The redoubtable Rosenstock-Huessy says somewhere in his corpus (people like ERH are really hard to footnote–they have said too much in too many places, and they are very hard to find) that real science never happens apart from despair, or rather, the overcoming of despair. This never happens, at least initially, apart from God.
Nothing becomes history until it is forgotten and then re-remembered. This is the pattern all over again of death and resurrection. Let me give two simple examples off of the top of my head.
It is hard for us to fathom how popular GK Chesterton was as a commentator in Britain for many years in the early 20th century. One might be tempted to compare what he did to talk radio today. On the level of popular influence, I suppose one could compare him to Rush Limbaugh today. But then he was forgotten. His hundred books were relegated to dust filled corners of public libraries and no one remembered (except as a dim distant nostalgia) who he was or what he said or did. His death commenced his death. And then in the last twenty years, it is as though he was resurrected from the dead. Now he is everywhere, and as one of the most quotable and clever of commentators, his quips can be seen and referenced either as sayings in themselves, or as allusions to the essay and book length meditations or stories that he concocted.
The other example is Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas in his lifetime and for a few years beyond was remarkable. But then, he either became a museum piece or was not remembered at all, except as one of those petrified “scholastics.” Then in the early 20th century, he was awakened from his long slumber (partly through Chesterton) and there has now been a century long renaissance and renewal. Aquinas has joined the living, the very living, and every renewal of memory makes him more interesting and deeper than before.
Both of these gentlemen have now “made history,” but their memory had to die first.
The most notable place this is true is with what the Bible itself has wrought in the world. The Christian revelation, and its instantiation in the world through the church, has so completely transformed human understanding and existence that after that transformation it is regarded as simply “natural” and the way things have always been. It is unthinkable that they could be otherwise.
This is similar to what has been said about great leadership. The nemesis of all great leadership is that it succeeds so “successfully” that the previous terrible reality and circumstance that has been overcome is forgotten, and the great leader is never thanked (until much later when he makes “history”).
To return to ERH and science. He says (somewhere) that the pagans never rise to science. They create interesting toys, they create very clever and very workable simple technologies, but never science. Science required the faith of Abraham to come into existence. Science only happens after the fires of despair have been overcome in a deeper faith. The early scientists were all Abrahams who leaped over impossible chasms.
Remember, Abraham was placed in an impossible situation by God. He married a barren woman. Then, beyond that, God was sure to wait long enough that she passed through menopause. Menopause came later at that time than now. Now it comes between 40 and 50. Then, people’s life spans were still declining from pre-flood lengths (Methuselah, 969 years) to the now average 70-80. Abraham live to be 175, and Sarah lived a mere 127 years. She probably had to reach or exceed 70 or 75 to pass menopause. At any rate, she lived a long time beyond menopause before her pregnancy. And the final barrier was in the Apostle Paul’s words’ that Abraham was “as good as dead” a euphemism for being impotent. So, we have a triple impossibility for having a son. Sarah is barren, past menopause, and her husband is impotent in his approaching old age. And yet, he is to believe God for a son. And God did it in His own time. The child was appropriately named “Isaac,” a double entendre meaning both laughter of delight for having a child in old age when impossible, and the laughter at how ridiculous this entire situation is!
Now we have forgotten what barriers had to be gotten through to achieve real science. Paganism always gave up before the great breakthroughs were made, because they took seriously what appeared to be true. What appeared to be true was that indeed, the universe IS irrational. It certainly appears so. Laws can only be established to point, to a degree, and beyond that is surrender to the obvious impossibilities of imposing or seeing any order upon the primordial chaos that underlay everything. It is not easy to make a breakthrough to a new perspective that sees a deeper order in all that appears irrational. It is no easier to keep believing this is a possibility than it is to believe God can give you a son when you are 100. It took extraordinary faith and belief to persevere to such places. The early scientists were in fact Abrahams.
Now, we have made so many breakthroughs for so many centuries that we assume this to be the possibility and the reality. We have forgotten. It now must be re-remembered and can now enter the blood stream of humanity as “history.”
Leslie Newbigin has said somewhere (also “somewhere” in his vast corpus) that one of the primary tasks of the church in the 21st century and beyond, will be to be the defender and keeper of “reason.” Modernity was always a Christian heresy. The polytheism of the ancient world meant that the gods were always at war with one another against a background of ultimate chaos. There were many stories just as there were many gods. It was an irrational cosmos that was of necessity at war with itself. The Christian revelation (following the Hebrew) taught for the first time that this was a single UNIVERSE, and not a multiverse, created by, and presided over by the One Triune God, who was the implication of all perfections, complete harmony, and final love. Modernity learned that this was a harmonious universe with one final story and not a multiverse, but wanted to abstract it from the Bible, the story of the Bible, and the God of the Bible. But by the 19th century it began to become apparent that one harmonious story in one universe, was only a myth after it was abstracted from the Book. Nietzsche was the great pioneer, and he fathomed that reason is violent and at war. In Nietzsche’s world, once again slavery and war are ultimate and we must surrender harmony and reason to naked power.
Modernity always was a Christian heresy, and post modernism is academic tribalism.
We are now in a position to remember again. We are ready for “taken for granted” assumptions to remember where they came from. We are ready for “history” and for this renewed memory to once again, now self-consciously, to remake the world–again.