Write In Between

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - Henri Daniel-Rops

The Book of Books

There is a unique and inexhaustible book in which all there is to say about God and man is said. God's presence pervades it, and in it are revealed all those aspects of his mysterious being that we are allowed to glimpse; in it He appears, He speaks, and He acts. Man can also see himself in it, in all his potentialities, his grandeur and his weakness, from his sublimest aspirations down to those obscure regions of consciousness in which each of us bleeds from the wound of Original Sin. It embodies above all a religious doctrine, the doctrine of revealed truth; but human knowledge and intellectual activity also find in it rich and never failing nourishment. It is as vain to claim to understand the principles of ethics and law as of sociology, economics, and even politics if we are unaware of the message contained in this book.

Art and literature are still more obviously dependent on it. But for this book, the sculptors of Chartres, the mosaic-workers of Ravenna, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and El Greco would not be the artists we admire. Still more important and significant than the number of works that we owe their themes to it is the existence, also due to the Bible, of an art that transcends the laws of aesthetics and acquire a spiritual meaning. It is the same with literature. This book praised by Montaigne and Racine, by Shakespeare and Goethe, even by Nietsche and Anatole France, has done more than provide innumerable subjects for dramatists; from it flows the stream of living water that feeds the roots of masterpieces. But for the Bible, would there ever have been a Dante, a Racine, a Pascal, or a Dostoyevsky?

Paul Valery wisely pointed out that Western Civilization rests on three foundations: Greek intellectual curiosity, Roman order, and Judaeo-Christian spirituality. Let one of these collapse, and the whole edifice is threatened with destruction. And of these three foundations, the third, and really the most important because it endows the whole structure with meaning, is the unique and inexhaustible book that gives it its character and initial impetus. Without it the West would not be what it is.

But to link this book with the existence and development of western civilization alone is to falsify its meaning and limit its range. We can see more and more clearly, as efforts are made to render its message universal, that, by its underlying premises as well as by the modes of expression it employs, it is perfectly suited to mentalities very different from those of Europe, that Asia and Africa can welcome it perfectly naturally and that their genius is even, in a sense, allow for in it.

Such is the Bible, the book of books, the book of man and the book of God.

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