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SIDNEY-SPENSER  August 2005

SIDNEY-SPENSER August 2005

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Subject:

Re: 3rd try, faith and the senses,

From:

"James C. Nohrnberg" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Sidney-Spenser Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 10 Aug 2005 16:07:37 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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On Wed, 10 Aug 2005 13:05:35 -0700
  "James W. Broaddus" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> As usual, I didn't explain things clearly. 
> 
> I don't think Thomas provides the equivalent I was looking for.  
> 
> Thomas does not have faith sufficient to believe that the one standing 
>before him was, in fact, the physical Jesus until he proved what he saw by 
>his sense of touch. 
> 
> Redcrosse, on the other hand, does not have faith sufficient to doubt, 
>much less to refuse to believe, that he sees Una in bed with a lusty 
>squire.
> 
> My revised questions are: does anyone in the scriptures demonstrate the 
>kind of faith Redcrosse lacks? Or is anyone in the scriptures found wanting 
>because he or she lacks such faith?
> 
> I hope this is clearer.
> 
> Jim Broaddus
>

I think Redcrosse is, allegorically, incredulous as to God's Word or verity, 
even while he appears to be believing the evidence of his senses.  Of course 
the perplexity of reading "allegorically," i.e. reading material 
representations as ideal ones, would need further addressing.  But for the 
issue in a non-hermeneutical but historicist light, see my final remarks, 
after the extended self-quotation that follows here:

	At Sinai God tells Moses that he will allow the Israelites to overhear him 
speaking to his servant in the cloud, so "that the people may hear ... and 
believe you ever after" (Exod. 19:9).  God's solicitude seems symptomatic. 
 As late as John 5:46, Jesus is accusing the Jews of having failed to 
believe (or believe in) this Moses:  the Moses in which they claim to put 
their hope is actually the one who accuses them -- of their perpetual 
unbelief.  "How long will it be ere they believe me?", Yahweh asks Moses in 
the wilderness (Num. 14:11), when the people despair of the prompt invasion 
of Canaan.  The short answer is, forty years:  the generation that was saved 
at first could not be saved thereafter, because it did not believe.  The 
concluding sentence of Exodus 14 (vs. 31) implies that only with their 
deliverance from the Reed Sea, did the people originally believe the Lord 
and his servant Moses:  they could not believe, until they had been saved.
	The authors of the exodus texts have indeed believed in Moses, while 
portraying a people whose commitment remains much in doubt.  Similarly, the 
author of Hebrews in his third chapter tells us that those same Israelites, 
whom faith will save at the Reed Sea in his eleventh chapter, rebelled in 
the wilderness.  Their generation sins by disobedience, apparently because 
they fail to "exhort one another every daily (hemeran), while it is called 
To-day (semeron)" (Heb. 3:13).  They are punished when God swears that they 
should never enter into his rest in the promised land:  if only they had 
held on to their first confidence firm to the end (cf. Heb. 3:14).  It is 
"an evil heart of unbelief" that leads one to fall away from the living God: 
 and "so we see that they were unable to enter [the promised land] because 
of unbelief" (Heb. 3:12 [AV], 19 [RSV]).  This Moses was sent both to help 
the Israelites' unbelief, and to expose it.
	Similarly, the author of Hebrews in his third chapter tells us that those 
same Israelites, whom faith will save at the Reed Sea in his eleventh 
chapter, rebelled in the wilderness.  Their generation sins by disobedience, 
apparently because they fail to "exhort one another every day (hemeran), as 
long as it is called 'today' (semeron)" (Heb. 3:13).  They are punished when 
God swears that they should never enter into his rest in the promised land: 
 if only they had held on to their first confidence firm to the end (cf. 
Heb. 3:14).  It is "an evil heart of unbelief" that leads one to fall away 
from the living God:  and "so we see that they were unable to enter [the 
promised land] because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:12 [AV], 19 [RSV]).  Thus Moses 
was sent, biblically speaking, both to help the Israelites' unbelief, and to 
expose it.
	 Perhaps we must leave it to the 17th Century Puritan theologians of 'the 
covenant of grace' to decide whether a people is saved because it believes, 
or believes because it is saved.   One can scarcely know whether salvation 
is conditional on belief, or belief contingent upon one's having had the 
saving grace to believe.  Foresight, if it is a part of prudence, might tell 
one to believe, so that one can be saved; hindsight, if it is also a part of 
prudence, might tell believers that they were saved in order that they might 
believe, and thus continue in the faith.  But in either case, for 'saved' we 
may read 'constituted.'  Likewise, for 'believe' we may read:  'take heart 
from an investment like the one depicted in and through Moses.'  It is in 
this way that the author of the great homily from Hebrews 11 has taken 
heart:

	It was by faith that Moses, when he was born, was kept hidden by his 
parents for three months; because they saw that he was a fine child; they 
were not afraid of the royal edict.  It was by faith that, when he was grown 
up, Moses refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter and chose to 
be ill-treated in company with God's people rather than to enjoy the 
transitory pleasures of sin.  He considered that the humiliations offered to 
the Anointed were something more precious than all the treasures of Egypt, 
because he had his eye fixed on the reward.  It was by faith that he left 
Egypt without fear of the king's anger; he held to his purpose like someone 
who could see the invisible.  It was by faith that he kept the Passover and 
sprinkled the 	blood to prevent the Destroyer from touching any of their 
first-born sons.  It was by faith they crossed the Red Sea as easily as dry 
land, while the Egyptians, trying to do the same, were drowned.
	(New Jerusalem Bible, Heb. 11:24-28)

Moses' faith is an inspiration, but the writer also takes hope from Moses' 
himself having been 'saved':  saved, that is, by the faithfulness of others 
-- in Moses.  For the beginning of the discourse is, "It was by faith that 
Moses, when he was born, was kept hidden by his parents for three months; 
because they saw that he was a fine child; they were not afraid of the royal 
edict."  However fine the infant, after all, he was no more than a fine 
infant.  Therefore the parents themselves must have been "like someone who 
could see the Invisible," and thus like unto Moses.
	And yet:  if the parents took the faithful part which was thereafter taken 
by the courage-inspiring Moses -- in whose place there once stood only a 
threatened infant -- so also did Moses' people.  For at the end of the 
homily Moses and his parents are replaced with a second "they":  "It was by 
faith they crossed the Red Sea as easily as dry land, while the Egyptians, 
trying to do the same, were drowned" (Heb. 11:29).  The "they" is without 
immediate antecedent, but nonetheless it has been earlier named:  the 
"first-born sons," "the Anointed" -- the context shows that here it is 
Israel who is God's Anointed -- "God's people."  The homily on Moses begins 
with the faith shown in Moses by the parents, but ends with the faith shown 
at the exodus by the people.
	Overall, the passage moves metonymically, through a sequence of 
replacements that mimes the spread of conversion:  from the faithful persons 
through whom God gave the deliverer birth, on through Moses himself, and 
thence to the people to whom God gave birth through a faithful deliverer. 
 This faith is one that passed through a Moses credited with keeping it -- 
as we might say -- 'in the interim.'  And indeed, the Mosaic interim is 
critical, for it depends on Moses' faith that Israel is "the Anointed." 
  But if it was the people who crossed the Red Sea "as easily as on dry 
land," and if they also did it "by faith," then it is as if that people 
themselves were the performers of the miracle -- the miracle of walking on 
water, as also performed by faith.
	The text need not mention God's creating the dry land at all (and it does 
not), if it was the people's faith in God that produced the same effect. 
 Thus the text has actually reversed the report of Exodus 14:31, which said 
that the people's faith was the result of their crossing through the Sea on 
dry land;  on the contrary, the Hebrews text says that their faith was the 
cause of the miracle.  If the people crossed the Sea "as easily as if on dry 
land" because of their faith, then presumably what would have sunk the 
miracle is doubt.  And that is just what doubt does, at Matthew 14:29-31, 
when Peter at Jesus' bidding attempts to walk on water.  Peter's faith in 
Jesus is defeated, and Jesus despairs, like another Moses, of his follower's 
lack of faith.  And yet, on the further shore of this water-crossing, Peter, 
like another Mosaic Israel, also believes.  We are back to the same 
anachronic structure of saving belief that introduced itself into our 
discussion of Moses' textual-constitutive existence within the pentateuch in 
the first place.
--long version of text partly published in Like unto Moses (1995), at pp. 
345f.

The biblical faith asks for subscription not to a creed, but to a promise; 
its words exist to create faith in their future efficacy, and it defines 
faith as an I-believe that is identical with an I-hope-to-know.  For 
doubting Thomas, seeing is believing, but for the author Hebrews, belief is 
the substance of things unseen.  Belief, then, is "anachronic" to 
revelation:  "Everybody who belives in the Son of God / has this testimony 
inside him; / and anyone who will not believe God / is aming God out to be a 
liar, / because he has not trusted / the testimony God has given about his 
Son."  (I John 5:10, Jerusalem Bible).  As a result of this anachronistic 
structure, history in the Bible is never merely "past" history, however 
factual or circumsantiatlly related; it is always a prophetic earnest in 
which God has disclosed some part of his continuing will, and is therefore 
also an installment upon what God is yet to do.  ¶ The kind of prevenient 
comprehension required by faith is a subscription to the yet-to-be 
manifested meaningfulness of the word.
-- "On literature and the Bible," Centrum II:2 (1974), p. 27

Error [in FQ I.i] was easily recognized as a monstrostiy, or, more 
precisely, as the deformity of truth.  (The definition is Scholastic:  "Just 
as a thing has being through it own form, so a power of knowing has its act 
of knowing through a likeness of the things known."  To say that a thing is 
true may only predicate the conformity of the thing known to the intellect, 
but even so, "deformities and other defects do not possess truth in the same 
way other things do.")  Opinion, on the other hand, though it may be 
misinformed, nonetheless offers itself as a kind of provisional 
approximation of the truth.  It proceeds by the educated guess, substituting 
known values for unknown ones, and vice versa.  Commitment to such an 
approximation bears an unfortunate resemblance to an act of faith.  As Truth 
itself hath said, faith is the evidence of things unseen.  --The Analogy of 
The Faerie Queene (1976), p. 125

It seems possible to say that Redcrosse does not credit his senses directly, 
but rather the 'phantasms' (however externalized by the fiction) that his 
mind forges to mentally process what is impressed upon those senses partly 
while he is asleep.  It is these phantasms or apparitional mental operators 
that gain power over our faculties when we dream.  Redcrosse’s loss of faith 
in Una’s chastity is a form of incredulity regarding the integrity of her 
truth or troth:  he believes Una to be Duessan.  Blind faith in Una is less 
the point than blinded (or idolatrous) faith within Redcrosse:  the result 
of something uncritical and occasion-driven like the jealousy and rage of 
Phedon in the story told in FQ II.iv, both stories deriving from that of 
Ariodante and Ginevra in Ariosto at OF VIII, as also Shakespeare's Much Ado 
About Nothing.  "Ocular proof" in these stories generally depends on the 
preparedness of the victim of the senses to construct the evidence in terms 
of his own projections or pre-induced prejudices.  The reason why the story 
in Book I is critical for the Early Modern Period is that the kind of 
trustworthy evidence wanted by religion or "faith" and the kind of 
trustworthy evidence wanted by the "empiricism" (of the that we will learn 
to think of as quasi-Baconian) are on the historical verge of being 
distinguished from each other, as once upon a time, in the history of faith, 
the kind of religion which was true--the worship of the true God--was 
distinguished from that which was false--the worship of false gods.   -- Jim 
N.
> 
> 
>  
> 
> Redcrosse, on  the other hand, believes what his senses told him about the 
>bed scene. what he saw when 
> ----- Original Message ----- 
>From: James W. Broaddus 
> To: Sidney-Spenser Discussion List 
> Sent: Wednesday, August 10, 2005 11:08 AM
> Subject: f2nd try, aith and the senses, 
> 
> 
> I think I have sent an incomplete query to the list. Let me try again.
> 
> Redcrosse's abandonment of Una is typically understood as a failure of 
>faith caused by a dependence on his senses.
> 
> My question: is there a scriptural equivalent?
> 
> Christians are asked in different ways have faith and not believe what 
>ordinary experience tells them.  But is there an occasion in the Bible in 
>which one's faith is supposed to override what is presented to one's 
>senses.  
> 
> I hope I haven't revealed complete, overwhelming ignorance.
> 
> Jim Broaddus
> 
> James W. Broaddus
> Emeritus, Ind. State.
> Route 3 Box 1037
> Brodhead, KY 40409

[log in to unmask]
James Nohrnberg
Dept. of English, Bryan Hall 219
Univ. of Virginia
P.O Box 400121
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4121

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