Thursday, December 29, 2005

Infinity Over Infinity

Out at Grace Cathedral they're stretching our cosmic boundaries again:
[Anglican orthodoxy]understands that God’s infinity and essential unknowability requires that revelation in the Bible and in Creation must contain an infinite multiplicity of meanings.
There are times when it is handy to be a mathematician, such as when the statistics-spinning begins, or when people start talking about inifinities as though there was something profound about them.

Infinity is something that it is quite easy to introduce and quite difficult to introduce in a way that is meaningful. Here's an example: Suppose you asked someone to draw a smiley-face at least an inch high and wide in a two-inch-square box. How many different such faces could be drawn? Well, to the geometer, an infinite number, and in practice the number of real variations is close enough to infinity for most purposes. This infinity has no real impact.

The same issue arises with regards to divine revelation. I'm not sure I even agree with the implication being stated, but I would note that "infinite multiplicity of meanings" doesn't imply that the meanings vary by much. It seems to me that the Orthodox Anglican line always was that there was an essential center, a core meaning about which variation could be tolerated. Tis is the truth out of which arose the Quadrilaterals. Dean Jones seems (by ellipsis) to imply that the incarnation-- that is, Jesus and what the Gospels tell of him-- is something of a blank slate upon which nearly any image can be graven.

This particularly comes out in an example he gives:
The Russian icon, the Rublev Trinity, expresses brilliantly what we are about - three figures sitting at a table on which sits a chalice.
The thing is that this icon wasn't written as just three figures to which one can impute a meaning of one's choice. They were written that the viewer might, knowing the figures to be Abraham's visitors, see in them a revelation of the triune persons. Meanings of the icon which exclude this simply aren't true. What Spong says these days is irreconcilable with any true meaning taken from the icon, just to give an extreme example. Even Bp. Tennis's notorious "core doctrine" finding in the Righter trial acknowledges this principle; the problem with the court's decision was in it's presumption of identifying where exactly that core lay.

This seems to me to lie at the heart of a lot of the battle against Anglicanism. The extreme modernists in practice deny that there is a core, by erasing any particulars from it. The Ortho-Catholic anti-Anglican line also pretends that there is no core-- an unhistorical misrepresentation of the current crisis as an everpresent fault.

Over in RatherNotBlog the following observation is made:
In other words, the appeal to apophaticism is an excuse for lazy thinking, a pseudo-clever way of getting around making hard choices.
This is a little bit of an overstatement-- but only a little.

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