Tag Archives: The Doors of the Sea

Reading a Wordsmith…

David Bentley Hart 2In the last week I have been reading David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea, which I bought because (a) I had heard more and more of Hart as a theologian with a growing reputation, and (b) it looked like a popular treatment of theodicy, the subtitle being Where Was God in the Tsunami?. Hart is an eastern orthodox theologian, philosopher and cultural commentator who has taught at a number of institutions in North America.

The Doors of the Sea is only a short work (109 small-format pages), and although I am only halfway through the book, I now know more than I did previously—for example, that Hart is a wordsmith—a man of letters, exhibiting a breadth of knowledge encompassing diverse disciplines and several languages, writing with a beautiful, literary hand, all the while straining and extending the limits of my vocabulary with words such as supererogatory, mellifluous and littorals (at least I have seen them before), as well as catenate, captious, longanimity, irrecuperable and vegetal (I can guess what these last two mean), apotropaic, delitescent and umbratile; this, together with his very long sentences making for quite dense prose—and which I am trying to emulate in this sentence!—has further enlightened me that this is also probably not the popular level book that I had initially anticipated.

But it is a very good and thought-provoking book, and I will write a review on it when I am finished. In the meanwhile I will keep the trusty dictionary.com at the ready (though even that was insufficient for three of the words, and I had to go to the Oxford English Dictionary!). To finish, and to further whet your appetite, let me give a sample of a long sentence read yesterday:

As soon as one sheds the burden of the desire for total explanation—as soon as one has come to see the history of suffering as a contingency and an absurdity, in which grace is ever at work but upon which it does not depend, and has come also to see the promised end of all things not as the dialectical residue of a great cosmic and moral process, but as something far more glorious than the pitiable resources of fallen time could ever yield—one is confronted with only this bare choice: either one embraces the mystery of created freedom and accepts that the union of free spiritual creatures with the God of love is a thing so wonderful that the power of creation to enslave itself to death must be permitted by God; or one judges that not even such rational freedom is worth the risk of a cosmic fall and the terrible injustice of the consequences that follow from it (68-69).