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Title: Openbaring als poëzie
Subtitle: Leven in een land van beloften
Author(s): BORGMAN, Erik
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Theologie
Volume: 54    Issue: 1   Date: 2014   
Pages: 56-78
DOI: 10.2143/TVT.54.1.3200470

Abstract :
In 1829 schreef de toenmalige anglicaanse priester en polemist John Henry Newman (1801-1890) in een essay: ‘Geopenbaarde religie behoort bij uitstek poëtisch te zijn – en is dat in feite ook’. Newman kende een veelbewogen leven. In 1845 werd hij rooms-katholiek en in 1847 tot rooms-katholiek priester gewijd; in 1848 werd hij lid van de congregatie van de oratorianen die in 1570 was gesticht door Philippus Neri (1515-1595), en na lang door de vertegenwoordigers uit de leiding van de Rooms-Katholieke Kerk met argwaan te zijn bekeken, werd hij in 1872 door paus Leo XIII tot kardinaal gecreëerd. In dat veelbewogen leven zag hij de poëtische kwaliteit van religieuze ideeën, beelden en verhalen als een teken van hun geopenbaarde karakter. Newman meende dat poëzie niet alleen maar te vinden is in gedichten, of zelfs maar in literaire uitingen. In een essay uit 1829, getiteld ‘Poëzie in relatie tot de poëtica van Aristoteles’, definieert Newman poëzie als het vermogen de eenheid en verbondenheid van alles wat te zien en te verbeelden is, en dus ook individuele personen en gebeurtenissen, te ervaren als doortrokken van betekenis. Dit is volgens Newman precies wat religie zou moeten doen en in feite doet als zij werkelijk van goddelijke afkomst is en van God getuigt, zoals zij beweert. Waarachtige, ware religie ‘brengt ons in een nieuwe wereld – een wereld van overweldigend belang, van de meest sublieme inzichten en de teerste en puurste gevoelens’.

In an essay of 1829, John Henry Newman (1801-1890) wrote: ‘Revealed Religion should be especially poetical – and it is so in fact’. This contribution considers what it would mean for theology if we were to take this seriously. In any case, it would lead to a situation which Newman himself describes as follows in his poem ‘Lead, kindly light’ (1833): ‘I do not ask to see | The distant scene – one step enough for me’. First, Newmans poetic view on religious revelation is considered. This view is aimed at a living and dynamic presence of religion and Christianity but leads to aporia. Newman concludes that the ‘world seems simply to give the lie to [the] great truth of the existence of God as sustaining creator’. It makes him feel as if ‘I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face’. To him, this explains why the church is needed as the depository of the poetic vision of Christianity, but at the same time, it means he fails to achieve what he set out to do, viz. to ‘colour all things with hues of faith, to see a Divine meaning in every event, and a superhuman tendency’. Consequently, this article suggests that the experience of not seeing one’s face reflected in the world, because the traces of God are no longer perceptible, can in fact be considered as a moment of poetic revelation. Modernist literature, in particular James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), is used as a point of reference here. This exposes the poetry of everyday life while it is lived. To this end, Joyce takes the religious classics – the Bible and the Roman-Catholic Mass – and by showing the present in its chaotic and confusing multiplicity as the ‘fulfilment of the scriptures’, reveals the hidden presence in the world of the poetry they express. The final chapter of Ulysses, with its endlessly repeated ‘yes’, is presented as the unreserved affirmation of life in line with Genesis 1.31: ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good’. Moreover, the contribution suggests links between Ulysses and the Sermon on the Mount, and the revolutionary dreams and visions articulated and stirred by it. Moses’ law enters the novel as ‘the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw’ and this law turns the present not into the Promised Land, but into the land of promise, in the process of fulfilling the scriptures. It now becomes possible to consider the invisibility of one’s own face as an image of God and his kingdom, invisible in the world as it is ‘like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field’ (Mt 13.44). To start theology from there, means re-inventing her as a discipline.

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