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Jürgen Moltmann: the speech of nature is directed to people, from “Sein Name ist Gerechtigkeit” (His Name is Righteousness)

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Several weeks ago I finished reading Moltmann’s, Sein Name ist Gerechtigkeit (His Name is Righteousness). I hope it gets translated into English soon. I translated a whole lot just taking notes, but I’m pretty sure the Gütersloher Verlagshaus (publishing house) has its own translator.

I’ve been struggling to write a book about performative declarations and God’s continuous creativity via language. John Searle underscores facts to such an extent in his work, The Construction of Social Reality, that he even emphasizes their existence as “brute facts” in the external reality of his naturalism.

I just read a reflection by Ronald E. Burmeister, “On the Atoll,” in (The Lutheran: January, 2009; page 3) that underscored Moltmann’s contention that nature is not just replete with facts but with signs that amount to speech directed to us. Climbing up an atoll in a gale, a 300 foot high column of rock in the Arctic region, Burmeister felt  a spiritual stirring. Struggling up to the summit represented all of life’s struggles. The sentinel-like rock stood for God’s everpresence, the undulating green tundra for God’s grace, the waters for baptism, the perspective from the summit, God’s promise to be with us always.

Compare my song “Route 128” with that. Nature’s “resounding sound makes the Word abound, so naturally.” The physicality of nature matches the contour of the physical sound of words, and then their speech is heard. Also read my poem “Mount Chocorua.” It speaks of climbing into maturity.

Then look at Psalm 19:

The heavens are telling the glory of God

and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.

Day by day pours out speech

and night to night whispers knowledge.

There is no language nor are there words,

in which their voice is not heard (verses 1-3).

I found this note I penned after reading the section on Psalm 19 in Artur Weiser’s commentary on The Psalms (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1962): “The creation speaks and was also created by what God has spoken. It utters words and was uttered into existence by words.”

I wrote those words a long time ago, but now Moltmann has revived my attention to it and I see how it fits in with my performative declarations book.

Here are my comments and some notes that I took out of Moltmann’s book:

The speech of nature is directed to people (page 175). We divide and conquer nature [via science and torture it for its secrets]. But it is in its composition, it is in its organization as the Book of Nature, by means of our participatory grasp of it in the highest culture and spirit of humans,  that it speaks to us. [This requires] our companionship and connection with nature. We want to know nature and become one with it, connect with it and participate in it. [The scientific enterprise began with the pre-Socratics.] The point, however, is not to understand nature via natural explanations, but through awe and amazement. [I remember reading about Max Weber, Matthew Arnold,  and so many others, who grieved having lost the enchantment which science had taken away from them.] The act of nature toward us is like speech, which is meaningful to us.

As persons we need a relationship with nature, which is like the relationship of our body and soul. “Every environment is filled with meaningful symbols…every meaningful symbol of a subject is at one and the same time a meaningful symbol of the personal/ bodily form (Gestalt) of the subject.”

“Dis-covery or Ent-deckung in German has the same meaning as “revelation” (page 176). [I have often struggled with the distinction between discovery versus invention; for example, was logic discovered or invented by Aristotle?] Moltmann writes, “[for discovery] its object is presupposed, while in an invention, it is produced.”

The genetic code presents us with a universe of signs for interpretation or meaning. “In the human understanding of nature, it becomes conscious of itself.”

[We need a] theological hermeneutic of nature (page 178). Nature is a book whose signs we can learn to read. Like the Holy Book, nature is just as intelligible as the spirit is rational. This metaphor [the Book of Nature], understands the language of nature and calls the “signatures” of nature legible writing. Theologically speaking, all creatures are creations of divine words: God spoke, “Let there be light and there was light.”

As I began reading page 179, I wrote: “Genetic codes could be considered biological performatives, producing the organism that they are expressing, but their language, their speech acts are those of God, the Divine Logos.” To continue my thoughts, then Searle’s brute facts, in so far that they are biological organisms, are also language dependent.

Moltmann continues on page 179 with all the historical, theological concepts of the Book of Nature. Nicholas of Cusa felt that sensual perception was appropriate for nature: “Things are for the book of the senses. In them the wishes of Godly reason are described in sensual pictures.”

He quotes the abbot, Anthony, the third century monk, “My book is created nature, one always at my disposal should I want to read about God’s works.”

Basel the Great thought that our reason was created so perfectly by God that we, “through the beauty of creatures, as if they were letters and words, could read the wisdom and providence of God.”

Augustine called the book of nature, the book of the universe. So alongside scripture, we have the book of nature, universe, and more seldom, the book of creation.

Maximus the Confessor held, “The scriptures and nature were the two garments of Christ, which lit up in his transfiguration, his humanity [for] nature and his divinity[for] scripture.”

The Celtic, John Scotus Eriugena, considered the two books, theophanies, one read by means of letters, the other by forms.

Averroës [influenced by Aristotle] separated faith and reason; he stood against the inner harmony of faith and reason brought to expression by the two books, the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Nature.  [The Holy Book for Averroës would, of course, have been the Qur’an.]

The Book of Nature was always read in the light of scriptures. Through natural understanding of God one became wise but not saved; through understanding revelation one became saved, but sadly, not wise. The direct understanding of revelation founded another communion with God from the indirect understanding of nature, because every understanding founds a community (Gemeinschaft). We can also reverse [this perspective] and read the scriptures in the light of the book of nature. [I have always given an historical account of the progress of science. Back then in the time when the creation story was written, the elements were earth, wind, water, and fire. Now our table of elements has 112 from Helium all the way to Lawrencium.]

Every culture is a universe of signs (page 180) and for its survival dependent on their hermeneutic of interpretation. The stars that we see could have existed in the past and could be long gone and deep in the background there is still the Big Bang. We see the presence of the past. In the building of matter and living forms a memory of nature has accrued, which can be called wise, because connections hostile to life have been thwarted and life-friendly connections were furthered and advanced. There is a history of nature and there are new ways of scientific thinking. Culture and nature inform each other because the cultural code is part of the natural code. The way scientific technical methods have dominated nature has made this historical memory illegible (page 181).

Ultimately modern science belongs to the culture of humanity. Science is culturally conditioned to the highest measure, even to Jewish and Christian religion, as any comparative study with Asian [scientific enterprises] easily demonstrates.

[Now this helps me counter John Searle’s emphasis on facts, even brute facts!] We can read the book of nature, only if we do not register it as a world of facts, but as a world of meaning (page 182). There is the speech of nature or nature speaks, where everything is full of signs and everything is full of meaning. [Note: that’s where Max Weber and Matthew Arnold’s enchantment went!] The hermeneutic of nature is thus the art to be able to interpret the natural world of signs, the signiture of things.

Moltmann quotes Jakob Böhme: “and there is no thing in nature, created or born, which does not reveal its inner form (Gestalt) outwardly, because the internal always works to reveal itself…therefore in the signature is the greatest understanding (Verstand), in which the human being not only knows him [or her]self, but in it can also know the nature of all nature…everything has a mouth for revelation. That is the language of nature.” (We’re still on page 181.)

Moltmann counters Plato’s “everything is an expression of its nature” with “[for] Christians, everything is an expression of its Godly Word.”

A. “The internal dimension of things gives signs for something in them or lying over them.” Natural configurations are read by physiognomy, like the face reveals the particularity of the soul (page 182). In this way the face of nature can also be read.

B. Every natural sign has a directional character, which shows the connections and relationships of things with each other. They point to the relative whole, of which they are a part. The cross-sectional are pointed in networks of relationships, whether bottom-up or top-down in their relative wholeness, and are nested in each other (sind ineinander verschränkt).

C. Not yet last of all, the signs of nature are related to the human beholders and actors, and then the signs become signals, which say what the natural environment means for people. Nature is [actively] giving signals and not only receiving them. It is a sender and not only a receiver from people. That presupposes a stepped-down subjectivity or sentience of nature, its forms, and worlds of life.

[Nature, creation] is not finished yet, but [presents] fragments of what is to come. [We have] anticipated, open signs of the future. As St. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13: “for we know only in part, we prophesy only in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end” (verses 9-10). and “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (verse 12).  Moltmann continues that the relation of the fragment to the perfect corresponds to that of the knowledge, prophesy relationship. We know reality and prophesy the future. It is important to realize that, the perfect does not develop out of the fragmentary, but comes to it. Nature is a world of forms and the relationships of nature are not only an exchange of energies, but also an exchange of information. The art of taking up information, interpreting, and working it through, is Hermeneutics. Primal matter of the universe, it is said, is information and reality [and both] are the same. (Here we turn to page 183) Reality is efficacious [as information]. Nature is forma informata and informans. We live in a world of mutual information and participation. We also discover the world of performative anticipations. Reality is formed out of the possible. The creative part of reality as realization is efficacious (Wirklichkeit als Wirksamkeit). “Life is the impressed form that livingly develops” (Moltmann is quoting Goethe).

Moltmann compares the language of signs in nature to reading symptoms for the diagnosis of a disease. We have to register the sign, then interpret it, and then name the disease. Nature can be interpreted that way too.

The theological interpretation of signs went from the kosmos to history, because history becomes the quintessential concept in Europe since the French Revolution. If the stars were no longer signs, then the signs of the times had to be interpreted. The signs of the times were interpreted as the signature of history.

Grace precedes nature (page 184), but now grace precedes history and the interpretation of the signs of the times now became a function of the theologia naturalis (natural theology). But the signs of history were ambiguous; there are the signs of progress and those of catastrophe, signs of the end. “When will that all happen and what will be the sign, when it will all come to an end?” (Mark 13:4)

The coming presence of Christ in Holy Communion is the center of the Christian teaching of signs. In Holy Communion the signs of the presence of Christ are still in culture and nature.

The empirical, sensual, concept of nature no longer relates to the word “essence” from which it was derived (page 185). In science we observe, weigh, measure, etc., but we do not reflect about its nature. The change in the concept of nature came about because of the theological concept of creation. Creation is finite, in time, and contingent, because it is creation and not the Creator. Nature is therefore a necessary expression of God’s nature, but is contingent and depends on observation, not deduction.

These notes are my translation and come from Jürgen Moltmann’s, Sein Name ist Gerechtigkeit (His Name is Righteousness), (Gütersloh, München: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2008). Moltmann overflows with mature wisdom in the chapters of his book and it needs to be translated and studied in the English. peterkrey


Written by peterkrey

June 9, 2009 at 6:48 pm

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