The Thirty-Sixth Annual
March 7, 1991
FACULTY RESEARCH LECTURE
University of California Santa Barbara
"Glory in time:
A History of the Desire of the Cosmos to Return to God"
Jeffrey Burton Russell
Copyright Jeffrey Burton Russell
My colleagues and friends, being here today is the dearest honor
I could ever receive. Since both my parents entered the University of California
in 1922, I have been associated with it for 56% of its existence. I was
brought up from infancy less than 200 yards from the Berkeley campus and
thus claim personal association with 45.52645% of the University's entire
time span. My dear colleagues, I am a geezer. I personally remember Robert
Gordon Sproul, Louis Alvarez, Ernst Kantorowicz, Haakon Chevalier, Robert
Oppenheimer, Josephine Miles, Robert Penn Warren, Henry May, Philip Wheelwright,
Wendell Stanley, and many more. At the age of six I saw the University of
Michigan beat Cal 41-0, the first but not the last time I watched the Bears
lose a football game. Members of my family have been students or faculty
at Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Riverside, and Santa Cruz. I
would rather be a member of the University of California than of any other
institution. I thank you deeply for being here.
Glory in time. Before beginning, I want to acknowledge people here today
in whom I glory: my wife Diana Russell, my daughter Jennifer Russell, my
spiritual sister Sarah Cline, my colleagues Hal Drake, Sharon Farmer, Len
Marsak, Don Fitch, Sears McGee, and Frank Gardiner. Time prevents me from
enlarging the list, but the rest of you know who you are; thank you all.
I dedicate this lecture to the memory of my father, Lewis Russell, who exactly
65 years ago was expelled from Berkeley two weeks before he would have graduated.
Permit me the filial act of taking this occasion to vindicate him; it would
have meant a good deal to him. My father was editor of the University literary
magazine, The Occident, and one of the editors of The Daily Californian.
He was expelled on charges of blasphemy, pornography, and bolshevism. His
blasphemy was publishing in The Daily Cal a poll showing that a majority
of undergraduates did not regularly attend church. His pornography was publishing
in The Occident a story, set in ancient Greece, which contained the following
description of a girl running across a meadow: Through her diaphanous gown
appeared the contours of her breast. His bolshevism was writing an editorial
for The Daily Cal condemning compulsory ROTC.
My father was asked to recant, but he was a principled heretic and refused.
Several famous writers offered to help. Upton Sinclair wrote him, "Damn
the brutes. . . . I will print [this] material in a pamphlet, and mail a
copy to every student publication in the civilized world. If the University
of California wants to be famous for bigotry, this will be its chance."
The head brute, President W. W. Campbell, was unmoved. The ACLU offered
to pay for a lawsuit, but my father demurred. Local newspapers, especially
the Oakland Tribune, had made him their prime exhibit of the decadence of
modern youth. You may understand the effect that this had upon my grandfather,
a modest, kindly pharmacist from Merced, and my grandmother, a kindly, conventional
woman from Anaheim. They had sent their son to college to do them proud,
and he had become a public disgrace defending principles that they could
not understand. He knew a lawsuit would have prolonged their humiliation.
He never sued, never completed his degree, though my mother did, class of
My father's ambivalence toward the university appears in their purchase,
some years later, of a house located on its boundary--the beautiful house
where I grew up. Thank you for your tolerance in allowing me to memorialize
this one heresy. And, you can't expel me; I have tenure.
I mean two things by "glory in time" and shall discuss it in two
ways. One is to explain the glory in time that the historian experiences.
The other is to review the thoughts of past Christians about glory in spacetime,
the four-dimensional cosmos of God's creation. Glory in Time. I do not ignore
the evil in the world. Having written five books on that subject, as well
as perpetrating some evil myself, I think I have earned the right today
to address what is positive in humanity.
This talk will be a test of your tolerance in more than one way. I have
carefully considered whether to present this unusual topic in a politically
and academically correct mode of discourse. But like my father I am a heretic.
I am not politically, intellectually, or religiously correct. I am socially
correct so far as I do not eat mashed potatoes with my bare hands.
What sort of discourse to use on this occasion is of central importance
to the meaning of a university. Different disciplines and subdisciplines
use different vocabularies and different syntaxes that are often mutually
incomprehensible. On occasions such as these that bring people from various
disciplines (I almost said sects) we make an effort to find common ground
where we can use a civil language, a mutually acceptable academic discourse.
And I will use this civil academic language today--to an extent. But this
civil language is only a part of my discourse. I could color entirely within
the lines, but then I would be lying by telling a half truth. I would be
merely uttering words, not communicating. To go beyond simply uttering to
truly engaging you I have to go beyond the civil language into the worldview
in which I operate. I have to color outside the lines.
Please note that I said "engaging you," not "enlisting you."
I have no wish to impose my views on you, but it would be pointless not
to speak my own truth in my own language. Non nobis, Domine, non nobis,
sed nomini tuo da gloriam. Never fear, the lecture will be in English. What
I just said was "Give the glory, Lord, not to us, but to your name."
I shall use terms that will puzzle some and offend others. I am sorry for
that, but you may at least be sure that what I say comes from the heart.
History is the study of the communion of saints--by which I mean the whole
flawed, failing, loving, human race past and present through space and time.
The whole point of history, and its great joy, is to encounter people in
the past as real people, to rescue them from oblivion, to restore them as
living, four-dimensional people. That means confronting them in their own
terms, unblinkered by any modern ideology or academic fashion. The historian--to
use the language of ancient Greece--rescues the dead and buries them honorably
as an act of piety. To use the language of thirteenth_century Christianity,
the historian enters the communion of saints, the unity of all God's people
throughout space and time, everywhere and always, and he or she enters it
with reverence and love. The people of the past are not mummies, nor are
they statistics. They are our living brothers and sisters.
History, along with anthropology, is the most subversive of all subjects.
It wrenches us out of our complacency about our own personal and contemporary
worldview and brings us face to face with ways of thinking that are completely
different and in some ways equally valid. To understand the concept of the
glory of the cosmos in time means taking time to understand what is meant
by the cosmos and God in the Christian tradition.
One contemporary cliche is that the Judeo-Christian view that God made the
earth for humankind led to the rape of the planet. The charge is not without
some basis, but China and India demonstrate how cultures can desecrate the
environment without the aid of Judaism or Christianity. Besides, quite another
view may be taken of Judeo-Christian tradition. The opening up to the glory
and beauty of God in creation that one finds in texts ranging from the Old
Testament to Gerard Manley Hopkins sets value on the material world and
on the body. Hebrew religion and poetry again and again showed a sense of
the cosmos' living love for God: The Psalms: Make a joyful noise unto the
Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice and sing praise....Let
the sea roar, and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.
Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together. The Song
of the Three Young Men in the Book of Daniel: All things the Lord has made
bless the Lord, give glory and eternal praise to him. Angels and heavens
bless the lord; sun and moon; stars of heaven; showers and dews; wind~s,
fire, and heat; frost and cold; ice and snow; night and day; light and darkness;
lightning and clouds; mountains and hills; springs, seas, and rivers; fish
and birds, animals wild and tame, bless the Lord, give glory and eternal
praise unto him.
Did the writer of Daniel intend that the stars really worship God, or did
he intend the love of the stars as a metaphor of our love for God? Certainly
intent is important. However, any declaration about the feelings, intentions,
or desires of animals, plants, and minerals must be at bottom metaphors
of human feelings, intentions, and desires, for it is we humans who ascribe
such things to them without knowing ourselves what it is like to be a cat
or a philodendron, let alone what it is like to be rain or hail. So the
history of nature's love for God must be a history of the human concept
of nature's love for God.
We are obliged to make some rough definitions here. The word "nature"
is multivalent and fuzzy-bordered. Does it mean the cosmos as a whole? Or
animals, plants, and stars as opposed to human beings? Or "human nature?"
Or wilderness as opposed to civilization? Today I use the term primarily
to refer to the nonhuman cosmos--what we loosely call today the "environment."
The word "Cosmos" is Greek for "order," so that the
very word implies that order exists in the universe. It does not deny that
disorder exists, but it affirms that some order does also. So the history
of the idea of the cosmos is of the idea of an ordered universe. The Stoics
perceived cosmos as consisting both of physical nature and of the God-nature
that orders it.
A definition of God is an oxymoron. God is beyond definition, beyond any
system at all. The longing of the cosmos and God (however defined) for one
another can be expressed in a number of different religious traditions.
Being a historian of Christian theology, I will discuss this longing as
it developed in the early and medieval Christian community. God creates
the cosmos out of his overflowing love and joy, participates in the cosmos
with love in the incarnation of his Son, and at the end of time returns
to gather it back to him in love. "God is Love" is a simple statement
of a quality that is total giving, selfless love, a love so boundlessly
powerful that God draws everything to himself by being loved; he is the
lover in whom all love originates, so that all the cosmos lies in the verb
The essential question in the Christian concept of love was to what extent
the cosmos is divine. The argument that the cosmos and God are the same
thing is pantheism. This concept was found frequently in pre-Christian Greek
philosophy, especially Stoicism. In this view, the whole world is a theophany,
a manifestation of the eternal Word (Logos) or principle. Vergil expressed
it beautifully: Principio caelum ac terras camposque liquentes lucentemque
globum lunae Titaniaque astra spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus
mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet. Inde hominum pecudumque genus,
vitaeque volantur et quae marmoreo fert monstra sub aequore pontus (Aeneid
6:724ff). Aristotle and Plato had two quite different ways of looking at
the longing of nature for God. For Plato, "everything strives to attain
that which is good for itself and for the fulfillment of its being."
But this striving is ontological, an unconscious quest of things to realize
their potential, rather than an affective eros or yearning. Where affect
or eros enters in for Plato is in intelligent beings (humans) who can have
a true desire for possession of the absolute true and good and beautiful.
For Aristotle, the Prime Mover or First Cause produced all things and is
identical to the Final Cause that draws them inevitably back to it in an
abstract, intellectual, non-affective act. The Neoplatonist Plotinus believed
that the One emanates the cosmos and voluntarily participates in it so as
to complete it. But Plotinus's One is still an abstraction; nothing in Platonism
compares with the Judeo-Christian God.
Christians could not accept pantheism, because it limited God to the boundaries
of the cosmos. God was both transcendent (beyond the cosmos) and immanent
(alive within the cosmos). Setting aside transcendence, which is beyond
this paper (literally), the question is the meaning of immanence. Is the
cosmos separate from God though filled with his spirit, or is the cosmos
the aspect of God that overflows his essence? God, in whom we live and move
and have our being.
Christians could adopt either view. The creation accounts of the Bible,
both Genesis and John, can be read as assuming that God made the universe
out of himself. Let us be clear about this. Let us suppose (as we generally
do) that the universe is four-dimensional in space and time and that God
exists eternally beyond the spacetime that he created. In eternity, then,
there is God, period. God and nothing else. But the phrase "nothing
else" is ambiguous. Did an entity exist called "Nothing"
from which God created? If not, then God must have made the stuff of the
cosmos out of himself. Let me express the dilemma in different terms. One
can assume the existence in eternity of (A) God, or (B) God and Nothing.
In the latter assumption, Nothing is really Something, so really two eternal
principles, two gods, exist. This was unacceptable to Christians. In the
former assumption, you seem to have a choice: (l)God created the universe
out of himself, or (2)God created it out of a nothing that was potentially
something. But being in a state of potential somethingness is already existing
apart from God, so the choice isn't really there. God must create the cosmos
Christian theologians have never been clear on the point. The Shepherd of
Hermas, dating from about AD 140, says that God is one, who made everything
from nothing, and who is uncontained while containing all. This surely can
imply that God made everything from something that is called "Nothing,"
but its implications on the other side of the issue are clearer, for it
states that all things are contained in God. This is a view called panentheism.
It differs from pantheism in that it affirms that God is transcendent, beyond
the cosmos, while also insisting that God is also immanent, that all existence
is part of him.
The Christian Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-c.165) followed the Stoics in proclaiming
the love between the cosmos and God. The Logos (Word) of God expresses itself
in two ways: first: the eternal loving relationship of the Trinity within
itself, the word in which God expresses himself to himself, which is God
transcendent; and second, the Word of God expressing God's love for the
Creation; this is the Logos that pours itself forth from God in spacetime,
which is God immanent.
In the third century Origen took the view that everything had proceeded
from God and would return to God in the end. The return of all creatures
to God at the end of time Origen called the apokatastasis, the word deriving
from I Thessalonians but the idea from St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians
"So that God may be all things in all things": all things are
God. In the third century, two theologians who seldom got along (Athanasius
and Arius) agreed at least on the point that God had made the universe out
of nothing. There was no pre-existing substance from which God had created
the universe. But they still insisted that God and his creation are totally
different in nature: that no common ground unites them. That is, no natural
common ground. The incarnation of Christ provides a supernatural common
ground, but that again is beyond this paper.
The concept of a natural dichotomy was adopted by the majority of spiritual
writers, such as Gregory of Nyssa. We can get closer and closer to God,
ending in a union akin to a married couple, where there is no complete identification
or merging. Another, minority view was that humanity proceeds from God himself
and therefore in the end will merge completely with God. In other words,
one school of thought says that a membrane always separates God and us who
desire him; the other that the membrane breaks at the moment of supreme
love and that we become one with him.
Saint Augustine insisted on the dichotomy between God and the whole cosmos,
including humanity. Instead of affirming a Platonic continuity along the
lines God, humans, animals, plants, and stones, Augustine postulated one,
total gap between God and man. This he did while tying the rest of the material
cosmos so closely to humanity that the nature of the entire universe could
be disrupted by humanity's original sin. Nature in general, like human nature
in particular, was deformed. Yet Augustine also suggested that we humans
love God's creation because it points us toward God and because God's love
made it for us. Augustine's God participates in nature with such unbounded
love that he voluntarily suffers in its suffering. Infinite, he makes himself
finite; immortal, he suffers death--all for love of the world he has made.
The logical choices as to the relations between God, humanity, and nature
can be expressed simply as follows: (1) There is a continuity God-humanity-cosmos.
(2) One or two dichotomies separate them. (3) If a dichotomy exists, then
(a) it lies between God and the cosmos; or (b) it lies between humanity
and the cosmos; or (c) two dichotomies separate God from humanity and humanity
from cosmos. This last view generally prevailed in the history of Christian
thought: humanity is separate from God except as linked by the supernatural
event of the Incarnation; and humanity is separate from the rest of the
cosmos by virtue of being made in God's image in having intelligence and
free will. Poor humanity, alone, cut off above and below--a view that remains
in most secular as well as theological cosmologies today.
A differing view, closer to Origen's, is found in the writings of St Denis
(about AD 500). Denis took the holistic view that God generates the universe
from desire and draws it back to him with desire, "gathering back the
scattered," as he put it. Denis was a panentheist and believed that
not only humanity, but all created things, had an eros to return to God.
"The universal yearning of all creatures presses upwards and outward
toward God according to the nature of each." These words of Denis became
a model for spiritual writers from the twelfth century onwards, such as
the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, who made Denis' still somewhat abstract
eros into real, affective love. Denis had an intense sense of God's own
longing for his creation. Denis said that the eros or yearning of all God's
creatures for him is a response to God's unbounded yearning for what he
creates, a yearning that is God's very nature itself. God's activity in
creating, in developing, and eventually retrieving his cosmos is not as
a stranger or from outside, but from within. The universe is God's own stuff.
Denis is surprised that people are "unable to grasp the simplicity
of the one Divine yearning. The Creator of the universe himself, in his
beautiful and good yearning towards the universe, is through excessive yearning
of his goodness transported outside himself. . .and so is drawn to dwell
within the heart of all things." The cosmos loves God because the cosmos
is God in the process of loving itself/himself. "There is a simple
self_moving power directing all things to mingle as one. . . . It reaches
down to the lowest level of creation and returns in due order through all
the stages back to the perfect good."
Denis' theology was formative in the Eastern Church. More than the Latins,
the Greeks recognized the presence of God in the things of this world. Maximus
Confessor, a disciple of Denis, first developed a distinction that became
essential in Eastern Christianity. This is the distinction between the ousia
and the energeia of God. The ousia is God's essence in himself, the Trinity.
The energeia is the overflowing of that essence beyond itself, that is,
in the cosmos. God overcame the dichotomies between himself and humans and
between humans and nature in this way: by becoming human in Christ he closed
the gap between God and humans; and he uses humanity to draw up the rest
of the physical cosmos of which we are a part back to him. The poetry of
the Eastern Church about the longing is seen in St Symeon the New Theologian's
"O power of the divine fire, O strange energy! You who dwell, Christ
my God, in light wholly unapproachable, How in your essence totally divine
do you mingle yourself with--grass? You, the light, are joined to the grass
in a union without confusion. And the grass becomes light; it is transfigured
yet unchanged. St Gregory Palamas, using the ousia/energeia distinction,
said that we naturally love God in his manifestations rather than in his
essence, because we have no access to the ousia behind the manifestations.
Such views were rarer in the early Western church, but John the Scot wrote
in the ninth century that "God is so closely related to his creatures
that he is more created in them than creating them." The cosmos is
God producing himself in the cosmos and returning to himself in the cosmos.
It is a lovers' dance in which the lovers are one. From the twelfth century,
when St. Denis was revived in the West after a long lapse of influence,
theologians and mystics took eros to be affective, passionate, intense love.
Twelfth-century writers such as St Bernard of Clairvaux used the Song of
Songs as a text to illustrate the passionate love that exists between the
Creator and his creation: "Draw me, we will run after you: the king
has brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in you, we
will remember your love more than wine." Bernard's fervid praise of
Mary is a counterpart of his use of the Song of Songs. The metaphors for
Mary that emerged in this period elicit the sense of the beauty of soul
and matter conjoined. Ave maris stella, star of the sea, garden enclosed,
golden fleece, bridal chamber, door of life, dawn of day, blossom of the
Root of Jesse.
The erotic love of creatures for God appears in later medieval mystics such
as Hadewijch and Angela of Foligno. Hadewijch's description of mystical
union is well known: "With what wondrous sweetness," she says,
"the loved one and the Beloved dwell one in the other, and they penetrate
each other in such a way that neither of the two distinguishes himself or
herself from the other. They abide in one another mouth in mouth, heart
in heart, body in body, and soul in soul, while one sweet divine Nature
flows through them. and they are both one thing through each other."
This sensual imagery makes theological sense, for God penetrates the cosmos
in love and the cosmos receives him in love. Far from being perverse, it
is a sign that humanity was ready to hear Denis's message again and to accept
the holiness of the body and of all creation. Who understands this finds
Bernini's St Teresa no embarrassment, but a fulfillment, in marble, of the
union of God and humanity.
In the thirteenth century, St Francis and his followers found God in the
"beauty of created things, in the variety of light, shape, and color
in simple, mixed, and even organic bodies, such as stars and planets, stones
and metals, plants and animals. "3 Such love for the material world
produced the scientific revival of the Middle Ages, which was carried out
largely by Franciscans such as Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste. Grosseteste
said that all created things are mirrors that reflect the Creator and that
the cosmos declared in its every detail the glory of God. The Franciscan
Bonaventure saw the cosmos as an overflow of the divine fecundity of the
Trinity. For Bonaventure, the beauty of things, the variety of light, shape
and color in bodies, whether heavenly bodies, minerals, or plants and animals,
proclaims God's glory. Whoever is not enlightened by such splendor of created
things is blind; whoever is not awakened by such outcries is deaf; whoever
does not praise God because of all these effects is dumb.
Is the cosmos a manifestation of God or wholly distinct from God? Even the
greatest medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas fudged. In Thomas's time, the
idea that the universe "emanates" from God was generally considered
dangerously close to pantheism. But Thomas, well aware that there is nothing
from which God creates the cosmos, speaks of a "procession," Processum
creaturarum ab ipso [Deo]. Or, as a modern writer put it, God radiates the
cosmos. Modern astronomers know that the boundaries of the sun can be drawn
at a number of places. Certainly it extends well beyond the visible disc
that we see. Since solar particles penetrate the whole solar system (and
beyond), some astronomers argue that the earth, Neptune, and part of space
beyond really are inside the sun. According to where you draw the boundaries,
we are outside the sun or inside the sun. Similarly in theology, in a sense
we are outside of God and in a sense inside.
Toward the end of the Middle Ages, Meister Eckhart wrote, Whether you like
it or not, whether you know it or not, secretly all nature seeks God and
works toward him. God is close to each human but also to everything: "So,
too, he is near to a stick or a stone but they do not know it. If the stick
knew God and recognized how near he is. . .the stick would be as blessed
as the angels. For that reason, a person may be more blessed than a stick,
in that he recognizes God and knows how near he is Humanity is not blessed
because God is in him and so near that he has God--but because he is aware
of how near God is, and knowing God, loves him."
My subject is the Middle Ages, but such ideas have still and always rolled
like a tide under the waters of Christianity. Only recently the anthropologist
and theologian Teilhard de Chardin again proclaimed the yearning that the
cosmos and God feel for one another, a yearning that brings them together
again. So nature and God are in love with one another. Medieval writers
were almost as aware as we are of the precariousness of such a statement.
For who can define God?
"Truth" is a multiplicity of systems. For this reason, as you
approach truth, you do not converge upon it more closely, you open up to
it more widely. These last comments, which set the tradition of yearning
for God in its social context, bring us back to the question of the nature
of history. Like nature, the cosmos, God, and all human concepts, history
can be understood only by its own history. How odd that historians and anthropologists,
of all people, should subscribe to the prevailing ethnocentrism of our time,
for they are the ones who express the most concern about ethnocentrism's
dangers. But they share, with most uneducated people, the delusion that
"our" ideas, that is ideas held by American scholars in 1991,
are superior to fourteenth-century ideas. They confuse what is new with
what is true. Chronocentrism, or "temporal chauvinism," is the
only ethnocentrism and chauvinism that academics still tolerate.
All human concepts, including all scientific and historical constructions,
are simply that: constructs of the mind. Where we go wrong is supposing
otherwise. But this does not mean we must despair. The best place to begin
is to consider the relationship between reality and truth. Truth is a statement
about reality. But there can be no true statements about reality. A truth
statement can only be intentional toward reality. Therefore we can never
possess truth, but only intentionality. Let us call this intentionality
toward truth "understanding." What can we understand, if we cannot
understand "outside reality?" The answer is "inside reality."
We cannot understand things in themselves, but we can understand how things
are experienced by humans.
I call this approach the history of concepts. It engages other worldviews
rather than imposing modern ideologies or academic fads upon them. It does
not assume, for example, that a fourteenth-century mystic's experience with
God was "really" a psychotic episode, a chemical dysfunction of
the brain, or a fraud. The historian of concepts, aware of the precariousness
and limitations of her own views, does make a value judgement. It is the
judgement that the wider our world view is the better, and she does not
see a way of getting a wider world view than through the history of concepts
itself. For that method, by exploring the entire history of a concept, embraces
all the thought about that concept from its beginning to the living present.
What could give you more?
The historian of concepts acts both as a historian and a philosopher. She
is a historian insofar as she explains a concept through its tradition or
development from Point A through Point B to Point C. Thus she understands
that history is properly a story, a tale, a relation of events that makes
sense. The historian of concepts is a philosopher in that she constantly
enlarges her own mental framework by engaging the minds of the people she
studies. She realizes that no one angle of vision on life can possibly be
entirely true. We historians do our job best by engaging ourselves as whole
human beings in understanding other whole human beings in a combination
of observation and feeling and intellect and love. We are not cold observers
outside the cosmos looking down at it, but warm participants in it, loving
it and glorying in it. Just as knowledge without meaning is pointless, learning
without love is dead. Historians glory in time, glory in engaging with the
past, glory in affective scholarship, seeking not the abstraction of truth
so much as loving engagement with persons.
Well, I don't know what the university will have to do with someone like
me who believes that the dead rise again and that the world is made bearable
by the fact that God became human in order to bear its pain. But perhaps
if it has room for Marxism and feminism and relativism and deconstructionism
it may also find some room for an academic heretic who operates from within
a different worldview. Peter Berger's book The Heretical Imperative points
out that modern culture has no generally acknowledged "plausibility
structure." Berger concludes that our calling as academics is to be
heretics, to be courageous, perhaps outrageous, but to construct our own
views. I am certainly not defending relativism, which is a silly, self-refuting
posture, but instead pluralism, which is infinite toleration of the various
ways that people seek the truth. We pay much hypocritical lipservice to
pluralism in this country, but in the dominant value- and opinion-forming
areas of our society, especially the mass media and the universities, blurry
but distinguishable borders separate what is considered "correct"
and what is not. Undeniably we have pluralism in our society; the hypocrisy
lies in saying that we want to have it. Some people in the university want
to use the university as a political tool, to impose their views (who knows
how derived) and to use power to eradicate what they consider "politically
incorrect". How much respect, for example, do "pro-life"
views get at this university? I hope that one day professional intellectuals
may, as wise men and women, be able to discuss rationally and without blind
prejudice under what circumstances the taking of human life may be ethical.
I believe no one should pretend to have a direct line to truth. Even more
firmly I believe that to assert that everything is equally true, is to deny
the purpose of the university, which is the search for truth, not the assumption
that one has it already. Here is a value judgement all right. The university
itself is based on a value judgement: that understanding is better than
ignorance. The substitution of political jargon and intimidation, or even
of the innocuous ideals of civility, diversity, or community, for clear
intellectual discourse is warfare on what the university and the life of
the mind are for.
I fear, I fear a darkening at the doors. Heine wrote 150 years ago: It is
with fear and horror only that I think of the age when the somber iconoclasts
will come to power. . . . They will shatter all the fantasies and baubles
of art that the poet loves so well; they will destroy my forests of laurels,
and they will plant potatoes there. The nightingale, the useless singer,
will be chased away, and, alas, my Book of Songs will serve my grocer for
paper bags into which he will put coffee and snuff. In spite of this, we
may, with humility, clarity, charity, and love, yet find a way to understanding.
Any worldview is an act of faith; the tests of it are: coherence, humility,
charity, openness, and diligence. To the door of truth the intellect has
no key. You stand pounding on it, beating on it until your knuckles bleed
and your knucklebones show white. And the door does not open. And that is
the job of the intellect: to stand at the door, calling and pounding. If
you do not knock, and you do not call, and you do not stand there, then
your intellect is without meaning or sense.
But then when you least expect it, the door will break open. It will break
open like a flower whose petals are light and the light is love. The door
disappears; it breaks away like the husk that hides the truth. And the flower
opens up unboundedly wider in a garden of knowledge that is now understandable
and meaningful because the intellect is now lit with love.
At the beginning of this academic year we received a list of goals for the
university. I suggest others. To quote the University motto: "Lux fiat:
Let there be light." The purpose of the University is to proclaim the
intricate mystery and glory of God, of the cosmos, and of the human mind
and spirit opening ever more widely and deeply to the beauty of reality
and the celebration of life. Deuteronomy: "The learned will shine like
the brilliance of the heavens, and those who train others in the ways of
justice will sparkle like the stars for all eternity." And the Wisdom
of Solomon: "From the beginning, from the moment I am born, I shall
search for knowledge and bring it into the light. And I shall not go beyond
the truth, nor make my way with fevered envy, for such a one has no part
of wisdom. But the multitude of the wise is the wellness of the world, and
the wise ruler is the comfort of her people." Understanding is empty
of self. Ambition, self-regard vanished, wisdom wells within us spirit swelling,
glowing globe, breaking through the crusted rind of self. Bright bloom whose
light is fire, the light of wisdom flows from the core outward while our
flesh glows ruddy with desire and, extended with yearning, our fingers flame.