Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dear Screwtape XXIII: The Limits of Reason and Revelation


My Dear Screwtape,
    Your last letter trumpets a disharmonious and paranoid note: “Reason threatens Hell.” You suffer from the delusion that my patient’s association with “very intelligent Christians” will undermine my efforts to “remove” spirituality from him completely; therefore, you assert that I must launch a second sortie to “corrupt” his spiritual life. Dear Uncle, why in Hell do you insist upon this preposterous idea that Heaven depends upon human intelligence for the preservation and perpetuation of spiritual Life among its citizenry? Oh, certainly, Heaven has its scholars, but they are not the mortar that holds the City together; they are only some of Earth’s rarer jewels crushed into dust and refashioned into clay pots, made fools for the Enemy’s sake. Now this may startle you, but humanity’s failure to understand the Enemy by means of Reason ironically conforms to His plan. He's even brash about it!  "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." No, He saves only by foolishness, the foolishness of preaching. As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so also the Enemy’s thoughts are higher than humans' thoughts. Even the brightest Christian scholars are but fading sparks in His blazing Sun. Perhaps I can illustrate.
    One of the Enemy’s great poets compares the knowledge of the Enemy to a traveler's journey from Hell to Heaven, from the Pit to Paradise. On the journey, three guides accompany the traveler; one guide is Reason, a second guide Revelation, and yet a third guide, Regeneration. Personified by the poet Virgil, the first guide, Reason, can lead the traveler only as far as the gates of Paradise, but Reason cannot lead the traveler through Paradise's gates and must remain just outside. To ascend towards Paradise and the Enemy’s throne, another guide besides Reason is required, Revelation, whom the poet calls Beatrice, and who is the source of what you refer to as Natural and Moral Law. But Beatrice, that is, Revelation, has her limitations as well; she can lead a traveler into the outer spheres of paradisaical knowledge, but even she herself cannot lead the traveler into a full and intimate vision of the Enemy. In Dante's words,
Io veggio ben che giĆ  mai non si sazia
nostro intelletto, se ‘l ver non lo illustra
di fuor dal qual nessun vero si spazia.
[Paradise. 4.124–26]
Translation:
 
 I see well that never is our intellect satisfied,
unless that Truth illumines it beyond which no truth may soar.
Since you know that poet so well, I am quite surprised you have missed his point. Supreme consciousness of the Divine requires something more than Reason, even more than Revelation. Beyond Reason, beyond Revelation, something more is needed, something transcendent, something mystical, even something miraculous, something that the Enemy calls Regeneration. The poet personified this phenomenon in St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose surname means "clear vision." To see the punta, the "point of Light" at the center of the Mystic Rose, the traveler's limited capacity of vision must be "enlightened." I suppose this is what the Enemy's Offspring meant when He said, "Unless a patient is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." But back to your reference to Moral Law that, you fear, poses a special danger to our subversive activities.
    I am willing to admit the possibility that, through Reason and Revelation (generally understood), the Moral Law can sensitize patients to the existence of “the Eternal Power and Godhead” and to their own violation of the Enemy’s will, but to suggest that this Moral Law, in and of itself, is an effectual medium to convert patients into defectors - that I cannot accept. Please remember the success we had with the Pharisees on this issue; to make the Moral Law an end in itself is almost always in our best interest. This approach leaves the patient with a non-transcendent vision of the Enemy, far short of the “light unapproachable” to which true Defectors are drawn. Even better, when we can guide our patients to equate consciousness of the Moral Law with real conversion, we make them two-fold more the children of Hell! 
    And as for your contention that spirituality can be “corrupted,” I ask, “With what weapons will you overthrow Heaven’s army? By what ladder will you scale Zion’s walls? What blazing spark from Gehenna will kindle the flame of Hell in the River of Life or incinerate Heaven’s asbestos palaces? By what strength will you overcome the omnipotent arm of a Father’s Love that disciplines His children in the way they should go, protects them from all intruders, and grips them so tightly that none has ever plucked even one from His hand? Or will you penetrate Mother Jerusalem’s womb and abort the seed of God?” Dear uncle, have you forgotten? The Enemy’s children sit together with Him in heavenly places, places from which we are fallen and to which we can never return; our dominion is the Netherworld, and we rule only over those Gadarenes who, like us, walk among Tartaran tombs, rattle their chains, and shake their shackles. The Enemy can get to our possessions, but we cannot get to His. No, dear Uncle, once our Enemy has said “Come out of him,” we must enter into whatever swine we can find; but we cannot enter again into His sheep, for they cannot even hear our voices, much less follow us. Your strategy is ill conceived and doomed to failure. Intelligence does not secure genuine spirituality; neither can we remove or really even corrupt (in any ultimate sense) the real thing where it exists.
    On the other hand, we can “corrupt” the Enemy’s camp by slow and progressive infiltration through traitors whose minds are ripe for deceit. This strategy always proves quite productive to our ends, and has been effectively used to extinguish a number of candle-flames, but only where counterfeits exist among the real thing (we do have our Ananiases and Sapphiras).
    Screwtape, I grow weary of this song. Silence it. Dig your claws into those minds and souls where you yet have room to work with some “reasonable” hope of success, and vex me no more with your apprehensive and naive view of Reason.

    Your exasperated Nephew,

    WORMWOOD

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