Sunday, August 17, 2008

Neither Here Nor There

In the path of duty, many of us have left behind lovely places with artistic elements which inspired our worship. One year, Boswell wished to be able to visit London that he might worship at St. Paul's Cathedral, as had been his wont annually at Easter. However, this year he could not afford it. Johnson's comment to Boswell on the matter was written as follows:

"Your last reason [for wanting to come to London] is so serious that I am unwilling to oppose it. Yet you must remember that your image of worshipping once a year in a certain place, in imitation of the Jews [Boswell had said it was like going up to Jerusalem], is but a comparison; and simile non est idem [the likeness of something is not the same thing as itself]; if the annual resort to Jerusalem was a duty to the Jews, it was a duty because it was commanded; and you have no such command, and therefore no such duty. It may be dangerous to receive too readily, and indulge too fondly, opinions from which, perhaps, no pious mind is wholly disengaged, of local sanctity and local devotion. You know what strange effects they have produced over a great part of the Christian world. I am now writing, and you, when you read this, are reading, under the Eye of Omnipresence.

To what degree fancy is to be admitted into religious offices, it would require much deliberation to determine. I am far from intending totally to exclude it. Fancy is a faculty bestowed by our Creator, and it is reasonable that all his gifts should be used to his glory, that all our faculties should co-operate in worship; but they are to co-operate according to the will of him that gave them, according to the order which his wisdom has established. As ceremonies prudential or convenient are less obligatory than positive ordinances, as bodily worship is only the token to others or ourselves of mental adoration, so Fancy is always to act in subordination to Reason. We may take fancy for a companion, but must follow Reason as our guide. We may allow Fancy to suggest certain ideas in certain places; but Reason must always be heard when she tells us that those ideas and those places have no natural or necessary relation. When we enter a church, we habitually recall to mind the duty of adoration, but we must not omit adoration for want of a temple; because we know, and ought to remember, that the Universal Lord is everywhere present; and that, therefore, to come to Iona, or to Jerusalem, though it may be useful, cannot be necessary."

(c. 15 March, 1774; 1946 Doubleday edition of Boswell's Life, pp. 281-283)


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