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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Kohák: The Human Place Within the Universe

To give name to the rhythm of nature, Kohák introduces the λογοs and in this he evokes the notions of ancient philosophers as well as their idea of music as a metaphysical category. To be sure, Pythagoras proposed a numerological basis to the cosmos, positing numbers as the ultimate realities of the universe, which his disciples would take further, defining these numbers as the very essences that constitute nature itself.15 Boethius, in the same vein, suggested that in creating the world God set the proper numbers together.16 Augustine, in his six book treatise De Musica, asserted that the cosmos was constructed according to harmonic ratios.17 Likewise, Ptolemy believed the heavens caused blending sounds that related to each other like the notes of a scale by the way they moved and travelled - notes of course which cannot be heard by us because we have always been accustomed to them.18 All this to say that if all creation is in essence made up of numerical interactions, and music is fundamentally mathematical - which is the relationship of numbers - then all of reality is a song, or perhaps better said, all of reality is a poem.19 This directly parallels Kohák's ποιημα θεου, which asserts that 'the sense of nature's presence, ultimately, is the sense of the presence of God.'20 For Augustine, poetry functions as imitation, and the excellence of any imitation depends directly on the excellence of the object being imitated.21 Since a poem is a verbal structure whose underlying mathematical order, or meter, imitates the underlying meter of the universe - that is, its words imitate the λογοs and its formal beauty of the created world, of the cosmos - then true poetry is imitation, and is an imitation of divine reason as metrically arranged syllables.22 In this tradition Kohák presents the λογοs as intrinsic to nature and is the element which makes the universe intelligible23—it is the rightness of the cosmos, the order which can only be identified when human beings 'give up their effort to impose [themselves] and accept instead their place within the forest.'24 The λογοs is placed within the universe as the foundation of it, giving it its φυσιs and person-al-ity. The human participates in the λογοs as fundamentally belonging to die Lebeswelt Gottes, each being having an inherent value in of themselves, as part of the plan of organic life as a whole.

Yet, the question still remains—and perhaps becomes more urgent as a result of creation's familial ties, as a result of our elemental identity within the cosmos: Is the 'life of a human more important than that of a dog?'25 Kohák argues that a human being is good by virtue of their being and, as aforementioned, being is good; but more than that, the costly existence of humanity is (somewhat) justified by their ability to do good. So what? In this so-called 'plan' of organic life, what is the purpose of the human? Where precisely does the human fit in the order, the λογοs of the universe? What does humanity have to offer that is special to the φυσιs of the cosmos? For Kohák, humans are a wholly integrated and important part of creation - so in what way do we fully realise our humanness after recognising our rightful place within the universe? It is, borrowing from of Robert Farrar Capon, our priestliness.

Kohák states that '[h]istory, like passion, is the depth of our humanity,'27 paralleling Capon's thought on the significance of humans as obsessed with meaning—and history as the epitome and means by which we shape meaning. Moreover, both passion and history are extremely relational even as the universe as moral is extremely relational. The re-personalisation of the cosmos which Kohák has attempted to put forth implies a posture of respect to all things alive, all things in the order—the λογοs—of nature. This re-personalisation (re-)establishes the proper exchanges between creatures who accept each other as ends and not means and for Capon, this 'relationship . . . defies reduction to meaninglessness.'28 That Kohák sees the task of humanity as acting out 'the presence of eternity in time'29 is important to the self-definition of humans; it is out of the result of our belonging within the pattern of the cosmos that moral interactions with 'God's living world' are possible. If the 'glory of being human is the ability to recognize the pattern of rightness and to honor it as moral law,'30 then Kohák would certainly agree with Capon that it is the human's glory to offer all of the world, each thing in its own right, in its own integrity and inherent value, as an oblation into the City of God - recognising, as Kohák does, that it is God who ultimately is.

Humans bear history within them as intimately linked to morality.31 It is humans alone who can see the beauty of being simply because something is—to see place instead of space—or as Kohák illustrated, home instead of house; being instead of time. It is the importance of the human to offer each creature into history as an ends and not a means—to not dominate it, possess it and alienate the universe from themselves but relate to it in the λογοs of the universe, properly and personally. It is not humanity's task to give meaning to the universe, but recognise the meaning already there - and the meaning of humanity as moral, in the sense of right relationship to its dwelling, for the point, perhaps, of the universe is to be and of the human to be rightfully in it. Through this morality of history, humans act the presence of eternity within the universe and correctly present the imago dei.

  1. Julius Portnoy, The Philosopher and Music: A Historical Outline (New York: DaCapo Press, 1954), 7.
  2. Ibid., 55.
  3. Frederik van der Meer, Augustine the Biship: The Life and Work of a Father of the Church, trans. Brian Battershaw and G. R. Lamb (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), 564.
  4. Portnoy, Philosopher and Music, 8.
  5. Catherine Pickstock, "Music: Soul, City and Cosmos After Augustine," in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, ed. John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward (London: Routledge, 1999), 247.
  6. Kohák, Embers and Stars, 184.
  7. William H. Pahlka, Saint Augustine's Meter and George Herbert's Will (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1987), 12.
  8. Ibid., 13, 48.
  9. Kohák, Embers and Stars, 74.
  10. Ibid., 73.
  11. Ibid., 92.
  12. Ibid., 101.
  13. Ibid., 159.
  14. Robert Farrar Capon, "An Offering of Uncles," The Romance of the Word: One Man's Love Affair with Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 75.
  15. Kohák, Embers and Stars, 202.
  16. Ibid., 84.
  17. Ibid., 172.
  18. Capon, "Offering," 78.
  19. Ibid., 50.