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Katie van Schaijik

Apprehension vs. seeing

Dec. 9, 2009, at 11:12am

I came across a great line yesterday in the marvelous Aubrey/Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian, set in the early 19th century British navy. I first devoured their wit and charm and astonishing stores of period knowledge and permanent wisdom 12 years ago, while awaiting the birth of our fourth child and in want of distraction.  I’m re-reading them now.  Here is the line:

The day had grown more brilliant still; the diminishing wind had backed a point and more abaft the beam and the Leoapard was running under courses, topsails and lower studdingsails; and being a new suit they made a splendid expanse of white against the sky.  Great smooth taut curves of a whiteness so intense that their surface was rather to be apprehended than distinctly seen, and all set among the sharp, definite, clear-cut pattern of the rigging.

This seems to me a nigh-on-perfect metaphor for our knowledge of the divine.  He being is too great and luminous to be seen directly and distinctly.  His presence, His Reality, is rather apprehended than seen.  And it is set among the sharp, definite, clear-cut pattern and rigging of revealed doctrine and Church teaching.

Am I right, do you think? 
In any case, I am once again put irresistibly in mind of Newman’s notions of implicit reasoning and antecedent probabilities, laid out so compellingly in his Oxford University Sermons and his Grammar of Assent.


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