Robert Farrar Capon and the Goodness of Stuff

Robert Farrar Capon, in his excellent The Supper of the Lamb, writes this spot-on description of the modern “problem” with nature:

Ah mischief.  Man is not always content to take reality at such width and depths.  He cuts the wine of paradox with the water of consistency: The mystery of God and things is tamed to the simplicity of God or things; he builds himself a duller, skimpier world.

If he is a pagan, he abolishes the secular in favor of the sacred.  The world becomes filled with gods.  To improve his wine, he searches, not for purer strains of yeast, but for better incantations, friendlier gods.  He spends his time in shrines and caves, not chemistry.  Things, for him, become pawns in the chess game of heaven.  Religion devours life . . .

. . . Worse yet, if he is a contemporary theologian, he acquires an irrational fear of natural theology.  He distrusts people who claim to see the vestigia Dei, the footprints of God, in creation; he blames them for being pagans, filling the world with gods.  Poor man, again!  The vestigia Dei are not irrelevant divinities ruffling the surface of a matter for which they have no sympathy. They are rather the tracks of God’s figure skating upon the ice of the world.  They are evidences  of play, not pilgrimage.  He cuts them, not to make a point, but because ice cries out for such virtuosity.  They prove He knows what the world is for. (pg. 87-88)

The “sacramentalizing” of nature among our (post)modern theologians exhibits the same problem: we don’t know what to do with creation qua creation.  Oddly, this comes from, not a triumph over previous eras’ confusion about “being”, but our own uncomfortable relationship to the old question of nature.

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4 thoughts on “Robert Farrar Capon and the Goodness of Stuff

  1. That process of “sacramentalization” does damage to eschatology as well. If nature is only valuable as nature when it has become graced, what happens when grace restores nature to the natural?

    Schmemann sees this movement. It’s not that the sacraments produce a sacramental nature; it’s that nature as nature is already sacramental, which is why we can have sacraments.

  2. Yes Schmemann is great. Somehow it has been forgotten, but most of the Presbyterians who began reading Schmemann in the ’70s did so because he sounded so thoroughly Protestant.

  3. When I first read Schmenen, I though he had been reading the same reformers that I had been. I turned out that the reformers and Schmemen were just reading the same Bible. I think that I’m seeing your earlier point now though. The problem is that people want religion rather than life. Mystery where we have revelation. And secrets rather than Jesus. I suspect if you would could interview Cain that would have been his problem too.

  4. Jason,

    Yes, I have no problem with robust world-engaging faith. I just think that a lot of our intellectual tools have served to create reifications rather than reality, allowing people to live something like fantasy lives in its great pursuit.

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