Though far, in its main argument, from the central concerns of the Porch, some readers may be interested in my account of mythos and the nature of culture as an essentially poetic act, in this essay in Crisis Magazine.  An Excerpt:

The early expression, articulated by S.T. Coleridge, John Keble, and John Henry Newman, held that indeed culture is the poem of a poetic community.  The Church is a poetic community, whose practices, prayers, doctrines, and works constitute together a great poem.  This poem is a work of human imagination, because the Church is composed of human beings.  This says nothing about its truth or falsehood.

The question we must answer is, rather, what is this imagination whose out-working, whose expression, is manifested in the great poem of the Church?  The Church answers: it is the active recipient of the absolute and the unconditioned.  The Church receives the revelation of God.  The human imagination receives this revelation in faith.  In response to this reception, it begins its work of discernment, of staring into the hieroglyph of what God has shown, in history and above all in his Son, the Logos, so as to discover what are the expressible truths its contains.

The Logos, the singular eternal Word, finds expression in the many temporally spoken words, the logoi, of the Church and its members.  And so, the primary source, or cause, of the activity of the imagination of the Church is inspiration: this revelation in faith to the people of God, from God.  But this primary source is not the sole source.  Human reason of its own nature and power can rise up to the absolute, unconditioned truth.  If it could not, we could not know by reason the truths of mathematics, the definitions of such things as rabbits, frogs, goodness, justice, freedom, and beauty, or of the existence of God.  But we in fact do know all these things, and do so by way of reason’s own activity.  Philosophy, poetry, and the physical sciences are some of its more prominent expressions.  These are not human “inventions,” they are the result of reason’s discernment of realities outside and above itself.  To claim otherwise would be to claim that every truth is an invention of the individual’s subjectivity.

And so, we would expect Christianity to be a work of the human imagination, wherein that imagination gives expression to the total, unified discovery of human reason and divine inspiration.  The Church, indeed culture as a whole, including each and every culture the world over, is an attempt to express, in Phillip Rieff’s marvelous formulation, the Sacred Order in the Social Order.  That Christianity is the true myth that transcends and completes all others is merely a consequence of its unfolding as an expression of the discernment of human reason and also of God’s revelation.

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James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.


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