"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Abyss

“So too no created being can go out of itself by rational contemplation. Whatever it sees, it must see itself; and even if it thinks it is seeing beyond itself, it does not in fact possess a nature which can achieve this. And thus in its contemplation of Being it tries to force itself to transcend a spatial representation, but it never achieves it. For in every possible thought, the mind is surely aware of the spatial element which it perceives in addition to the thought content; and the spatial element is, of course, created. Yet the Good that we have learned to seek and to cherish is beyond all creation, and hence beyond all comprehension. Thus how can our mind, which always operates on a dimensional image, comprehend a nature that has no dimension, especially as our minds are constantly penetrating, by analysis, into things which are more and more profound? And though the mind in its restlessness ranges through all that is knowable, it has never yet discovered a way of comprehending eternity in such wise that it might place itself outside of it, and go beyond the idea of eternity itself and that Being which is above all being. It is like someone who finds himself on a mountain ridge. Imagine a sheer, steep crag, of reddish appearance below, extending into eternity; on top there is this ridge which looks down over a projecting rim into a bottomless chasm. Now imagine what a person would probably experience if he put his foot on the edge of this ridge which overlooks the chasm and found no solid footing nor anything to hold on to. This is what I think the soul experiences when it goes beyond its footing in material things, in its quest for that which has no dimension and which exists from all eternity. For here there is nothing it can take hold of, neither place nor time, neither measure nor anything else; it does not allow our minds to approach. And thus the soul, slipping at every point from what cannot be grasped, becomes dizzy and perplexed and returns once again to what is connatural to it, content now to know merely this about the Transcendent, that it is completely different from the nature of the things that the soul knows.

“Thus it is, then, that when reason touches on those things which are beyond it, that is the time to keep silence (Eccles. 3.7); rather it keeps the wonder of that ineffable power within the secret of our conscience, fully aware that great men have spoken not of God but rather of his works, saying: Who shall declare the powers of the Lord? (Ps. 105.2) and I will relate all thy wonders (Ps. 9.2), and Generation and generation shall praise thy works (Ps. 144.4). This is what they discuss and this is what they have to say in their attempt to translate reality into words. But when their discourse touches on that which transcends all knowledge, it is rather silence that they prescribe in what they tell us. For they tell us that of the magnificence of the glory of His holiness there is no end. Ah, the wonder of it!” 

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on Ecclesiastes, sermon 7, (From Glory to Glory, SVSP, p. 127-128)

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