Monday, January 18, 2010

Complements Beget You Everywhere

Let's take a little side trip on the road to modernity, and find out what Schuon had to say about the spat between Catholicism and Protestantism. Yes, he was a Sufi, but he had an extraordinarily deep and subtle understanding of, and appreciation for, Christianity. While he naturally had some blind spots, he still easily surpasses most religious thinkers in getting to the essence of the subject.

Bear in mind that I'm freely tossing my own ideas and interpretations into the mix, so Schuon is not responsible for my (mis)use of him. Also, please remember that one of the main reasons I write is to discover what I think, so what follows may surprise me as much as it does you. So before you disagree, at least give me a chance to understand what I mean. I'm sure some of this will offend, but I'm not trying to be offensive, so cut a brotha'-under-the-pelt a little slack.

Now, being that he was a traditionalist, you'd think that Schuon would automatically reject Luther as heterodox and even heretical. However, he recognizes that there are two great principles that govern religious phenomena, one of them more vertical, so to speak, the other more horizontal. The former is what he calls the "celestial mandate," the latter "apostilic succession."

Clearly, the celestial mandate must ultimately take priority over the apostilic succession, because without it, there would be nothing to apostle-ize. There would be no news, but a lot of vacuous people to propagate it -- just like cable TV.

Ironically, in a certain sense, the celestial mandate cuts both ways, since it is the source of tradition, and yet, it "blows where it will," and can never actually be contained by tradition. You might say that the role of tradition is to do the utmost to be a worthy vehicle of the celestial mandate. It's a very delicate balance -- a complementarity, you might say -- to maintain tradition while simultaneously remaining open to what amounts to the "extra-canonical intervention of Grace"; or, to balance growth and conservation, just as in politics.

I'm not sure if this is self-evident or unnecessarily convoluted, but it's clear to me so far. And I think right away you see a kind of trialectical tension that human beings simply cannot eliminate, which is why it is true (up to a point) that there must always be the outward or exoteric "church of Peter" and the inward and esoteric "church of John." Furthermore, these are in no way "opposites," but fully complementary. You cannot have one without the other, any more than you can have form without substance, or a body without a skeleton to support it.

That being the case, it is obvious -- to me anyway -- that there is no reason why the apostilic succession cannot make a space for the intrinsically wild and untamed celestial energies. Is there any doubt that people who break away from tradition are -- whether legitimately or not -- seeking a more intense, personal, and genuine encounter with the celestial mandate, a direct descent from above? I mean Shakers, Quakers, Fakirs, Seekers, Suckers, Slackers, Pentacostal crackers -- in a way, they're all just trying to bypass the horizontal form and go straight to the source, misguided though they often are.

The problem, however, is to combine this free-wheeling approach with legitimate authority, order with spontaneity, classical with jazz. To emphasize only the vertical to the exclusion of the horizontal is asking for trouble, man being what he is. Yes, tradition can devolve into the mundane "bureaucratization of the sacred," but the total lawlessness of the frontier is not the answer (at least for the vast majority).

But again, for Schuon, the impulses behind the Reformation were (small l) "legitimate," since, at the time, they drew "from a spiritual archetype that was, if not entirely ignored by Rome, at least certainly 'stifled.'" Thus, not dissimilar to how Buddhism broke off from Hinduism in order to return to its first principles, Luther operates outside strict apostilic succession in order to go straight back to the celestial mandate.

Do you see the point? To say that every man becomes his own priest is to say that each man is given his own private celestial mandate (which again, man being what he is, can be a recipe for disaster).

But soon enough, the Reformation begins to "congeal" into its own horizontal traditions, so that additional schisms become inevitable. One of them, for example, is that only faith saves; or that God's absolute omnipotence precludes man's free will; or that moral effort counts for nothing. Thus, people who believe in free will or the efficacy of works must split off and form their own sect.

But please note: none of these schisms is strictly necessary, if one preserves the fullness of the original complementarity which cannot be resolved anyway. As Schuon puts it, Protestantism ends up opposing "Roman excesses with new excesses."

Indeed, even to insist that "only faith matters" is going to generate an inevitable split within itself. For, what kind of faith? A sincere faith? A half-hearted or lukewarm 51% faith? A faith that proves itself with works? A thoroughly rotten person whose faith is nevertheless rock solid? A faith that has no problem with abortion or anti-Semitism?

For Schuon, there is no real faith in the absence of gratitude and sincerity, which reflect one another in the following manner: "Sincerity forms part of faith, thus it is only sincere faith -- proved precisely by moral effort and works -- that is faith as such in the eyes of God. In other words, sincerity necessarily manifests itself through our desire to please Heaven which, having saved us from evil, obviously expects us to practice good; and this consequentiality can be termed 'gratitude.'"

Now, as we have been discussing, there is rather wide latitude in one's understanding of man's fallenness and what we can do about it from our end. Both Augustine and Luther took rather extreme positions, which, for Schuon, end up being a caricature of what the teaching is trying to transmit to us. In other words, it's supposed to be a kind of useful wisdom, not just a condemnation. It's like the difference between a fatal diagnosis for which you can do nothing, vs. being told by your physician that if you don't address your condition, it will surely be fatal.

Either the fall is contingent or necessary; if the latter, then you might say that we are indeed rotten to (or from) the core, and that the rottenness is essential to our nature. But if it is contingent, then there is something we can do about it. It does not necessarily "penetrate and corrupt all [of man's] initiatives."

Again, our attitude toward this question bifurcates in two directions. In the Catholic approach, which Schuon calls more "dynamic," "if a man does not make efforts to transcend himself, he follows his passions and becomes lost; if he does not go towards his salvation, he drifts away from it, for who does not advance, retreats; whence the obligation of sacrifice, asceticism, and meritorious works."

The Evangelical approach is more "static," but that doesn't mean it is not efficacious. In this path, one's salvation is predetermined, "which in fact is reassuring," and is "addressed firstly to men given to trust in God, but trusting neither in their capacity to save themselves, nor in priestly complications," but also to some purely contemplative types "who love simplicity and peace."

With regard to the latter, Schuon observes that while Luther closed one door to grace, he opened another, in the sense that he considerably simplified and centralized worship, and "opened the door to a particular spiritual climate which also possesses a mystical virtuality." Clearly, Luther is not interested in "dotting every theological i" -- "which is the Roman tendency -- but at believing in the literal wording of Scripture." If much of it makes no sense, hey, no big. Plenty of things -- probably the vast majority -- are true without us understanding how or why.

Nevertheless, the Raccoon tends to be an extremely curious creature who cannot stop asking why.

23 Comments:

Blogger Magnus Itland said...

When I was little, the thing I could not understand about Protestants was why they had to keep protesting even after hundreds of years.

wv: outies

1/18/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger swiftone said...

You say "The problem... is to combine this free-wheeling approach with legitimate authority, order with spontaneity."

This has always been the underlying attraction to me of Hinduism, and I understand it so poorly that I'm loathe to try to say much about it. But the four(?) paths to O have always
made a lot of sense to me.

Magnus, speaking as a Protestant, I'm not protesting. I just find traditions that I'm familiar with most comfortable. Sad but true.

Serving in love, is entirely different than the philosopher, yet each practiced well seem to lead to the same vertical ascent to borrow your language. I'm totally inexperienced in approaches that try to tame the body or actually engage in, God Forbid!, hard work, but nonetheless, different folks, different gifts.

The history of the church is replete with rooting out of heresies, many of which seem to be if not the correct horizontal path for the umbrella institution, still may be the most sensible for some people (both singular and plural.) But as you, I don't know what I think really here, but I do think this is a fruitful "complementarity." OTOH, the fact that I find it so, may be a strong indicator that you're barking up a blind alley! O knows. Not I.

1/18/2010 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger swiftone said...

Sheesh.. my afterthought to Magnus.. ended up entirely misplaced in my thoughts. Should be at the end. UpShutting NOW.

1/18/2010 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael Liccione said...

Hi Bob:

We've had communications before; my old blog was "Sacramentum Vitae", which I expect to revive again soon in some form. In the meantime, a few observations.

1. Few Catholics today would deny that the Reformation was motivated by legitimate concerns. There had been a good deal of corruption, ossification, and theological confusion in the Catholic Church from the time of the Roman Schism (1378-1417) onwards, which the conciliarist movement had tried to address, but in a way that could not have succeeded even in principle. And I think even Schuon would have agreed that moving from critique to schism was unjustified and bound to lead only to more schism. The Marburg Colloquy of 1529 was proof of that. The outlines of the broad and permanent split between the Lutheran, Calvinist (aka "Reformed"), and free-church traditions within Protestantism were evident even then, a dozen years after Luther had nailed his theses to the door.

2. In terms of ancient Christian tradition and mystical theology, schism is never justified. The Church is the Body of Christ because she is one body with him in a mystical marriage. Just as God became visible as a man in Jesus, so the Mystical Body must be visible and one even on earth. Acccordingly, unless there is a visible body identifiable as "the" Church, the Incarnation is incomplete. As Augustine said, the "whole Christ" is the risen Christ plus the Church.

Best,
Mike

1/18/2010 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

Great post.

>> Either the fall is contingent or necessary

O felix culpa!

>> It does not necessarily "penetrate and corrupt all [of man's] initiatives."

The doctrine of total depravity always seemed straightforwardly self-contradictory to me. If we are totally corrupted, how can anyone ever believe anything anyone says about anything?

1/18/2010 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob wrote:

Do you see the point? To say that every man becomes his own priest is to say that each man is given his own private celestial mandate (which again, man being what he is, can be a recipe for disaster).

Disaster or not, you've placed your hands on the bleeding heart of the matter.

The horizontal scaffold you speak of, which is indispensable for the approach to the peak, must be paradoxically cast away in the final ascent, to be met by the descent.

We are all essentially alone, carrying our Celestial Mandates on our backs, when we Meet Our Maker both in life and in death.

All seekers must be prepared to go it alone, all doctrine jettisoned in the final meeting with the Master, where no Church, be it the Body of Christ or not, is going to be of any use and in fact will only hinder.

The Father would speak to each of us alone, and without interference, at some point during life.

The raccoon way is to make this private talk a reality.

So I presume to speak.

1/18/2010 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I don't know about that, for complementarity is higher than the modes it unifies. I do know that from the human end, there is no form without substance.

1/18/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael Liccione said...

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin claimed that the Fall was "a statistically inevitable byproduct of evolution." That means that, given human origins, the Fall had to occur at some-or-other time, but didn't have to occur at any particular time. Hence the Fall proceeded from human free choice, but was nevertheless necessary.

I believe that idea to be heretical. It entails that God not only foresaw but intended the Fall by the way he created the world. That makes him at least as responsible for the Fall as the first couple to have enjoyed direct union with him. If there were such a God, he would be exactly what the serpent in the Garden of Eden implied he was: untrustworthy. Only not for the reason the serpent gave.

Actually, what the serpent did say was true, just not in the sense he intended. God did intend that people become gods. But they were to become gods by grateful, obedient reception of a gratuitous gift, not by asserting themselves as gods disobediently before the fruition of the gift.

1/18/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'll buy that.

1/18/2010 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

More generally, I'm always amazed at how many things one can independently "discover," only to find out that some feller already discovered it 1000 or 1500 years ago...

1/18/2010 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael Liccione said...

Theology is like that.

1/18/2010 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael said,

"That makes him at least as responsible for the Fall as the first couple to have enjoyed direct union with him."
"God did intend that people become gods. But they were to become gods by grateful, obedient reception of a gratuitous gift, not by asserting themselves as gods disobediently before the fruition of the gift."

Can you not see that the very fruition you speak of is coming to pass with Barack and Michelle? The "First Couple" is indeed in direct union.

1/18/2010 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> there must always be the outward or exoteric "church of Peter" and the inward and esoteric "church of John."

This is part of the reason why Pope JP2 spoke of the Latin and Greek Churches as the right and left lungs of Christendom, and why he made reunification with the Orthodox Churches such a high priority (a policy being carried on, I'm glad to see, by Pope B16).

These days, it seems that its the Orthodox who don't appreciate the need for both "lungs" and who most resist any rapprochement, although that wasn't always the case. I'm pretty sure that most of the reason for the original split was Rome's arrogance and high-handedness.

1/18/2010 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael Liccione said...

Warren, both sides were to blame. Rome did indeed behave arrogantly and high-handedly, but the Byzantines were also arrogant and insular. That started becoming evident in the 9th century under Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who deeply resented Rome's rejection of his original claim to the see. I think the hardening of attitudes came about in part because the Byzantines had come to feel themselves to be the preservers of Christian civilization from the pressures of the Muslim East and the "barbarian" West.

So I believe the main causes of the schism were political and cultural. The doctrinal issues could have been worked out to mutual satisfaction had it not been for those other factors.

1/18/2010 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Nevertheless, the Raccoon tends to be an extremely curious creature who cannot stop asking why."

Why? Which is sufficient refutation of the question of whether or not there is Free Will.

And not having the answer automatically appear to me, is enough of a demonstration of being 'fallen', in that I must use my judgment and can easily be in error... which is also further evidence of, and a requirement for, Free Will.

Will that satisy those who say all is predestined and we have no free will?

Nope. But only because they choose not to see the logic.

Irony. Don't leave home without it.

1/18/2010 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

Michael,

Thanks for that quick history lesson. What you say about the doctrinal issues is certainly true - the theological differences between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches could comfortably fit in a thimble, despite the wild exaggerations of these differences which seem to be popular among many Orthodox (I don't know why). The differences are so tiny, in fact, that the fact that they have not been bridged and the Churches reunited even after a full millenium is disgraceful and shameful almost beyond belief.

1/18/2010 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

I call shenanigans.

"Can you not see that the very fruition you speak of is coming to pass with Barack and Michelle? The "First Couple" is indeed in direct union."

ROFL!

1/18/2010 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Warren: Small perhaps but enough that each side thought it significant enough to divide over? We await your return as ever, O our West Roman friends.

1/18/2010 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I would think that the married priest thing would be a bit of a hurdle for Rome...

1/18/2010 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Isn't the Pope dealing with that now as he lets in the converting Anglican clergy? I'm not following that very closely, but I know that a number of the them have returned to Rome.

Furthermore, these are in no way "opposites," but fully complementary. You cannot have one without the other, any more than you can have form without substance, or a body without a skeleton to support it.

I think that is true. The caterpillar is a pretty uniform creature. The butterfly has two separate wings that allow it to soar (River would probably say one is Catholic and the other Orthodox). I think you could make the case that the Church went into a kind of antichrist stasis prior to the Reformation. From that conflict an entirely new creature emerged. The conflicts are part of that process of shaking off the confines of the cocoon.

The Church is still one and will soon soar.

1/18/2010 06:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Thom said...

There are quite a few married priests now as more married Anglican ministers (among others, I'm sure) have been converting and joining the fold. In these particular instances, the Church can, and does indeed, make exceptions to the rule. That being said, priestly celibacy is a strictly a practice of the Church and not a matter of doctrine, therefore there always exists a possibility of change - at least in theory anyway. I'm almost certain it wouldn't happen any time soon. Or, if it did, that it would be for the better.

I wonder if you were to ask an Orthodox priest about his time and energy being divided between his family and his flock, would he not be somewhat sympathetic to the practice of celibacy?

1/18/2010 06:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The general problem with so many priests in the Catholic Church is that they are not at all celibate, but simply unmarried.

1/19/2010 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

No doubt true with regard to the homosexual priests, which is why they should have done a much better job of policing the infiltration.

1/19/2010 10:09:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home