Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Point of the Cross and Cross of the Point

In case you're wondering, I've just been riffing along with Schuon's misleadingly titled Sufism: Veil and Quintessence -- misleading because, like all of his books, it's truly about "everything" -- in the most literal sense of that word. Every. Thing. And more.

And as always, it's full of pithy little gems and asides. For example, here's a little footnote that could be the basis of a whole post... who knows, maybe even this one: "The total Universe can be compared to either a circle or a cross, the center in both cases representing the Principle." Reminds ʘne of the ʘ in cʘsmos and cʘʘnvision, doesn't it?

With regard to the point-circle, "the relationship between the periphery and the center is discontinuous, this being the dogmatist perspective of theology, analogically speaking."

In contrast, in the cross-circle "the same relationship is continuous, this being the perspective of gnosis." The former perspective (ʘ) takes phenomenal reality into consideration, whereas the latter "takes account of the essential reality of things and the Universe." (Indeed, look at how the cross is planted right in mother earth.)

Or, you might say that the point-circle considers things from the relative reality of man (and creation), whereas the cross-circle is from the absolute perspective of God, in whom there can be no discontinuity. Viewed from the bottom up, there is simply no way to overcome the ontological fissures and discontinuities we perceive, absent a flight into reductionism -- which only aggravates the apparent absurdity of the world, converting mystery to mystification.

Thus, the cross-circle is clearly the more "real" of the two symbols, although, at the same time, it necessitates the point-circle, because the latter represents the relative reality of a creation separate from the Creator. We are at the periphery. God is at the center (or origin). And man himself -- i.e., under his own natural powers -- is powerless to return to the center. Rather, only an act of God can facilitate that. Only God can bridge the gap between point and periphery. How? Through the Cross!

Coincidentally -- or perhaps not -- this is one of the central themes of Borella's The Sense of the Supernatural. He is a French Catholic esoterist, completely orthodox in his thinking, as far as I can tell. He points out that it has only been in the last two or three centuries that we have developed this strict demarcation between "nature" and supranature, which means that the point-circle is taken to be the ultimate reality, instead of the cross-circle.

In other words, because of the impact of the scientistic worldview, the radical discontinuities of the world are taken to be real, not merely a phenomenal residue of the creative principle as it proceeds from God to world, Creator to created, Center to periphery. But then, the two domains became radically separated, so that scientism becomes the religion of the periphery, while religion becomes the science of the center, with no meaningful communication between the two.

Borella mainly faults the Protestant rebellion, which, because it abolished the hierarchical intelligibility of the world, left the field open to be colonized by the cognitive predation of materialistic science. Looked at this way, scientism (not science, mind you, which is Christian through and through) is really just another form (or side) of Protestantism!

Another especially baleful effect of Luther on the West is his extreme devaluation of man. We can all agree that man is fallen, but for Luther, the fall is absolute. Here again, man is hopelessly condemned to the periphery, to the point that there is literally nothing he can do to participate in his own salvation. He is predestined, so that, as in Islam, past, present, and future are all predetermined. Ironically, there is no cross with which to get across!

But I believe Borella is correct in equally emphasizing man's theomorphism. Without in anyway forgetting our fall into ignorance, sin, and contingency, we are nevertheless "in the image of the Creator," so that the same cross that lives within the Trinity is now within us -- at least in potential.

Is it not obvious that man is incomplete? Not even the most boneheaded atheist considers man in the state of nature to be a "finished product."

Rather, we all recognize that man is charged with completing and perfecting himself, which immediately implies transcendence. If man is complete in himself, or if his progress is actually just arbitrary, then his life consists of nothing more than circling around the periphery of that circle. There is no center, no essence, no progress, and no point to existence. Only with the cross does man's life have a point.

In his preface to the book, Wolfgang Smith suggests that the supernatural is first intuited on the basis of what is lacking in man. We know we are incomplete, and that there is something about our existence that is not in accord with this vague sense we have of our intrinsic dignity and nobility. This is not the same as pride, which merely elevates the periphery to the center, and then presumes to dominate it. Rather, it is the recognition that there is nothing in the natural world that "is worthy of this transnatural miracle that is our spirit":

"To have the sense of the supernatural is to understand that 'man infinitely surpasses man,' and that there is nothing in nature that corresponds to the spirit." A man who is fully "at home" in the natural world is an animal. Only when man is properly at home in God does the world then become a comprehensible weigh station for his sojourn.

Because of the cross within the otherwise closed circle of existence, there is an "opening" set in the heart of creation, through which the upper waters may penetrate and vivify -- or an artery through which the supernatural blood may ʘxydize and circulight.

25 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

Beautiful ending to a great post.

10/21/2010 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

You wrote:
Because of the cross within the otherwise closed circle of existence, there is an "opening" set in the heart of creation, through which the upper waters may penetrate and vivify -- or an artery through which the supernatural blood may circulate.

Hmmm. Just last night I wrote, referencing my own heart, "Open the Center, to restore the natural rhythm, and balance its working." So your post banged my gong pretty well.

10/21/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Coincidentally -- or perhaps not -- this is one of the central themes of Borella's The Sense of the Supernatural. He is a French Catholic esoterist, completely orthodox in his thinking, as far as I can tell. He points out that it has only been in the last two or three centuries that we have developed this strict demarcation between "nature" and supranature, which means that the point-circle is taken to be the ultimate reality, instead of the cross-circle.

That was pretty much the entire point of Schmemann's book, as well. Same truth, different lens. Being Orthodox, he appeared to put the separation more on the Catholics and at an earlier point (though he carefully avoided naming names), but he also noted that even within Orthodoxy the same mindset now rules - that there is the time and space we set apart for God, during church, and that somehow we have come to believe that outside is everything else, the "real" world of scientism/ secularism. And of course by living as though the two are separate, we make the cross impossible.

(Indeed, look at how the cross is planted right in mother earth.)

I bet a few books could be written with that little line as the topic...

10/21/2010 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

A couple queries from the sidebar, have you had a look at "Socrates Meets Hume by Peter Kreeft", or the one on John Henry Newman yet?

10/21/2010 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, the Hume is enjoyable light reading, and is an obvious segue to his similar volume on Kant (although it might be best to start with the one on Descartes). Haven't gotten far enough into the Newman.

10/21/2010 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Apropos:

"The rise of blasphemy probably mirrors the most unremarked phenomenon of the 21st century: the comeback of religion. Not only have Christianity and Islam risen with unprecedented speed in the Third World, but Western equivalents such as Communism and Environmentalism are now subliminally established as state religions in “progressive societies”. This is the modern age of faith, and how. Under these circumstances occasions of offense are likely to multiply and not diminish. Belief, and therefore blasphemy, is back. Ironically it has returned just as the secular world was congratulating itself on creating a multicultural world in which religion had been banished to domestic altars. It was in fact creating its parody all along: a patchwork of monocultures, a series of echo-chambers, a checkerboard of ghettos each with its own public idol living in uneasy proximity with each other."

10/21/2010 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

We do get email:

Dear Bob:

I came across an internet mention of your interest in Deepak Chopra’s work, which led me to your blog. If you like his work, you might also like mine. My latest book, Walking Through Illusion, has many beautiful ideas to share; one of them is that we don’t take our beliefs with us when we leave here, we take the love we found from having them. If you would review this book on your blog, I would be happy to send you a pdf version since you are in Tonga and I’m in the USA.

10/21/2010 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Oh, my, that is just so tempting...

Last week a friend of mine said,

"Hey, Deepak Chopra's going to be in town! I was going to ask you if you wanted to go, but then I remembered he's not really your thing."

I told her I'd probably enjoy it, but for all the wrong reasons...

10/21/2010 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

I didn't realize Kreeft wrote a whole series of these 'Socrates meets ...' books. @#$! Darned wishlist keeps growing.

Reading the preview on Amazon, you gotta know I love this part,

"Hume:... And I think we have other things in common too, notably your famous Socratic doubts.
Socrates: I did not begin with doubts, but with questions.
Hume: What is the difference?
Socrates: Questions hope to find answers.
Hume: Of course they do. What is you point?
Socrates: Your thought ended in skepticism; mine did not.
"

Such an important point, the positive, integrative nature of Questioning, and the destructive, disintegrating nature of using Doubt as a method.

The seemingly well intentioned and sensible call to begin with 'doubt all', if followed, leads you down the path to... certain destruction... or at least to modernity.

10/21/2010 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

that DC emailer: he needs Gaga
[an avowed big fan] not you!

10/21/2010 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I wonder if the DC mailer just Googled Chopra and randomly picked a bunch of bloggers who mention him? I'm just trying to figure out how he got here, since he obviously didn't do more than skim the bio and check that somewhere in a post Chopra was mentioned.

***

wv says "cookie." Whether that's an offer, a request or a warning I can't quite decide...

10/21/2010 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Richard Fernandes said...

Thanks for the link, Julie.

He sure spells his name funny, though.

10/21/2010 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Who said that?

10/21/2010 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D
I had noticed that before. Seems the name goes with some pretty good writing skills...

10/21/2010 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Why do the call him 'Wretchard' in the comments?

wv:traterh
... Oh, I think that's going a bit far....

10/21/2010 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

They're not mocking, that used to be his screen name before he hooked up with Pajamas.

10/21/2010 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

"you're in Tonga"

I am sitting here with literal tears in my eyes. I don't want my wife to hear me laughing when I'm supposed to be at work.

And they wonder why we mock them.

10/21/2010 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Guys:

"Wretchard" is one of the best conservative bloggers in existence. I've read him for years. He's very much a coon-compatible chap.

10/21/2010 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

When are we finally going to have a class trip to Tonga, anyway?

10/21/2010 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Somebody should pick a date...

10/21/2010 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re: Cross in Cirle

Is the circle the third dimension? Regarding predetermination, how do you square Revelations with the idea that we are not predestined for this fate? Enjoyed this piece, Thanks

10/21/2010 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

X some cross talk X

It is the great symbol of manifested light, which is indicated by the Greek letter X (khi), initial of the words (Chone), (Chrysos), and (Chronos), crucible, gold, and time, triple unknown of the Great Work. The cross of St Andrew (Chiasma), in the shape of an X, is the hieroglyph of luminous and divergent radiations, emanated from a unique fire/center, reduced to its simplest expression. Therefore, it is clearly the graphic of the spark. Its radiation can be multiplied, but it is impossible to further simplify it. These intersecting lines produce the diagram of the shining of stars, of the radiating dispersion of all that shines, lightens and irradiates. Thus it has been made the seal, the mark of illumination, and, in a wider sense, of spiritual revelation. The Holy Spirit is always perpendicular to its body, that is to say, in a cross. For the Greek cross and that of St Andrew have in hermetics an exactly similar meaning. One frequently encounters the image of the dove completed by a halo which specifies the hidden meaning, as can be seen in the religious scenes of our Primitives and in a number of purely alchemical sculptures. The Greek X and the French X represent the writing of light by light itself, the trail of its passage, the manifestation of its movement, the affirmation of its reality. It is its true signature. Until the 12th century, no other mark was used to authenticate old charters; from the 15th century on, the cross became the signature of illiterates. In Rome, auspicious days were signed with a white cross and unfavorable ones with a black cross. It is the complete number of the Work, because unity, the two natures, the three principles, and the four elements give the double quintessence, the two Vs joined in the Roman cipher X for the number ten. The number is the foundation of the Pythagorean Cabala, or of the universal language, whose curious paradigm can be seen on the last page of a little alchemy book (11). Bohemians used the cross or the X as a sign of recognition. Guided by this graphic traced on a tree or on some wall, they still camp exactly on the spot occupied by their predecessors near the sacred symbol which they call Patria. One could believe this word to be of Latin origin and apply to the nomads this maxim which the cats --- living objects of art --- strive to practice: Patria est ubicumque est bene --- wherever we are comfortable, there is our country; but their emblem refers to a Greek word (Patria), with the meaning of family, tribe, race. The cross of the Gypsies or Romanies therefore indicates the place of refuge assigned to a tribe. Furthermore, almost all meanings revealed by the sign X have a transcendent or mysterious value, and this fact is singular. In algebra, X is the unknown quantity; it is also the problem to be solved, the solution to be discovered; it is the Pythagorean sign of multiplication, and the element to cast out the nines in arithmetic; it is the popular symbol of mathematics in what concerns higher or abstract development. It characterizes that which, generally is excellent, useful, remarkable (Chresimos). All bodies of nature, all beings either in their structure or in their appearance, abide by this fundamental law of radiation, all are subjected to this measure. The canon of the Gnostics applies this measure to the human body (16); and Jesus Christ, spirit incarnate, St Andrew, and St Peter, personify its glorious and painful image. Have we not noticed that the aerial organs of vegetables --- be they lofty trees or tiny herbs --- show along with their roots the characteristic divergence of the branches of the X? In what manner do flowers bloom? Section vegetable leaves, leafstalks, nervures, etc., examine the cross-sections under a microscope and you will observe, with your own eyes, the most brilliant, the most marvelous confirmation of this divine will...

http://cista.net/Houses/

10/22/2010 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Excellent Dr. Zero on the Juan Williams incident.

10/22/2010 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Mushroom said...

""you're in Tonga"

I am sitting here with literal tears in my eyes."

I'm barely keeping it together, too. One of the most naively charming things I've read in a while, and funniest, and quite sad, as well.

10/22/2010 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Barely keeping together, as in chuckling, that is... If anything gets too serious in the next 24 hours, I'll just remember that one. :)

10/22/2010 09:21:00 AM  

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