five thousand leads into discourse upon Jesus as the 'bread from heaven' (John 6); the healing of a blind man by Jesus, the 'light of the world', precipitates a dramatic display of spiritual blindness by Pharisees in dialogue with Jesus .
which ends with his proclamation: 'It is for judgement that I have come into this world -to give sight to the sightless and to make blind those who see' (John 9). The last recorded miracle performed by Jesus in this gospel- the resuscitation of Lazarus -leads into discourse on the final resurrection and culminates in Jesus' proclamation 'I am the resurrection and the life' (John 11.1-43).
Whereas in the synoptic gospels Jesus speaks of himself very little, in the fourth gospel he does so repeatedly and at length. 'I am the light of the world... the way... the good shepherd... the bread of life... the vine...' He discourses at similar length upon what his 'work' is, where he 'comes from', and who his 'father' is. Superficially, this might seem to indicate that whereas in the synoptic gospels the enigmatic status of Jesus is preserved, in the fourth gospel it is betrayed. However, this is by no means the case. We are hardly likely, having read St. John's Gospel, to then say 'So that's who Jesus was (or who St. John believed him to be). Now I know.' Rather this gospel leads us, we find, into wondering contemplation of the mystery of God's purposes in Jesus. It is the intention of St. John precisely to commend the enigma which embraces us in the person of Jesus.
In keeping with this, it is as much a feature of St. John's Gospel as of the synoptic gospels that Jesus' disciples are slow to understand him and quick to miss his intentions. Jesus does, however, refer to a 'coming time' when his speech will be plain to them: 'Till now I have been using figures of speech; a time is coming when I shall no longer use figures, but tell you of the Father in plain words' (John 16.25). Until that time comes, however, even these very words of Jesus are lost on the disciples: 'Why,' they say, 'Now you are speaking plainly, not in figures of speech!...
because of this we believe that you have come from God'. To this Jesus replies with irony: 'Do you now believe? I warn you, the hour is coming, has indeed already come, when you are to be scattered, each to his own home, leaving me alone...' (John 16.29-32). The coming 'time of revelation' has not yet arrived.
Now although this 'coming time' has not yet arrived, Jesus' uncomprehending disciples are nevertheless in a quite different situation from those others who, similarly uncomprehending, take offence at him. The disciples ask Jesus to explain this polarisation in response: 'How has it come about that you mean to disclose yourself to us and not to the world?' In reply Jesus directs his disciples; attention to the action of the coming Spirit of God: 'The advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have told you' (John
14.26). The world, by contrast, 'cannot accept him' (John 14.17). The
Spirit of truth 'will bear witness to me...' (John 15.26) and 'will guide you into all the truth' (John 16.13); but he 'will prove the world wrong about sin, justice, and judgement'(John 16.8). The polarisation of response to Jesus reflects the activity of God's spirit in the world.
What is the 'coming time' when the Spirit will make plain the truth of Jesus and his Father? On the one hand this concerns the resurrection of Jesus and the ensuing gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. However, as we have seen, paradoxically the element of future reference is not lost here: it is precisely the things belonging to the end of time (that is, to our future judgement and resurrection to life with God) which are even now present through the resurrection of Jesus and the activity of God's Spirit.
Paradox and the revealing Spirit of God
According to Jews of Jesus' time and to the early Christians, it had been the work of the Holy Spirit to point the Jewish prophets towards the secret of God's will (1 Peter 1.10,11, etc.). Through their prophecies God had given his people clues to his plan in all its fullness. However, God's purposes could not be read off the surface of the prophetic scriptures at a glance; rather they were concealed in the scriptures as a secret.
This was the secret finally disclosed, according to the early Christians, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This disclosure was not, however, merely the resolution of a puzzle, now made available for public display.
The fact that the prophetic scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus was to remain a secret open only to those granted insight by the grace of God (c.f. Luke 24.25-7; John 5.39-40). And the meaning of this fulfilment of scripture was to remain an enigma, the source of continuing wonder.
St. Paul shares an understanding of God's purposes as a secret long hidden from the world, but now disclosed in Jesus Christ to his faithful people (Romans 16.25,26; Eph. 1.9,10; Col. 1.26,27, etc.). Again, however, in the very moment of disclosure this secret remains a mystery pointing beyond itself to a fuller and more final disclosure than we yet have (Col 3.3,4; 1 Cor. 13.12, etc.).
While during Jesus' life, people polarise among themselves in their response to his ministry, in his death they polarise in their response to the scandal of a crucified Messiah. Again it is the Holy Spirit which brings insight here. The 'crucified Messiah' is, St. Paul acknowledges, 'an offence to Jews and folly to gentiles'. Yet, to 'those whom God has called', this powerless Christ is the power of God; this folly, the wisdom of God (1 Cor.1.23,24). In this way God's calling grants, through his Spirit, personal insight into the secret mysteries of God. 'I speak God's hidden wisdom... "Things beyond our seeing, things beyond our hearing, things beyond our imagining, all prepared by God for those who love him" , ...these are what God has revealed to us through the Spirit.' (1 Cor. 2.7,9,10).
It is God's purpose here to disclose himself personally: 'The Spirit explores everything, even the depths of God's own nature. Who knows what a human being is but the human spirit within him? In the same way, only the Spirit of God knows what God is' (1 Cor. 2.10,11). Without such disclosure we can make no sense of the things of God: 'An unspiritual person refuses what belongs to the Spirit of God; it is folly to him; he cannot grasp it, because it needs to be judged in the light of the Spirit' (1 Cor. 2..14,15).
By means of examples taken from spiritual writing, Christian doctrine, and the ministry of Jesus, I have sought to demonstrate that mystery and paradox embrace us repeatedly when we address the things of God, and that they summon us to radical personal response. We shall now turn our attention from the question of what we know in religion, to the question of the act of religious knowing itself. Do we escape paradox here?
1. Gerhard Ebeling , Introduction to a Theological Theory of Language.
Belloc, On the Place of Gilbert Keith
Chesterton in English Letters (
Donne, 'Holy Sonnets (XIV)', in (ed.) Helen Gardner, The Divine Poems of John Donne, 2nd Ed'n (
4. John Donne, 'A Litanie (XXIII)', in (ed.) Helen Gardner, The Divine Poems of John Donne, p.11.
Macdonald, At the Back of the North Wind
Ebeling, 'Rudimentary Reflections on Speaking Responsibly of God' , in Ebeling,
Word and Faith (eng.
Farrer, 'An English Appreciation', in (ed.) H.W. Bartsch, Kerygma and Myth (2 Vols) (eng.
Farrer, The Glass of Vision (
Moltmann, 'Creation and Redemption', in ed. R. W. A. McKinney, Creation, Christ and Culture (
Pannenberg, Jesus -God and Man (eng.
II 11. Austin Farrer, 'Transcendence and Radical
Theology', in Farrer, Reflective Faith
Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons (Second
Linneman, Parables of Jesus (
14. J. D. Crossan, The Dark Interval. pp.96ff. This author sees parable as essentially an act of contradiction and subversion.
for example, D. E. Nineham on Mark 8.14-26. Nineham, The Gospel of St Mark (Harmondsworth, 1963), pp.212-8. See also B.
Lindars on John 9. Lindars, The Gospel of
CHAPTER THREE : THE ACT OF KNOWING GOD
In Chapter One I claimed that when we turn towards God we acknowledge explicitly or implicitly our radical involvement in a mystery which embraces us and which we now address; indeed the meaning of 'God' entails this. In Chapter Two I developed this claim as an appeal from experience. I invoked the experience we have of God through spiritual writings, through the central doctrines of the Christian faith, and through the ministry and teaching of Jesus, as these come alive for us. Taking selected examples of these I invited the reader to acknowledge that we find our eyes opened to know God personally in the same moment that we are drawn into owning paradox. Accordingly when we speak about God to other people it is our implicit intention that they should come with us to see God personally -in paradox. If what we say should be registered only as information within some prior conceptual frame, however, and not in an embrace of paradox, then our intention is misunderstood. I have suggested that this is true of our religious experience at absolutely every point and in every respect whatsoever.
Having reflected upon our experience of God as we know Him, I want now to reflect upon our experience of knowing, when it is God that we know. The distinction between these two themes has its basis in the fact that it is generally one thing to say what we know, and another thing to say that we know. Now granted that we cannot specify in the abstract, in any respect whatsoever, what it is we know religiously, can we specify in abstract terms what it means that we know what we know religiously? I suggest that we cannot; for what we know religiously determines what it means to know religiously, and just as we can only know God in our personal experience, so we can only know what it is to know Him in our personal experience.
Here, indeed, is one basic indication of what it means that to address God is to acknowledge our radical involvement in a mystery, as we embrace it.
I shall now develop this claim as an appeal from religious experience in the sense explicated in the previous chapter. That is to say, I shall call upon you, the reader, to take seriously the possibility that my appeal does in fact arise from experience and invites you to experience similarly, and to acknowledge for yourself, the truth of what I claim about religious knowing. This is my intention now as I commend, in particular, the paradoxical nature of the act of religious insight: this is a matter which can be understood by the reader only on the basis of such insight itself.
It follows, in passing, that the present chapter must be thought of like the previous chapter, as addressed in the first instance to the Christian reader.
I am aware that to some readers all talk of 'knowing' God and of testimony to such knowledge will sound presumptuous. Such a response is, however, hardly warranted by such talk in itself. Its validity hinges upon what we as Christians intend by our claim to 'know' God. This is what I shall try to explicate in the present chapter. But now we seem faced with a preliminary question: are we justified in using the word 'know' to express our intention here in the first place, or do we, by using this term, abuse the 'grammar' (in a philosophical sense) of this word? Should we not restrict 'know' to apply to what can to some measure be conceived in the abstract? Should we not do better, say, to follow Kant and speak of religious 'belief' rather than 'knowledge'?
Now in one sense it is the whole burden of this book to validate our talk of 'knowing' God. Meanwhile, however, we may usefully remind ourselves of the importance of the theme of 'knowing God' in the Christian Scriptures, and try briefly to give account of this religious use of 'know'.
The Theme of Knowing God within the Bible It is a momentous truth and a mystery to be fathomed ever more deeply, that we have a God who would have us know Him, and who gives Himself without reserve that this might be so. Indeed this truth intimates God Himself for who He is. To know God is to know the One who is utterly committed to our knowing Him. This is the testimony of the Hebrew prophets and of the New Testament which finds the fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy in Jesus.
But what is meant by 'knowledge of God' in this context? Consider first the prophetic tradition. 'Knowledge of God' is a fairly standard English translation of the Hebrew expressions 'da'at elohim' and 'da'at YHWH' .What was originally conveyed by these phrases? Scholars have found in them a primary reference to a personal relationship of respect, devotion and trust such as that found within faithful marriage. Correspondingly absence or neglect of such knowledge is variously placed in parallel with apostasy, rebellion, adultery, iniquity, deceit and faithlessness.l Of 'da'at elohim' Th. C. Vreisen writes:
'The knowledge of God embraces much more than a mere intellectual knowledge, it concerns the whole of human life. It is essentially a communion with God, and it is also faith; it is a knowledge of the heart demanding man's love; its vital demand is that a man should act in accordance with God's will and walk humbly in the ways of the Lord. It is the recognition of God as God, the total surrender to God as the Lord.'2
Vreisen claims that such knowledge is 'made the first demand of life in the Old Testament'. We should note here that the Jewish prophets sometimes treat such knowledge of God as virtually synonymous with this sort of knowledge as such (irrespective, that is, of its 'object'): to know God is precisely to show faithful knowledge, while to spurn Him is to lack knowledge.
It is the message of the prophets that Israel faces God's judgement because they do not 'know' Him in this sense. One of the earlier prophets, Hosea, declares:
'The Lord has a charge to bring against the inhabitants of the land: There is no good faith or loyalty,
no acknowledgement of God in the land. ..want of knowledge has been the ruin of my people' (Hosea 4.1,6)
Later Isaiah of Jerusalem proclaims a similar message from the Lord:
'I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner
and a donkey its master's stall;
my people, has no discernment ' ( Isaiah 1. 2b, 3 )
It is for this reason, declares Isaiah, that the Israelites find themselves driven into exile (Isaiah 5.13). Against the background of such judgement, however, there now arises the prophetic message of a coming salvation. The Lord will Himself act to bring his people to know Him. When this happens:
the land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea' (Isaiah 11.9)
To this end God will raise up a coming 'Messiah' or 'Anointed One', a man anointed with the spirit of knowledge of the Lord:
'...a branch will grow from the stock of Jesse...
On him the spirit of the Lord will rest: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and power ,
a spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord' (Isa 11.1,2)
Later, as Babylonian forces threaten Judah, there comes from the prophet Jeremiah renewed warning of an impending judgement. However, the promise of salvation is also heard anew: God will yet save His people; the time is coming when God will make a new covenant with them, and will give His people a 'new heart'. On that day,
'No longer need they teach one another... to know the Lord; all of them, high and low alike, will know me, says the Lord, for I shall forgive their wrongdoing, and their sin I shall call to mind no more' (Jer.31.33-4)
Jerusalem was then destroyed by the Babylonians and its people exiled. But now in the despondency of exile there comes new prophetic insight into the mystery of a radically gracious God at work throughout His creation. God's faithful purpose is now revealed, that His sovereign will should be known even in the apparent defeat of His purposes for His own people Israel.
Indeed, for all their blindness, God will use His people to reveal Him to the whole world:
'bring forward this people,
a people who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf...
The Lord declares, 'you are my witnesses, You are my servants chosen by me
to know me and put your trust in me and understand that I am the Lord"' (Isaiah 43.8,10)
Central to God's gracious action among His people is now seen one who in some hidden sense carries the cost of their culpable ignorance of God:
'he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
the chastisement he bore restored us to health and by his wounds we are healed' (Isa 53.5)
In the centuries which followed, there grew the belief and trust that God would one day bring his purposes to fulfilment in a final great act of grace and judgement. Such radical gracious action by God is proclaimed in the New Testament as accomplished in Jesus and his death and resurrection.
In him prophecies of a coming Anointed One are fulfilled. Jesus sees in his crucifixion an approaching 'baptism' by which the Anointed One will enter into his glory (Luke 12.50,24.26). And he tells his disciples over the cup of blessing 'This cup is the new covenant sealed by my blood' (1 Cor 11.25).
In the light of his resurrection and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, St. John can write: '...grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God; God's only Son, he who is nearest to the Father's heart, has made Him known (John 1.17,18).
The knowledge we have through Jesus is spoken of further by St. John in his first Letter, when he reminds us 'You... have been anointed by the Holy One, and so you all have knowledge' (1 John 2.20) ; ' ...the anointing which you received from him remains with you; you need no other teacher, but you learn all you need to know from his anointing' (1 John 2.27) ; 'We know that the Son of God has come and given us understanding to know the true God' (1John 5.20).
In the Johannine texts quoted above, the English word 'know' translates the Greek verb 'ginosko'. In other New Testament texts it sometimes translates 'oida' or another verb. In general, where in the New Testament the object of knowledge is religious, the meaning of 'know' stands in contrast with gnostic usage which implies abstract speculative knowledge of the divine.
By comparison with this gnostic outlook, the New Testament understanding of knowledge of God is akin to the prophetic 'da'at elohim': it implies faithfulness within a relationship, in devotion and action, as opposed to culpable blindness or resistance to the demands of God. In the following passages, by way of illustration, religious knowledge is closely tied by St. John to 'dwelling in God' in love and obedience: 'Whoever says "I know Him," but does not obey His commands, is a liar...' (1 John 2.4). 'No one who dwells in Him sins any more; the sinner has neither seen Him nor known Him (1 John 3.6). 'Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God, but the unloving know nothing of God' (1 John 4.7,8). 'God has never been seen by anyone, but if we love one another, He Himself dwells in us.' (1 John 4.12).
In St. Paul's writings we see once more the contrast between Christian and gnostic attitudes to religious knowledge. The Spirit which bestows upon us knowledge of God is a spirit of sonship (Romans 8.14-16), while life 'according to the spirit' has a clearly ethical character (Galatians 5.16-end). This rich personal, relational understanding of knowledge is apparent even when St. Paul's thought circles most closely, in his letters from prison, around the blessings of spiritual knowledge ('epignosis'), wisdom ('sophia'), understanding ('sunesi') and insight ('phronesis'). Not untypical within these letters is his prayer for the Christians at Colossae: 'We ask God that you may receive from Him full insight into His will, all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that your manner of life may be worthy of the Lord and entirely pleasing to Him. We pray that you may bear fruit in active goodness of every kind, and grow in knowledge of God' (Col.1.9,10; c.f. also Col.1.25-28; Co12.2-3; Eph.1.5-10; Eph.1.17-18; Eph.3.8-19).
This brief review of the scriptures reminds us that the theme of 'knowledge of God' lies at the heart of the Christian Gospel and the Jewish prophetic tradition against which this Gospel is set. The 'knowledge' intended here is, however, of a particular kind: it concerns faithfulness within a living and responsive personal relationship.
The grammar of religious 'knowing'
My purpose in recalling the scriptural language of 'knowing God' has not been merely to claim that there exists a 'grammar of religious knowing' which we can adopt without any further justification. All 'grammar' has to commend itself as reasonable and not a matter of confusion. It remains our task still to persuade that we properly speak of 'knowing God'. As I have already remarked, this entire book is in one sense addressed to this task.
Meanwhile, we have seen that scriptural talk of 'knowing God' already develops this question by connecting religious knowledge to the experience of personal relationship. Can we now justify briefly our talk of 'knowing' in the context of such relationship, and clarify what sort of knowledge this is?
In order to achieve this we must, I suggest, first acknowledge and oppose the common tendency of counting our most certain knowledge as lying in our knowledge of what may loosely be called 'technical' information. One author who helpfully challenges this outlook is John Macmurray. He argues that our primary knowledge lies rather in the practical knowledge we exercise in our personal relationships. He writes:
'I make no apology for using the term 'knowing' in this connection. It is the proper term to use; for this is its primary significance, from which other usages are derived by qualification... It is not 'knowing that', neither is it 'knowing how'; neither is it 'knowing by acquaintance', for it is acquaintance. We use the term 'know' in this primary sense when we say that we know our friends and are known by them. If it is objected that knowing implies certainty and that the term should only be used, at least in a philosophical context, to express certainty, I reply that this is what we are doing... if I say that I know someone I cannot be mistaken.'3
Such a use of the term 'know' will be further validated by the theory of knowledge developed later in this book. For the moment let us merely acknowledge that we do commonly use the term 'know' in this way (unlike our use of 'know' in a religious context, this use in the context of personal relationships will meet with widespread affirmation), and ponder the grammar of this use, and its connection with our talk of religious 'knowing'.
Friendship involves knowledge of many different kinds, of course, such as knowledge that a friend has grey eyes, and familiarity with those stock associations which affect a friend's feelings towards certain situations.
Different from these, is the sort of knowledge which is most distinctive of a loving friendship. It is this which Macmurray sees as 'knowing' in a primary sense. Such knowledge stands furthest of all in character from our 'technical' knowledge. How shall we describe the difference between distinctively 'personal' and 'technical' knowledge? One aspect of this difference is that the kind of knowledge we have of a friend is, of all our knowledge, least available to others 'by report'; that is to say, the divergence is here at its greatest, between our first-hand knowledge of something and what we can know of the same thing second-hand. In our technical knowledge this divergence is at its least. Also, and importantly, there is the greatest divergence here, between the experience of 'first- hand knowing' itself and our experience of 'second-hand knowing'.
This difference between technical and distinctively personal knowledge is reflected in the grammatical logic of 'knowing' and its relation to other associated concepts, in the following manner. Our experience of technical understanding encourages us normally to oppose the abstract concept of 'knowing' to a variety of associated concepts: 'knowing' is conceived, for example, in opposition to 'what is known', to 'not knowing', and to 'being known'. With regard to our most distinctively personal knowledge, however, we feel uneasy about these oppositions. For example, in the 'technical' matter of whether I know Peter's occupation, I meet something in principle quite distinct from the matter of whether he knows my own occupation. But with regard to our personal relationship, the fact that I know Peter as a friend is, according to the very 'grammar' of such knowledge, scarcely separable from the fact that he also knows me as a friend.
In our close personal relationships there are, in such ways, certain basic oppositions which feel distinctly abstract and untrue to our experience.
But in our religious knowledge we are led a step further: we find ourselves wanting to resist these oppositions to the very point of embracing paradox.
This is, of course, a matter of religious testimony. I want to enlarge upon this testimony now with regard to some particular abstract situations.
As Christians we shall, I suggest, want to testify from experience that despite their opposition when conceived in the abstract, there is at the very level of meaning or 'grammar' an indissoluble unity between knowing God and (i) God revealing Himself to us,(ii) God knowing us, (iii) our knowing in communion with God, (iv) our communion in being and action with God, and (v) our questioning religiously. The concept of 'knowing God' discloses its true meaning only through these paradoxical conjunctions as we 'own' them while turning towards the God who radically constitutes this our knowledge of Himself.
I shall consider the above five 'oppositions' in turn, and the paradoxes generated by them in our religious experience. In each case I shall begin by noting how the two terms of the opposition in question are bound closely together in Judaeo-Christian tradition and its talk of knowing God. I shall acknowledge also the link we experience between them in our close personal relationships. I shall then invite the reader to agree from personal experience, that in our knowledge of God these opposing terms converge to the point of paradox: the reader will therefore be invited to discover (or re-discover) the experience of personal involvement in the paradox in question.
( i) To know God is to experience God as revealing Himself to us knowing God as resting indissolubly in this self-disclosure The Jewish scriptures testify that the Lord graciously reveals Himself, choosing and calling His own. If a devout man searches for God, it is because the Lord has already set within him this desire for Himself; He wills to be found and will give Himself to be found. It is by the Lord's initiative that His sacred name is revealed to Moses; the Lord Himself, who sends the prophets, graciously disclosing His will to them. In the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth is known as the One chosen by God -the One to whom God discloses His purposes in fullest measure and in whom God acts to fulfil these purposes. The same divine initiative brings those who follow Jesus to knowledge of God: they are declared 'a chosen race... a people claimed by God for His own, to proclaim the glorious deeds of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light' (1 Peter 2.9).
Only from God's gracious self-revelation to us, and by virtue of this, do we know God and our relation to Him in the first place. Emil Brunner writes:
'... man knows God only as God gives Himself to be known: this is the fundamental Biblical point of view... On the basis of this revelatory happening or act, man can also know God and his relation to Him, which is itself established by God... this revelation is itself the decisive element in the act of relation between God and man, and is indissolubly connected with it. It is not true that first of all there is a relation between God and man, between man and God, which can be known even though it does not become actual. As a matter of fact, it is precisely in God's giving Himself to be known and in this knowledge of God that the essence of the relation between man and God lies...'4
At this point our religious experience leads us to a paradoxical affirmation. This paradox is already hinted in our deepest personal relationships.
In the abstract, knowledge is one thing, and how we come by it, another. It is one thing, therefore, to specify something known to us, and another to say that we owe this knowledge to an initiative not our own. Also to claim such knowledge implies that in order to have it we need no further such initiative. In the context of our most loving personal relationships, however, these oppositions become unreal: our knowledge of a friend begins from and always continues to depend upon our friend entering freely into relation with us, and upon their self-disclosure in such relationship. And the matter goes further still when it comes to knowing God. Our knowledge of God retains no specifiable content whatsoever apart from, and outside our concrete experience of, God's initiative in revealing Himself to us.
Knowledge of God is not something we come to possess, and need no longer be offered; rather it possesses us, and goes on taking possession of us; and through it God takes possession of us. Here God's self-disclosure positively (and paradoxically) constitutes at once His relation to us and our knowledge of Him.
(ii) To know God is to experience God as knowing us, and our knowing God as resting indissolubly His knowing us
The anonymity of life in modern western society contrasts sharply with the tight-knit community of village and family life characteristic of much of human society. In traditional village life each man and woman is known.
Vincent Donovan depicts the self-awareness of the Masai people by the testimony: 'I am known, therefore I am'.5 In such a society the person who is not known is a 'nobody'. This is the context of those moral injunctions we meet in biblical and other traditional societies concerning the treatment of stranger and sojourner who stand outside the community of village life. It also relates to those rules concerning the proper treatment of orphans and widows who stand outside the community of family life.
Where communal life has its focus in the head of tribe or household, being known is a matter especially of being known by one's 'head'. This finds religious expression when in Jewish prophecy the Lord declares Himself the 'head' of Israel: she alone is known by Him, of all the nations of the earth (Amos 3.2) -as a wife is known by her husband (Hosea 1-3) and a son by his father (Hosea 11). As her head, the Lord binds himself by covenant to his people Israel; His attention is faithfully upon His people, in concern for their well-being.
In the Jewish scriptures God's loving knowledge of and attention towards His people is expressed through a variety of images. For example, we find the imagery of the 'personal name' used. Israel is the nation to whom God has revealed His name; she is the nation which bears His name; her people are known to God by name. Another image employed is that of 'visual attention'. God's people 'stand before his face': 'you have set me before your face for ever' rejoices the psalmist (Ps.41.12).'Keep me as the apple of your eye', the author pleads, asking that God gaze upon him with loving attention as a father watches over his playing child. The face of God turned upon his people is like a light shining upon them: in God' attention towards them is the very light by which God's people see and understand (Ps.4.6; 44.3). Conversely when his people suffer misfortune, God seems to have turned His face away and hidden His face from them (Ps.13.1,etc.).
According to the Gospels Jesus is known by God in a unique way. At his baptism, unrecognised by those around him, Jesus is acclaimed by God: 'You are my beloved Son; in you I take delight' (Mark 1.11). Later he tells his disciples:'... no one knows who the Son is but the Father, or who the Father is but the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him , (Luke 10.22). The fourth evangelist, especially, attests the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son: 'I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me -as the Father knows me and I know the Father' (John 10.14,15). The Father knows similarly those who come to Him through Jesus, and holds them in loving regard of unfathomable depth: 'even the hairs on your head have been counted' (c.f. Matth.10.28-31); when we pray, our Father knows our need 'before we even ask Him' (Matth.6.8).
St. Paul writes similarly of God's knowledge or 'acknowledgement' of us as Christians. In particular he writes of non-Jewish Christians as known by God in anew way through Jesus Christ: 'now that you do acknowledge God - or rather, now that He has acknowledged you...' (Gal.4.9). Together with Jewish Christians, we now have 'access to the Father in the one Spirit', and are 'no longer aliens in a foreign land, but fellow-citizens with God's people, members of God's household' (Eph.2.11-end). We are known by God and this knowledge makes us members of the community gathered round Him.
God's knowledge of us is a foundational mystery of Christian faith.
P. T. Forsyth writes:
'We find Him because He first finds us. That is to say, the main thing, the unique thing, in religion is not a God whom we know but a God who knows us. Religion turns not on knowing but on being known. The knowledge in religion is not absolute knowledge but the knowledge that we are absolutely known, in the sense of being both destined, sought, and searched.'6
In our religious experience we testify that we are known by God, and known in a quite unfathomable way. Paul Minear writes:
'God's address crystallises anew and peculiar kind of self-awareness. He speaks to man directly and personally... the upshot of such a dialogue is a keen awareness on the part of the listener that he is known and this awareness conditions all areas of consciousness.'7
Once again at this point our religious experience involves us in a paradoxical affirmation, which is already hinted in our most personal relationships. Conceived in the abstract it is one thing to know someone, and another to be known by them. With regard to the knowledge distinctive of our most loving relationships, however, this opposition is unreal: our knowledge of one whom we love simply would not arise, if we had ourselves no experience of being known in the same loving way by them or by others.
The matter goes further still when it comes to knowing God. Our knowledge of God can be given no specifiable content apart from, or outside concrete experience of, God's unique knowledge of us. Here God's knowledge of us positively (and paradoxically) constitutes our knowledge of Him.
Let me suggest an analogy for this experience. When we turn our eyes upon ourselves in a mirror, we cannot but be met with our own gaze. It is the same when we look upon God -except that it is not Him, but rather we ourselves, who represent the reflected image. When we raise our eyes to God we find ourselves under the gaze of One who has, so we recognise, Himself raised our eyes to Him.
This 'returned gaze' of ours, it should be noted, is different in nature from the sort of glance by which we register information such as the colour of a person's hair. This difference parallels that between looking into a person's eyes as we address them, and looking at their eyes. In the same way we do not look at God, metaphorically speaking, so much as return His attention 'through' His eyes. We might recall here a tradition within icon painting, by which the eyes depicted on an icon, which may be painted gazing upon us or (on metal icons) omitted, are intended as 'windows to heaven'. They point us beyond everything we can look at, towards that which we can only look into and search: namely, the mystery of the One who first knows and searches us.
(iii) To know God is to experience communion in knowing with God and our knowledge as indissolubly resting in His own The bible knows nothing of a distinction between who God is 'in His essence' and who God shows Himself to be in His dealings with the world.
God is known through His personal will, as the author of that practical knowledge by which He creates and sustains the world with purpose.
Now conceived in the abstract it is one thing to know a given person and another to share some matter of common knowledge with that person. The difference between them, seen in terms of the visual analogy I have just used, is like that between looking at a person and looking at the same thing as them (and so looking away from them). However, in our most caring relationships with other people the opposition between what it means to know them and what it means to know what they know seems forced. To pursue further our visual analogy, just as there is more to looking into another person's eyes than there is to looking at them, so there is more to sharing deep practical knowledge and concern with another person than there is to knowing certain 'technical' facts in common with them. It is this 'more' which makes the opposition between attending to a person and attending with a person feel abstract in the case of friendship. Communion between people, when it is at any depth, becomes scarcely separable from communion in attention and understanding. C.S. Lewis writes of love between friends:
In this kind of love, as Emerson said, "Do you love me?" means "Do you see the same truth?" -or at least, "Do you care about the same truth?"'8
In the religious case, the matter goes further still. Communion with God involves us in a paradoxical affirmation: we simply cannot know God in any respect apart from, or outside our concrete experience of, communion with Him regarding the mystery of His purposes in the world. To know God is to share His own practical knowledge of the world through these purposes.
Returning once more to our visual analogy we might say that God opens our eyes to Himself precisely as He brings us to see with His own eyes. To use another image, we know Him as original and uncreated light precisely as He sheds light upon the world around us. The Divine Light is, of course, an important theme in Eastern Orthodox theology.9 We might recall here another tradition within icon painting -that of portraying the face of a holy figure radiating light from within itself.
C.S. Lewis once said 'I know God as I know the sun: not just because I see it, but because by its light I see everything that I do see.'
(iv) To know in communion with God is to experience communion in being with God and communion in action with God, and to experience this as resting indissolubly in His own knowledge, being and action We have already seen that 'knowledge of God' in its scriptural sense implies practical faithfulness within a lived personal relationship. The knowledge we have in communion with God is accordingly wider in scope than any shared theoretical insights or concerns. Our communion with God is a matter of active participation in His purposes -even to the point of being alive with His own Being. In New Testament usage the term 'koinonia', which is often translated into English as 'communion' or 'fellowship', denotes more than a shared feeling; it implies also participation, partnership and solidarity in a common project or endeavour.
The same implication is to be found in biblical usage of the term 'son', with regard to the relationship a son has with his father. Firstly, this relationship had a practical significance. Commonly a son would work under his father in the family business -as Jesus' disciples James and John worked with their father Zebedee as fishermen, and as Jesus probably worked with Joseph as a carpenter. Today we are reminded of this tradition whenever we see a business enterprise bearing the name ' ...and Son' .To be a son was to be initiated into a common enterprise with one's father.
Secondly, as it was held, a son participated in the life of his father at the very level of his identity or being. At conception, it was believed, a son was wholly implanted by his father in analogous fashion to a seed sown in the ground. A son would commonly bear the second name 'bar-... ', meaning 'son of...', followed by his father's name. This led to the more general usage by which Jesus could nickname James and John 'Sons of Thunder', while the early Christians could give one of their number, Joseph, the name 'Barnabas' ('Son of Encouragement').
The three elements of being, knowledge and action all belong to the communion with God which is ours by the work of His Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament this Spirit constituted God's 'anointed' prophets and kings for who they were; it endowed them with wisdom and insight; and it empowered their distinctive activity. The same can be said when the Spirit was bestowed in a unique way upon Jesus the 'Anointed One', whether we think of his conception, his baptism in the River Jordan or his greater 'baptism' of crucifixion and resurrection. At his baptism, for example, Jesus was affirmed and raised to conscious life as the Son of his Father, he was endowed with insight into God's purposes and his own place in them, and he was commissioned and empowered to fulfil his unique task. Similarly, in his greater baptism of crucifixion and resurrection Jesus was declared the Christ (see Romans 1.4; Acts 2.36; Phil.2.9), he was endowed with under- standing and authority as our final judge (Acts 17.31; Col.2.3), and he was commissioned and empowered to bring God's people to salvation (Acts 2.33; Eph.1.13,14 and 19-23).
The same essential elements of being, knowledge and action mark the life bestowed in turn upon us by the Spirit. We have already noted the New Testament witness to the knowledge bestowed upon us by the Spirit of God.
The Spirit's gift of God's own life and being is commended both by St. John (e.g. 1.12-13; 3.3-8) and St. Paul (e.g. Romans 8.1-30), while the work of the Spirit in empowering action is attested both by St. Paul (who emphasises holiness in personal living and in maintaining the 'koinonia' of the church- e.g. Gal 5.22ff., Eph. 4.3) and by St. Luke (who emphasises witness by word and sign -e.g. Acts 4.8).
Now once again, conceived in the abstract there is an opposition between knowing and being on the one hand, and between knowing and acting on the other. It is one thing to conceive who we are, another to conceive ourselves as knowing something, and yet another to conceive ourselves as performing an action. However, in our best personal relationships this opposition becomes unreal. Here we characteristically enjoy a communion which embraces not only theoretical concerns but also the endeavour of living and working together; and ultimately these relationships shape (as we shall testify) the very people we are. The matter goes further still when it comes to the communion we share with God. The knowing and being and acting we share with Him are paradoxically one; they are united within the mystery of God's own being, knowing, and acting, in which they rest.
Emil Brunner intimates the paradoxical unity of being, knowing, and acting in our relation to God in these words:
'to know (God) in trustful obedience is not only to know the truth, but through God's self-communication to be in it, in the truth that as love is at the same time fellowship' (n.b. communion)
'In the light of this fundamental communication... communication itself, self-communicating love, is disclosed as the meaning of human life, and existence in love is disclosed as the decisive life-act.'10
It must be said that the Church has not always shown itself faithful to the mystery of communion with God as meaning participation in the indissoluble unity of His being, knowledge and action. Carlos Christo, writing from a prison cell in Brazil, makes telling reference in passing to the currents of 'intellectual perfectionism' within European theology. ll When theoretical knowledge of God and its precise formulation is given first place, divorced from the demands of personal being and action in communion with God, it is in danger of becoming less than knowledge of God. It also tends to obscure the essential elusiveness of doctrinal knowledge as the occasion of the disclosure of God (this elusiveness was a theme of the previous chapter); it conceals the truth that knowledge of God is costly and shapes the very people we are; and it robs our religious action of its wellsprings in the exercise of a personal, imaginative, discerning conscience. Where religious action is thus severed from religious discernment, it readily distorts into the external observance of ritual and moral prescriptions and reduces to the repetition of formulae and the rehearsal of good works under the imagined eye of a paternalistic authority.
Equally when our perception of who we are before God is divorced from personal religious knowledge and action it is in danger of becoming less than communion in His Being. Severed from a practical personal relationship, this perception readily distorts into either a presumption of our membership among the elect, or neurotic anxiety concerning the theoretical question of our status as a 'saved' soul.
Finally, when our religious action is given prior place and is divorced from personal being and knowledge it is in danger of becoming less than action in communion with God. Severed from the rigours of self-scrutiny and of serious attention to the world, it readily distorts into the kind of holy activism which merely baptises our romantic impulses and resentful desires.
(v) To know religiously is to question religiously, and to experience this act of attention as indissolubly resting in God addressing Himself to us I shall now discuss, at somewhat greater length than the previous themes, the abstract opposition between the act of 'knowing an answer' and the act of 'addressing a question'. I shall begin by suggesting that religious experience is the occasion at once of our most sure knowledge and of our most radical questioning. I shall reflect on these two aspects of our religious experience in turn, and go on to affirm their paradoxical convergence.
Our most sure knowledge
As John Macmurray has reminded us and as we shall testify, our friendships involve knowledge of a primary kind. Now our religious knowledge is even more vital and sure. The certainty which marks both our closest personal relationships and our moral and religious life is urged by P. T. Forsyth:
'There is, and can be, nothing so certain to me as that which is involved in the most crucial and classic expression of my moral sense, my conscience, my real, surest me. A vision might be a phantom, and a colloquy an hallucination. But if I am not to be an absolute Pyrrhanist, doubt everything, and renounce my own reality, I must find my practical certainty in that which founds my moral life, and especially my new moral life. '12
Forsyth reminds us that such certainty involves us personally in a quite unconditional way:
'We cannot say of anything 'It is certain' without saying 'I am certain'.
Certitude is not, indeed, the absence of difficulty or contradiction in our views; but it is a state in which we cannot think otherwise without getting into contradiction with ourselves, and destroying our subjective harmony, and ultimately our personal unity. Yet all the time it is certitude about something in which we find ourselves in a bracing way; it is not certitude of ourselves as being certain. '13
This certainty is a positive affair: 'The object of our certainty compels us by its revealed nature to think of it in a particular way; we do not think of it only to escape the malaise of self-contradiction.'14
Throughout, our unconditional certainty of God rests upon God's certainty of us and of Himself:
'What we become more sure of than anything else is that God has done what makes Him surer of us than we are either of ourselves or of Him. Our chief certainty is God's certainty of us in Christ. '15
'Our certainty is, by the Holy Spirit, a most incredible thing -it is a function of the certainty which God always has of Himself. '16
Our most radical questioning
Religion concerns both our most radical and self-involving knowledge and also, as I shall now suggest, our most radical and self-involving questioning.
Such questioning is already hinted, I propose, in our closest personal relationships. Consider how a respected friend can awaken us to, and implicitly win our assent in addressing, personally demanding questions which we normally evade by self-concealed acts of evasion or procrastination.
Am I ready to acknowledge the moral responsibilities which are mine in my employment? Is my behaviour at home in some way selfish? Coming into the presence of a respected friend we can find ourselves liberated to look when usually we avert our eyes and to address questions which normally paralyse us because we deny them life.
The matter goes a step further in the case of our encounter with God. We know God as the One who liberates us as He awakens us to address the radical question of Himself, of ourselves and of the world which is His and ours. Gerhard Ebeling writes well that 'The understanding of what the word "God" means has its place within the sphere of radical questionableness'.
This radical questioning involves us fully as persons. As Ebeling explains:
'The question how God is actually experienced... can be answered in the first instance only by the pointer: God is experienced as a question...
this questionableness -and that is part of its radicality -seeks to be answered by me myself, in fact through me by myself... the radicality of the questionableness comes only when I become questionable in my own eyes, then the questionableness of the reality which concerns me and my own questionableness are thus identical. '17
Experience of God concerns both our most radical and self-involving knowledge and our most radical and self-involving questioning. How are these two aspects of our religious experience related? Does our questioning lead on to and give way to knowledge? Rather we find that our advance from question to answer serves precisely to enhance our questioning. Ebeling writes:
'... it would be a falsification of the relation between knowing God and what we have described as the radical questionableness, if knowing God were to mean the abnegation of radical questionableness. According to biblical usage the quest of God certainly does not mean that He is then found in a way that puts and end to the searching and questioning. Rather it is a searching and a questioning which is stimulated more than ever by the true knowledge of God, so that the true quest of God is possible only for the man who has found Him. To have found here means, to abide by the quest of God and the search for God. Thus not only some sort of first, provisional understanding of what the word 'God' means, but the knowledge of God itself has and retains its place within the sphere of radical questionableness. '18
Not dissimilar in theme is this passage written in the fourteenth century by Julian of Norwich:
'I saw (God) and sought Him, for we are now so blind and foolish that we can never seek God until the time when He in His goodness shows Himself to us. And when by grace we see something of Him, then we are moved by the same grace to seek with great desire to see Him for our greater joy.
So I saw Him and sought Him, and I had Him and lacked Him; and this is and should be our ordinary understanding in this life, as I see it.'19
Now what of the condition of being 'blind and foolish'? In what terms shall we describe ignorance of God? Whereas in the context of technical knowledge, ignorance is implied by an the act of questioning, in the religious context questioning and knowing positively interanimate each other. Therefore it seems that ignorance of God concerns ignorance both of religious knowledge and of religious questioning. It concerns the situation when the question of God does not arise for us. Can I enlarge upon this situation?
Knowledge of God and ignorance of God
In order to understand how ignorance of God contrasts with knowledge of God, let us reflect upon those occasions when the question of God arises for us in some striking new way. By way of example I shall describe some occasions met not uncommonly by Christians within the life of faith and embraced in explicitly religious terms. However, much of what I now write could also be applied in principle to the occasion of a person's religious conversion, or to the lifelong saving encounter between our personal created and fallen identity and God's healing initiative, or even to the work of God's grace within a whole culture.
For my first example I shall recall what it is like to experience the approach of God when some personal loss has left us feeling isolated, lost, rejected, or bad. We know that many events such as bereavement, divorce, redundancy or the onset of disease can have this effect upon us. Now sometimes on such occasions God comes to us precisely as we awaken to the question 'How does God want me to live through this? What does He ask of me?' It seems not to matter that we do not yet know the answer to this question; what matters is that we find this a real question of our own, one which involves us unconditionally. And in the same moment it becomes apparent to us that we had not addressed ourselves to this question before; rather, as it now seems, we had resigned ourselves unthinkingly to the idea that the question of 'God's will for us' simply did not arise. We had unconsciously experienced our misfortune as expulsion from the realm of God's attention and concern. We are now liberated from this.
We may have a similar experience when we have been persistently dominated and brutalised by another person. We may suddenly come alive to God by awaking to the question 'How does God mean me to behave towards this person?' We had not asked ourselves this question, we realise. We had not distinguished God from our experience of oppression; we had unconsciously experienced our oppression as oppression by God Himself. We are now liberated from this.
It is a feature of such situations that we see, now in retrospect, that the religious question has been hidden from us before the present moment. Or rather, this question has been hidden from us as a real, concrete, personal religious question. The abstract question of 'God's will for us' might have been in our minds meanwhile, but only as an echo of our inner paralysis.
But our concrete (although unconscious, unreflective) experience of God has been of a question essentially severed from all hope of answer, a question we could never address but only rehear8e, the occasion of inner confusion and of ennervation for us.
Let us now consider briefly a second experience of a different sort. On this occasion our retrospectively viewed experience is not that of illusory abandonment or oppression by God but of illusory security apart from Him.
Suppose, for example, we get to know an exceptional person who awakens us in a new way to personal, moral and religious questions. As we 'come alive' here we understand that we had not previously addressed these our most radical questions in a worthy manner. We can make a similar discovery when some personal trauma exposes our easy assumptions about life and confronts us with our inescapable involvement in and vulnerability towards a mystery deeper than we can fathom.
Here once again we see, now in retrospect, that the concrete, personal, religious question has been hidden from us until the present moment. This is not to say that the abstract question of God may not have been in our minds, as a matter of our agnostic, atheistic or theistic intellectual response - perhaps a familiar debating point for us. In our immediate (but unreflective) experience, however, we have unthinkingly counted this a question which we have adequately addressed and answered.
In each of the circumstances I have described, then, it appears to us in retrospect that the (concrete) question of God has been hidden from us. But now the further issue presents itself, whether we may have positively hidden from this question. The question of God has been concealed from us, we realise; but have we actively concealed the question of. God from ourselves? We examine this possibility now.
Resistance to the initiative of God
Consider again the first of the two situations described above, which concerns a personal movement in the general direction from despair to hope.
When we acknowledge in retrospect our practical ignorance of the hope we have now found, may we not have also to acknowledge, in retrospect, our personal resistance to this hope?
Such resistance is not without its own logic. Hope makes its demands, and despair offers its comforts. Where hope has been crushed out of us in the past, the invitation to renewed hope is equally an invitation to renewed vulnerability: dare we risk losing our hope all over again? What is more, our oppression legitimates our hidden resentment, self-pity, and punitive intentions: dare we let go of these?
The question of resistance arises similarly in the second situation described above, which concerns a personal movement in the direction from false confidence to true hope. Once again in retrospect we may have to admit a measure of personal resistance to this movement. We may have clung tightly to the idols which represent security to us, when faced with the prospect of losing them for dependence upon the mystery of God.
Alternatively we may have sought other idols in their place.
Our active evasion of religious questioning is a crucial aspect of our concrete 'ignorance' of God. It is always a live personal issue in the life of faith, where we let ourselves be seduced away from demanding honesty and integrity. It has always to be reckoned with in the exercise of Christian ministry, where the pastor has the task of exploring what people are ready to receive. One person may stoutly defend the truth of a religious dogma with him and another may argue with him at length unconvinced of its truth, yet neither may show themselves ready to let the demands of personal faith, hope or love towards God penetrate them; while a third may claim to have little patience with religious questions, and yet she may give deep and costly attention to the radical personal matters with which these questions are ultimately concerned.
The connection between our knowledge of God and our genuine desire for such knowledge is of course a classical theme of Christian tradition. Resistance to God, meanwhile, implies the need for a radical change in direction, a 'turning round' or personal conversion. Once again the analogy is close here, between religious experience and personal relationships. Where 'knowledge' is about faithfulness to the demands of a personal relation- ship, ignorance is a matter actively of 'ignoring': it implies an element of evasion and betrayal, and implies the need for conversion. Even more so, religious questioning and knowing are inseparable from our 'wanting to know' and their absence from our 'not wanting to know'. This mystery of human responsiveness and evasion is a theme richly pondered in the writings of George Macdonald and C. S. Lewis. 20
The further question might now occur to us, whether the question of God arises for us always, on every occasion and in every circumstance, - irrespective of whether or not we address it. If this should be true, then it follows from what we have said that ignorance of God is ipso facto a matter of active evasion. How shall we answer this question? In the first instance we must point to the fact that the question of God is a practical rather than theoretical question. And in our actual experience we find that while some circumstances practically raise for us the question of God, presenting us with the choice of response or evasion, on other occasions this question hardly arises, so that the question of response or evasion hardly arises.
Therefore absence of religious consciousness does not in itself imply resistance to God. Everything depends upon the occasion in question. All that we may say is, insofar as the question of God addresses us, either we respond to Him or we resist Him. Gabriel Marcel describes well the situation of a person confronted with the question of God as such:
'From the point of view of faith and of the believer, unbelief, at any rate when it is explicit, begins to look like a refusal, refusal moreover which takes on many different forms. I will merely observe here that very often, perhaps most often, it takes the form of inattention, of turning a deaf ear to the appeal made by an inner voice to all that is deepest in us... This inattention or distraction is indeed a kind of sleep, from which we can each of us awake at any time. The inattentive man may be awakened just by meeting somebody who radiates genuine faith... The virtue of such encounter is to arouse the inattentive to a reflection or return upon themselves, to make them say "Am I really sure that I don't believe?" This is enough: if the soul really asks herself this question in all sincerity, rejecting all angry prejudices and parrot imaginings, she will be brought to recognise, not indeed that she already believes, but that she is in no case to say that she does not believe. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that the assertion of unbelief, made just then, would almost inevitably be tainted with pride, and that completely honest .
and careful introspection could not fail to unmask this pride. "I do not believe" ceases to look like "I cannot believe" in its own eyes, and tends to turn into "I will not believe". ' 21
One point invites further clarification here. Marcel reminds us that conversion to belief is a matter of submission. And yet, we shall want to insist that this 'submission' is a paradoxical affair. For it is, in intention, a submission to the demands of freedom. Ebeling expresses the matter well: 'The believer has always owed his faith to a miracle, to a radical change of mind which overwhelms him. ..He does not give his assent to ( the word of God) because his heart is forced and broken, but because it is set free and made Whole' .22 (italics mine)
We have pondered what it is to 'know' when it is God that we know, and therefore in what sense we speak of knowing Him. Such talk arises in the first instance from personal religious experience, as a matter of testimony. However, this testimony can be understood only from within religious experience itself. Also, it always involves us in an embrace of paradox. This paradox shows itself especially in the convergence, within religious experience, of the 'act of knowing' and other conceptions to which, in the abstract, this is opposed.
Now as a result of our discussion, one particular choice of terminology commends itself. I suggest that we shall do well normally to talk of 'addressing' God rather than 'knowing' God. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, 'addressing' has wider usage than 'knowing' in several ways relevant to our account of religious experience. We speak of addressing questions as well as addressing truths; again, we speak of addressing practical concerns as well as theoretical - addressing ourselves (as we say) to tasks, and to mastering and performing skills. These matters are of some importance since our encounter with God is a practical issue both of questioning and knowing, attempt and action.
Secondly, and in close connection with this, the reflexive form 'addressing ourselves (to...)' implies our active self-involvement in both intention and attention towards what is seen or sought: 'addressing' is to 'knowing' as 'looking' is to 'seeing' or as 'intending' is to 'doing'. This is important since our encounter with God is as much to do with religious intention and attention as with religious 'seeing' or 'doing', and its opposite is religious evasion or inattention.
Thirdly, I suggest that it is more immediately evident of 'addressing' than of 'knowing', that it finds its primary context in encounter between persons; any use of 'addressing' in other contexts feels, I suggest, derivative by comparison. And fourthly, we speak more readily of 'the act of addressing' than of 'the act of knowing': its practical character is more evident. These two grammatical characteristics mean, finally, that we more readily understand ourselves summoned to make a response when we are 'addressed' than when we are 'known'. On all these counts there are important resonances with our religious experience.
There remain, I concede, two disadvantages in speaking of ourselves as 'addressing God' where we might otherwise have spoken of 'knowing God'.
Firstly, 'addressing' God can seem to imply something less than 'knowing' Him, and at the same time imply that we know beforehand who it is we address. To balance this we need to emphasise the paradox that our most radical address is the occasion of our truest, primary knowledge. Secondly, and because 'addressing' God is more evidently an act than is 'knowing' Him, the former can seem less a matter of receptivity. To balance this we need to emphasise the paradox of grace, that our address of God is radically a matter of our response to Him; for in every respect our address of God is grounded in His address of us.
I propose that our concrete encounter with God may most helpfully be characterised by the expression 'self-involving address' .In the next chapter we shall explore further, the basic character of such address.
in (ed.) G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren, Theological
Dictionary of the Old Testament (5 Volumes) (eng.
2. Th. C. Vreizen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology, Revised ed'n (Oxford, 1970), p.154.
Macmurray, The Self as Agent (
Brunner, Truth as Encounter (eng.
Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered,
2nd Ed',n (
6. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, p.167. See also pp.102-3; p.111.
Minear, Eyes of Faith (
S. Lewis, The Four Loves (
for example, Vladimir Lossky, 'The Theology of Light in the Thought of St.
Gregory Palamas' , in Lossky, In the
Image and Likeness of God (
10. Brunner, Truth as Encounter, pp.21 and 27.
Christo, Letters from a Prisoner of
12. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority. p.31.
13. Principle of Authority, p.55.
14. Principle of Authority, p.58.
15. Principle of Authority, p.39.
16. Principle of Authority, p.44.
17. Ebeling, Word and Faith, p.347.
18. Word and Faith, p.349.
19. Julian of Norwich, Showings (London, 1978) p.193.
20. I think especially here of Lewis's 'Screwtape' series and of his book 'The Great Divorce' .
21. Marcel, Being and Having, pp.212-3.
22. Ebeling, Introduction to a Theological Theory of Language, p.18.
It has been my purpose in Chapters Two and Three to win the agreement of the reader -in the first instance, the Christian reader -concerning firstly what kind of thing it is we know when we know God, and secondly concerning what kind of knowing it is we are involved in when we know God.
Such agreement will always be a matter of shared personal testimony to, and responsibility for, the truth. I have sought agreement upon three matters in particular: firstly, that our talk of God originates in personal religious experience and that when we speak from within this first-hand knowledge, we speak in paradox; secondly, that when we speak of our knowledge of God itself, we speak once again in paradox; and thirdly, that it is only in knowing God that we know what 'paradox' itself is (or more precisely, what it means to speak in paradox). I now want to formulate these three matters of our testimony more precisely, reflecting upon each of them in turn. In doing so I shall look beyond specific religious experiences of the kind I have described these past two chapters, and take steps in the direction of a general theory of religious knowledge. In the course of this I shall draw upon the work of Donald Baillie, Martin Buber and Ian Ramsey. My exploration of paradox and its relation to religious experience will lead me next to discuss the nature of religious metaphor.
Here I shall refer to the work of Janet Soskice. The discussion of this chapter will open the way for a closer look, in Chapter Five, at an issue of fundamental importance to the thesis of this book: namely, the relation of religious understanding to understanding in general.
(i) Religious experience, language and paradox The first matter of our agreed personal testimony is, then, that religious language is essentially paradoxical and that this truth, and its meaning, is indissolubly linked to our personal religious experience. Our testimony here echoes the claims of Donald Baillie in his classic work 'God was in Christ'.l I shall now recall Baillie's claims and enlarge critically upon them so as to elucidate both this and our other shared acts of testimony.
In Chapter Five of 'God was in Christ' Baillie turns to what he sees as the central problem of Christology -the problem of the meaning of 'The Incarnation'.
In previous chapters he has cleared the ground for this. Under the rubric 'The Paradoxes of Faith' he now writes:
'The Incarnation... presents us with the supreme paradox, and I do not believe that we can ever eliminate from it the element of paradox without losing the Incarnation itself. But this is not the only point at which we are beset with paradox in our Christian belief: this is rather the point at which the constant and ubiquitous paradox reaches; its peak... The mistake is not to assert the paradox in the doctrine of the Incarnation, but to miss the paradox everywhere else...'(p.l06-7)
'The reason why the element of paradox comes into all religious thought and statement is because God cannot be comprehended in any human words or in any categories of our finite thought. God can be known only in a direct personal relationship, an "I-and-Thou" intercourse, in which He addresses us and we respond to Him. As it has sometimes been put, God cannot legitimately be "objectified". ' (p.l08)
Baillie goes on to quote statements by Sergei Bulgakov about the mystery of God, then remarking:
'Father Bulgakov goes to the root of the matter when he says that while the mystery cannot be stated in words without contradiction, it is actualised and lived in religious experience, that is, in the direct faith-relationship towards God.' (p.l09)
Indeed the only justifiable paradox in theology is that which is experienced and lived within this relationship of faith:
'There is great danger in falling back too easily upon paradox in our religious thinking... there should always be a sense of tension between the two opposite sides of our paradoxes, driving us back to their source in our actual religious experience of faith... no paradox in theology can ever be justified unless it can be shown to spring from what H. R. Mackintosh called "the immediate utterances of faith"; for since a paradox is a self-contradicting statement, we simply do not know what it means or what we mean by it unless it has that direct connection with the faith which it attempts to express.' (p.ll0)
Baillie now demonstrates, in much the same fashion as I have done in Chapter Two of this book, how various Christian doctrines show themselves upon inspection to be paradoxical. He concludes:
'A far greater and deeper paradox than those which we have been considering lies at the very heart of the Christian life and vitally affects every part of it. It is what we may call the paradox of Grace.
Its essence lies in the conviction which a Christian man possesses, that every good thing in him, every good thing he does, is somehow not wrought by himself but by God. This is a highly paradoxical conviction, for in ascribing all to God it does not abrogate human personality nor disclaim personal responsibility. Never is human action more truly and fully personal, never does the agent feel more perfectly free, than in those moments of which he can say as a Christian that whatever good was in them -was not his but God's.' (p.114)
It will be apparent, therefore, that we echo Baillie when we testify that language about God is paradoxical 'at every vital point', and that such paradox arises in immediate connection with our religious experience. But we must now enlarge upon this claim because as it stands, it is in serious danger of being misunderstood. In particular we must explain further what we intend here by 'religious language', 'religious experience' and 'religious paradox'. Crucially, none of these expressions can be properly understood in abstraction from that to which they refer (and from our personal involvement in this), nor can the relation between them be properly understood as a relation between three such abstractions. Let us now discuss each of these expressions, in turn.
Firstly, we shall agree, by the expression 'religious language' we do not intend any linguistic phenomenon specifiable in the abstract either by reference to (for example) the vocabulary or syntax it employs, or through correlation with a specifiable referent or context of utterance or linguistic community. Thus, explicit reference to 'God' (or the use of any other 'technical' religious term) is neither necessary nor sufficient to identify an utterance as religious. Every supposed 'indicator' of religious language turns out, if authentic, to be as elusive in specification as religious language itself. Only when we rise to religious language for ourselves and in response to God, do we know what is meant by the expression 'religious language' in the first place. The claim made by Baillie and ourselves regarding religious language, concerning its paradoxical character and its essential connection with religious experience, must not be heard as a straightforward empirical claim regarding some taken-for-granted referent supposedly denoted by the expression 'religious language'.
This provides a potential ground of misunderstanding. For this reason we must, I suggest, show caution in the interpretation of Baillie's assertion: 'The reason why the element of paradox comes into all religious thought and statement is because God cannot be comprehended in any human words or in any categories of our finite thought'. What Baillie offers us here is no 'reason for paradox' in the usual sense of 'reason'. He makes no straight- forward empirical observation appealing 'past' religious experience and language and paradox to the specifiable properties of a prior referent, viz. God. For in reality there is no access to the referent of religious language or to the characteristics of this referent except through religious experience itself and the (paradoxical) language in which it is mediated. 'God cannot be comprehended. ...is itself a religious utterance and is itself paradoxical. Only as we rise to encounter with God for ourselves do we ever discover the referent of religious language, or what is meant by the expression 'religious language' itself, or what it means that this language is 'paradoxical'. We can never abstract the meaning of 'religious language' from what it is for us within such encounter.
Secondly, we shall agree, by the expression 'religious experience' we do not intend any experience which can be specified in the abstract and to which we can appeal as a prior justification for our use of religious language or for the element of paradox within such language. This is acknowledged by Baillie when he describes religious experience as the experience of an 'I-and-Thou' relationship towards God.
Baillie's choice of description here raises an interesting point. Martin Buber himself, to whom Baillie owes this terminology, explicitly denies that the I-Thou relationship is an 'experience', since he understands by this word precisely what can be abstracted and taken as a prior datum for discussion and manipulation. That is to say, as a matter of linguistic grammar Buber applies the term 'experience' exclusively within the realm of 'I-It', within the realm of 'things' rather than of 'relation'.2
This invites further comment. For his part, Buber urges that there is a sense in which the realm of 'I-Thou' involves nothing whatsoever of the kind of experience which characterises the realm of 'I-It'. For our part, however, we shall urge that there is a sense in which the realm of the 'I- Thou' involves more than the experience which characterises the realm of 'I-It'. Let me suggest that both claims must be taken seriously, if we are to have the best chance of avoiding misunderstanding the truth. Now it is right to find this paradoxical. This paradox originates from the fact that both Buber's claim and our own are already, in themselves, paradoxical: all talk of the 'I-Thou' is paradoxical, since properly understood, the realm of 'I-It' claims universality.3
These various paradoxes can be illuminated, I suggest, by pondering carefully Buber's well-known dictum: 'You cannot talk about God: you can only address Him' .4 In one sense, this statement seems to deny us any possible 'experience' of God. Yet is this statement not itself the testimony of experience - experience of God? It does not follow from this, however, that Buber's own statement necessarily constitutes 'talk about God' in the abstract, in which case it would contradict its own thesis. For we can understand Buber's statement rather as itself an address of God which has the essential function of inviting us to understand and 'own' for ourselves this same address of God. In this particular sense, an I-Thou relation towards God can be called experience of God, although we shall not intend by this any kind of 'experience' which can be entertained in abstraction from itself.
What we are claiming for religious experience here is that our 'primary utterances of faith' do not, on the one hand, by their nature refer the enquirer to any prior 'objectifiable' experience as a basis for this faith.
On the other hand, they do testify implicitly to present religious experience in the very act of pointing to, and pointing the enquirer to, what is experienced. Thus Donald Baillie's brother John writes:
'The reason why we must not say that faith is based on religious experience is that religious experience, if it is authentic, already contains faith. Faith is the cognitive element in it. ..Faith is experience but, like all veridical experience, it is determined for us and produced in us by something not ourselves.'5
So also, P. T. Forsyth writes: 'We do not believe things because of our experience, but we do in an experience. They are true not by the experience, but for it.';6 and again: 'the great matter is not that I feel, but what I feel. If I believe in Christ it is not because I feel Him, but because I feel Him. '7
An analogy suggests itself at this point, between religious experience and the light by which we see all that we see. God is analogous to the primary source of all light. Now we can distinguish normally between the things we see around us and the light by which we see them. However, in order to see the primary source of all light we have to look towards it through its own light; we cannot see it 'under light from another source'. In the same way we do not see God 'under the light of religious experience', as though we had in such experience a source of 'light' other than God himself; rather we see God by the light of God Himself; God is Himself the source of the religious experience through which we address Him.
Thirdly, we shall agree, by the expression 'religious paradox' we do not intend any property belonging to words or to utterance which can be known in the abstract. Religious paradox does not present us merely with an abstract property which we register but which makes no sense to us - as when we are faced with the unknown reference of a technical term or the unknown pronunciation of a strange word. We cannot identify a paradox by observation. Religious paradox is not a property merely of language but of life, and it is only in religious life and experience that we know paradox for what it is.
For this reason it is perhaps misleading when Baillie describes religious language as self-contradictory -rather than seemingly so -when viewed in the abstract. For the question whether an utterance is self-contradictory is always a question about the meaning of an utterance in its intended context. Now this meaning always remains a matter of dialogue between the person who has spoken and the person(s) to whom the utterance is addressed.
And while there remains disagreement concerning this meaning, the question of self-contradiction has not yet been settled: there is only seeming self- contradiction- together with a concern to reach agreement on the meaning of what has been said so as to resolve the tension of disputed understanding.
Now in the religious case, we find that such agreement is never attained in the form of an agreement upon any meaning which can be subsumed under the general category either of 'logically consistent' or of 'self- contradictory'. For religious utterance directs us, in reality, beyond every such meaning and beyond these categories themselves, restoring us (as I shall argue shortly) to a primary, unqualified personal intention of understanding.
Therefore, when religious utterance is heard either as straightforward language or as self-contradictory, it is misunderstood. Its meaning differs from either of these categories of meaning in a quite fundamental and enigmatic way. Agreement upon its meaning comes only as listener and speaker agree in engaging themselves personally, together, through the words in-question, with religious paradox, in a communion of religious address.
In this religious case, the question whether an utterance is logically consistent or self-contradictory always itself encounters a paradox. From one viewpoint religious utterance stands oddly here on the edge of self- contradiction. In this regard, religious language shows itself as more paradoxical than were it to lie in simple abstract correspondence with self-contradiction!
Let me try to draw out a little further the distinction between religious paradox and self-contradiction implied here. This is how P. F. Strawson defines self-contradiction: '... the intention to communicate something is frustrated by self-contradiction. Contradicting oneself is like writing something down and then erasing it, or putting a line through it. A contradiction cancels itself and leaves nothing.'8 This definition of self- contradiction entails two consequences. Firstly, when we acknowledge that we have contradicted ourselves we acknowledge ipso facto that our meaning can be understood by reference to the meaning of two parts which together make it up as a whole. We grant that we have expressed, in part of what we have said, some meaning in particular, and then cancelled it in another part. The very term 'contra-diction' indicates such a reduction of the whole, by the division of an utterance into 'something said' and its cancellation. Secondly, self-contradiction relates to the intention to communicate something, as a frustration of this intention. It follows that self-contradiction is either inadvertent or else reflects self-deception on our part regarding our intention.
Clearly when we speak in religious paradox our situation is different to this. Here the 'contradiction' which arises is expressive precisely of our intention. This is, however, essentially a matter of implicit rather than explicit attention for us as we speak. Indeed it is not possible to understand what we mean when speaking in paradox, by focussing upon the meaning of the mutually 'contradictory' parts of our utterance in turn and then constructing the meaning of the whole from them; for these 'contra- dictory' parts find their proper meaning only through their integration within the whole utterance. We attend, so to speak, 'through' them together, in the direction from parts to whole; part and whole interanimate each other so as to constitute the act by which we mean what we mean.
The metaphor of looking 'through' the two poles of a paradox can help us to envisage further, the difference between paradox and self-contradiction.
Looking at a self-contradictory statement is, I suggest, like looking alternately at the two opposite ends of a stick lying across our field of vision. We cannot look at both ends at once; they beckon us in incompatible directions. By contrast, to embrace a paradox is like aligning our sight virtually with this stick so as to experience, as a matter of depth of vision, a direction which we 'own' and which is actually constituted for us by these two ends together. Notice that here our perception of depth stands on the edge of the limit represented by simple visual alignment with the stick, which would simply conflate the two ends and destroy all sense of visual direction and depth. In an analogous way, in religious utterance we stand on the edge of self-contradiction as we attend through religious experience, through our utterance itself, and through the paradox it embodies.
Another helpful analogy for religious paradox comes from J. D. Crossan, and is drawn from the experience of sailing. He recalls what it is like for us to sail close-hauled, as closely as possible into the eye of the wind. This makes for sailing at its most strenuous and exciting. However, the moment we turn our boat directly into the wind, all wind spills out of its sails and headway is lost. Crossan suggests that in the same way we experience transcendence on the edges of language and of contradiction, while beyond those 'edges' we lose all headway in meaning.9 We may think of paradox in these terms, as finding its power poised on the very edge of meaningless self-contradiction.
The dynamism of Crossan's image, I suggest, is especially helpful. To sail well close-hauled we need a good wind: we depend upon this wind for our movement, despite the fact that the direction of this movement is virtually opposite to that of the wind. In this respect our own movement and the movement of the wind are inseparable. In the same way, 'the two elements within paradox are inseparable. They do not cancel each other out in the same way that the two elements in an abstract contradiction do so.
Both the images of 'sailing close-hauled' and of 'seeing in depth' point us towards paradox from two directions at once -firstly from the direction of straightforward perceptual language, and secondly from that of self- contradiction. They both present religious paradox as lying on the edge between these two. However, it is important to recognise now that there is another sense in which they point us towards religious paradox from the direction of two different experiences of self-contradiction. They both commend paradox as about looking, so to speak, through self-contradiction, rather than at or from self-contradiction, as follows.
On the one hand, these two images both contrast our embrace of paradox with the experience of looking at a self-contradiction in the abstract, from the assumed and unproblematic meaning of its two elements. Unlike in the latter case, in our embrace of paradox we do not view contradiction in detachment, ..on the basis of an unreflective presupposition regarding the meaning of its parts; rather we commit ourselves seriously to the possibility that the utterance concerned intimates meaning to us as a whole, and in the process we call into question also the meaning of its parts, where before we had taken their meaning for granted. In this way our religious intention is a matter of our inescapable involvement in paradoxical utterance.
On the other hand, both of these images contrast our embrace of paradox with the experience of looking from unreflective inner contradiction, confusion and shame, in which we are unable to give an account of ourselves or what we intend. Unlike in the latter case, in our embrace of religious paradox we do not experience personal defeat before some inadvertancy or self-deceit of our own, so as to find the wind spilled from our sails; on the contrary, we show ourselves at our most vigorous as 'intentional' persons responding to the promise of life. Religious paradox does indeed concern the edge -but the cutting edge -of understanding and action.
In concurrence with Donald Baillie, we have held that paradox is a feature of religious language as such and not merely of its use in certain isolated instances. We have emphasised that this can be understood only, however, as we grasp and 'own' such language for ourselves within religious experience.
There is no understanding the expressions 'religious experience', 'religious language' or 'religious paradox' other than in this way, for these notions are themselves paradoxical when viewed in abstraction from religious experience. As characterisations they commend the enigma of that which we can experience, in every respect, only for ourselves -including in respect of these characterisations themselves.
I shall now show how our testimony to the character of religious language finds important echoes in the writings of Ian Ramsey.
(ii) Ian Ramsey's account of religious language It must be acknowledged that Ramsey does not habitually use the term 'paradoxical' to characterise religious language as such. He prefers to speak of it (following John Wisdom) as 'logically improper'. However, as we shall shortly see, for our purposes these two expressions converge in their practical reference. Ramsey's choice of terminology meanwhile has the value that, by virtue of its very oddness, it asks (and so directs attention to the possibility of) further explanation. In this way we are prepared for the possibility that religious language, even when seemingly self-contradictory, is in some sense 'logically explorable'. It is Ramsey's project, to lead us in such exploration.
According to Ramsey religious language, and its odd logical behaviour, arises out of and remains embedded in a distinctive 'religious situation' marked by a characteristic discernment and commitment. In his book 'Religious Language'10 Ramsey summarises the argument of his opening chapter as follows:
'... I tried to show that religious language talks of the discernment with which is associated, by way of response, a total commitment. We then noticed that parallels to this discernment, which yields more than "what's seen", could be found in situations which "come alive", where "the penny drops", or "the ice breaks", where we discover a person's name, and so on. I suggested that parallels to the commitment which characterises religion, might be found in the devoted action of a "free will"; in action from a "sense of duty", and also in the loyalty we give to persons, institutions and nations. Altogether the total commitment of religion might be said roughly to take such deep personal loyalty as we have exemplified and to give it the breadth of such commitment as that by which the mathematician embraces his axioms.
Our broad conclusion was that if this discernment-commitment is the kind of situation characteristic of religion, we must expect religious language to be appropriately odd, and to have a distinctive logical be11aviour. Otherwise it would not be currency for the strange kind of situation about which it claims to speak.' (p.49)
Ramsey now discusses some examples of this distinctive logical behaviour, choosing for his purpose a variety of traditional characterisations and attributes of God. He considers three groups of examples. The first group comprises some of the attributes of negative theology. I want now to take his very first example, and show how we can use it to enlarge our own insights regarding religious experience, language and paradox. I shall then indicate briefly how the other groups of examples discussed by Ramsey may be used in the same way. Finally I shall suggest some ways in which Ramsey's proposals need to be developed if they are not to generate misunderstanding concerning their subject-matter.
Ramsey takes for his first example the logical behaviour of the negative divine attribute 'immutable'. Now we miss the intention of this word if we think here, simply of the contingent property of being unchanging rather than changing, in the manner that lights are unchanging in colour in the case of street-lights but not in the case of traffic lights. Here is Ramsey's account of how 'immutable' works, by contrast:
'Let us imagine that we are travelling by train in a remote district as darkness falls. Little by little the scene is obliterated; first trees, then houses, slowly disappear from view; then the pylons, then the particular folds of the hills; then the hills themselves. Darkness has fallen: 'Fast falls the eventide'; 'the darkness deepens'. Change (if not decay) in all around I see. Now at every point in this changing scene, 'immutability', as an attribute of negative theology, whispers to us:
'But not everything changes... Is there not something which is unchanged? Do you not apprehend something which remains invariable in the situation despite what is so visibly changing?'... Such suggestions are constantly repeated as the scene constantly changes, in the hope that at some point the penny will drop, the ice break, the light dawn; that there will break on us that 'discernment' which is a 'sense of the unseen', a characteristically- religious situation, to which 'immutability' has led us.' (p.51)
Two points deserve emphasis here. Firstly, I would urge that this disclosure is paradoxical. To see this we need to recognise how 'immutability' discloses itself precisely in the odd 'boundary' situation towards which change of an increasingly comprehensive nature leads us, a situation in which we have the sense that everything is in change.
'Immutable' addresses precisely universal change. We shall explore this aspect of disclosure further below.
My second point concerns Ramsey's statement that disclosure brings a 'sense of the unseen' .Ramsey does not, by identifying the subject of disclosure as 'the unseen' , circumvent the requirement that this subject reveal itself in paradoxical disclosure. For properly understood, the expression 'unseen' itself does not, as Ramsey intends it, belong to everyday perceptual language. The expression 'sense of the unseen' is itself, as Ramsey acknowledges, logically odd (p.46). 'Unseen' is as much a religious term as 'immutable', and is grounded in the odd limiting situation where we are led to own absolutely everything as 'seen'. 'Unseen' is itself an attribute of negative theology which addresses the' seen' as universal, and accordingly paradoxical.
Let us now look more closely at the 'universality' of change which is addressed in the term 'immutable' -the universality which makes this term paradoxical. I suggest that to understand this matter properly, we must approach it from two directions. On the one hand, we need to begin by remarking how in the abstract we conceive change and absence of change in simple opposition to each other. The concepts of change and its absence have a logical symmetry here; change and its absence are in principle equally a matter of straightforward observation and reference. On the other hand, we need to begin by remarking how all our routine perception of change and of its absence presupposes a fixed background or frame of reference which counts for us as defining the meaning of change and its absence in the first place. Here we see another and different aspect of talk about change and of its absence of which we are normally unconscious, although this readily surfaces in special circumstances where the question of our perceptual frame of reference becomes a live issue, as may happen when riding a merry-go-round or sailing in a strong current. The important thing to grasp is that here, the meaning of 'absence of change' is a matter of immediate self-reference for us. 'Absence of change' is no longer the simple abstract opposite of 'change' , but the logical presupposition of the question, 'Is there change here or not?'
The disclosure of 'immutable', I suggest, addresses the meaning of 'change' from both these directions at once, as follows. Firstly, 'immutable' addresses our abstract understanding of change and its absence as standing alike before us in abstract opposition to each other. It does so by confronting us with paradox in the following way. When we try to see the reference 'immutable' and find ourselves met only with change, then our attention is displaced away in search of something else which remains unchanging. 'Such suggestions are constantly repeated as the scene constantly changes', says Ramsey. Disclosure now arises in the limiting circumstance when we sense that we can never finally turn away from change; that is, when we acquire a sense of 'ubiquitous change'. Disclosure wins our agreement that 'not everything changes' precisely at this point, as we discover that 'everything changes' .Accordingly, from an abstract viewpoint 'immutability' leads us from observational language to the limit of self- contradiction. However, when religious disclosure now follows, the presence of the 'unchanging' is not a notion we dismiss simply as a matter of self- contradiction; on the contrary, the 'unchanging' becomes animated in meaning for us, as a matter of endless further discovery and exploration.
Secondly, 'immutable' addresses the immediate act by which we count a certain state of affairs as 'unchanging'. It addresses our unreflective commitment to the very meaning of change and its absence, to our frame of reference for change. Where before the question of what counts as unchanging had been closed and settled for us as a matter of unthinking presupposition, now we are awakened to it as a matter of paradox in the following way. Consider how, as we gaze upon the scene described by Ramsey, we first see trees against hills, then as we lose sight of the trees we see hills against the sky; then we lose sight of these in turn. Such increasingly comprehensive change acts repeatedly to contradict the immediate frame of what counts as 'unchanging' for us; it repeatedly erodes our frame of reference for change. 'Immutable' discloses itself to us now in that boundary situation where we become aware that everything which 'unchanging' means to us by way of presupposition is being put to question, that is to say, is being contradicted qua presupposition. In this way 'immutability' leads us to the limit of inner contradiction. However, when at this point disclosure dawns, the meaning of the question of change does not simply dissolve for us; on the contrary, in the moment of successful disclosure the meaning of this question is re-animated for us as a question which demands our active, personal awareness and commitment.
Ramsey himself notes this latter aspect of self-reference within disclosure, which he finds in the characteristic 'language-plea' made by religious utterance. For example, he says that 'immutable' claims for the word 'God' itself, a position outside all mutable language (p.53). We might note that once again, properly understood this claim is itself paradoxical.
It addresses precisely the limiting situation where we are aware that 'everything changes' -everything including (as we own in this act of immediate self-reference), our own present language about God as 'immutable'.
It is possible to analyse along lines similar to these, the second group of examples discussed by Ramsey -namely, the characterisation of God by 'Unity', 'Simplicity' and 'Perfection'. Here Ramsey uses what he calls 'the method of contrasts' to show how each of these again commends a disclosure in an odd, limiting situation. Thus we are led towards the meaning of 'unity' by reflecting upon its opposite in diversity and progressively eliminating elements of diversity from our experience. In this way we are invited to see diversity as a quite ubiquitous feature of our experience.
It is precisely at this point that 'unity' discloses itself in paradox. In the same way 'simplicity' discloses itself to us as we grasp a complexity which is ubiquitous, and 'perfection' as we grasp a ubiquitous imperfection.
For his third group of examples Ramsey chooses a variety of attributes and characterisations including 'first cause' and 'eternal purpose'. According to Ramsey each of these has the logical structure of a qualified model. He explains how, by an odd qualification, a model such as 'cause' or 'purpose' may be developed in a particular direction until the typically religious situation is evoked. We might note that Ramsey's third group of examples differ from those in the two previous groups in that their logical impropriety is explicit. This is why Ramsey favours the formulation of religious beliefs as qualified models for the purposes of theological discussion.
We shall find upon inspection that when a qualified model becomes for us the occasion of religious disclosure, it leads us once again into an odd boundary situation. For in this moment we move beyond all straightforward modifications of the model with which we began to the point of its virtual contradiction. Ramsey acknowledges that the expression 'eternal purpose' is a contradiction when entertained apart from the religious disclosure to which it directs us (p. 79) .In the same moment we also move to the point of virtual self-reference, as the very meaning of the 'model' we presuppose is called into question and we are opened up to the renewal of this meaning.
In all three groups of examples offered by Ramsey, then, we find ourselves led at once to the edge of self-contradiction and of self-reference. These two aspects of religious disclosure are in reality inseparable. For it is precisely when, responding to a religious situation, our intention of reference leads us the edge of self-contradiction that the question of self-reference- the question of what we unreflectively here count as meaningful by way of reference in the first place -surfaces and becomes integrated into what we address in religious discernment. In this way religious discernment represents the paradox of an act of reference which is by nature open towards ever new depths of meaning. Similarly it is precisely when, responding to a religious situation, our intention of unreflectively assimilating meaning leads us to the edge of inner contradiction that the question of reference -of attention to the world from which we acquired a sense of meaning in the first place -awakens in us and becomes integrated into what is addressed in religious commitment.
In this way religious commitment represents the paradox of an essentially open commitment.
The discernment-commitment to which we are led in religious disclosure thus contrasts in an odd way both with the act of detached 'reference' found in routine observation and with the immediate 'self-reference' found in our unreflective commitment to what we count as meaningful. On the one hand, in this discernment-commitment we are no longer engaged simply in looking at what registers from our detached viewpoint either as a meaningful reference or as a matter of abstract contradiction. On the other hand we are no longer engaged simply in looking from that which is, as a matter of our unreflective commitment, either a presupposed meaningfulness or an inner contradiction. In disclosure these two fundamental aspects of our perceptual experience are brought together into essential polar relation with each other so as to interanimate each other and together constitute a direction in which we are involved in looking, a disclosure through which we look. (Figure 1)
ABSTRACT ' , REFERENCE / / ABSTRACT , to' TAUTOLOGY " / SELF-CONTRADICTION
y , I
attention' through' '--- ;) RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE ~ , from' INNER INNER
TAUTOLOGY SELF -REFERENCE SELF -CONTRAD I CTION FIGURE1
Ramsey's proposals: the need for two critical developments I have drawn upon Ramsey's account of religious language in order to develop further our understanding of paradox and its relation to religious experience. However, I suggest there are two points where his proposals need to be developed further in order that they may remain faithful to the mystery of God.
The first point invites attention because we are concerned to acknowledge that we are embraced by mystery not only in God but also in our experience of Him. It was this same concern which prompted me to develop John Baillie's proposals so as to acknowledge that paradox is already present in the notions of 'paradox', 'religious utterance' and 'religious experience' themselves. Let me now suggest that in turn, Ramsey's characterisations of religious language must be themselves understood as paradoxical or, in his own terminology, logically improper. For a start, is not his favoured term 'logical impropriety' itself 'logically improper'? Surely language is either logical or illogical? The expression 'logical impropriety' gives us no firm handle on religious language from an abstract viewpoint, any more than does the term 'paradox'; if we forget this and begin speaking of logical impropriety as if it were some readily specifiable linguistic feature, we shall have forgotten its meaning. Again, in reality the expression 'logical impropriety' is surely itself an example of an odd 'qualified model'. And again, is not the expression 'qualified model' itself a qualified model, and logically improper? For it is surely either consistent or else inconsistent, to develop a model in a particular way? What, then, is the 'odd development' to which we subject a model when we 'qualify' it in Ramsey's sense, if not a logically improper notion?
At these and many other points it can be argued that Ramsey's own 'second- order' language is itself logically improper. This impropriety perhaps deserves special mention at one last point -namely, his claim to ground religious language in a 'wider empiricism' is itself an odd claim; the expression 'wider empiricism' turns out, upon investigation, to be itself a qualified model, and logically improper! This fact must be acknowledged in any faithful 'empirical' account of religious language.
The second point where I see need to develop Ramsey's proposals is in his account of the commitment displayed within religious situations. I shall pursue this at greater length than the previous point because it opens up a number of important issues -not least, the central paradox of grace.
Ramsey draws upon Samuel Butler in proposing, as we have seen, that religious situations are characterised at once by a religious commitment and a religious discernment. However, Ramsey seems sometimes to give discernment a certain priority over commitment as when, for example, he writes of a 'discernment with which is associated, by way of response, a total commitment', and when he writes of a 'discernment which provokes a commitment'. However, I suggest that to divide discernment and commitment in this way -to speak of the former as 'provoking' the latter, and of the latter as being a 'response to' the former -is misleading. On one hand it obscures the fact that discernment is already an act of our response, our commitment, our self-involvement in the mystery of God. On the other hand it obscures the fact that our religious commitment does not wait upon the prior occasion of a 'discernment' ; it would be untrue to say that the question of such commitment does not arise until such a prior discernment has arisen. To be sure, Ramsey does go so far as to remark that in their religious sense 'commitment without any discernment whatever is bigotry and idolatry; to have the discernment without an appropriate commitment... is insincerity and hypocrisy'.
But I suggest that we need to go further than this and say that in their true religious sense discernment without commitment is not discernment, and commitment without discernment is not commitment. Religious commitment and discernment arise inseparably together; they are inseparably linked.
There is also a connected danger, in the way of talking which I have just quoted from Ramsey, of conveying the idea that religious discernment is on every occasion a once-and-for-all affair, a completed event which sets in motion and shapes according to its own completed character an ensuing religious commitment. But in reality the disclosure of a religious mystery, by its very nature, grows and deepens without measure. Eric Mascall writes:
'It is as if we were walking into a fog with the aid of a lamp which was getting steadily brighter; the area which we could see with some distinctness would get larger and larger, but so also would the opaque and undifferentiated background in which no detail was yet visible'.ll
In other words, the penny does not drop and rest, so to speak, but continues falling and accelerating in its fall. And already belonging to this dynamic process, is a trusting or 'open' commitment on our part towards realising or actualising the promised disclosure of an ever richer and more vital meaning. We may grant, therefore, that there is no religious commitment without discernment -but equally there is no religious discernment without commitment. The two develop in tandem. We need to hold alongside Ramsey's statements, the words of Anselm: 'I do not understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand'.
We shall, I suggest, succeed in upholding the primary place of religious commitment alongside discernment only if we remain clear about the difference between the 'open' commitment which this represents and our 'closed', immediate and unreflective commitments. It is crucial, in other words, that we grasp that just as religious discernment involves something 'more' than routine observational language, so religious commitment involves something 'more' than our unreflective commitment to meaning.
It should be noted that our unreflective commitment to meaning shows itself not only in our use of observational language in the way I have described, in our commitment to what counts as meaningful observation in the first place; it shows itself also in our exercise of skills insofar as this contains an 'automatic' element. Indeed it shows itself, I suggest, in the whole range of automatisms which together constitute our psychological and cultural identity and values -in what Paul Tournier has called our 'personage'.12 Religious commitment is not only about being receptive to the disclosure of new, religious, referential meaning; it is also about a quality of personal action and disposition towards the world in which we direct ourselves beyond every automatism.
Although Ramsey does not himself develop an account of the difference between religious commitment and unreflective commitment, he prepares the way for such an account when he describes the expression of religious commitment through what he terms 'significant tautologies'. Having earlier shed light on religious discernment by drawing an analogy with discernment of a characteristically 'personal' kind, he now sheds light on religious commitment by analogy with commitment of a characteristically 'personal' kind. He notes how, when we are asked to give account of ourselves and of , our actions or attitudes, our efforts to do so sometimes reach bedrock in the utterance of apparent tautologies. He finds one example of this in our utterance of the maxim 'duty for duty's sake'; another, in our recourse, by way of final justification for our actions, to the declaration 'I'm I'
Here, once again, disclosure arises in the 'boundary' situation where we move to the limit of observational language and reference, and embrace self-reference. On this particular occasion the limit concerned is the empty self-reference of tautology rather than of self-contradiction. But the same consideration applies here, as in the case of self-contradiction: in order adequately to describe the disclosure conveyed by a significant tautology, we must acknowledge that it contrasts not only with simple empirical reference but also with simple unreflective self-reference.
Significant tautology must be distinguished not just from observational language, but equally from all simple tautology implied in our unreflective commitments and unthinking presupposition.
To this latter end I suggest we must see in 'religious commitment' itself, a qualified model which requires us to develop the model 'commitment' away from unreflectivity to the point where, becoming aware that unreflectivity is precisely a universal property of commitment, there dawns upon us the paradox of an irreducibly open and reflective commitment. We might begin here by thinking of the unreflective commitment we show to what 'counts' for us as the meaning of any observational term. From this we might move to those examples of commitment of a more 'personal' kind which are described by Ramsey. Some of our 'personal' commitments are, of course, less than fully so; the hobby we once enjoyed, the personal relationships that were once so much part of us -these things may show themselves in retrospect to have arisen largely as a matter of unreflective commitment and habit. The question who we are as a person is answered not by reference to any such patterns of unreflective commitment, but by reference to the vitality and openness of response we show precisely towards (amongst other things) every such unreflective commitment of ours which waits to be unearthed and engaged. Through the vitality of our open commitment we grow into greater freedom and personal identity of the kind which fills with significance, the tautology 'I'm I'. Religious commitment now commends itself as concerning the odd limiting case such tautology acquires immeasurable significance, as the expression of an unconditionally open and totally self-involving commitment in which we direct ourselves beyond all unreflectivity towards unlimited freedom and personal identity.
I intend to develop these loosely expressed ideas in the chapters ahead.
Religious commitment and resistance to God Having recognised the openness of religious commitment we are now in a better position to understand what is meant by active resistance to God, and what it means for this resistance to be overcome in conversion. In passing, we might note here that in order to speak adequately of this metanoia or' turn-about' we shall need other images than' the penny dropping' or of 'light dawning'. These hardly convey the extent to which conversion towards God is a matter actively of 'letting go', of yielding to the claims of life and love, of trusting in the full sense of entrusting oneself to..., of daring to hope and to place our hope beyond ourselves instead of in ourselves.
We cannot, I suggest, handle these themes of resistance to God and conversion towards Him, however, without addressing at the same time the question of the presence or absence of an initiative shown towards us by God. It makes no sense to identify 'lack of response to God' as an act of resistance where God has not revealed Himself in the first place. On the other hand, if religious disclosure is simply and entirely a matter of divine initiative, what place is left at all for the language of conversion and resistance? Ramsey's account leaves these issues unclarified.
For his part, Ramsey does acknowledge that when religious disclosure occurs, this implies an initiative from God. Suitable language is therefore, by itself, no guarantee of religious disclosure; this would be 'semantic magic'. For our part, we shall add that where religious language does not evoke a disclosure, we must distinguish between two possible explanations: either the language concerned has not been the occasion of self-disclosing divine initiative in the first place, or it has been the occasion of active resistance to such initiative.
What do these two alternative explanations involve? Firstly, what does it mean to say that a piece of religious language has not been the occasion of self-disclosing divine initiative? Crucially, it involves more than thinking of 'religious language' as a kind of power tool in our hands which needs to be switched on by God before it will work, and on this occasion has not been switched on. For, as we shall rather testify, we do not know an utterance at hand as 'religious language' in the first place, until it becomes for us the channel of God's self-disclosing initiative. As we have already seen, 'religious language' is itself a mystery which draws us into itself. It is not an objectifiable tool or technique lying at hand, ready to play some specifiable part in the job of disclosure.
Secondly, what does it mean to say that when religious language is constituted as such by the self-disclosing initiative of God, it may yet prove the occasion of evasion rather than response? We mean in the first instance by this that the initiative of God inescapably raises for us the concrete question of response to God in a moment of personal krisis or judgement. Crucially, however, there is more to this than thinking that we first discern God and then, having done so, respond either by showing commitment or resistance. For as we have already seen, in our response to God commitment rs already present within, and inseparable from, discernment. Similarly in resistance to God, evasion is already present within, and inseparably part of, our primary apprehension of God.
So what form does this primary apprehension take? The terms in which to describe this can be derived, I suggest, from the comparison we have made, between religious discernment-commitment and routine observation on the one hand, and unreflective commitment on the other. Corresponding to this, in evasion of God we point ourselves in one of two directions away from a proper response to God in religious discernment-commitment. We maintain the intention either of observation or of unreflective commitment, where in either case to do so is to abandon the sincere intention of response to reality as it addresses us. In the former case we cling actively to some unreflective frame of meaning as an 'external' vantage-point from which to see and judge God in detachment -and so deny, in unacknowledged intention, that it is we ourselves who stand here under judgement; while in the latter case, we pre-emptively capitulate before the demands of judgement as we appropriate them in an immediate and unreflective way. In the former case we dismiss the paradox of God as an abstract self-contradiction, by reference to some unreflective frame of meaning; in the latter case we take paradox into ourselves as inner contradiction, to the diminishment of the vitality of our endeavour towards personal understanding as a whole.
It is crucial to grasp that both of the stances we envisage here are a matter at once of active and self-concealed evasion. The former is therefore not just a matter of our maintaining a 'detached' position, but of our actively detaching ourselves from the God who addresses us. We can think of our attitude as like that of an old lady who has been intently watching workmen through her net-curtained window, when suddenly one of them turns and waves to her. She remains outwardly impassive, ignoring his wave, and goes on looking at him. But her situation has altered. She has lost the option of being a passive spectator; having lost it, she has chosen actively to dissociate herself from, rather than respond to, the demands of concrete personal address which now confront her. In the same way when religious utterance comes alive as the occasion of God's initiative towards us and we seek detachment from this, then our attitude towards Him is the self-concealed intention of active dissociation. I shall denote such a stance 'dissociation'.
We may also evade the demands of response to God's self-disclosure, as I have remarked, by taking the demands of paradox into ourselves as inner contradiction in such a way that the entire question of meaning dissolves, so to speak, from within us. Whereas dissociation has the connotations of dismissiveness, denial, and of a repressive ego, this alternative stance has the connotations of enervation, anxiety and a weak ego. Once again, however, this involves a self-concealed intention of perverse compliance with our demoralisation; the experience of being a passive victim is actively upheld in an act of self-deception. I shall denote such a stance 'unreflective or pre-emptive assimilation'.
Just as we can trace parallels to the discernment-commitment which characterise religious disclosure more widely in typically 'personal' situations, so parallels to religious evasion can also be traced there.
However, the religious situation remains distinctive. In what ways have I enlarged upon Ramsey's account of this distinctiveness? Firstly, I have stressed that in the unconditional commitment which we show by religious response we stand open towards the endless deepening of religious disclosure, corresponding to God's initiative. Religious disclosure always opens out into its own greater realisation in the fullness of God's unconditional initiative towards us and a corresponding fullness of religious discernment-commitment on our part. In this sense religious disclosure is always 'eschatological' in character; it beckons us into our future with God. Secondly, my account" describes resistance to God, and implies that this is similarly open towards endless greater depths of incorrigibility. The possibility always remains of a more final denial of the demands of God upon us and upon our autonomy, and a more final personal disintegration before the demands of unconditional hope and trust. These insights promise, once developed, to shed new light upon the meaning of the basic Christian doctrines of sin and conversion, judgement and salvation.
(iii) Metaphor and Mystery
Our study of Ramsey's proposals has both confirmed and elaborated our claim for religious language, that it is essentially paradoxical and that it testifies to that which is essentially a matter of vital personal address.
Let us now examine one other description of religious language, as 'undying metaphor' and as 'irreducible metaphor'. Shall we find here, further support for, and prospective enlargement of, our proposals?
I shall take bearings here from Janet Soskice's 'Metaphor and Religious Language'.13 A parallel shows itself immediately between her general account of metaphor and the description of paradox which we have given, as follows. We have argued that paradox cannot be understood simply as a feature of external linguistic form, such as the abstract opposition of two explicit terms, but is rather part of the intention, in its intended context -which mayor may not be verbally specified - of an utterance which we 'own'. Nevertheless, whether or not both terms of the paradox are explicit here, in paradox we embrace these terms together so as to look through them in the direction of new and richer meaning. Now Soskice writes in similar manner of metaphor that it cannot be understood 'as simply a matter of conflict of word meaning' , but rather characterises an utterance understood as a whole in its intended context; and when so understood, the two terms of a metaphor (she follows I. A. Richards in calling these 'tenor' and 'vehicle' -the tenor, she recognises, need not be explicit) 'interanimate' each other so as to give rise to a single meaning -the meaning of the metaphor. The following passage illustrates her approach:
'It is only by seeing that a metaphor has one true subject which tenor and vehicle conjointly depict and illumine that a full, interactive, or interanimative, theory is possible. An example shows this best. Consider the interaction of tenor and vehicle in Virginia Woolf's metaphorical description of Mrs Ramsay in To the Lighthouse:
"Never did anybody look so sad. Bitter and black, half-way down, in the darkness, in the shaft which ran from the sunlight to the depths, perhaps a tear formed; a tear fell; the waters swayed this way and that, received it, and were at rest. Never did anybody look so sad."
'What is being spoken of is not both a private grief and a shaft of some kind but simply some private, sickening grief. Yet to identify the subject as a private grief is to fall short of the genuinely descriptive content of the metaphor. The content, the full meaning of the metaphor, results from the complete unity of tenor and vehicle. The vehicle of the shaft is not by itself the 'metaphor' for the grief. Nor is the tenor of grief by itself the meaning of the metaphor. The metaphor and its meaning (it is artificial to separate them) are the unique product of the whole and the excellence of a metaphor such as this one is not that it is anew description of a previously discerned human condition but that this subject, this particular mental state, is accessible only through the metaphor. What is identified and described is identified and described uniquely by this metaphor.'
Soskice urges that not only the meaning of a metaphor, but also its reference, is 'effected by the speaker's employment of the whole utterance in its context'. Indeed, as the example of Virginia Woolf's metaphor illustrates, the description effected by a metaphor can itself succeed in picking out its referent.
Let us now examine the character of religious language as 'irreducible and undying metaphor'. Straight away one point must be emphasised here. We cannot subsume religious language under the general category of 'metaphor' in any straightforward sense. When we speak of religious language as metaphor, we speak metaphorically. For properly understood, the terms 'irreducible metaphor' and undying metaphor' are, as applied to religious utterance, logically odd; each is, in Ramsey's terminology, a 'qualified model'. Religious language leads us an odd step beyond the model 'metaphor'.
Earlier I distinguished two aspects of observational language: on the one hand there is the conscious meaning and content of any statement we make, and on the other hand there is the conceptual framework presupposed by this statement, which is a matter of our unreflective commitment to 'what counts as referentially meaningful'. I want to suggest that the notions of 'irreducible' and of 'undying' metaphor respectively address these two aspects of everyday perceptual language, and point to the location of religious disclosure on the edge of such language.
Religious metaphor as' irreducible metaphor' In what sense can we speak of religious language as 'irreducible metaphor'? Let me approach this question indirectly, by entertaining firstly metaphors which are largely reducible and then moving on to those which are less so.
A metaphor is 'reducible' insofar as it permits us to specify its reference and its content by means other than the use of the metaphor itself. The 'reference' and the 'content' of a metaphor are here distinct and are analogous to the same features in observational language. If we now specify these in abstraction from their use in metaphor, and conceive the metaphor by reference to them, we conceive the metaphor in question in terms of simile; that is, as a description of one subject by reference to its similarities with another. Insofar as a metaphor is reducible in this way it works, as Max Black has said, like the imposition of one subject over another by way of a 'grid' through which we see our reference in a selective way. We should note that this way of picturing metaphor entails an appeal to some kind of common frame of meaning within which our two subjects may be compared. An example of a largely reducible metaphor might be 'An extra jumper -a sensible piece of energy conservation!', which superimposes two sets of associations which are at variance and yet which are easily linked together within a common frame of reference.
A metaphor eludes reduction insofar as its reference and content, as these are given in its use, convey substantially more than is conveyed by any supposed referent and content of the metaphor which we can specify apart from its use. In such a case reference and content are given together and together they constitute the one subject of the metaphor. Insofar as a metaphor meets this description, it resists reduction to Black's selective- grid model. For here we do not find ourselves presented with two subjects which at some level of abstraction offer a common frame of reference within which they display certain common features. Rather, as Soskice argues, we find ourselves attracted by a single subject which arises for us by the interanimation of two terms. What is more, we would seem implicitly to count these terms as defying comparison within a common frame of reference.
This is apparent to us when we reflect that the metaphorical force of the remark 'here comes that wolf again' (spoken of a man) depends, in a sense, as much upon the impossibility of comparing man and wolf as upon its possibility; the reply 'he is no wolf' is equally metaphorical. As metaphors, these two remarks alike depend upon our counting it a question which does not arise, to say that a man is, or is not, a wolf.
Soskice rightly implies that every metaphor displays this kind of irreducibility to some measure. However, some metaphors are less reducible than others. For example, the metaphor she quotes from Virginia Woolf, although we can still make some sense of it in the abstract, largely eludes reduction. Thus, although Soskice succeeds (by the expression 'a particular mental state') in specifying in some measure this subject without employing the metaphor itself, only the metaphor itself fully reveals this subject.
And it remains possible here that this metaphor actually enlarges and enriches our understanding of what it means to refer to a 'mental state' in the first place.
Metaphors range, then, from those which are largely reducible to those which are virtually irreducible.14 Towards the latter limit, the reference and content of a metaphor, as these are given when a metaphor is 'owned' in use, arise together with great vitality of presence, while in abstraction from such use, virtually nothing is conveyed. It is at this limit that metaphor converges with religious paradox and with religious 'qualified models' and shares with these their essentially first-hand, personal meaning, their essentially 'directional' character, and the odd relation to observational language entailed in this.
Religious metaphor as 'undying metaphor'
It is a familiar truth that metaphors which become part of our everyday speech sometimes 'die' in the process. For example, we do not usually speak with metaphorical intent when we refer to the 'leg' of a chair, the 'eye' of a needle, or to the 'root' of a problem.
We might note, in passing, that such 'death' does not concern the loss of a dual reference as such, so much as the loss of that vitality of insight which arises in the metaphorical employment of this dual reference. We meet other kinds of speech than metaphorical which 'die' in the same way, without the loss of a dual reference entering into this. One instance is found in what might be called 'etymological death'. This is illustrated by the way we habitually refer to a 'saucepan' without thinking of it as a pan for sauce. The 'death' common to these different kinds of speech would seem to reflect the severing of an act of reference from the source of its vitality in our personal acclamation of meaning, and the reduction of the original speech-act merely to the former. Thus when a metaphor dies, the reference and content which were originally given together by the 'owned' use of the metaphor reduce merely to the presupposed referent of statements.
Now some metaphors die fairly readily, while others are more resilient. A metaphor can be said to die readily insofar as it gives rise to a residual reference which, we readily agree, captures the subject of the metaphor.
Thus talk of the 'leg' of a chair succeeds in picking out its reference quite adequately without any need of our grasping it as a metaphor. By contrast, insofar as a metaphor is resistant to dying its reference retains its original connection with personal disclosure. Among such metaphors are those which commend value. By way of illustration, 'Her latest sculpture is a gem' hardly tells us what it will mean for us to see a 'gem' when we see one in the sculpture concerned. This remark urges us to look and see for ourselves what is here addressed. Despite repeated use in this metaphorical sense, the term 'gem' retains, largely undying, the effect of extending to us this invitation to personal insight.
The limiting case of 'undying' metaphor accordingly concerns the situation when virtually the entire force of a metaphor is focussed in its urgent invitation to new personal insight. When such a metaphor is experienced as 'dead' and understood as a mere act of reference, hardly anything is understood of it. Here again, at this limit, metaphor converges with religious language, sharing its unique and undying vitality.
Religious language as 'creative' rather than 'pre-emptive' metaphor ' So far we have been approaching religious metaphor from the direction of observational language; we shall now approach it from the direction of unreflective commitment. Unless we do so, we shall risk confusing religious experience with the latter -especially since the latter gives rise to its own species of 'irreducible and undying metaphor'.
This last point is noted by psychologist Jerome Bruner. Bruner characterises the kind of metaphor we have been discussing as basically 'creative'.
In contrast to this he sets' the "pre-emptive" metaphor: the technique by which many seemingly unrelated things are tied together by a common fear and common avoidance. The joining of such disparate collections of fears seems to be metaphoric... ,15 Bruner illustrates this from the case of a young man for whom a wide range of everyday objects symbolise aggression: tools are seen compulsively as weapons, and so on.
This notion of 'pre-emptive' metaphor can be applied generally, I suggest, to our unconscious projection both of spectres which pursue us at every turn and of mirages which beckon us at every turn. By such metaphors we transform the world into a stage on which we act out our response to the hidden 'existential' meaning of things and events. Here, by an odd inversion, it is our own very existence or non-existence which we project into and symbolise by the things that pursue or beckon us. These metaphors cannot 'die' while they hold us in their spell; rather they tend, by their very nature, to imbue everything with their own mythological meaning.
It has often been stated that religious faith concerns the 'mythologisation' of life. In one sense this is true, and it has to do with the character of religious language as 'creative' metaphor. In an equally important sense, however, we now see that religious faith concerns the 'demythologisation' of life: it concerns our liberation from the kind of myths embodied in 'pre-emptive' metaphor.
In short we can say, in matters which affect us deeply and personally metaphors of two sorts are generated, each irreducible and undying in its own way. One sort is essentially creative, the other, pre-emptive. The former has to do, I suggest, with religious response; the latter has to do with evasion or inner bondage regarding such response.
The phenomenon of pre-emptive metaphor serves to remind us once more that religious language is not to be identified too easily with metaphor.
Positively, religious language would seem to be identified better with a uniquely creative 'vitality' of meaning. While this vitality or dynamism may be associated with the interanimation of the two terms involved in a paradox, metaphor or 'qualified model', it is really about something wider than this -namely, the personal disclosure to us of new meaning and reference. The concentration we have given to various 'pairs of terms' has nevertheless helped us to recognise that personal disclosure has an essential 'directional' quality. The 'direction' concerned emerges, we shall recall, as a direction 'owned' as we own a line of vision -'through' it, we attend towards the world in its 'depth from us'.
In the next chapter we shall discuss how these conclusions tie in with theories of radically new understanding in general. We shall examine firstly some theories of early childhood learning, and then some other theories about the nature of radical discovery as this occurs in scientific work. As we now turn our attention temporarily away from religious understanding, we do so with the purpose of seeing more clearly the relationship between this understanding and understanding in general.
Baillie, God was in Christ (
Buber, I and Thou (eng., 3rd ed'n,
See also Nicholas Lash's remarks concerning the modern contraction in meaning of 'experience' : Nicholas Lash, Easter in Ordinary.
3. Buber, I and Thou, p.123.
the discussion, a few pages later, regarding 'immutable' and 'unseen'. Also
relevant is Marcel's comment on Buber: 'It is in effect unavoidable that each
Thou become a thing or lapse into thinghood. But this is still not saying
enough: I would add for my part that it is of the essence of language to effect
this transformation'. Marcel, I and Thou,
in P. A. Schilpp & M. Friedman (ed) , The
Philosophy of Martin Buber' (
Baillie, The Sense of the Presence of God
6. P. T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, p.30.
7. P. T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, p.34.
8. P. F. Strawson, Introduction to Logical Theory (London, 1952).
9. J. D. Crossan, The Dark Interval (Illinois, 1975), p.45.
Ramsey, Religious Language (
11. Eric Mascall, Words and Images (London, 1957), p.79.
Tournier, The Meaning of Persons
Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (
14. The range of reducibility among metaphors (from greatly reducible to virtually irreducible) bears relation, I suggest, to the range of correspondence among metaphors (from high correspondence to low correspondence) .See G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (London, 1980), pp.153-5.
15. Jerome Bruner, On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand (Cambridge, U.S.A., 1962), p.13.
CHAPTER FIVE: OUR SELF-INVOLVEMENT IN UNDERSTANDING
In Chapters Two, Three and Four I have sought to clarify the nature of religious knowledge and its subject. I have urged that these bear a distinctive, odd relation to our knowledge in general and to the subject- matter of this knowledge. Specifically, the subject of religious knowledge is irreducibly a matter of our personal address;religious knowledge is itself known for What it is only as it 'embraces' us -that is, as we rise to it personally in the intention of religious address. we cannot 'objectify' this subject or manipulate it within any frame of reference supposedly outside of or prior to itself. Any attempt to handle religious utterance in the abstract comes up against seeming self-contradiction. Equally,
Neither religious knowledge nor its subject can be understood in abstraction either from themselves or from each other.
Now this might seem to suggest that religious knowledge is located in some problematic enclave within knowledge or on its fringe, while our knowledge in general, for its part, stands secure prior to any resolution of the problem of religious knowledge and its subject. But if we are faithful to our religious experience here, we shall deny that this is so. Rather, we shall urge, religious reality is the measure of all reality; religious knowledge, the measure of all knowledge.
I want now to develop this claim by arguing, firstly, a connection between religious knowledge and the kind of insight in which radically new knowledge is born. I shall then argue that these two experiences both reflect the intention of a primary, radical responsiveness which I shall describe, and that together they commend the primary meaning of knowledge.
This argument will involve some digression from explicitly religious themes.
Our discussion, in Chapter Four, of religious experience suggests that the key to the relation between religious and other understanding lies in the manner of our self-involvement in each. For example, Ian Ramsey explicates the relation between religious and other language by reference to its character as a discernment/commitment in which we are personally involved as God 'comes alive' for us in self-disclosure. We have seen that the place of total personal commitment in such religious experience is absolutely primary.
It is in terms of our self-involvement that I shall now argue a connection between religious knowledge and radical personal discovery. In particular I shall explore the connection between religious experience and, on the one hand, our experiences in early childhood when the world itself 'comes alive' for us repeatedly in new ways, and on the other' hand, those acts of radical insight which mark the greatest advances in scientific knowledge.
We shall see how the study of these two areas of experience has led certain authors to emphasise our self-involvement in knowledge. I shall discuss first, Margaret Donaldson's account of childhood learning and its implied account of understanding in general, and then Michael Polanyi's account of personal knowledge and discovery.
While these authors testify eloquently to our self-involvement in knowledge, it is less clear that they understand that the self-involving activity which they describe is primary for knowledge in the full sense of being necessary and sufficient to define the act of 'knowing' as such. In the last part of this chapter I shall elaborate the meaning of such a claim, and argue for it in the face of some more obvious objections.
(i) Self-Involvement in Childhood Learning I want to begin by referring to Jean Piaget's developmental psychology. We should note immediately some basic points of convergence between his account of knowledge and our account of religious address. Firstly, Piaget sees knowledge as a process or event rather than a state of affairs, a process which comes into being through our prior involvement in activity.
The growth of knowledge is therefore seen as important in helping us understand what knowledge is. Secondly, the process of knowing has a dual character: it is constituted by the polarity of 'assimilation' and 'accommodation'. By 'assimilation' Piaget means the process of appropriating newly received sense-data to the existing framework of our understanding and activity; by 'accommodation', the process of adapting ourselves and our frameworks to such new data. In the activity of knowing, Piaget sees these two processes working together in the direction of ever improved forms of dynamic equilibrium.
Now it has been argued that Piaget's theory has been distorted by his overriding interest in the development of logico-mathematical knowledge - the knowledge which shows itself in our ability to handle formal logical operations in the abstract. His preoccupation with this particular end- point of intellectual development, it has been claimed, biases his theory in a way which limits its value for understanding the processes of knowing and learning in general. I share this view, and suggest that his theory is, in fact, least adequate of all in the account it implies of that knowledge which is (as I shall urge) paradigmatic for all knowledge: our most radical new insights, our most personal, moral and creative understanding, and above all our religious knowledge.
The distortion of such knowledge evident in Piaget's theory arises from the way he uses the notion of 'de-centring'. This issue is helpfully discussed by Margaret Donaldson, and it will be convenient here to follow her choice of example to illustrate what is in debate.1 As is well known, Piaget often used childrens' ability or inability to 'conserve' qualities such as number, weight, and volume as a criterion of their ability to think and reason. By his 'conservation' tests he sought to establish whether a child could recognise these qualities as invariant, i.e. as independent of perceived changes associated with movement or change of shape. Donaldson describes a Piaget-type test to establish whether a child 'conserves' length. A child is shown two rods side by side, thus:__________, and is asked whether these rods are the same length. When she says that they are, one rod is moved parallel to the other, thus: __________. She is then asked again whether the rods are the same length. If she understands that they are, she is said to 'conserve' length.
If a child fails to 'conserve' here, then according to Piaget this is because she has failed to reason in the following way: since (i) the rods are initially the same length and (ii) nothing has been done which has the effect of changing length, therefore (iii) the rods remain the same length -despite the fact that this is no longer immediately evident to our perception. She fails to reason in this way, according to Piaget, because she fails to 'de-centre' from her immediate situation. This failure has two elements corresponding, respectively, to the spatial and temporal changes entailed in the test. Firstly she fails to differentiate the question of length from whatever immediate perceptual feature of the rods she happens to fasten upon, such as the fact that one rod protrudes beyond the other at a certain end. Secondly she fails to differentiate the question of length from the present moment of experience and understand the invariance of length over time -with its implication that the movement of the rods can be reversed. According to Piaget, here the world is assimilated to the child's immediate experience and centres unconsciously on the child herself; she fails to accommodate adequately to the real world. A proper equilibrium of accommodation and assimilation is therefore lost. As a result of this she has only a 'subjective' knowledge of the world, and not real knowledge of the world.
Donaldson, however, challenges Piaget's interpretation of 'failure to conserve' in a test such as this. She asks: 'Leaving explanation aside, what. actually happens when a "non-conserving" response occurs? It amounts to this: In a short space of time, the child gives two conflicting answers to what, for an adult, is the same question with "the same meaning". But suppose that the child is not concerned to weigh specially what the words of the question mean in isolation. Suppose he is rather interpreting the whole situation: what the experimenter says, what he does, what he may reasonably be thought to intend.' Thus, if for example the experimenter introduces his movement of the rods with the words 'Watch this', then (Donaldson asks) is it not reasonable that the child should think that the change introduced in this way is of relevance to the next question which will be asked?
By implication, if we were now to devise tests of child reasoning which show a better understanding of the wider context in which the tasks we specify will be seen by the child, children would show themselves able often to perform tasks to a standard unaccountable for by Piaget's theory.
Donaldson cites the results of several tests which seem to confirm that this is the case.
At root here, I suggest, we are invited by Donaldson's approach to acknowledge reality as something in which we are radically involved. Reality
embraces us as the whole context in which we find ourselves as participants; our every act of understanding is 'embedded' in such a context. The
primary source of understanding lies precisely here -and not in the loss of 'centredness'.
This is not to say that Donaldson's appeal to experimental results is, in my opinion, conclusive; I do not believe that the results of any scientific test could be so. I certainly agree that the results which she cites commend a possibility obscured for us by Piaget's theory. However, as we shall now see, Piaget's theory can still account for these results. The issue at stake here is a crucial one; let me investigate it more closely.
The basic issue here is that Piaget's theory offers a different interpretation from Donaldson's, of the attention a child pays to the intention of a
person who conducts an experiment with her. Donaldson sees this attention as part of the child's attention towards the 'wider context' of the words addressed to her. Piaget can reply, however, that this attention is rather a matter of inattention to the 'wider' world, and is rather itself an aspect of the child's failure to decentre -in this instance from the immediacy of her relationship with the experimenter. The experimental results cited by Donaldson will now be attributed to 'imitation'. Piaget has written that the child's activity constantly fluctuates between two antagonistic poles -between deforming assimilation due to her ego-centrism, and imitation devoid of assimilation due to her lack of consciousness arising from ego-centrism. The intention of the experimenter will now be seen, not as part of a 'wider context' but as the imposition of an expectation that the child will give the right answer. Her discernment of this intention is directed towards 'imitation'; therefore it is itself part of her 'centred' activity.
We have here, two different interpretations of the evidence. They direct us I suggest, ultimately towards two different understandings of reality. For Piaget, the ability to handle conservation problems and their like 'out of context' defines what it means for us to understand and to reason. It shows that we are in touch with the real world. For Donaldson, however, the skills of abstract manipulation seemingly implied by such ability are not essential to the primary activity of understanding and reasoning, which is rather, by its very nature, 'embedded' in the context of human living, which is where the real world is to be found. That is to say, for his part Piaget finds his frame of reference for reality in that 'world' which is amenable to logical manipulation, and his frame of reference for knowledge in what can be reduced to such manipulation -he in effect defines knowledge by its reducibility to certain formal logical elements. Insofar as our supposed knowledge of reality cannot be reduced to these terms, Piaget sees it as subjective, the product of a personal involvement in which we are blind to questions regarding the wider world of objective reality. All progress towards more adequate understanding is therefore to be seen as a matter of 'de-centring', of shedding this kind of personal involvement. Donaldson, by contrast, finds her frame of reference for , reality in the business of practical living, in our intentions and actions and interpersonal relations. It is these which represent the 'wider' ..
context towards which understanding and reasoning are oriented, a context which is ignored in Piaget's account. The abstract logical thinking which Piaget describes is seen as arising within this context, in relation to one limited aspect of the real world.
Let me pursue this issue a step further. What does it actually mean for us to make the judgement that a child has, in a given instance, failed to 'decentre', to 'accommodate' herself adequately to the real world? Clearly this entails the judgement, on our part, that the question does indeed arise in this instance of the child 'accommodating' herself more than she has done so to the real world. Now how do we arrive at such a judgement? Presumably on the basis of our prior knowledge of the real world. But what makes us sure of our own knowledge in this respect? How have we arrived at the judgement that the question no longer arises in our own case, of accommodating further to reality? Clearly we cannot appeal this time to prior knowledge of the real world; it is precisely our own search for the real world that is in question here. Piaget would seem bound to appeal at this point to the abstract coherence of logico-mathematical ideas at which we have arrived. But shall we really acknowledge this as the primary source of our sense of reality? Does not reality have its primary meaning for us rather as the indeterminate goal towards which we orient ourselves through the whole practical business of living -a process which leads to the discovery of logico-mathematical truth in one particular direction, to be sure? In this case we shall want, I suggest, to speak of assimilation and accommodation as in the first instance a matter of our intention -a matter of our having an intention of knowing the real world, of responding in recognition of what is real. The judgement whether the question arises of our further accommodation to (or assimilation of) reality arises itself, out of this dual attitude of openness towards further accommodation and further assimilation, in which we show ourselves responsive towards as yet indeterminate reality and open towards an ever deeper dynamic equilibrium.
Now if, as I suggest here, reality has its primary meaning for us as the correlate of the dual attitude of accommodation and assimilation, have we any right to assumefurther accommodation to reality, but rather of her openness to new reality in the intention of accommodation and assimilation alike. The appearance that accommodation alone is intended on such an occasion merely reflects the abstract viewpoint we bring to this in retrospect. that the child who happens not to manage abstract thinking is not open in her attitude to reality? Could it not be that the question of further accommodation does not yet arise for her in this respect? If so, it is not that she fails to accommodate to a world which (as we imagine) confronts her. Rather, she is properly attentive to the world which confronts her -a world in which she is involved in all her actions and personal relations, but in which the particular question of abstraction we have in mind has not yet arisen. We should note that if this is the case, then when our question eventually does arise for her it will do so not simply as a question of her
According to my argument, then, understanding arises as we direct ourselves towards an as yet indeterminate reality through a dual intention of assimilation and accommodation. Reality and our response to it are here things which involve us from the start; our initiatives toward understanding are 'embedded' in such reality; they are a matter of our participation in reality. Out of this there arises, as one part of this reality, that realm which generates and is itself accessible to abstract logical manipulation. But we shall not find our primary frame of reference for reality here; we shall find this rather in our responsiveness to an indeterminate reality which addresses us in the wider context of a life in which we and other people are together involved.
Holding this view we shall, like Margaret Donaldson, find of particular interest those studies of early childhood understanding which show the prominence of personal intentions and relations as part of the 'wider context' to which a child responds in the process of intellectual development. Among such studies Donaldson cites the evidence found by Jerome Bruner of an early 'mutuality' between adult and infant within a few months of birth, in the form of shared attention and the mutual intimation of intentions, which Bruner identifies as the essential starting-point for the acquisition of linguistic understanding. Indeed Colwyn Trevarthen proposes that the whole of human intelligence originates from such early interpersonal responsiveness.2 Also of clear relevance here is Vygotsky's thesis that thought is itself a form of internalised dialogue.3
I have argued that studies of childhood learning are consistent with the claim that understanding arises out of a primary involvement in and responsiveness towards an indeterminate reality, through the whole open context of our lives and intentions and interpersonal relations. This responsiveness towards reality is marked by a dual intention of assimilation and accommodation. Such a view is congruent in important ways with the account we have given of religious knowledge. Do we find support for these claims from studies in other relevant fields? Of special interest here, we shall find, is Michael Polanyi's theory of personal knowledge.
(ii) Our personal involvement in knowledge: Michael Polanyi Michael Polanyi was first a scientist and a philosopher of science; however his theory of personal knowledge has much wider application than to science. A major theme in Polanyi's writings is our personal participation in the act of understanding. Crucially, he does not find such self-involvement limited to certain particular kinds of knowledge, but argues rather that this is a universal feature of knowledge -including the knowledge we display in our mastery of skills, and including our 'detached' knowledge of scientific facts. Polanyi begins his book 'Personal Knowledge' by choosing two classes of 'objective' statements basic to modern science -statements of probability, and statements concerning the presence of order rather than disorder -and shows how such statements each involve our active particip- ation. Here is how he demonstrates this in the latter case:4
'At the border between England and Wales you pass a small town called Abergele. Its railway station has a beautifully kept garden in which, sprawling across the lawn, you are faced with the inscription, set out in small white pebbles: "Welcome to Wales by British Railways". No one will fail to recognise this as an orderly pattern, deliberately contrived by a thoughtful station-master. And we could refute anyone who doubted this by computing as follows the odds against the arrangement of the pebbles having come about by mere chance...'
Polanyi then suggests how we might calculate the probability that this pattern has arisen by mere chance. This probability turns out so small that we shall dismiss as a possible explanation of the pattern, that it is a 'chance' occurrence. Polanyi now introduces his main point:
'But suppose that some years later, the thoughtful station-master having died, the pebbles became scattered all over the station garden of Abergele, and that on returning to the place we were to seek out the previously eloquent stones and map out on a sheet of paper exactly their present position. Might we not get into serious difficulty if we were now asked once more: what is the chance of the pebbles having arranged themselves in this particular manner by mere accident?'
Following the same method of computation as before we should again find that the probability of this pattern of pebbles having arisen by chance is negligible. And yet, as Polanyi points out, we should not be prepared to say as we had before, that this had not come about by chance. Why is there this difference in our response?
Polanyi's reply is that the act of asking about the probability of a given pattern presupposes that what we have in mind as we do so indeed constitutes a 'pattern' in the first place. Our recognition of orderly pattern comes first; it is this which provides the referent for our questions about probability. The reason why we do not, on the occasion of our second visit to the station garden, raise the question of probability is because this question simply does not arise for us in the absence of any recognisable 'pattern' before us.
Now the point Polanyi makes here is surely, properly understood, an enigmatic one; it is a matter of 'disclosure'. And it is easily misunderstood for this reason. On the one hand he is concerned to urge that when we register the occurrence of an event by reference to some familiar concept (as, for example, when we register the occurrence of a message set in pebbles by implicit reference to a familiar language) then not only the content but also the factual status of this 'occurrence' rests upon our commitment to this familiar concept as something we count meaningful. In this way our recognition of 'order' always contains an element of self- reference, of commitment to what counts for us as order in the first place.
On the other hand, Polanyi denies that the question of order is a subjective matter which we impose upon an objective state of affairs (upon for example, in the case of the station garden, the objective location of the pebbles). For this 'state of affairs' (the location of the pebbles) too is a matter of our reference to orderliness (each pebble has its own determinate place) and similarly involves a commitment, although it clearly lacks the commitment specifically implied by reference to a 'meaningful pattern of pebbles'. All reference involves us in commitment. Polanyi leads us here to an odd disclosure: our implicit participation is a quite universal feature of the act of understanding -including (it must be acknowledged in self reference), the present act by which we understand this disclosure itself.
It is important to grasp that our active participation in knowledge which Polanyi describes here does not reduce to our recognising a correspondence between incoming data and some familiar explicit concept or pattern. As Polanyi emphasises, often when we know things we cannot say how we know them. We may be able to recognise our own mackintosh from among a hundred others, but not know how we do it; we may be able to ride a bicycle, but it is unlikely that we shall be able to say how we do it in theoretical terms of the laws of dynamics. Nor is it to be explained here that an originally explicit and theoretical knowledge has become largely automatic and 'part of us'; more usually our know-how is originally practical, and there sometimes later develops the possibility of its explication as theoretical knowledge.
According to Polanyi, we involve ourselves practically in personal knowledge by bringing two distinct kinds of awareness to our subject- matter:
'When we use a hammer to drive in a nail, we attend to both nail and hammer, but in a different way. We watch the effect of our strokes on the nail and try to wield the hammer so as to hit the nail most effectively.
When we bring down the hammer we do not feel that its handle has struck our palm but that its head has struck the nail. Yet in a sense we are certainly alert to the feelings in our palm and the fingers that hold the hammer. They guide us in handling it effectively. ..I have a subsidiary awareness of the feeling in the palm of my hand which is merged into my focal awareness of my driving in the nail.'5
Just as our use of tools offers a model for our exercise of skills in general, so our use of symbols (linguistic and otherwise) offers a model for our theoretical knowledge in general:
'Like the tool, the sign or the symbol can be conceived as such only in the eyes of a person who relies on them to achieve or to signify something. This reliance is a personal commitment which is involved in all acts of intelligence by which we integrate some things subsidiarily to the centre of our focal attention.'6
This dual character of our awareness lies at the heart of Polanyi's account of personal knowledge. He uses a variety of terms to describe it. Sometimes he contrasts our 'subsidiary' and 'focal' awareness; sometimes our 'knowing by relying on' and 'knowing by attending to'; on other occasions (using terms reminiscent of our image of the act of understanding as concerning a 'direction which we "own"') he speaks of the 'proximal' and 'distal' poles of our understanding. Also, echoing the central theme of gestalt psychology, he speaks often of the relation between our perception of the 'parts' and the 'whole' of a subject.
Another image for our dual attentiveness used by Polanyi, and which I shall use extensively in the remainder of this book, is the polarity between that which stands out from its background and the background from which this stands out. Thus he can write 'An object is seen as such by virtue of our seeing its surroundings as its background'.7 This feature of perception first received sustained attention from Edgar Rubin, who designated these aspects 'figure' and 'ground', and I shall adopt Rubin's terminology here.
As we shall see shortly, the polarity, of figure and ground has been given wide and fruitful application particularly by Kurt Goldstein. The quite fundamental promise held by this image, I suggest, is intimated by the fact that the very term 'to exist' derives etymologically from 'to stand out'.
Every act of understanding, then, irreducibly involves both focal and subsidiary attention. This includes, importantly, the understanding already implied by any act of wrestling to master a new skill or to recognise a new object. We miss the force of Polanyi's proposals if we assume that the exercise of such dual attention must depend upon our having already mastered a skill or become familiar with an object. Thus, Polanyi notes the role, in learning, of a 'dual act of sense-reading':
'An unintelligible text referring to an unintelligible matter presents us with a dual problem. Both halves of such a problem jointly guide our minds towards solving them and will in fact be solved jointly by the understanding of the object referred to and the words referring to it.
The meaning of the things and of the terms designating them is discovered at the same time. I have said that this dual act of sense-reading is the paradigm of the educational expansion of our mind; it also bears on the process by which a child learns to understand speech.'8
For Polanyi, clearly, an attitude of open commitment already shows itself in our search for and achievement of understanding. But towards what is this commitment directed? We can only reply 'towards as yet undisclosed, indeterminate reality'. It is in the sense implied here, that Polanyi can speak of knowledge as attained through 'indwelling'.
Here Polanyi's theory promises to overcome, at one stroke, two related difficulties for epistemology. The difficulties in question arise when we think of knowledge in the abstract, as a kind of possession acquired by starting from elementary sense-data and advancing by formal inductive steps. This way of thinking has been encouraged in philosophy by the British Empiricists. However, only in a very limited realm of our experience does this picture approximate to the truth. And, as I have said earlier, this way of thinking faces with two problems in particular.
Firstly, it cannot explain adequately how we come to recognise 'elementary sense-data' in the first place; secondly, it cannot show how knowledge makes its most radical advances. In the first regard, it disregards all that is entailed in the fact that infants succeed in rising to the perception of elementary sense-data of which they are initially ignorant; in the second regard, it dismisses the fact (held as indisputable by Polanyi and Einstein among others), that the greatest advances of science have not and could not have been attained by formal inference from what was already known .In short, a narrowly' empiricist' theory of knowledge fails to give account of precisely those occasions when we show our most lively concern for and most notable successes in achieving understanding.
In a striking inversion of the empiricist viewpoint, Polanyi sees radical acts of exploration and discovery as holding the clue to the character of knowledge in general:
'Knowledge is an activity which would be better described as a process of knowing. Research is an intensely dynamic research, while knowledge is a more quiet research. Both are ever on the move, according to similar principles, towards a deeper understanding of what is already known'.9
Indeed it is our knowledge of a problem which is paradigmatic for all knowledge:
'... the efforts of perception are evoked by scattered features of raw experience suggesting the presence of a hidden pattern which will make sense of the experience. Such a suggestion, if true, is itself knowledge, the kind of foreknowledge we call a good problem..... The knowledge of a true problem is indeed a paradigm for all knowing. For knowing is always a tension alerted by largely unspecifiable clues and directed by them towards a focus at which we sense the presence of a thing -a thing that, like a problem, embodies the clues on which we rely for attending to it.'10
Some basic distinctions within the realm of understanding
How does Polanyi distinguish, with this general scheme, between various occasions of understanding? How, for example, (recalling the empiricist thesis) does he compare the paradigmatic case of discovery with (on the one hand) casual perception, and with (on the other hand) the process of rational inference? Polanyi compares the work of discovery with casual perception as follows:
'While the integration of clues to perceptions may be virtually effortless, the integration of clues to discoveries may require sustained efforts guided by exceptional gifts. But the difference is one of range and degree: the transition from perception to discovery is unbroken.'11
Turning to the processes of formal reasoning, Polanyi points out that there always remains an element of informal personal knowledge in the very act by which we 'see' the validity of the steps of logical reasoning and proof.
And in some cases, to be sure, advances in knowledge can be formalised logically with little apparent loss of content. Nevertheless, our most radical acts of discovery cannot be reduced in this way. When we try to specify as elements within a formal logical process, the clues associated with such a discovery we rob them precisely of their significance for the discovery in question.12
We have already seen in Polanyi's theory a recognition of the relative vitality of some acts of knowing over others, which is of course a theme of importance to us for our own account of religious understanding. But does Polanyi himself relate such vitality to our personal, moral and religious knowledge? He does indeed suggest that indwelling is deeper, not only in the work of discovery than it is in elementary perception, but deeper also in our knowledge of human beings and works of art than it is in observation of a star or of any objects with which the natural sciences are concern- ed.13 It is also of relevance here, that he writes of indwelling as bringing feelings of comprehension which range in profundity 'all the way from the "I -It" relation to the "i -Thou". ' 14 It now appears, therefore, that religious knowledge, as we have described it in previous chapters, can be depicted in Polanyi's terms as about the odd, limiting circumstance of a uniquely rich and underlying 'act of comprehension' arising in connection with an unqualified depth of personal commitment and indwelling.
We have been led here, back to the theme of the close relation between religious understanding and (on the one hand) our most lively works of discovery, and (on the other hand) our richest knowledge of other persons.
I want now to further discuss the latter; for the theme of personal community is one which has an integral place in Polanyi's writing.
Personal knowledge and community
Our self-involvement in knowledge has an essential communal aspect. For since every act of understanding involves our active participation and commitment, successful communication between two persons involves a shared participation and commitment. In this way there arise (not least among scientists, as Polanyi teaches us) communities of people who share a commitment towards particular problems and tasks and have a shared understanding of these.
At this point Polanyi's theory bears once again upon religious experience, in particular the experience of religious community. For there arises, in principle, with depth of indwelling and vitality of understanding a corresponding depth and vitality of community in its proper sense (I say 'in its proper sense' because we need to distinguish here between such 'vital' community and the 'tribal solidarity' of those bound together by common unreflective values). For example, since knowledge is relatively lively and indwelling relatively deep in the process of discovery as opposed to casual perception, the communitas which theoretical scientists potentially share with their colleagues in their common commitment to exploration will be more profound than that which technicians can share in respect of their common familiarity with a set of routine tasks. In the same way, since our knowledge is a matter of lively and deep indwelling in the case of our truest knowledge of persons compared to our knowledge of the objects of science, the communitas we know through the endeavour of mutual understanding between people will be of far greater depth than that which we know in respect of any attention we share with other people towards objects which are of common technical concern to us.
Let us acknowledge here that where indwelling is a profound and vital affair the subject of our common attention and the matter of our companionship in attention become inseparably linked. This is because it is part of our primary commitment to as yet indeterminate reality, that we address the question whether a particular 'disclosure' constitutes itself as such for every person with whom we may confer as potentially sharing our commitment. This question addresses us implicitly as part of the very meaning of the indeterminate reality which engages us. Openness in community with others, and in this sense towards others, is seen to be part of our primary, open commitment to reality.
Religious community can now be defined as the unconditional communion of those who share an unconditiona1 commitment towards reality. This commitment is indeed realised most readily within religious communitas; our most vital personal responsiveness to reality finds expression first and foremost in our responsiveness with and towards other persons.
(iii) Arguing the Primacy of Self-Involvement
We have seen how our self-involvement in knowledge is commended in the context of developmental psychology by Margaret Donaldson, and in the context of the philosophy of personal knowledge by Michael Polanyi. Clearly both of these authors invites us beyond the narrow empiricism which finds in our perception of sense-data and in our powers of inductive reasoning, two utterly distinct phenomena which together give rise to all that we know. Nevertheless, there remains a risk that we shall still miss the full promise of their theories by unthinkingly assimilating them to the cartesian dualism in which such empiricism is ultimately grounded. In particular we shall miss the radical implications of what they have written if we try either to (a)exempt our most elementary 'sense-data' perceptions from their theories, as self-evidently requiring no such analysis, or (b)interpret our self-involvement in knowledge by the model of our commitment to successive hypotheses which we adopt and test in turn. Let us examine these two mistaken moves in turn.
Elementary sense-data and the primacy of self-involvement
Reality and our knowledge of reality have their primary meaning in relation to that towards which we direct ourselves and which emerges out of indeterminacy. They come to light for us together as we respond to indeterminate reality with a dual intention of accommodation and assimilation (using Piaget's terminology), of subsidiary and focal attention (Polanyi).
We have found here, terms in which we may understand the primacy of our self-involvement in knowledge. But the question can now be raised: what is the 'raw material' upon which the intention of responsiveness works in the first place? Can we say anything about such 'sense-data' in its most elementary form?
Polanyi asserts that the clues which, in our subsidiary awareness, jointly direct us to the matter of our focal attention are 'logically unspecifiable' in the sense that the moment we turn our focal attention to these in order to specify them we destroy the meaning they jointly constitute and so destroy their significance precisely as clues towards this meaning. Nevertheless, even though in this process we destroy their significance as clues, we can often still focus upon them as data which is in itself specifiable. For example, we can focus upon the letters which make up a word even though in so doing we lose their meaning as clues to the word they make up. But can we always do this? In particular, can we specify a level of meaning (that of the 'elementary sense-datum') which may be supposed itself prior to every act of dual attention? I suggest not. Rather, the radical implication of the primacy of self-involvement is that any such successful specification of 'sense-data' is already the outcome of the dual intention of responsiveness .
It may not be easy for us to grasp what this means. By way of explanation let me discuss the example of an infant who learns of the colour 'red'.
When a young child who does not yet understand the language of colour looks at her red ball, we easily assume that she sees and knows its redness just as we do, although she does not yet possess the conventional label for this colour or perhaps does not even understand that such things as this have conventional labels. And we easily think we have proof of this in the fact that she can recognise her own red ball from among other balls identical to hers in every respect except colour.
Now obviously when we make the above assumption, we do so from the vantage- point of our own awareness of the colour red. But perhaps we first acquired this awareness in self-involving responsiveness, and the child has not yet risen to this discovery? In this case we have projected into the child a meaning she does not yet have. The fact that she recognises her own red ball is now seen as explained by the action of a 'stimulus-response' reflex which does not add up to the recognition of 'the colour red' but only a reflex to 'her (familiar) red ball'.
This interpretation of the situation described finds support from the clinical studies of psychologists and linguists into the phenomenon of 'verbal blindness' in adults. Of special interest to us here is Kurt Goldstein's work with patients whom he labelled 'amnesic aphasic'. Of particular relevance to our example of the recognition of 'red' are the findings of the 'colour-sorting test' which Goldstein conducted with a group of such patients. Goldstein presented them with skeins of wool of varying colour, brightness, softness, etc., thrown into a heap. He would begin selecting from the heap strands of wool possessing some common characteristic, and then invite them to continue the procedure. This they were unable to do. For example, a patient presented with several red strands of wool of varying thickness and softness and invited to continue the procedure would characteristically select a new strand now of similar thickness to the one before, now of similar colour, now of similar softness. These patients were, as Goldstein expressed it, unable to master the direction of the procedure required of them. One additional finding of this experiment is important for our interpretation of these results in general: if the strands originally selected were identical among themselves in every respect, the patients showed no difficulty in selecting other identical strands from the heap.
Goldstein suggests that his patients found themselves in a similar situation to our own situation when we are given a single skein of wool and asked to select others 'like it' from a heap:
'... if skeins resembling our sample in all attributes are present, all these cohere in a unitary sensory experience. If, however, they do not match our sample in all respects, but only in some, we shall experience a characteristic unrest concerning the heap and a variation and rivalry between groupings according to the different attributes.'15
In passing we might note here that the case when all attributes are identical seems to offer a clue to the meaning of that attenuated 'recognition' which characterises patterns of 'stimulus-response'.
We should note at this point, a limitation of Goldstein's analogy between his patient's situation and our own when presented with a single skein of wool. This is a basic limitation which arises on absolutely every occasion when we try, as we do here, to describe the primary act of understanding by reference to experience which is derivative by comparison. It concerns the fact that we are free to view our dilemma when given a single skein of wool and asked to select others 'like it', as created by the experimenter's failure to specify adequately the common denominator' among those skeins to be selected. Of course, it is open to us to view our dilemma in these terms only because we can already identify the varied attributes of each skein before we start. It follows that had the chosen attribute been adequately specified, we should not, in the process of mastering the task set us, have acquired significant new insight into the meaning of this attribute. But we cannot think of the primary act of understanding in such terms as the identification of a 'common denominator' among (already meaningful!) sense-data. The truth is rather that in the primary act of understanding we indwell an undifferentiated mass of sensory data which cannot be reduced to meaningful component units, and this is precisely how meaning is born for us.
We might note, finally, how wide are the implications of all this for the theory of understanding. For example, while Goldstein's colour-sorting test has implications for linguistic understanding, this test is not in itself 'verbal'. The primary act of understanding which we probe is wider in its operation than spoken language. Again, as Polanyi has reminded us, this act also informs our acquisition of practical skills. Ernst Cassirer, who designated this primary act (misleadingly, I would argue) the 'symbolic act', saw evidence of its role in the performance of skills, in the work of Hughlings Jackson and Henry Head (once again with 'aphasic' patients):
'There is a form of action which consists in direct motor activity, which is, as it were, mechanically released by a given outward stimulus, and there are others which are possible only if the idea of a definite goal is formed... According to Head, most of our 'voluntary' movements and activities embrace such a symbolic element... And again it is the aphasic disorders which clearly show us the limit between the two. An aphasic will be able to perform certain actions if they are caused and necessitated by a certain concrete situation; but he will not be able to perform the same actions of his own free will, without such concrete stimuli. For this, Jackson has cited numerous examples: he has shown, for example, that certain patients were not able to show their tongue when asked to do so, but readily executed the same movement in order to moisten their lips.'16
Again we see here the contrast between authentic 'symbolic action' and activity at the mere sensori-motor level. However, we are not forced by this to see voluntary action as directed originally and by its nature towards a definite goal; in the primary case it arises rather, as I have said, in response to an emergent but as yet indeterminate reality. The voluntary exercise of an acquired skill is a secondary affair.
Self-involvement and space-time
Associated with all our perceptions are the basic apprehensions of space and time. Whatever form these take 'from one culture to another, the notion of determinate time and place are quite fundamental to our grasp of the physical world. Not only so, we picture the world of understanding itself in terms borrowed from the language of space-time whenever, speaking of the 'historicality' of understanding, we think of acts of understanding as belonging to their own particular time and place. Basic to this realm of experience is the meaning, in particular, of 'determinate location and orientation' and 'determinate moment in time' as such. Now what implications might our account of 'elementary sense-data' carry for these meanings? Evidently we must reject the idea that such meaning is 'given' prior to every endeavour of self-involving response; rather meaning arises itself, precisely out of such response. Specifically, the meaning of 'here and now' arises for us out of radical responsiveness to an indeterminate reality. It is Piaget's mistake not to see this when he conceives the 'centred' child as failing to detach adequately from the present moment and its experience.
For Piaget, the point of departure for the endeavour of understanding mistakenly lies in a prior determinate 'here and now'.
How can we now picture the meaning of determinacy in space-time as arising, rather, through self-involving responsiveness? Let me answer this by means of an analogy. Suppose that we are astronauts exploring a planetary system.
Looking through the window of our space-ship we see various planets and their moons in a complex set of relative motions. We ask ourselves how we can best make sense of these motions. We seek the most adequate frame within which to interpret the relative motion we observe. This will involve our asking how much of this relative motion is to be attributed to changes in our own location and orientation. That is to say, our intentions will extend to judging what is to be counted as a determinate location and orientation in the first place.
Let us consider two possible (extreme) results of such an endeavour.
Firstly, we may come to see some particular object as having both a fixed location and orientation. What will this judgement comprise? It will mean that we assimilate into one, all our perceptions of the position of this object; and by this act we constitute what counts for us as a 'determinate' position. Whatever changes there may be in our perception of the position of this object are taken to indicate that our own position is indeterminate over the period of observation in question.
A second alternative is that we may come to see our space-ship as having a fixed location and orientation. What will this judgement comprise? It will mean that we assimilate into one, all the implicit acts of self-locating we make during our observations of relative motion; and by this act we constitute what counts for us as a 'determinate' position. Whatever changes there may be in our perception of the position of any object are now taken to indicate that the position of this object is indeterminate over the period of observation in question.
In the above process, it will be clear, movement and its unmoving background differentiate together from dual indeterminacy; the meaning of movement arises precisely in conjunction with the meaning of its background as invariant location and orientation. Now this, I suggest, is analogous to how we discover in the first place the meaning of determinate position, by indwelling indeterminate data in a responsive manner. We should note here that the usual, previously mentioned limitation applies to our 'space-ship' analogy: that whereas with regard to this analogy itself, we are free to think of the discovery of our bearings as the discovery of 'common denominators' among the positions of objects at successive moments in time, we may not do so in the primary situation for which this is an analogy. For this way of thinking already presupposes what counts as determinate position. In the primary situation, by contrast, what counts in this way is initially indeterminate, and becomes determinate for us only through our responsiveness itself. In a similar manner, this way of thinking also presupposes what counts as a determinate moment in time. But again, in the primary situation for which this is an analogy, this is not the case. That is to say, in our primary situation we are concerned to find temporal as well as spatial bearings. The meaning of determinate position in space and determinate moment in time arise together out of a dual indeterminacy. For to decide what counts as a determinate position is necessarily to decide what counts as a position unchanging in time; it is to decide both what counts as a determinate position at a given moment in time, and what counts as a position unchanging with the passage of time. Granted these claims may seem odd, but they are consistent with a truth long recognised: namely, that the notions of motion and of time are interdependent.
In summary, the theory of self-involvement develops the meaning of 'space- time' in two ways. Firstly, what counts as determinate in space-time is not a prior 'given' but is already itself a matter of our active responsiveness, and arises for us out of a dual indeterminacy. Secondly, as our analogy indicates, when we do adopt space-time coordinates this is not as a rule an arbitrary affair; it reflects our search for the most adequate meaning for determinate position and time, as the frame within which to understand all motion which we perceive. This last point highlights a fundamental aspect of self-involving response to which we must now turn our attention.
Self-Involvement and critical appraisal
We have seen how the primacy of self-involvement directs us beyond the narrow empiricist assumption that knowledge begins from specifiable prior sense-data. But could it be argued that we have replaced 'the knowledge of the senses' not by some other form of knowledge, but only by meanings which we rely on by way of subjective hypothesis but which must be tested against objective reality before they can properly be said to bring knowledge? Certainly both Polanyi and Ramsey have been charged with failing to show how, by their theories, we ever know insight from illusion. Do their theories of self-involvement perhaps explain only how we arrive at one or another 'way of seeing things', but stop short of addressing the question of truth?
This charge would seem to rest on the assumption that our knowledge of truth is built up of two distinct 'moments' of learning between which we alternate- the initial adoption and the subsequent testing of successive hypothetical meanings. The theories of Ramsey and Polanyi are now held to be concerned only with the former of these. However, this charge misses the force of what these authors are saying. The radical implication of their theories is that the twin elements of 'adoption' and 'testing' within the learning process both feature already, and indeed find their primary meaning within, the intention of radical responsiveness; and that their relation here is one of irreducible polarity. It follows that the element of testing is already present in our supposed' adoption of hypothetical meaning' ; what is more, critical appraisal has its primary meaning in this context, where it stands in polar relation to receptivity.
This claim is a quite crucial one. Let me commend it now by offering three rather different illustrations of the irreducible relation, within our primary responsiveness, between receptivity and critical appraisal.
For our first illustration, let us imagine a craftsman testing a new chisel. He wants to find out whether it will be of any use to him. He does so by taking it in his hands and 'having a go' with it. He 'tries' the chisel: that is to say, he tests whether it will 'do the job' , precisely by trying to 'do the job' with it. In fact this may be the only satisfactory way in which he can appraise it. Any limitations the tool has will stand out as he explores its potential. It is much the same when a sportsman tests a new piece of equipment, or a motorist a new car.
For our second illustration, let us consider an art tutor criticising the work of one of her pupils. She puts her hand over one part of a picture, and says to its painter 'Look at your picture now -and (removing her hand) now! ' She discerns an element of the picture which, although perhaps satisfactory 'in itself', undermines the coherence of the picture as a whole. But how could she exercise such criticism if she were not at the same time trying to see the picture as a coherent whole?
Our third example concerns what it means to respond reasonably when addressed by another person. In the film 'The Pink Panther Strikes Again' (1976) Inspector Clouseau stands at the reception desk of an hotel when he notices a small dog. Turning to the hotelier he asks 'Does you dog bite?' 'No', replies the hotelier. Clouseau bends to stroke the dog -and receives a sharp nip. 'I thought you said you dog does not bite!' demands the Inspector. 'That's not my dog' comes the reply.
We shall agree that the hotelier, while he answers Clouseau's 'literal' question, nevertheless behaves unworthily towards him in this incident. But this now raises the question: what do we reasonably expect of the hotelier here? We surely expect him to try to honour whatever might be the intention of Clouseau's question. Were he to do so, he would find himself met with a puzzle: the context of Clouseau's question 'Does your dog bite?' suggests that his intended reference is not the hotelier's dog at all, but the dog immediately at hand. And the reasonable thing for him to do would be to raise this doubt now with the Inspector.
Now surely none of these three examples is described very naturally as the adoption and testing of an hypothesis? It is not that the craftsman already knows the precise job he wants his new tool to do, and tests it against this; he is also open to the tool's unknown potential, which he can only hope to bring to light by 'trying' it. The art tutor does not spot the offending element in a picture by reference to some prior grasp of the picture as a coherent whole; the offending element is itself part of the picture to which the tutor in the first instance attends in order to recognise simultaneously both the direction in which greater coherence lies and what presently works against such coherence. And Inspector Clouseau's (mistaken) words are themselves among the clues to which we attend in order to establish his intention -an intention which we grasp precisely in the moment when we recognise his mistake.
It is important to recognise that the irreducible polarity of receptivity and critical appraisal intimated by these examples challenges not only the 'hypothesis' theory of meaning as such, but also the cartesian dualism which ultimately underlies it. Specifically, it challenges any attempt to divorce the 'psychology of knowing' from questions regarding what is the case in the real world. Let me enlarge upon this point. The 'hypothesis adopting/testing' model for the endeavour of understanding, for its part, encourages us to think of the real world as something we hit up against as we test chosen hypotheses. Our adoption of such hypotheses in the first place appears as an act independent of the real world, a subjective act on our own initiative which does not yet raise the question of what is really the case. Conversely, the real world appears in the first place as that which is what it is irrespective of whether we yet test such hypotheses against it. But the 'self-involving appraisal' model for understanding commends a different picture. Reality is now seen as a mystery in which we participate and which we interrogate from the moment we seek understanding.
This primary act is already a matter of our response to reality -a reality which is in the first instance not a constraint upon our intended activity, but rather a dynamic mystery which addresses us, summoning our response.
The three examples given above are progressively more disclosing in this direction. The craftsman has simply made a prior decision to select a new tool. The art tutor, however, has contracted with her student to pay attention to whatever he paints. And in the third example, Inspector Clouseau's words themselves initiate an encounter with us and place upon us the demand of a worthy response. We do not make a prior decision to be responsive towards him; responsiveness is itself primary in our situation.
This is why, when the hotelier answers Clouseau' s irresponsibly, we accuse him of a positive act of perversity. He is actively 'not trying', as we say.
I am claiming, then, that the endeavour of understanding is not in the first instance an act initiated by ourselves, analogous to the alternate adoption and testing of hypotheses. In the primary case there is no such dichotomy between an uncritical reliance upon the meaningfulness of an adopted 'hypothesis' on the one hand and rational appraisal of its truth on the other. Rather, in the primary case, knowledge 'by relying on' has already a critical element, while rational appraisal always remains 'embedded' in the life and world which are ours; the two are irreducibly linked. We may put it that in the paradigmatic case, there is an essential polar relation between the intention of appreciating -of seeing what is there to be appreciated -and of critical analysis; between trying to see/master something, and trying (testing) whether we can see/master it; between readiness to value, and to evaluate; between the intention of giving weight to something, and of weighing it; between receptivity and responsible, self-aware appraisal. And this dual intention is always a matter of our response, of our rising to an invitation extended to us by reality, and not merely an act initiated by ourselves.
The polarity which I describe is posited, I would argue, in different ways by Polanyi, Piaget and Ian Ramsey. The polar relation between receptivity and critical appraisal parallels the polarity between our 'knowledge by relying on' and our 'knowledge by attending to' (Polanyi), between the act of accommodation and the act of assimilation (Piaget), and between commitment and discernment (Ramsey). This polarity is, so we maintain, as a matter of our intention, irreducible and primary. As such, we must not think of it merely as indicating the psychological characteristics of response, but as indicating also the nature of reality which calls forth from us this response in the first place. Again, we must not think of it merely as indicating one particular 'way of responding' among others, but as defining the attitude or intention of responsiveness as such. It concerns the act of addressing ourselves unconditionally to reality as it embraces us.
I have demonstrated that self-involving responsiveness contains an essential element of critical appraisal or discernment. Can I describe in more detail, how this operates? We may form some idea of this from our three examples of the craftsman, the art tutor and the hotelier's response to Inspector Clouseau. In each case it seems the task of understanding to make a dual discovery of the direction in which lay the greatest promise of coherence, and of that which stands out at variance this coherence. That is to say, the call to respond is the call at once to recognise and be attracted in the direction of a promised coherence and to be distracted by that which 'does not fit' with this. Clearly a critical intention is already at work here in the discernment of the truest promise of coherence and of that which subverts it.
But it may be asked, can the task of distinguishing truth from illusion always be described adequately in these terms? What about the familiar case when we are confronted with two plausible answers to a question and have to decide which one is correct? Can we explain such a decision in these same terms, or do we have to abandon our account at this point and resort to an 'hypothesis-testing' account?
Our account can explain such a decision, I suggest, along the following lines. Granted that a 'critical intention' finds its primary meaning above, within the search for the most promising direction of coherence, then the task of choosing between two alternative answers may be seen as the task of choosing between two different directions in which we feel ourselves pulled. To uphold this as a primary account of the task of choosing between two answers is meanwhile to deny that we can necessarily reduce this task to other terms. That is to say, our ability to resolve our dilemma one way or the other may sometimes depend entirely upon our responsiveness towards the direction in which deepest coherence lies.
Can I illustrate this by an example? I can; in fact it will be helpful to offer two.
For our first example, let us imagine that we are sailing coastal waters in calm, misty weather and we try to keep a straight course without reference to our compass. In the distance, to starboard, we make out the shape of a buoy. In the absence of any other bearings we shall feel a tendency to fix our direction by reference to this. But now the mist clears a little, and beyond the buoy we see the faint silhouette of coastal cliffs. At first sight they seem to move with us as we continue looking to the buoy for our bearings; but then, making new sense of what we see, we take bearings afresh from the cliffs themselves. We now see that while we used the buoy for bearings we were deflected from a straight course towards it; our 'fixed orientation' was not fixed at all. Later on, this experience may repeat itself when the sun first shows above the cliffs -moving with us, as it seems, until we now take bearings afresh from the sun itself.
In this example we make a critical judgement between possible 'bearings , precisely as we 'try' them or rely on them. We judge, not by referring two possibilities to an external reality in order to explore how each matches up to this, but rather by asking ourselves which way of seeing things embraces and goes beyond the other as a way of 'making sense of every- thing' .Now admittedly in the example given, it would be possible to specify reasonable grounds for our judgement that the buoy, the cliffs and the sun afford progressively more adequate bearings (viz. each new 'fixed point' succeeds in accounting for a self-displacing phantom -the cliffs or the sun -which the previous one cannot account for). And this might seem to suggest that the judgement concerned is reducible to a process of rational inference. However, the fact is that normally we simply 'see' what gives us our most adequate bearings. We see with discernment, rather than 'reason it out'. If this seems open to dispute in the example I have given, there are many more complicated examples of 'finding bearings' where we could hardly specify beforehand, the basis upon which we may recognise our most reliable source of bearings.
For our -second example let us imagine a conversation. Bill has just embarked upon an ambitious piece of carpentry at home when his neighbour Ted calls in on him. Discussing the project he has in hand, Bill refers to Joe, who is a mutual friend and accomplished handyman: 'I shall have Joe's help should I need it, of course'. Now Ted has heard that Joe is about to leave for a week's holiday. Has Bill not heard this? Or has he already taken this fact into account, but is confident that he will not need Joe's help for at least a week? Or perhaps Joe has just informed Bill that he has cancelled his holiday? Ted's response to Bill will try to establish the truth -or more precisely, to agree with Bill upon the truth of this matter as it bears upon Bill's intentions. This will mean asking, in the first instance, whether Bill's remark already takes into account the unresolved question in Ted's mind, or whether Ted's question has not been taken into account by Bill. Which way round does the truth of the matter lie?
Once more there is a choice to be made here between two possible 'answers', pursued on this occasion within the context of the understanding brought by these two men to their conversation. Most likely Ted and Bill will first probe each other's unthinking presuppositions in order to arrive, if possible, at a common mind regarding which 'caps' the other by his knowledge of the situation. Granted, this example again admits the interpretation that the two men here test each possibility 'externally' by reference to a reality accessible independently of their conversation. And of course, in principle, they can resort to telephoning Joe. But in practice, I suggest, they are likely first to approach the question by judging which way of understanding things offers the deeper coherence. Self-involving appraisal describes their likely first response to the issue at hand.
I have drawn upon the insights first of Margaret Donaldson and other developmental psychologists, and then of Michael Polanyi, to commend knowledge as in the primary instance a self-involving response to reality.
I have then argued the primacy of this account of knowledge in the face of two objections. Firstly I have resisted the claim that the basis of knowledge lies rather in our perception of 'elementary sense-data', by demonstrating that such perception already constitutes a self-involving response to reality. Secondly I have resisted the charge that such response describes only our adoption of a 'way of seeing things' which then needs testing against reality if it is to lead to objective knowledge. I have resisted this claim by demonstrating that critical appraisal is operative already within self-involving response; indeed both critical appraisal and the act of 'owning' a meaning alike find their primary meaning here, in the polar relationship which they have within the dual intention of radical responsiveness.
It has hardly been my purpose here to dismiss as without value the empiricist belief either in 'sense-data' or in the 'inductive' method of reasoning, but only to argue that the primary meaning of knowledge cannot be understood in these terms. This argument is of crucial importance because only when we grasp the primary meaning of knowledge, and understand it as primary, shall we ever understand our most lively knowledge -including, supremely, our religious knowledge -and the relation of this primary knowledge to all our other knowledge. We have achieved a preliminary grasp of these matters in the present chapter; in the next, we shall explore them in more detail.
Donaldson, Children's Minds (
2. Donaldson, Children's Minds, p.29. The articles she cites are:
Jerome Bruner, 'The Ontogenesis of speech acts' , in Journal of Child Language, 1975, 2, pp.1-19.
Trevarthen, 'Communication and cooperation in early infancy: A description of
primary intersubjectivity', in M. Bullowa (ed), Before Speech: The Beginnings of Human Communication (
S. Vygotsky, Thought and Language
4. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, pp.33-4.
5. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p.55.
6. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p.61.
7. Polanyi, 'The unaccountable element in science', in Polanyi, Knowing
and Being (
8. Polanyi, 'Sense-giving and sense-reading' , in Knowing and Being,
9. Polanyi, 'Knowing and being' , in Knowing and Being, pp.123-37 (p.132) .
10. Polanyi, 'The unaccountable element in science, in Knowing and Being,
11. Polanyi, 'The logic of tacit inference' , in Knowing and Being,
12. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, pp.121-34; pp.257ff.
13. Polanyi, 'Tacit knowing' , in Knowing and Being, pp.160-80 (p.160).
14. Polanyi, 'The logic of tacit inference' , in Knowing and Being,
15. Kurt Goldstein, 'The problem of the meaning of words', in Goldstein:
Selected Papers (The Hague, 1971) , pp.345-57.
16. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Form, (3 Vols) (eng. New
Haven, 1965),3, pp.213-4.
CHAPTER SIX: THE INTENTION OF RESPONSIVENESS
We began our exploration into religious knowledge by recognising that it bears an odd relation to knowledge in general and that it concerns a paradox in which we find ourselves involved. I have gone on to argue that such religious address, far from being marginal to knowledge, in fact concerns the primary meaning of knowledge. Until we understand this we can make proper sense neither of religious address, nor of knowledge in general, nor of the relation between them.
In Chapter Five I argued for this 'primacy' of religious knowledge having traced its connection with early childhood learning and with radical acts of discovery. Each of these concerns the same kind of self-involving address. More precisely, as I have shown, they all concern the origins of understanding as such, in a radical responsiveness to reality which is characterised by a dual intention of receptivity and critical appraisal, giving weight (to...) and weighing, appreciating and evaluating. These two aspects of the intention of response are not specifiable as alternating 'moments', as though self-involving address were a matter of alternating between adopting and testing a succession of hypotheses. Rather they subsist in an irreducible polarity which constitutes the starting-point for all understanding. This dual intention brings to light in the first place, both the object of our response and ourselves as responding subjects; it also brings to light the meaning of the elemental 'here and now' implied in any act of understanding.
It follows from this that we cannot grasp the primary meaning of knowledge while we assume, as the context of every act of understanding, prior knowledge of an objective world and of oneself as a subject located in a specific way within this world. We have to begin rather from the idea of one's involvement in a dual intention of responsiveness out of which there arise, from a dual indeterminacy, both subject and world together.
I now want to show how, once we take self-involving address as paradigmatic for all knowledge in this way, we can set about constructing a coherent picture of knowledge in general, describing how various forms of knowledge arise, and how these relate to each other. Preliminary to this ambitious undertaking, however, I think it advisable to clarify a little further, first the nature of primary knowledge, and then the grammatical force of reference, as such, to 'primary knowledge'.
The shape of primary knowing
I have highlighted some aspects of primary knowing. There are others, as follows, which also deserve stressing at this stage. In different ways they all reflect the fact that primary understanding does not presuppose knowledge of the world, but rather gives rise to it.
Firstly, in self-involving address the object of our attention is determined as such entirely by our responsiveness. We do not make a prior decision to give our attention to certain objects or to perform certain acts within the context of a familiar world; rather we allow the world as such to capture our attention so as to disclose itself to us in a new way.
Secondly, in such address we give our personal attention to, and take personal responsibility for, the truth. We actively recognise and address for ourselves questions which arise, seeing things for ourselves. We discover the world and our own selves, for ourselves.
Thirdly, in this primary context 'the truth' is (in our implicit intention) a matter of interpersonal address: in the same way and in the same moment we ask ourselves about the truth, so we implicitly ask other people. We direct ourselves at once towards personal insight and towards personal communion in insight. As child psychologists have reminded us, we originally rise to personal relationships and to knowledge of the world together and in the closest possible way.
It should be noted, in passing, how these considerations imply a shift in focus for epistemology. Before answering the question 'How do we know whether a given statement is true?' we shall see need to address a variety of other questions such as 'How does truth come to light for us?; 'What does it mean for us to respond practically to reality, here and now?'; 'How is the act of understanding related to an unconditional desire to under- stand?', 'Does understanding entail a desire that others understand?' and 'Are we prepared to take other people seriously, in order together to address the truth?'. In the light of these wider considerations, what has been called 'the hermeneutic of suspicion' now appears to have arisen from a secondary context for knowledge; the primary context of knowing now commends itself as the intention of response, in communion with others, towards an indeterminate reality which discloses itself to us as we act towards it.
Can the objection be raised that, in the account of knowing being developed here, I ignore the distinction between primary perception and its expression in conceptual language, and between first-order language and second- order language? It is not my intention to deny any validity to these distinctions. My claim is only that when we acknowledge the primacy of self-involving address for all knowledge we admit all distinctions within knowledge to be relative, including these; while within continuing self- involving address itself, any turn of intention from lower-order to higher- order utterance still entails lower orders of intention and is ultimately grounded in a primary act of perception.
Something similar applies with regard to the objection that in my account I ignore the distinction between an action and a disposition or intention towards an action. There is point in distinguishing these, I agree; but again these distinctions are of a secondary kind; and in the primary case, where we are talking about the act of responding and the intention of responsiveness, then the former entails the latter. By definition there is no such thing as an unintentional or an automatic act of radical response.
The meaning of 'primacy' among acts 'of understanding Secondly let me clarify what it means to urge the 'primacy' of certain knowledge in the first place. What kind of act are we engaged in here? I have linked religious knowledge to radical responsiveness and urged the primacy of such responsiveness for all knowledge. But what does it mean to ask about such 'primacy' in the first place? And what does it mean to describe in given terms (as we do here), what is primary knowing?
We shall, I suggest, want to aver on the one hand, that such primacy is not a matter for detached observation, and on the other hand, that it is not a matter for unreflective commitment. These are two mistaken views. According to the first view, to address questions about the 'primary' meaning of response is to conceive various 'ways of responding' and then to address the question: 'Which of these is the "right" way of responding to, and an appropriate response to, reality in the first instance?'. According to the second view, to address these questions is to recognise and articulate as the primary meaning of response, a certain 'way of responding' which we have ourselves uncritically adopted as primary.
The first view fails to recognise that when we address the question of the primary meaning of 'responsiveness towards reality', then already here 'reality' and 'responsiveness' have a meaning for us and this meaning already reflects our involvement in response and therefore our commitment to some 'primary meaning' of response. This points to the truth that it is only through such commitment that 'reality' comes to light as a matter of our response in the first place, and leads us then to conceive 'ways of responding' to such reality. When the question of the meaning of primary responsiveness is addressed, it is addressed from the start, necessarily, from within such responsiveness .
The second view fails to recognise that the question of the meaning itself of primary responsiveness is necessarily raised within such responsiveness, and not simply begged. We are engaged by the question of 'right' response, precisely as we rise to responsiveness; it engages us in the form of the implicit question 'what counts as responsiveness rather than unresponsive- ness here?' We may put it that the intention of responding 'rightly' is synonymous with the intention of radical response as such; and again that it is right, as a matter of definition, to rise to radical response.
What light do these remarks shed upon my own attempted description of primary responsiveness? They imply, firstly, that it will be a matter of primary responsiveness for every reader, to say how far this attempt has been successful. It is for every reader personally to rise to primary responsiveness precisely in order to ask themselves about and 'own' its character, and to judge whether this has been faithfully explicated in my account.
It now becomes apparent, what sort of answer I should give were I asked to specify a certain axiom or set of axioms as the formal basis of the account of understanding presented here. I might answer in the following words, understood in the general context of what has been written in this book:
'Self-involving address offers a true account of the intention of primary responsiveness: is this not so?'
This utterance must not be understood simply as a proposition. It is not an axiom I have adopted by way of hypothesis, or which could ever be so adopted. Rather it is, itself, an invitation to primary responsiveness (note the element of self-reference here). As such it is an invitation to continuing dialogue, oriented towards communion in understanding, regarding what I have said, and its meaning and its truth.
I shall now attempt to describe some general realms of understanding in the light of the primacy of self-involving address. First I shall compare personal knowledge with the 'knowledge' attained by animals. I shall suggest that the primacy of self-involving address yields here, terms in which to distinguish personal human life fundamentally from animal life.
Next I shall describe the manner in which personal responsiveness gives rise to knowledge which varies in dynamism from one case to another, from the minimal vitality of technical mastery and knowledge to the unbounded vitality of our (final) knowledge of God. Then I shall explain, with reference to technical experience, how we can turn away from radical response in an act of 'logical inversion'. We shall see that while this change of disposition is of little consequence here in its original context, it is of great consequence in the context where our subject has vitality of presence and demands vitality of response. In this latter context, 'logical inversion' represents an active evasion of the demands of radical responsiveness. At this stage we shall have acquired the necessary terms enabling us to describe the inescapable practical choice which confronts us in such circumstances, between demanding response and evasion.
(i) Human knowledge and its antecedents
We have seen that we can mistakenly project into infants our own grasp of meaning. The risk arises of a similar mistake when we ask about the 'understanding' displayed by animals. But it is important to recognise the difference between personal human knowledge and animal 'knowledge'. Martin Buber distinguishes them in these terms:
'An animal's organism gathers, continuously or continually, the elements which meet the necessities and wants of its life, in order to construct from them the circle of its existence. Wherever swallows or tunny wander, their bodily being carries out this selection from 'nature', which as such is completely unknown to them, and on which they in turn have an effect, again as on something which they neither know or can know. An animal's 'image of the world' is nothing more than the dynamic of the presences bound up with one another by bodily memory to the extent required by the functions of life which are to be carried out. This image depends on, it clings to, the animal's activities.'
For human beings, by contrast,
'... a world exists. The meeting of natural being with the living creature produces those more or less changing masses of usable sense-data which constitute the animal's realm of life. But only from the meeting of natural being with man does the new and enduring arise, that which comprehends and infinitely transcends the realm.'1
In rather similar terms, Wolfhart Pannenberg identifies the 'unique freedom of man to move beyond every given regulation of his existence' which constitutes his 'openness to the world'. This leads on the one hand to the emergence, for humankind, of a 'world' as such: 'One can say that man has a world, while each species of animal is limited to an environment that is fixed by heredity and that is typical of the species'. On the other hand 'this.. cannot involve only an openness to the "world". Rather, openness to the world must mean that man is completely directed into the "open". ..
beyond the world... beyond every possible picture of the world... '2
Pannenberg asks what is the driving force behind this striving 'into the open'. According to him 'This pressure differs from the compulsion associated with animal instinct'. The latter 'goes into action only when the triggering object is present. In contrast, the pressure of human drives is directed towards something undefined... it drives man into the open, apparently without a goal.'3 There are surely clear echoes here of our own talk of 'radical responsiveness to an as yet indeterminate reality'.
I propose that we can accept the basic terms in which these writers distinguish between human and animal life. However, we must take care to avoid an over-simple understanding of this distinction. In particular we need on the one hand to reckon with the residual place of stimulus-response 'knowledge' in human as in animal life, and on the other hand to grant the 'unitary' character which is already evident in animal behaviour. Let us consider these two matters in turn.
Jerome Bruner recognises the presence, within human life, both of stimulus- response activity and of what we have called primary responsiveness, and has emphasised the need to distinguish between them. The latter is represented by 'open' systems of behaviour, which he finds are inadequately described either by B. F. Skinner's 'behaviourism' or by Piaget's theory.
In a paper on the intellectual development of infants he writes: 'It is quite apparent that many biological systems operate from the outset as hierarchically organised wholes by their very nature. But it is also true that some systems achieve structure slowly and haltingly. In early human growth, the initially well-organised systems seem to be predominantly of the automatic or overcontrolled type as with breathing, swallowing, and initial sucking. With a minimum of initial priming, all three of these are potentiated easily and go off in appropriate ways to appropriate stimulation.'4
However it is the 'open' systems which characteristically show awkwardness in growth which eventually lead, so Bruner remarks, often to the highest degree of sophistication and virtuosity.
A simple instance of an open system is provided by a child's efforts at performing voluntarily what had previously been a matter purely of reflex.
For example, in his paper Bruner studies how a baby may learn to suck voluntarily. This involves detaching the sucking reflex from its original stimulus and learning to coordinate it with other systems of response.
With regard to 'open' systems in general, Bruner writes:
'there is something strikingly nonspecific about the response that emerges once new organisation is achieved; it is as if a generic way of responding is being learnt rather than simply a specific reaction...
'These are the systems of action that, we believe, become generative in the linguistic sense... We believe that it is the open quality of these systems that allows for their incorporation of prosthetic devices and tools on the one side, and of language as a medium of programming action on the other... '5
Now while it is crucial that we distinguish properly between such personal address and the sensori-motor activity common (as we have acknowledged) to human and animal life, we must not, while making this distinction, think too simply of the latter as comprising a collection of unconnected stimulus-response reflexes. The life of an animal organism constitutes a coherent whole, as is shown most remarkably, perhaps, in healing processes especially where bodily compensations are made for traumatic injury. Such processes can hardly be described as tied to specific external stimuli.
They require description rather in terms of the organising power of an organism's 'morphogenetic field'.6 Goldstein, for his part, argues that an organism's stimulus-response 'drives' are subordinated under one single 'drive' which he calls the drive towards 'self-actualisation'. He sees this drive as uniting its elements in a figure-ground pattern of excitation corresponding to the practical pursuit of 'self-actualisation' in the setting-of-life of the organism.7
The application of 'figure-ground' language in this context outside of radical responsiveness seems to raise a complication for our analysis. How does the figure-ground polarity which characterises personal self-involving address differ from that already involved (as described here) in the sensori-motor activity of an organism which is regulated by the organism as a whole and oriented towards 'self-actualisation'?
The answer to this question lies in the contrast between the 'openness' of human life and the 'bondage' of animal life to its own principles of self- regulation. The figure-ground polarity which appears in the behaviour of an animal is circumscribed. It occurs within the frame, so to speak, of its identity as a species, which also spells the meaning of its 'self-actualisation'.
By contrast, the figure-ground polarity which appears in personal address is uncircumscribed. This itself constitutes our personal 'identity'
- which concerns our directedness towards self-actualisation of a kind which is open towards endless enrichment in meaning.
Earlier in this book I envisaged the 'directional' character of personal address by imagining ourselves looking virtually along a stick so as to experience its length as 'depth'. By contrast when we look straight along a stick we lose all sense of depth and the length of the stick is 'flattened' and lost to our awareness. Stimulus-response reflexes, I now want to suggest, are analogous to the latter; each may be pictured as binding a creature to its environment without depth or distance. Many such reflexes may be related to each other within an organismic whole, in an overall pattern of figure-ground excitation; but this does not yet introduce the dimension of 'depth' awareness. Personal address, I suggest, now concerns the introduction of this dimension of 'depth' awareness, in which these stimulus-response units differentiate within themselves so as acquire a dimension of length and thus of direction, as 'vectors'. With our awareness of 'depth' here, there now arises a question regarding what counts as depth in a determinate direction, and therefore what it means for different stimulus-response vectors to be aligned in a coherent direction. Notice how the task of coordination envisaged here echoes Bruner's description of an infant's groping attempts to coordinate disparate sensori-motor schema into a single coherent 'voluntary' act. We have a model here, not only for how we acquire skills, but for the entire endeavour of human understanding and the various realms within it. I shall now attempt to describe some of these realms of distinctively human understanding.
(ii) Our mastery of symbolic reference and of skills A distinction immediately arises within the domain of personal understanding because the vitality of the polarity of figure and ground frequently lapses, in one of two complementary ways, giving rise to two complementary realms of knowledge. The first realm concerns our mastery of symbolic reference, representational meaning, and conceptual thought in general; the second, our mastery of practical skills. The first concerns our knowledge 'of..' and our knowledge 'that..'; the second, our knowledge 'how to..'.
Let us examine how these each emerge from a source in primary responsive- ness.
Our mastery of symbolic reference
In order to grasp what is involved in mastering an act of symbolic reference let us ask, by way of example, what it means for an infant to recognise the colour 'red'. Margaret Donaldson has reminded us that such mastery entails something other than the learning of a conventional linguistic 'label', or even than learning about the practice of linguistic labelling as such. To ignore this fact is to impose upon the child and upon the primary process of learning an adult, western, abstract understanding of language;8 again, it is to imagine that we learn our first language in the same way as we learn our second (assuming, that is, we: learn our second language by the inefficient method of translating from our mother tongue).9 In fact, it is rather misleading to speak of an infant as in the first instance learning 'the meaning of "red"', when in the first instance she rather learns what it means practically to 'see red'. We have formed some idea of what such learning involves from Goldstein's colour-sorting test.
Beginning by indwelling an indeterminate mass of sense-impressions, a child learns, as we might put it, 'to "see red" with understanding'. She learns to own redness as a coherent experience. She acquires 'a way of experiencing'.
Sense-impressions relevant to this learning will normally include, importantly, the repeated use of the word 'red' in its correct context (her learning will be impaired if a child repeatedly meets the word 'red' used to speak of what is not red!). Relevant impressions may also include wordless acts of communication (remember that Goldstein's colour-sorting test was wordless), acts not intended purposely to communicate, and that which lies outside purposive human activity altogether (how else did humankind learn to 'see red' in the first place?).
For our present purposes I shall find it convenient to adopt Goldstein's 'colour-sorting test' for a model of what is involved when an infant masters the symbolic reference 'red'. Picture an infant presented with a number of skeins of wool varying in colour, texture, thickness etc. A series of red skeins are selected from the pile and she is invited to continue the process. When she can do this, we shall speak of her as having mastered the symbolic reference 'red'. What has this entailed? According to our analysis, she has 'indwelt' the process observed until her many sense- impressions organise into a figure-ground configuration in which 'red' stands out for her from an indeterminate background. It is rather as if she has been moving among these impressions so as to place herself at a point of balance or equilibrium: understanding comes for her as a sense of such equilibrium arises.
It is a matter of crucial significance that the situation of the infant now changes, and in the following way. Suppose that she continues to incorporate new data into the mass of impressions which she indwells in association with the symbolic reference 'red'. She now finds that new data add nothing further to her search for equilibrium or coherence among her sense-impressions. Instead, one of two divergent possibilities occurs. Either new data accommodates itself to the equilibrium represented by her already attained knowledge of 'red', so that her previous understanding is simply replicated, or else the incorporation of new data destroys all sense of emergent coherence and understanding. These two alternatives correspond to the two divergent occasions when, invited to acknowledge something as red, we find either that we can do so casually by 'taking a look', or else looking, we can make no sense of this invitation.
Now this change of situation has a dual significance. It is quite crucial that we recognise this. On the one hand it spells the attainment of understanding; on the other hand, it spells an end to the (radical) endeavour of understanding. Concerning the latter, the polarity of figure and ground, of 'weighing' and 'giving weight (to..)' enriches itself no further for us, but instead subsides into an unchanging residual shape. New sense-impressions bring no further enrichment of the 'ground' of this polarity, that is, no further depth of practical meaning to 'seeing red', and thus no new demands that we show receptivity towards such meaning. Our activity now reduces to critical appraisal, by which we distinguish between the alternative experiences of a familiar coherence, and incoherence.
The acquisition of skills
In order to picture what is involved in the acquisition of a skill, let us ask, by way of example, what it means for an infant to learn to walk. The struggle to master the act of walking voluntarily (not as the merely sensori-motor activity which it is for animals) involves an infant learning to coordinate diverse systems or schema -those of sight, balance, and the movement of limbs -so that these cohere together in a single voluntary action. The awkward, groping activity which characterises such learning is the outward aspect of a process of active indwelling by which the child seeks that particular dynamic equilibrium which defines the practical meaning of 'walking'.
Again it is of crucial significance here that, once an infant has 'learned to walk', her situation changes. When she now continues to explore practically what it means to walk, she finds that there is little more to be discovered in this respect. Rather it turns out for her that all new sense-impressions can be assimilated to the implicit practical meaning these have for her in and with respect to the act of walking as she already understands this practically. New sense-data raise no further questions about the meaning of this act, which she can now perform as she wishes.
Once again this change of situation has a dual significance. On the one hand it spells the acquisition of a skill; on the other, an end to the (radical) endeavour of practical understanding. As before this reflects a loss of vigour in the polarity of figure and ground, of weighing and giving weight (to..), which subsides into a fixed shape. This residual shape differs, however, from that which arises in connection with symbolic reference. Here it is 'figure', rather than 'ground', which remains unenriched by the incorporation of new sense-data; the task lapses, of our appraising whether we can 'exercise this skill' in some deeper, as yet unmastered, sense. Our activity now reduces to that receptive assimilation by which we incorporate all incoming sense-data to the practical meaning they have for us in the concrete act of exercising a familiar skill.
Mastery of symbolic reference and skilful action compared To our usual way of thinking there is a sharp distinction between mastery of a reference (whether this concerns an object or a quality) and of a skill. And yet, as we have seen, both types of knowledge originate from what discloses itself to the same intention of self-involving address towards indeterminate reality. Let us now examine further, what these forms of knowledge have in common, and how they differ.
I suggest that we can (admittedly with a certain awkwardness, to our usual way of thinking) look upon acts of reference and upon the exercise of skills as both concerning 'ways of addressing the world'. Seen in these terms, in both cases mastery involves learning a certain disposition towards the world, in which our sense-impressions are organised into the practical meaning they have for us when we address reality in a particular way. For example, we can see 'learning the meaning of red' as 'learning what it means practically to address the world in the light of the question of redness'. Alternatively it can be described as learning what it means practically to address the question 'Can I "see red" here?'. In a similar way we can see 'learning how to walk' as 'learning what it means practically to address the world as one does in and with respect to the act of walking'; again, this can be described as learning what it means practically to address the task of walking.
This approach to the act of reference and the exercise of a skill conveys their similarity, but it also reveals their difference. This difference is reflected in our linguistic practice. In the former case, it is the referent implied in the act of 'seeing red' which gets specified linguistically (viz., 'red'), while the component of 'seeing' in this act gets left unspoken; in the latter case, the (indeterminate) world addressed in the act of walking gets left unspoken, while the act of addressing this world gets specified linguistically as 'walking'. As a general rule, the act of reference is associated with the specification of something towards which we turn our attention in the world,the manner of our attention towards the (indeterminate) world. However, this does not mean that in the two cases when we originally master a reference and a skill, our attention is in each case 'in a different direction', implying that there is after all a difference between our primary intentions in each case. To state this would be to project back into the situation of primary responsiveness, the distinction between the world around us and our action in this world, whereas this is rather the situation out of which these arise in the first place in polar relation to each other. whereas the exercise of a skill is associated with the specification of
This polar interanimation shows itself in two ways which challenge any notion of a dualism of subject and world. On the one hand, reference originally involves initiative of the kind popularly associated rather with the application of a skill. The world to which we attend comes to light precisely as we actively indwell it with the intention of responsiveness.
Here no world confronts us as a 'referent' which we do not in the same moment actively address and so bring ..to light. This is not, of course, to say that we come to the world in possession of any 'prior' questions; rather, it is as we respond practically to an as yet indeterminate reality that we rise to the question of the world.
On the other hand, the exercise of skill originally involves an element of response of the kind popularly associated rather with acts of reference.
Skilful action arises here, not as a matter of addressing the world in a particular way, but of responding practically to reality as it addresses us in some particular aspect of itself. Indeed the primary meaning of 'voluntary' action and of 'free-will' as such lies here in responsiveness.
Here there is no engagement in action which is not first a matter of response to the world. If it is objected that when an infant sets out to explore the world she already takes a personal initiative towards it, we shall answer that such initiative is not yet 'personal' or of the nature of voluntary action, but only of a sensori-motor nature. All capacity for voluntary action arises out of responsiveness in the first place.
None of this serves to deny that there is a difference between acts of reference and the exercise of skills; but this difference is not to be found in the primary intention of learning them. It arises rather as the polarity we address in radical responsiveness subsides, in the one case as the vitality of 'ground' lapses, and in the other case as the vitality of 'figure' lapses; it arises because of the different character of these two poles of figure-ground polarity.
I shall explore the two poles of this fundamental polarity further in Chapter Seven. Their nature holds the key to the logical structure of knowledge and responsiveness as we are beginning to understand these. For the moment, however, it will suffice if we picture them as follows.
In its radical sense, 'polarity' designates a relation at once of identity and differentiation between two 'poles'. Thus far we are presented with a symmetrical relation. However, more than this is entailed in the polarity of 'figure' and 'ground'. 'Ground' (on the one hand) comprises the sum total of our relevant sense-impressions. But this means that the data-base (so to speak) for 'figure' is included within that of 'ground' .In this loose sense 'ground' embraces 'figure' within itself and represents the polar unity of 'figure' and 'ground!. By contrast, 'figure' constitutes itself precisely by differentiating itself from the 'ground' which arises with it and in polar relation to it. In this loose sense 'figure' is distinct from 'ground' and represents the polar differentiation of 'figure' and 'ground'.
Of course this implies a parallel structure for the polarity of giving weight (to..) and weighing, of valuing and evaluating, of receptivity and critical appraisal, within the intention of radical responsiveness. Within this polarity, the first term represents in each case the 'unifying' intention, and the second term the 'differentiating' intention, of responsiveness.
It is in such terms as these, ultimately, that we shall be led to give an account of the relation between symbolic reference and the exercise of skill, and their underlying unity. This unity is easily hidden from us, for reasons which I shall now examine.
The act of logical inversion
We have seen how a lapse in the vigour of figure-ground polarity in the face of our self-involving address provides the setting from which arises our mastery both of symbolic reference and of skills. Now it can also prove the setting for a change in our disposition away from primary responsiveness.
For reasons which will soon become apparent, I shall refer to this change of disposition as an act of 'logical inversion'. Description of this act is crucial to an adequate account of human knowledge.
Let us consider first what is involved when logical inversion arises in connection with a symbolic reference. We shall recall how mastery of a reference generates two divergent situations: as we add new sense-data to those we already indwell in self-involving responsiveness, we find that this new sense-data either incorporates itself into a new replication of our previous grasp of coherent meaning, and so adds nothing significant to our understanding, or else it destroys all sense of coherent meaning. But now our disposition may change. Instead of indwelling old data and new together in pursuit of further understanding, we may now 'adopt' the coherent meaning we have established by indwelling old data, and refer new experience to this 'prior' frame. Once we do this we deny that the question arises of deeper understanding or richer meaning, as a matter of presupposition.
It is no longer a matter of our practical judgement in radical responsiveness, that this question does not arise. The only question we acknowledge here, concerns whether or not new sense-data has the effect of replicating for us the meaning we have already adopted for our reference.
The result of this change of attitude is that we now possess a concept (for example, the concept 'red'). The coherence of this concept is a matter of unreflective presupposition for us. It yields the 'literal' meaning (as we count it) of 'red'. Our possessing this concept is a matter prior to, and quite distinct from, that of our addressing the concrete question 'here and now, can I see red?'. A concept acts like a template or background pattern against which we may hold up reality as we choose. We may now raise at will, as an open question, whether reality corresponds to this concept. The meaning of this question ( which has been determined by the concept concerned) has now become a matter logically prior to and quite distinct from the act of raising this question in a concrete situation. Here reality is appropriated to presupposed conceptual meaning, where originally the latter arose out of our openness towards as yet indeterminate reality. In other words the inner logical priority of primary responsiveness over symbolic reference has, in intention, been inverted.
Here, the polar relation of figure and ground has been severed. There hardens a divorce between, on the one hand, the coherence or meaningfulness of a given question of reference (this being a matter of our unreflective presupposition), and on the other hand, the act of putting this question to the real world, as an open question. There is a corresponding divorce also in our own intention, between our receptivity to the coherence of such a question and our critical appraisal of its answer. The former is a matter of our unreflective commitment; the latter, of our detached observation.
Logical inversion can arise also in connection with our exercise of skills.
We shall recall how mastery of a skill represents the ability to address reality in terms of this skill. But now there may come a change of disposition on our part away from primary responsiveness. Instead of continuing to address in primary responsiveness, what it means practically to address the world in terms of our skill, we may come to presuppose the practical meaning of this skill. It is now no longer a judgement made by us in primary responsiveness, that the practical meaning of such address requires no further appraisal; instead we posit this unreflectively. Our skill now acquires the status of a meaning which we can, so to speak, activate automatically. We can turn to exercising of our skill without having to ask ourselves radically what it might mean for us to do so.
Now here, where the vigour of figure-ground polarity has lapsed in the world as we engage it, logical inversion does not distort the nature of this world. The understanding to which it leads, based as this is upon unreflective presupposition, stands in correspondence with this nature.
This point is of fundamental importance. Indeed the validity of logical inversion in this context, I propose, spells the ultimate validity of scientific method as seen in the enormous achievements of science and technology since the Enlightenment.
The situation is very different where there has been no lapse in the initial vigour of figure-ground polarity (nor, therefore, of the polarity of receptivity and critical appraisal). We find this situation when we first grow into understanding, when we engage vital questions of a personal and moral nature, and above all when we address religious matters. Here logical inversion diverges sharply from primary responsiveness, taking on (as we shall see later) the character of active evasion. This issue is also of fundamental importance, if we are to make sense of our more vital acts of understanding as opposed to our scientific and technical knowledge.
I have referred repeatedly to 'vitality' of understanding and to lapses in this. In a moment I shall investigate further the question of such vitality. Before doing so, however, it may help us to picture the path we are pursuing if I update, in the light of our discussion, the 'depth of vision' analogy which I used earlier in this chapter.
A model for symbolic reference, skill, and logical inversion I proposed earlier as an analogy for the endeavour of personal knowledge, the task of recognising what constitutes an alignment of 'vectors' (viewed along their length) in a coherent direction. Can we develop this analogy further in order to describe the emergence of symbolic reference and of skill, and the act of logical inversion in connection with these? In order to do this, let us consider further what is entailed in the act of searching for what is to be counted as determinate direction.
I propose that searching for what is to be counted a determinate direction entails searching at once for whatever is to be counted a distal fixed horizon-point, and for whatever is to be counted a proximal fixed point or vantage point. The former determines for us 'coherent direction' as such in that when we fix our gaze upon it, then no matter what our location - changing or unchanging -we count ourselves as looking in a steady direction.
The latter determines coherent direction as such in that whatever we see from it is seen, as we count it, from a determinate direction. In the primary situation, these two' fixed points' come to light together in polar relation to each other, and so disclose determinate direction as such.
Now this polar question of what counts as a 'coherent direction' can subside in one of two ways. Firstly it can happen that the question of what counts as a determinate horizon-point develops no further; new sense-data serve only to replicate our previous judgement in this matter. This situation is illustrated by the situation I described in Chapter Five when, sailing in a mist within a certain limited area or enclave, we come to count a certain buoy as determining our orientation. This way of seeing things remains unchallenged by new experience provided this remains within certain previous limits .The establishment of a horizon-point in this way is analogous, I suggest, to our establishment of a reference.
Secondly, it can happen that the question of what counts as a determinate vantage-point develops no further, and new sense-data serve only to replicate our previous experience in this matter. This can be illustrated from another sailing experience. When sailing in mirror-flat waters, if we have at hand only a relatively distant source of bearings we shall form a certain judgement of what it means for us to 'remain stationary'. This judgement remains unchallenged by new experience provided, once again, this remains within certain previous limits. The acquisition of a vantage-point in this way is analogous, I suggest, to our acquisition of a skill.
Where shall we find now, an analogy for the act of logical inversion? We shall find this, I suggest, in the occasion when we adopt either a horizon- point or vantage-point in such a way as to deny, as a matter of presupposition, that the question arises of a more adequate grasp of these.
Such a change in disposition will not significantly distort our experience while our 'depth of field' remains within its previous limits. When, however, this field enlarges -as when, in our illustrations, the mist thins, or as when we find closer bearings in mirror-flat waters -then our horizons and vantage-points are challenged. In the first case, When new depth opens up beyond our 'horizon' we are challenged to acknowledge that where we had thought to look in a steady direction, we were rather looking towards an object from a variety of directions; we are challenged now to address anew the question of what properly counts as a horizon-point. If we evade doing so and cling to our previous way of seeing things we shall be haunted by phantoms which displace themselves relative to us (like the distant cliffs, in our illustration of sailing in mist). In the second case, when new depth opens up immediately before us we are challenged to acknowledge that where we had thought to view the world from a determinate vantage-point, we were not doing so. We are challenged now to address anew the question of what counts as a determinate viewpoint. If we evade doing so and cling to our established way of seeing things we shall be haunted by a distracting lack of inner coherence in our perceptions.
I suggest that this situation where our 'depth of field' enlarges provides an analogy for the situation where we are summoned to continuing vitality of self-involving address -and for where logical inversion represents an evasion of these demands. Let us now explore further, the issue of such continuing vitality of address.
(iii) Vitality of understanding
We have seen that our mastery of a reference and of a skill originate when the vigour of figure-ground polarity subsides. The former originates when the question of the meaning of 'ground' lapses in vitality; the latter, when the question of the meaning of 'figure' lapses in vitality. The difference between these two realms of mastery reflects the divergent character of these two poles.
Let us now ask ourselves: is such 'vitality' something we find either simply present or simply absent, or do we in practice meet degrees of vitality? Do we always find ourselves addressed by the polarity of figure and ground either in fullness of vitality, or else in a virtually total lapse of vitality? Or do we sometimes encounter a partial or ambiguous lapse of vitality in an act of reference or the exercise of a skill? The latter is, I suggest, our experience. Let us examine it further.
Reference and vitality of meaning
Mastery of a reference originates when the pole of 'ground' and of our intention of receptivity lapses into an established meaning. This lapse is, however, never total. And importantly there are cases where it is far from total. There are cases where the question continues to address us practically and in a lively way, what does it mean for us to rise to the act of reference concerned; this question continues to demand from us radical responsiveness. It continues to offer 'food for thought', and beckons us to deeper understanding. Reference does not degenerate into a casual or automatic affair in such cases.
This is not to say that in every case where an act of reference undergoes development of meaning, we can be said to meet vitality of meaning. There are, for example, some cases where we go on developing our skill in recognising the presence of a given referent, but once developed, the exercise of this superior skill soon becomes largely automatic in turn.
Thus the experienced naturalist may identify a bird casually from the merest glimpse where others are quite unable to do so. Again, there are cases where, although the exercise of superior skills of recognition never becomes automatic like this but continues to involve an exercise of careful attention, this attention still does not entail the kind of openness which characterises radical responsiveness.
In many such cases the development of skills of recognition leaves intact the meaning of the reference concerned. Thus a doctor may grow in the ability to recognise signs of lung cancer on a chest X-ray, but this does not enrich the meaning of 'lung cancer' itself. There are other cases, however, where the meaning of a given referent itself undergoes development; indeed in some cases a reference may be repeatedly redefined. Nevertheless, on every such new occasion a definition, once grasped, demands no further thought. We are still met with little vitality of meaning here.
Such is the case where definitions are refined in response to the advance of scientific knowledge, as when (for example) biologists are led to review their understanding of what counts as a given genus or family of plants.
A better illustration of vitality of meaning is to be found, I suggest, in our grasp of metaphor. To see this, let us begin by comparing our grasp of metaphor with our grasp of 'literal ' meaning. We have noted how literal meaning arises in connection with an act of reference, as the vitality of the question of meaning lapses. Now in metaphor the vitality of the question of meaning is renewed by the use of such a reference in a distinctly new context. Because of the novelty of this metaphorical context, we find we cannot appraise in casual fashion what is said by relying upon the familiar meaning of the references used. This means we cannot register a metaphor as 'literally' true or false; the question literal truth or falsehood simply does not arise. It is precisely in this oblique encounter with literal meaning that metaphor revitalises for us the primary question of meaning.
Thus it is that (as we noted in Chapter Four) lively metaphor discloses its own reference and meaning to us. This will be more or less evident according to how lively is the metaphor in question. The more a metaphor has 'presence', the more it continues to evoke attention and reflection, and the less readily can we identify its reference or meaning in terms of literal meanings upon which it draws, which themselves have but a shadow of this presence. The extreme example of this is provided by the religious use of paradoxical 'qualified models'.
From earlier discussion we might recall here that the kind of vitality of meaning which we find in lively metaphor is not to be, thought of as essentially dependent upon pre-existent 'literal' meanings and their interanimation. Rather, literal meanings arise in the first place out of vital meaning when its vitality lapses. Nor (for this reason) should we think of a lively metaphor as an invention thrown into a world of 'given' literal meanings. Rather, just as vital meaning first summons us to rise to an act of literal reference, so lively metaphor is a matter of our response as such meaning continues to engage us.
This can be taken a step further: insofar as a given word signifies 'vital' meaning, it is wrong to define its meaning by appeal to a 'literal' use we come to master, and hold that subsequent metaphorical use of the word discloses something other than this meaning. For on the contrary, every 'literal' use of the word fails to mediate its meaning, whereas lively metaphorical use succeeds: paradoxically, 'vital.' meaning reveals its 'literal' meaning, only in lively metaphor and paradox!
Another and especially important case of 'vital' knowledge is found in our exercise of moral judgement. Such judgement can 'never become an automatic affair, demanding no thought from us; if it does so, our perception has become less than actively moral. Every new moral situation calls us to ~ address, in renewed radical responsiveness, 'what is right'. Nor is it ~ adequate to conceive the need for such radically new judgement as a need to recognise with ever greater skill the presence of an established referent specified by the expression 'what is right'. It is the tendency to think this way that leads to 'moralism'. Rather we go on discovering what counts in every new situation as 'right'. Our recognition of 'what is right' constitute's recognition of a referent only in the odd sense which accords with the fact that in every such act of recognition we weigh anew the practical meaning of this reference. It is this exercise of practical judgement, rather than any established referent, which signifies the primary meaning of 'right'.
Skill and vitality of meaning
Mastery of skill originates when the pole of 'figure' and of our intention of critical appraisal lapses into an established meaning. In some cases this lapse is almost total. In these cases, having once mastered a skill we need pay little attention in order to exercise it: it acquires a largely automatic character. Thus having learnt as infants to keep our balance while standing, we need subsequently give little attention in order to do so. Importantly, however, there are other cases where the exercise of a skill always requires great concentration. And in some of these cases it remains an ambiguous matter, whether the question continues still to engage us practically, What does it mean for us to exercise a given 'skill' in each new situation. Insofar as this remains a live question, we may speak of being met with only a partial lapse in vitality of meaning.
Once again, not every 'demanding' exercise of skill is of equal value to illustrate vitality of meaning. To take an important example, the demands of continually refining a skill or technique are less illustrative in this respect than are the demands of artistic endeavour. In the former case, although our mastery of a skill continues to develop, it does so within an established frame; what counts as the meaning of this skill does not develop alongside our developing expertise. Rather, as we shall say, we simply 'get better at (the skill concerned)'. The case of artistic endeavour is different. There is more involved here than the exercise of skill. The context of each new work of art is radically new. For the artist, the question always remains a live one, 'What might it mean for me to do "the work of art" in this new situation?'. The 'work of art' requires that we attend fully to our situation in order that we may be shown what such work might practically mean in our concrete situation. The work of art thus retains something of that primary element of responsiveness which, as we have seen, characterises all skill in its origins, but becomes lost insofar as skills subside into mere automatisms at our disposal.
In terms such as these, then, 'vitality' of understanding points (so to speak) both back behind and forward beyond our mastery of reference and of skill. It points us both back to the common origin of these in radical responsiveness, and forward to their renewal in undying vitality of understanding. Importantly, the latter understanding is therefore equally a matter of 'vital' reference and 'vital' skill, although we experience it as a matter of vital reference perhaps in a special way in moral matters, and as a matter of vital skill in a special way in art. It is above all in religious address, however, that we know undying vitality of understanding.
We shall discuss such address now.
(iv) Religious understanding
We have seen that while in the primary instance reality addresses us in the emergent, deepening and enriching polarity of figure and ground, this polarity can lapse in dynamism. One or other of its poles - either the pole of 'figure' or of 'ground' - can cease to enrich in meaning. It is these lapses which give rise, respectively, to our mastery of skills and of symbolic reference. Sometimes, as we have seen, this lapse of vitality is an ambiguous or partial affair, and the skill or reference acquired continues to demand from us a measure of lively responsiveness.
We shall now consider the case when there is no such lapse in vitality.
Instead the polarity of figure and ground, critical appraisal and receptivity, endlessly deepens and enriches in coherence. This indicates the proper meaning of religious experience'; 'God' signifies the mystery which addresses us in immeasurable vitality and who raises us to participation in this mystery in unconditional vitality of response.
As we now seek to describe such response, we shall need to address another issue which arises inseparably with this - the issue of evasion. Evasion, I shall argue, has to do with an act of logical inversion in the face of 'vital' reality. Unlike when we are met with less than vital reality, here response and logical inversion diverge sharply in meaning, both in the character of their intention and in the 'reality' addressed by each. I shall first describe religious response and its object, and then radical evasion and its object.
Let me begin by asking how religious address compares with the act of reference as such, and then with the exercise of a skill. Firstly, is religious address in any sense an act of reference? If we say so, this must be with the odd qualification that religious address never possesses its object as a taken-for-granted referent. Insofar as 'God' becomes for us a taken-for-granted referent we no longer refer to God, for the very meaning of 'God' as a 'referent' goes on enriching in continuing emergence and can be embraced only in radical responsiveness. Accordingly the act of reference to God has unlimited vitality of meaning, corresponding to its referent which is an unconditionally vital 'presence'. This vitality of presence and response enriches endlessly into our future -into what has traditionally been called 'the beatific vision'.
Secondly, is religious address in any sense the exercise of a skill? Again if we say so, this must be with the odd qualification that religious address never acquires an 'automatic' aspect. Insofar as a 'religious' act is performed automatically it is less than truly religious, for the very meaning of religious address as a 'skill' goes on enriching for us and requires our continued openness as we respond to each new concrete situation. As such it is an unconditionally 'vital' act which points forward to our participation in the final saving act of God.
Religious address, then, bears equal relation to our acts of reference and our exercise of skill; but it involves more than either insofar as these each imply an essential element of unreflectivity. The 'more' involved here is crucial in such away that the occasion of religious address is not to be thought of just as one occasion among others in our life, as follows.
Firstly, 'religious address' is not something which, on any given occasion, we engage in fully or not at all. For - paradoxically - such address is always at the point of emergence. In our experience, God and the radical responsiveness in which alone we know Him always lie radically ahead of us; and yet they are realised together in our present. Practically, God is for us essentially a matter at once of presence and promise. This is the paradox of eschatalogical grace, and it is reflected in the character of religious address and its object in all their aspects.
Secondly, our participation in religious address affects our personal life as a whole. It represents the endless enrichment of that vitality of responsiveness out of which all our understanding arises. It is not just about our desire to have some particular knowledge; it is about our appetite for understanding as such. And is this not, in turn, the heart of our very appetite for personal life as such? Indeed, is it not personal life? Our discussion of the difference between personal and animal life points in this direction. The promise we at once share in and respond to in religious address is no less than the promise of the mystery of immeasurable personal life. It is in such terms that we may think of the Christian hope of participation in the eternal life of God.
The mystery of God embraces us in an ever enriching polarity of figure and ground, and invites us to respond in ever enlarging personal life. However this invitation can be experienced as making unacceptable demands upon us, and we can refuse it. What is the character of such 'radical evasion'? Two anticipatory observations suggest themselves. Firstly, just as the object of radical response has a distinctive character which directly reflects our intention towards it, and stands in odd relation to the world of familiar objects and actions, the same will be true of the object of radical evasion. Secondly, just as radical response and its object spell at once the presence and promise of unconditional personal life, so radical evasion and its object will spell at once the presence and threat of unconditional personal death. It is because of this that (for example) G. K. Chesterton can point to aflame and say in warning, to a colleague:
'That flame flowered out of virtues, and it will fade with virtues.
Seduce a woman, and that spark will be less bright. Shed blood, and that spark will be less red. Be really bad, and they will be to you like the spots on a wallpaper.'10
Can we describe more closely the character of radical evasion? I have suggested that it reflects an act of logical inversion in the face of a 'vital' presence. In other words, in radical evasion we actively divert our attention away from a fundamental polarity confronting us, so as to 'adopt' one or other pole. By doing so we give one pole false priority over the other. This act of evasion differs entirely from the previously considered case of logical inversion (associated with our mastery of a reference or skill) inasmuch as it actively posits and presupposes, rather than arises from our recognition of, a lapse of vigour in figure-ground polarity. Such evasion initially takes one of two forms, according to whether we posit a lapse in the vitality of the meaning of 'ground' or of 'figure'.
To understand the first form of evasion let us recall the case when logical inversion arises as the question of 'ground' lapses in vitality and a reference forms. We now cease addressing the question of practical meaning which discloses itself to us in the polarity of figure and ground, and 'adopt' the meaning which has already formed for us, assimilating new sense-impressions to this. That is to say, we count this adopted meaning the measure of whatever meaning addresses us; we discount the question of further primary disclosure of meaning. Similarly the demands upon us of receptivity towards meaning are now defined by and refer to this 'adopted' meaning, while the question of other such demands is discounted. In this way logical inversion gives meaning to a specific question for us - namely, the question regarding whether we rightly apply, in given circumstances, the reference we have acquired.
What will it mean to logically invert in this way when addressed rather by a 'vital' presence? Here it means actively concealing from ourselves the continuing demands of receptivity to new meaning. In particular, we adopt an 'act of reference' while displacing the question of deeper meaning from our attention, actively dissociating ourselves from it. Confronted with the question itself of deeper meaning, we shall merely rehearse it; its meaning displaces itself endlessly beyond ourselves and (in inner contradiction) beyond itself. In this way the unacceptable demands of receptivity haunt us through self-displacing phantoms unconsciously registered in and through the world of familiar referents. They spawn mirages which forever beckon us and spectres which forever pursue us. I suggest that we see here the dynamic of such things as narcissism, insatiable lust and greed (where in each case we fall under the spell of mirages), and paranoia (where we fall under the spell of spectres). The same dynamics are to be seen in the attitude of 'resentment' as this is described by Max Scheler,11 and in the fundamental attitude of 'pour-soi' described by Jean-Paul Sartre.12
In each of these cases the identity which is ours as radically responsive persons is distorted and unconsciously projected beyond ourselves as an at once necessary and yet unattainable reference-point or goal. The self- displacing phantoms which haunt us thus represent hidden 'existential' meanings influencing our behaviour (in reality such 'existential' meanings concern our evasion of personal existence, of course, rather than our openness towards it). With these phantoms there forms a fractured world: while consciously we address the world we know through our mastery of references and skills, unconsciously we inhabit a hidden, magic world where we are caught up in spellbound pursuit of and flight from 'existential' symbols. This fractured world reflects directly our intention of radical evasion: when spectres and mirages draw us into their web and paralyse us, we are fully accomplices in this; if they deceive us as 'existential' symbols of the powers of life and death, we use them to deceive ourselves.
To understand the second form taken by radical evasion we need to recall the case when logical inversion arises as the question of 'figure' lapses in vitality and a skill forms. Here we cease addressing the question of meaning which discloses itself to us in fundamental polarity, and 'adopt' the practical meaning which has already formed for us, assimilating new sense-impressions to this. Once again we count this adopted meaning the measure of whatever meaning addresses us, and discount the question of further primary disclosure of meaning. The demands upon us of critical appraisal of new meaning are similarly defined by this 'adopted' meaning, and the question of other such demands discounted. In this way logical inversion-gives rise to that meaning which the indeterminate world has for us as we address it in the performance of the skill concerned.
What will it mean to logically invert in this way when addressed rather by a 'vital' presence? On this occasion it means actively concealing from ourselves the continuing demands of critical appraisal of new meaning. In particular, we adopt 'the exercise of a skill' while displacing the question of deeper meaning into this adopted meaning itself. That is to say, we generate an essential indeterminacy within the practical meaning we have embraced; we act with inner incoherence. Goldstein has described such a state as 'failure to centre'.13 This is the dynamic of enervating anxiety, guilt and depression, and in general of that experienced loss and brutalisation which diminishes our sense of personal identity and worth.
What character has the 'object' of such experience? Goldstein raises this question with regard to the object of anxiety: 'Does the person, in a state of anxiety, become at all conscious of the object? Rather it seems as if, in proportion to the increase of anxiety, objects and contents disappear more and more.'14 He goes on: 'In the state of fear, we have an object in front of us which we can "meet", which we can attempt to remove, or from which we can flee... On the other hand, anxiety attacks us from the rear, so to speak. The only thing we can do is attempt to flee without knowing where to go, because we experience it as coming from no particular place.'15
The 'object' of such experience is thus very different from the phantoms which haunt us in the act of 'dissociation'. We recall that in the latter case we deny the radical demands of receptivity and of the polar unity of figure and ground so as to constitute as our object, a phantom which secretly attracts us ever more deeply under its spell. In the present case, however, we refuse to rise to the further demands of critical appraisal and judgement and of the po1ar differentiation of figure and ground so as to constitute as our object, a diffuse, indeterminate source of distraction which undermines any intention we have towards making sense of things and towards coherent understanding.
Once again this experience of being personally brutalised and diminished echoes our hidden intention of radical evasion. The passivity in which we suffer personal diminution conceals an inner complicity; we are self- deceiving accomplices to our own 'existential' oppression.
I have claimed that that character of the 'object' of evasion is constructed by our evasion itself. This is not, however, to claim that the existence of these objects derives entirely from our evasion. Evasion is occasioned in the first place by the 'demands' of reality. These demands are not themselves the product of our evasion, but belong rather to the circumstances which tempt us to evasion in the first place. We shall consider these demands now, together with the nature of our 'choice' of response or evasion, as we ask further about our 'final' experience of God.
Finality in response and evasion
We have noted that radical response and evasion are alike emergent phenomena. They always lie radically ahead of us - one as the promise of unconditional personal life, the other as the threat of unconditional personal death - and yet, paradoxically, they embrace us in the present moment.
I suggest that we can derive here, suitable terms in which to explore the religious expectation of a 'final judgement' and the hope of salvation.
We can ask what it means that either radical response or radical evasion will finally have the last word upon us, and in the process, one finally have the last word upon the other. And we can ask what it means that this 'final' issue paradoxically embraces us already in the present moment.
As we reflect on these questions, it is important to keep in mind that the emergence of 'vital' meaning, and thus the question of our response, always depends upon the initiative of God. Without this initiative, the question of our radical response or evasion simply does not arise. This is true, most importantly, of what is final: the occasion of final salvation and judgement depends upon God's final act of self-disclosure.
The issue of concern to us here relates in part to the meaning of a 'final act of God'. The questions raised here can be pursued by considering a familiar experience not discussed so far: namely, when we find ourselves fully personally embraced by a dynamic polarity, but there is no disclosure of an emergent figure-ground organisation or sense of movement towards coherent understanding. In other words, we experience the radical question of God, but no movement towards its resolution. It is this experience which most tempts us to evasion - either to the inner dissipation of enervation and depression, or to dissociation and denial. Such is the shock of significant personal loss (bereavement, disability, homelessness, divorce, redundancy), especially where this is imposed upon us violently by other people.
Such occasions have a dual religious significance. On the one hand they pose the greatest challenge to the supposed existence of God. In terms of our own analysis, they commend the possibility that non-resolution of the question of God will have the last word. On the other hand they represent the greatest challenge posed by the existence of God; these are our times of trial and temptation to lose faith, where above all we are called to hold fast.
Can we clarify the nature of this ambiguity? An analogous ambiguity, I suggest, sometimes confronts us with regard to lesser demands connected with our day-to-day acts of reference. Consider when someone makes a claim which initially appears mistaken or unintelligible to us. When we pursue the matter responsively, sometimes we shall come to see that their claim is correct and that this fact has been concealed from us; at other times we shall come to the judgement that our initial perception was right and their claim is misguided. Until we reach one or the other judgement, however, we cannot say which is the case. Nor can we say therefore, on the one hand, that any assertion of the former conclusion will imply that we have evaded the demands of critical appraisal or surrendered our judgement on the matter; such an assertion may rather reflect the fact that we have been open to the demands of receptivity in our situation. Again, we cannot say on the other hand, that any assertion of the latter conclusion will imply that we have evaded. the demands of receptivity or acted dismissively; such an assertion may rather reflect the fact that we have risen to the demands of critical appraisal in our situation. Until, through primary responsiveness, we reach one or other of these conclusions it will remain an open question for us, whether such a conclusion can in fact be reached in responsiveness, or whether it can only be asserted from a position of evasion.
In the parallel religious case, we meet this ambiguity in an extreme form.
We find ourselves confronted with that which grossly offends our understanding even so as to threaten us personally in a quite unconditional way.
It now becomes an open and enormously demanding personal question, what will be the outcome of the indeterminacy embracing us. Shall we finally know the resolution of this unqualified personal 'offence' in a final act of God, or shall we know only unending offence?
The distinctive character of the religious case is reflected in the unique character of this question itself in this case. For this question now concerns more than whether the question arises of our showing continued radical responsiveness in one particular instance (viz. the present 'religious' instance). It concerns more than this because religious address concerns more than one particular experience among others, but rather frames the meaning of personal experience as such. As a consequence, the question whether unconditional offence awaits final resolution concerns whether the question arises of unlimited depth of personal life as such, or whether personal life necessarily dissolves into indeterminacy.
Accordingly, this question is not one which can be handled within the frame of our familiar personal world, because it concerns the ultimate limits of this world itself. It can be addressed only in that radical responsiveness which gives rise to and enlarges this world itself. The question, whether the question arises of 'final' radical responsiveness beyond unlimited offence, is by definition to be addressed precisely within the act of radical response, in a practical and implicit form, and in the face of such offence. This spells its very meaning as a question.
Not only so: it also spells the answer to this question and its meaning as an answer. For the answer to this question is already embraced in the asking of the question,and its meaning embraced in the meaning of the question. It is where we show continuing responsiveness in the face of unmitigated offence that the meaning of God and of His existence shows itself, as an implicit, practical matter. It is here where we find it hardest to rise to the question of God, that this question is most surely answered, in our very embrace of the question; here where we find it hardest to wait, and bear with unresolved offence, that the point and the stature of waiting and questioning is most sure. It is here where we embrace the unresolved question, what will have the last word upon us - the absence (i.e. practical non-existence) of God, our evasion of the God who is, or God's grace sustaining us in response - that the last word is disclosed before its time, in our very embrace of this question, as lying with God's grace. It is here where the final initiative of God is most radically hidden from us in the future, that His final initiative already shows itself in us -in our continuing responsiveness. The grace of God is revealed most fully in our embrace of His radical absence.
Our discussion of religious response and evasion and of God's final act has hinted at many matters of Christian doctrine. In Chapter Eight I shall explore two of these -the basic matters of creation and redemption. Before doing so, however, I think it is important that I clarify a little further the underlying logical and philosophical implications of the present analysis. We can frame these implications in terms of the logic of question and answer. In the next chapter I shall address this task.
Buber, Distance and Relation, in
Buber, The Knowledge of Man (
Pannenberg, What is Man? (eng.
3. Pannenberg, What is Man?, p.9.
Bruner, 'On Voluntary Action and its Hierarchical Structure', in Bruner, Beyond the Information Given (
5. Bruner, 'On Voluntary Action and its Hierarchical Structure', p.282.
6. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, pp.335ff.
7. Kurt Goldstein, The Organism (New York, 1939) , pp.194ff.
8. see Donaldson, Children's Minds .
9. Leslie Dewart, Religion, Language and Truth (New York, 1970) , p.33.
10. G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, p.230.
11. Max Scheler, Ressentiment (New York, 1961).
Sartre, Being and Nothingness (eng.
13. Kurt Goldstein, The Organism.
14. Goldstein, The Organism, p.292.
CHAPTER SEVEN : THE LOGIC OF QUESTION AND ANSWER .
I have argued that the primary meaning of the act of understanding is to be found in that self-involving responsiveness which we show in our early learning, in our most radical acts of discovery, and above all in our religious activity. Despite the fact that such experience is marginal and problematic from the viewpoint of our experience of technical knowledge and skills, it represents understanding at its most vital, and the character of all our experience is revealed in its light.
In Chapter Five I claimed that this primary responsiveness entails a dual intention of receptivity and critical appraisal, of appreciation and evaluation, of giving weight (to...) and weighing. Corresponding to this dual intention, reality discloses itself under the polarity of 'figure' and 'ground'; 'ground' corresponds to the intention of receptivity, 'figure' to the intention of critical appraisal. This polarity, and our intention towards it, is 'directional': we indwell and attend 'through' a mass of sense-impressions, in such away that the direction 'from ground to figure' takes shape precisely as the direction of our attention.
In Chapter Six I demonstrated how our mastery of symbolic reference arises as the question of continuing receptivity lapses in vitality, and our mastery of skill as the question of continuing critical appraisal lapses in vitality. I then described how following such a lapse in polar vitality there may happen a 'logical inversion' whereby we adopt such meaning as we have grasped and assimilate new experience to this. In the context of referential meaning, logical inversion generates concepts against which we now measure the world; in the context of our mastery of a skill, it generates a practical meaning to which we now assimilate new indeterminate sense-data. The polarity of critical appraisal and receptivity has now been lost, and in its place arise two divergent acts: detached observation, and the unreflective indwelling of adopted meaning.
Religious address is now seen as concerning the situation when the vitality of our subject is undying. Such address is more than one particular act of personal address among others. It spells the meaning of personal life as such, which is never attained once and for all but stands always for the promise of endlessly enriching personal life. Correspondingly the subject of religious address may be defined as the unfathomable person of God - this being once again, more than one particular subject of address among others, for rather, it spells the meaning of reality as such, as this addresses us most deeply.
However this summons to unconditional vitality of understanding and personal life can be experienced as making unacceptable demands upon us, and we may evade it in an act of logical inversion. Here our intention is distorted away from responsive embrace of the polarity of figure and ground; instead, we acquire the self-deceived intention of adopting one of these poles to the exclusion of the other. This entails actively concealing from ourselves the continuing demands either of receptivity or of critical appraisal. In these cases respectively, evasion takes the form of dissociation and denial (or refusal to be 'open'), and of personal enervation (or failure to 'centre').
In this way 'vital' reality is always experienced as an enigma, rather than as any normal kind of referent. On the occasion when we are responsive to it, it has the character of a mystery which, although it lies radically ahead of us, yet already involves us. When we are evasive, on the other hand, it has the character either of a self-displacing 'existential' spectre or mirage, or of an indeterminate source of distraction which undermines the meaning of our very personal existence.
The question arises, which will have the last word upon us - radical responsiveness and the promise of unconditional personal life, or radical evasion and the threat of unconditional personal death? At the close of Chapter Six we saw how the meaning of this question spells the practical meaning of the existence of God.
I now want to discuss briefly, how our proposals interlock with the concerns and presuppositions of analytical philosophy and particularly of philosophical logic. It will be clear to the reader that my account of understanding is intended to challenge the edifice of logical empiricism in order ultimately to set its insights within a wider frame. This wider frame arises, we have seen, out of a proper appreciation of self-involvement and self-reference and their primary significance for the act of understanding - a matter which empiricism has never adequately grasped. In further pursuit of these matters I shall now discuss briefly some notions employed by linguistic philosophers. The major part of this chapter will then be given to exploring the fundamental logic of question and answer.
(i) Linguistic understanding and its analysis
There are, I suggest, distinctions arising within the realm of 'linguistic' activity which
correspond to the distinction between symbolic reference and our exercise of skill.
By discussing these now, I shall try to show how our own concerns interlock with,
and carry implications for, the work of linguistic philosophy. Linguistic activity
affords a singularly rich source of material for analysis, and as we discuss this now,
we shall acquire new tools with which to explicate the whole endeavour of
Fundamental to our proposed account of understanding is the recognition that knowing entails more than passively receiving sense-data which have immediate meaning for us, and putting a linguistic label on these. This latter view interprets our linguistic behaviour by appeal entirely to the experience of familiarity with given symbolic references, while failing to understand the origins of this familiarity in radical responsiveness. Now among those who have helped us to see beyond this 'semantic' interpretation of knowledge, are some linguistic philosophers. In so doing they have developed ideas which resonate with some we have developed in this book. By way of introduction to these, I shall discuss some remarks made by Michael Foster in a paper entitled "'We" in Modern Philosophy'.1
In this paper, Foster describes how modern philosophical analysis has shifted our attention from the 'meaning of words' to what we mean by uttering them in their intended context. He writes 'Words do not mean but people mean things by words. "To mean" thus becomes an active, personal verb, no longer an impersonal one.’2 In this regard, we find, modern philosophy acknowledges our personal self-involvement in language.
However, the danger now arises that we may think of our linguistic behaviour entirely in terms of the experience of familiarity with given 'skills' - while failing once again to understand the origins of this familiarity in radical responsiveness. Here we shall have switched from thinking of words as 'labels' to thinking of them as 'tools'. If we do this we shall lose as much as we gain in understanding.
Foster skirts this danger. He has begun by reflecting upon the common philosophical appeal to 'how we use words'. Next he points out that such appeal is not a matter of straightforward empirical statement on the subject of statistically prevalent usage or philological norms. Indeed 'there is not an external standard which the thinker can first recognise and then adopt. On the contrary, the adoption is primary.'3 But now Foster emphasises that such adoption entails more than learning a linguistic skill. He finds this reflected in the fact that learning correctly to use moral language involves moral as well as linguistic training. As we might say, the adoption of such language reflects a process of evaluation directed not only towards language itself, as if to master a given tool, but towards the world in which we live, as if to discover tool and task together .
Thus in the primary case, our adoption of a linguistic use and our attention to the world are inseparable. Now have we linguistic terms in which to explicate this further? One possibility suggests itself when, in passing, Foster likens our adoption of a linguistic use to a 'performative' act. He appeals here to the linguistic philosophy of J. L. Austin, who conceives of the 'performative' or 'illocutionary' force of a speech-act as distinct from its 'constative' (i.e. descriptive) or 'locutionary' content.4 Seen in these terms, the present argument is that in the primary case we embrace these two aspects of speech together.
For our own part, I suggest that we shall now want to connect these two aspects of utterance to the dual intention of radical response. Specifically we shall, I suggest, claim that the dual intention of receptivity and critical appraisal, of giving weight (to..) and weighing, is none other than the polarity of 'illocutionary' and 'locutionary' intention. What is more, we shall claim that these linguistic terms find their primary meaning here.
In other words, in the primary case - viz. where we rise to linguistic understanding in the first place, and wherever language mediates vitality of understanding, which is above all in religious language -the 'performative' and 'descriptive' force of utterance interanimate each other in mutual polarity, within our radical act of response to reality. Where the vigour of this polarity subsides, then depending which pole lapses, there arise the derivative case of 'performative' utterance on the one hand, and 'descriptive' utterance on the other. It can now happen that, by an act of logical inversion, these become divorced from each other and their common origin in responsiveness. Where the polarity addressing us remains lively, however, any such logical inversion will represent a positive act of evasion. Speech-acts which mediate such evasion will, like those which mediate radical response, stand in a characteristically odd relation to commonplace 'performative' and 'descriptive' utterance alike.
Another distinction which corresponds in important ways to that between 'performative' and 'descriptive' force can be found in Wittgenstein's distinction between the 'grammatical' and 'empirical' content of utterance. Briefly, we shall again want to urge that these contents take shape together originally within an act of radical response, and in polar relation to each other .Moreover we shall want to commend the terms 'grammatical' and 'empirical' as finding their primary meaning in this context. The polar interanimation of primary 'grammatical' and 'empirical' intention will be evident in all 'vital' utterance, above all religious utterance. We might note here that the place of 'grammatical' intent within religious utterance has been recognised by some authors; however, its polar relation to 'empirical' intent seems generally not to have been understood, nor its status as a matter of response rather than initiative.5
In such ways, then, in its talk of 'performative' and 'grammatical' utterance, modern philosophy offers linguistic terms in which to approach our self-involvement in understanding and ask how this relates to our empirical or referential intent. In addition, however, there are other traditional linguistic terms which, granted a certain enlargement of meaning analogous to that allowed by Wittgenstein above to the term 'grammar', can be used to speak of the same basic matters. For example we can, I suggest, approach our self-involvement in understanding in terms of an implicit 'imperative' element in speech. I shall develop this suggestion a little further in the closing pages of this book. Another suggestion is that we can approach our self-involvement in understanding through the idea of the 'verb', as distinct from that of the 'noun' or 'adjective', as follows.
The dual intention of receptivity and critical appraisal may be thought of, I suggest, as a dual 'verbal' and 'nominal' intention. These two elements of response arise together in dynamic polar relation to each other, then, in the birth of personal understanding, and wherever there remains vitality of understanding , which is above all in religious experience. This polar interanimation is seen, for example, in our use of what J. 0. Urmson has called 'parenthetical verbs'.6 Where vitality of understanding lapses, there then arise the derivative cases of utterance with verbal but no nominal active intent, and vice-versa.
The polarity of 'verbal' and 'nominal' intent within lively acts of understanding is reflected, I suggest, in the religious importance of 'bivocal' terms. These are terms which, as G. B. Caird puts it, are capable of signifying both stimulus and response. In the religious context, such terms include ‘love', 'delight', and 'hope'. Caird points out that in Hebrew, the words we translate 'glory', 'praise', and 'fear' are also bivocal.7 Thus in Deut.l0.21 we read 'He is your praise, your God who has done for you...these things.' We may, I suggest, regard the debate between anglo-saxon philosophical and continental 'personalist' theologians as concerning the question, in what sense is talk of 'God', as such, bivocal.8
Because the original polarity of verbal and nominal intent reflects the fundamental character of understanding and of radical responsiveness, its theoretical distortion, through logical inversion, is inevitably a serious matter. This was an error to which classical Greek philosophers were prone. It can be seen clearly in Aristotle's claim that, because we do not go I around saying 'sits' , 'walks' etc. , but rather 'He is sitting' or 'She is walking', that substances ('things') are ontologically prior to 'actions'.9 The consequences of this mistake have been enormous for western philosophy, generating an 'essentialist', rather than dynamic and relational, approach to the world.
(ii) The logic of question and answer
The logic of questioning has been largely neglected in modern analytical philosophy- rather ironically, perhaps, since philosophers have often themselves been prominent for inviting us to engage in questioning of a kind not habitual to us. It has been noted, however,10 what importance Wittgenstein attached to questions, to asking the right ones, and to exposing pseudo-questions. Meanwhile Foster has set such enquiry in motion by asking what sort of questioning we engage in when, at the invitation of a linguistic philosopher, we ask ourselves how we use words.
The importance of a comprehensive 'logic of question and answer' was recognised earlier this century by the philosopher R. G. Collingwood. He urged the following principle:
'that a body of knowledge consists not only of "propositions", "statements", "judgements", or whatever name logicians use in order to designate assertive acts of thought (or what in those acts is asserted: for "knowledge" means both the activity of knowing and what is known), but of these together with the questions they are meant to answer; and that a logic in which the answers are attended to and questions neglected is a false logic.' 11 (italics mine)
Collingwood never developed these ideas systematically. His theme, however, has been taken up by other authors, notably Hans-Georg Gadamer. Gadamer refers back to Collingwood when formulating his thesis of 'the hermeneutical priority of the question'. 'The structure of the question is implicit in all experience', he writes.12 In response to the spoken word, 'the person who seeks to understand must question what lies behind what is said. He must understand it as an answer to a question.'13 Those questions which lie behind utterance are pictured by Gadamer as forming an 'horizon' for understanding correlative to the situation of the speaker (there is a hint here, that the dynamic of question and answer may reflect that of ground and figure as we have conceived them).
Gadamer addresses the logic of question and answer within the German philosophical tradition. However, the same theme surfaces within Oxford's very different tradition of linguistic philosophy when P. F. Strawson enunciates 'The Principle of Relevance':
'Statements, or the pieces of discourse to which they belong, have subjects, not only in the relatively precise senses of logic and grammar, but in a vaguer sense with which I shall associate the words "topic" and "about". Just now I used the hypothesis of a question to bring out, with unnatural sharpness, the idea of the topic or centre of interest of a statement, the idea of what a statement could be said, in this sense, to be about. But even when there is no actual first-order question to pinpoint for us with this degree of sharpness the answer to the high-order question "What is the statement, in this sense, about?", it may nevertheless often be possible to give a fairly definite answer to this question. For stating is not a gratuitous and random human activity.'14
Let us now bring to bear upon the logic of question and answer, our own account of understanding and responsiveness.
The logic of question and answer within radical responsiveness
Radical responsiveness involves the dual intention of 'giving weight to' and 'weighing', of appreciation and evaluation, of receptivity and critical appraisal. Can we understand this within the context of 'questioning' in general, as a particular kind of questioning activity?
Let me begin by recalling that radical response concerns our address of an as yet indeterminate reality. Now we can express this equally well by saying that in radical response we direct ourselves towards owning an as yet indeterminate act of understanding. On this basis we can now see, on the one hand, our intention of receptivity as about our readiness to adopt such an act of understanding; while our intention of critical appraisal, on the other hand, is about our judgement whether a supposed 'act of understanding' is in fact any such thing. The latter intention is, in other words, about asking ourselves whether the question arises of our 'owning' a given act of understanding in the first place (for if this 'act of understanding' is in reality no such thing, the question does not truly arise of our owning it..).
It is in terms such as these, I suggest, that we can understand radical response as a form of questioning activity. In order to describe this activity further, I shall now take up and enlarge the particular notion of logical priority so as to make it applicable in the context of primary response.
The notion of 'logical priority' finds its conventional setting in the occasion when, having conceived some question B, we then go on to conceive the further question A, whether this question arises in the first place. In this context we refer to question A as 'logically prior' to question B (I shall also refer to B as 'logically subsequent' to A). Take, for example, the two questions 'Will you be driving your car to the conference?' and 'Do you drive a car?', each asked in the same context: we speak of the latter question as logically prior to the former. We speak of the answers to these questions in the same terms: the statement 'I drive a car' is, we say, logically prior to the statement 'I shall be driving my car to the conference'.
Now questions have their origin in acts of questioning. To adapt Foster: questions do not mean; rather, we mean things by questions. But this suggests that we should not begin philosophically by believing in the 'existence' of an endless number of 'conceivable questions', prior to any consideration of whether these are ever seriously addressed as questions, and then thinking of logical priority as a relation which holds between some of these. Rather we should begin from the act of questioning itself, and think of the relation of logical priority as arising through this act itself and through the emergence, within it, of new and logically prior acts of questioning.
Let me illustrate as follows, the difference between these two ways of approaching logical priority. Taking the first approach, the questions 'Will you be driving your car to the conference?' and 'do you drive a car?' will be conceived in the first instance as two distinct questions which, if they should happen to be addressed, will of necessity be addressed in two distinct moments. Taking the second approach, these questions will be owned in the first instance as questions which arise for us together in the context of a single matter of interest to us. For example, suppose we raise the practical question 'Will you be driving your car to the conference?'. As we do so, we may find our attention drawn from this to the question 'Do you drive a car?', and so find ourselves drawn to acknowledge that in asking the former question we entrusted ourselves implicitly to an affirmative answer to the latter. By this act we now ask whether the question we have initially raised, in fact arises. In this way, to own and address the former as an open question is to own and presuppose the latter as a question with an affirmative answer; while to own and address the latter as an open question is to interrogate the very status of the former as a question. Taking this second approach, then, the matter of logical priority appears as originally concerning the direction of our attention in any act of questioning or understanding; it concerns the way we look 'from' logically prior matters, as a matter of presupposition, 'towards' the matter of our focal attention. The direction from logically prior to logically subsequent is thus given as the direction from the matter of 'whether a question arises' (i.e. whether a question is indeed a question to be raised or owned) to the matter itself of 'raising or owning a question'; again, it is given as the direction from the matter of 'raising or owning a question' (i.e. 'asking whether the question arises of owning an answer to this question - whether an answer is indeed an answer to be owned) to the matter of 'owning an answer to a question'.
Accordingly we can now describe the direction of radical responsiveness, which is the direction from ground to figure, from subsidiary to focal, and from what we embrace in receptivity to what we weigh in critical appraisal, as the direction from what is logically prior to what is logically subsequent. What is more, we shall now want to define the meaning of logical priority in these terms. By doing so we shall identify the polarity, of ground and figure with the polarity of that which is 'essentially logically prior' and that which is 'essentially logically subsequent'. We shall now have critically enlivened the meaning of 'logical priority' so as to denote, not just a relation between specifiable questions, but also - and in a primary sense - the polarity out of which questions and their answers arise from indeterminacy in the first place.
It is important to recognise that here in its primary context within radical response, what is logically prior does not arise in advance of what is logically subsequent, but that rather both arise implicitly together and together with the emergence of the direction from the former to the latter. In other words, we rise to understanding, not from the adoption of some 'foundational' logically prior matter, but by an act of self-involving address in which logically prior and logically subsequent arise for us in polarity and interanimation. To use once more the analogy of seeing 'in depth': we rise to understanding by discovering and owning, so to speak, a line of vision from logically prior to logically subsequent.
The act of understanding towards which we direct ourselves in radical response is, of course, essentially indeterminate. Now this requires careful consideration. For example, we do not yet grasp the full force of this fact while we think that we can specify this as the pursuit of an (indeterminate) truth. No doubt some of our experience will tempt us to think so. Consider, for example, how when we are told 'There is rain on the way', what will most likely draw our attention is the question whether we can own this as a 'truth'. That is to say, here our responsiveness shows itself most active in our dual receptivity towards owning this truth and in our critical. appraisal of whether the question arises of our doing so (i.e. whether this is indeed a truth to be owned). On the basis of this and similar examples it might seem that what we seek to own in radical response is 'a truth'. However, other experiences will suggest alternative answers. Consider, for example, the words on a food label 'Free from artificial colouring'. For some people who read this, at least, if any question catches their attention here it will not be the question of the truth of these words, but the question whether they can own this as a point worth making. On the basis of this and similar examples it might seem that what we seek to own in radical responsiveness is the 'point' of an utterance, in its given context. Other examples again may suggest that responsiveness is concerned in the first instance with owning a statement as meaningful, or with owning, as a valid reference, the subject of a statement.
The solution to this problem lies in recognising that the concepts of a 'referent' or 'subject', of a 'statement', of a 'truth' and of a 'point' are themselves ordered among themselves by logical priority. Each concept presupposes the one before it. Thus only where a reference is valid, does the question arise of our owning a statement about it; only where a statement is true, does the question arise of our seeing the point of the utterance of this truth in a given context; and so on. However, we have seen that in the primary case of radical response our attention is directed from logically prior to logically subsequent; therefore, where the question of the 'object' of responsiveness is raised in the above terms, the direction of our attention within radical response can be thought of equally as from subject to statement, from statement to truth, from truth to point. Our attention is 'through' all of these at once, in receptivity towards them all and in critical appraisal of each of them. The consideration is a secondary one, that as a result of such attention one or another of these may stand out as problematic. What stands out in this way must not be taken for our primary subject. Our primary subject can be specified only as 'that which is disclosed by the polarity of our attention from that which is "essentially logically prior" to that which is "essentially logically subsequent"'.
In summary, then, the dual intention of responsiveness is directed towards owning (an indeterminate act) from the logically prior question 'whether the question arises of owning (any such thing)'. This directedness is an essential and primary feature of responsiveness; it precedes all specification of the act addressed, pointing through every such specification in the direction from logically prior to logically subsequent. It is on the basis of this understanding that we can now approach the logic of question and answer in terms of the relation of logically prior to logically subsequent, and so link it to the polar relation of ground and figure.
In Chapter Six we explored the nature of symbolic reference and the exercise of skills; their logical inversion; and religious address and its evasion. We shall now review these distinct realms of knowledge in the light of our discussion of the notion of logical priority. How might this contribute to our understanding of the logic of question and answer?
Symbolic reference and its logical inversion
Can we now describe in terms of the logic of question and answer, what it means to master an act of symbolic reference? To this end let us consider once again, what it means to master the symbolic reference 'red'. Our original efforts towards such mastery can be thought of, we shall recall, as comprising the dual intention of trying to own 'I see red' and of asking whether the question arises of our doing so. Once we master this act of reference, however, our situation changes. If we now continue to show the dual intention of responsiveness, we shall find the question of what it means to own ' I see red' lapses in vitality, and we now have one of two experiences: either new data accommodates itself to our previous experience of 'red', simply replicating this, or else the incorporation of new data destroys all sense of emergent coherence and understanding. Our activity thus reduces in future to weighing whether the question arises of our owning 'I see red', which simply involves registering which of the two above experiences is our own. This is what it means to master the reference 'red', in which we learn to ask ourselves the question 'Do I see red here?' and recognise when we do, that is, we learn to own the affirmative answer: 'Yes, I see red here'.
What will logical inversion mean on this occasion? It will mean that we form a concept out of that particular repeated experience which has come to mean for us 'seeing red' and that we take our stand upon this, weighing everything new which presents itself to us against this experience. It is now no longer a matter of our judgement in primary responsiveness but of unreflective presupposition, that the question is no longer a live one, what it means to own 'I see red', and what the answer is to this question.
Our intention, meanwhile, is now divided - divided between unreflective embrace of the concept 'red', and detached appraisal of new sense-data regarding its correspondence with this. Thus, on the one hand we are no longer radically critical of what it means to ask 'Do I see red here?'; we no longer hold new sense-impressions together with old in order that together they may renew the meaning of this question. On the other hand, we are no longer radically receptive to owning 'I see red', in openness towards its undiscovered possibilities of meaning; we no longer hold old sense-impressions together with new in order that together they may renew the meaning of this 'answer'.
The polar relation has been lost here, between receptivity towards owning - an (indeterminate) act and appraising whether the question arises of doing so; between owning an answer and asking whether the question arises of our doing so (i.e. between answering and questioning); between owning a question and asking whether the question arises of doing so (i.e. between questioning, and commitment to the meaningfulness of our question). Instead, and in a manner which reflects our divided intention, we at once divorce these poles respectively from each other in our act of detached appraisal, and merge them as one within our unreflective presupposition.
As a consequence of this, the nature of the 'act of questioning' itself alters from what it is in radical response. Whereas in the primary case we learn what it means to ask the question 'Do I see red here?' precisely as we learn to succeed in recognising red (i.e. to succeed in owning 'I see red'), now the meaning of this question is abstracted from these origins. Logical inversion now posits instead a question which, as a matter of unreflective presupposition, both arises and is an open question. Let us look at this more closely.
Firstly, this question arises as a matter of unreflective presupposition. That is to say, we do not actively address the issue whether this question arises, as an act implicit within that of addressing the question itself; rather we count it as arising. In effect, we pre-emptively close this logically prior issue in favour of an affirmative answer. Secondly, logical inversion posits an essentially open question. That is to say, we do not actively address the issue whether this is an open question as opposed to one which immediately entails its own answer; rather we count it so. We pre-emptively close this issue in favour of no such answer being entailed. Notice the contrast here between our attitude to the question we raise, which we count as entailing no answer, and our attitude to the question whether this question arises, which we count as entailing an (affirmative) answer. This reflects the division of our attention following logical inversion. Notice also that, on the one hand, our supposed 'openness' in questioning here is in reality less than 'open' since, within it, we do not allow as open, the issue whether the question we ask arises. Equally, and on the other hand, we fall short of owning our question as one which 'arises' - that is, we fall short of truly raising it - since we do not allow the possibility of owning its answer to arise within the act of questioning itself.
Like our questioning, so too our 'act of answering' alters in nature following logical inversion. This act reflects the nature of the question to which it is an answer, which as a matter of presupposition both arises and is an open question. To answer the question 'Do I see red here?' now means to classify incoming sense-impressions according to their correspondence or non-correspondence with our prior concept 'red'. It is, of course, a matter of presupposition to us here that these impressions can be so classified, and that such classification counts as an answer to our question. In this context, to answer a question means to recognise a correspondence; while following such recognition, the meaning itself of our question and its answer invites our attention no further .
The emergence of logical hierarchies of questions
It should be noted that logical inversion can sometimes generate in this way, not just one 'open' question but a succession of two or more such questions each logically prior to the one before it. For example, our mastery in infancy of the reference 'red' and of other primary colours normally leads to mastery of the more general reference 'colour'. Having learnt to address the 'redness' of things, we then learn to address the 'colouredness' of things.
This further step in understanding comes about when, having discovered two distinct circumstances corresponding to when we can and cannot own 'I see red', we now discover that the latter occasion in turn yields two distinct circumstances corresponding to when we can and cannot own the question 'Can I see red?'. By way of illustration: if a person who is red/green colour blind identifies a green snooker-ball as red, it is a straightforward matter for us to contradict him; whereas when a blind person describes the sound of a trumpet as 'red', it is not. Whereas in both cases we shall say that the question does not arise, of our owning the supposed 'redness' concerned, in the latter case we shall say that the question does not arise of owning the question of such 'redness' in the first place.
In this way a second, logically prior matter has come to our attention. Having first formed the concept 'red', logical inversion has now generated a second concept, that of 'being coloured', which corresponds to the fact that the question arises of asking 'Do I see red here?'. If something is coloured then the question arises, whether or not it is red; if the notion of colour is not applicable to something (as, for example, in the case of a sound or an event) then the question does not arise, whether it is red.
At this point the question whether the question arises of asking 'Do I see red here?' has itself become a question which we unreflectively count both as arising and as open. On the one hand, the question 'Does the question arise, whether this is red?' is one we count open - it is to be answered in advance of any attempt receptively to own the question and to try asking 'Do I see red here?'; on the other hand, we count it as arising: we count it as requiring the answer 'Yes' or 'No'.
Now in principle, further experience may lead us to go on and ask whether this question itself arises. That is to say, when asked 'Does the question arise, "Is this red?"', we may, instead of answering 'Yes' or 'No', find ourselves wanting to say that this question itself does not arise. In such a way there can in principle arise a whole hierarchy of questions each one logically prior to those before it.
Such logical hierarchies of questions will arise, we should notice, as a consequence of successive new distinctions as these arise among negative answers to our (logically inverted) questions. Thus it is on the basis of some occasions when we cannot answer 'Yes' to the question 'Is this red?' that we find ourselves led to raise the issue whether the question necessarily arises in the first place. However, let us understand clearly that in the course of these successive developments there are two things which remain undeveloped. The first is the unreflective, adopted meaning behind a positive answer to the question 'Do I see red here?', and which has given us the concept 'red' in the first place. It is ultimately by reference to this concept that we understand any succession of logically prior questions about whether we can, here and now, own 'I see red'; we allow none of these questions to renew the question of meaning we count answered by this concept. The second unchanged matter is the divorce of our intention between detached appraisal and unreflective commitment. This means that no matter what new logically prior question draws our attention, in logical inversion we shall unreflectively count this question both as arising and as open. In this very act, however, we shall unreflectively merge and count closed, any as yet unacknowledged questions logically prior to this in turn.
The logic of mastery of a skill
Can we describe in terms similar to these, what it means for us to master a skill? To this end let us consider once again, what it means to learn to walk. Our original efforts towards mastery in this respect can be thought of, we shall recall, as comprising the dual intention of trying to own the (as yet indeterminate) act of walking (and so saying to ourselves 'See me walk!'), and of asking whether the question arises of our doing so. Once we have learned to walk, however, our situation changes. If we now continue to show the dual intention of responsiveness, we shall find the question lapses in vitality, what it means to ask 'Does the question arise here of my saying to myself, "See me walk"?'. This question now merges into the question of what it means for us practically to own 'See me walk!', as we find that new sense-data assimilate themselves to the practical meaning they have for us in the act of walking. Our activity now reduces to trying to receive sense-impressions in this way, which is to say, as we receive them in the act of walking.
What will logical inversion mean on this occasion? It will mean that we adopt this practical meaning which 'walking' has acquired for us, and take our stand upon this so as to assimilate the (indeterminate) world to this as an acquired skill which we can exercise as we choose. It is no longer a live question for us here, what it means to own 'See me walk'; what this means, and the fact that this is no longer a live question, have changed from being a matter of our judgement in primary responsiveness to a matter of our unreflective presupposition. We no longer appraise what it means to ask 'Does the question arise here of my saying to myself "'See me walk!"? ' ; we no longer hold new sense-impressions together with old in order that together they may renew the meaning of this as a question.
Once again the polar relation has been lost here, between receptivity towards owning an (indeterminate) act and appraising whether the question arises of doing so. Instead, the latter now gets assimilated to the former.
If we now picture the exercise of a skill as about a specific way of questioning the world which comes to us as a mass of indeterminate sense - data, then we may think of this questioning in the following terms. In our exercise of a skill - say, the act of walking - and in its logical inversion, it becomes a matter of presupposition to us, that we can own what it means practically to walk here and now. Implicitly within this act, we at once raise the question 'Can I own what it means to walk, here and now?' - and count it closed in favour of an affirmative answer. There is no 'open' question addressed to the world here; rather the world is shaped into the answer already entailed in the question through which we address it in the act of walking. To put it another way, in the act of walking we at once raise and answer unreflectively the concrete question, what does it mean practically to walk, here and now.
What I am saying here is perhaps most easily appreciated in the case of a 'performative utterance'. Take for example the occasion when I utter the words 'I resign'. My intention in uttering these words is not in the first instance to report what I am doing, but to do it. Therefore, this utterance is not to be thought of in the first instance as reporting the answer to a preconceived question. Let me clarify this. Suppose that you know I have just returned from a board meeting at which I was due to make a difficult decision, and you ask me 'What action did you take?'. In this context my reply 'I resigned' specifies the answer to a question which has been raised, in advance of my reply, as an open question. In its original context, however, the situation is different: here my utterance represents more than the specification of an action; it represents an action realised. The spoken words 'I resign' themselves raise the question of what action has been taken, where before there was no concrete action to ask about, no question to raise; they also themselves answer this question.
Thus, whereas in the case of symbolic reference and its logical inversion there is a divorce between question and answer, between logically prior and logically consequent, in the case of the exercise of a skill and its logical inversion these merge into one. In the former case we unreflectively deny the polar unity of question and answer, of logically prior and logically consequent; in the latter case we deny their polar differentiation.
Vitality of address
Having come to see that understanding is born within the polarity of receptivity and critical appraisal, we have now come to grasp this as the polarity of receptivity towards owning (an indeterminate act) and of critical appraisal regarding whether the question arises of owning (this act). This implies that the relation between questions ordered by logical priority is originally a polar one - notably the relation between the act of owning an answer and asking a question, and between the act of owning a question and asking whether a question arises. We have seen that the vigour of this polarity can lapse, however, leaving the elements of a logical hierarchy either simply divergent (in the case of symbolic reference) or simply convergent (in the case of our exercising a skill).
Now in Chapter Six we noted that such a lapse in the liveliness of polarity may be only partial. Can I depict this circumstance in terms of the logic of question and answer? Let me do so by describing successively, acts of symbolic reference in which the polarity of question and answer is progressively more lively, as follows.
Firstly, consider any general knowledge quiz of the type popular among television audiences. What kind of questioning and answering goes on here? We might notice for a start that the questions put before contestants in such shows are easily understood; their comprehension poses little challenge to contestants. Similarly the answers to these questions, once given, are easily seen as meaningful. We might express this by saying that here, questions and answers alike are readily intelligible as sentences respectively in the interrogative and indicative mood. Typically, the contest then hinges entirely upon whether the contestant happens to be familiar with the answers corresponding to the questions. That is to say, there is little scope for the contestant to recognise an answer by reflecting deeply upon a question. The contestant either knows the answer, or not. Here we have a situation in which questions and answers are virtually divorced in meaning; there is little polar vitality, at the level of their meaning, in the relation between question and answer.
Secondly, consider a crossword puzzle in which we are presented with a series of enigmatic clues. When we wrestle with these clues and solve them, in what kind of questioning and answering are we engaged? On this occasion we do not have before us, as in the quiz game, easily understood questions. Rather (in some cases, at least) it is our entire task to grasp the meaning of a clue as a clue - in the act, thereby, of solving it! Here the meaning of a question, as a question which has a particular answer, and the meaning of an answer as the answer to a particular question, disclose themselves to us in one and the same moment. And they disclose themselves as a matter of our personal insight. Here we have a situation in which the meaning of question and answer are related in lively polar fashion.
Now given a crossword puzzle we can at least take it for granted that we are being offered clues and not red herrings or riddles without answer, even though initially we may make little sense of them; and we know that these clues have solutions, even though having these clues does not, in itself, mean that we have their solutions. But this is no longer the case in the situation we shall consider now: namely, the situation of those who seek radically to advance the theory of science. Take, for example, the modern search by physicists for a scale-invariant cosmology; more specifically, take the important search by Paul Wesson and others for a theory which yields, in systems dominated by gravity, a dimensionless constant corresponding to the fine structure constant in particle physics, which reflects a new understanding of the angular momentum of large masses, and which renders the theory of gravity scale-invariant.15 Until such anew theory is discovered, however, physicists do not know that it exists; neither, therefore, do they know that the 'clues' which they see as pointing to such a theory are genuinely clues to anything at all. Here we have a situation where lively polarity embraces not just the meaning of a question and its answer, but even their very existence or status as a question and an answer, so that their existence and their meaning dawns upon us together as a matter of our personal acclamation and insight.
While such research holds for us the promise of certain quite undisclosed possibilities, and while individual physicists may become deeply immersed in pursuit of these, nevertheless it is hardly evident that these possibilities need ever affect, at the level of practical meaning, the kind of things which occupy most of us from day to day. In other words, they hardly concern the question of undisclosed possibilities of meaning and existence as such and as these press upon us in immediate personal and practical terms. It is elsewhere - in moral, personal and spiritual matters - that we encounter this question; it is in these realms of experience that we are caught up most fully and inescapably in a lively polarity of question and answer, as we shall now see.
The logic of religious address
Religious address, as we have come to see, concerns that situation where the original polarity remains lively, between receptivity and critical appraisal, between owning an (indeterminate) act and asking whether the question arises of owning (such an 'act'), between answer and question. This account of religious address accords with the testimony of religious experience, acknowledged in Chapter Three, concerning religious questioning and religious knowledge, as follows.
Firstly, religious address is essentially a matter of response. This is true not only of religious knowledge, but already of religious questioning. We do not raise religious questions as we commonly raise technical questions, simply as we choose. Rather we find ourselves inescapably addressed by religious questions, which thereby raise for us the whole question of meaning with regard to ourselves and our world.
For us to be addressed in this way is not, however, a passive experience. On the contrary, when we respond to the question of God we do so freely, with the whole of ourselves, in what is our most lively and fully self-involving act, our greatest and freest initiative. And this is not only true of our acts of religious questioning; it continues to be true of our religious knowledge. Just as religious questions are questions we uniquely ask for ourselves, so they are questions which we uniquely answer for ourselves. Ebeling remarks well that when a person speaks of God, he involves himself personally in this 'not merely in the sense that what is said has an application also for him, but also and above all in the sense that the man who makes the statement must stand surety for it, is responsible for the truth of the statement'.16 If religious address is a matter purely of response, it is equally a matter purely of initiative. This is the paradox of grace.
Secondly, in religious address, question and answer are related in polar fashion. Thus a religious question is not, on the one hand, divorced from its answer in the manner that a question is in the case of reference and its logical inversion, when we presuppose it as arising and as open. On the other hand a religious question is not merged with its answer in the manner we find within and with respect to the exercise of skill and its logical inversion. We can picture what this means with the help once again of our analogy of looking along a straight stick. In religious address our acts of questioning and answering are not simply divergent as when we attend to two distinct points on a rule lying across our line of vision; on the other hand they are not simply convergent as when we attend to two such points as we look straight down a rule and lose all sense of its length. Rather they together yield the direction 'from question to answer' as a direction we own, as when we look virtually along a rule so that two points yield a direction which we own as depth from us.
Therefore (thirdly) in religious address, and in our dual intention of owning an (indeterminate) question and of asking whether the question arises of our doing so, our attention is directed in the first instance not at any specifiable question but rather through all specifiable questions in the direction from 'logically prior' to 'logically subsequent'. Here 'logical priority' is a polar relation. Consequently, no specifiable question or answer can properly be identified as, in itself, the subject of our attention in a given act of religious address; rather, it is the direction yielded by looking from logically prior questions towards what may be thus specified which indicates the true subject of such address. Correspondingly the subject of religious address discloses itself only within such address and within the continuing dual intention of receptivity and of critical appraisal which characterises this address. This is the nature of 'mystery' as it engages us in religious address.
Fourthly and finally, by its very nature religious address grows in richness and depth of coherence. The meaning both of religious questioning and religious knowledge deepens into ever more radical questioning and ever more radical understanding. There is this eschatological dimension to all religious response.
In an appendix to this book the interested reader may pursue a little further some implications of this account of religious language as seen from the perspectives of formal logical analysis.
Some theologians' treatment of the logic of question and answer
The polarity of question and answer within religious address has been described by a number of theologians. In a useful paper entitled 'The Question of God',17Christliche Dogmatik: Wolfhart Pannenberg records how Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, Paul Tillich and Gerhard Ebeling each address this theme. Taking Earth first, Pannenberg recalls these words from
'It is when man hears God speaking that his own existence becomes a question... Man does not merely think this question; "he is it". Here... Barth places decisive importance on the fact that the questionableness of human existence is disclosed from the side of the answer and cannot be established out of itself .The answer is "the meaning and the presupposition of the question". Therefore, man's questioning is not ended by the answer, but is instead awakened by it.' 18
'... Bultmann believes, like Barth, that the question which man himself is can be rightly understood only from the side of God... In contrast to Barth, however, he emphasises that even the natural man and philosophy are already aware of the questionableness of existence. Of course, it still holds that "the question is not the answer, though the unbelieving existence always yields to the temptation to interpret it as the answer" by seizing upon this questionableness as his freedom in order thereby to ground himself in himself.'19
Pannenberg then discusses Tillich, and in particular his 'method of correlation'. He writes:
'Tillich's systematic theology is so constructed that in each part of the system the Christian "answer" is correlated with an "existential question", namely, the question that man himself is, the "question implied in man's finitude and finitude generally"... On the whole, Tillich, too, emphasises that the content of the answer cannot be derived from the question. "Man is the question, not the answer". However, he also states, conversely, that it is "equally wrong to derive the question implied in human existence from the revelatory answer." If the answer is not in response to a previously posed question, "the revelatory answer is meaningless."'20
How adequate shall we judge these formulations of the polarity of question and answer within religious response? While such insights represent important advances over the assumption that religious questions and answers are logically similar to other questions and answers, it is not evident that any of these authors grasp the radical primacy, for all understanding, of the polarity of question and answer. This is shown particularly in that Barth, Bultmann and Tillich appear each to presuppose the distinction between 'natural man' and God, between the question which the former 'is' and the answer offered by the latter, and try then to describe the polarity of religious questions and answers within the framework of this presupposition. There is no evident acknowledgement among them that this distinction itself arises in the first place out of a primal polarity of person and God, question and answer.
As a result, we find especially in Tillich's writings the implication of an 'existential question' owned by human beings prior to the self-disclosing initiative of God. To this claim we shall want to reply, however, that in the religious/existential case not only is it impossible (as Tillich rightly says) to derive the answer from the question; it is impossible for us even to own the question itself, prior to the gracious initiative of God towards us. When Tillich describes prior 'existential questions', in reality he describes only our evasion of, and not our owning of, religious questions, and so fails to distinguish the mystery of God from the phantoms of existential evasion.
Similarly when Bultmann describes natural man as 'twisting the question into the answer' we shall want to urge that this is not merely a matter of our owning a religious/existential question and adding to it, by way of adjunct, an answer we do not really have; rather, by twisting the question into an answer we twist the question itself into something we secretly posit as incapable of address, something which bewitches or enervates us.
It precisely is out of a determination to avoid this kind of distortion that Barth writes in 1927 of man's question as awakened by God's answer, and then later in his Church Dogmatics drops the language of question and answer altogether.21 However, it is hardly evident that he now avoids the complementary danger of denying our active self-involvement in all address of God, and the pure initiative which is ours in faith. Concerned not to deny the 'God'-pole of the paradox of grace, he arguably denies the human pole instead.
Pannenberg himself goes on, in 'The Question of God', to find a clue to the solution of these problems in our belief in God as personal. He resists the claim that this belief represents a projection of human characteristics, known beforehand, into God; rather the meaning of the 'personal' is disclosed to us in the first place through our experience of God:
'...the personal character of man is by no means self-evident...Is, then, the idea of the personal attained primarily with reference to man? Should we not perhaps look for the origin of the idea of the person precisely in the phenomenology of religious experience...?'22
The same claim has been urged, supported by the history of the word 'person', by John Baillie 23 and at greater length by John Zizioulas,24 amongst others. This points promisingly in the same direction as our own theory of a vital polarity of question and answer in which we at once know God and constitute ourselves as persons in the act of responding to Him. This leads us, crucially, beyond the assumption of some theologians, of a divorce in meaning between 'God' and a supposed 'natural humanity'; instead we discover humanity poised eschatologically on the edge of its realisation in the eternal life of God-poised on the edge of a final embrace of life or final evasion and death, poised between possible likeness and unlikeness to God.25
The logic of evasion
We have seen that when God approaches us, we face an inescapable choice between response and evasion. I have described radical response in terms of the logic of question and answer; let me now describe evasion. Evasion arises, we shall recall, by an act of logical inversion in the face of vital polarity. By this act, our intention is distorted away from this polarity towards one pole in active exclusion of the other. In evasion we actively deny the continuing vital polarity of figure and ground, critical appraisal and receptivity, and in self-deception pre-emptively count one or other of these poles lapsed. Depending whether we count as lapsed, the pole of receptivity or of critical appraisal, evasion takes the form of active 'dissociation' or of 'unreflective assimilation' and enervation. We shall explore the logic of each of these in turn.
An evasive stance of 'dissociation' arises when we count as lapsed, the pole of receptivity. This may be thought of as the transfer of logical inversion as associated with symbolic reference, to the situation of vital polarity. In the former situation, we shall recall, we take our stand upon a concept in order to address as an open question, whether we can own a given act of understanding or whether the question does not arise of our doing so because this is not really an act of understanding in the first place. By counting this an open question, we divorce the latter logically prior matter from the former. At the same time by counting this a question which arises, we conflate all questioning logically prior to this in turn, into questions answered in the affirmative. Thus our detached appraisal of questions which are ordered by logical priority and are as such divergent among themselves is itself a matter divorced from our unreflective adoption of such questions as convergent among themselves.
Now in the original context of symbolic reference, we recall, logical inversion follows upon our discovery, through responsiveness, that the pole of receptivity has indeed lapsed in vitality. In this context the unreflective commitment we display, and its divorce from our detached appraisal, represents not our positive action so much as our simply 'resting in' an established concept. In the case of vital polarity, however, the matter is very different. Here we actively maintain, in an act of self-deception, the divorce between what we address in detached appraisal and what we unreflectively embrace. Here, on the one hand, in our conscious life we turn the question of what has religious and existential meaning for us into a merely theoretical, abstract question, an open question which arises and which we can take up as we choose. On the other hand, in our unconscious life the question of such meaning haunts us as an ever-present matter of evasion. It is defined thereby as a question which arises and is open in its very essence. As such it operates as a question which necessarily arises and possesses us unreflectively, which we cannot shake off, and which we endlessly rehearse within ourselves; and it is necessarily open, beyond all resolution, projecting its answer ahead of itself. This is the logic of self-displacing existential spectres and mirages, and of our paralysis vis-a-vis them.
The second form of radical evasion, the stance of 'unreflective assimilation', arises when we count as lapsed, the pole of critical appraisal. This may be thought of as the transfer of logical inversion as associated with our exercise of a skill, to the situation of polar vitality. In the former situation, we shall recall, we take our stand upon a practical meaning and assimilate the (indeterminate) world to this. In this act we unreflectively count the question of doing so, a question which arises - which is to say, we count closed (in favour of an affirmative answer) the logically prior issue whether this question arises.
Now in the original context of exercising a skill, we recall, logical inversion follows upon our discovery, through responsiveness, that the pole of critical appraisal has indeed lapsed in vitality. Here our unreflective commitment to the practical meaning of our skill represents, as before, not our positive action so much as our simply 'resting in' that meaning. In the case of vital polarity, however, it is a different matter. Here, in an act of self-deception, we at once own a practical meaning and experience ourselves robbed of it: we at once own the question of practical meaning as a matter of unreflective commitment, and find this commitment mistaken and the question one which does not arise. In doing so we constitute the question of meaning as an essentially inescapable one, but identically as one which represents the undermining of questioning as such. It represents the dissolution and loss of everything personal, existential, and religious, constituting our unreflective adoption of questions which, as such, do not arise. Here is the logic of enervating anxiety and depression.
We have seen that the approach of God must provoke either more lively response or deeper evasion. The former spells ever more lively and self- involving address; the latter ever deeper paralysis. We have analysed the logic of these. Which has the last word upon us? Let us return again to this question, which we first considered in Chapter Six, and describe it in the light of our discussion of the logic of question and answer.
Response or evasion: which has the last word?
The question whether response or evasion will finally have the last word
upon us now appears as the question whether the last word will lie with our responsiveness to an unconditionally vital polarity of question and answer, or with radical evasion of this and its demands. What is the answer to this question? What, indeed, is the logic of this question itself, and its answer?
In Chapter Six we acknowledged that this issue is itself a religious one, which can be addressed only within radical responsiveness. That is to say, it can be addressed only within embrace of the polarity of question and answer, the polarity of logically prior and logically consequent. This is why, as we saw in Chapter Six, the question what has the last word cannot properly be addressed from within the presupposition that God exists; for by its nature this question implicitly addresses also the logically prior question of the very existence and meaning of God. The two matters of the existence of God and of our responsiveness towards Him belong properly together in polar relation to each other.
I have suggested that these questions regarding the existence of God and our responsiveness towards Him are in reality addressed, practically and implicitly, together in every act of radical response; indeed it is this context which defines their meaning as questions. Practically and implicitly we ask ourselves: 'Does the question arise of our owning God here, and of our rising to responsiveness in doing so?'. This same context also defines the meaning of an affirmative answer to these question - In every act of religious response we own both this (affirmative) answer and the question whether it arises. precisely in the act of our giving this answer, practically and implicitly.
What now of the question whether God and our responsiveness towards Him will finally have the last word upon us? In asking this question it might seem that we turn from matters of present, practical concern so as to conceive of a final time of trial and temptation to evasion, raising the theoretical question whether we shall on this hypothetical occasion know God sustaining us in responsiveness. In reality, however, our question is once again a practical and implicit one; its meaning is defined within the context of our own worst present temptations to evasion. It arises precisely insofar as we are deeply personally involved in questioning which moves towards no evident resolution, and insofar as, with the demands of bearing with this indeterminacy weighing heavily upon us, we still wait responsively. And as we saw before, what is disclosed in this context is not only the meaning of this question, but also the meaning of an affirmative answer to it, precisely in our act of owning this answer: 'Yes, God and his grace will have the last word upon us'. This answer is disclosed precisely in and by our responsiveness, as itself sustained by God. In this way we find that the existence of God, our responsiveness to Him in the present, and the promise that His grace will have the last word upon us, are indissolubly bound together for us as implicit, practical matters.
In conclusion, then, the question whether God and His grace will have the last word upon us arises in essential polar relation to an affirmative answer towards which it points. Together this question and answer yield for us an ever richer practical meaning. Meanwhile, we should note that our experience in this regard stands in contrast with two experiences of illusion and self-deception Which may be ours regarding this question and its answer. The first alternative is that we unreflectively count this question (essentially) open, so that in our conscious life we register it as a theoretical question which stands prior to, and divorced in meaning from, its answer. Here we procrastinate before God. In our unconscious life, meanwhile, we here find assurance of God's mercy personally unattainable and the threat of his judgement personally inescapable: we register God through mirage and spectre. The second alternative is that we unreflectively count this question (essentially) closed; we answer it pre-emptively in a performative act - answering it, thereby, in the negative. In this case our questioning is undermined and we register God through existential loss and personal diminution. In each of these cases we resist the question whether God and his grace will have the last word upon us. When we do truly address this question, on the other hand, as we have seen we become ever more deeply involved in this question and its meaning - and know ever more deeply its affirmative answer.
Foster, "'We" in Modern Philosophy', in Basil Mitchell (ed), Faith and Logic (
2. Foster, "'We" in Modern Philosophy', p.201.
3. Foster, "'We" in Modern Philosophy', p.201.
in the first instance, J. L. Austin, How
to Do Things with Words (
5. See, for example, Anthony C. Thiselton, The Two Horizons (Exeter , 1980) , Chapter XIV ( 'Wittgenstein, "Grammar", and the New Testament' )
example of a parenthetic verb would be our use of 'know' in the utterance
'There are, I know, many who say so.' See J. O. Urmson, 'Parenthetical Verbs' , in Anthony Flew (ed) , Essays in Conceptual Analysis (
7. G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, pp.27ff.
for example, James Richmond, Theology and
9. William Alston, Philosophy of Language (Englewood Cliffs, 1964), p.2.
High, Language, Persons and Belief (
11. R. G. Collingwood, An Autobiography (Oxford, 1939), p.30.
12. 12 .Hans
-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (
13. Gadamer, Truth and Method, p. 333.
14. P. F. Strawson, 'Identifying Reference and Truth-Values', in Theoria, Vol.XXX (1964), p.114.
15. Paul Wesson, Physical Review D, Vol. 23, p.1730.
16. Gerhard Ebeling, 'Rudimentary Reflexions in Speaking Responsibly of God', pp.333-53 (pp.345-6).
Pannenberg, 'The Question of God' , in Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (3 Vols) ((eng.
18. Pannenberg, 'The Question of God', p.208.
19. 'The Question of God', p.210.
20. 'The Question of God', p.212.
21. 'The Question of God', p.209.
22. 'The Question of God', p.228.
Baillie, The Sense of the Presence of God
24. John Zizioulas, 'Personhood and Being', in Zizioulas, Being and Communion (eng. London, 1985).
25. See Vladimir Lossky, 'The Theology of the Image', in Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, pp.125-39 (p.139) .
CHAPTER EIGHT : CREATION, REDEMPTION AND COMMUNION
We began our examination of religious knowledge and its relation to other knowledge by owning the testimony of religious knowledge itself, and in particular the testimony of Christian faith. It is appropriate that we should now ask what light our conclusions shed upon Christian faith and its central doctrines. We shall firstly review the doctrine of Creation and New Creation, and then the doctrine of Sin and Salvation. We shall see anew, how the crucifixion of Jesus constitutes a unique focus for these doctrinal truths. Finally we shall examine how these doctrines, because they arise through our radical responsiveness to the mystery of God, do not merely - represent (doctrinal) 'statements', but are rather a matter of a communion which, in a certain sense, has simultaneously indicative, imperative and interrogative status. As such these doctrines concern not just our knowledge of God in His initiative towards us but also, through His Spirit, our communion with Him in the mystery of His own Being.
(i) Creation and New Creation
The material universe as we know it stands poised between creation and new creation: it points back to an act of creation and forward to an act of new creation. Let us see what light is shed upon this traditional Christian doctrine by the account of understanding which we have been developing.
This theme invites attention not least because the doctrines of creation and of new creation have often been wrongly understood in the following terms. The material universe exists; not only so, it is from the realm of such material objects as make up our universe, that we take implicitly our definition of real existence. At this level of meaning, or definition, the existence of the created universe stands independent both of the act of creation, which represents the past appearance of this universe out of 'non-existence', and of the act of new creation, Which is about the future transformation of this universe into 'something else'.
The theory of understanding we have been developing requires that we reject such a notion of creation, our present universe, and of new creation. Existence is not to be defined, according to our account, in terms of the existence of objects corresponding to concepts. Rather it is properly defined by that which, arising in the polarity of figure and ground, is embraced by us in radical response. The meaning of the existence of objects and concepts arises in secondary fashion out of this, from the occasion when the vitality of figure-ground polarity lapses.
How then are we to understand creation, our present universe, and new creation? It now appears that these three aspects of the universe all derive their meaning from this primary, vital polarity. Creation concerns the initial emergence of meaning as a figure-ground polarity; the material universe arises through a lapse in the vitality of this polarity; new creation concerns the renewal of this vitality, in boundless depth and deepening of meaning. It follows that the existence of the material universe has no meaning independent of the beginning and the end, the absence and the fullness, of vitality of meaning; it is permeated throughout by its past and future, by creation and new creation. It is poised between the 'nihil' indicated in the expression 'creation "ex nihilo"' and the Being of God indicated in the expression 'born "ex Deo ipso"' .
It follows, further, that new creation defines the meaning of the existence of the material universe and of its creation. Indeed 'new creation' may be thought of as 'fullness of creation' or, better still, as 'true creation'. We thus find ourselves, like Pannenberg and Moltmann, wanting to affirm an 'eschatological' doctrine of creation. As Moltmann writes, 'eschatology is no longer to be understood in the light of creation, but rather... creation is to be understood in the light of eschatology.'1 It will be helpful here, I suggest, if I sketch Moltmann's views as he expresses them in his essay 'Creation and Redemption', from which this quotation is taken. In this essay, Moltmann designates the wrong understanding of creation and new creation to which I have already referred, as a failure to grasp the 'openness' of creation:
'According to the evidence provided by both terminology and the traditional interpretation, the original creation is non-historical. History only begins with the fall of man and it ends with the restoration of creation in redemption. Creation itself lies outside of time and of history. The picture of creation which emerges from this is one of a closed, perfect and self-sufficient system.'
This concept of creation, however, cannot be maintained in the light of modern exegesis of the Old and New Testaments. From the biblical point of view it is belief in the historic events of salvation which determines belief in creation ..... Israel had a "soteriological understanding of the work of creation". ' (p.121)
Having summarised the results of such exegesis, Moltmann then concludes that 'theology must speak of creation not only at the beginning but also in history, at the end and in relation to the totality of divine creative activity'(p.123). Developing this he writes 'Creation at the beginning points forward to the history of salvation, and both point beyond themselves to the kingdom of glory. It is the kingdom of glory... which is the "inner ground" of creation at the beginning' (p.123) .He notes that this 'completion of the creative process in the kingdom of glory is conceived in the new creation as the indwelling of God'(p.129).
According to Moltmann, we must therefore see creation as from the beginning subject to change - as not a 'closed' system but an 'open' one. 'Creation at the beginning establishes the conditions for the possibilities emergent in the history of creation', he writes (p.124). Creation continues throughout history in the work of salvation and redemption. This continuing work of creation is addressed to 'sin and slavery', which Moltmann describes also as 'the self-imposed isolation of open systems from their own time and possibilities'. The notion of sin and slavery is applied by Moltmann not only to human life, but in a certain sense more widely to the universe as that which is (in St. Paul's words) 'subject to futility/frustration'.
The consummation of creation, meanwhile, represents the final indwelling of God. Moltmann relates this to the 'openness' of creation by recalling that the material universe comprises an hierarchy of increasingly complex systems, and viewing the evolution of these as a creative process in which each system shows itself open to further, higher levels of organisation. Shall we now think of the consummation of creation as the final conclusion of all such open and opened systems? Rather,
'Because any actualisation of a possibility by open systems itself creates anew openness for possibilities and does not merely actualise a given possibility ...we cannot conceive the kingdom of glory ...as a system that is finally brought to its conclusion and, as such, closed but, on the contrary, as the openness of all finite life systems for the infinity of God. This means, to be sure, that we cannot think of the being of God as the highest actuality of all realised possibilities but, rather, as the transcendent source of all possibilities'(p.131).
Moltmann offers us valuable insights through his 'eschatological' account of creation. However, as I shall argue shortly, his account is less than a thoroughgoing eschatological one, and this has to do with certain assumptions implicit in his application of the terms 'open/closed' and 'possible/actual' to the hierarchical structure of the universe. In order to explore this matter further, let us examine more closely the notion of hierarchical structure in the light of our own account.
Conceptual hierarchy and natural hierarchy
Arthur Peacocke describes the hierarchical structure of the universe in the following way:
'During this century, and with increasing acceleration in recent decades, the expansion of our knowledge of the natural world has more and more shown it to consist of a hierarchy of systems. This is particularly true of the various levels of organisation to be observed in living organisms: the sequence of increasing complexity to be found in the living world (atom -molecule - macromolecule -sub cellular organelle -cell - multicellular functioning organ - whole living organism - populations of organisms - ecosystem) represents a series of levels of organisation of matter in which each successive member of the series is a "whole" constituted of "parts" preceding it in the series. ..,2
Accordingly it is often possible to describe one and the same entity in the natural world at a variety of different 'levels'. The question now arises, how these different levels of description relate to each other. Of significance here is the success of scientists in recent decades, on a number of important occasions, in reducing a description at one level to another at a lower level. For example, much of chemistry has today been described in terms of physics, while genetic theory as conceived by Mendel has been described in terms of DNA structure, its coding and transcription.
The phenomenon of hierarchical structure attracts attention in the light of the theory we have been developing because the relation between any two levels of description of a system can be thought of as one of logical priority. For example, the description of a system in atomic terms may be thought of as logically prior to its molecular description in the sense that without the presence of 'atoms', the question of the presence of 'molecules' simply does not arise.
The bearing which our own theory has upon a proper understanding of hierarchical structure is also suggested by Peacocke's reference to each successive member of the natural hierarchy as a 'whole' constituted of 'parts' preceding it in the series. We shall recall here that Polanyi describes that meaning which lies in our focal awareness a 'whole' jointly constituted by our subsidiary awareness of its 'parts'. For example, prompted by Polanyi we might say that when we turn our attention from the behaviour of molecules to a living cell in which they jointly participate, in this moment we hold in our focal awareness a meaning (that of the referent 'cell') which is jointly constituted by our subsidiary awareness of these molecules. In passing we might note that Polanyi himself treats the natural hierarchy as a significant topic for discussion in 'Personal Knowledge'.
Such considerations indicate a connection between hierarchical structure and our theory of figure-ground polarity. The nature of this connection will emerge as we tackle the following, fundamental question. Let us recall that any series of questions ordered by logical hierarchy derives ultimately from a figure-ground polarity which has lapsed repeatedly in vitality into successive acts of reference. However, in the mystery of God and his creative activity we meet an unending vitality of meaning which can only be addressed through such logical hierarchy, as the source and goal of all meaning. How, in the light of this, does our hierarchically structured world disclose God and his creative activity? This is the fundamental question we must now pursue.
With the aim of addressing this question I shall posit a distinction which requires some explanation. I propose a distinction between the phenomenon of hierarchical structure in general, and a certain more specific hierarchy which has to do with human evolution in particular. It is the latter, we shall find, which bears essentially upon our understanding of God and his creative activity. Let me elaborate this distinction now.
For its part, the general notion of hierarchical structure has wide application, assuming we mean by this the phenomenon (as such) of organisation at more than one level (two levels sufficing). Granted this, we shall identify as examples of hierarchical structure, any system in dynamic equilibrium, such as a stable flame or the steady flow of electricity within a complex circuit, in which we find elements related to each other within a unified whole; and more generally, any system which can be described in terms of the statistical probability distribution of elements of which it is comprised. Again as a different kind of example, we shall identify any machine having regard to its description in terms of its operational principle and the operation of its individual parts. Among other examples of hierarchical structure, written language provides an instance where we meet multiple levels of organisation: a written text can be analysed in terms of either the sentences which it comprises (grammatical or syntactical analysis), or the words which make up these sentences (analysis of vocabulary), or the letters which constitute these words (statistical analysis of their occurrence).
In all of these examples, I suggest, our initial recognition of meaningful organisation involves personal responsiveness to a meaning disclosed in a figure-ground polarity in the manner described in previous chapters. It is important that we acknowledge this. In other words, in these examples our act of recognition does not involve the presupposition of a referent, but rather concerns the primary recognition of a referent which now stands out ('ex-ists') for us, and in which the meaning of such a reference is disclosed in the first place, and with this disclosure, the meaning of the presence or absence of any such thing. This constitutes crucially more than recognition of the occurrence of a familiar possibility (viz. the presence of a familiar level of organisation) regarding some assumed prior referent (viz. the totality of elements comprising some familiar system); recognition reduces to the latter only once there has been an act of logical inversion following a lapse in the vitality of meaning of a reference.
Where there is such a lapse in vitality of meaning followed by an act of logical inversion, the reference concerned now gives rise to an unreflective meaning from which we address, as an open question, whether this referent is now present before us. This is a development which, as we have seen, can repeat itself so as to generate a sequence of concepts ordered by logical priority, that is to say, a hierarchy of concepts. Within such hierarchy, the question whether we have presented to us any given conceived level of organisation is registered as in the first instance an open question in which we presuppose the existence of something about which this question arises. Hierarchical structure is now seen as concerning the (organisational) properties of that which we count as 'there' apart from whether it exists at any particular level of organisation; it is not understood, and cannot be understood, as effecting the disclosure of 'something there' in the first place.
Where the vitality of meaning does indeed lapse, we have seen that logical inversion barely distorts reality, and neither will the understanding of hierarchy described above. That is to say, in circumstances where vitality of meaning has lapsed, we may validly draw a clear distinction between the hierarchy of our theoretical descriptions or concepts (these concepts being distinct from one another, and not reducible to those logically prior to them) and the common reference we presuppose when we count 'something there' to which we apply these concepts. I suggest we may therefore uphold in principle, and with regard to hierarchical structure in general, the thesis of theory autonomy/system reducibility espoused by Peacocke and others.4
We have reached these conclusions with regard to hierarchical structure in general. In future I shall refer to this as 'conceptual' hierarchy, providing a reminder that the structure concerned can be reduced to a hierarchy of concepts ordered by logical priority. But now we must turn to the occasion when vitality of meaning does not lapse in the way we have just described. Here we find ourselves led to a different set of conclusions. Let us turn our attention, then, from conceptual hierarchy in general to the more specific phenomenon of evolving life and to the (as I shall call it) 'natural' hierarchy connected with this.
Now superficially it might seem that evolving life represents just one conceptual hierarchy among others, and that we can specify it successfully in the same terms we use to describe hierarchy in general. I shall argue that this is not the case. In evolving life, as I shall claim, we are confronted with a hierarchy which distinguishes itself from other hierarchies by the fact that it alone, by its very nature, evolves new levels of organisation: the phenomenon of 'emergence' is inseparable from it and defines its unique identity.
The natural hierarchy is comprised of elements related to each other by such emergence. Three key elements of this hierarchy are the emergence of the first living organisms, the emergence of at once sexually reproductive and individually dying organisms, and the emergence of human life. This natural hierarchy is more specific than that described by Peacocke above and which similarly comprised elements drawn from the living world. For example, whereas Peacocke includes the relation of cells to multicellular organs as an instance of hierarchical structure, this relation does not feature in the natural hierarchy because organs, unlike the whole living organisms of which they are part, do not originate as a case of the primary emergence of a new level of organisation. Similarly, whereas Peacocke includes the relation of individual organisms to populations of organisms as an instance of hierarchical structure, this relation does not feature in the natural hierarchy because populations do not arise out of organisms as a case of the primary emergence of a new level of organisation.
Now suppose it is argued that by my identification of the natural hierarchy I have succeeded only in specifying one particular conceptual hierarchy, namely, that hierarchy which happens to display the property of repeated emergence of new levels of organisation? In reply I shall urge that emergence is not merely contingent property of the hierarchy of evolving life; rather it brings to light the natural hierarchy in the first place, and with it raises the question, whether this can be reduced to a conceptual hierarchy.
Let me elaborate upon this. I shall concede that the hierarchy of evolving life can be treated as a conceptual hierarchy for some purposes. It is quite practical for us to intend, by 'evolving life', something which is ultimately an abstraction from the specific organisational or operational levels at which we actually find living organisms existing. However, our primary response to the natural hierarchy involves something more than this, I suggest. In such response, we recognise in each ascending term of the natural hierarchy, not just the presence of a new level of organisation, but the presence of a more vital reference. That is to say, as we turn from lower to higher level within the natural hierarchy, the latter takes over from the former as defining for us the very meaning of 'reference' , the very meaning of something 'real' and 'present'. Consider, for example, how we respond to the emergence of sexually reproductive and individually dying organisms. In forms of life lower than this, the referent represented by an organism replicates itself and so perpetuates its identity, an identity visible in the resulting population of such organisms. Without such a population, we would not specify an existent 'organism' here in the first place. Now by reference to such populations of organisms, however, emergent sexually reproductive organisms lack any determinate identity; they do not replicate themselves, but die. And yet our response to this is to find in such organisms and their new kind of populations a more vital reference, a more vital presence of 'life'. We might note here, in passing, that the claim I made earlier, that whereas organisms provide an example of primary emergence, neither the organs which belong to them nor the populations to which they belong do so, hinges upon just such an act of recognition, that some references (in this case, the organism) are more vital than others.
I am suggesting, then, that the hierarchy of evolving life presents us with ascending degrees of vitality of meaning, in the sense I have expounded in previous chapters. Such vitality concerns, we shall recall, the irreducible and undying polarity of figure and ground, of answer and question. I am claiming, therefore, that as we ascend the natural hierarchy, we meet with emergence which is increasingly a matter of irreducible and vital polarity. We find it increasingly inadequate here, therefore, to think of the emergence of some new conceptual level of organisation, and so of emergence itself, as a transitional phenomenon giving way to order. Emergence and order interanimate each other as the vital polarity of question and answer: order does not bring emergence to an end, but rather constitutes it.
The mystery of God and of our participation in His life is disclosed here as the mystery of that which is essentia1ly emergent or directional and points towards infinite emergence. We have now acquired suitable terms in which to address the question of God's engagement with the hierarchically structured universe, and His work of creation and new creation.
Creation, new creation and the limits of the natural hierarchy
Having introduced and described the natural hierarchy, I now want to examine the relationship between, on the one hand, this hierarchy and the material universe of which it is part, and on the other hand, God's acts of creation and of new creation.
I have described the natural hierarchy as presenting us with ascending degrees of vitality of meaning and reference. Now this indicates what we must understand by the upper and lower limits of this hierarchy. Its upper limit will be defined by that which has presence and meaning in unbounded vitality and fullness; its lower limit, by total absence of meaning or reference.
It is now possible, I suggest, to understand creation and new creation in the same terms. The meaning of new creation is shown where the natural hierarchy approaches its upper limit, while the meaning of creation at the beginning, the meaning of creation 'ex nihilo', is shown in the emergence of the natural hierarchy from its lower limit. Let us now explore these limits in turn.
The natural hierarchy ascends towards its upper limit in the disclosure of unbounded presence and unconditional vitality of meaning which is essentially self-emergent. But this is, of course, to say that the ascending natural hierarchy directs us towards God -God known in His final coming to indwell creation - God now known by full participation in His own fullness of being.
Now in practice, the natural hierarchy presents us, in the first instance, as its highest term, the phenomenon of human life. Do we recognise here, the natural hierarchy reaching towards unconditional vitality of meaning, in essential self-emergence? Our own account of distinctively human life, I suggest, affirms this. In Chapter Seven we saw that human identity cannot be defined merely in terms of the kind of hierarchically ordered systems which are found in animal life and which constitute animal identity. Rather, by its attitude of radical responsiveness, human life reaches beyond all such systems and addresses essentially emergent meaning. This address represents more, as we have seen, than an attitude adopted by a subject having a human identity prior to this act; rather, human identity realises itself precisely in the intention of radical responsiveness.
Since this identity is essentially emergent, we must therefore think in terms both of the emergence of human life, and of the emergence which is human life. Properly speaking, 'homo sapiens' does not denote a species with its own closed 'operational principle'; rather, human life lies open beyond all such determinate levels of equilibrium, in openness towards self- transcendence.
This indicates the only possible identity ultimately available to human beings. Nevertheless, in practice this is imperfectly realised. Human life lies poised on the edge of self-transcendence, poised in reaching beyond its reduction merely to one or another set of operational principles. Such operational principles show themselves in the unreflectivities of individual, familial, and cultural habit. Human identity is never realised in these as such, but rather in the vitality out of which these arise and in which they may be surpassed. Other, successive operational principles show themselves in the developmental stages described by Piaget through which human individuals move (and also, according to Lawrence Kohlberg, in cultures as they develop from primitive to civilised5). Once more, however, human identity is never realised in these operational levels as such, but rather in the vitality through which they are successively attained in the first place, and in which they may be surpassed.
To be human, then, is to live under the ultimate possibility of one identity alone: the identity which is ours in full and final communion with God. Every other identity of the kind which reduces to specifiable operational principles has ultimately to be sacrificed. In practice, however, we do not fully realise our identity. We have been reminded of this by the claims of Zizioulas, Pannenberg and John Baillie to the effect that our personhood is not yet fully realised. Partly this is because we do not live under the full and final approach of God; partly, it is because we resist His
approach. Its full realisation will entail unbounded vitality of radical responsiveness, through full participation in the life of God: 'what we shall be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is' (1 John 3.2).
I have described the upper limit of the natural hierarchy, which is an unconditionally vital and essentially self-emergent reference. Can we now describe the lower limit of this hierarchy? We have noted that this concerns the boundary situation where, descending the natural hierarchy, we approach an unqualified absence of meaningful reference. Can we describe further what it means to think of such a situation? To descend the natural hierarchy is to view a succession of referents each logically prior to the one before, and related to the one before as ground to figure. To approach the lower limit of the natural hierarchy is therefore to reach a reference which, when viewed as itself a figure-ground polarity, cannot be further reduced. The 'elements' which comprise its ground cannot be specified, since this ground lacks, itself, the vitality of any 'ex-istence' or figure-ground polarity whatsoever.
Does this perhaps connect with the 'uncertainty principle' which applies to sub-atomic phenomena in a variety of ways, so as to give it a particular interpretation? Take, for example, the uncertainty which characterises the location of an electron at any given moment in time. This location is known to us only in terms of a probability distribution - that is, in terms of a certain figure-ground polarity. If we try to specify any of the elements comprising the' ground' of this polarity, as the supposed presence of an existent referent with a determinate location at a determinate time, we fail. If we assume the existence of an electron at a given time, we cannot specify its location; if we assume its existence at a given location, we cannot specify the time when it is there.
Perhaps we may identify here, in this odd situation, the lower limit of the natural hierarchy? To do so will be to claim that 'uncertainty' does not concern merely contingent matters relating to an assured, existent referent, but concerns an ambiguity regarding the very existence of the referent, 'electron' as anything other than a probability distribution. That is to say, below the atomic level the question of determinate location and time simply do not arise, because the question of a specifiable referent does not arise. This is consonant with the fact that the 'nihilo' of creation 'ex nihilo' represents in the first instance, not the absence of any presupposed reference, but more radically, the absence of any figure-ground polarity. Creation concerns the emergence of such polarity, which through a lapse in vitality then yields a variety of determinate probability distributions which give rise to the existent universe.
I must emphasise that the description of the natural hierarchy and its upper and lower limits which I have elaborated cannot be reduced to matters of simple observation and abstraction. From the latter perspective the hierarchical structure of the universe can be known only as a conceptual hierarchy. Radical responsiveness is required from us ever to recognise the very existence and meaning of the natural hierarchy, as something which cannot be fully reduced to a conceptual hierarchy. Above all, what may be known of the upper and lower limits of the natural hierarchy apart from such responsiveness is virtually nothing; the relation between these limits and conceptual hierarchy is such that they are accessible from the latter, only (using Ramsey's terminology) in a disclosure and in a logically odd development arising through consideration of the successive elements of such hierarchy.
Without such disclosure, these limits and our approach towards them will be wrongly seen in terms of a presupposed reference and of its organisation into a conceptual hierarchical structure. For example, human beings will be 'objectified' and seen mistakenly either as the highest possible element of a conceptual hierarchy (in which case the truth of their eschatologically emergent identity is practically dismissed as incomprehensible), or else as lying below the highest possible element, which now attracts designation by the cypher 'supra-personal'. Again, at the lower end of the hierarchy, sub- atomic phenomena will be 'objectified' and seen mistakenly either as the lowest possible element or 'bottom line' of this hierarchy (in which case their 'uncertainty' becomes incomprehensible), or else as reducible to lower elements still which lack anything but abstract meaning for us. Similarly, creation and new creation themselves will be misconceived apart from religious disclosure. Unless we address them in radical responsiveness and allow their self-disclosure to us, we shall misconceive the latter as lying in the future beyond our present universe (which we here attribute taken-for-granted meaningfulness as a reference), while the former will be seen as lying behind this reference as its presupposition. The present material universe will now be misunderstood as independent in meaning from creation or new creation, which remain outside of it. In this way a relation of strict logical priority will be posited between the three concepts of creation, present universe, and new creation.
Our own account of the natural hierarchy commends a different view of creation, new creation, and their relation to the material universe. According to this, the material universe discloses meaning and reference in ever greater vitality. It is not divorced in meaning from creation and new creation, but is open towards them at the level of meaning. The hierarchically ordered universe is poised between creation and new creation, being itself penetrated by the polar limits of 'absence of being' and 'fullness of being'. It is open towards (on the one hand) the limit of 'nothingness' disclosed by the phrase 'creation ex nihilo', and towards (on the other hand) the limit of 'fullness of being' - the being of God, out of which God creates eschatologically in an act of begetting 'ex Deo ipso'. In passing, I suggest we find an echo of this polarity, as it bears upon human existence, when St Paul speaks of us as poised between two poles represented on the one hand by Adam, who is the man made of dust and the principle of our animal nature, and on the other by Jesus Christ the heavenly man, who is begotten not made and the principle of our spiritual nature and of 'eschatological' creation (1 Cor.15.44b-49).
We are now in a position to discuss further the adequacy of Moltmann's account of creation.
Moltmann's 'eschatological doctrine of creation' further considered
Our reflections upon the natural hierarchy and its limits have shown that an eschatological understanding of God's creative activity is implied precisely by the primacy, as a reference, of 'God' over the world of material things. This primacy concerns the disclosure of a uniquely vital reference which defines the meaning of reference as such. We must now judge whether Moltmann's account of creation, while it is 'eschatological' in intention, succeeds in directing us to this primacy, or whether, practically, Moltmann rather gives the material universe primacy as a presupposed reference and makes this definitive for the meaning of reference as such.
The answer to this question hinges, I suggest, upon what Moltmann intends by his thesis that God's creative activity holds the material universe 'open to possibilities'. What does he intend, in particular, by the terms 'open' and 'closed', 'possible' and 'actual' in this context? Crucially, do these terms themselves, as Moltmann intends them, mediate disclosure of the mystery of God, or is their meaning grounded in a logical inversion which limits their application merely to presupposed referents or concepts?
So as to pursue this question let us note the meaning these terms acquire for us, on the one hand following logical inversion, and on the other hand in the primary context of the polarity of vital meaning.
Consider the pair of terms 'possible' and 'actual'. I suggest that these terms are analogous in meaning to the terms 'question' and 'answer'. Questions may be seen as concerned with possibilities; answers, with what is actually the case. We may therefore translate the logic of question and answer developed in Chapter Seven into a logic of possibility and actuality, as follows.
In the primary case represented by emergence, the 'possible' and the 'actual' arise together in polar relation to each other in the shape of question and answer. If this polarity lapses in vigour and a reference forms, 'possibility' and 'actuality' now become distinct; their relation is captured by a fixed probability distribution. If following this we effect a logical inversion, this distinction hardens into a divorce in meaning. 'Possibility' is now counted logically prior to 'actuality'; the 'possible' becomes a question which, as a matter of presupposition, arises, is an 'open' question, and is 'closed' by whatever is 'actual'.
What kind of hierarchy does this process generate? It yields a conceptual hierarchy, with its two characteristic aspects of our conscious attention and our unreflective presupposition. Let us describe this in the case of a hierarchy of levels of organisation. In regard to our conscious attention, we register here a hierarchy in which the actuality of any given level of organisation is a necessary and sufficient condition for the possibility to arise, of the next higher level of organisation. In regard to our unreflective presupposition, meanwhile, hidden behind every question that we raise about the occurrence of levels of organisation lies a prior unreflective attribution of meaningfulness to the reference implied by each level of organisation and thus to the possibility of its occurrence as a possibility which arises. In this way we may go on to count as meaningful, not only the possibility of the occurrence of particular, familiar references, but also by extrapolation, the 'undefined possibilities' of emergence within this hierarchy - that is to say, the possibility of the occurrence of as yet undefined references.
What understanding of emergence does this produce? Possibility arises here, we have seen, as a matter of presupposition - it concerns the possibility of the occurrence of a preconceiveable level of organisation. Emergence therefore appears a contingent affair concerning these prior possibilities and leading us on from the actualisation of one such possibility to the next. The actualisation of these (prior) possibilities is now seen in retrospect as definitive evidence for the 'openness' of the hierarchy to emergence in the first place.
But suppose now that we begin not from logical inversion, but from emergence itself and from its vitality. Here 'possibility' and 'actuality' present a different meaning to us. In emergence itself, possibility and actuality arise in vital polarity. Actuality does not 'close' possibility, nor is it simply the prior condition for possibility: emergent actuality is itself the disclosure of possibility .
The 'possibility' which discloses itself to us here is not one which we can, prior to its actualisation, think of as a meaningful reference. Prior to such actualisation, we cannot tell whether the very notion of such a possibility is even meaningful. For all we know, there may be no meaningful possibility of higher organisation, but only of the disintegration of order. It is emergence itself which brings radically into being, meaningful possibility and actuality alike. So too, the question of 'openness', and equally of 'closedness' (to 'possibility', as this must imply), arises only with emergence itself.
Not only so; in their primary sense these questions arise with respect to emergent reality itself; their primary reference is to essentially self-emergent reality. It is here that openness and possibility have their radical, religious, meaning, as part of the meaning of an essentially emergent reality.
Similarly, the 'actuality' which discloses itself here is not one which we can think of as a meaningful reference prior to the emergence of new possibility from it. It discloses itself in the primary case, not in a lapse from emergence, but precisely in continuing emergence. This parallels the fact that the question of God is not ended by its answer, but rather is renewed by it. The openness of such 'actuality' is thus, paradoxically, an openness towards its own deeper realisation, an openness towards its definitive self. Conversely, closedness involves here more than the closedness of a presupposed referent to the emergence of new and higher levels of organisation; it concerns the active contradiction, in an act of self-deceived evasion, of its own self-emergent identity.
If we turn now to Moltmann, what understanding do we find of possibility and actuality? It appears that he uses these terms only in the sense they acquire following logical inversion, and which limits their currency to conceptual hierarchy and its presupposed referent. Thus Moltmann appears to understand the 'openness' of the material universe only as an openness towards new levels of organisation of a presupposed referent, and not as openness towards greater vitality of reference itself.6 Accordingly he is still forced to see, in the beginning of creation, a matter distinct from the existence of the material universe and its possibilities, namely the 'conditions for' these possibilities (and thus, the strict presupposition of the material universe as a meaningful reference), and equally to see in God a distinct matter, namely the 'transcendent source of' all possibilities. In this way, original creation and the person of God now take the form of prior 'horizons' respectively behind and ahead of us -horizons towards which our present situation lies open at a secondary level, but (crucially) not at a primary level, by which these determine what it means for us to own our 'situation' in the first place. The effect of this is to leave ultimately intact, the closed system which Moltmann sought to remove by his doctrine of the 'openness' of creation.
By presupposing the material universe as a meaningful reference, Moltmann also counts as meaningful, and begs the question of, reference to its undefined 'possibilities'. He makes a practical assumption - one common especially among writers influenced by the Hegelian tradition - that anew, conceivable actuality or synthesis is always waiting to arise; and that therefore the question arises of openness towards this, and that the only alternative to this must be counted closedness. In the present case this has the effect of projecting back into systems below the human, possibilities for openness or closedness which in reality arise only at the level of human life in the possibilities of radical responsiveness or radical evasion (Pannenberg's claim that human existence may be distinguished from lower forms of life precisely by its radical openness is, of course, a corrective to this projection). We may say alternatively that it has the effect of projecting forward into human existence, 'logically inverted' notions of openness and closedness which are inadequate to describe human existence unless these are developed in a logically odd way to evoke a religious disclosure. From either perspective, the effect here is arguably to reduce the creative activity of God to an abstraction framed above by God and below by nothingness, and ultimately to merge the work of redemption with this abstract notion of creative activity.
I shall now describe further the distinction properly to be maintained between creation and redemption. I shall begin from a position which acknowledges the radical openness of the universe towards its two limits, namely the polar vitality of actuality and possibility in God who is self- emergent and begets 'ex Deo ipso', and the absence of the question of any such polarity in the 'nihilo' of creation 'ex nihilo'.
(ii) Sin and Salvation
We have seen that human existence is poised on the edge of self-emergence, reaching out towards the upper limit of the natural hierarchy. This upper limit is represented by the mystery of immeasurable vitality of meaning and life. This mystery signifies our very identity as persons; although it may be imperfectly realised, there is no other identity available to us.
Now according to the argument of this book, the realisation of self-emergence is to be understood in relation to two other eventualities against which it is set. Firstly there is the occasion when the vitality of emergence lapses, so that the question does not arise of such realisation.
Secondly there is the occasion when this question arises but we show ourselves radically evasive towards it. In the last sections of Chapters Six and Seven I described our practical engagement with these two possibilities in terms of our engagement with the question of vitality of meaning and its promise of ever deeper coherence. Expressed now in terms of self-emergence, our conclusion was that we can find ourselves engaged by essential self- emergence when, in continuing responsiveness, we are faced with a meaning we cannot resolve. It engages us as a practical question regarding whether we are met with the promise of a more deeply coherent meaning, or only with further incoherence and loss of meaning. We acknowledged that until such deeper coherence arises we cannot say whether this is a meaningful possibility. Now sometimes such deeper coherence does arise; puzzles can give way to new and deeper comprehension. At other times, however, we find a continuing lack of resolution regarding this possibility. In such circumstances, we face the practical choice of continuing to wait in active responsiveness for resolution at some deeper level. Precisely by doing so, however, I suggested that we realise practically the meaning of an affirmative answer to the question whether deeper resolution awaits us, rather than non-resolution and loss of coherence.
Now corresponding to these two possibilities there are two aspects to the full and final realisation of self-emergence for us in the final indwelling or 'king-dom' of God. On the one hand, this fulfilment is to be approached through the experience of increasingly deep and vital meaning, arising in continuity with this experience as its final consummation. On the other hand, this fulfilment is to be approached through the experience of increasingly deep am devastating lack of resolution, arising in discontinuity with this experience - although in continuity with the intention of responsiveness in the face of this lack of resolution - and as its final resolution. I suggest that through the former approach we address creation and new creation, in their continuity; through the latter approach and its discontinuity, we address active fall and redemption. The first concerns our being poised at the moment of birth; the second, at the moment of judgement.
Having discussed the creative initiative of God in the first part of this chapter, let us now consider His redemptive initiative. In particular let us investigate the Christian testimony, that redemption is realised in the - crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Can this be understood in the terms we have just been using? To ask this is to ask how the death and resurrection of Jesus essentially summons us to radical responsiveness , and to hope sustained in the face of unqualified lack of resolution. To this end let us consider first how Jesus experienced his approaching death; then how the disciples of Jesus experienced his death and resurrection; and finally, our own engagement with these.
The experience of Jesus
We cannot adequately describe Jesus' death or its meaning without considering the person Jesus was, and the attitude in which he approached his death once he had foreseen it.
Our starting-point for reflection here must be Jesus' intense awareness that God was about to act and reveal Himself, at once bringing the blessings of His Kingdom and the crisis of judgement. This awareness was a personal, practical matter of radical responsiveness, which realised itself in the life he lived and, according to our analysis of such responsiveness, constituted his very identity: as the one who raised practically by word and action the question of the coming of God, Jesus' identity was inseparably bound up with this coming itself. Jesus intimated this when he said 'If anyone is ashamed of me... the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels' (Mark 8.38).
Now this indicates something of what his anticipated execution meant for Jesus (whether he foresaw this from the outset of his ministry, or gradually in the course of it). Firstly it raised for him, in an ultimate form, the practical question of God and His faithfulness to His own purposes. That God should allow Jesus, the one who is unconditionally faithful to God's purposes, to be killed by those who reject these purposes, is the ultimate denial of God Himself, experienced uniquely by Jesus in whom these purposes are personally embodied. There is unique force in the psalmist's question, when Jesus utters it on the cross: 'My God, why have You forsaken me?' (Mark 15.34; c.f. Ps 22.1). Here is a stumbling-block of singular stature for Jesus himself. Here, the unfaithfulness of God is unmitigated in its force; the outrage and senselessness of it all, beyond resolution. In these circumstances, to affirm the faithfulness of God is for Jesus paradoxical; it is to yield everything, in trust; it is to realise an act of hope stripped to utter gratuity.
Secondly, his anticipated killing raised for Jesus, again in an ultimate form, the practical question of the responsiveness of the people of God to His purposes. As the rejection of God's final initiative towards His people, Jesus' killing represented their final and unmitigated rejection of God. Their history of rebellion is here consummated: 'Go on then,' says Jesus, 'finish off what your fathers began' (Matth. 23.32; see also the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen: Mark 12.1-9). Their blindness and perversity is shown as having no limits. Once again, in these circumstances to affirm hope for God's people is for Jesus paradoxical; to trust that people might yet respond finally to God was again, to place in humanity a hope which has been stripped of all reasonable grounds.
We see therefore that in the prospect of his approaching execution Jesus embraced, both in his love of God and his love of humankind, the threat of immeasurable loss, and unqualified grounds for despair. The lack of resolution offered by these impending events was total and the demands they made upon Jesus' personal hope, unconditioned; his temptation to evasion was unqualified. Nevertheless, in this ultimate encounter Jesus shows himself sustained by God. And precisely because the demands of continuing responsiveness are here unconditioned, God's sustaining grace is shown here to be immeasurable. Only here, where trial and temptation to evasion claim the last word, can God and His grace disclose the last word in themselves. In such terms as these, Jesus' death may be seen as a baptism into the glory of the Messiah, the One through whom God comes to us in His fullness.
Jesus' death and resurrection as experienced by his disciples
As his disciples lived through Jesus' death and resurrection, these events brought for them in turn, personal experience of unqualified loss and unqualified gift or grace. And once again there was an essential connection between the two.
Whatever meaning Jesus' death and resurrection had for his disciples, this was grounded in what he had already meant to them before these events. Jesus was the one who had opened their eyes to God and His approach. The disciples were those who in response had 'left everything and followed him'. This was not a matter of their accepting the truth of any abstract propositions or obeying any specifiable rules, but of being aroused to lively practical personal response to the mystery of God's will unfolding before them, in communion with Jesus. Jesus was the one through whom the disciples had been aroused to such vital religious address; as such, he meant everything to his disciples. Therefore his betrayal and crucifixion, when these came, were utterly devastating to them.
However, while his betrayal and crucifixion claimed the last word upon Jesus and upon God's initiative through him, the disciples now found their eyes opened further, to the mystery that in some sense Jesus himself had actively embraced this, and all was in keeping with God's purposes foretold in scripture. Jesus' death was no longer registered simply as a contradiction of him and his life, but as actually itself disclosing more of Jesus. Following his death, the disciples knew Jesus as they had not known him before; in his unconditional faithfulness to God, Jesus was now revealed to them as all the more worthy of their immeasurable love and personal regard.
However, this meant in turn that the disciples now experienced their loss all the more deeply. Part of this loss was felt at the evil perpetrated by those who together conspired in Jesus' death- an unmitigated evil, immeasurably shocking and destructive of personal hope, now exposed all the more by the discovery that Jesus had embraced it. The disciples also felt their loss in their admission that they had not themselves understood Jesus' embrace of his approaching death (or the person this showed him to be) , or shown solidarity with him in this. Again, the impact of their own betrayal in this respect was destructive of personal hope.
And yet in this matter, too, the disciples found their eyes opened further: Jesus had himself embraced the unmitigated evil and blindness which human beings had now realised. Jesus had died for them While they were still sinners; from the cross he had cried 'Father, forgive them; they do not know What they are doing' (Luke 23.34). Now, therefore, the disciple's hope was rooted in Jesus' hope -the hope that, so to speak, they would one day say 'We realise now that we did not know What we were doing, but now we understand' - having risen by grace to final responsiveness. Their inexcusable failure was embraced by Jesus' hope - a hope Which was at once gratuitous, yet unwavering, divine.
In some such sense, we can surely say that Jesus' death had a divine purpose. Only by providing us, humankind, with the opportunity to do our very worst, could we be shown that our worst does not have the last word upon us; only then, could the best -the final grace of God -be disclosed to us, and secure the last word in our lives.
In conclusion, then, the death and resurrection of Jesus
was an immediate, ~practical and personal matter for his disciples, as for
Jesus himself. Jesus' disciples, and Christians in general, share (as
Our own knowledge of God through Jesus, crucified and risen
For us in turn, to know God through Jesus is to find our eyes opened personally to Him as we rise to unconditionally vital, radical responsiveness, and embrace unqualified loss and unqualified gift.
This involves us, firstly, finding ourselves engaged personally by God through Jesus as he is presented to us by the Church in the New Testament scriptures. It is inadequate here to think of ourselves as entering in imagination into a situation Which is not our own in order to identify with people who were personally involved with Jesus as we are not, and in order to apply what we find there to our own lives. Rather, When God engages us through Jesus and through the scriptures, in reality we enter in anew way into our own situation so as to acknowledge our own essential identity and its connection with God in Christ. In other words, we do not in imagination bring Jesus into a prior world which is our own, so much as allow Jesus to vitalise and enlarge the meaning of 'our world' in the first place.
How does this reanimation and enlargement of our world come about? It does so as, embracing the death and resurrection of Jesus, we come to own on the one hand, how unlimited is our personal capacity for evasion and how lacking, any grounds for presupposed hope in 'ourselves'; and on the other hand, how unlimited is God's grace and how sure the (gratuitous) hope He places in us and in which He entrusts Himself utterly to us. What we engage with here is nothing less than the question of our ultimate identity. When we embrace God's grace, we open ourselves in a practical way to the mystery - of who we are - our worst and best selves - as we embark upon a continual process of exorcising the former and growing into the latter.
The demands made upon us here are the same as those made upon Jesus , disciples and upon Jesus himself: the demands of embracing God practically, in radical response, in the face of unlimited temptation to evasion. We are summoned to embrace the immeasurable gift of God precisely in the face of the presence and threat of immeasurable loss. The demands of doing so bring for us in a unique way the temptations of dissociation and of unreflective assimilation and ennervation. Can we say more about these temptations? The temptation of dissociation is in effect that of positing practically a premature resolution of the question of ultimate meaning and so bypassing the demanding pursuit of this question through the dialectic of loss and reanimation of meaning. It is, in other words, the temptation of looking upon the resurrection while sidestepping the crucifixion through which alone, in reality, it reveals itself. In this way we distinguish resurrection too easily from crucifixion and, in an act of self-deception, give the last word too superficially to meaningfulness and resurrection.
Such dissociation shows itself especially in over-easy talk of the crucifixion of Jesus as part of the eternal purpose of God, a means to an end, as it were, securing our future with God. Viewing the crucifixion in the hindsight of the resurrection, here we find it contained as loss by the resurrection. The resurrection gives us a vantage-point from which to look past the crucifixion, directly upon resurrection itself, upon God's final faithfulness, and upon our own future with God. Here, then, the crucifixion represents less than final loss; in particular, it does not involve the loss of such a vantage-point upon itself and resurrection.
In reality, when we dissociate ourselves in this way, we lose sight of both crucifixion and the resurrection for what they are. In particular, the moment that, having found in the crucifixion the purpose of God, we allow the vital paradox of this to lapse by registering the crucifixion as less than final loss, we no longer understand the crucifixion. We shall now rediscover it only by owning personally that the crucifixion was more senseless than we had begun to think. Every doctrine of the atonement stands in need of endless renewal in this way, if it is not to lapse into too shallow a resolution of the offence of the cross.
Similarly the moment that, having found in the resurrection an assurance of eternal life, we allow the vital mystery of such life to lapse for us, we no longer understand the resurrection; and we shall rediscover it only by understanding that eternal life is more radically new than we had begun to think. No specifiable possession of our present life will be carried as it is into eternity. As Karl Rahner has said, that part of us destined to enter the kingdom of heaven is narrower than a lasar beam.
The temptation of unreflective assimilation and ennervation, meanwhile, is in effect that of despairing practically of any final resolution of the ultimate question of meaning. Here the meaning of resurrection is merged into that of crucifixion, and in an act of self-deception we give the last ~ word too easily to the latter.
Unreflective assimilation shows itself especially where attention to the cross serves to deepen our unresolved feelings of guilt, fear and self-pity. Where this happens, the demand of radical response is that we wake anew to the unconditional and free initiative which Jesus paradoxically displayed on the cross. This initiative is movingly experienced by Julian of Norwich in her visions: '...in these words: If I could suffer more, I should suffer more, I saw truly that as often as he could die, so often should he die, and love would never let him rest till he had done it... he would count it all as nothing for love... his meaning is this: How could it be that I should , not do for love of you all that I was able?'7
Now just as this divine initiative does not depend upon our offering prior grounds for hope to Jesus, but is rather itself the primary source of hope for us as it arouses our response to itself; so neither does it depend upon our response for its continued vitality as an initiative. Our rejection of God's initiative never curtails it as an initiative, for it is unconditional in its vitality. In this way our unresolved feelings of guilt and fear are addressed by the gospel of grace. There are, of course, many in the history of the church who have discovered God, or discovered Him anew, from this perspective.
The unqualified initiative which God shows towards us here does not spare us the demands of taking responsibility for ourselves and for our response to God; it is rather an exhortation to such responsibility. In particular, \-/ where we face the temptation of anxiety, self-pity or despair the initiative of God summons us to believe in, and take responsibility for living with, the same gratuitous love and hope as that which God shows towards us. In 'The Practice of the Presence of God', Brother Lawrence recounts how he has responded to this summons:
'he had been long troubled in mind from a certain belief that he should be damned. ..and that he had thus reasoned with himself about it: "I did not engage in a religious life but for the love of God, and I have ...endeavoured to act only for Him; whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God..." ..since that time he had passed his life in perfect liberty and continual joy'.8
Having reflected upon the redemptive initiative of God in Christ, let me emphasise that in doing so we have not turned away from God the Father Himself. To think this would be, as George Macdonald said, one of the worst heresies: 'to divide the Father from the Son;... to represent the Son as doing that which the Father does not Himself do.'9 More than this, however: both in describing the creative and the redemptive aspects of God's initiative towards us, we have described nothing other than the person of God Himself. For God is Himself the mystery of communion in knowledge, being and action. When we know His initiative towards us, we know Him as He is in Himself; when we rise to communion with Him, we participate in the communion which He knows within Himself. We shall now reflect further on this. Expressed in terms of traditional Christian doctrine: we have considered the creative initiative of God the Father and the redemptive initiative of God the Son; we shall now reflect upon the work of God the Holy Spirit, known in the mystery of communion.
(iii) The Mystery of Cormnunion: Divine Imperative and Divine Interrogative
I have spoken of the creative activity of God as raising the question of God within creation in an ever more vital way, while God's redemptive activity addresses fallen humankind's evasion of this question, insofar as it arises. More specifically, God's redemptive initiative addresses the question of the final outcome of the dialectic which embraces us, between endlessly deeper gift and loss, resolution and lack of resolution, hope and despair; it commends unconditional grace and hope as having the last word over unconditional loss and despair.
This view of creation and redemption is grounded in the account I have offered of knowledge, action and being at their most personal and vital~ Now the same account also carries implications for how we are to think of the person of God Himself, the agent of creation and redemption, and of our personal communion with Him. Amongst other things it carries implications for how we are to understand His omniscience, His omnipotence, and His plenitude or fullness of being. It would be odd indeed if in order to describe these we resorted to secondary, inverted notions of knowledge, action and being. Rather, our account of primary knowledge, action and being, and of communion in these, must be brought to bear upon these characterisations of the person of God.
With this aim, I suggest that we now recall how our primary intention of self-involving address is by its nature directed implicitly towards communion in understanding. We have seen that this is true in a quite radical sense. It is not that we first rise to self-involving address, and then invite others to do the same; rather, such invitation is an essential part of the implicit intention of primary address in the first place.
Conversely, therefore, whenever in religious utterance we take up verbs of interpersonal communication and use them in connection with the intention of communion in understanding, we implicitly allow their application in a reflective way, already in the primary intention of understanding itself. Thus in matters of self-involving address we speak of 'asking ourselves', 'exhorting ourselves', 'showing ourselves', etc. Moreover we allow this in a primary sense rather than in any derivative or analogical sense. In this way we may think of primary address as essentially involving communion 'within ourselves'.
We can now apply these considerations to the person of God and His intention of communion. To this end I want to take two moods of interpersonal communication as follows, and enlarge their meaning so as to speak of the communion of God both with us and within Himself: I shall explore what it means to speak of a primary imperative and a primary interrogative in relation to God. I shall begin by considering imperative and interrogative utterance as these arise within interpersonal communication, where they contrast in opposing ways with indicative utterance. I shall then commend these as, in a certain odd sense, arising within the primary act of address and its intention towards communion in understanding, and also therefore, and in a unique way, within religious address.
Firstly, then, let us formulate the notion of a primary imperative. Customarily we think of imperative utterance as directed by one person or group towards another. A central instance of this, I suggest, is the case where an imperative is uttered with the intention of effecting the unreflective compliance of the person addressed. That is to say, an imperative is uttered with the intention that the person addressed should not ask as an open question 'Shall I do this thing, which is commanded of me?', but should rather own unreflectively an affirmative answer to this, preempting the question. We may, I suggest, think of the obedience effected in this way as a kind of 'performative' act by the speaker.
We should note that the intention of such an imperative is not that the person addressed should rise to communion in address with the speaker, but rather that, within an act -of immediate compliance, he should be bound unreflectively to the speaker in an immediate, unthinking kind of solidarity.
There is another sort of imperative, however, which rather invites the active understanding and assent of the person addressed. It is associated with the use of such verbs as 'urge', 'exhort', and 'commend'. It contains, characteristically, an implicit command of the sort 'see for yourself:..', 'know for yourself:..', or 'ask yourself:..'. The intention is that the person addressed should own personally, in radical response, an act of practical understanding, which may be either a reference or an action. In either case, the intention is that the person addressed should recognise personally the rightness of owning the act concerned, and so share fully in the understanding of the speaker in this regard.
This kind of imperative, rather than being simply performative in intention, has an indicative aspect: it points to something which is to be acclaimed personally. Importantly this holds not only for the person addressed, but also for the speaker. That is to say, if in one sense the person addressed is invited here to rise and stand alongside the speaker in his imperative initiative, in another sense the speaker acknowledges himself as standing under and responding to the same imperative as the person addressed.
The primary case of such an imperative arises in the situation where the speaker first recognises for himself the demands of such an imperative. It is crucial to grasp that in this situation the indicative aspect of understanding is in no way prior to the imperative. There is no realm of meaningful fact lying behind the imperative of this rightness itself, as its presupposition, and which can be indicated other than by this imperative. Rather, the realm of fact arises out of a lapse in the vitality of this primary imperative. The primary matter is that we at once see and urge the rightness of owning something. This involves an act of communion within ourselves, a reflective imperative in which we exhort ourselves: 'I must surely own this act of understanding!'.
It is in this primary sense that we must acknowledge ourselves addressed by the divine imperative that hope and grace should have the last word over despair and loss. This concerns no 'performative' act by God, achieved by our unreflective compliance; rather it concerns our being exhorted to rise freely to embrace this imperative practically for ourselves. Behind this imperative there is no meaningful prior fact (known by God) that hope and grace will have the last word; the primary matter is rather that God owns, and expends Himself utterly in owning, this imperative: 'it must surely be that these have the last word!', by giving Himself in unlimited practical initiative towards this. This unconditioned divine imperative is active above all in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We, for our part, are now summoned by God freely to share in the communion Which He knows within Himself, in owning this unconditioned imperative: 'It must surely be, that hope and grace have the last word!' In this way, the notion of a primary imperative sheds light upon the intention of communion Which is God's at once towards us and within Himself. It also shows in what terms we must think of the 'omnipotence', the 'omniscience' and the 'plenitude of being' of God. Let us now explore these matters further by similarly formulating the notion of a primary interrogative.
Let us begin once more from that familiar situation where one person or group puts a question to another. For present purposes I shall want to think of the particular case where we put to another person, a question to which we ourselves already know the answer. In putting such a question we have no need actively to address this question ourselves, nor have we any need of the other's answer for our own.
Let me turn immediately from this to the sort of interrogative where we - share with others a question Which we ourselves personally ask. Here, by contrast, we show an implicit intention towards communion with others in addressing our question and its answer; here we actively await the other's response, as informing our own questioning and answering.
The primary case of this arises in the situation where rise we to the realm of understanding as such. Once again it is crucial to grasp that in this primary case the indicative aspect of understanding is in no way prior to the interrogative. There is no realm of observable fact which lies behind our questioning itself, as the presupposition of its meaningfulness, and which can be indicated other than by our questioning itself. Rather, the realm of fact arises out of a lapse in the vitality of this primary interrogative. The primary matter is that we address the rightness of embracing a certain act of understanding. This involves an act of communion within ourselves, a reflective interrogative in which we ask ourselves: 'Shall we own this act of understanding?'.
It is in this primary sense that we may think of ourselves standing under a divine interrogative concerning Whether hope and grace have the last word. This concerns our finding ourselves exhorted freely to rise and embrace this question practically for ourselves -in communion with God. Behind this interrogative there is no meaningful prior fact that hope and grace will have the last word; the primary matter is rather that God raises, and expends Himself utterly in raising, this question: 'Will not hope and grace have the last word?'. On the cross, above all, He gives Himself unconditionally in order that we might rise with Him to address this question and its answer, in communion of address. Alike with regard to His unconditioned imperative and interrogative, it is as Ruysbroek wrote:
All that He has, all that He is, He gives; All that we have, all that we are, He takes.
My purpose has been to challenge the assumption fostered by post-enlightenment philosophy, that all acts of knowing can be described in terms fitting to our technical knowledge and mastery or to our unreflective espousal of existential and cultural 'values'. I have argued that this approach marginalises precisely our primary experience of knowing. Our primary knowing arises in our personal, moral, creative and above all religious involvements, and also in our radical acts of discovery -notably those we make in our early childhood learning, and the radical discoveries of scientists.
It is in our primary knowing that responsiveness involves us most fully and actively as persons. Within such knowledge we show the dual intention of receptivity and critical appraisal, by which we address and bring to light '-/ the polarity of ground and figure, question and answer, logically prior and logically consequent. The intention of primary address can be seen in these terms as essentially 'directional' in character. By comparison, other realms of understanding such as our grasp of symbolic reference and our mastery of skills reflect a lapse in the vigour of this polarity and so of our response, as one or other of these poles lapses in vitality. Important- ly, this lapse can now become the occasion of an act of logical inversion. Logical inversion can also arise as a matter of active evasion, where there has been no such,lapse in vitality; here we evade the demands of radical response and grant one pole a false priority over the other.
Importantly, with regard to vital primary knowledge logical inversion not only constitutes a practical evasion of understanding; it also renders such knowledge unintelligible theoretically. This applies both to the subject of primary knowing and to our primary knowing itself. These can be known only in a first-hand, practical manner, as we rise to primary address. From a logically inverted viewpoint, on the other hand, they are logically elusive, appearing on the edge of self-contradiction and tautology. In reality, however, by their testimony they commend an odd disclosure and a logical re-inversion or conversion of understanding.
Accordingly, in this book I have begun by acknowledging the testimony of primary, religious knowledge, and have sought to develop an account of understanding faithful to this testimony. Central has been our affirmation of the paradox of grace. Our account has been rooted in the acknowledgement that all understanding begins from and ends in our self-involvement in mystery - the final end of understanding being that fullness of knowledge, action and being which is the mystery of communion with God. In this last chapter I have brought to bear these insights upon the doctrines of creation, redemption, and communion - the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let me conclude this book by urging that what I have written within it applies to the reader's response to this book itself: by my many simplifications, generalisations, and programmatic suggestions I extend an invitation to radical response. That is to say, I ask more of you as a reader, on the one hand, than that you use this book as, in the first instance, a set of ideas in the mind of the present author; rather, I ask you to use this book out of an intention of receptivity to the mystery of God, and yourself clarify or enlarge upon what I have written to this end, as suggested by your religious intention and in ready dialogue with others similarly disposed. I ask more of you, on the other hand, than that you adopt any particular suggestion I have made here as a habitual viewpoint from which to survey the world; rather, I ask you to take responsibility in every situation for weighing anew, in radical fashion, the question whether any particular suggestion I have made serves to reveal the mystery of God or to conceal it.
Moltmann, Creation and Redemption. In (ed. R. W. A. McKinney), Creation, Christ
and Culture (
Peacocke, Creation and the WorLd of Science (
3. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, Chapter 13.
Arthur Peacocke, God and the New Biology (
5. Lawrence Kohlberg, 'From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development', in (ed. Theodore Mischel) Cognitive Development and Epistemology (New York, 1971), pp.151-235.
6. See for example, Moltrnann, Creation and Redemption, p.124 (footnote 2).
7. Julian of Norwich, Showings, p.217.
;~ 8. Brother Lawrence, The Practice of The Presence of God, Second Conversation.
Macdonald, 'Life' , in Unspoken Sermons, Second Series. Quoted in C. S. Lewis,
George Macdonald -an Anthology (
APPENDIX: FURTHER INTO LOGICAL THEORY
We can trace further the path along which our account of responsiveness and understanding leads us in the direction of the theory of logic. Indeed it is of some importance that we do so, not least because logicians themselves count logical analysis applicable to all utterance without exception, including religious utterance; and such analysis has too often led either - to the dismissal of religious language as logically inconsistent, or to its reduction to non-religious abstractions.
Given the account of understanding argued in this book we shall, when entering into dialogue with the logician, oppose from the outset any implicit assumption that the theory of logic stands in its own right prior to this account. Rather, our account of understanding explicates the primary meaning of appraisal, and in doing so, explains the setting from which arise specific types of appraisal, among them 'logical' appraisal. To be sure, our account of understanding raises a variety of matters other than those which are the subject-matter of 'domestic' logic, whether this is the formal logic of symbolic reference and its statements or (as has more recently been formulated)1 that of performative utterance. But this is in fact because our account concerns the more primary realm of 'ultimate', metaphysical, philosophical logic. 2
Fundamental to logic, of course, are the notions of the affirmation and negation. These feature already in the basic postulates of Aristotelian logic- the laws of Identity and of Non-Contradiction. I now want to show how our account carries implications for a proper understanding of these notions, showing how affirmation and negation arise in the first place, and revealing their primary meaning and their scope. By doing so, I hope also to clarify further the logical character of religious disclosure.
We must begin, as always, from the basic polarity of ground and figure, of receptivity and critical appraisal. Before focussing more particularly upon affirmation and negation, however, let us pause to acknowledge the logical elusiveness of this basic polarity. We have characterised this as the polarity of relatively logically prior and relatively logically consequent, that is, the polarity of addressing 'whether the question arises of owning an act of understanding "A"' and of 'owning an act of understanding "A"' . Now this polarity is not a matter of abstract symmetry. We cannot conceive first one pole and then the other, lying each in turn before us. We can know them only as we look 'though' them together, in the direction from one to the other, from ground to figure. The impossibility of knowing them in abstraction from this echoes the fact that the former pole represents not only what is relatively logically prior, but identically, the convergence of matters ordered among themselves by logical priority; while the latter represents not only what is relatively logically consequent, but identically, the divergence of matters ordered among themselves by logical priority. Therefore, in a sense the former pole represents the convergence or identity of the two poles themselves, while the latter pole represents their divergence or differentiation. Or as we should have to say more -precisely, the former pole intimates that the question does not arise, of distinguishing between logically prior and logically consequent (and so, of distinguishing between these poles), while the latter intimates that this question does arise. More than this, the former pole intimates that the question does not arise, of distinguishing between whether or not the question arises, of distinguishing between logically prior and logically consequent, while the latter pole intimates that this question does arise... and so on, in infinite regress.
Let me emphasise that the convergence and divergence of these poles which I speak of here is not reducible to a matter of abstract correspondence or non-correspondence between establi~hed concepts or references. Its meaning is primary and irreducible, and is disclosed to us rather within the act of attention frrom ground to figure, as respectively an identity which we attend 'from' (in an act of self-reference) and a differentiation which we attend 'towards' (in an act of reference). That is to say, the basic polarity of ground and figure, of logically prior and logically consequent, addresses us at once as the polarity of identity and differentiation, and as the polarity of self-reference and reference.
Once again, this polarity of self-reference and reference is no matter of abstract symmetry, but can be known only as we look' though' them together , in the direction from former to latter. This echoes the fact that the former pole intimates not only the act of self-reference, but also that the question does not arise, of distinguishing between self-reference and reference; while the latter pole intimates not only the act of reference, but also that the question does arise, of distinguishing between these two... and so on, again in infinite regress.
Let us now consider how affirmation and negation arise out of the basic polarity of figure and ground, logically prior and logically consequent. They arise in connection with, in particular, the act of symbolic reference and its logical inversion, and they do so in the following way. When, addressing reality in radical responsiveness, we find the question of receptivity to new meaning lapses in vitality, our continuing responsiveness generates for us two distinct experiences: indwelling new data and old together, either we experience the replication of a familiar meaning, or we experience no determinate meaning at all. The former experience defines what it means for the question to arise, in the situation concerned, of our owning a familiar act of understanding, and to give the answer 'Yes' to the question 'Shall we own here (this act of understanding)?'; the latter defines what it means for us to answer 'No' to this question.
If there is now an act of logical inversion, the sense of these two answers is altered in the following way. In logical inversion we unreflectively indwell our acquired, familiar meaning and refer all new experience to this, asking whether or not in any given situation we register a correspondence with this conceptual meaning. Here the primary question of meaning is unreflectively counted as no longer arising; instead, meaning is registered in terms of correspondence or non-correspondence with our concept. The answers 'Yes' and 'No', given in reply to the question whether we can in a given situation own a familiar meaning, no longer signify respectively an experience of determinate meaning and of indeterminacy; instead they are allowed equal status as mutually exclusive determinate answers to a prior question which we unreflectively count arising and open.
As we have seen, the development of an act of reference and of logical inversion in this way may sometimes repeat itself, and so give rise to a logical hierarchy of questions in which each question is distinct from and logically prior to the one preceding. When this happens, the range of answers which may in principle be given to the practical question whether we can own an utterance 'A' is multiplied in the following way. Initially we are faced with whether the question arises of our owning an utterance 'A'. When logical inversion now occurs, we presuppose ourselves faced rather with the choice of adopting unreflectively one or other of the determinate utterances 'A' or 'not-A'. But now further experience may bring the discovery that while sometimes we can make this choice, sometimes we cannot. That is to say, we discover that while sometimes we can own as determinate, the question 'whether we can adopt "A" or "not-A"' , sometimes we cannot. When we cannot, we usually express this by saying 'the question does not arise here, of owning "A" or "not-A". Let me denote this by 'not- [A or not-A]' (the conjunctive 'or' is used here in its exclusive sense).
Once again, an act of logical inversion may ensue. We now ask as a prior -question, whether or not the question arises of our choosing between 'A' or 'not-A'; more precisely we count as arising and open, the question whether we can own 'Can I adopt the question "[A or not-A]"? ' .We presuppose ourselves required to adopt unreflectively one or other of the two mutually exclusive determinate utterances '[A or not-A]' or 'not-[A or not-A]'. If we choose the former, we shall face the further choice between adopting 'A' ~ or 'not-A'. Now, therefore, the range of possible replies to the question whether we can own 'A' is represented by the three mutually exclusive, determinate answers 'A', 'not-A', and 'not-[A or not-A]'. In passing we might note that the first and second answers both entail '[A or not-A]'.
Following yet more experience, the development I have just described may repeat itself once again, when we discover that while sometimes we can own the question whether we can adopt 'Can I adopt the question '[A or not-A]' -.as a coherent question, sometimes we cannot. In this way a regress of questions can arise for us. To simplify terminology, I shall call the utterance 'Can I adopt "A" or "not-A"? ' , 'p1(A) , ; I shall call the utterance. 'Can I adopt "~(A)" or "not-~A)"? ' , 'P2(A) , , and so on (I adopt the letter 'p' as a reminder that we are concerned here with a sequence of ~ questions each logically prior to the one before). Thus 'not-Pl(A)' means 'I cannot own the question "Can I adopt 'A' or 'not-A'?"'. Following n further steps in regress, the range of possible answers will be given by the series 'A', 'not-A', 'not-p1(A)'~ 'not-P2(A)',... 'not-Pn(A)'. Notice that any answer 'not-pg(A)' in this series entails 'Pr(A)' for all values x<r~n. This may be pictured either in a 'tree' diagram (Fig.2) or as a 'set' diagram (Fig.3).
Let me acknowledge in passing here, that in practice we do not commonly register such a diversity of logical alternatives before us. This is first ly because in most circumstances we are conscious of no more than two or perhaps three distinct questions ordered by logical priority at any given time. Secondly, where we are conscious of more questions than this, we do not usually trouble to distinguish between 'p1(A)',' P2(A)', etc., but only between 'A', 'not-A', and 'px(A)' in general. Take for example, the logical hierarchy represented by the questions whether a given argument is well- formed, and whether the statements within this argument, the words within these statements, and the letters within these words are well-formed. If, when asked whether a given argument is well-formed, we notice that some words within it are not well-formed, we shall not normally introduce at all, the intermediate topic of well-formed statements; we shall not say anything as complicated as 'the question does not arise of asking whether the question arises (as it would if the statements were well-formed) of saying whether the argument is well-formed.' We shall simply say that the question does not arise of saying whether the argument is well-formed, because some words within it are unintelligible.
The character of any such hierarchy is shaped by our repeated acts of logical inversion. By such inversion, on the one hand, every element within this hierarchy yields a distinct concept, and with it the question whether, in any given situation, we are met with correspondence or non-correspondence with this concept. On the other hand, at the level of meaningfulness, every such question is counted open and arising; addressing any such quest- ion, we presuppose the meaning of the 'A', 'not-A', and every 'not-px(A) up to x = n. This presupposition lies, so to speak, hidden behind our adoption of the final term not-pn(A) of the hierarchy, as a matter of unreflectivity from which we address the hierarchy in all its distinct elements.
I have described how affirmation and negation arise out of a lapse of vitality in primary polarity which yields an act of reference in which these poles separate into two distinct, repeated experiences, and there follows an act of logical inversion. I have also shown how this process may repeat itself so as to generate a hierarchy of mutually exclusive, determinate questions ordered by logical priority. How may we hope to describe by reference to this analysis, the religious situation, where the vitality of primary polarity does not lapse, but rather we are addressed by a primary, vital meaning in which figure and ground, answer and question, determinacy and indeterminacy interanimate each other within a deepening polar vitality? We can approach this religious situation by entertaining a dialogue, as follows.
Suppose that we make a religious utterance which, when wrongly heard as a straightforward empirical statement, is heard as 'A'. And suppose that our religious utterance is wrongly registered by another person in this way. How shall we respond to this? In order to convey our intention we shall, while reaffirming our words, refuse to own our meaning as 'A'. By doing so we intend re-opening for the other person, the question of meaning raised by what he hears as' A ' .That is to say, we intend challenging his unreflective commitment to the meaning of 'A', from which he approaches what we say, in order to renew this meaning and its vitality.
However, we may not succeed in effecting our intended disclosure. One of two things may happen instead. On the one hand, the other person may take seriously both our reaffirmation of our words and our disowning of 'A', and dismiss this as self-contradictory. On the other hand, the other person may count our disowning of 'A' as superseding our seeming owning of 'A', and, in continuing unreflective commitment to the meaning 'A', now interpret this as our owning a determinate utterance 'not-A'. In either of these cases, we shall refuse to own what the other person understands us to say.
Especially, we shall decline to own our meaning as 'not-A' -again with the intention of renewing the question of the meaning of 'A' (and of 'not-A'). Once again, however, we may not succeed in effecting a disclosure. Instead, our disowning of 'A' and 'not-A' alike may be registered on the one hand as self-contradictory; on the other hand, we may be interpreted, from continuing unreflective commitment to the meaning of 'A', as claiming that with regard to the situation of our utterance, the question of owning '[A or not-A]' does not arise. More precisely we may be heard, in logical inversion, as owning a determinate utterance 'not-p1(A)'. Once again in both cases we shall refuse to own what the other person registers us as saying. In particular, we shall decline to own our meaning as 'not-p1(A)' - once again with the intention of re-opening the question of the meaning of 'A' ( and so also of 'not-A' and 'not-p1(A)').
In this way we may pursue in dialogue a succession of matters supposedly each logically prior to the one before. In a succession of new initiatives, may attempt to evoke a religious disclosure in the face of the other person's assimilation, to ordinary empirical language, of our previous attempt at disclosure. On each occasion, when the other person has, from continuing unreflective commitment to the meaning of 'A', and in logical inversion, registered our previous attempt at disclosure as a determinate utterance 'not-pn(A)' made by us, our response and initiative here is to deny this description of our intention so as to renew the question of the meaning of 'A' in the first place, and of every logically prior 'pn(A)' dependent in meaning upon this .
11- But now we may take a new kind of initiative towards disclosure, one which opens up a new stage in dialogue. We may invite the other person to abstract from the course of our dialogue and address the fact that the regress we are involved in looks set to continue indefinitely generating new, supposedly logically prior topics of conversation, and that his every attempt to specify our meaning as some 'not-pn(A)' is set to fail. By this we shall challenge him to face the need for an entirely new quality of response to what we are saying, if ever he is to understand us.
Of course this will not guarantee our intended renewal of the question of the meaning of 'A'. The other person may retain his unreflective commitment to the meaning of 'A' and hear us as saying that whatever interpretation he puts upon our meaning, we shall by our disavowal of this displace our meaning endlessly away from this - and from 'A' - into the indefinite area of logical priority. Or he may hear us, in slightly different terms, as owning for our meaning, the limiting case signified by 'not-p∞(A)'.
To this we shall want to reply, firstly, that when our meaning seems to displace itself endlessly away from the meaning of 'A' itself, this appearance is created by the other person's own wrong response to our successive disavowals. This appearance is an illusion created by his assumption that he has a sound base in the meaning of' A ' , and has been forced to locate our meaning outside an ever increasing range of meanings extending from this base (see Fig.3). Of course, this perception of our meaning has always been challenged by own continuing affirmation of our original utterance alongside our successive disavowals. Secondly, we shall urge that this assumption that he has a sound base in the meaning of 'A' is radically challenged by our disowning of every conceivable 'pn(A)' and every conceivable 'not-pn(A)'. For properly understood, by this we disown as our meaning, any utterance whatsoever which refers to 'A' -including our reference to 'A' in this very moment. By this paradoxical act, we call into question every meaning unreflectively given to 'A', and so point from 'A' so as to renew the essentially vital and undying question of religious meaning.
Here, then, we have an account of the logic of disclosure. The dialogue I have envisaged to this end, we should note, demonstrates how such an account will itself be a matter of disclosure. By this we are reminded once again that religious disclosure concerns our primary, essential self- .involvement, our address of that which cannot be known except in acknowledgement of this involvement, in an act of radical response.
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