The art of “sober inebriation”

The final notes from The Art of FugueLouis Bouyer, in his book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (on which I’ve written at more length here), makes an interesting observation while discussing John Calvin (of whom Bouyer was more of an admirer than you might expect of a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism):

It has been said that the mathematical logic of Spinoza, far from being a sign of the aridity of his religious ideas, is the expression of the deep-rooted mysticism of a man “drunk with God”. The phrase is even more appropriate to the Institution Chrétienne and Calvin’s whole theological system than to the Ethics of Spinoza. This intoxication is, without doubt, the sobria ebrietas characteristic of Christian mysticism since Philo, at the furthest remove from sentimentality.

I love that phrase “sobria ebrietas“, “sober inebriation”, to describe something that might seem, at first glance, to display only the “aridity” of “mathematical logic”, but which on closer inspection proves to be “the expression of the deep-rooted mysticism of a man ‘drunk with God.'” It reminds me of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s description of preaching as “logic on fire”.

But if I were asked to give an example of this “sober inebriation” in action, I think I’d choose J.S. Bach’s final, unfinished masterpiece, The Art of Fugue – especially in this wonderful recording by the viol consort, Fretwork:

You can hear the whole thing on Spotify here, or buy the CD here

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2 thoughts on “The art of “sober inebriation””

  1. I would still prefer the Koroliov version – there’s a haunting sparseness that he brings out, which then serves to emphasize the incompleteness of the piece.

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