Auden Explains Real Function of All Ritual

published in the April 1, 1944 issue of the Phoenix

Introduced as an "orthodox Episcopalian" by Nancy Frick, chairman of the Canterbury Club, at a meeting of the club on March 23, W.H. Auden gave a talk on the subject of "Ritual."

The Christian concept of human nature he examined next. Contrary to Platonic doctrine, the existence of matter - the body - is good within itself. "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." The body however is limited within itself, while the soul's possibilities are unlimited. Man thus combines finite actuality with infinite potentiality; he has both individual and universal elements within himself.

There are four ways by which man tries to reconcile his warring elements. The first is to identify the infinite with a special section of the finite - dogmatism, ritualistic magic. In this method the finite tends to become more important than the infinite.

The second is to subject the finite to the infinite, the individual to the universal. Rationalism and legalism result. The individual whom does not fit in with the universal in the form of an infinite command "must be shot." If this method were true, the verity of Christ's teaching would be self-evident. Mr. Auden was quick to point out that Christ always makes his saying applicable to the individual, who must apply them to himself.

The third method takes the form of self-negation of the finite for the sake of the infinite - romanticism, mysticism, asceticism. The individual can realize his potentiality by himself this way, but it has the unfortunate effect of utter destruction.

Aestheticism is the result of the fourth method, which is to subject the infinite to the finite. Laissez faire economics and various forms of materialism are examples of this. Through its use, however, the individual loess the possibilities for the infinite.

Ritual - Body and Spirit

The function of ritual, Mr. Auden continued, is the discipline of the spirit through the body. The body likes repetition and association with others; the spirit enjoys novelty and individuality. Thus through ritual "the spirit consents to suffer for the sake of the body." The complementary process is fasting, in which the body suffers in being alone and through the break in its routine. In ritual, however, the spirit can derive satisfaction through aesthetic appreciation of the ritual and through identification of the other worshippers as a select group. Ritual, Mr. Auden concluded, is a way in which the body can share in worship with the spirit.

The Canterbury Club, an organization of all Episcopalians on campus, was founded last semester. Its function is to investigate the significance of Christian, and in particular, Episcopalian doctrines. Mr. Auden was the first of a number of speakers whom the Club intends to sponsor.


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