Back of the North Wind

Discussions of theology, philosophy, religion and life inspired by the writings of George MacDonald (and perhaps others such as CS Lewis) posted by "recovering fundamentalists".

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I am a "recovering fundamentalist". The trick is to figure out how not to throw out the Baby with the bathwater. I learn through dialogue, and so invite commentary on my posts to Back of the North Wind.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Incarnation

From a Siris post quoting Augustine:

Thus in a certain fashion our word becomes a bodily sound by assuming that in which it is manifested to the senses of men, just as the Word of God became flesh by assuming that in which it too could be manifested to the senses of men.

The reader can find the entire Siris post on language as an analogy for the Incarnation here. The whole discussion relates to a thread which I intend to introduce to this blog soon: George MacDonald on "The Word of God".

Meanwhile, however, let me throw in my own favorite analogy from Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott, pub. 1884. In this ironic fantasy of a two-dimensional world, the creatures are two-dimensional shapes such as triangles (the soldier castes are icosceles), squares, and so on, up to the priest class, which are circles. At some point later in the story, a three-dimensional being (a sphere) comes into contact with the two-dimensional world. The creatures in the two-dimensional world could only perceive a two-dimensional slice of the sphere: to them, the sphere appeared as a circle, which however, seemed to be able to change its size at will (as the sphere moved through the plane of Flatland). Here is some of the dialogue between the Sphere and the poor Pentagon (the main character in the book) who is struggling with the apparition of this strange moving circle. Starting with the Sphere:

I have told you I can see from my position in Space the inside of all things that you consider closed. For example, I see in yonder cupboard near which you are standing, several of what you call boxes (but like everything else in Flatland, they have no tops or bottom) full of money; I see also two tablets of accounts. I am about to descend into that cupboard and to bring you one of those tablets. I saw you lock the cupboard half an hour ago, and I know you have the key in your possession. But I descend from Space; the doors, you see, remain unmoved. Now I am in the cupboard and am taking the tablet. Now I have it. Now I ascent with it.

I rushed to the closet and dashed the door open. One of the tablets was gone. With a mocking laugh, the Stranger appeared in the other corner of the room, and at the same time the tablet appeared upon the floor. I took it up. There could be no doubt -- it was the missing tablet.

I groaned with horror, doubting whether I was not out of my sense; but the Stranger continued: "Surely you must now see that my explanation, and no other, suits the phenomena. What you call Solid things are really superficial; what you call Space is really nothing but a great Plane. I am in Space, and look down upon the insides of the things of which you only see the outsides. You could leave the Plane yourself, if you could but summon up the necessary volition. A slight upward or downward motion would enable you to see all that I can see.

"The higher I mount, and the further I go from your Plane, the more I can see, though of course I see it on a smaller scale. For example, I am ascending; now I can see your neighbour the Hexagon and his family in their several apartments; now I see the inside of the Theatre, ten doors off, from which the audience is only just departing; and on the other side a Circle in his study, sitting at his books. Now I shall come back to you. And, as a crowning proof, what do you say to my giving you a touch, just the least touch, in your stomach? It will not seriously injure you, and the slight pain you may suffer cannot be compared with the mental benefit you will receive."

I've always thought that was an interesting picture for the Incarnation: God, being one who transcends our dimensionality, intersects the world in a form recognizable to our world -- a human life, albeit a unique one.