Blog Archives

CLXXXXII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 Plato started a lot of conversations that he couldn’t finish.  He was trying to find the universal and the absolute by looking in the wrong place.  He sought well, but the final answer was beyond his grasp.  But he sets the questions up better than anyone.  What if there was someone who could come into Plato’s Cave from the outside world of the sun?   What then?

Plato

REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE

The fleeting shadows flow across the wall;

That’s all we know.  We think they may arise

Outside our minds, and bring before our eyes

Some glimpse of Truth–but by the time they fall

To us, a faint and hieroglyphic scrawl

Is all that’s left.  We try to analyze,

Deduce from patterns what the shapes disguise–

They’re hard to catch and harder to recall.

 

We think reflections of Reality

Are cast by Sunlight shining–how we crave

To turn and look–but still we strive in vain.

No merely mortal man will ever see

Whether the Door behind us in the Cave

Is there, so firmly Fate has bound our chain.

 

So many years we strove against the chain

That gradually some gave up, and hope was dead.

“There is no Door; there is no Cave,” they said,

“No explanation, nothing to explain.

It’s just a game you play inside your brain:

All the poetry you’ve ever read

Makes chemical reactions in your head;

That’s all that Pleasure is, and also Pain.”

 

What of the Beautiful, the True, the Good?

“They’re all illusions; they are all the same,

Sounds upon the wind, an empty name,

And that is all that can be understood.”

But then the rule that says that nothing’s true

Must be applied to their denial too!

 

So hope could not completely be denied.

Yet still the shadows flicker on the wall,

And we’re not certain what they mean at all

In spite of every theory we have tried.

If only one of us could get outside

Into the Light that fills that vaster hall

And not go blind, but come back and recall

For us the land where the True Shapes abide!

 

If only–but the ancient Grecian knew

No way that it could be.  It seemed absurd

To hope or to despair.  So still the True

Was but in shadows seen, in echoes heard–

Until the birth of a barbaric Jew

Who was in the Beginning; was the Word.

The Word

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Beauty and the Eye of the Beholder

The question was raised on a C. S. Lewis listerv I belong to, “What is beauty?” One answer, from Lewis scholar Jim Prothero, was that beauty is “holiness made visible.” Another correspondent questioned the adequacy of that formula: a Prostitute may be beautiful but is hardly holy; Jesus’ mangled body on the cross was holy but hardly beautiful. How do we sort through all this complexity? It would be impossible to attempt an answer in a short essay that anyone would be willing to plough through. But I will attempt to steer my way between the Scylla of adequacy and the Charybdis of silence by offering a few random thoughts, inadequate (this I know) as they are tantalizing (this I hope).

Truth is the reflection of God’s mind, Goodness of His character, and Beauty of His glory, as they are found in the world He has made. Thus I try to summarize the matter in my longish scholarly essay on the topic, “A Tryst with the Transcendentals: C. S. Lewis on Goodness, Truth, and Beauty,” now published as a series of chapters in Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

Interested in the case for God?  For more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams' book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO'S CAVE, in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

Interested in the biblical view of beauty? For more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams’ book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE, in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

Because the world is cursed and our minds fallen, we can be mistaken about all three. But it hardly follows from this either that they are not real or that we are utterly incapable of recognizing them truly. In the case of Beauty, our minds can be, as I put it in one of my poems, “abused / By surface prettiness the eye can see” (Stars Through the Clouds 353). Even the surface prettiness partakes of some faint hint of the real thing, however twisted. For, as Augustine teaches us, Evil is always a parasite on the Good. But true Beauty in its deepest form must be consistent with Truth and Goodness. The surface prettiness of the Prostitute is thus a perversion of Beauty, related to it by the real presence of good form and proportion, but not partaking of its fullness. And the surface ugliness of the Crucifixion hides the beauty of God’s holiness from those who do not penetrate deeper to see the meaning of His love. Instead of that they see only “cosmic child abuse.” Thus they miss the Beauty of Christ’s sacrifice precisely by missing also its Goodness and its Truth.

Brazilian Prostitute Preparing for the World Cup

Brazilian Prostitute Preparing for the World Cup

Prothero wants us to pursue “something higher and more beautiful than beauty, which, like joy, is not an end (a frequent mistake made in our culture) but a sign of higher things.” Yes; I see what he means. I think I agree, though I would not say it quite like that. I would put it this way: We only see Beauty in a partial and distorted way unless we see it as related to Truth and Goodness and see their unity as abiding in God. The Prostitute’s beauty is not unreal but it is partial and therefore distorted; physical only. Because Beauty in its fullness is related to Truth and Goodness, it cannot be seen with the eye alone, but only with the mind—and only fully by a mind renewed and enlightened by grace. The Prostitute still has the part that the eye can see—but only that. And the mind enlightened by grace can see the deeper Beauty in something like the Crucifixion where the eye’s part is missing.

GordonsCalvary2

Gordon’s Calvary

So Prothero’s formula, “Beauty is visible Holiness,” is I think true in an ultimate sense, but it is not a truth that we can hope to see on first inspection, and never when the inspection is made by the eye alone. I don’t ever expect to see Mother Teresa’s face gracing the cover of Cosmo; but I’ll bet she was very beautiful to the poor of Calcutta, and I’ll bet they saw that beauty even in the specific features of her face: the compassion in her eyes, the love in her smile.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Inadequate? Surely. Tantalizing? We shall see. You can always still read the larger discussion in Reflections from Plato’s Cave.

Order Stars through the Clouds ($15.00) or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

LXXVII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 It was 1976.  I think I must have been glad to be back in Northeast Georgia near the mountains, especially with Fall coming on.  (Those who have been paying attention to my complaints about the pitiful lack of Spring and Fall in the upper Midwest will recognize the deft use of understatement in that remark.)

DSCN0264

From Grandfather Mountain, NC.

The Southern Appalachians

Commentary, 1 Cor. 13:12

The Southern Appalachians

In their Autumn glory dressed

Are all the beauty we can bear

Or in which we can rest.

The mighty hills of Heaven,

With their oppressive weight,

Would crush out spirits into dust

Seen in our present state.

But when they burst upon us

In sudden majesty,

We will be given souls to match

And purer eyes to see.

DSCN0313

The author doing research for his Appalachian poetry.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest book from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

 

Beauty: Eye of the beholder?

The question was raised on a C. S. Lewis listerv I belong to, “What is beauty?”  One answer, from Lewis scholar Jim Prothero, was that beauty is “holiness made visible.”  Another correspondent questioned the adequacy of that formula: a Prostitute may be beautiful but is hardly holy; Jesus’ mangled body on the cross was holy but hardly beautiful.  How do we sort through all this complexity?  It would be impossible to attempt an answer in a short essay that anyone would be willing to plough through.  But I will attempt to steer my way between the Scylla of adequacy and the Charybdis of silence by offering a few random thoughts, inadequate (this I know) as they are tantalizing (this I hope).

Truth is the reflection of God’s mind, Goodness of His character, and Beauty of His glory, as they are found in the world He has made.  Thus I try to summarize the matter in my longish scholarly essay on the topic, “A Tryst with the Transcendentals: C. S. Lewis on Goodness, Truth, and Beauty,” now published as a chapter in Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).  Because the world is cursed and our minds fallen, we can be mistaken about all three.  But it hardly follows from this either that they are not real or that we are utterly incapable of recognizing them truly.  In the case of Beauty, our minds can be, as I put it in one of my poems, “abused / By surface prettiness the eye can see” (Stars Through the Clouds 353).  Even the surface prettiness partakes of some faint hint of the real thing, however twisted.  For, as Augustine teaches us, Evil is always a parasite on the Good.  But true Beauty in its deepest form must be consistent with Truth and Goodness.  The surface prettiness of the Prostitute is thus a perversion of Beauty, related to it by the real presence of good form and proportion, but not partaking of its fullness.  And the surface ugliness of the Crucifixion hides the beauty of God’s holiness from those who do not penetrate deeper to see the meaning of His love.  Instead of that they see only “cosmic child abuse.”  Thus they miss the Beauty of Christ’s sacrifice precisely by missing also its Goodness and its Truth.

Prothero wants us to pursue “something higher and more beautiful than beauty, which, like joy, is not an end (a frequent mistake made in our culture) but a sign of higher things.”  Yes; I see what he means.  I think I agree, though I would not say it quite like that.  I would put it this way:  We only see Beauty in a partial and distorted way unless we see it as related to Truth and Goodness and see their unity as abiding in God.  The Prostitute’s beauty is not unreal but it is partial and therefore distorted; physical only.  Because Beauty in its fullness is related to Truth and Goodness, it cannot be seen with the eye alone, but only with the mind—and only fully by a mind renewed and enlightened by grace.  The Prostitute still has the part that the eye can see—but only that.  And the mind enlightened by grace can see the deeper Beauty in something like the Crucifixion where the eye’s part is missing.

So Prothero’s formula, “Beauty is visible Holiness,” is I think true in an ultimate sense, but it is not a truth that we can hope to see on first inspection, and never when the inspection is made by the eye alone.  I don’t ever expect to see Mother Teresa’s face gracing the cover of Cosmo; but I’ll bet she was very beautiful to the poor of Calcutta, and I’ll bet they saw that beauty even in the specific features of her face: the compassion in her eyes, the love in her smile.

Inadequate?  Surely.  Tantalizing?  We shall see.  You can always read the larger discussion in Reflections from Plato’s Cave.

Order Stars through the Clouds ($15.00) or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

 

NEW BOOK: REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE!

ANNOUNCING a new book from Lantern Hollow Press:  Donald T. Williams, REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE: ESSAYS IN EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHY (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

The following description and ratinale for the book is taken from the author’s introduction:

I am not a professional philosopher.  I am a pastor and teacher of the church who holds a masters degree in theology and pastoral ministry and a doctorate in medieval and renaissance literature.  I suppose that makes me a professional expositor of texts.  Of those texts, the most significant were written by men like John and Paul, not Plato and Aristotle.  The ones I currently expound for a living were written by Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, not Berkeley, Hume, and Kant.  My other published books (in so far as they are classifiable) are works of literary criticism, apologetics, theology, and poetry.  All of them impinge on philosophical topics and some attempt sustained arguments, but none of them would be classified primarily as books of philosophy.  So in this age obsessed with professional hyper-specialization, when nothing is more likely to be ignored than gratuitous philosophizing by an amateur, why in the world would I write a book like this one?

Because the unexamined life is not worth living.

Because Francis Schaeffer was right:  In the Post-Christian world, lay men and women can no longer afford to remain ignorant of critical issues and questions that used to be the domain only of philosophy majors.  The biblical world view can no longer be taken for granted, even by Christians.  If we do not all think in terms of world view, that is, think philosophically, we will be able neither to discern the biblical world view, nor to retain it, nor to disciple others in it, nor to communicate it to non-Christians.  Not only is the unexamined life not worth living, it is not even possible any more for those who wish to be faithful Christians and faithful witnesses for Christ.

Because Beauty, Truth, and Goodness are too important to be left to the professionals.  Those professional philosophers, despite all the truly good and useful things they have to offer us, are sometimes unavoidably so focused on answering the unending proliferation of technical arguments by their peers that they run the risk losing the wheat in the chaff, and they are often so comfortable with the highly developed jargon of their clan that they have forgotten how to communicate with normal human beings.  So there is not only room, there is a need for people like Schaeffer and myself—not professional philosophers, but pastors and theologians capable of thinking philosophically.  Call us bridges or translators if you will.  We can help guide the church through the dangerous straits of modern life, where philosophical ideas both good and ill come at us disguised as art or cinema or pop culture.

Because the Bible gives us Truth that is so Good and Beautiful that it deserves a lifetime of unpacking; because we impoverish ourselves if we do not attend to how the different facets of that Truth relate to one another and to what we can learn from other sources; because that Good and Beautiful Truth comes to us as the living Word who is worthy of all contemplation.

Because in conversation with better philosophical minds than my own (including some of those professionals), I have learned some things too good not to share.  I hope that by the end of the book, my way of presenting some of them will justify the etymological definition of philosophy as the love of wisdom.

ORDER FROM AMAZON OR LANTERN HOLLOW PRESS TODAY!