Praise for Knowledge

In his The Heavenly Academie (1638), the Westminster Divine, Francis Rous urges his readers to acknowledge their knowledge of God to be a gift of grace, and thereby to give God praise for his gift. This act of praise is a participation in the motion of God’s own gift giving, that is, the heavenly motion of procession and return.

IT is the just saying of an Ancient, Prodere grata commemoratione decet scientiae patrem; It is comely to acknowledge with thankfulnesse, the Father of our knowledge. If this be justly due from man unto man, how much more due is it from man unto God? For though man be called the father of those that are taught by him, yet God is the Father of those fathers; even a Teacher of those teachers: and therefore by our Saviours judgement deserves only the name of Father, in perfection and eminence. Those then that have God to be a Father of knowledge to them, should returne to this Father the praise and glorie of this knowledge. The heavenly gifts of God, when they move kindly and naturally, doe move like the Heavens, in a circular motion; returning to that place and point from which they began first to move; from God unto God. They come from him as graces, and returne to him in the shape of glorie.

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What Hath Wine to do with Theology?

Barrel
The Wine Barrel at Heidelberg Palace, built in 1591

There is a good reason why Jesus’ first miracle involved wine and a wedding. The King had arrived. The bridegroom had come to rescue his bride. It was not a time for mourning, for separation, but for union and celebration. The holy day (holiday) permits rest of both mind and body. Perhaps the wine was meant to give the bride a sense of her release. For the Roman philosopher Seneca, this is why Bacchus invented wine. He comments that the mind needs a time of rest so that it does not lose its vigor and become dull and languid. States should establish holidays so that the bond that work places on the mind may be slackened. For the sake of mental peace, Seneca explains, one should go for a walk outside or go for a brief journey, and when possible, have a drink of wine.

Sometimes [the mind] will get new vigour from … a change of place and festive company and generous drinking. At times we ought to reach the point even of intoxication, not drowning ourselves in drink, yet succumbing to it; for it washes away troubles, and stirs the mind from its very depths and heals its sorrow just as it does certain ills of the body; and the inventor of wine is not called the Releaser (Bacchus) on account of the license it gives to the tongue, but because it frees the mind from bondage to cares and emancipates it and gives it new life and makes it bolder in all that it attempts. But, as in freedom, so in wine there is a wholesome moderation […] Yet we ought not to do this often, for fear that the mind may contract an evil habit, nevertheless there are times when it must be drawn into rejoicing and freedom, and gloomy sobriety must be banished for a while. For whether we believe with the Greek poet that ‘sometimes it is a pleasure also to rave,’ or with Plato that ‘the sane mind knocks in vain at the door of poetry,’ or with Aristotle that ‘no great genius has ever exited without some touch of madness’ – be that as it may, the lofty utterance that rises above the attempts of others is impossible unless the mind is excited. When it has … soared far aloft fired by a sacred instinct, then alone it sings a song too lofty for mortal lips (On the Tranquility of Mind, XVII8-9).

On Seeing a Large Library: A Meditation by Joseph Hall

In his Table Talk, the renowned English Bishop, Joseph Hall (†1656) meditates on objects from every day experience. From a fly accidentally burning itself in a candle to a crow pulling the wool out of a sheep’s back Hall, like Solomon, sees every moment as an opportunity sent by a divine hand for the sake of returning one’s attention to the pursuit of wisdom. In one of his meditations Hall explains how he marveled at a large library, an experience to which most of us book worms can relate.

What a world of thought is here packed up together! I know not whether this sight doth more dismay, or comfort me. It dismays me to think that here is so much that I cannot know; it comforts me to think that this variety affords so much assistance to know what I should. There is no truer word than that of Solomon: ‘There is no end of making many books.’ This sight verifies it. There is no end: indeed it were a pity there should. God hath given to man a busy soul; the agitation whereof cannot but, through time and experience, work out many hidden truths. To suppress these would be injurious to mankind, whose minds, like so many candles, should be kindled by each other. Our deliberate thoughts are more accurate; these we commit to paper. What a happiness is it, that without the aid of necromancy, I can here call up any of the ancient worthies of learning, whether human or divine, and confer with them upon all my doubts; that I can at pleasure summon whole synods of reverend fathers and acute doctors from all the coasts of the earth, to give their well-studied judgments in all doubtful points which I propose. Nor can I cast my eye casually upon any of these silent masters, but I must learn somewhat. It is a wantonness to complain of choice. No law binds us to read all; but the more we can take in and digest, the greater will be our improvement.

Blessed be God, who hath set up so many clear lamps in his church; none but the willfully blind can plead darkness. And blessed be the memory of those his faithful servants, who have left their blood, their spirits, their lives in these precious papers; and have willingly wasted themselves into these enduring monuments, to give light to others!

‘Theology is Queen! and everything else a shadow!’: J.H. Alsted on the Contemplative/Active Life

In his Praecognitorum theologicorum… , J.H. Alsted admits that he lacks the words to adequately describe Theology. Not because Theology is less than the other sciences, arts, or activities of life. On the contrary, Alsted asserts that Theology contains all of these things and, because of this, it can only be described by one word: Wisdom. Yet, even wisdom does not fully express the inexpressible nature of Theology. The highest thoughts of contemplation, even when accompanied by faith, cannot attain the summit of this wisdom. Alsted, therefore, is forced to conclude, “We are left destitute, therefore, of the appropriate vocabulary.” He knows that Theology is revealed by nature and Scripture. He knows that Theology is unified by its object, i.e., God. It is not less than scientia, therefore.

Alsted is not worried that he has failed to prove that Theology is something more than a science, art, or a practice. On the contrary, he believes that when one traces the boundaries of ectypal theology – what we humans do – one begins to see its connection with archetypal theology, which is God’s very own knowledge of Himself. Mere humans, however, cannot see archetypal theology because of the blinding rays of God’s infinity. Alsted says, “We do not posit a definition of archetypal Theology but a quasi-definition, by analogy, according to our mode of understanding.” In fact one should use caution, even when talking about archetypal theology. “We ought not investigate archetypal Theology, but worship it.” When the faithful see the boundary of ectypal Theology, therefore, they lose the appropriate vocabulary by which they may describe it. Faith is through a glass darkly after all.

Alsted concludes that Theology is not a mere activity, but it so far transcends our powers of contemplation that it comes full circle, so to speak, and manifests itself in action. Theology is hyper-contemplative [hyper-theoreticam] and hyper-speculative [superspeculativam]. “For,” Alsted says, “the highest and final thought by which I know that I see God, that I am conformed to Him, that I will always rejoice [in Him], this is not mere [nuda] contemplation but active contemplation [contemplatio actuosa]. When you have weighed this matter carefully in this way, join with me in exclaiming, ‘Theology is Queen! and everything else is like a shadow!'” (Praecog…, 63). Thus, for Alsted the height of contemplation is not an absence of thought or action but a coincidence of thought-action which stems from the experience of seeing God and rejoicing in Him as he is manifest within one’s own soul. This, he says, is “active contemplation.”

Zanchi on Union with God

What does Paul mean in Ephesians 3:19 when he says “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God?” Girolamo Zanchi, in his Commentary on Ephesians, interprets Paul to mean that believers are partakers of the divine nature, a participation which depends upon one understanding “the mysteries of piety and its causes, that is, by understanding the love of God in Christ toward us.” This is not a bare cognitive assent, however, but is combined with an experience [sentio] of the love of God within one’s “inner man” by means of grace. Zanchi, like Aquinas, considers union with God to occur primarily through a certain created likeness of God within the soul, or in other words, a renewal of the image of God in the soul by means of certain infused qualities (i.e., wisdom, righteousness, etc.). He explains what it means to be “filled with the fulness of God”:

Translation: Girolamo Zanchi on Ephesians 3:19

By what, then, do we become strong? By a power and virtue, not human, but divine. So, [Paul] says, “that you may be strengthened with power, that is, of God.” Therefore, all of the virtues are excited within us, they stand upright, and are nourished by the power [δυνάμει] and virtue of God, and these are really nothing other than a certain divine power created, excited, and inflamed through the Holy Spirit within us, by which [we are] good, strong, wise, righteous, and finally, we are such as God wants us to be, and by which we have the ability, whatever ability we have, [to be] good. This is the power [δυνάμιν] of God that Peter calls the divine nature: “That you may become (Peter says) partakers of the divine nature.” By the word “nature” here [Peter] means a created quality by which we become like God. Paul calls [it] grace: “By the grace of God I am what I am & his Grace in me was not vain” (1 Cor. 15).

Zanchi, In d. Pauli epistolam ad Ephesios Commentarius, 1594, p. 201.

J.H. Alsted: The Light of Reason and the Light of Faith

At the Calvinist International I’ve published another in my series of posts in which I translate portions from J.H. Alsted’s Theologia naturalis. Here’s an excerpt from Alsted on how the light of reason relates to the light of faith:

Pious men explain this by means of an apposite similitude: They say, just as the sunlight does not put out the [light] of the stars but makes their lesser light yield to a more abundant light, so the light of Grace does not put out the light of Nature but makes it yield. And again, just as the stars yield to the Sun so that they do not fall from the sky, so reason yields to faith so that it does not fall from the sky of the microcosm. Let [faith] cease, if you will, and [reason] falls. The little torch of reason acknowledges its inferiority to grace coming forth from the celestial chamber as to the Sun, the superior of the stars. But, [the soul] does not cast away a power innate to it with the arrival of [grace], any less than the stars do not cast away their own power of shinning with the arrival of noon.

Plato’s Two Cities

In his very informative book, Platonopolis: Platonic Political Philosophy in Late Antiquity, Dominic O’Meara argues that the Platonists of Late Antiquity did not think that Plato intended his strict utopian government reflected in the Republic to be applied to any physical city or polity in this life. Rather, the Republic reflects the principles of the Ideal city, not the city of this world of flux. The Platonists saw a division between two “cities” in Plato’s political writings, between the Ideal city of the Republic and the more realistic (in terms of material limitations) civic polity delineated in Laws. O’Meara explains:

The relation between the ideal city of the Republic and that proposed in the Laws was, for the Neoplatonist, far from what it is often supposed to be today, that is, that the ambitious political reformer of the Republic, disappointed by his experience in Sicily, produced in his old age a more modest project, that of the Laws. Rather, the later Neoplatonist read the relation between the two cities in the light of a passage in the Laws (739b-e), which distinguishes between the best constitution (where all is held in common); a second-best constitution which seeks to approach the best, but admits of private property and family units; and a yet lower, third-best city.  Thus, in the Laws, a political project is sketched which approximates to the ideal, while at the same time making concessions to human nature as regards the need for private property and family. The ideal, best constitution, on the other hand, makes no such concessions and seems indeed hardly possible for humans, since it is described as a `city of gods or of children of the gods’ (Laws 739d). The Neoplatonists understood this city of the gods mentioned in the Laws as corresponding to the project of an ideal city of the Republic (Kindle Locations 1024-1031).

For example:

Proclus sees the political projects of the Republic and the Laws as situated on different levels: the Republic takes individuals that are pure and educates them, whereas the Laws takes people who have already lived in other cities and are less perfect. Thus the city of the Laws is inferior in its political ambition to that of the Republic: not only does it not foresee the highest positions for women [as the Republic does], it also allows private property (banned from the life of the rulers in the Republic), which, given woman’s weaker nature (in Proclus’ view) and thus her presumed preference for the private to the public good, means that it is prudent to exclude her from the highest office at the level of the less perfect city of the Laws. (Kindle Locations 952-957).

What, then, is the relationship between the two cities? How are they connected? The Platonists answer, is the philosopher king or the political philosopher. O’Meara explains the role of the political philosopher in uniting the two cities:

The purpose of the political philosopher is to promote a political order which favours the development of the `political’ virtues among the citizens and thus the achievement of `political happiness’, as a first stage in the process of divinization. Political life, a life in which soul, as living in relation to the body, is confronted with problems of order both within itself and in relation to others, is thus a school of virtue, an extended version, so to speak, of the philosophical school, the ruler being consequently a kind of mentor or guide who brings order to political life, inspired by a privileged  access to the divine (Kindle Locations 1001-1005).

By imitating the divine model of wisdom and providing an example of that wisdom in his person the political philosopher points the earthly city to the Good. This sort of education divinizes the earthly city. O’Meara notes:

At any rate, the goal of political science, the common good that includes the individual good on the political level, is `good’ to the degree that it relates to, or participates in, a transcendent Good. In short, the finality of politics is sharing in the divine, i.e. divinization, just as `political’ virtue represents a form and early stage of divinization. Thus the political good, or `political happiness’, is not an ultimate goal, but a stage giving access to the ultimate Good (Kindle Locations 998-1001).

For Platonists, the good of the earthly city is only good insofar as it participates in the Good of the heavenly “city of the gods” by means of public laws that bring order and structure to the souls of citizens; thereby divinizing the earthly city. This, of course, means that the Platonists were not merely political philosophers but political theologians.