Saturday, October 10, 2015

Metaphysical dialectics vs Sophiology

Yesterday after finishing the second novel of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, Perelandra, I began reading Michael Zantovsky's biography of Václav Havel, Havel: A Life. Havel is someone I admire very much. In my reading of Zantovsky's book today, specifically the chapter on Havel's seminal play The Garden Party, I found something that seemed to me to apply to what I will call the innovators at last year's and this year's Synods on marriage and the family.

While Havel was certainly making reference to Czechoslovakia's communist system, most, if not all, of his insights can be applied to any and all who seek to foster ideology instead of truth. What Havel referred to as "metaphysical dialectics" (not a complimentary term) seems to me something that the innovators play at. According to Zantovsky, the meaning of "metaphysical dialectics" is "fostering a 'proper' ideology, by means of which it was possible to affirm or reject absolutely everything as need be, and often to affirm and reject something simultaneously" (71).

I think it's important not to leave things hanging there as simply an accusation. It's necessary to point to the truth that gives lie to the ideology. This is where Lewis comes in. Perelandra is an amazing book. As much as I enjoyed it's prequel, Out of the Silent Planet, I reveled in the second book of the trilogy. In the penultimate chapter of his novel, Lewis delivers a wonderful reflection on a very deep truth, a truth that ideology has been hard at work seeking to supplant for a long time, but especially over the course of the past 50 years in Western societies, the truth about how deeply embedded in creation is masculinity and femininity.

Before leaping to Lewis, this is not a new issue on Καθολικός διάκονος; see "Opposing God to nature: the denial of the ontologically obvious." Some years ago now, Juan Manuel de Prada observed, "The battle that is joined today is not ideological, but anthropological..." What God seeks to do in and through Christ, in and through the Church, is to restore us to our "authentic nature, permitting [us] to emerge from the Babelic confusion fomented by ideology" (see "Catholic Spain Has a New Herald").

As Dr Elwin Ransom, professor of Linguistics at Cambridge University, reaches the top of the mountain from whence he will be transported from Perelandra (Venus) back to earth (he visited Mars- "Malacandra" in Out of the Silent Planet), he encounters two eldila (superhuman extra-terrestrials), which are Malacandra (Mars) and Perelandra (Venus) personified. Yes, think men are from Mars and women are from Venus. In trying to describe how the two affected him, or were perceived by him, Ransom "said that Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody," or "Malacandra affected him like a quantitative and Perelandra like an accentual metre." But the narrator, a friend and colleague of Ransom named, oddly enough, Lewis, finally states that "what Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender."

Erato, Muse of Lyric Poetry, by Edward John Poynter, 1870

"Everyone," Lewis notes, "must have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine." He goes on to note that this is not merely a function of language and that gender is not "an imaginative extension of sex." In other words, according to Lewis, "Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse."

On Lewis' view, "Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental one than sex." He goes on to observe that sex is "merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings." Think about these poetic words from Genesis:
God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them (1:27)
The Hebrew word translated "mankind" is a neuter word. While there are sometimes biological mutations, there are no neuter human beings. All human beings are in some way engendered.

"Female sex," Lewis points out, "is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless... the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of of masculine and feminine." Then, digging deeper, as did Dante, Lewis confirms this even among the pagans of old. No longer calling them "Malacandra" and "Perelandra," but by their earthly names, Ransom says, "My eyes have seen Mars and Venus. I have seen Ares and Aphrodite." The humbled human being then asks these eldila how the earthly poets of old knew of them: "When and from whom had the children of Adam learned that Ares was a man of war and that Aphrodite rose from the sea foam?" The professor's question is given a rather detailed answer that is summarized poetically: "Memory passes through the womb and hovers in the air. The Muse is a real thing. A faint breath, as Virgil says, reaches even the late generations."

I hope and pray that last phrase is true because it seems the ideology being deployed is quickly erasing memory and polluting the air. Sophia, Lady Wisdom, infuse our memory and purify the air that we may once again hear the kithara of Erato.

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