(The following comprises Part seven of the Saturday series on Secondary Illuminations of Scripture.)
I do not believe John Locke would be inclined toward the spiritual senses that Aquinas has described (see Part Four) whatsoever, but his discourse on Enthusiasm (Chapter XIX of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding) nonetheless contains some valuable checks that can be applied to our evaluation of Scripture and theology. The following comments on the study of physical nature versus what we perceive to be divine revelation are worth applying to the literal or primary senses of Scriptures versus the secondary illuminations:
Reason is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light and fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties: revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately; which reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he that takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both, and does muchwhat the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope.
…Whatever groundless opinion comes to settle itself strongly upon their fancies, is [to their minds] an illumination from the Spirit of God, and presently a divine authority…. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of these two…
The strength of our persuasions is no evidence at all of their own rectitude: crooked things may be as stiff and inflexible as straight: and men may be as positive and peremptory in error as in truth. (pp. 708-12, Steven M. Cahn, Classics of Western Philosophy 3rd Edition)
Although Scripture declares that we—we together, balancing and checking one another and immersed in the foundations and breadths of the Word—have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), we are clearly open to deception. Indeed, some might interpret 1 Corinthians 2:16 as pertinent only to the original apostles.
We are apt to make mistakes if we search the scriptures for the sake of finding something special. We need God’s nudges as to where He has some encouragement for us. A lot of scripture study and meditation is simple. It may warm the heart and firm the mind without bells and whistles. To be addicted to the bells and whistles and to strive after them is a sure way to head into errors.
Likewise, we have to be humbly aware of how our pre-conceptions regarding God’s ways (for instance, if we believe He wants us all to be wealthy) may distort what we find and compound our theological errors. This happens in primary illuminations and can be multiplied as we move into secondary illuminations. We need our secondary revelation to check against sound, primary reason.
In weeks 9-11, I’ll throw a sampling of secondary illuminations gone awry out there. These will help us discuss guardrails that may keep us from becoming stiff and inflexible in “crooked things.” But first I want to discuss matters of language and geography.