I’m going to do some more barely scratching the surface as I attempt to give a glimpse of pre-Modern ideas of the cosmos, particularly the Heavens (or as we moderns call it, Space), and how that gave them a sense of ‘lanes’ and proper order.
Prior to our time of rapidly advancing technology and distractions, humans did a ton more of observing and contemplating on what they saw. Not just the scientists and teachers in their ‘ivory towers’, but also the ‘lowly’ farmer, who recognized the signs and seasons. I think the ‘lowly’ farmer went beyond ‘Look and See’ (in the words of Wendell Berry) just for the sake of his crops, but he was simply curious about what was beyond him.
Order. One thing that humans learned from their seeing and contemplating, and which became a part of the culture of belief and morality, was that there is Order in the Heavens (as well as the Nature below our Moon). Some often commented about the Dance that they saw above — a very orderly dance. Everything in its place, or moving in its proper path, and in its proper time. They could see all this because they spent a great deal of time looking up. We don’t. And from their observation many mythologies (in the true meaning of the word) came about to explain, for one thing, the origin of this Order. Just as the Genesis story tells, Order came out of Chaos. And people understood that when anything is put out of Order, Chaos returns.
Humility. A second thing that happened when humans gave considerable time to seeing and contemplating is that they realized how very small and insignificant they were in comparison to the great expanse above them. It did not stop them from ‘studying’ the Heavens, but it did create a different thinking and ethos than our modern idea of ‘space exploration’ has done. There is a big difference (and results) between exploring in order to know ourselves better and in exploring for the sake of knowing alone. There is definitely a ‘knowledge puffs up’ in our modern way and purpose for exploring. C.S. Lewis had a great knowledge of the medieval understanding of the cosmos, and was concerned about the modern ‘space race’. To put in perspective the time in which he lived, Lewis was born just before the turn of the century and died on the same day as JFK. Lewis could see where all the focus of the ‘Cold War’ was headed. Again, there is the idea of exploration and knowing that produces awe and humility, and then there is the purpose of exploration and knowing in order to conquer the material, to be above the material studied and its Maker. To conquer God. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin has been quoted as saying in 1961: “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.” According to friends, Gagarin was a devout Christian and never uttered these words, but it is telling that the Soviet leadership promoted this as words he said. This was their purpose. Unlike the thinking of this Psalmist:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which you have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him?
~from Psalm 8
Enough for now. Stay tuned for Part 3.
Do yourself and your soul a favor, and go outside and consider the Heavens.