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    Book Club: Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker{Chapter 3}

    November 20, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I really thought I would never catch up. I still haven’t been able to read all of the Chapter 2 entries, but I wanted to keep writing so as to stay on track, though obviously that didn’t happen last week. But, conveniently enough, there is no posting scheduled for the club this week. This means I can post my entry and be all caught up for next week!

    Barring all health drama, of course.

    I took a bunch of notes on Idea, Energy, Power {aka, Chapter 3} because I didn’t completely comprehend it the first time through. This post is a summary of where I went with my notes.

    At least, I think it is.

    Doctrine of the Trinity

    Sayers begins by say that

    the doctrine of the Trinity enjoys the greatest reputation for obscurity and remoteness from common experience.

    Usually, when we read books like this, we see only how much further our culture has declined compared to the time at which the author was writing. I am so pleased to know that this a real area in which Christianity has progressed. I mean, yes, the basic defense of the Trinity was epitomized by Athanasius’ defeat of the Arian heresy early in the 4th century AD. But Sayers is saying here that this doctrine was not connected to us practically. It was an abstraction. An accepted fact, yes, but still an abstract {and perhaps irrelevant} one?

    The last few decades have seen huge leaps in Trinitarian theology. Theologians of many stripes have been pumping out Trinitarian-themed books over the recent years and months, among them The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology, Our Triune God: Living in the Love of the Three-in-One, and {just two months ago} Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. It seems that thoughtful Christians everywhere are seeing what Sayers, who was often before her time, pointed out. She implied that there are minor trinities in abundance in this world.

    We may perhaps go so far as to assert that the Trinitarian structure of activity is mysterious to us just because it is universal…

    The Writer’s Trinity

    In this chapter, Sayers points out the minor trinity she calls the “writer’s trinity” as an example of these sets of three-in-one that are all around us. It was very enlightening the way one metaphor deepened the other, and vice versa, though I suppose that is how metaphor works, is it not? Note that her example parallels the work of the members of the Trinity in creating the world. I was mixed up at first because I thought she meant this was a general parallel to the Persons qua persons, instead of specific to the work of creating. Here I thought I’d briefly summarize the writer’s trinity so that I can remember it:
    1. Idea: this is the whole work, complete and at once, in the mind of the author. Something about this reminded me of the book Poetic Knowledge. It is as if she is saying that writers have a poetic grasp of their own work before they ever set pen to paper. This parallels the Father.
    2. Creative Energy/Activity: this is the actual act of writing, of putting in the work to make the idea a reality. This neatly parallels the Son.
    3. Creative Power: this is the meaning of the work, and the response in the soul. This parallels the Holy Spirit.

    On Creative Power

    Sayers writes:

    Of these clauses, the one which gives the most trouble to the hearer is that dealing with the Creative Idea.

    I fall short on this. It was on her final point–the parallel to the Spirit–that I had trouble staying with her. On the one hand, I understood when she wrote:

    It is the thing which flows back to the writer from his own activity and makes him, as it were, the reader of his own book.

    This, I understand and I see how it parallels the Spirit–not exactly, but at least loosely.

    I have always been weak on pneumatology, so maybe it goes without saying that she promptly lost me when she said:

    It is also, of course, the means by which the Activity is communicated to other readers and which produces a corresponding response in them.

    Maybe I’ll just throw out some questions and see what you all think. The reason I became lost is because the parallels are supposed to be according to the roles of the Persons in creating and yet here the parallel seems to have jumped to something more akin to God’s relationship to His people. Did she have to jump because the work of the Spirit is not mentioned in the creation account? Am I just being too narrow? I already admitted that the Third Person baffles me.

    Education is not a Lever?

    She carries on:

    The…suggestion is that, once an invention has been brought into being and made public by a creative act, the whole level of human understanding is raised to the level of that inventiveness. This is not true, even within its own sphere of application. The fact that every schoolboy can now use logarithms does not lift him to the intellectual level of the brain that first imagined the method of logarithmic calculation.

    What I am trying to figure out is what Sayers thinks our response to this ought to be. Just give up and assume that Geniuses will be Geniuses and the rest of us will remain average, regardless? Of course, there is the situation we see today, which is the steady decline of the average. Surely, we must try to lift, whether the result is the next Shakespeare or not!

    So what do we do?

    I have spent a lot of time lately pondering the teaching of the Quadrivium using original sources and the work of historians as an educational tool. It is still very murky in my brain, but I will try to articulate this nonetheless. Let’s take Sayers’ example of logarithms. So we can teach our students to use logarithms, but their understanding does not parallel the understanding of the person who invented them. But what if we studied, along with our arithmetic proper, the history of the development of math. What if we saw math’s limits at any one point in history, understood the necessity of the inventions which came along? What if we read Newton and understood that he invented calculus because he could not do physics without it? {Or was it mechanics?} I wonder if this would not provide some of the necessary lift.

    Naturally, this will not produce Geniuses. Only the Good Lord can do such a thing. But it seems that something like this would provide a great assistance to our students, and lift them to a level of understanding that using the tools–like logarithms–alone would not do.

    Of course, it all falls apart when we get to Shakespeare.

    [T]he absurdity of the suggestion becomes glaringly obvious when we consider the arts. If a ruthless education in Shakespeare’s language could produce a nation of Shakespeares, every Englishman would at this moment be a dramatic genius.

    The arts are by their nature unnecessary. This is what makes them so human. Art can be Good and True and Beautiful and yet completely frivolous. We could survive without art, but our souls are better for it. This is the artist paradox. Sayers herself tells us that

    there is no sense whatever in which we can say that Hamlet has “superseded the Agamemnan

    What this means is that there is no sense in which we could imitate what I was suggesting above with math and science. There was no necessity which led to Hamlet. There was no problem which only the Aeneid could solve. There is no parallel lever, I do not think, for the artistic side.

    So how do we lift? Or do we lift at all? Or do we set the table, offer the feast, and know that each will take according to his need and ability? Shakespeare, for instance, had an understanding of the human heart that many believe cannot be duplicated. So the questions becomes: ought we to try?


    Read More:
    -More posts linked at Ordo Amoris
    Buy the book and read along!
    -Get Mind of the Maker for free from Willa’s Readlist

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    4 Comments

  • Reply sara November 29, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Hey Brandy,
    The interesting part to me about the writer’s trinity is that the idea exists even before the writer is conscious of it. It exits as a complete whole almost outside of awareness. Once the writer is aware of the idea, even before it is written, even if it never is written, it is created.

    And I love that the writer knows that the idea exists because the activity refers to itself as part of the whole. The ideal activity MUST by its nature express the idea. The Son does the will of the Father and the Father is revealed through the Son.

    As for the logarithms, well, we DO stand on the shoulders of giants. It is unusual to be able to see new things and make new connections in a way that Da Vinci could (yes, we’re doing AO year 3). But we do not all need to be giants ourselves to enjoy the view. I say yes, set feast and see what happens.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 29, 2012 at 11:29 pm

      “it exists before the writer is conscious of it”

      I think this is why Milton basically said that the GOD gave him his poems. He said the Muses visited him at night, and when he was writing he was remembering what they had told him…or something like that. I think Milton was hinting at this phenomena.

      I like what you say about setting the feast.

      We can set the feast, and we can pay homage, too. 🙂

  • Reply Willa November 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Hi Brandy,

    So glad you are continuing the discussion even with the chickenpox siege going on!

    I too had more trouble with the Power part of the analogy than with the Energy/Activity part. As to your question about her account moving instantly from Creation to response of people, when you asked, I realized I had skipped quickly along with her without thinking through the implications. Yet I think that she would want to emphasize that the Trinity is a unity, here. First, because an intrinsic part of Creation is the response from creation (as a dependent thing, it has to be almost radically responsive); and secondly, because she later focuses on the Trinity as not needing creation, so in fact the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and in that way is a Response per se, even without creation involved.

    Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit’s actions all the time, and so lovingly. I think our response to grace is the very action of the Holy Spirit within us — it certainly doesn’t come from anything of our own.

    This is getting into deep waters, and is also a first take on a question that I will be thinking about more! (it is funny that sometimes a further question can actually make things look a bit clearer — I guess my post was muddled partly because I hadn’t noticed the implications to her analogy that you picked up).

    I hope your family has a happy (and healthy as possible) Thanksgiving!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 29, 2012 at 11:32 pm

      Willa, I keep meaning to thank you for clarifying the Holy Spirit part, and reminding me to keep the Trinity as a unity in our discussion. I needed that! 🙂

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