English 233:   Introduction to Western Humanities - Baroque & Enlightenment

Synthesizing the results

of our explication of Genesis 1-3

A shift in perspective and method.

In explicating the biblical stories of the Creation of the Universe and the Fall of Mankind, we went through the story from beginning to end, stopping from time to time to draw out what we thought might be the implications carried by the explicit details that together make up "the letter of the text." That is, the order we followed in generating our thoughts about the story was dictated by the order of happenings in the narrative:  the notes we took thus relate to each other in a chronological fashion.  Now it is time to review what we came up with to see if we can detect patterns of relationship among the connotations we have spelled out.  In doing this, we will have to devise some suitable logical pattern:  our aim is to sketch the outline of a systematic body of doctrine presumably authorized by the text.  That is, we want to move from doing a running commentary on the subtext of the text to fashioning the theology it supposedly sponsors.

The central themes

In class we went about this by constructing a conception of THE CONDITIONS OF RIGHT ORDER implicit in the narrative.  As we developed this notion, we continually clarified it by developing its foil, the corresponding concept of "disorder."

The role of medicine, correspondingly, is "to heal" in the sense of "to make whole." Hence the role, under the Christian conception of Original Sin, of atonement ("at-one-ment," or reconciliation:  the bringing together of parties who have become estranged or "distanced" from each other).  Hence the idiom according to which the divine grace "poured out upon" individuals by way of the sacraments is spoken of as a kind of "healing balm." In musical terms:  the atonement makes possible the re-establishment of concord from dissonance and disharmony.  In political terms:  it makes possible the replacement of war by peace.

The conditions of Right Order:  a closer look at the nature of Original Creation

Right Order, remember, is not only what humanity has fallen from.  It is also the condition which the divine plan aims to see restored.  Hence the conception of it importantly determines the conception not only of what has been lost but of what is to be restored, and hence of the means by which the restoration can or must be accomplished.  In Christianity, this means it will affect discussion of the atonement.  (The complementary determining factor, of course, will be the conception of the nature of sin, as the condition of the falleness which is to be overcome.)

(1) The first condition we found ourselves having to specify was that servants and masters be correctly distributed with respect to each other.  That is,

For the rest, cosmic/social/psychological/bodily health requires that masters and servants fulfil their mutual obligations to each other.  These are:

Implications of the parallel terminologies

The several equivalent descriptions (trust/trustworthiness; authority of the word to be believed and obeyed; credit; faith) above are important to keep severally in mind.  That is, they are not just "different ways of saying the same things." If that were so, it would not matter which of them one bothered to remember.  Rather, by bringing different elements of whole idea into the foreground of explicitness, they lend themselves to being brought to mind in different contexts.  And by being understood as equivalent to their alternatives, they offer to bring those others (with their different range of explicit relations) into those contexts.  In other words, they fan out (in virtue of their distinctness) into other important themes, and (in virtue of their equivalence) serve to unify these.

The concept of sin

The foil concept to "right order" is, of course, FALLENESS.  All along we have been working in bits and pieces of its description.  To summarize, let's stress its comprehensiveness, in the traditional Christian picture, by spelling out its parallel symptoms on four levels.  Together these make the picture of a thoroughly broken world.  This brokenness is a symptom of the fact that, since Original Sin, REBELLION is the general condition of the universe:  in every domain, the servant seeks either to overthrow or to ignore its master.

A.  Nature, ordained to man as its end, is in perpetual insurrection against him.

B.  Society is plagued by discord:  brother rises against brother (Cain murders Abel); fraud is rampant; usurpation and insubordination abound; foreign and civil war breaks out continually.

C.  The human constitution is wracked by "internal insurrection."

D.  Man is "locked into" a posture of rebellion against God.

What does all this have to do with the rest of our course?

It sets the stage for theologians discussions about what God's plan is for reclaiming humanity from the condition of sin.   As we shall see, it is a controversy over this question - the technical term is "justification" - that was the theological occasion for the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation.   There was much more to the Reformation than even the gamut theological issues that eventually came to divide Catholics and Protestants.   But these issues are important for our course, because they are an especially crucial site of the crises in authority in the early modern period.

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      Contents copyright 1997 by Lyman A. Baker

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      This page last updated 15 October 1997.