5 October 2006

Renewing Creation

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 4:28 am

To create is to make something that didn’t exist before. To renew is to restore something that already exists to its original state. The interrelationship of creation and renewal is the subject of this post.

The Renaissance and the Reformation were the founding renewal projects of what would become the Modern Age. The Renaissance sought to restore the art and the philosophy of classical Greece and Rome; the Reformation, to restore the Church to its Biblical and first-century roots. Both movements saw something wrong with the status quo, something static and distorted in medievalism. The West wanted to release the long-suppressed urge for change and progress. Both the Renaissance and the Reformation sought to recapture the vitality of a prior golden age. Still, neither the Renaissance artists nor the Reformers sought to embed themselves in the past. Instead, they brought insights from the past forward into the present in order to generate forward momentum toward the future.

Five hundred years later, renewal carries more of a sense of alienation from the future, a feeling that modernity’s relentless forward momentum is running out of control, carrying us somewhere we don’t want to go. This time the gaze into the deep past bears an unmistakable savor of nostalgia. We seek to recapture a time before the valorization of change and progress, but also before the rigidity and stagnation settled in – a time when stability and tradition enfolded the community in its secure embrace.

For some the spirit of renewal means experimenting with the old forms and structures, retrofitting the present with attachments retrieved from the deep past. There’s a Borges short story about a writer who recreated portions of Don Quixote word for word, exactly like the original. But he wasn’t just copying the old text; he was rewriting it. The “new” Quixote meant something so different three centuries after Cervantes’ time that the critics regarded it as an entirely new work, perhaps even more remarkable than the original.

For many the spirit of renewal also means stripping away undesirable accretions that have accumulated over the centuries, thereby restoring the world and mankind to an original virtuous state. The Greens, those busy people who want to “simplify their lives,” those uptight people who want to recover their “inner child,” those libertarians who would recover Aristotelian or Stoic virtues as foundational to a society of free individuals, those Christians who want to interpret the world from a first-century point of view, even those evolutionists who would strip away the layers of culture that alienate us from our natural instincts – there are plenty of programs for “decorrupting” the individual and the community, thereby restoring them to an earlier virtuous state. It’s not clear whether this desire to recover the innocence of a prior golden age reflects the devaluing of progress characteristic of postmodernism or the latest manifestation of Romanticism.

Let’s say that man lost his innocence and the imago Dei in the Garden and that fallen man has been progressively corrupting the world ever since. Doesn’t it imply that human creation is the cause of corruption? Let’s say that the goal of renewal is to restore everything to its pre-Fall pristine condition: human nature, human society, the natural world. Doesn’t it imply the need to renounce human innovation and its fruits, to reverse the course of human cultural history?

A lot seems to depend on what renewal is heading toward. If God completed his good Creation long ago, if since then man hasn’t added anything to the Creation, if man has done nothing but detract from the Creation’s original goodness – then what does renewal seek to accomplish? And what of man’s corruption: is it characterized by the desire to compete with God, to be a creator like God, to replace God’s creation with the creations of man? What then does a renewed man do in the world?

One proposal (as elaborated at considerable length over on the right side of this blog) is that the imago Dei manifests itself primarily as a God-like ability to create. By implication, a corrupt imago means a corruption in human creativity, resulting in a corruption of the cumulative works of human creation; i.e., of culture. Again by implication, a renewed imago means the renewal of human creativity and the consequent renewal of human culture.

According to this interpretation, renewing the Creation points not to the undoing of human endeavor but to its restoration. Instead of decreating the man-made world, renewing the Creation means reclaiming the original glory of human creativity. Renewal also means decorrupting man’s cumulative creation over the millennia, which is human culture in all its forms: language, art, science, government, philosophy, economics.

In a word, renewing the Creation would mean renewing the spirit of creation.




  1. In response to a question off-line, the Borges story referenced in this post is “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” “Pierre Menard did not want to compose another Quixote, which surely is easy enough — he wanted to compose the Quixote. Nor, surely, need one be obliged to note that his goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original; he had no intention of copying it. His admirable ambition was to produce a number of pages that coincided — word for word and line for line — with those of Miguel de Cervantes.”

    Clearly this is a mad undertaking, but that’s the kind of thing Borges goes in for. It’s just wrong to turn the story into an essay, but the idea is roughly this: for Cervantes to have written something in his personal sociohistorical context is one thing, but for someone else to write the exact same words 300 years later, not in Spain as it was just entering modernity but in late-modern France, gives those words a completely different connotation. Stylewise, too — suppose somebody today were to write Hamlet exactly as Shakespeare wrote it: you’d have to assume that today’s author was purposely choosing an arhaic writing style, and then you’d have to try and figure out why.

    So, a text completely decoupled from its writer becomes an anomalous thing, almost impossible to interpret. But a reader who so completely immerses himself in the author that he can independently produce exactly the same words — that too is anomalous and uninterpretable.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 October 2006 @ 7:09 pm

  2. So, the reader becomes the text and then reproduces the text in word for word fashion…is this the highest tribute to be paid to a text? to know it so well that one can reproduce not only the words and sentances, but also the spirit of the text as well…this reminds me of Preachers who can respond to any situation by instantly calling to mind a Scriptural reference. they reproduce the text for a particular situation…unfortuntely this can become a bit impersonal and can seem inauthentic…furthermore, one always wonders how often this recontextualization takes away from the original truth being communicated…if a verse is recontextualized and its original truth is not reproduced is this acceptable as long as a new truth is created for the new situation?


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 6 October 2006 @ 4:21 pm

  3. By the way…I want you to know that I have dedicated myself to becoming so familiar with this post that I can independently reproduce it on my own blog….but, then again, how would you know that I didn’t just copy and paste????


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 6 October 2006 @ 4:35 pm

  4. “Initially, Menard’s method was to be relatively simple: Learn Spanish, return to Catholicism, fight against the Moor or Turk, forget the history of Europe from 1602 to 1918 — be Miguel Cervantes. Pierre Menard weighed that course (I know he pretty thoroughly mastered seventeenth-century Castilian) but he discarded it as too easy… Being, somehow, Cervantes, and arriving thereby at the Quixote — that looked to Menard less challenging (and therefore less interesting) than continuing to be Pierre Menard and coming to the Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard. ‘The task I have undertaken is not in essence difficult,’ I read in an other place in that letter. ‘If I could just be immortal, I could do it.” — Jorge Luis Borges


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 October 2006 @ 8:29 pm

  5. I wouldn’t know, but you would know.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 October 2006 @ 8:31 pm

  6. I guess what all this means I need to retrace your steps. How’s France these days?


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 9 October 2006 @ 4:40 pm

  7. Just got back — a lot sunnier and warmer than The Hague. The world’s largest yacht is in the marina these days — The Octopus, owned by Paul Allen, equipped with 2 helicopters and a submarine. I tried to get Paulie to put in that second sub, be he told me not to be ridiculous.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 October 2006 @ 12:06 pm

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