Copy and paste into worship material

Readings: Language

Now a reading about stages of language which, it is claimed, we have gone through in history. This is Northrop Frye's theory as summarised by David Power.

The mythological stage of thought and speech, according to [Northrop] Frye, is one where people expressed their sense of reality and their part in it through stories, symbols and rituals. They made no clear distinctions between truth and fiction, subject and object, humanity and nature, or between the transcendent and the earthly. All reality was presented in a unified way, and nature was envisaged as being endowed with divine energies. Language allowed human beings to participate in this reality, or was even viewed as a force which affected the course of reality since it had its own power.

In the metonymic stage of thought and language, a distinction was made between reality and thought, between words and thought, and also between different kinds of language. Things could be spoken of not only mythologically but also theoretically, so that mythological language was dubbed metaphorical. Nature could be thought of as thouh it were inhabited by divinities, but theory taught the difference between the two orders, between the transcendent and the earthly, as it also taught the difference between the appearance of things and their essential reality. A human person and an animal may look very much alike, and mythology confuses the two, but theory teaches the distinction in what it says of the rational mind and the soul.

The third stage of thought is the empirical or descriptive. This is linked with the advance of the positive sciences. In this third stage, not only mythology but also theory is discarded. Persons and societies put confidence only in what is empirically verifiable and liable to be scrutinised in some positive way. The world of mythology is deemed unsophisticated and the world of speculative thought unreal. Therefore the challenge of our age is to hold the three parts together, not by ignoring the differences but by respecting them.

(David Power (1984), Unsearchable Riches: The Symbolic Nature of Liturgy, New York, 21-3)