Monday, November 20, 2006

Dialogue on Romanticism and Christianity (with Keith Rickert, Jr.)

(also, a discussion of "natural evil": diseases, hurricanes, drought, etc.)

Dave Armstrong and Keith Rickert, Jr. (words in blue)

I am a thoroughgoing Romantic. I am using the word in a sense which means far more than giving your wife or girlfriend roses or going to a restaurant with soft-lit candles and strolling violin players (though those things are certainly aspects of Romanticism, and delightful ones at that).

The larger sense of the word refers to a huge movement in art, literature, music, poetry, photography, and other areas (even overlapping into religion), which (arguably) culminated in the 19th century. Catholic cultural historian Christopher Dawson, notes that the religious roots of Romanticism are actually quite deep:

[T]he religious element in Romanticism, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, goes much deeper than the superficial aesthetic appeal. It has its roots in the fundamental principles of the movement, which differed not merely aesthetically but also metaphysically and psychologically from those of both seventeenth-century Classicism and eighteenth-century Rationalism.

( "Religion and the Romantic Movement," The Tablet, 1937)

G.K. Chesterton noted how romanticism was promulgated through fairy-tales:
Fairy-tales are as normal as milk or bread. Civilisation changes; but fairy-tales never change . . . its spirit is the spirit of folk-lore; and folk-lore is, in strict translation, the German for common-sense. Fiction and modern fantasy . . . can be described in one phrase. Their philosophy means ordinary things as seen by extraordinary people. The fairy-tale means extraordinary things seen by ordinary people. The fairy-tale is full of mental health . . . Fairy-tales are the oldest and gravest and most universal kind of human literature . . . the fairy-tales are much more of a picture of the permanent life of the great mass of mankind than most realistic fiction.

(From "Education by Fairy Tales," The Illustrated London News, 2 December 1905)

J.R.R. Tolkien hits the nail on the head, in his seminal essay, "On Fairy Stories":
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous 'turn' (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist', nor 'fugitive'. In its fairy-tale - otherworld - setting, it is a sudden or miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the 'turn' comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality . . .

In such stories when the sudden 'turn' comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through . . . in the 'eucatastrophe' we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater - it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue . . .

(From C.S. Lewis, editor, Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1966; originally Oxford University Press, 1947)

C.S. Lewis, in fact, became convinced of Christianity after a period of atheism and minimal theism when he was talking with his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien, who explained to him that Christianity was a myth, but that it was a true myth. This realization came as a thunderbolt to Lewis, who was already deeply immersed in mythology, Romanticism, and the music of Richard Wagner (particularly the Ring). Lewis had become enchanted with Romanticism in large part due to Wagner and Norse mythology.

Lewis's experience was very similar to my own. He loved mythology; he loved Wagner and nature (he was an avowed "Autumn fanatic" as I am, too); he had an extended atheistic period in his life (I toyed with the occult in my religiously-nominal childhood and teen years - though I was never an atheist). Lewis - my favorite writer, if that is not evident by now - combined love of mythology and fantasy and imagination with rigorous logical thought (as I seek very much to do in my own apologetics). I was a nature mystic searching for something more. I have written about this period of my life:

In my own vague, ethereal, only half-conscious Romanticism - before I was educated enough to be able to understand, let alone articulate, Christian doctrines and dogmas - I subconsciously sought out religious experiences or intimations which transported me into "religious," "mystical," "supernatural," "fantastic" realms. Romantic orchestral music (above all, Wagner) served this "secondary" function for me. Nature was another such medium. I found everything there symbolic and parabolic. The forest wilderness, for example, represented the "other," the unattainable, the transcendent, the fairy-tale environment.

. . . I didn't know how many other people possessed these feelings. Nor was I likely to inquire. I was happy to find out that my wife Judy felt much the same way (she loves Wagner, too), as did C.S. Lewis . . . Alas, at that time I had no inkling of the fact that what has been called the "mythopoeic imagination" is deeply, profoundly Christian and substantially identical with the "medieval worldview."

. . . I was experiencing God and Christianity on an unconscious level, by means of nature, fantasy, myth, and music. Christianity is the fulfillment of all this longing. C.S. Lewis often makes the argument throughout his works that such intense, painfully powerful yearnings within us are grounded in the fact that we were made for heaven. The fleeting pangs of nostalgia, melancholy, vivid dreams, idealism, the Quest, paradise, (deja vu?), etc. which so infect us are thus explained as having an origin in ontological, spiritual, divinely-ordained reality.

C.S. Lewis developed a "theology of longing for heaven" which provides, I think, a fruitful avenue for further thought and reflection. Peter Kreeft has written much on this, and I would very much like to explore it further.

Romanticism is a subject that I long to discuss, while at the same time, I feel unable to discuss it. Perhaps this is because it defies being neatly conceptualized. I'll just take the liberty of sharing my own experience and welcome any and all feedback.

I was a phlegmatic/melancholy raised in a Charismatic Fundamentalist Christian home which was practically devoid of books, the arts, or any appreciation for nature. As such, my imagination was never "baptized" or marinated in the truth, goodness, and beauty which can be found in stories and in the arts. When I approached adolescence, popular music (and the culture and subcultures surrounding it) rushed in to fill the void.

I thought, according to the Fundamentalist Protestant dualism I was raised under, that I was merely giving myself to the world and the flesh. What I now believe had happened, was that my imagination (as Lewis called it) was being "captured". Oh, I was being fed lies, surely; but initially I was being drawn by something (joy, or at least the hope for it) in popular music, in a way that I never experienced in the Christianity handed down to me (which felt cramped and narrow in comparison; and I'm not talking in terms of morality).

As time went on, I became a good fundamentalist and learned to suppress that side of my personality with its deep stirrings and longings for that something inexplicable. By the religious concepts afforded me, I deemed it a diversion from authentic spirituality to indulge such things. It was "of the flesh". It was me, not God.

Actually, it was a longing for God unrecognized, repressed, cut off and left to die. So, as I came into my twenties I began to seriously struggle and falter in my faith, which had lobotomized my heart. I began indulging my heart (maybe out of an innate need for mental/emotional health) - developing an attraction to nature (I'm an autumn fanatic too); and, as much as I'd like to say "Wagner," it was reggae music which did it for me (specifically, stuff from the late 60s to early 70s produced by Studio One in Jamaica - the greatest music in the world :-) Who doesn't feel that bittersweet longing in a good Bob Marley song??!!).

I considered these heartfelt experiences of beauty and goodness to be ontologically separate from the Christian faith - which I still believed to be true. Protestantism had bequeathed me a dualism which divorced truth from beauty and goodness; and perhaps because I'm a phlegmatic/melancholy, I eventually and unconsciously opted for beauty and goodness in lieu of what I supposed to be the truth. (I suppose that "true", for me, had no existential meaning, while beauty and goodness did.) After a time, I found myself a virtual agnostic, having abandoned any real belief in Christianity.

I gave myself to the search for whatever that something was that I felt in nature and music. Although I didn't consciously know that I was searching in this manner, this became, pretty much, "the end" after which I ordered my life. By the grace of God, during one particularly beautiful spring time (when I found myself home alone for three weeks), I came to see that I couldn't call a profound experience I'd had in contact with music or nature objectively "good" or "beautiful" (which I terribly wanted to do), without conceding the reality of the Absolute which makes it so.

I found myself having to chose between, on one hand, a meaningless goodness and beauty which would afford me an autonomous will, or, on the other hand, a real, meaningful goodness and beauty which would entail me surrendering my will to the One who made them so. Although I experienced inexplicable joy and bliss at the thought of yielding to God, I cannot deny that I experienced the temptation to "do it my way", embrace an illusory goodness and beauty, and deceive myself that it wasn't so. It came down to making myself my own end, or surrendering to God who alone IS, and is the source of all being. It was a choice between embracing un-reality in order to worship myself, or worshipping God in order to embrace reality. It was a profound conversion experience in which God, by His grace, drew me to Him and called me to repentance.

Shortly thereafter, upon reading Humphrey Carpenter's biography of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams (and their friends) called The Inklings, I began to piece together a greater understanding of my inherited severance between head and heart. I began to see that when we recognize the goodness and beauty in the created order, we are recognizing and worshipping the Creator (if we don't make these created things ends in themselves). The beauty and goodness we sense in these things directs us to God Who is the source of all goodness and beauty.

As a Protestant, I could only appreciate goodness and beauty in a utilitarian manner. Something was good or beautiful because, and only because, it was made by God and therefore it must be so, but to feel the goodness and beauty of those things themselves in my heart, that was idolatry. Likewise, all fiction was a retreat, an illicit diversion from reality. By God's grace, one of the first books I read after my conversion experience was G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, which showed me that reality itself is a fairy tale, and that good fiction - especially fairy tales - awakens that initial wonder and shock we experience when we first come into contact with reality.

As Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, "These 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." All this naturally fed into the notion of true myth found in the writings of Tolkien and Lewis (which can be a whole other topic in itself).

Some other notable books which shaped my thinking in this regard are: The Everlasting Man (G. K. Chesterton), Surprised By Joy (C. S. Lewis) A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken), and Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing (Peter Kreeft). These books helped me recognize that in my quest for that inexplicable some-thing I experienced in nature and music, I was "adoring" something behind nature and music. I didn't regard that beauty and goodness which I enjoyed in nature and music merely as a neat backdrop to MY life, but as the goal of my life, the supreme good after which I sought. I was ordering my life after it, making my life relative to it. If I awoke to a beautiful fall day (the kind where a gentle rain makes the earth darker, the grass greener, and the leaves more vividly colorful), I would try to plumb the experience of that beauty...for...there was SOMETHING in there I was trying to get at. Now I know that this, of course, was God.

I take this Lewis quote from Surprised by Joy as an accurate description of my own experience:

If the Northernness seemed then a bigger thing than my religion, that may partly have been because my attitude toward it contained elements which my religion ought to have contained and did not. It was not itself a new religion, for it contained no trace of belief and imposed no duties. Yet . . . there was in it something very like adoration, some kind of quite disinterested self-abandonment to an object which securely claimed this by simply being the object it was . . . Sometimes I can almost think that I was sent back to the false gods there to acquire some capacity for worship against the day when the true God should recall me to Himself . . .
And for me, Romanticism has led directly to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas; so I'll leave off with this quote from the great Thomist, Walter Farrell, O.P., S.T.M.:
He [man] can begin life with wisdom lent by God, and have his heart flooded with gratitude for the loan; or he can prefer the false light of the illusion that tells him he is self-sufficient, and die before he begins to live . . . The world is a mirror flashing back different facets of divine beauty, and all that is, by that very existence, shouts aloud God's name: He Who is. Of course there is no adequate picture of God to catch the eyes of men and hold them spellbound . . . Yet the little that we can see of the infinite perfection of God is an entrancing picture; to escape it, on must glue his eyes to something close, tangible, and blinding. The infatuated see little of anything, and even less of God. Ordinarily it takes time, effort, and a kind of violence to become so fatuous . . . Only an adult who has lost the clear vision of childhood begins to think of his acts, and of himself, as self-sufficient, entirely his own, springing from nowhere, in contradiction to history's short record of the ages of activity. To most men, that a man can lift his hand to thwart an enemy's blow or to encourage a friend has been a wonder that enticed the mind along a path of thinking that brought him to the God on whom all activity depends, Himself so divinely independent . . . God is good. When that statement calls to our minds the reckless generosity of His gifts, running the gamut of life's beginning to eternity's endlessness, we have actually missed the point of His goodness. The gifts tell us of His love, His mercy, His benign providence; but His goodness does not bring things to us so much as it takes our hearts away from us. The good God is that ravishingly attractive Being Who is resisted only when He is not seen; He is infinite enticement, rapturous beyond a man's most extravagant desires, captivating lovableness to tear the heart out of a man. Confronted by divine goodness, the heart of man bursts into such a flame as to make a torch of his whole life. Fascinated by the invitation inherent in such goodness, a man finds no journey too long, no danger too great, no obstacle too wearying; here is strength, courage, daring for the weakest of men, for if this goodness be achieved nothing is lost, if this be lost everything is bitterly lost.
We were separated at birth, for sure. Extremely similar experiences . . . The only major difference is that I wasn't a fundamentalist; I was religiously nominal as a child. My "Romantic" experiences were also separated from Christianity, but for different reasons (I didn't have any Christianity to speak of, whereas yours was stunted by an anti-material "docetic" dualism). In both cases, interestingly, Romanticism led us (like C.S. Lewis) to a fuller, healthier Christianity.

I even liked reggae, starting in the late 70s, though I can't say it was tied into Romanticism for me (Van Morrison and mid-period Bob Dylan were my pop "equivalents" to Wagner). I can see how you would say that, though. I always think of sunny days with swaying palm trees and that lovely turquoise water of the Caribbean when I hear reggae music. I got to hear a couple live reggae bands at a free world music concert in Detroit we go to every year. It was a lot of fun - great music (though it gets a bit samey after a while). One band was my 10 year-old son's favorite. Mine was one called the Blue Runners: an "alt-Cajun" band. Fabulous! I must buy one of their CD's.

I find the Romanticism < - > Christianity connection to be a fertile ground for development of a different sort of apologetic "argument" that I find fascinating and exciting.

Shortly after I converted to evangelical Christianity in the spring of 1977, I wrote a poem which merged stories of Jesus with nature, sort of a St. Francis-type of ethos and mindset, which was the culmination and fitting conclusion of my odyssey from nature mysticism to Christianity.

I have never published this poem on my website (and have shared it with very few people). I thought it would be appropriate, given this subject matter, to go dig it up and do so now, for the first time. This poem came right at a crossroads of my life: the height of my nature-mysticism (I had traveled out west for the first time - finally! - at the age of 18 that year, by train, and would hike the Grand Canyon the following year). It literally connected the nature-mysticism to Christianity and being a disciple of Jesus. Here it is:

The Dream

Once I had a dream
A very special dream
glowed with pristine gleam

sky of deepest blue
white dove in flight
sun with mighty splendor shone on earth so very bright

Pastures in the morning
country scent
Down into the valley seeking solitude I went

slowly I walked, looking for what I had never found
Longing to hear the loveliness of nature's sounds

music of birds singing
flowing water
filled my head
Lying on the ground wondering
with only leaves for a bed

Nature in all its magnificence and glory so near
No reason - says the sky - to feel any fear
I am here

Look and you will see
Come follow me and you shall be free

Sun on the horizon
Grandeur in blazing orange red
so much to understand
New ideas filled my head

I made my way up the hill as night began to fall
I was lost and confused when I heard someone call

This man knew my name and my thoughts, which was odd
And before long we started talking about God

I was astounded by how much he knew
He spoke with a wisdom possessed by very few

We arrived at his house and I said goodbye
He embraced me and looked directly into my eyes
Deep down in my soul I knew the reason why

I awoke with Heaven's rays shining down on my face
Full of joy and peace and an indescribable grace

Who was he whom I met last night?
I pondered as I watched a white dove in flight

Then I understood what had happened the day before
Now I shall know the meaning of love forevermore

[I think I had in my mind a vague connection with the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: Lk 24:13-32]

Is that not sheer romanticism?! It reads like a cross between John Denver and St. Francis of Assisi. :-) I don't find it corny, though, after nearly 27 years have passed, and lots of life experiences and a much deeper knowledge of Christianity and the Christian life. I feel those things just as strongly now as when I wrote them. It expresses the Other, the Transcendent (mediated through nature), and (most importantly) a mystic communion with God (particularly the Incarnate Son, Jesus).

If God could be mediated through His creation, then it is easy to see an almost intrinsic connnection between this and sacramentalism: God conveys grace through nature - and also to see nature as a parable or reflection of heaven. The longing we feel when we gaze upon a spectacular mountain vista, for example, is similar to a spiritual longing for heaven. There is something much, much deeper there. It's not only (or primarily) about a mass of rock, geology, senses, and optic science. God has put a meaning into those things, which leads men to Himself:

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

(Psalm 19:1-4; RSV)

I've for so long wanted to chat with you about this topic, you being one of only two people I am acquainted with who is interested in it.

Sad, isn't it? My wife and I were talking about how it could be that relatively few people are interested in this topic? It's been a great blessing to me that she understands it and is very much of the same mind (and heart, I should say). My kids, however, have not shown much inclination, thus far. :-) Maybe it is a sign of the times we live in and the current zeitgeist: Romanticism is crushed more and more by the dreariness and pessimism and increasing nihilism of our secular humanist-dominated culture. But people still respond to it in movies, don't they (witness Lord of the Rings)? They may not even know what it is, or find it difficult to describe in words, but they have experienced its peculiar joys and ecstasies.

Re: reggae music. Yeah it can get "samey". Bad reggae music is some of the worst music ever. (I think it's all in having that laid-back sense of rhythm. When it's played in front of the beat, it sounds stupid.)

:-) Saminess in music is a function of how simple the form is. That doesn't mean that it is bad, only limited. Rockabilly is exactly the same way, and I absolutely love rockabilly. There are only so many great songs that can be gotten out of it, but man! how good they are! Even the blues has severe limitations that make much of it boring to me. But the best of it (Robert Johnson, Skip James, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix, early Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, etc.) is some of the best music ever made.

The music that hooked me was from a specific era which was the precursor to reggae. It is called rock steady and it was largely influenced by American soul music.

Yes, the Memphis / Stax sound is famous for the "laid-back" beat. It just sort of gets into a groove. I love it. Soul Man is my choice for the best rock single of all time. I was interested in "neo-ska" music (not sure if that is similar to rock steady) in the late 70s and have albums by groups like the Specials (I saw them at the free concert) and Madness. Also, the Clash did a lot of reggae stuff, and, of course, the Police (I loved them from the minute I heard Roxanne). That was an exciting musical time.

Studio One was the Motown of Jamaican rock steady music.

There you go (from a Motown-raised guy)!

If anybody's interest is piqued, Heartbeat, an American label, has re-released a ton of classic Studio One stuff. ("Collector's Edition" is a good album)

I would like to learn more about this. I'm in one of those periods where I am bored with the current music and so am looking around for older or less-known stuff.

I think another reason why I was attracted to reggae music, and reggae music of that era was because it's easy to idealize another era and another place; there was, then, all the more "other-ness" to feed my Romanticism.

That's at the heart of Romanticism; yes. Always thinking some other place and time is better or "ideal" than the one we are in . . . I think that impulse lies behind the notion of the Quest, which is so prevalent in medieval Romance. Medievalists such as myself are more-or-less in that mode constantly. You can't be "in" the longed-for "enchanted place" so the best you can do is try to "capture" it in movies or music or literature or Renaissance festivals and what-not. But even many of those today are superficial: they can't enter into the mindset and worldview of the medievals because it was so thoroughly Catholic and foreign to modern thought.

The place I was transported to when I listened to reggae music was a creation, I think, of a memory of Eden and a longing for Heaven. To boot, as reggae music came under the influence of Rastafarianism, it became filled with a lot of Old Testament, apocalyptic imagery.

Yes, I noticed that at the time.

Did you say free annual world music concert?

Yes. It is so much fun. It has some rock, too: I have seen Ray Charles and Bo Diddley there; all kinds of stuff: Los Lobos (one of my favorite groups today), Latin, African, American Indian, Algerian, Cajun, Japanese, Angelique Kidjo . . . My favorite was an Indian drummer: Trilok Gurtu. He was absolutely astonishing. I was in this little tent listening to this extraordinary music: just blown away by it.

We are BIG world music fans in the Rickert house. We used to have a free annual reggae festival in KC. Then it got real expensive. Then it got real bad. Then it went away.

Well, you gotta come to Detroit for the really good stuff. :-) For the 300th anniversary of Detroit, Stevie Wonder played a free outdoor concert downtown. But as luck would have it, it was about 100 degrees that day and my wife was pregnant. :-(

I never had a fascination with the occult like you and Lewis, BUT the one other guy I know who's into romantic theology (and is a huge Lewis-head) did have a strong attraction to the occult. I think I was spared this, because, unlike you all, I had the sort of Christian upbringing which had me afraid of so much as listening to a Led Zeppelin record, lest I should become possessed by the Devil.

Yes, it would tend to have that effect. I think I was drawn to it (like Lewis) because I had an innate sense of the supernatural which wasn't being channeled in healthy Christian ways, and was missing in the skeletal Christianity I received in my childhood.

I very much enjoyed your poem.


The imagery reminds me of the stuff of my dreams and fantasies (invoked and fed quite often by reggae music). I wonder sometimes if some of the modern ecology movement isn't a misguided realization of these "dreams" which you depict in your poem.

I think it could be (in part) a politicized version of nature mysticism, indeed. It's a variation (I say, corruption) of the old conservation movement of John Muir, but with an anti-technology, anti-capitalistic spin to it. More either/or thinking . . . My position has always been: have all the modern technology, but leave the wilds unspoiled and untouched as much as possible. You can see that a lot of these folks are virtually worshiping nature when a snail darter is more important for them to preserve than the human life of a preborn child. The devil brings about the strangest, weirdest things in ethics and worldiews. The god of liberal environmentalists is scarcity: animals about to be extinct, therefore, are more valuable than human beings, because there are lots of people. That is as far from the Christian view of man as can be imagined.

People recognize something divine in the earth and think that paradise could be realized if we would just recover a closer contact with the earth.

I think this is instinctive knowledge. Whoever doesn't experience it has become, I believe, stunted in some way, for whatever reason.

Sometimes I wonder if this isn't also a memory of Eden. After all, we were made for Eden; and surely we recognize remnants of her in the earth.

I believe so. We came from that paradise and we are destined for an even greater, more unimaginable paradise after death. If these things weren't real, then we wouldn't have such a longing for them, just as hunger or a sexual drive proves the existence of food and sex.

During my journey toward Christianity, for a time, I became fascinated and infatuated (much like modern earth movement folks) with simpler societies which lived closer to the earth.

The "noble savage" of Rousseau . . . I've always been fascinated with Native American culture, probably for much of the same reason.

Recently, I was trying to explain this to my Father (in an effort to justify my former dreadlocked bohemian appearance.):

"In that juncture in my spiritual and intellectual journey (which was, at once, completed and born-again under the authority of the Catholic Church), I was very sympathetic, if not entirely one, with what I later learned to be what Chesterton called that 'healthy paganism' which existed prior to the dawn of Christendom and was marked chiefly by its feeling that there is something mystical in nature."

Actually, there was much natural virtue in these societies. The barbarians whom the Romans fought usually had higher moral standards than even many of the Roman "Christians". The ancient Celts were like this, too, in many respects. I think this had a lot to do with their being more connected to nature and hence to God in some sense.

"As such, I did not feel at home in our modern society which seemingly everyday invented new ways to divorce itself further from nature. I do not speak here of a conscious philosophy but of an unconscious mood or atmosphere of the mind, after which my conscious philosophy was but the gropings of one straining to think out what is felt in the heart. For instance, when I looked up at the big blue spring sky, filled with an endless army of lingering white clouds, my heart was rent with an impalpable, yet inexplicably painful beauty. Then when my eyes drifted downwards and on to the things of suburbia, my heart was confronted with what felt like, not only a discrepancy, but (to borrow a phrase from Chesterton) a vulgar anti-climax. It is said that it is heaven that judges earth; and I felt in the deepest stirrings of my heart, the quiet and constant rebuke of the heavens upon that babylonian paradise of modern man otherwise known as suburbia."

Well-stated. It's interesting to note, however, that Romanticism sometimes has the same "disjointed" effect on other minds. C.S. Lewis wrote in his Diary in July 1923 (as an atheist):

He talked about the Ring [i.e., Wagner's masterpiece] and said how, with all its huge attraction, it left you discontented and ragged - not satisfied and tuned up as by Beethoven. We agreed that this was because the Ring was pure nature, the alogical, without the human and rational control of Beethoven. I am almost sure this is what he was trying to say, though of course he expressed it quite differently. (p. 259)
"It was like those 'circle the one that doesn't fit' exercises which we give to our children. Compared with the native beauty of land and sky and sea, things like asphalt, strip-malls, and Wall Street seemed not only to not fit, but to mark a vulgar insensitivity on the part of our modern society to all that colossal and dizzying beauty which surrounded us and seemed, to me at least, to be trying to tell us something not only of aesthetic character, but of metaphysical truth. Modern man, building his modern world against the backdrop of nature, felt to me like what one might feel about the crass and thoughtless markings of a graffiti artist in the Sistine Chapel. It seemed a blasphemous disregard for all that is real and beautiful out of an arrogant and stupid preference for the pernicious."

Largely true, yes, but note that the Sistine Chapel is not nature, either. Architecture and cities can be done in ways that reflect, rather than reject nature. The use of a lot of wood and beautiful architecture and design and lots of plants and flowers and gardens mixed in, etc. can complement nature. So, e.g., a cathedral or a good-looking castle looks great against a blue sky or mountain backdrop. This becomes a matter of architectural theory. I like things like Gothic, colonial American, Tudor, and German rustic (or a good ole log cabin). They appeal to me and seem rather Romantic, rather than hostile to nature or otherwise revolting to the aesthetic sense.

"Naturally, then, in reaction to the modern world, my thoughts turned to those older, simpler societies - such as those of the Native Americans - which seemed to be centered around a pious and mystical reference for the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty which is thrust upon us through nature. When my imagination turned towards these simpler cultures (idealistically, no doubt), I did not witness that dissonance between them and the native beauty of the earth. Again, they seemed to deliberately form their culture in harmony with that beauty; because they knew, as I did, that there was something real and telling in that beauty which demanded reverence."

This is true (and I love this way of thinking), but people like you and I need to be careful not to develop an "anti-technological" bent because of this. To live in nature or be close to it is usually to love it. But to be apart from it for other worthy reasons need not be a conflict. In fact, it can make us appreciate nature more once we get back to it, in the way that we appreciate persons more after being away from them, or romantic love (and like the idea of the Quest itself). To be in it all the time creates a tendency to take it for granted, too. Not necessarily, but oftentimes.

"And thus I set myself against this modern world. I wanted to abandon this cheap capitalistic paradise which thwarted the happiness of man, and head for the hills to live in harmony with that mystical beauty of nature."

This is partly what I meant. I can be a severe critic of capitalism-as-practiced, believe me (particularly corporate and multi-national capitalism), but I believe that there can be a life-affirming, person-affirming (even nature-affirming) capitalism. I think all these things have a fine balance to them.

During a time when I was trying on a materialistic worldview, I could not suppress an ever increasing wonder at the miracle and majesty of the earth - just in my own backyard! The more I tried to look at it through materialistic eyes, the more miraculous it seemed.

The greatest scientific minds often feel similarly. Hence, Albert Einstein could not bring himself to adopt the fashionable materialism. He knew too much to do so. So he wrote, in 1936:

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe - a spirit vastly superior to that of man . . . In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort . . .
The Romantic longings ARE signpost towards God. When we (artificially) make them ends in themselves, they are evacuated of all meaning; they are not then ABOUT anything. I agree that "Christianity provides meaning, content, purpose, and ethics to our innate Romantic longings", because it is the “home” of these longings.

Precisely. They're not only the home but the origin. They are there because God put them there, and they lead back to him by their very nature. Such feelings have no place in a materialistic universe (as Einstein shows).

I remember a certain gnawing despair when I began to feel deep down that my longings were mere subjective experience. What I so enjoy now about having my longings completed in Christianity is that I know that they are about something. They are about something real, not just illusory subjective fantasy. (And I don't have to work at making them ends in themselves, frantically seeking their consummation on this side of time.)

This reminds me of the hedonist paradox: you keep having to have more and more exciting experiences in order to maintain your pursuit of pleasure. We get bored - by nature - of the same things. But the new things give us less pleasure over time too. I think this is how pornography often catches hold: it is the hedonist dead-end applied to sex. It is only when we ground all of this in God and Christianity that we can fully enjoy it. If we give God all the glory and worship, He will give us peace and joy in return (not always happiness, which is different and more fleeting and subjective).

Every feeling of happiness, joy, ecstasy, longing, etc. is a blessed hint of something real - which we will enjoy eternally in the Beatific Vision.

I agree. I think about this a lot.

(Aquinas says that the Beatific Vision will make us so happy that we will not be able to willingly turn away from it.)

Fascinating. I picture it in my lame way (hopefully this isn't too crude) as a sort of super-hot-tub sort of experience. It will just feel SO good, with this warm light flooding and overpowering us, and a tangible love, that it will be like all our best human experiences all wrapped up in one instant, where we will bask in it and get lost in it (or, more accurately, in Him).

The way I view heaven in general is as a super-heightened sense of joy and ecstasy such as we experience on earth only in fleeting momenets which are ultimately bittersweet. There it will be constant. All of our best qualities will be strengthened to the max and we will experience the joy of truly, finally being who we were created to be, without all the handicaps and contradictions of sin, selfishness, pride, lust, jealousy, or whatever else bogs us down.

If we love to hike in the mountains here, there will be mountains there and vistas that will be a billion times better. Same for romance, painting, music, intellectual conversation, games - anything at all. I think this is true because what we experience on earth points to a greater reality, as you say. And if God loves us and wants to bless us, and has all power, it follows that heaven will be beyond our wildest dreams, yet at the same time, will have a distinct ring of familiarity to it, because we always knew we were made for it, and the greatest moments in life were of the same nature.

If God could be mediated through His creation, then it is easy to see an almost intrinsic connection between this and sacramentalism: God conveys grace through nature.
Exactly. As He did through the Incarnation. God said His creation was good. All goodness comes from God. God speaks and conveys His grace through the created order. The Gospels show Jesus doing this all the time. The Jesus of dualistic Protestantism is not the Jesus of the Gospels.

May all Christians who do not yet comprehend this, be led to this realization by the Holy Spirit and through nature and life itself.

It is very strange to write about these things: one always feels that words are utterly inadequate. And this sort of thinking does not exactly involve chains of reasoning or classical logic. One either grasps it or they don't. Maybe, perhaps, putting awkward words to it can help others to identify and classify feeelings and longings they have had but were previously unable to make any sense of.

I enjoyed this! Thanks for the input. We can certainly keep talking about Romanticism. Perhaps we can narrow it down to more particular subject matter and give a "Romanticist" analysis. Being more particular may also help us both in trying to express the feelings and thoughts. And I sure hope others will join in, too. This could potentially be a very special thread and running theme of this blog.

At this point, a third person, Mark Kasper (Catholic), entered into the discussion on my blog. His words will be in red:

Compliments on your Romanticism discussion. Growing up on a midwestern farm, I never had much use for 'nature-mysticism.' Tornadoes, blizzards, -25 F nights, and +105 F days teach you quickly that nature is not a friendly force.

:-) It's not as if us city-folk haven't experienced most of these phenomena. But your comment misses the point. Nothing I wrote (or what Keith wrote) would deny that nature has a brutal, not-so-pleasant side. Of course it does.

In the Bible, the vagaries of nature are discussed alongside the glorious aspects. I wrote about natural catastrophes and "natural evil" in my essay about the problem of evil (following a similar effort by C.S. Lewis: from whom I receive much of my Christian Romanticism). In some ways (ironically) you argue as an atheist would:

1. The natural world is brutal and evil and not always so nice.

2. Therefore a good God is not reflected in it (the atheist goes further and says that it disproves either God's existence or a good God).

This doesn't follow, and that was the "problem" I dealt with in the above essay (among other things). We live in a fallen world, but it is also a world with much beauty that still represents an image of God's glory, and heaven. The Bible teaches us that God is "declared" in His creation:
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

(Romans 1:20; RSV)

But ask the beasts and they will teach you; the birds of the air and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?

(Job 12:7-9)

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

(Ps 19:1; see also 19:2-6, 50:6, 97:6)

For from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.

(Wisdom 13:5)

Are you seriously contending that the existence of hurricanes and blizzards (and droughts and avalanches and volcanoes and floods and lots of other "negatives") somehow wipe out the import and meaning of the above verses?

I can admire a spring day, flowers and rainbows as much as any other person, but I do not see God's presence in those any more than I see Him in lightning, forest fires, earthquakes, etc.

Then how do you explain the above verses, which directly contradict this?

The physical world is what it is, but let's not mistake it for the revelation of God.

It's not revelation; I agree, and I did not say it was. But it is natural theology, per the above Bible passages. Nature tells us something about God, and that is in His written revelation, so it isn't merely a Romantic or "Armstrong" or "Catholic" thing.

Romanticism is related to mysticism, with which Catholicism has long had an uneasy relationship. The inability to define the mystical experience of God is problematic for Catholicism.

I don't see how, as we have had a long line of mystics.

Our belief that Jesus Christ is the complete and final revelation of God seems at odds with the experiences of Catholic mystics. I personally find Catholic mysticism a very attractive attribute of Catholicism, something sorely lacking in other Christian sects.

Who is "our"? Again, I don't follow your reasoning. You will have to elaborate. I don't see any "odds" or "problems" here.

There is a great importance here on Earth that is not lost on the Romantic. This planet and the world of man are serious business. The blithe way that more and more of our fellow brothers and sisters skip through life without a sense of the value of the body, the value of their time here on earth, the importance of other human beings who will soon be lost to those of us who remain . . . it is disheartening.

I agree. Well-stated.

. . . your comment "May all Christians who do not yet comprehend this, be led to this realization by the Holy Spirit and through nature and life itself" and comments made by yourself and Keith in the same vicinity are not sentiments I can agree with.

I think it will be seen that you misunderstood them, then.

As I stated in my first post, if one believes that nature is all good, then there is a lot of explaining to do about the hideous things of nature.

But I don't believe "nature is all good." I believe that it reveals God, and contains traces of both Eden and heaven. Biblically speaking, however, even the more terrifying aspects of nature are said to represent God's power and judgment and awesomeness and omnipotence. So. e.g., in Job 38:1, God speaks to Job "out of the whirlwind" (hurricanes). In the burning bush, God is also present, speaking to Moses (forest fires). In Job, chapters 37-39, this motif is expanded upon with many examples. God controls lighting (37:3,11; severe thunderstorms), thunder (37:4), snow and rain (37:6; blizzards), cold and wind (37:9), frozen waters (37:10; the dead of winter), snow and hail (38:22-23). And how are these sorts of things described?: "He seals up the hand of every man, that all men may know his work" (Job 37:7); "Whether for correction, or for his land, or for love, he causes it to happen" (37:13). In Job 39:13-17, we are told that God in some sense causes an ostrich to "deal cruelly with her young." This is God's Providence. He is in control of everything.

While I don't want to bore you with a litany, here are just a few things that are, in fact, part of nature: cancer, AIDS, fire, floods, earthquakes, famine, drought, etc. I do not accuse you or Keith of believing that these are good, but I ask you to temper your enthusiasm for the appearance of God in nature.

It's good to bring this up, and I am happy to be able to clarify my position. But I think I have answered adequately. It is you who have a far bigger problem with the biblical texts along these lines than we do. In fact, look what happened to Job. That was by God's permission (Job 1:12). So was Paul's thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7-10) - which is called a "messenger of Satan" (12:7), yet it is by God's design and part of His sovereign will (12:9a), so that Paul can have more of the "power of Christ" (12:9b).

When God judges, He uses all these calamities and dreadful happenings. They are part of His will. No one can be very familiar with the Bible and not know this. See, e.g., Leviticus 26 and the warnings God gives to the Jews if they don't obey His law: He speaks in terms of "I will do this to you" (26:16), "I will chastise you again sevenfold for your sins" (26:18), "I will bring more plagues upon you" (26:21), "I myself will smite you" (26:24), "I will send pestilence" (26:25), etc., etc. Among the means God uses to do this are consumption and fever (v. 16), bad crops (v. 20), wild beasts among them (v. 22), starvation (v. 29), and ruined land (v. 32).

Another example is the plagues of Egypt, in order to let the Jews go: water turned to blood (Exodus 7:17-18), "I will plague all your country with frogs" (Ex 8:2); further judgments included the use of gnats (8:16), flies (8:21), plague among livestock (9:3), boils and sores (9:9), thunder, lightning, and hail (9:22-24), locusts (10:4-6), and darkness (10:21).

That doesn't make all these natural calamities "good" in and of themselves. Buy they are tied in with God Himself and are "good" insofar as He is all good, and that includes His judgment (and justifiably condemning people to hell, for that matter, which isn't a very pleasant or fun place, either).

Furthermore, God's presence is persistently represented in Scripture (which is revelation) by natural metaphors, such as the shekinah cloud (which looked like fire at night) that hovered over the tabernacle (Numbers 9:15-22), or "the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud" which followed the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19,24). God's presence is described as a great light - another natural phenomenon (1 John 1:5, Rev 21:23, 22:5). That's a lot of natural things which God chose to represent Himself: clouds, fire, and light. The frequent Davidic description of God as "my rock" might perhaps imply a mountain also. Hence, it would seem to follow that looking at these things might bring God to mind, since He Himself chose to use them to represent His presence.

God may choose to reveal Himself in nature, as he did in the burning bush to Moses, but not all fire is the appearance of God.

The point I would make, is that God is the God of nature. But it is a fallen world, so all is not happiness and bliss. That doesn't mean, however, that God is not also revealed in nature. The Bible expressly says so, so no Christian who believes in inspiration can deny it.

Observing nature, it is very difficult to conclude precisely what God is trying to tell us.

I agree. That's why Romans 1:20 limits what we can know to "power" and "deity." That's why St. Thomas Aquinas and Catholic theology proper hold that some aspects of God can be known through natural theology, but by no means all, up to and including the Holy Trinity.

What can we learn about God from the speed of light, Planck's constant or the structure of DNA?

That He is a marvelous creator of natural wonders.

What is God trying to tell us about Himself or about the way He wants us to live?

Not much in those things. The moral sense, however, is ingrained as part of our nature (Romans 2:12-16).

I think we overestimate our deductive powers when we conclude attributes of God from nature.
In the early 1700's, the theological movement of Deism preached a 'Christianity as Old as Creation'. It was claimed that Nature itself reveals God.

You mean like Romans 1:20? So far, deism is correct (i.e., your last sentence above). It was its presumption that this "god" was simply an impersonal designer who was not sovereign over his creation, which departed from theism and Christianity.

Deism, although it was defeated by Joseph Butler's The Analogy of Religion and William Law's The Case of Reason, has never really disappeared. It is still with us today.

Of course; like all errors.

Please don't misunderstand me. I enjoy playing outside with my family on a sunny spring day. I like swimming and picnics. I like snowmen, sunsets, rainbows, thunder, and shores. I love my wife. I love my children. They are part of this physical world. But the physical world is not God, and despite it being His creation, we cannot assume to interpret it as His revelation.

I never said the physical world was God. I'm not a pantheist or deist or panentheist. I am a theist (of the Catholic Christian variety). So this complaint has no bearing on my position. And I also think that nature can only teach us so much about God, without His written revelation (as explained). So where do we disagree now? I don't see it, if you are a trinitarian, biblical Christian as I am, and as Keith (also Catholic) is.

Thanks for your polite reply, despite your disagreement with my post.

And thanks to you for the same reason.

I am a cradle Catholic, and I must admit some bewilderment at the barrage of scripture quotations you used. I am familiar with the texts and quotations you used, but it has not been part of my catechetical training (which might be lacking since I grew up in the 60's) to employ scriptural verses and quotations in argument.

I think this is where Catholics have been shortchanged in the last 40-50 years. This was not always the case. The Fathers used primarily Scripture for their arguments, and then appealed to the Church's teaching as their final authority over against the heretics. Catholic apologists have always used plenty of Scripture; so does the Catechism and Vatican II. Quoting Scripture is not intrinsically a "Protestant" thing. It is also a "Catholic thing." Hence my article in the February issue of This Rock, entitled "Catholics Need to Read Their Bibles."

As a wise priest once told me, "Don't go toe-to-toe on scriptural verses with someone with an evangelical background. We Catholics will always lose."

That is a scandal. I have devoted my apostolate towards showing that Catholics will "win" against contra-Catholic arguments from Scripture, if they study it enough. I was blessed to have an evangelical background which taught me to love and study Holy Scripture. That's how things seem to be today, generally, but it doesn't follow that Protestants own the Bible. I'm not trying to lecture you (please don't misunderstand); just making a general point.

Perhaps the numerous evangelical converts to the Catholic Church will prove this priest wrong.

I hope so. But my hope and dream is to see that not only converts are Bible-centered in their apologia for Catholicism. Vatican II urges us to explain our faith in terms that people can understand. So with Protestants, that means heavy use of Scripture. It's not optional.

I will allude to one or two scriptures of my own to support myself. Luke 13:4 "Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means!" John 9:2 "His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither he nor his parents sinned.'"

But of course, I have no disagreement with this. I already wrote that natural events are not good in and of themselves; only that God uses the bad things in His Providence, and that He is the God of nature. I used similar arguments way back in 1982 as a Protestant, in order to argue against the notion in some charismatic circles that God always heals and that people need only "claim" some thing from God. It doesn't work that way.

Man's conclusions about the events of the natural world and his understanding of the divine nature is always questionable. I believe it is wiser for us to trust in God's explicit revelation, than for us to divine for ourselves what God is telling us in the events and appearance in the physical world.

Well, ironically, this is precisely why I quoted so much Scripture, since you keep appealing to this "explicit revelation," and I was trying to demonstrate that when we do that, nothing can be found that is contrary to my expressed opinions on Romanticism and God-as-revealed-in-nature. I haven't claimed anything more for God in this sense than the Bible does. I didn't argue that nature was always this benevolent force. Nature was also subject to the Fall. The original Romantic argument was simply saying that God's grandeur is seen in His creation, and that nature can sometimes be a foretaste of the longing for heaven. These are fairly minimal claims, and not at all contrary to biblical teaching.

I fail to see what the claim that "God reveals Himself in nature" means to those whose homes have been leveled by an F5 tornado. What is God revealing about Himself? That He is powerful? We know that from creation itself.

But creation is nature, so I fail to see the point. Catastrophes of this sort do lead - at least in some sense, for the man of faith - to a realization of God's sovereignty and Providence, even in suffering. Hence Job said, when his great suffering began:

Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

(Job 1:21)

Then after more suffering, he cursed the day of his birth (3:1). The whole book then proceeds in making its point that God is sovereign, and that man must accept what God brings. The friends of Job do not get this, and so are rebuked at the end of the book (42:7-9), whereas Job (even after all his tremendous suffering) submits to God's often-inscrutable sovereignty (42:1-6) and is blessed and "comforted" for "all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him" (42:11). This is the biblical theology of suffering.

What is God telling us about ourselves? What should I conclude from the event?

That God is sovereign.

The good and the bad of nature must equally be God's revelation of Himself. I could agree with you that there is some form of revelation present in nature, but it is not insulting to you or myself to say that I do not think human deductions of that revelation have any particular value.

But again, I am not quoting Scripture to prove that my ideas are merely "human deductions" from the raw data of nature, disconnected from objective revelation. I am doing biblical theology, which is presupposed in my "Romantic" feelings about nature. I'm not separating the two at all. This was part of my original argument, too: that Christianity alone gives ground and meaning to Romantic longings and aspirations. And Christianity is a propositional, revelational religion, based on history and Scripture. All these aspects must be kept together.

I am certain that you, just as I, have had friends stricken and die from cancer.

My only brother died of leukemia in 1998.

I imagine that we have both heard well-intentioned but misguided folks make statements such as "It is God's will."

It is and it isn't. There are two levels to that. The biblical theology of suffering and sovereignty is an exceedingly complex topic. As a bad thing, which causes misery and suffering, things like cancer are obviously not God's perfect will. But as part of His providence, they are manifestations of His permissive will, and are used for a good purpose, however inscrutable (Romans 8:28). I showed this already, with several examples (Job, Paul's thorn, etc.).

I think such statements are false. What does the death of a father of four children at the age of 36 reveal about God? What are the wife and children to conclude from this tragedy? That human life is fragile and God is more powerful than man?

No; again, that God is sovereign, and that His ways are higher than our ways. I knew Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., one of the leading Catholic catechists of our time, and advisor to both Pope Paul VI and Mother Teresa. He talked quite a bit about God's providence (this concept is not owned by Protestants anymore than the Bible is). He would say, "Everything that happens - absolutely EVERYTHING - has a reason and a purpose." This is good Catholic theology. Suffering and pain has a place in God's overall plan, just as everything else does. Is it difficult to understand? Absolutely; you bet. Does that mean we accept profound tragedies and agonies with a goofy, self-delusional smile? No, not at all. But faith allows us to accept the terrible things with the knowledge that God has not abandoned us or the loved ones who endure these things.

Humans have long fought against nature and they correctly understood that the events of nature do not represent the will of God. My great-grandmother died of diphtheria in 1922. My mother suffered, yet survived polio in the early 1940s. Vaccines against smallpox, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, etc. have been Godly advances in man’s struggle against nature.

We don't disagree on this. These things are not God's perfect will, and they result from the fall, which was man's rebellion.

I don't want to go further in this line of discussion, because it is not my intention to browbeat you over this. I will contend, not from scriptural quotations, but from the 2nd great commandment, that the natural world, as it stands, does not represent the will of God.

I agree, because it is a fallen world. Yet God uses it, just like He uses Satan to accomplish His purposes. We don't so much disagree, as we are looking at this differently. You seem to be looking at it mostly from the human standpoint, whereas I am trying to go one step deeper and analyze it from what we know about God from Scripture: from God's perspective.

Do not forget that those who divine the revelation of God from nature are now using it against the Church in their push for homosexuality.

They are wrong. Nature does not help their case. Again, I made an argument from Scripture against homosexuality, by using Scripture (the same methodology I use now, even citing the same primary passage: Romans 1):

"St. Paul's Argument From Nature Against Homosexuality (Romans 1)"

"Do Homosexual Animals Prove That Human Homosexuality is 'Normal'?"

I wanted to ease your mind over my post. I am not an atheist.

I didn't say you were. I only said that you argued somewhat like an atheist would, in one respect. I figured you were a Christian of some sort.

I am a Roman Catholic in communion with the Holy Father John Paul II. I believe in the Holy Trinity and the Apostle's Creed. However, I do not believe in the God of Nature. I believe in Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Isaac, the Triune God of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So do I. It is rather disconcerting to think that you think we disagree on this. I am only saying that Yahweh is the God of Nature. That is not a separate, pantheistic-type entity. God uses nature, to judge, and to sometimes represent or reveal things about Himself, as I have shown.

Nothing in the Apostle's Creed, which is the Roman Catholic profession of the faith, could be ascertained from a walk in the woods or taking a telescope to the cosmos.

I disagree. One can discern the first line: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." We know this from Scripture itself:

Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.

(Romans 1:20)

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

(Psalm 19:1)

For from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.

(Wisdom 13:5)

That is Holy Scripture. If you want to make an argument against that, feel free. Even deistic philosophers like David Hume could see this. He believed that nature proved that there was a designer of the universe, and this was strictly a philosophical argument. Concerning the rest of the Creed, you are right: one learns nothing about Jesus, or the Virgin Birth, or the Passion of our Lord, or the crucial historical events of Christianity, or the rest of it. I already stated similarly, so this is nothing new. All the central aspects of Christianity must be derived from God's written revelation. We can only know from nature that God exists, is powerful, and is the creator (and these propositions are in the Bible, too, so nothing here is purely speculative).

You can feel free to respond to me again if you want since it is not my goal to have the last word,

Nor mine. My goal in all my dialogues is to work together with the other person to arrive at a fuller understanding of Christian truth. I felt there were misunderstandings here and more things to clarify, so I replied.

but I don't think we’ll end up in agreement.

Nothing I have told you is at all contrary to biblical or Catholic theology, at least as far as I know. Anyone is welcome to try to demonstrate otherwise.

Since our exchange has not been that constructive, I won't bother you on this topic again.

I think it has been very constructive. I was challenged to go deeper into this; I did, and I have learned quite a bit as a result (I hope you and others have, too); therefore it was eminently constructive.

You [Mark] oppose the official dogmatic teaching of Church (Vatican Council I) and the writings of the Holy Father (as in Fides et Ratio) and the saints, as well as Scripture (as Dave has demonstrated). Specifically, the Catechism, starting with par. 32 says:

32 The world: starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe. . . . St. Augustine issues this challenge:
Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky. . . question all these realities. All respond: "See, we are beautiful." Their beauty is a profession [confessio]. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One [Pulcher] who is not subject to change?. . . .

[Sermo 241,2; PL 38, 1134]

36 "Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason." [Vatican Council I, Dei Filius 2: DS 3004; cf. 3026; Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum 6] Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God's revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created "in the image of God." [cf. Gen. 1:27]

41 All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man, created in the image and likeness of God. The manifold perfections of creatures - their truth, their goodness, their beauty all reflect the infinite perfection of God. Consequently we can name God by taking his creatures" perfections as our starting point, "for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator". [Wis 13:5].

46 When he listens to the message of creation and to the voice of conscience, man can arrive at certainty about the existence of God, the cause and the end of everything.

47 The Church teaches that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty from his works, by the natural light of human reason (cf. Vatican Council I, can. 2 § 1: DS 3026),

48 We really can name God, starting from the manifold perfections of his creatures, which are likenesses of the infinitely perfect God, even if our limited language cannot exhaust the mystery.

As I see it, this is pure Romantic Theology, right there in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I’m not trying to get in the last word either, just tending to truth; and I appreciate all thoughtful contributions to this discussion, such as yours.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 15 February 2004. Added to blog on 20 November 2006.

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