#ThursdayTheology: Henry James Sr. & the Three Realms

Henry James Sr.: A passage found in the “Appendix” to his July 4th, 1861, address in Newport, R.I.

“There are three realms of life in man, one exterior or physical, one interior or psychical, one inmost or spiritual; or one realm of body, one of mind or soul, and one of spirit; and each of these realms claims its proper unity or organization, the first being sensibly organized, the second being scientifically organized, the third being philosophically organized. Now each of these organizations or unities demands of course its own appropriate light. The sun is the light of sense. Reason is the light of science. Revelation is the light of philosophy. Each of these lights is absolute in its own sphere, and good for nothing out of it. The light of the sun is essential to my bodily health, the light of reason to my mental health, the light of Revelation to my spiritual health. But if I attempt to make one light do another’s duty, I infallibly reduce my intelligence to fatuity on the one hand, or exalt it to madness on the other. For these various realms of life in man agree not directly, but by inversion; their accord is not one of continuity, but of correspondence; and if, accordingly, I use the light of one realm to illumine the objects of another one, I shall only be able to see things upside down, and hence hopelessly falsify my own understanding. Thus our senses make us acquainted with finite existence, and demand only the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars; science makes us acquainted with relative existence, and demands, therefore, a purer light than that of sense, the light of reason; but philosophy alone makes us acquainted with infinite and absolute existence, and it demands, consequently, not merely a subtler light than that of nature, but a more penetrating and less flickering one than that of reason, even the serene and steadfast ray of Revelation.”

Black and White photograph of Henry James Sr.