Icons, Con Men, Misplaced Concrete, and Absolute Condescension
I think we've established that essence can only manifest itself in appearances. These two poles are always present in any act of knowing. However, it is critical to bear in mind that while we can make a distinction between these two poles, they can never actually be divided. Indeed, knowing is very much a "one in three," i.e., essence (or ground), appearance, and the link between them.
HvB says that "We cannot describe [this] movement either monistically or dualistically, but we can say that the structure of truth rests on it as on its deepest foundation." Although essence is primary, "both poles nevertheless remain in a reciprocal relation of dependence."
We have also established that being is involved in a kind of primordial "movement," in its ceaseless unveiling and self-revelation.
Meanwhile, what's happening at the other end, in the subject? You know, us? Just as "the essence seems abstract compared with the appearance," sensory images are concrete compared with our ability to think about them. (For those of you who have the home version, you may recall that I discussed this issue on pp. 198-206, under the heading Saying More With Less: The Problem of Conceptual Abstractness and Concreteness.)
I have no idea what I wrote there, but I would now say it like this: let's think of Jesus as the "icon of God." Consistent with what we have described above, this would be analogous to the "movement" of ground to appearance. No one can see the ground, i.e., the Father. But we can see his icon, his own unveiling, or appearance, the Son. And ultimately, the two are "not two."
But just as with everyday cognition, this is not enough, for at one end we have pure abstraction, while at the other we have the concrete image, which we can use as an occasion to descend into idolatry if we aren't careful. In fact, I think this is what the iconoclasm controversy was all about. Let me check to make sure.
Blah blah blah, read the whole thing yourself. The point is, the iconoclasts "condemned the making of any lifeless image that was intended to represent Jesus or one of the saints.... Any true image of Jesus must be able to represent both his divine nature (which is impossible because it cannot be seen nor encompassed) as well his human nature. But by making an icon of Jesus, one is separating his human and divine natures, since only the human can be depicted, or else confusing the human and divine natures."
Note how they resolved the problem: "the biblical commandment forbidding images of God had been superseded by the incarnation of Jesus, who, being the second person of the Trinity, is God incarnate in visible matter. Therefore, they were not depicting the invisible God, but God as He appeared in the flesh."
So the problem is a real one: on the one end, pure unknowable abstraction, on the other end, man's tendency to worship graven images. What is the solution? It is to respect God's "double movement," from essence to appearance, and then from appearance back to essence. Doesn't Jesus say as much about the way he himself is to be regarded, not as an end, but as a means, so to speak? < insert any number of relevant scriptural passages from Nomo here >
A variety of heresies results from getting this precise balance wrong. However, the interesting thing is that the same intrinsic heresies apply to purely secular thought, which requires the identical balance between ground and image. Indeed, it is not going too far to say that Christianity teaches men how to think properly about reality as such.
For example, we had a confused troll yesterday (and earlier this morning) who was specifically confused because of his inability to appreciate this distinction between essence and appearance. His writing, thinking, grammar, and punctuation are all rather sloppy -- other than that, he is a beacon of clarity -- so it's a little difficult to decipher his meaning, but I think you can get the drift from his latest utterance:
"Ok, you're either wrong about your fundamental philosophy or you're wrong about the word. You're choice. If people have different values, and God is intrinsic because he is extrensic, his standards and hierarchies. most certainly are not intrinsic. You keep changing subject. Are God's values intrinsic? If so, why is it that no people share the exact same values? No two people hold all the same values to the same degree. Thus, if God is intrinsic, he most certainly has not made his hierarchies or standards so. Otherwise why even have free will? You're squirming and changing subject."
Do you see his error(s)? The central one is the severing of God's transcendence from his immanence, or essence from appearance. Because humans have freedom, he seems to think that this is incompatible with having an essence. But freedom is an aspect of our essence, including the freedom to err. The proper use of freedom involves the journey from appearance to essence, from contingent to necessary, from relative to Absolute.
But to return to the main topic, the whole point is again this "double movement" that takes place between ground, image, and subject. A true icon, for example, is never a "thing in itself." Again, that would be idolatry. Rather, the icon is the quintessence of metaphysical transparency, in that it is like a two way mirror through which God radiates, but through which we can also "see into God" from the other end, like a "window to heaven."
Is that clear? I wish I could draw a picture of the process, but it would look something like this: >.<, with the first arrow representing God, the second arrow representing us, and the point between being the icon. But it's all one two-way, or spiraling, process.
Again, this doesn't just apply to icons. Rather, they are just the quintessence of a more general vertical movement, in that the entire cosmos is a theophany of God. It too has an obvious metaphysical transparency, which is precisely why it is so larded with overflowing truth and beauty. It offers itself to us in such a way that it always points back to its source, at least if we look at it in the proper way. File this under the heading of one of those things that cannot not be understood, at least until modern times.
This is why prayer is a movement; contemplation is a movement; lectio divina is a movement; my blogging is a movement. But the movement on our end is only possible because the Absolute has condescended to meet us more than half way.
Conversely, here is the danger -- a danger that has already manifested in various forms of postmodern pnuemapathology, e.g., atheism, metaphysical Darwinism, scientism, radical secularism, et al. Each of these represents idolatry by another name, or what Whitehead called "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness." Here is how HvB describes it:
"The concept has the capacity to distance itself from the perceptual image and to assume a stance of self-sufficiency in abstract isolation. In doing so, it falls under the sway of unreality, thus resembling the object of sense intuition -- the image."
In other words, man confuses God's power with his own, and thereby distances himself "from the vitality of truth." For unlike God, he becomes enclosed in his little false world, and exerts what might be called a "negative radiation" which attempts to pull everything into its absurcular purview. Here we confront the "vacant mystery of agnosticism and skepticism" in all its minus glory.
More tomorrow on how the universal can (only) appear in the particular, which touches on how Jesus can simultaneously be God's icon of man and man's icon of God.