September 30, 2018


Russell Kirk and the Logos (BRADLEY J. BIRZER, September 27, 2018, Imaginative Conservative)

The real historian, as with the true poet, understands that one must recognize that the Logos is the center of all thought, all history, all grace, all goodness, and all purpose. "A reformed history must be imaginative and humane; like poetry, like the great novel, it must be personal rather than abstract, ethical rather than ideological," Kirk claimed. "Like the poet, the historian must understand that devotion to truth is not identical with the cult of facts." A search for history, then, is a search for the Logos. "Rather, the truths of history, the real meanings, are to be discovered in what history can teach us about the framework of the Logos," Kirk wrote, "about the significance of human existence: about the splendor and the misery of our condition."

The irony of this is that the best faculty for understanding the Logos is not through the very human passions or the intellect, but, rather, through the aristocratic soul, the mirror of the Divine. As St. John had written in the 9th verse of the first chapter of his gospel, the Logos (the Word) is "that which lighteth every man's soul." Man understands the world best, as such, through the Image provided to him by the Divine through his soul. "Images are representations of mysteries, necessarily," Kirk observed, "for mere words are tools that break in the hand, and it has not pleased God that man should be saved by logic, abstract reason, alone." If one takes the Image properly, as intended by the Image maker, it will "raise us on high, as did Dante's high dream." If soiled by the prideful ego, though, "it can draw us down to the abyss." The Image offered by the Divine allows us not to create that which can and should never be, but to discover that which has always been there, but either forgotten, ignored, or mocked. "It is imagery, rather than some narrowly deductive and inductive process, which gives us great poetry and scientific insights," Kirk stated in a 1977 public address, and "it is true of great philosophy, before Plato and since him, that the enduring philosopher sees things in images initially."

In his own arguments, Kirk drew upon centuries and centuries of tradition. One of the Inklings--the group centered around J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in the 1930s and 1940s--had written perceptively in his Oxford undergraduate thesis:

"Our sophistication, like Odin's, has cost us an eye; and now it is the language of poets, in so far as they create true metaphors, which must restore this unity conceptually, after it has been lost from perception. Thus, the 'before-unapprehended' relationship of which Shelley spoke, are in a sense 'forgotten' relationships. For though they were never yet apprehended, they were at one time seen. And imagination can see them again."  Tolkien himself, named after St. John and having taken St. John as his patron saint, wrote to his former student, W.H. Auden, each person is "an allegory . . . each embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life."

For Tolkien and Kirk (as well as Owen Barfield, quoted above), the Logos provided the eternal and incorruptible essence of divine and human existence, while the mythos (story and history) gave the individual and personal manifestations of the Logos a context, rooted in a specific space and time. Writers, public intellectuals, professors, scholars, and men of letters, Kirk argued, must especially embrace the public duty of serving the Word.

"This unity and this spirited defiance of the vulgar came, in considerable part, from the Schoolmen's [Thomist Scholastics] convictions that they were Guardians of the Word, fulfilling a sacred function, and so secure in the right" in their medieval universities. Americans, too, have inherited this sacred duty. "The principle support to academic freedom, in the classical world, the medieval world, and the American educational tradition, has been the conviction, among scholars and teachers, that they are Bearers of the Word--dedicated men, whose first obligation is to Truth, and that a Truth derived from apprehension of an order more than natural or material." the recognition of the primacy of aesthetics and the sufficiency of Faith.

Posted by at September 30, 2018 8:28 AM