From the Editor—Friday Reflections

Calculating the Cosmos

The Nature of Man is Written in the Words

December 7, 2018

Imagine the whole  cosmos and that you can see perfectly all its elements from beginning to end. You are looking at burning "stars" and vast clouds of gas and so-called empty spaces. About 98 percent of what you see is helium and hydrogen.

But dial that description back a bit; you are just looking at . . . "stuff," without any names. The stuff, or matter, seems to be moving, hither and yon, coalescing here and there, and exploding now and then. Light and darkness fluctuate.

On the surface of, in, and above a small nearly spherical coalescence of matter lit by a burning orb of this stuff, a large variety of sub-coalesences ("subs") appears. They seem to arise, move for a time, then dissolve back into the larger coalesence (Earth). They consume, devour other subs, reproduce, and vanish.

Then, one such local coalescence (Man) disturbs the surrounding "air," producing complex patterns of "sound waves," each pattern of which corresponds to a different sub, distinguishing one from the other. He is said to be naming them. Later, he starts counting them, calculating. They don't calculate back. (He will eventually name and calculate more things: "98 percent helium and hydrogen.")

Over time, while the living subs continue to eat and reproduce, Man (who also consumes, reproduces, and dissolves) contrives to impress patterns of matter onto flat surfaces, to more permanently represent the sound patterns. They are written in stone, then on paper. Even later he devises methods for conveying these patterns through light and dark pixels on a "screen." You are looking at such a pattern of light and dark and have access to my thoughts encoded there. Are these thoughts on your screen or somewhere else as you read them? Where? But they do exist. They are real.

Man shares with the subs a cycle of birth, life, consumption, reproduction, and death, a cycle kept going by appetite and instinct. Yet Man also produces patterns (logoi, words) that are "above" sub instincts and appetites, words of shame, guilt, sorrow, beauty, truth, justice, virtue, joy, charity, love, and forgiveness. These are presented and made accessible through words. The Word has elevated Man.

Now, if Man were just "stuff," mere matter, why must those who insist on this use immaterial words to make their case? (And why do they even care?) If Man and subs are merely matter, then appetite is all that matters. If appetite for food and sex makes us who we are, then the Word that raises our sights elsewhere is a false light.

Our is a ministry of the Word, for the glory of the God who made all the stuff there is and who gave his Word to redeem us from slavery to our lower passions and appetites. The sub-animals are subject to their instincts and appetites by nature, and thus are not slaves but free in their natures to be what they are. A man who lives for physical comfort and indulgence, whether through food, sex, power or what have you, allows his capacity for the transcendent Word to shrivel and die, and becomes a slave to his belly.

At the first Christmas, lowly shepherds gazed up at the celestial stuff shining above their fields of lowly sheep, and, sore afraid, they beheld celestial beings and their ears interpreted sound waves: Gloria in excelsis Deo! The Maker of all offers a hand to fallen Man through the entry of the Word into the world.

As I said, ours is a ministry of the Word. That Word can be written, read, spoken, and heard. That is our history and labor:

• From the beginning, we have focused on remembering the Life of the Word Incarnate, marking events of his Saving Life, recorded in the Gospels, as preserved in the Christian Calendar. We do it with pictures, too.

• We soon thereafter published a daily reading guide to help keep ourselves in the Word that has been given to us for our good.

• We then later published Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity to nourish the Christian life engendered by the Word.

• And we now also meet in conferences for fellowship and to hear the instructive and exhortatory words of Christians engaged in the issues of our times. Anthony Esolen speaks his words here.

Please consider using and sharing any of these resources.

And, finally, in advance Christmas, here's a list of Christmas-related articles in our archives, so you have time to read and share them with others. It includes one of our most widely-read articles of all time: Calculating Christmas.  Enjoy all the words.

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

—James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.