Archive for August 8th, 2011

Escape from Reason

August 8, 2011

Francis Schaeffer, the Evangelical Protestant theologian, authored a book by the title Escape from Reason. He argued that modernity could only find a solid ground within a world grounded in the inerrancy of Scripture. This article does not engage Schaeffer’s work. Instead, it suggests that “Reason,” as popularly understood is a distortion of the proper Christian use of the word.

Reason has played an off-again, on-again role in Christian theology. St. John’s use of the word Logos [which can be translated, “reason”] as a term for the the Second Person of the Trinity (John 1:1), gave rise to easy connections between the reasonableness, or logicity, of the universe. This connection between the Logos and Reason, was used both to speak of the reasonableness of the universe as evidence of the truth of God’s existence, as well as basis for so-called “natural theology”: if all things are created through Christ the Logos, then it would seem possible to work from “all that is created” towards a full theological account of the world.

In the hands of the masters of the Enlightenment and their “enlightened successors,” Reason became the arbiter of all truth. For some, this Reason maintained a connection to Christ the Logos. For others, Christ the Logos seemed too irrational, and Reason became the only and independent basis for understanding all things.

My suggestions in this post will be that Christians have long been misled by the terminology of Logos/logos and have turned the equation upside-down, coming to precisely the wrong conclusions. I am venturing to the edge of Orthodox thought in saying this, but hope I do not cross boundaries and speak contrary to the Tradition.

St. John teaches us that “in the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, the Logos was God. All things were created through Him (the Logos) and nothing was created apart from Him.”

It is important to note that the Logos of whom St. John speaks, is not an abstract principle. He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – God who becomes incarnate – the God/Man, Jesus Christ. It is a matter of the Christian faith to understand that everything which exists has a unique logicity – but this is not the same thing as saying that everything which exists has a reason-based existence. It would be more accurate and revealing to say that everything that exists has a Christic basis. Everything that exists echoes the existence of Christ and longs to join the song of His praise.

Such language sounds like “mere poetry” to the modern ear, but the witness of the fathers hears far more. The witness is to a knowledge of the reality of creation – or of the “true reality” of creation known within the experience of the Church. Not all who see are able to see all that is. But those who do, bear witness to the logoi of created things – which reflect, not their “rational” structure, but their structure within the light of Christ.

By such knowledge, the miracle of the calming of the sea of Galillee seems not so strange, nor the multiplication of loaves. Many of the wonders of the sanctified life which  confound both scholar and layman, offer wonder and joy to the blessed, but no hint of confusion nor misunderstanding. The mystery of such miracles is consistent with the logoi and the Logos, but without any inherent relationship to an abstract which we term reason.

To say that all things have a “Christic” or “logistic” character explains how it is that Christ will “gather together into one all things” (Ephesians 1:10). This gives us a basis in Christ for the understanding of all things, but it does not establish a “reason” (or logos) independent of Christ. Those who speak of the use of “reason” in the interpretation of Scripture, as though the study of Scripture were a science, do not understand the nature of the Logos (and thus of true reason).

It may be true that there is a shadow of the true Logos to be found within modernity’s notion of Reason – but such a shadow cannot be interpreted without reference to the Logos Himself, nor can Reason be understood as some natural reality that stands on its own.

All things have their reason and their being in Christ. Apart from Him, we know nothing. When Christianity speaks of human beings as rational creatures, we are not making an assertion regarding their use of intelligence or logic. A human being who is mentally handicapped, even in the most extreme degree, is still “rational” in the sense the word is used by Christian Tradition. Such a human being is created in the image of the Logos, in a manner that is unique to humanity.

The rationality of the universe, in Christian usage, should be a reference to the universe’s relationship to the Logos, and not an elevation of an independent concept of rationality. The universe is indeed rational, but you have to know the Logos in order to know that.