Sunday, July 24, 2011

Comparing simplicity, profundity, and obscurity

Something can be profound, but still simple. Brilliant minds have the ability to take profound truths and present them in a simple (but not simplistic) manner. [See this earlier post, The Childhood Simplicity of Karl Barth]

Sometimes profound truths are obscure. However, obscurity is not necessarily a measure of profundity. It may be just a measure of nonsense! I remember this being apparent in a fascinating review The Shrink from Hell of a critical biography of the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. He was (is) a darling of some postmodernists, and widely criticised, particularly by scientists for his attempts to justify his psycho-analytical "theories" using advanced mathematical concepts.

This post was prompted by reading the chapter, Take Up and Read in Loving God, by Charles Colson. It describes the conversion of Augustine. Colson gives a paraphrase of The Confessions of Augustine,  "Under Ambrose's influence, the simplicity of Scripture has begun to sound like the simplicity of profundity."
The closest I could find to this in the Confessions (chapter V, section 8):
... we are too weak by unaided reason to find out truth, and since, because of this, we need the authority of the Holy Writings, I had now begun to believe that thou wouldst not, under any circumstances, have given such eminent authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands if it had not been that through them thy will may be believed in and that thou mightest be sought. For, as to those passages in the Scripture which had heretofore appeared incongruous and offensive to me, now that I had heard several of them expounded reasonably, I could see that they were to be resolved by the mysteries of spiritual interpretation. The authority of Scripture seemed to me all the more revered and worthy of devout belief because, although it was visible for all to read, it reserved the full majesty of its secret wisdom within its spiritual profundity. While it stooped to all in the great plainness of its language and simplicity of style, it yet required the closest attention of the most serious-minded -- so that it might receive all into its common bosom, and direct some few through its narrow passages toward thee, yet many more than would have been the case had there not been in it such a lofty authority, which nevertheless allured multitudes to its bosom by its holy humility. I continued to reflect upon these things, and thou wast with me. I sighed, and thou didst hear me. I vacillated, and thou guidedst me. I roamed the broad way of the world, and thou didst not desert me.

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