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Within the World and Beyond It

I was glad to see the increased interest in last Friday’s post on E.L. Mascall and analogy, but as complex a topic as it was, I think it’s worth dwelling a moment on such things.  This passage from the late Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey‘s Sacred and Secular is a great extension of what Mascall was getting at:

If God is indeed the creator of the world and of man, and if man’s relation to God is intrinsically both within the world and beyond it, it is not surprising that when the Messiah proclaims the breaking of the reign of God into history it will at once appear as a reign both within the world and beyond it.  And this is what Jesus brings home to his hearers, not with the delicate synthesis of a philosopher but with prophetic vehemence and paradox.  Here in the midst of the world and its processes is the presence of God, and here must man find him.  But to be near to God as one who receives his reign is to be already in a relationship “out of the world”; and the man or woman who stands childlike in that relationship is already entering beyond the world as well as within it. (10-11)

Note that for Ramsey it is “in the midst of the world and its processes” that the presence of God is to be found.  But paradoxically, he says that to encounter God in and through those processes is to already tap into a relationship that is beyond those processes.  How can one be within the world and yet beyond it?

For Ramsey, the only reason any of this makes sense is that the world is porous to the divine.  Because God is Being itself, anything that has being only has it by virtue of participating in God, which means that the universe is in a way permeated with God.

It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with any kind of blurring of the Creator-creature distinction, for as Mascall emphasized, God transcends any and every category of created being.  Rather, it is to point out with Ramsey that the world is iconic; it is the glass through which we see darkly.

It’s why the sacraments are not just related to the Christian life by some accident, as if they were mere appendages to a religion that was otherwise sufficient without them.  On the contrary, the water of Holy Baptism and the bread and the wine of the Eucharist show forth the truth by which the whole universe is governed, that is, that God meets us in and through the material.

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