On Developing 20/∞ Vision
In the end -- and this is something Bion knew -- intellection really isn't that different from digestion, being that it consists of identifying what is healthy to eat, chewing it thoroughly, swallowing, breaking down, assimilating, and then, most importantly, utilizing or becoming.
In other words, the "end result" of food is either energy for action or else renewed substance for your being. (I guess we left out elimination, didn't we? In that case it's best to either not ingest useless crap to begin with, or else spit it out right away. Otherwise, you risk years of "detoxification," for example, the years it takes to undo a higher education.)
Now, one thing we really need to chew on is this thing called "history," for history is somewhat like a symphony.... No, wait a minute. I'll just stick with what I know best. Let's say history is like a small jazz combo, in which case you have cycles or rhythms (the drummer), certain ground notes that hold the musical structure together and unify rhythm and harmony (the bass), the chordal structure (the piano), and the soloists who use the other three as the basis for free improvisation -- the latter of which being rooted in the structure while "floating above" it. You could say that improvisation is simultaneously immanent and transcendent, or within and beyond the musical structure.
For Balthasar, "the revelation of Biblical salvation-history is a form set before mankind's eyes, implanted in the midst of mankind's historical evolution." In other words, profane history is one thing -- you might say the rhythm and bass -- over which God improvises his divine melody. And like any melody, it can only be discerned in time. This is the difference between "horizontal" and "vertical" in music. A chord consists of multiple notes that are played all at once, i.e., vertically. But a melody can only disclose its pattern in time. A single note of a melody is "nothing." In fact, a melody can't really be discerned absent the modes of memory and anticipation.
You might say that Balthasar's central concern is the beauty of this divine melody as it appears in time, beginning with the old covenant and extending through the new and beyond. The point is, it is a form, a form that is surely as real as physical or biological form. And like any form, if you break it up into its constituent parts, the form disappears. This is especially true of scripture, which any yahoo can "disprove" to himself by focusing on a single element and removing it from its overall context. This is a favorite approach of the atheistic barbarians. In fact, here's an apt quote by Schuon:
"In the opinion of all unbelievers, it is the absurdities contained in the sacred Scriptures which primarily stand in the way of the credibility of the Message.... First of all, it is necessary to envisage a Scripture in its totality and not be hypnotized, with perfect myopia, by a fragmentary difficulty, which after all is the perspective of the devil, who disparages a mountain because of a fissure and, conversely, praises an evil because of an inevitable particle of good." (In fact, this is why Satan loves the Porkulus bill.)
But "when Scripture is envisaged in its totality it imparts a global value and its supernatural character to whomever is not blinded by prejudice and who has been able to preserve intact the normally human sensibility for the majestic and the sacred.... [W]hat cannot be imitated [in scripture] is the depth of the meanings and the theurgic radiation of divinely inspired texts" (Schuon; emphases mine).
Schuon mentions our sensibility for the majestic and sacred, which are examples of the types of "aesthetic" categories Balthasar uses to understand the Divine message in its totality, not just in terms of a momentary or isolated fragment. And in considering this totality, he observes that its "contour-lines have been drawn with such mastery that not the smallest detail can be altered. The weights have been poised in such a way that their balance extends to infinity, and they resist any displacement. God's art in the midst of history is irreproachable, and any criticism of his masterpiece immediately rebounds on the fault-finder" (Balthasar; emphasis mine).
Like any truly great work of art, we must "elevate" ourselves in order to apprehend it. Yes, the artist "reaches down," so to speak, but surely not "all the way," on pain of becoming what he is not. Christ "became man"; but he did not become an evil or sinful man, just so you could better relate to him.
Now, a great work of art is surely "rational," but that is not all it is. This is why, as applied to scripture, "the mere light of reason clearly does not suffice to illumine this work, and it can be irrefutably established that anyone who seeks to comprehend it with this light cannot do it justice." Yes, there is an elegant mathematical structure to Bach's fugues, but an "x-factor" is added by actually listening to them in their wholeness, for the "math" is in service to the overall form, not vice versa.
As it pertains to the form of revelation, "faith" is the appropriate mode in which to apprehend the form in its totality. As Balthasar writes, "the light of God which faith has sees the form as it is, and, indeed, it can demonstrate that the evidence of the thing's rightness emerges from the thing itself and sheds its light outwards from it.... The decisive thing is that this form presents itself as the revelation of the inner depth of God" (emphasis mine).
I think Balthasar would agree that the Christian revelation represents a kind of totality -- the whole symphony, as it were -- that other revelations only express in parts. This is not to put them down. To the contrary, it is to give them a new kind of value by realizing that these fragments -- various chords, melodies, themes and rhythms -- were valid intuitions of the totality. But when a part is elevated to the whole, then you're going to run into problems.
Does this sound overly abstract? Possibly so. Let me provide a concrete example. As a child, Christianity was presented to me in such a piecemeal way that it was just too easy to reject. I won't dwell on the details. My point is that I eventually began re-exploring Christianity from the "outside in," so to speak, beginning with some of its greatest thinkers. In so doing, I began to increasingly appreciate the beautiful contours of this magnificent edifice.
But there was a curious thing. That is, there was still a big hole in the middle of this beautiful structure. And what might that be? It was the Crucifixion and Resurrection -- the very things that made the whole thing seem so implausible if presented up front, totally out of context. In other words, once I began to appreciate the incredibly rich totality, I began to see how the Incarnation is the pillar holding up the whole beautiful structure. What emerges is a new kind of "necessity" that clearly transcends logic, for it is more like the necessity of the artist who knows that this note, or this line of color, must go right there and nowhere else.
Thus, for Balthasar, the central problem of perceiving the form is an aesthetic one. To ignore this critical dimension can reduce scripture to a kind of crude materialism, which many fundamentalists tend to do. And along with materialism comes a misguided application of reason which exists side-by-side with a kind of dopey fideism; in other words, belief in frank absurdities backed by the misapplication of reason. The left never tires of trotting out such idiots in order to satisfy themselves that religion is for morons.
As Balthasar notes, to try to comprehend religion with the categories of materialism is to have conceded up front: "What basis acceptable to reason can we give to [Christ's] authoritative claims? Anyone asking the question in this way has really already formed an answer, because he is at once enmeshed in an insoluble dilemma." If he tries to believe on the basis of reason alone, then he is ignoring the dimensions of divine authority and aesthetic contemplation. But nor does Christian faith consist of renouncing reason in order to prop it up in the teeth of all reasonable objections.
Again Balthasar emphasizes the importance of seeing the whole. "Torn between knowing and believing," the critical rationalist will be "no longer able to see anything." Rather, "the spirit searching for meaning requires a higher light of grace in order to synthesize the signs.... Allowing that this point of convergence is supernatural and that it lies in the sphere of the properly divine, then it is clear that the spirit searching for the meaning of these signs will totally (not merely partly) fail to find it as long as it seeks for the point of unity in the realm of the natural."
This is why no rational argument will convince the skeptic. Rather, "the light of grace comes to the aid" of our "natural inabilty" and "strengthens the power of sight," thereby bestowing vision and making "the eye proportionate to what is being shown." Only then do you see the One Cosmos Under God.