The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Breath of Fresh Air

Back when I started this blog, I had another where I ran all my political posts. I'm afraid that in the ferment of the political season, the pundit manque in me has risen to the surface, and threatens to overwhelm the more thoughtful, theologically oriented format I've tried to feature here.

I'll try to keep it in balance for the rest of the campaign. In the meantime, a palate cleanser:
This is the doctrine he was wont to teach,
How divers persons witness in each man,
Three souls which make up one soul: first, to wit,
A soul of each and all the bodily parts,
Seated therein, which works, and is what Does,
And has the use of earth, and ends the man
Downward: but, tending upward for advice,
Grows into, and again is grown into
By the next soul, which, seated in the brain,
Useth the first with its collected use,
And feeleth, thinketh, willeth,—is what Knows:
Which, duly tending upward in its turn,
Grows into, and again is grown into
By the last soul, that uses both the first,
Subsisting whether they assist or no,
And, constituting man's self, is what Is—
And leans upon the former, makes it play,
As that played off the first: and, tending up,
Holds, is upheld by, God, and ends the man
Upward in that dread point of intercourse,
Nor needs a place, for it returns to Him.
What Does, what Knows, what Is; three souls, one man.
--Robert Browning, A Death in the Desert (1864), Robert Browning describing the belief of St. John. An evocative description of some of the mystics' conception of the relationship of the individual person--body, soul, all tending toward God, as described in W.R. Inge's Christian Mysticism (1899).

William Temple, in his marvelous Readings in St. John's Gospel describes "A Death in the Desert" as "the most penetrating interpretation of St. John that exists in the English language." (p. xvii.) I'm tempted to award that prize to Temple's own essay, even though it lacks the poetic beauty of Browning.

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