Essay / Uncategorized

Dante, Images, and Space

John Mark Reynolds, 2004.

When Dante speaks of images, he is speaking of authentic images. It is an authentic image that can communicate truths to great for unmediated contact, such as the nature of God. Images require (for Dante) both the stamp and the wax that gets stamped. Dante often speaks of the need for both the wax and the stamp to be sound. Often, things in the natural world no longer reflect the Image of God well, because either of failure in either case. This is particularly true in the work of the human artisan. This even very gifted man sets out to make a thing, but in doing so he often destroys another and more beautiful thing. The stone mason quarries the granite out of the hill to build the temple, but hill he might have destroyed may have been more lovely than the temple he builds.

Second, the artisan may come to worship one thing and so destroy other things. A man may come to love woodlands and so work hard to build one in a swamp. What is lost? The swamp had a particular beauty that now is no more. We already had woodlands and now have more. East coast buildings should not be built thoughtlessly on the West Coast. Those buildings are not suited or natural to our home here. The mass production of many objects seems like this mistake. Mass production itself is a tool, but the may be a tool we seldom use well. The fact that this particular tree could be made into a baseball bat does not mean that tree should be a bat. Of course, it might be appropriate for the tree to become a bat, but this should be considered.

Though men are to rule and reign on the Earth, this rule must be prudent. Prudence, or practical wisdom, is the most widely ignored or derided of the great virtues. Few are named “Prudence” anymore! Yet it is prudence that seems most in demand in order to determine what a thing is for. Modern science which no longer cares about teleology does not even try to help us with this task. Ears are not for hearing says the modern, they just happen to hear. So we must content ourselves with our native wit in this area. Our judgments are ill formed, yet our culture has given us huge power to manipulate the world. We are imprudent children with the powers of the gods. Antarctica does not seem to be meant for human habitation of the Western sort. So should we go and transform it or force it to fit the pattern of North American or European living? It would seem not. Our culture can build whatever it wishes in the ice, but should not. The traditional Christian view was that this part of the Earth had value for the Earth. . . and for the viceroy of the earth: man. However, both ends must be met and one should not destroy the other. So men must move slowly and with prudence.

Space travel brings this sharply into focus. Why should humans exploit Mars? What is the purpose of this? What would be gained? Men are for earth. It would seem that wise men would want to quarantine our problems on this planet. Mars is for whatever Mars is for the Martians or the purpose of High Heaven. Of course, C.S. Lewis built his Space Trilogy around some of these thoughts. Dante people Mars with saints. Mars served as an icon for war. We have dimmed this icon thoughtlessly by our city lights. Now we want to people it and turn it into an Earth park. This seems wicked to me, but Dante has much left to teach me.

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