Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Every Phenomenon of Nature was a Word"

Since I've been bereft of original ideas lately, the purpose of this post is simply share some marvelous quotes from the 18th-century German theologian Johann Hamann (a.k.a., "the happy Kierkegaard"), whose writings I cannot recommend highly enough. Stylistically and theologically he is similar to Kierkegaard, but he lacks Soren's stridency and melancholy disposition. Moreover, one can find in his writings early traces of Jüngel's emphasis on language, Pannenberg's account of time and eternity, and von Balthasar's (and later Hart's) aesthetics. A truly remarkable combination for a humble bureaucrat from Königsberg.

The initial passage describes Hamann's vision of the original state of creation, and also expresses the eternal Christian hope for the consummation of the world:
"So Adam was God's: and God himself introduced the firstborn and oldest of our race as the bearer and heir of the world which had been made ready by the Word of His mouth. Angels, happy to look upon his heavenly countenance, were the ministers and courtiers of the first monarch. All the children of God lifted their praise to the chorus of the morning stars. All tasted and beheld, firsthand and in the very act, the friendliness of the Maker, who played on his earth and found delight in his human children. As yet no creature had fallen against its will into the vanity and bondage of the transitory system, under which they now yawn and sigh... Every phenomenon of nature was a word - the sign, symbol, and pledge of a new, mysterious, inexpressible, but so much the more intimate union, participation, and communion of divine energies and ideas. Everything that man in the beginning heard, saw, gazed upon, and touched, was a living word. For God was the Word. With this Word in his mouth and in his heart the origin of language was as natural, as near and easy, as a child's game."

Here we see how Hamann's thought is thoroughly imbued with a sense of the profligate and gratuitous Word of God; a Word that is not an abstract and ethereal idea, but something that can be seen, touched, and tasted. As he wrote to a friend: "To express my soul to you from the depths, my whole a taste for signs and for the elements of water, bread, and wine. Here is fullness for hunger and thirst." Hamann's motto was the Psalmist's saying: "O taste and see that the Lord is good" (34:8)

In short, Hamann was the epitome of an earthy Christian who never lost his awe for the sheer miracle of Creation:
"Just as man often pits his nature against his reason and makes his habit of action into a necessity, so too, in his worldly wisdom, he has often tried to pit nature against its creator by speaking of unnatural and supernatural works. We might ask how many miracles God has performed, that we should no longer regard anything as natural. And what is there in nature, in the most commonplace natural events, that is not a miracle in our eyes, a miracle in the strictest sense of the word?"

I absolutely love this quote, because it shows that Hamann was continually amazed that the world exists, and that he exists. He lived his life in pure receptivity, never failing to hear God's voice in Scripture, nature, and history. For him, existence was a perpetual conversation with the Creator, "the poet at the beginning of days":
"Our entire life is a history of divine mercy and love. When we complete the day's work, we praise and honor them if we accept love and appropriate it, the love which moved Him to be our creator and redeemer. This love alone can make us into creatures whom He views with favor and with the word of the second creation: 'It is finished.'"

No comments: