The Order in the Cosmos

Mar 14, 2017

The idea of the interconnectedness of various disciplines, and the Quadrivium itself, hinges on the necessity and reality of there being an intentional order in the cosmos. If there is no order, then laws of nature, discoverability, and knowledge become chance, capricious, and subjective. If there is no intentionality, then happenstance, luck, and coincidence replaces an almighty but personal God who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Cosmos comes from the Greek word for “order” and thus the very creation is reflective of God’s attributes in its ordering. Athanasius put it this way, “But if the world is founded on reason, wisdom and science, and is filled with orderly beauty, then it must owe its origin and order to none other than the Word of God.”

The fact that there is order also enables us to comprehend a disruption to that order. In The Order of Things, James Schall writes, “Much of our lives are spent in setting out-of-order aright, but only after first understanding that they are in fact out of order.” We must know that there is an order before we are able to put things back the way they should be. 

Schall continues with an example from the Greeks:

“Aristotle remarked that a doctor does not cure us. Nature cures us. The doctor’s function is to remove what prevents the body from doing its own repair work. Or he supplies a substitute for what is not working, something that can take the place of what nature originally provided—a hearing aid or eyeglasses, for example.  To do either of these functions—to remove or repair—the doctor must know what the normal functioning of the body in health is. This normalcy he does not himself create but finds, as it were, working in human beings.” 

Uncovering the order becomes a treasure hunt of immense proportions that is only possible because of the inherent order. This is why the Roman philosopher, Plotinus, can say, “All things are full of signs and it is a wise man who can learn about one thing from another.” Or as Schall puts it:

“The highest things often have ‘footprints’, as the medievals put it, among the lower things. Nothing is fully explained without everything, but what we do not yet know is not to be an excuse for not knowing what we can know.” 

This idea of an interconnected and structured universe finds its root in the creative order of an Almighty God who made the heavens and the earth. For thousands of years, this was the dominant idea and foundation of intellectual and theological thought. Since God created an orderly world, mankind in his work and calling sought to bring order to his sphere of influence building upon and reflecting that divine order.  This is the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 in its fullest—taking dominion over the earth and bringing order. That included taking dominion over land, agriculture, natural discovery, as well as, color, language, movement, number, sound, and time.

The shift in education from the classical curriculum at the time of the Enlightenment hinged on what man believed about the cosmos

The discovery of created order then has implications to various disciplines—especially in the Quadrivium.  The ordering of number and ratio leads to music and astronomy.  In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Joseph Ratzinger applies this discovery to beauty: 

“For the Pythagoreans, this mathematical order of the universe (‘cosmos’ means ‘order’!) was identical with the essence of beauty itself. Beauty comes from meaningful inner order. And for them this beauty was not only optical but also musical…The beauty of music depends on its conformity to the rhythmic and harmonic laws of the universe. The more that human music adapts itself to the musical laws of the universe, the more beautiful it will be.”

The shift in education from the classical curriculum at the time of the Enlightenment hinged on what man believed about the cosmos. If there is a Creator God who made the world with a pattern and order that is manifested throughout all creation, if all things interconnect at the point of their origin in one God, if there are absolutes and objective standards in the disciplines of learning and the arts, then it is the role of the student to discern, study, and utilize the patterns and order of the cosmos with a desire to emulate the created order for the purpose of both thinking God’s thoughts after Him and for gaining wisdom and understanding as to the nature and character of God. If, however, man’s reason is the ultimate guide for understanding and truth, man himself becomes the arbiter and standard for truth, learning, and the arts, and the ultimate goal becomes utilitarian, or entertainment and pleasure, rather than Godly wisdom.

Seeking Godly wisdom requires the humility to submit to what God has revealed about Himself through His Word and through what He has made. The cosmos is knowable because God is knowable. The cosmos is beyond our complete understanding because only someone who is God could understand its complexities. The cosmos is ours to discover because God created it for us and has given us dominion over it. The wisest rulers are those who seek after knowledge concerning the details and particulars over which they rule and have dominion—to truly know their domain. And the Quadrivium is an excellent tool to grow in that wisdom.

Greg Wilbur

Greg Wilbur

Gregory Wilbur is Chief Musician at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN, as well as Dean and Senior Fellow of New College Franklin. He is the author of Glory and Honor: The Music and Artistic Legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach and has released two CDs of his compositions of congregational psalms, hymns and service music. 

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or it's leadership.

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