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"About inspiration" – Władysław Stróżewski

[The essay comes from the book On Inspiration by Władysław Stróżewski published by the ICC Publishing House in 1993]

Let us start with focusing our attention on that which is obvious, but very important for our further considerations: the root-word of inspiration comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning spirit, breath, and also breeze. Inspiratio, in purely philological translation, means breathing, breath, infusing of something into something else, infusing of spirit or what is spiritual into the thing that is not spiritual in its essence; further: animation of what is inanimate (if only, after Plato, we accept the strict connection between spirit and life), and, finally, the stimulating of something to action that is in a state of expectation or passiveness, inertia or sleep. Inspiratio may also mean inspiration or enlightenment. And the verb inspiro, inspirare means, i. a. to blow, to breathe, to fan, to inspire. Let us remember that in the description of the famous scene of creation of man in Genesis, the Vulgate uses the verb inspiro to describe the animation of man and creation of his soul: Formavit igitur Dominus Deus kominem de limo terrae, et insp iravit in faciem ejus spiraculum vitae... [Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being ] (Gen. 2, 7).

In various epochs the concept of inspiration was treated in different ways: there were periods which, like Enlightenment, seemed to do well without it, and there were also times when, as in Romanticism, it was the most important, key concept. In our times it deteriorated again, sharing the fate of the words which are unbecoming to use.

Let us illustrate this with a fragment of Jan Parandowski's Alchemia słowa [Alchemy of the Word]: "Inspiration got out of fashion. Today if this word happens to be written, it either carries a shade of irony or is merely a reflexive repetition of an accepted term, a matter of habit like musty, outdated metaphors. The more willingly it is used by the good souls who look at a writing man with sarcasm disguising their uneasiness towards a strange creature. Certain sentiment for inspiration can still be discovered in sculptors: they cannot always overcome their desire to adorn monuments with winged genii flying over a poet or bent towards him in confidential whisper."2

The notion of inspiration acquired full rights in the domain of Theology, especially in Biblical Theology. All Christian religions agree that the Holy Bible was written on Divine inspiration, and therefore it is an inspired scripture. Here "inspiration" has very precise meaning, in many aspects different from the current understanding of this word. It was-and it is-thoroughly analyzed by theologians, described in detail by the popes' encyclicals and explained by the conciliar documents. In effect, this meaning is so important that at no risk we may accept it as a specific "major analogue" for all other meanings of "inspiration".

As regards the Catholic Church, the most important enunciations on inspiration are: Leo XIII's Encyclical Providentissimus Deus, Pius XII Encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu, and The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation accepted by the Second Vatican Council. Writing about the authors of the inspired Scriptures, Leo XIII states that the Holy Spirit, through His "supernatural power inspired them and made them write, and accompanied them in such a way that they properly conceived everything that He ordered and only this, wrote it down faithfully and actually expressed it in infallible and true way. Otherwise He would not be the author of all the Scriptures."1 And in the Constitution on Divine Revelation we read: "The truths revealed by God that are included and expressed in the Holy Bible were written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. ...For the creation of the Scriptures God chose men, who, using their own abilities and powers, served Him so that-with Him acting in them and through them-they, as actual authors expressed in writing everything and only this that he wanted."5

One of the most important issues that we meet here is the problem of God's and the writer's roles in the creation of an inspired text. Traditional theology used to refer to the scholastic distinction of the principal cause (causa principalis) and instrumental cause (causa instrumentalis). The Word of the Bible come from God, who is the principal cause, and from a man, who acts as the instrumental cause. This distinction, however, is becoming outdated. At present it is emphasized that in transmission of the Word, man is not merely an instrument or even "God's secretary", but rather a co-author whose personality, character and literary abilities specifically mark the text written by him and at the same time inspired by God. Wilfrid J. Harrington stresses that Divine inspiration may assume different forms and the concept of inspiration itself is not unequivocal but analogical. As regards the role performed here by a man, he refers to the opinion of one of the most penetrating students of this issue,

Bruce Vawter, the author of the book Biblical Inspiration. God inspired the Scriptures-He filled them with His Word, not by depriving them of their human element, but rather by making use of all their significance and various human properties. He adjusted Himself to the habits of man: not ideal, ahistorical man, but a man in his unique historical condition, and strictly speaking, the man who should hear God's saving Word. It is this man whom we find in the Bible, and this Word came to him.

Harrington himself makes an important-also for our further considerations-distinction of three forms of Biblical inspiration:

1. inspiration to action, which he calls pastoral, 2. inspiration to speaking that is characteristic mostly to the protagonists of the Word-prophets and apostles, 3. Scriptural inspiration, which the Bible does not speak about, but for which it is the "tangible" testimony, being at the same time an extension of the two former ones.7

Biblical inspiration can be described as inspiration "from above": the inspiring factor is God Himself, transmitting certain truths to a man and stimulating him to proper actions.

Can we speak of inspiration if it does not stimulate one in a positive way but forbids something or discourages one from doing something? A situation of this kind is brought to mind by Socrates' famous daimonion. It is him that Socrates speaks about in Apology: "The reason for this is what you have often heard me say before on many occasions-that 1 am subject to a divine or supernatural experience, which Meletus saw fit to travesty in his indictment. It began in my early childhood-a sort of voice which comes to me, and when it comes it always dissuades me from what I am proposing to do, and never urges me on."8 Since Antiquity people wondered what is Socrates' divinity and how to understand its actions.; There is no doubt that it is a divinity: thus, the inspiration that it gives is-in its origin-of a religious character. Yet, referring to Socrates possible actions its results are of moral character. We may be sure that "imposing a very noble prohibition", it dissuades him from something wrong which might be done.

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