Tuesday, July 14, 2009

God in a Notshall

Continuing with yesterday's post on the shockingly prescient Raccoon metaphysics of John Scottus Eriugena. Let's get right into it, shall we? However, I should warn you in advance that you won't be able to skim this one.

Like all true mystics, John adopts an apophatic approach to God, but then goes even beyond that. While apophaticism might seem like an esoteric concept, if you stay with me here, I think you'll agree that it is actually quite exoteric, the reason being that we can obviously never capture or contain God with mere language. Therefore, in the ultimate sense, whatever we positively affirm about God will necessarily be inaccurate.

As McGinn explains, "while positive [i.e., cataphatic] language about God is always metaphorical, and negative [i.e., apophatic] language is true and proper, the most appropriate language is that of eminence, which is positive in form but negative in content." Thus, Eriugena tries to transcend the duality of positive and negative speech with recourse to a transcendent third, i.e., "eminence." You might even call this approach dialectical immaterialism.

This is sounding rather pinheady, isn't it? Let's provide a straightforward example of John's dialectical immaterialism that fully accords with orthodoxy -- not just Christian orthodoxy, but any orthodoxy, since he is speaking of the very "nature of things." Positive statement: God is within the world, as its deepest reality, i.e., immanent. Negative statement: God is not in the world, but infinitely above and beyond it, i.e., transcendent.

How do we resolve such a paradox? We don't. All things are simultaneously "within" God, and yet, are not God. You might say that the world is God, but God is not the world. The world is a theophany of God, meaning that it is a veil that simultaneously hides and discloses. In fact, it discloses in its very hiding. Thus, the "hidden God" is manifest in his creation. Or, only in hiding can he manifest.

As you can see, John is very much a forerunner of Eckhart, what with his playful (childlike!) use of language and his understanding that paradox is the threshold of truth. Here are some examples of statements about the world that are simultaneously paradoxical and yet quite literal -- as literal as you can get. It is

--the manifestation of the hidden.
--the comprehension of the incomprehensible.
--the understanding of the unintelligible.
--the body of the bodiless.
--the form of the formless.
--the measure of the measureless.
--the materialization of the spiritual.
--the visibility of the invisible.
--the temporality of the timeless.

Etc. As McGinn explains, "God negates himself as 'non-appearance' in producing the theophany of his appearance, while appearance as a theophany must be transcended or negated" in order to "regain its nonappearing source." You might say that with creation, God "exits" his non-appearing appearance in order to produce the theophany of his appearing non-appearance in and as the world.

I'm guessing that the few readers who have made it this far have a mild headache, but again, we are being as literal as possible. We are not trying to be annoying, just trying to put God in a notshall. This paradoxical formula is how we understand the truism that "God is everything, but every thing is only 'God manifest.'" It is also why "all finite reality is understood to require infinite reality for its full intelligibility and completion." But how does one talk about the infinite with finite language?

The answer my friends is blowing in the windy opening and closing sections of my book, Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration. If you only unknowculate your brain in advaiance, you will find there many examples of "supereminent" descriptions of the unKnowable Godhead, e.g., "empty plenum and inexhaustible void," "beginning and end of all impossibility," "knowing without knowledge all that can be unKnown," "a drop embraced by the sea held within the drop," "dark rays shining from a midnight sun," "benighting the way brightly," etc.

As you can blindly see, you must O-bliterate language in order to allow it to coonform to ultimate reality. Yes, some disassembly is required, but by pouring the imploded fragments of speech over the missing suspect, you end up with a kind of seven-dimensional blankit that reveils his contours. Works for me, anyway.

Does any of his have a point? Glad you asked. This foundation of dialectical immaterialism led John to "an unusual and complex understanding of the doctrine of creation and the significance of the cosmos."

That is, if creation is a manifestation, or appearance, of the non-appearing God, then "not only must God create out of himself, but it will also follow that the fundamental purpose of created being is found in its ability to illuminate and reveal the hidden divine nature." You might say that the purpose of God is God, only through the tortuous detour we call the Cosmos.

From our standpoint, God can only be the "supereminent nothing" who transcends cataphatic and apophatic language. This is why the cosmos is "creation from nothing." Or, you could say, "creation from O."

But even then you have posited a false duality between creation and O. Thus, the most accurate -- or the least misleading -- thing you can say about God is precisely O. To say O is to affirm God's present absence and his absent presence.

We are not playing word games here. Rather, we are working very hard at them: God is known in his absence -- by the traces he leaves everywhere -- and unKnown in his presence -- to know God is to approach his profound unknowability.

So creation itself is both affirmation and negation, as it must be. For one thing, it is a limitation, and God knows no limits. Which is again why he can only reveal himself in his absence, even though this absence is very much a fulsome presence.

Let's give a practical example of absent-presence. Your own true self is such an example. Obviously "you are who you are." And yet, who you are -- the potential you -- must be actualized in time. Thus, you are present in your absence. You are somewhere off in the future, calling out to yourself in the now, beckoning yourself to be.

What I believe this means is that human beings are simultaneously eternal (or partache of the eternal) and created. This is what it means for God to say that he knew you even in the womb, even though it will take you the rest of your life to scratch the surface of yourself and know a fraction of what God knows. In a very real sense, you will always be absent from yourself, and yet, being drawn toward your own fulfillment -- even in the "supernatural sunset" of the post-mortem state, when "the night shall shine like the day" and "the secret divine mysteries will in some ineffable manner be opened to blessed and enlightened intellects" (John).

To be continued... but only for eternity.

(All extended quotes taken from The Presence of God, v. 2, by Bernard McGinn.)

17 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

"...you won't be able to skim this one..."

Yeah, like that always works!

I must have benefitted from your considered explications, for I was able to follow right along without even reaching for the dictionary.

It has seemed to me that to perceive, or even glimpse, or gno, or intuit the "seven-dimensional blankit", one's vision has to function multi-directionally and multi-dimensionally simultaneously, rather than the plodding Me----->That that occurs in the day-to-day horizontal doings.

Such a Vision, although interior, would be All-O-Round us All-At-Once. This is difficult to describe, using linear language. But you do it pretty well.

7/14/2009 08:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God is like water. When He is "ice" = matter- rocks, earth, etc.

When like liquid water =life--trees, animals, etc.

And like steam = consciousness (us).

So cosmic evolution is directed towards making steam out of ice and water, if you want to look at that way. Eventually everything will come to a boil.

What's outside the pot? Nothing.

7/14/2009 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Sign of the times

7/14/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"You might even call this approach dialectical immaterialism." - Check,
"I'm guessing that the few readers who have made it this far have a mild headache" - check.

Unlike Will, I believe this is the first engagement I've had with apophatic and cataphatic since... the last time... taking two bare aspirings and I may cull by morning but most certainly will not recall in mourning.

"I should warn you in advance that you won't be able to skim this one" - check.

7/14/2009 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

I noticed apophatic, but missed cataphatic this time. That's what I get for skimming that paragraph! Bob, how would you describe actual experiences of God's manifest presence using this dialectic? I mean the times when His presence is bearing down on you. Or He's speaking very, very clearly--might as well be audibly. Or times when you fall under a deep conviction *not* generated by your own mind. It's definitely "other" and it's definitely right in line with scriptural revelation. KWIM?

7/14/2009 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

We'll definitely get to that. Maybe even tomorrow.

7/14/2009 05:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's kind of a shame that you'll never know you're wrong about everything.

7/14/2009 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, but I'll always not know I'm right about everything, either.

7/14/2009 09:05:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Sus - Perhaps this is how.

7/14/2009 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

Thus, you are present in your absence. You are somewhere off in the future, calling out to yourself in the now, beckoning yourself to be.

Those voices in my head......they sound so....familiar...

7/14/2009 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Bravo zulu, Bob!

My mind is in awe mode as i red and reread your post, and this is not the first time you have "ratcheted" it up n' in. :^)

"As you can blindly see, you must O-bliterate language in order to allow it to coonform to ultimate reality."

You have said this before, and it's startin' to sink (rise) in (within).
We gotta think, coontemplate, pray, gno, realize, actualize...BE...outside the chains of materialism and break through for the breakthrough within to the eternal see of our
O-tential.

Thanks, Bob. :^)

7/15/2009 02:50:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

IOW's we gotta right the ship, get a fix on where we are, but more importantly, find out who we are 'cause we already gno we gotta BE who we are (and thus who we are meant to be) before we chART a gnu course to our Destiny.

Our inner ship not only needs renovations n' repairs, but it must evolve as the Master sees fit.
Thing is, we gotta gno it n' want it. Otherwise we just sail the same old sees.

A wee bit O grog helps to innerstand sometimes.

7/15/2009 03:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

"A wee bit O grog helps..."

Or a lot O grog, in my case.

"But how does one talk about the infinite with finite language?"

Drink! See? Cap'n Bob gets it!

7/15/2009 03:10:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Posts like this is where I find out just how see worthy my vessel is.

7/15/2009 03:25:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"I'm guessing that the few readers who have made it this far have a mild headache, but again, we are being as literal as possible. We are not trying to be annoying, just trying to put God in a notshall. This paradoxical formula is how we understand the truism that "God is everything, but every thing is only 'God manifest.'" It is also why "all finite reality is understood to require infinite reality for its full intelligibility and completion." But how does one talk about the infinite with finite language? "

Isn't this similar to the analogy we commonly use here, that of music? We've got defined notes and scales, and written music, and we've got the consumate musicians who often do, and often urge 'Forget the notes man, just plaAayyy...."

The scales and notes would be the cataphatic, the just plaAayyy would be the apophatic, neither approach can create music without the other. The first would be mechanical, the second pure noise, real music inevitably involves some merging of the two, but in undefinable ways, to put the Muse in the Music, both approaches must be involved for the Muse to become eminent in the Music. Even in a symphony setting, there are no robo-sicians, even while reading and playing from sheet music, the 'Real' music is only found outside either approach, "All things are simultaneously "within" [the Music], and yet, are not [the Music]. You might say that the [notes] is [the Music], but [the Music] is not the [notes]".

Learning to play music involves both, relying more heavily on one than the other at different times, but the Music itself is never fully described by either or found in one or the other, it results only from their combined dance.

7/15/2009 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Like the Man said, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." Jn 4:23-24

Truth is the notes, the Spirit, what Music!...and worship is the dance God loves.

7/15/2009 06:28:00 AM  
Anonymous lurker uncloaking said...

Van, would I be correct in assuming that you’re implying that…

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing (Doo Wop A Dop, Doo Dop A Wop Dooooooo!)

7/15/2009 07:13:00 AM  

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