Modernity brought with it a change of horizon. Man disentangled himself from the fabric of the world to adopt the distance of the observer, who contemplates from afar the concert of what surrounds him.3 From this vantage point he could record the laws of the cosmos with precision, in accordance with the paradigm that modern science offered him. More than the tapestries of Arachne, which were primitive and childish myths, it was the spider’s web with its precise order and symmetry that spoke to him. Think of the modern’s fascination with the order of mathematics, which Galileo described as the alphabet with which God has written the universe.4
This dazzling harmony was nevertheless unable to assign a meaning to human life.5 And so opened the space for a doubt that has run all through modern times, a doubt to which Immanuel Kant would give expression: could not all this harmony perhaps be a projection of our own mind onto the appearances of the real? Could mathematics be located in us, rather than in the things themselves? This doubt corroded human confidence in the order of the world. If harmony is found on the side of the observer, then the movement of nature is irrational, caused by chance or autonomous necessity. So the great divorce was finalized: between the human spirit, seat of conscience and freedom, beauty and ideals, on the one hand; and the material cosmos on the other, a place of noisy agitation. The rational exists in the thinking mind; things themselves remain submerged in the chaos of the particles of mechanicism and its collisions.
Here is a question in the face of this crisis. Is it possible to recover the symbolic value of the world and to give man’s footsteps an orientation in nature? Can the universe be seen as a tapestry once again, where the narrative of life has a beautiful pattern? Christian faith offers a response, which starts by considering the capacity of our own body and our own time to bear meaning. I want to show that this happens precisely in the Christian liturgy, which therefore acquires a great importance for illuminating the problems of our time. The first step will be to reflect on the sacraments, which contain the structure of the liturgy.
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3. Cf. Robert Spaemann, “Ende der Modernität?,” in Philosophische Essays. Erweiterte Ausgabe (Stuttgart: Reklam, 1994), 232–60.
4. Galileo Galilei, Il saggiatore, in Opere di Galileo Galilei, vol. 1, ed. Franz Brunetti (Turin: UTET, 1980), 631–32.
5. The concept of a mathematical God is not sufficient to explain the phenomenon of life, as Hans Jonas has shown in “Is God a Mathematician? The Meaning of Metabolism,” in The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001), 64–98.
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