The material element and the spiritual reality

As both my readers may have observed from recent posts, I’ve read Bradley G. Green’s The Gospel and the Mind. This book is a clear, interesting and persuasive book that argues that it is only the Christian worldview that provides a basis for meaningful rationality and that Christianity, correctly understood, fosters the life of the mind rather than discouraging it. It is basic enough for the uninitiated to read yet delves deep enough to keep the more philosophically-inclined believer interested. Before I move on to the next book in my reading list (yet to be decided), I thought I would summarise one of the more striking points that Green makes.

Biblical truth often uses allegory and metaphor in order to express invisible and, in some ways, unthinkable realities. God is the creator of the material that is used as analogy to describe his spiritual realities. Lewis said there is a “pre-existing similitude between the material element and the spiritual reality.” One of the most obvious examples, and the one that Lewis addresses, is that of baptism. He says, “Water, ex naturali qualitate, was an image of the grace of the Holy Ghost even before the sacrament of baptism was ordained.” (The Allegory of Love, 46). Bradley Green points out that, if this similitude is genuine, then it seems that “this relationship is embedded in the very structure of reality, the structure of the created order… When Lewis avers that some words are more fitting than others in reference to the created order, he is echoing Augustine’s suggestion that God has structured the world in such a way that the various aspects of creation might serve as “examples” for us.” (The Gospel and The Mind, p128). As Augustine put it:

Divine providence has carefully provided certain trees which visibly exemplify these invisible realities which are incredible for those without faith, but are nonetheless true. After all, why should we not believe that this was the reason why he arranged it so that a wild olive is born of a domesticated one? Ought we not to believe that in something created for human use the creator provided and arranged what might serve as an example of the human race?” (Marriage and Desire, 19:21)

The Incarnation and the words of man

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. And just as our word becomes sound without being changed into sound, so the Word of God became flesh, but it is unthinkable that it should have been changed into flesh. It is by assuming it, not by being consumed into it, that both our word becomes sound and that Word became flesh.

Augustine, The Trinity, 15.20. Quoted in Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind (Crossway, 2010), 135-136.

Augustine on Thinking and Believing

Everything which is believed should be believed after thought has preceded; although even belief itself is nothing else than to think with assent. For it is not every one who thinks that believes, since many think in order that they may not believe; but everybody who believes, thinks — both thinks in believing, and believes in thinking.

Augustine, Predestination of the Saints. Quoted in Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind (Crossway, 2010), 83.