On Bumbling and Humbling Oneself to the Top
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.