On spirit and nature

The opening prayer from the 1662 rite of baptism –

“grant to this Child that thing which by nature she cannot have;…”

got me thinking.

There is here a concept of nature far short of one containing “everything”. Nature is given; there are gifts (and a giver) besides. The concept of giving and givenness, which is grace, is simple enough in Christianity; the key concept is nature. What’s meant by nature? Humans belong to nature, but not everything man is or can be, is natural.

Perhaps nature is best understood in contrast to “spirit”. By spirit I mean, metaphorically, the “matter” of thought. However, it seems natural for humans to think: “reason” belongs to human nature. Accepting this but wanting to go beyond it, religious thought could imagine “supernatural thoughts” beyond nature (mysticism, prophesy), or the believing-unknowing confession of dogma.

Alternatively, we could align the concept natural to bodily, exclusively, and say that thoughts, “reason” etc, are not natural, or bodily, but are spiritual. Thought is spirit. We would then say thought is from (or of) God, and only thoughts true to God (his Spirit) are true thoughts… God as the light of my soul etc. We would designate true thought as thought which accords with nature (“factual”) and with spirit itself (the latter meaning, true thought thinking itself, recognising itself and recognising God in itself. Such true thought is “mystical”, neither dogmatic confession, nor paradox, nor “factual”). Dogma and paradox point to true thought – which cannot be had by nature.

 

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