Friday, January 22, 2010

On Bumbling and Humbling Oneself to the Top

I'd like to wrap up with The Theological Origins of Modernity before moving on to another topic or perhaps taking another short break, whichever is easier.

But I just gnosissed -- just this second, actually -- an interesting little connection between the Renaissance humanists we've been discussing (people such as Petrarch, Ficino, and Erasmus), Christian hermeticism of the Unknown Friend variety, and Kabbalah. It also makes me wonder if someone such as Meister Eckhart wasn't dipping his toe (theory of everything) into the latter two streams.

I say this because I'm eyeballing a passage that discusses the Christian humanist Marsilio Ficino, who attempted to use Neoplatonic thought as a way to reconcile and synthesize "Christian piety and Roman morality." Of course, this whole idea will be offensive to those readers who imagine that tradition followed the scriptures rather than vice versa, but Gillespie correctly points out that the earliest Christian fathers drew "heavily on Platonic and Neoplatonic thought," and Ficino "was convinced that Christianity and Platonism had a common origin in the more ancient thought of Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster."

Now, this shouldn't pose a problem for a broadminded Christian such as, oh, say, St. Augustine, who knew that Christianity had always existed (indeed, how could it not?), but that it had simply gone by different names prior to the earthly appearance of Christ. The way I would look at it -- and again, it should go without saying that no one is under any pressure to agree with me -- that great historical events cast a backward shadow, so that in hindsight we can see all sorts of hints, augurs, omens and clues, like dark sparks cast back into the stream of time.

Here again, this shouldn't be controversial, for among the first things the early Christians did was pore over the Old Testsament, only to discover that it had been crawling with evidence that no one had fully pieced together. Indeed, what were the prophets doing if not examining the present for signs of possible futures? I don't think they were "seeing the future," since, as Scrooge found out, the future is variable, depending upon what happens in the present.

Nevertheless, it is clearly possible to see the outlines and contours of certain world-historical patterns, especially something as "large" as Jesus, who was both the "center" of history and its most supersized event. Again, he is like a vertical depth charge that causes temporal waves to travel both forward and back.

According to Gillespie, the Corpus Hermetica contributed "in important ways to the formation of early Christian thought," and "had a profound impact on many of the early church fathers, including Victorinus, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen"; and I would definitely toss Denys the Areopagite into that mix.

Ficino other Christian humanists thought that this more ancient form of Christianity "could serve as an alternative to scholasticism," but I think you can see that it also avoids Luther's excesses. For Ficino did not expand the nominalist God at the expense of man, but "gave the human soul a privileged place in the universal hierarchy, as the bond of the universe and the link between the intelligible and corporeal worlds. Cultivating the soul in this view allows humans to 'become all things.'"

This is getting very close to unalloyed Coonspeak. But this is a perilous balance, because we are surrounded by heresies, hostile forces, and mind parasites on all sides. So proceed cautiously!

Note also that while Ficino "accepted the ontological individualism posited by nominalism, he saw individual beings filled with and united by sparks of divine love. Motivated by love, they are naturally attracted to the good and thus to God." This follows from the premise that God himself is only "unified in love," which resolves the one and the many -- or unity and trinity -- within the divine being. Love is the "interior reality" of God.

Here again, Ficino expresses the very Coonish (n)Otion that, while humans possess free will, it is "constrained from above," so to speak, by the Great Attractor. There is a transitional space between us and our transhistorical archetype, which is where freedom takes place, both for good and for ill. Thus, if "humans naturally are attracted to the good, then humans can freely exercise their wills in a manner that is harmonious with divine will," but without God's will entirely effacing our own (or our will denying God's omnipotence). Complementarity, baby.

A student of Ficino, Giovanni Pico de la Mirandola, extended his master's arguments, and "was convinced that truth was universal and that all philosophies and religions had a part in it." I would express it as follows: not only is any truth impossible in the absence of God, but all truth proves the existence of God, whether from science or religion. Even if Christianity is the most adequate or full revelation of God's being, this does not mean that God's being is not revealed elsewhere. And God's being is clearly the substance of truth (but not only truth).

Pico was also fully aware of the fact that philosophy and science can only take one "so far in penetrating the truth of the divine," and that it was necessary for one to take a leap into the unKnown at its well-lit frontiers -- or where the bright encampment borders the dark frontier, precisely.

Finally, is critical to remember that man is not in his privileged cosmic position because of "his own intrinsic excellence or power but his status as the imago dei." Thus, as Toots always said, the higher one ascends, the more humble one should feel, until one is finally a big nobody. Humility is always the mark of the master. Otherwise, one is misappropriating what belongs only to God. Thus it follows that Jesus suffered the ultimate humiliation.

At least until this.

The difference, of course, is that one can surrender to humility or find out the hard way. It's your choice.

20 Comments:

Blogger Northern Bandit said...

The idea that Christianity has always existed, and that the central historic event of Christ's appearance casts backward shockwaves revealing signs and portents is wholly new to me and amazingly powerful. One of the things I love most about OC is the intellectual workout. Whereas once I naively swallowed every postmodern nostrum from logical positivism to "existentialism" and -- most of all -- scientism, now I feel much stronger and much more able to see these flimsy ideas for what they are.

Frankly, one could probably disagree with everything Gagdad writes and still be a lot better off for having read him.

1/22/2010 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

It's the Cosmos's oldest religion.
Even older than milk.

1/22/2010 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Todd in Sitka said...

More to toss into the thought blender, but as I recall the Zoroastrians worshipped a god known as (phonetically) ZolMoxes.

My recollection is the transliteration of that is "Chief Moses"

Something to head scratch about.

1/22/2010 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

OT and haven't had a chance to read the post yet, but thought I'd draw some attention to this, Constitutional Townhall, being put on by Hillsdale College and featuring Matthew Spalding, author of "We still hold these truths...", a webcast scheduled for Jan 30th.

Back later.

1/22/2010 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Bob @ work said...

Todd--

I remember hearing about a rabbi who thought there was an etymological connection between "brahman" and "Abraham." And of course, since Moses was raised an Egyptian, he would have been familiar with whatever Egyptian wisdom tradition existed at the time, even if there was no historical Hermes.

1/22/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Julie:

I picked up that 7 Worlds Collide CD. First time I'd heard of them. Good recommendation!

1/22/2010 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Oh, you've probably heard of them. Just not in this particular incarnation ;)

There are a few that I've missed, but I'm most familiar with the Finns. They just keep getting better with age.

1/22/2010 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"There is a transitional space between us and our transhistorical archetype, which is where freedom takes place, both for good and for ill. Thus, if "humans naturally are attracted to the good, then humans can freely exercise their wills in a manner that is harmonious with divine will," but without God's will entirely effacing our own (or our will denying God's omnipotence). Complementarity, baby."

And Ricky's "It's the Cosmos's oldest religion.
Even older than milk."

Todd's "Zoroastrians worshipped a god known as (phonetically) ZolMoxes.
My recollection is the transliteration of that is "Chief Moses""

and Bob@work "since Moses was raised an Egyptian, he would have been familiar with whatever Egyptian wisdom tradition existed at the time, even if there was no historical Hermes."

Doesn't it all go back to, through and out from the same source as Proverbs 8, picking up at line 17,
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.
Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.
I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment:
That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures.
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.
Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.
But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.


Which all comes around to,
" "was convinced that truth was universal and that all philosophies and religions had a part in it." I would express it as follows: not only is any truth impossible in the absence of God, but all truth proves the existence of God, whether from science or religion."

Yep.

1/22/2010 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"The Best of Split Enz"
Yeah!!!
Finn again, begin again!

1/22/2010 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Erasmus said...

When I teach the Renaisance in my Western Civ or World history classes, one of my favorite primary documents for students to read is Pico's "Oration on the Dignity of Man"; not only does it perfectly exemply the creative confluence that was Renaissance humanism, it is mind-blowing in its ability to show how all religions lead to Christianity as the highest expression of spiritual truth. At the same time, though, there is a scent of new Age-iness in Pico and the Florentine neo-Platonists, so your warning to proceed with caution is a wise one...

1/22/2010 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given that humanity is evolving, and given that human evolution proceeds simulataneously on physical, mental, and spiritual levels, I'll put the question out to the gang:

Where are the current frontiers located? Where is the "action?"

Where to next, physically?

Where to next, mentally?

Where to next, spiritually?

Some ideas: physically, we move into "re-manufactured" bodies that are stronger and have more longevity. Brains are augmented digitally somehow to be more powerful. Memory becomes photographic and easily accessed.

Mentally, we continue to expand knowledge in the sciences and the arts in the conventional way. However,we pioneer new techniques to access the subliminal and intuitive areas of consciousness.

Spiritually: Gradually atheism and doubt decline as the newly sharpened physical and mental capacities begin to sense, pick-up, and commune with "O" better. The basic qualities of "O" (love, correct discernment of right action, freedom from fear) begin to bleed into daily life. Consumer society as we know it undergoes a shift to a gift-centered economy; manufacturing and service enterprise now work to provide people with new extravagant products and services to give to others.

The long nightmare of leftism will be over. Raccoonism will overtake the globe.

Science and religion will be happily wedded at last on the frontier of consiousness studies.

"O" will be a constant companion to all people, a warmth that is palpable and is never lost in the storms of adversity.

Time elapsed until collapse of leftism is: 150 years. We won't live to see it, but great-grandchildren will.

1/22/2010 03:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Bulletproof Monk said...

Anon, and where is God and Christ in this transhumanist scheme of yours? Is this not simply another form of the pride of Adam (and thus of the same source as the leftism you decry), that we can become, through our horizontal actions, as gods ourselves, without God's participation?

Your conception of "O" seems to me to be purely gnostic in character, and as such constitutes an implicit rejection of the personalist God who is not something to be attained "out there" but rather already resides within you. "O" is ALREADY a constant companion, my friend, and you are an icon of Christ, and you don't need to be digitally uploaded to realize that.

*****

Van, one could also say, "The pure of heart will see God." ;)

The Beatitudes outline the Christian spiritual path to perfection.

*****

Northern Bandit, you might be interested in "Christ the Eternal Tao", which sounds new-agey but is not, and which explores this idea.

1/22/2010 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Completely off topic, but this is just awesome. I know a lot of people who could benefit from this kind of technology.

1/22/2010 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Van,
From the New Testivus:

"Blessed is the Van that heareth me, watching daily at my Blogger, waiting at the posts of my Bob."

Can I get an Amen!

1/22/2010 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Bulletproof Monk:

Thanks for the racoonmendation. Off to Amazon...

1/22/2010 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger xlbrl said...

The Greek civilizations evolved in a vast break from the rest of the world. It can be no coincidence that Jesus was raised in a Hellenistic culture.

1/23/2010 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

Todd said: "..Zoroastrians.. Something to head scratch about."

And here's more:

Was the story of Jesus stolen from that of Zoroaster?

Close But No Cigar

1/23/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

Gagdad Bob said: "...And God's being is clearly the substance of truth (but not only truth)."

True. Another is Wisdom

1/23/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am anon 3:06. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of my comment, Bulletproof Monk.

Regarding your points:

1. We need Christ and God's participation in our evolution.

Agreed. I do think "O" is behind all things, working through us to achieve evolution. We and "0" function as a team. I guess I didn't make myself clear on this point.

2. God is already present to us.

Again, agreed. However, people have trouble picking Him up out of the background chatter. We need a finer capacity of receptivity and I think that is where we are headed.

I do not think humanity is going to horizontally make itself Godlike. My conception is God has fielded us as His team in the game of cosmis evolution and is coaching from the sidelines. When we make the Goal He'll take us all out to pizza. :)

1/23/2010 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Ricky said "...watching daily at my Blogger, waiting at the posts of my Bob.
Can I get an Amen!"

Oh Mon!

;-)

1/23/2010 05:33:00 PM  

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