Feast of St Dionysios the Areopagite
WHAT HATH the Ethics of Elfland to do with The Pen, the Pipe & the Pint? In other words, how can I justify organizing a festival that presents lectures on the virtuous life, organizes a seminar on smoking a tobacco pipe, and offers complementary beer-tastings from local brewers? Let me defend myself by appealing to two of my personal heroes.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, a twentieth-century Catholic theologian who was recently presented at the Hall of Men by our friend Nick Pohlenz, once described himself as a “kneeling theologian.” That self-characterization would rank high in the books of the fourth-century desert father Evagrius Ponticus. For it is Evagrius who famously defined the true theologian as one who truly prays. It also makes von Balthasar rank high in my books.
Von Balthasar penned an important little book in 1972 titled Truth Is Symphonic. In the prologue, he says God performs a symphony in His revelation: “The polyphonous orchestra of Creation . . . performs God’s symphony under the Son’s direction.” He goes on to note that the unity of the composition comes from God, that the world is and always will be pluralist, and that it will be increasingly so. Why an increasingly pluralist world? According to von Balthasar, “the purpose of its pluralism is this: not to refuse to enter into the unity that lies in God and is imparted by Him, but symphonically to get in tune with one another and give allegiance to the transcendent unity.”
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J. R. R. Tolkien, a Catholic Inkling who is one of the key inspirations for our Inklings Festival, penned a mythological creation story in his book The Silmarillion. The myth sounds strikingly similar to von Balthasar. After creating the Ainur (“the Holy Ones”) and declaring a theme to them, Ilúvatar (“the One”) asks them to “make in harmony together a Great Music.” The story continues:
Then the voice of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.
Like von Balthasar’s description of Creation, Tolkien describes the creation of Elfdom as a beautiful symphony in which countless creatures are in tune with one another, all under allegiance to Ilúvatar, the transcendent unity.
Eighth Day Books houses an eccentric community of books. But it is symphonic. It is symphonic because its guiding principle of selection is truth. And because truth is symphonic, as we learn from von Balthasar, Warren’s house of lovingly chosen books has a way of symphonically moving those people who give their allegiance to the transcendent unity in tune with one another.
In a similar fashion, our first annual Inkling Festival could be described as an eccentric community of culture. Our principle of organization is also truth, so we’re confident it will be symphonic. And we pray all of our work will symphonically get people like you in tune with one another.
Let me conclude by encouraging you to take the time to read our blog, The Patristic Word. It offers an opportunity for you to experience a symphony of truth. But I do have to offer a warning. Some readings are short and sweet, easy for just about anybody. Others, not so much. But don’t let that hold you back. Please heed this advice from St Gregory Palamas, a fourteenth-century Byzantine bishop, as he admonishes his flock:
Christ’s Church, especially here in this great city of Constantinople, includes not only persons who are simple and lacking in formal education, but also people who are wise and cultivated, both by nature and through the study of secular disciplines and the teachings of the Church. For that reason I do not for the most part make my homilies too basic. I prefer to help those who are lower to rise, rather than to bring down those who are higher on their account. Anyone, even if he is unlearned, who pays careful attention to my teaching, will not be wholly unaware of what I am saying. That portion, however small, which he can understand and take hold of and strengthen, fill, and save the heart which accepts it.
Flannery O’Connor, yet another hero of mine, titled one of her stories “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Whatever is true, whatever is good, whatever is beautiful, rises. So take hold of what you can, and rise. You will find yourself converging with everything else that is good, true and beautiful. And you will find yourself caught up in The Symphony of Truth that is performed by God and conducted by His Son.
Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.
*Slightly adapted from "A Note from Director Doom" in the 2015 Inkling Festival Notebook; originally posted July 23, 2015.