Complements Beget You Everywhere
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.