To Professor J. W. Worthy of Sipe Springs, Texas
My dear good friend,
Poetry is the mother tongue of mankind. The argot of business, on the other hand, like the jargon of the trades and the professions, is far from poetry. Such language is difficult for the layman to learn, and sometimes so specialized that even the professionals rack their brains. The same is true of my own hobbyhorse, theology. To the good people in my congregation, my learned tracts are just so much cabbage and beets all mixed together. Yet these same souls stand there in church every week reciting the Creed, which is nothing more than a theological best effort to set things straight. I bring this up, because it is necessary for me to discuss a bit of theology with you, my dear Professor Worthy. You will find little poetry, but I will avoid jargon.
I am moved by your recent
with Saint Augustine. I agree with your position on
matrimony--which you fondly
term the American view. At the same time I certainly must concur
with Saint Augustine, as well. He argues that church doctrines
represent our best effort to think
Admittedly, God's presence in man--what we theologians call the
beyond rationality. Man's best wisdom is nothing but foolishness
God. That is the whole point of religion, is it not, recognition
certain matters do pass human understanding.
You were right, I think, to call Augustine's attention to his own early association with the Manichees, for he was once tainted by their notorious attempt to separate God above from our wicked world here below. Does not your Katherine Anne herself acknowledge Psalm 51 ("Against thee, thee only, have I sinned")? That is our Lord's central saying: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." God is one with our world.
Saint Augustine is also well acquainted with another heretical attempt to carry human reason too far, Arianism. Arius was among those who encountered difficulty praying to Christ as a human being with all the frailties that inhere in humanity. So Arius tinkered about with the Holy Trinity, elevating God the Father just a bit higher than Son and Holy Ghost. Happily, his pedantic approach was refuted at the council called by Constantine at Nicea. I am sure Augustine accepts the creeds formulated there. The Athanasian Creed (named after Arius's opponent) and the better known Nicene Creed both affirm one God, far above and beyond this world but also everywhere within it (and within you and me). What that means for the world is not comprehensible to us--nor is the Holy Trinity, but surely rationality first of all recognizes limits to our understanding.
God having himself become lowliest man, some of us reject a priesthood which presumes to elevation above common mankind. Luther, for example, just could not tolerate the arrogance of a practice like celibacy. In his view matrimony is in God, like all else, and sanctifies the man and woman to do His will "in earth as it is in heaven." In short, I would agree with you that Saint Augustine goes too far in abjuring his own union with that woman who, he felt, hindered his ambition. I do not disagree with his practical advice to you, only with the grounds he adduces for giving it. (I am tempted to comment also on Augustine's relationship with Saint Monica, but I am sure the psychiatric profession, grown so rank in your day, has put out lush growth in that slough.)
I do hope, my dear Professor, that all this theological cabbage and beets may yet offer nourishment for your needs. What is the meaning of Christianity, if not that our very life and time are themselves transcendent? The Word is ever present, and things that were written aforetime keep us in touch with lives and times far removed from our own--they maintain the past, as my protége might say, in the present.
With best of greetings from house to house,
Johann Gottfried Herder
Please return to Professor Worthy's Page Home
or see the correspondence with Herder; better still, convey your own theological notes.