Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Basil: An early postmodern deconstructionist

Basil, the fourth century saint and theologian puts the predicament of religious knowledge this way: If you can't have certain knowledge of an ant, how can you expect to have certain knowledge of God?

"Let him expound the nature of the ant. Is its life sustained by breath and respiration? Is its body provided with bones? Is its framework braced with sinews and ligaments? Is the position of the sinews held secure by the covering of muscles and glands? Is the marrow stretched along the spinal vertebrae from the front of the head to the tail? Does it have a liver and a gall bladder near the liver; also kidneys, a heart, arteries and veins, membranes and cartilage? Is it hairless or covered with hair? Has it an uncloven hoof, or feet divided into toes? How long does it live? What is the manner of reproduction?...

Let him who boasts of the knowledge of things existing explain the nature of the ant...But, if you have not yet, by your investigation, understood the nature of the smallest ant, how can you boast that the incomprehensible power of God is clear to your mind?"

Ok, so we've advanced significantly in our understanding of the ant. But what of God? Is he any less inexplicable, regardless of our advance in knowledge of things tangible?


Shane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shane said...

A good question, indeed!

"Knowledge draws everything it knows to its own level: it draws things below it up to its own spiritual mode of possessing by knowledge; it draws things above it down to its own imperfect mode of spiritual knowing by abstract concepts drawn from the finite world. Love, on the other hand, is drawn to the level of whatever it loves: it is drawn down by what it loves beneath it (sensible, material, non-personal things), but is drawn upward to what it loves that is above it (e.g., God). Thus, St. Thomas concludes that to know things below us is to raise them up to our level, hence is more perfect than loving them, whereas to love things higher than ourselves (God) is to raise ourselves up to their level, hence is more perfect than knowing God--though both, of course, are still necessary and good in their own way. So too Plotinus, followed by the Greek Fathers of the Church, teaches that you become what you love: if you love principally sensible things, sense pleasures, you become a sensual person; if you love spiritual things, you become a spiritual person; if you love divine things, you become a 'divinized' person."

W. Norris Clarke, The One and the Many (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), 267.

Silas said...

yet if "to know" occurs via dynamic process of relational patterns, then one should argue that knowledge of God (a reality, though intangible that we can truly know through relations) comes more readily than our knowledge of the act, since most knowledge of the ant comes through merely sensory means. Yet with the Divine life, the process of being drawn towards and into It via love, our knowledge is deepened, and, as the quote above from Clarke claims, through our participation with God, we enter into this way of becoming. This can never happen with an ant and yet we are given the opportunity to experience the Divine life so powerfully that we are actually drawn into its midst and become consumed in the fire of Trinitarian community.

Kyle A. Roberts said...

Shane, Thanks for the comment.

Silas. Good point re. relational knowledge. True, we can "know" the ant empirically (objectively), but the true knowledge of God (and conversely, of ourselves) is a subjective, and thus deeper knowledge than anything possible in the empirical world.

So subjectivity is a better route to knowledge, after all!