The following article was first written for a Magazine called "Renovare" produced and read by a small group of my friends. The goal of the Renovare was to foster intellectual writing and discussion beyond the classroom. It also afforded us the opportunity to write on subjects beyond the scope of any individual class and draw from all that we had learned instead of just showing what we had learned for a specific subject. This magazine mostly dissolved after I left seminary allow there have been occasional attempts to revive it.
“In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1: 1
The question has been asked of me if Renovare should be set up like a blog. I answer, No.
Words are very powerful and delicate. In the beginning Adam named the creatures. He gave audio symbols to the objects of the word. Words have become the symbols of people, places, things, ideas and actions. They are used for conveying ideas, specifying, constructing and anything else we think. And the words themselves are combinations of other symbols, either letters or characters, depending on the language.
Words are greater then just symbols. Take the instance of a yellow sign with a black arrow bending to the left. This symbol indicates that the road curves to the left. This sign, while fulfilling its function, does not transcend itself, but rather remains as its own image in one’s mind totally apart from the road and the curve. Words transcend the symbols of which they are constructed. If I were to write, “He came to the point where the road curved left.” Anyone who knew the meaning of those words would have an image of that scene without visualizing in that image any of the symbols used in the sentence. Instead he would pull from his universal ideas of road, curve, and left to create the image.
I have even heard speculation combining Plato’s idea of remembrance (as opposed to learning) and the time before Babel. The argument followed that if two people separately encountered the same unnamed object they would remember it to have the same name. A second theory I find more satisfying and equally improvable is that the first language of man, the language spoken in the Garden, was perfectly fitting between symbol and object, thus achieving a similar naming of objects as the first theory.
There have been people throughout history who have sought similar perfection between symbol and object; in English, Shakespeare and Tolkien; in Spanish, St. John of the Cross; in Italian, Dante Alighieri, in Latin, Virgil; and in Greek, Homer (and this just names a few), and all poets. I will take the example of J.R.R. Tolkien, as I am most familiar with his works. When he wrote, and in particularly when he chose names, he sought names that described the person simply by the sound of the word. The elves for instance all have tall sounding names; Elrond, Galadriel, Celeborn, and Legolas. The ‘el’, ‘ele’, and the ‘le’ all have a tall feeling as the sound seems to move upward off the tongue and slow the pronunciation down to give them an elevated tone in the way they are spoken (note the ‘ele’ of elevated). Even the shorter elf names such as Elrond sound longer and taller then the dwarf names: Gimili, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin,Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and Thorin. There are lots of ‘i’ and ‘or’ and none of the names are longer than two syllables. Notice that the longest name to pronounce is Thorin who is also the dwarf of the most importance in The Hobbit. I would continue with other examples such as Tom Bombadil, Aragon, and Treebeard (Fangorn in Elvish) except I fear none of the readers would continue on with me.
What the reader is probably wondering is what the fantastic symbols conveyed by words and sounds has to do with whether or not this publication should be a blog? The answer is in the symbolism of conveying words. The Jewish people wrote their scriptures without vowels and thus part of the male coming of age was the memorization of the scriptures. They did this because they believed the scripture to belong to the whole people. They were not allowed or able to read scripture correctly alone, but rather only in public where the pronunciation and proper meaning of the words could be corrected by the others. Also, their scriptures, originally and still for liturgical purposes, were written on scrolls. This is done so that no part can be skipped like in a book were one can flip to the last chapter, or an article were he can browse to the concluding paragraph.
In all illiterate cultures stories are told to children. They are stories of heroes and villains, the history of their people. They are the stories more enlightened cultures call fairy tales, myths, and religious legends. The village elders, the priests, the shamans, the medicine men, the Rabbis, the philosophers, the poets, the judges, the bards (who in Ireland held more power then the kings), the prophets, the padrinos and the fathers retell these stories. It is these stories that become the cultural identity of the youth and foster in them their sense of nation, village, tribe, and family. As men became more and more literate they wrote down those stories until our present times. Now the best to be hoped for is a mother or a teacher reading those stories to the child. Frequently the child is simply given the book and left to discover the stories by himself but the book simply goes on the shelf with other books in immaculate condition he has been given and the television is turned on to some Disney soft-core pornography with a story so unlike the tale it is name after that there remains no similarity except some of the characters names (I cite specifically, The Little Mermaid, great story, read it). All the national identity, psychological lessons on what it means to be human, knowledge of the good of the tribe and the family are left unfilled. They are unfilled not because the story is unfamiliar but rather because of the medium in which they encounter the story. A story told by a father has a far greater effect on the mind of the child than even a story read aloud, and is certainly far more profound the a televised complete image. That unfilled space then gets filled as life goes by with pulp fiction, romance novals, technological garble or worse, the gossip of actors and sportstars in Entertainment Weekly and Us magazines.
There are still places where words seek to convey their meaning in the method of telling. Like the Jewish scrolls of the Torah, we Catholics have a special book for the Gospels (although frequently attacked by hideous 70’s minimalist designs). The Priest announces the readings in special way, and in some strange places candles and incense might even accompany the reading. All these symbols are attempting to set apart and herald as important the words and reading of the Gospel.
Most other areas of culture abuse words. Advertisements use profound words such as “awesome”, “best”, and “perfect” to describe rather lame products. The news media uses words to frighten or shock people in an attempt to increase their viewers. The modern anti-poet chooses words to un-rhythm, un-love and un-beautify the universe. On computer and portable device screens men pour through thousands of words a minute, simply searching out the phrase or word desired. Blogs pour out in reaction to the latest news and are read and replaced by other news stories and blogs or lewd pictures.
Of course there are numerous counter examples; Zenit, Life Site News and even Snow White (who says her prayers in the original Disney production). Likewise, illiteracy has many problems of its own, the least of which is an English speaker trying to play a Japanese computer game. Our own times hold many good blogs, movies, books, magazines, and possibly even a good advertisement (the Jamison’s commercial featuring the Latin scholar comes to mind).
Renovare should continue as a publication for several reasons. The first is to give it a sense of permanence as a connection to the Church that it is written for, as that Church shall prevail against the gates of Hell. The second is to give us a chance for contemplation. Any article I’ve read on the computer that I’ve desired to contemplate, I have printed. Third, the discussion we seek to foster is not the discussion in the comments at the bottom of a blog which frequently result in YELLING and calling names, but rather it should be the discussion of intelligent men in a respectful fashion (with perhaps an occasional name being called if it is done in a lighthearted manner between friends). Fourth (and last for the purposes of this article), by using higher quality papers and thoughtful formats it draws the reader to remember that he is an incarnate being who has flesh as well as the mind and that the flesh was important enough for God to take on a body Himself and be put to death to redeem us as incarnate beings of soul and flesh.