Monday, August 08, 2011

Favourite Difficult Sentence

Does the idea of a clergyman who has a favourite difficult sentence worry you? Well be very afraid.

As one who has tried to popularise theology - get to grips with academic stuff and then re-present it in a way humans might understand - I am aware that I am, as it were, more human than academic. Most humans find three syllable words difficult and sentences, such as this one, containing a multiplicity of such, quite impenetrable.

Me too. From time to time, reading academic theology, I come across sentences where I recognise all the words but because they are not words I use ordinarily I find fathoming the sentence too hard. At that point I have a choice. Sometimes I choose to plough on regardless and hope the truth of the book is not obscured by one awkward sentence. I will not, as I once heard Archbishop John Habgood say, allow this idiot of an author to prevent me getting to grips with the subject matter. On other occasions I give up and tweet something.

I found this sentence in a book on the Trinity I read at College in the 1980s. 'Barth, in positing the contingent historical order upon the basis of the putative contingency and historicity of God, attempts to recreate the natural order but by doing so effects a resolution and extinction of that order in the Trinitarian abyss of the divine being.' As I said in a youth group session about the Trinity I wrote some years later, 'I loved that sentence. I read it and read it. I dreamed of the day I might begin to understand what on earth it meant. I'm still dreaming.' (You'd Better Believe This Too - CPAS 1997 and now available only from Godstuff.)

It was my favourite sentence. Until now.

I read with a curate. It is a good scheme to make sure curates don't stop reading in their first few years and I have Scott as a lovely co-reader and we enjoy our work. We are on the last of the six books we need to tackle this year and decided to have a go at something demanding for a big finish. So I am (and I hope we are) reading Being as Communion by John D. Zizioulas.

In the foreword by John Meyendorff I came across, 'Was not Afanasiev somehow overlooking the trinitarian and anthropological dimension of ecclesiology, focusing his thought on the 'local' nature of the eucharistic community and, somewhat, excluding the problems of truth and of the universal presuppositions of unity?'

It's my new favourite. Excluding the proper nouns there were three words that eluded my spell-checker. Let us dream of comprehension. Answers on a comment. And it's on page 12. Amazing I got to page 26 today.


RuthJ said...

Translation: 'In my view Afanasiev was over-simplifying.' What does he expect with a name like that?

And to think you jibbed at an implied 'encapsulated' at Morning Prayers today! Only four lyrical syllables, and so very definitely the mot juste, should have leapt to the mind.

It is a hard life (truly existence is challenging) for us polysyllabic communicators with a predeliciton for exactitude of elucidation.

St said...

I am not against polysyllabic communicators per se. The occasional long word can indeed be advantageous. I am against written sentences with too many of them in a row because most people don't attepmt to understand them.

Carry on clarity.

Word verification = experiog. What this post was?

RuthJ said...

Experiog is a lovely word. I have the more dampening 'dismatis'. Oh well. (And of course I agree about polysyllabic excesses, though I doubt if we will ever draw the line in exactly the same place. Vive la différence!)

St said...

Experiog and dismatis = what we should call our book on language if we ever get round to writing it.