On Nature and Natural Law

Note 6: Titian: Logos and Creativity. 3/29/99

The link between Logos, Creationism, and the human capacity to be creative appeared in Western civilization at least as early as the second century of the first millennium. The idea, then and now, argues that God's creative power, called Logos, having been the first thing that God brought into being, was in turn the force that generated all other created reality. Because (wo)man was created in God's image, but is a lesser being than his/her creator, people have a scaled down version of the creative power of the Logos that God possesses. This concept has stood in Christian theology in essentially this form from the beginning and without change or alteration or refinement because Christians have a tendency to believe that the revealed word of God, truth as such, cannot be changed over time. This belief depends in part on the notion that the people to whom God speaks, and of course God cannot say what is false, are not able to misunderstand or misconstrue any element of what God says to them. In essence, whatever was first said (by God) was true when it was uttered, is still true now, and will always be true in the future. A number of early church fathers disputed the veracity of Greek philosophy, where any Greek view contradicted the Christian version of the same idea, on the single ground that this idea or that one changed in the course of a thinker's life, or was altered in some way by one of his pupils, or was shown to be in need of clarification by a subsequent philosopher. Virtually the whole of Greek philosophy was denigrated and dismissed by Christian theologians because it demonstrated a capacity to change over time.

Theophilus (115-181 A. D.), for instance, in Book III, Chapter 3, of his disputation with Autolycus, states that

"For all these [philosophers], having fallen in love with vain and empty reputation, neither themselves knew the truth, nor guided others to the truth: for the things which they said themselves convict them of speaking inconsistently; and most of them demolished their own doctrines. For not only did they refute one another, but some, too, even stultified their own teachings; so that their reputation has issued in shame and folly, for they are condemned by men of understanding. For either they made assertions concerning the gods, and afterwards taught that there was no god; or if they spoke even of the creation of the world, they finally said that all things were produced spontaneously. Yea, and even speaking of providence, they taught again that the world was not ruled by providence."

While it is true that Theophilus dismisses Greek philosophers on the ground that "men of understanding" condemn them and their ideas, he does not specify who these men are, and goes on to refute the philosophers, not by characterizing their positions and presenting arguments of his own which demonstrate their fallacies, but instead simply points out the fact that they disagree with each other and argue positions that are contrary to Christian belief. This strategy is perfectly legitimate in the Christian view because a dispute among Christians over fundamental issues of doctrine is literally impossible since everything known arises from the divinely revealed word of God and is wholly without error.

The attitude that truth is necessarily absolute, and hence unchangeable over time, has been such a pervasive one in Christian dominated ideology that many early ideas expressed by the church fathers are still much in vogue today, have hardly changed their terms at all, and seem to carry as much authority now, even when they are presented as novel concepts, as they did nearly 2000 years ago. Just because an idea is old, of course, does not mean that it is fallacy-riddled, logically inconsistent, or necessarily false. At the same time, however, fallacy, illogic, and falsehood cannot be rehabilitated simply by dressing an old idea in newly fashioned clothes. The fact that old ideas are sometimes presented as newly discovered perceptions does create the impression that some contemporary theorists are pursuing old ideas without being aware of the fact that they are. This blindness to tradition, usually their own, does invite a closer critical scrutiny than one would be inclined to give if the theorist were at least cognizant of the connection between his/her thought and the one that existed nearly two millennia previously.

Titian, for instance, no later than 172 A. D., which most scholars accept as the year of his death, articulated a position so similar to the modern notion that language (as logos) constitutes reality that the two ideas cannot be distinguished from each other if only a few deletions of an exceptional fact or two are made to the former. The only substantive difference between the ideas can be found in the fact that Titian was writing a theological tract (Address to the Greeks) where more modern or contemporary versions of the same idea have been stripped of their theological content because humanism is about people and not about God. Oddly though, many of the concepts that are no longer accepted on a conscious level by modern theorists have not been addressed as antiquated theology incapable of withstanding scientific evaluation, such as Creationism itself, and have been unconsciously retained, if unspoken, as components of the contemporary argument. There is even some considerable question in my mind at least as to whether these ideas can exist apart from the theology that invented them in the first place.

Titian, in Chapter 5 of his Address to the Greeks, begins his discussion of the Logos by reviewing a complex of ideas meant to refute certain arguments proposed by various Greek philosophers who were clearly less certain and absolute in their respective view of how the world came into existence than Titian and all other Christians were. Plato argued in the Timaeus that matter already existed before the gods shaped it into the world. Christian theologians took the contrary position that only God existed in the beginning and fashioned the universe ex nihilo, out of nothing, as it were. Titian says that

"God was in the beginning; but the beginning, we have been taught, is the power of the Logos. For the Lord of the universe, who is Himself the necessary ground of all being, in as much as no creature was yet in existence, was alone; but in as much as He was all power, Himself the necessary ground of things visible and invisible, with Him were all things; with Him, by Logos-power, the Logos Himself also, who was in Him, subsists. And by His simple will the Logos springs forth; and the Logos, not coming forth in vain, becomes the first-begotten work of the Father. Him (the Logos) we know to be the beginning of the world."

This rather convoluted statement simply focuses on the argument that no other thing, created or otherwise, existed before the Logos came into being, as the direct result of God's will, and stood as the beginning of all created reality. This same idea was necessary in early Christianity to refute certain other heresies (Gnosticism especially) that grew out of the notion that matter was the result of evil, had been created by an evil counterpart of the wholly good Deity that Christians worshiped as the supreme being. That God alone is the "necessary ground of things visible and invisible" means that there is no other force or power anywhere in the universe that can or ever did challenge His supremacy. Whether anyone needs that particular reassurance now is a question that falls somewhere off the page in consideration of the scientific view that matter, in some form or another, has always existed and was not created in any meaningful sense of what that concept means. One might say that a more primitive mind, like the kind reflected in Titian's argument, needs the notion of beginning and end because without those necessary limits it is simply impossible to comprehend the nature of reality at all. For my part, the beginning of space and time, as a result of the Big Bang or otherwise, when it is set at 16 billion years ago, is simply a meaningless "event" in terms of anything that can, or ever will, affect my real life and real thought. The beginning of the universe simply has no significance in my life.

Titian goes on to take the idea of the Logos as a model which explains certain obvious facts about the nature of human reality. He states that God was not diminished in any way by causing the Logos to spring forth from His essential being. This might be important to say if someone were going to argue that splitting Oneself up into component parts makes each additional piece less than the whole was before the division. That is a logical assumption to make since in human experience the division of any whole substance or power into smaller pieces necessarily reduces the power any one part has in comparison to the whole. Titian uses the following example to refute the idea that God was diminished by the emergence of the Logos out of Himself:

"I myself, for instance, talk, and you hear; yet, certainly, I who converse do not become destitute of speech by the transmission of speech, but by the utterance of my voice I endeavour to reduce to order the unarranged matter in your minds. And as the Logos begotten in the beginning, begat in turn our world, having first created for Himself the necessary matter, so also I, in imitation of the Logos, being begotten again, and having become possessed of the truth, am trying to reduce to order the confused matter which is kindred with myself."

The idea of "being begotten again," of course, refers to the notion of the second birth that Christians experience when they are converted to the faith and baptized by or in the Holy Spirit and thereby gain the capacity to know the truth in its infallible veracity before the world, the flesh, and the devil, so to speak. Knowledge of the world without benefit of the second birth is always already fallible and false. It is only through conversion to the faith that truth becomes apprehensible in Christian theology. The points of interest here are the two statements Titian makes about the use of his own voice, first to "reduce to order the confused matter which is kindred to myself"; and secondly, the use of speech to "reduce to order the unarranged matter in your own minds." I have reversed the sequence of Titian's placing these ideas before us only because it seems prudent to have control of your own thoughts before you set out to arrange the thoughts of others.

The idea that language creates order from a chaos of unformulated matter or material in a person's mind is essentially the same one expressed by Derek Attridge in a paper ("Innovation, Literature, Ethics: Relating to the Other") he published in the Modern Language Association's Journal (PMLA) as recently as January 1999. In that article, Attridge puts it this way:

"this form of expression is one way of indicating the strange compulsion involved in creative behavior, a compulsion that is manifest in a minor way as I grope for sentences to articulate ideas that do not have any substantial existence before the sentences come to me and is much more consequential in major acts of inventiveness, verbal or otherwise" (27).

Attridge's modesty is becoming, but leaving it aside for now, there is little or no difference in what he is saying here and what Titian has said in the second century. While Attridge claims his ideas "do not have any substantial existence" before they take form in a sentence, Titian says that his thoughts are "confused matter" before he turns them into orderly concepts by the use of his voice to articulate them. In one sense at least, it might be possible to distinguish Titian and Attridge on the ground that the earlier thinker was more in control of his thought processes, by virtue of having "matter" in his head, than Attridge seems to be, by virtue of suggesting that his mind is completely empty before he begins to formulate concepts at all. He tends to reinforce this perception earlier in his essay when he says that

"When I write a sentence that seems just right, that pleases me with its encapsulation of a point I had not known I was about to make, I am not able to say how it came into being, but I can say I did not produce it solely by means of an active shaping of existing, conscious, mental materials." (21)

The problem I have with this statement is that Attridge seems to be trying to outdo Titian in terms of mystifying the origins of human thought by attributing ideas to a magic realm of language that springs out of some unknowable ground, exactly like Logos springs out of God in Titian's account, just because, or when, he picks up his pencil to start writing. This sounds so much like creation ex nihilo that I wonder if Attridge isn't just trying to make what he writes sound more impressive than it really is by virtue of having no known source of being prior to his invention of it. That is how God did it. How much more impressive is what I write if I can claim to create it out of nothing too? What makes me even more suspicious of Attridge's observations about written creationism is what he says in a subsequent sentence, which may or may not be one that sprang up without prior awareness: "This should not be taken to imply a mystical belief in an exterior agent. . ." (21). The point I made earlier seems to be confirmed here; that is, Attridge expresses a fundamentally Christian theological position about the nature of the creative act, dresses it up in contemporary terminology, and then explicitly denies that it has anything to do with God's Logos when he refutes the notion of the "exterior agent." Titian, operating under this identical rubric, would have claimed divine inspiration for everything his fallible human consciousness formulated. The point here is that Attridge, by refusing to acknowledge the specific origin of his idea, where it comes from nobody knows, is able to hold it off in some mystical realm of language usage, apparently, that used to pass for divine inspiration during the time when this complex of ideas about the creative act came into consciousness in Western civilization. This seems to be nothing more than a humanist version of monologic command deprived of its original authority in the notion of the divine Logos.

I take myself elsewhere and as far away from this kind of "critical" thinking as I can get because I want to know what is going to prevent Attridge from magically writing a final solution to the next emergence of some OTHER he does not want to tolerate in the near vision of his own personal comfort. Doesn't seem to be anything here to prevent it.

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