The Nature of Things: A Small Meditation on Reason and Wisdom in Religion

The Nature of Things: A Small Meditation on Reason and Wisdom in Religion December 5, 2016

pilgrim-seeing-through-300x236The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—
The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—

Emily Dickinson

Faustus Socinus, also known as Faust Paolo Sozzini and sometimes as Faust Socyn was born on this day in Siena, Italy, in 1539. He is one of my heroes.

Born into a wealthy merchant family he was educated at home where he fell under the influence of two relatives. First, his uncle Celso, who encouraged the boy’s searching intellect. And, of another uncle, Lelio, who was a full on Renaissance humanist, intellectual, and increasingly anti-Trinitarian thinker. When he inherited a small fortune Faustus began more formal studies at the Academia deli Intronati, There he showed talent in law as well as a poet.

He quickly showed his own intellectual capabilities, as well, as that his thinking was moving in very dangerous directions for that time and place. And, by the beginning of 1561 he was noticed by the authorities, falling under suspicion of harboring “Lutheran” views, meaning as best I can tell that he was challenging some bedrock assumptions of the Catholic church’s teachings when there weren’t many words to describe doing that.

He found it wise to move on. By the next year it was obvious “Lutheran” wasn’t quite right. Faustus was writing against the divinity of Christ and the idea of an immortal soul as contrary to both scripture and most importantly as an affront to common sense, to reason. He returned to Italy and for a period of time kept his developing views to himself while working as a lawyer.

Faustus then settled in Basel where he threw himself into a serious study of the Bible. From there he found it wise to move to Transylvania, which for a brief glorious moment was the center of intellectual and spiritual freedom in Europe. There he collaborated with the anti-trinitarian theologian Francis David. However, eventually, they fell out over the use of traditional theological language being applied to the new radical unitarianism.

From there Faustus moved to Poland. And here he fell in with the Minor Church, better known in some circles as the Polish Brethren. Possibly the most important thing about the Polish Brethren was the press they set up at Rakow, which spread the Socianian teachings throughout Europe, and which many years later would be influential among Enlightenment era spiritual thinkers.

Faustus Socinus is a critical ancestor in the move toward what has been called “rational religion.” In the English speaking world it would become an important current in Anglicanism, and the very foundation of Unitarianism. It is, essentially, the belief that human reason is the “image of God” sung of in the scriptures. For Anglicans reason is part of a larger whole, a “three-legged stool,” including scripture and tradition along with reason. And as Earl Morse Wilbur said for the Unitarian expression “freedom, tolerance, and reason.” While these are both fascinating, I find myself wanting to dig into reason itself a bit more.

I particularly think of how reason itself can be understood as more than logic. When D. T. Suzuki and Paul Carus translated the Dao De Jing in 1913 the called it The “Canon of Reason and Virtue.” I find how they chose to translate the word Dao as “reason” very intriguing. Dao or Tao in the increasingly archaic Wade Giles use literally means “way.” In the Buddhist encounter with Chinese culture it came to be word they used to translate Dharma – itself literally “law” and pointing to that which is real, that which is.

Way. Law. That which is real. That which, as Robert Anton Wilson so well put it, “reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Reason is intimately turned toward the real. That real, the real which does not vanish when we cease holding it in our heads. And, here I feel we can begin to see the mystery of reason. It may present as and it certainly includes the powers of reasoning as in logic, that minute investigation into the nature of things.

Again, that investigation is into the real. And what we find is that taking things apart and looking at them in their detail, while enormously valuable, is only a part of the path. Within the way we need also to look at the whole.

And as we include the whole as the thing in itself, we find we’re not actually speaking of science, at least not precisely. Rather as we move into the realm of the thing in itself, the mysteries of presentation, we find the path of reason is in fact the path of wisdom. And wisdom is, of course, another term anciently associated with religion as one of the traditional ways, along with devotion, and work.

But not moving too quickly from the meeting of science and religion, I am endlessly intrigued by a quote from Albert Einstein. There are in fact variations of what Einstein actually said cited here and there. I kind of like that. Wisdom is frequently slippery. Best I can tell the first version was reported in the New York Times, citing a letter he wrote in 1950.

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.” Okay, that’s the set up, the necessary predicate.

What follows is Einstein’s articulation of the wisdom way. Albert sings to us, “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” He then adds a caution, a necessary modesty we all need to hear. “Nobody,” Albert reminds us, “is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.” We are always a part contemplating the whole, the reed carved into a flute, recalling in its haunting melodies the reed bed.

Einstein’s wisdom perspective is pretty good. And it informs me.

And, wisdom is found everywhere. It is founded in our seeing the intimate and the whole. Should a wave realize it is part of the great ocean – that is wisdom. While as best we can tell a wave never knows its connections, the joy of our condition as human beings is that we can. For us wisdom, the heart of reason, is discovering our individual lives, so precious, and passing, fleeting as smoke, are also at the very same time part of the whole, the great mess, all of it. I find it easy to see why we might name that great mess divine.

The critical point of our healing from the wound of separation turns on our understanding how we’re connected. Let’s step away from the image of wave and ocean. Wise not to be caught by one image, by one metaphor, by one analogy. Here’s another for the most important thing we can discover about ourselves. We are, each of us, the meeting of many strands in a vast web of relationship. Our finding this as our deepest truth and living from that knowing of our larger intimacy: that is wisdom. Whether we fancy it up with a capital “W” or not, that is wisdom.

Browse Our Archives

error: Content is protected !!