Caught in the Cross Fire
I'm afraid my wires are getting a little crossed. I'm trying to finish up our little review of Bolton's Self and Spirit at the same time I have begun fulfilling my new year's resolution, which is to complete Balthasar's sprawling 15 volume systematic theology, consisting of the aesthetics (seven volumes), theo-dramatics (five volumes) and theo-logic (three volumes; most of the volumes are 500-600 pages).
In the past, I've only read him in dribs and drabs, plus a fair amount of secondary literature, but now I'm diving right in. You could say it's overloading my circuits. I don't recall ever reading anything so dense. I can't really make a general raccoomendation, any more than I would recommend climbing Mount Everest. The best available introduction, by Oakes, says that writing a one-volume book on him was "like trying to fit the Mediterranean Sea into a child's pail." That's a bit of an exaggeration; I would say "thimble." I have no idea how I'm going to boil it all down to wisecrock of a post or two.
Interestingly, I am noticing many connections between Bolton and Balthasar, which suggests to me that the plane of exoterism becomes an esoterism if you simply pursue the former all the way down -- or up. I first ran across Balthasar's name because he had written the afterword for the highly esoteric Meditations on the Tarot. And yet, he was nominated by Pope John Paul to be a cardinal, which again highlights the hardy-harmonic coonvergence between exo- and esoterism. (Oddly, Balthasar was born in Switzerland a couple of years before, and 40 miles away, from Schuon; must have been something in the holy water.)
Ironically -- or not -- it was the opposite path for Unknown Friend. He pursued esoterism to its limits, and it brought him right back to the Catholic Church! So it seems that extremes truly do meet, so long as we really take them to the extreme, and don't stop at some arbitrary point.
And because it has been around the humans for so long, it's easy to forget how extreme and extremely esoteric Christianity was at the time of its appearance. As always happens, the container ends up domesticating the contained, in whatever arena. There is a downsde to dogma, and that occurs when it becomes stagnant and loses it generativity. It's not so much the fault of dogma as its interpreter. A Meister Eckart can come along and unsaturate the dogma in shocking ways -- which is why his writing is still refreshing today.
In a way, it is up to each generation to rediscover the uncontainable within the contained. If we can't do that through official channels, schisms inevitably form, because man was made to know the Absolute, and won't be satisfied with anything less. In turn, follow the schism to its logical limits, and it will (hopefully) lead you back to orthodoxy, only in a revitalized way. It is fair to say that one will return to the beginning, and know the place for the first time. This is what it has been like for me. To immerse oneself in the wor(l)d of Balthasar is like being shocked by the scandal of Christianity all over again for the first time. And what a shock to the system!
First of all, the man is a genius, which is obvious. Second, just this one trilogy consists of what, 8,000 pages? As I think I've mentioned before, I believe genius is genius. This or that genius will simply find a medium, or "idiom," for the expression of their particular genius. For one person it will be music. For another, physics. For another, theology.
I take the example of Bion, another obvious genius. In his case, he expressed his genius through the discipline of psychoanalysis. In order to appreciate him, one must, to a certain extent, obscure the particulars in order to see how "genius itself" approaches the world and its problems. In other words, you must look at it from a meta-level and not only see what genius "knows," but what it does. And what does it do?
For one thing, it always sees beyond the exterior, to the "within of things." Over at Just Thomism, James has one of his typically elliptical and Bionically unsaturated posts on Difficulties in Understanding Abstraction. As with Bion, I'm often not quite sure I understand what brother James is talking about, but he nevertheless provokes a flurry of my own untamed thoughts, which is a rare quality in a teacher. Good teachers always "disturb the peace" -- which eventually allows for a deeper peace that surpasses understanding.
In my comment, I mentioned that what he wrote about the "unimaginability" of the intellect reminded me of mountain biking, in which, if you want to avoid crashing, you don’t look down at what you're trying to avoid in your path, but look ahead about 20 yards, to where you want to go. Similarly, the intellect is always reaching “beyond itself.” Eliminate the beyond, and your intellect will lose its balance and crash in the dirt.
A narrow and mediocre intellect -- let's say, oh, Queeg -- is fixated on the Darwinian rocks in his path, and therefore stumbles on them. He can't ride his intellectual bike any further than that, but then leaps to the wholly unwarranted conclusion that the path doesn't continue infinitely beyond the rocks. Just because he got bent, it doesn't mean that we have to. I mean his bicycle got bent.
Again, the real genius takes the facts of Darwinism, or psychoanalysis, or theology, and sees "through" and "beyond" them, to something far deeper. And you may think that this has nothing to do with yesterday's post, but you'd be wrong. Because yesterday we left off with the idea that the Incarnation signifies the union of the infinite and finite, which is precisely why the there is an unlimited "depth" to reality accessible to the deep thinker. The depth, AKA the metaphysical transparency, is only there because it is the infinite shining through the finite. This in turn resonates with Balthasar's emphasis on the aesthetics of theology as of equal importance as the Good and True.
Theology is never "merely true," like, say science. Rather, to the extent that it is "truly true," then it will also be infused with, and radiate, the divine glory, which is none other than beauty itself. And what is the "sense" with which we appreciate divine beauty? To try to answer that question is a little like trying to avoid the rock in the bike path. In order to answer it, you must look ahead -- or above -- to where the trail of beauty is headed -- which is the very purpose of the trail.
Bolton cites a passage by Plotinus, who wrote that we mustn't "complain about the lower in the higher; rather, we must be grateful to the higher for giving something of itself to the lower." Thanks to that, our minds are on fire, but never consumed, for we exist in that sinaiptic gap where the divine grace touches our aspiration. And our as-piration is God's in-spiration, or the breath of grace by another name.