When I was a little boy, I knew pious Christians driven a bit mad by their failure to follow reason. I also knew impious pagans sterile as great fact-grinding machines by their lack of care for metaphysical facts.
God created a world of spirit and a world of matter, a world of form and substance. This dualism frustrates any reduction just as the Trinity distresses those who prefer a lonely god to a God whose very Persons embody hierarchy and community. Deny the claims of science too easily and you miss much wonder. Deny the claims of beauty too readily and you miss much that is wonderful.
How is it possible for very intelligent people, whether materialists or idealists, to ignore this basic truth? The two worlds work in such perfect synergy with each other, the dance is so perfectly executed, that it is easy to forget that their partners there. They are so one in essentials that the persons almost can be ignored, almost, but to do misses the love that moves them.
In Place of the Lion (POL) Charles Williams describes what would happen if the metaphysical realm became confused with the physical. While in “real” life these two worlds always work in synergy, there is a “twisting and mingling” of the forms and the shadows in the novel due to the hubris of a man who wishes to see the ideal separated from its proper role.
One man, Anthony, is able to heal this breach in the cosmos (to simplify a complex plot), in part because of an inextinguishable and “passionate desire for intellectual and spiritual truth and honesty.” (POL, Faber and Faber, 1952. p. 115)
Williams symbolizes this spiritual equipoise in the form of an eagle. The eagle soars and sees. It has wings that can lift it up in even the strongest storm and eyes so mighty (that in the myth) it can look into the sun.
Some characters in POL refuse intellectual truth. They seek occult knowledge, but ignore demands of the material world. Others ignore the demands of the metaphysical as they seek merely intellectual clarity.
You cannot fly without two wings and those who ignore spirit or intellect end up less than human. It not only destroys self, but also family and friends who are near them.
There is a further warning to us in Williams powerful phrase. We are seeking this knowledge and experience with truth and honesty. It is easy to grab a slogan like the Delphic and Socratic “know thyself” with the hope that it will give us happiness.
But Socrates was not Oprah and the truth we see if we follow the argument to its intellectual and spiritual conclusions inevitably will show us things we wish we did not have to see. We see that we have failed our best ideals and ignored basic realities.
We cannot retreat from what “knowing self” will show us. It burns, God knows it burns, like a fire, but we must endure it and not retreat from it. Truth is complex and accounting for everything we see may leave us with seeming paradoxes and problems for a time. We must not retreat from what seems to be true to avoid discomfort. Most difficult of all is to be honest and admit that even our altruism is not what it seems.
We are like a child giving his parent a gift that the parent first gave him, the child spoiled, the father repaired at great cost to himself, and then ends up receiving as a gift from his proud son! We give God nothing He does not possess, but our failure and He loves us enough to endure it and pay the cost of it in Himself.
Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner.