“Dappled things” & Doctrines of Creation

In a letter to Robert Bridges dated October 25, 1879, Gerard Manley Hopkins penned hopkins-1.jpg“Pied Beauty”:

Glory to God for the dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches wings; Landscape plotted and pierced – fold, fallow, and plough; And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.

Wrapped up in his idiosyncratic vocabulary and unique sense for rhythm and pacing, Hopkins captures something one rarely finds in doctrines of creation: note of dappled things. In his own way, Hopkins reminds us that the triune God “father[ed] forth” the diversity and difference in creation, the “couple-colour as a brindled cow” and the “finches wings.”

While Christian doctrines of creation are often preoccupied (and rightly so) with explicating the nature of God’s action, the nature of creation itself, and God’s ongoging interaction with his handiwork – preservation and government – might we not reflect as well on the gift of creation’s diversity and difference, without de-volving into debates about evolutionary functionality?

pannenberg-4.jpgConsider Wolfhart Pannenberg for example. Describing the function of a Christian doctrine of creation he says, “[T]he doctrine of creation explicates the claim that all finite things, their differences and particularities notwithstanding, depend on God for their nature and existence…[T]he theological doctrine of creation should be able to nourish and substantiate the confidence that the world of finite reality is indeed susceptible of a coherent interpretation as being created by God” (Introduction to Systematic Theology, 10).

Pannenberg’s trinitarian doctrine of creation is impressive on many fronts but shouldn’t one find it strange that no references to beauty can be found – either here or in other more extended discussions? Wouldn’t we hope that a theological account of God’s creative action would more transparently direct our attention not only to his action(s) but to their beauty andthe beauty of that which is created by virtue of its source? Many accounts make much of nature’s source (“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers” Ps. 8:3) but little of the beauty of its diversity and difference as a source of God’s praise (“to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…” Ps. 27:4).

What might it look like for doctrine of creation to make these moves?


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