Friday, April 08, 2016

I Am the True Wine

Picking up right where we left off yesterday -- with Eckhart -- the Meistero claims that "Nowhere does God dwell more properly than in his temple, the intellect..." (in McGinn). By which of course he doesn't mean the mind, or ego, or consciousness, or any of that.

Rather, he means what Schuon means by the term, which is to say, a "mirror of the supra-sensible and itself a supernatural ray of light."

The intellect is both the mirror and the light it reflects, and simply cannot be a purely natural phenomenon. It is not God, but then again it isn't not-God, since it is a Divine Spark -- similar to how daylight on earth isn't the sun, and yet, it isn't not the sun. Rather, it's nothing other than the sun, only radiated and dispersed to the cosmic periphery.

Let's face it, without the intellect, we couldn't even know about the existence of God, so it all has to start there in some form or fashion, no matter how watered down or distorted. It is what reduces the mayaplicity of the world to unity, whether scientific or religious:

"The Intellect ‘is divine,’ first because it is a knower -- or because it is not a non-knower -- and secondly because it reduces all phenomena to their Principle; because it sees the Cause in every effect, and thus surmounts, at a certain level, the vertiginous and devouring multiplicity of the phenomenal world" (ibid.).

The intellect is the key to metaphysical understanding and certitude: our reason "perceives the general and proceeds by logical operations, whilst Intellect perceives the principial -- the metaphysical -- and proceeds by intuition. Intellection is concrete in relation to rational abstractions, and abstract in relation to the divine Concreteness" (ibid.).

When we talk about the Incarnation of the Word, I think this is more the Word we're talking about, i.e., Intellect vs. mere reason, the latter being a small subset of the former. Thus, Christ is the "cosmic intellect," not just some bubbleheaded Einstein writ large.

McGinn: "the essence of all Eckhart's preaching can be reduced to understanding that the intellect" is "something that has no existence apart from its inherence in the Word..."

Only like can know like; which is why "I say to you in everlasting truth that if you are unlike this Truth of which we want to speak, you cannot understand me" (Eckart). Again: the intellect can only know God because it is already of God, knowing following in the tracks of being.

The intellect, you could say, is timeless. The will, however, is intrinsically temporal, in that it "takes time" to do anything, whereas understanding occurs in a flash. Intellect and will are truth and way, respectively, and "there is no Truth that does not have its prolongation in the Way," just as "there is no intelligence that does not have its prolongation in the will..." (Schuon).

Jesus being the perfect concordance of the two -- Truth and Way, intelligence and will -- his Truth is his Way, and vice versa. Indeed, he even says so: "I am the way, the truth, and the life," not to mention, "I am the light of the world." And while we're at it, we might as well throw in the true vine, i.e., the one with its roots aloft and wine down below.

About the Way to this realization, "every human being must, out of love of God, strive to 'be what he is'" and "to disengage himself from the artificial superstructures that disfigure him..." (Schuon). As they say, no one is obligated to participate in the infrahuman pathologies of the world, at least if your wood beleaf.

Rather, our task is "to become once again a tree whose root is made of liberating certitude and whose crown is made of beatific serenity" (ibid.).

It could also be said: we face the supra-personal Divinity as pure Intellect; the personal God we face as a human being; and the God-man... we face as a child. Now while on the one hand these three relationships are separate, on the other hand they cannot be exclusively distinct. --Schuon

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Things That Cannot Not Be

Continuing with the keys to the damn world enigma, AKA "the principles that determine everything else" (Schuon). These principles equate to metaphysics, precisely, which you could say consists of the laws that Cannot Not Be given the Way Things Are.

For example, Darwinism pretends to be a kind of ultimate law of biology. But in order to be a law at all, it requires a very specific kind of cosmos. A universe that will support life is so rare, that Darwinism will almost never even come up. Therefore, Darwinism cannot be the general law of biology.

Whereas science moves in the direction of facts to laws to principles, metaphysics moves in the opposite direction, beginning with the principles that illuminate everything -- and I do mean everything -- else.

An example of a starting principle that cannot not be is that the world is intelligible to intelligence. However, this is already a bifurcation of a deeper principle, which is to say that reality is composed of a Truth which reveals itself on one side as knowledge and on the other as knower.

Any alternative to what I just said is impossible -- i.e., incoherent, self-refuting, absurd, tenured, etc.

With metaphysics we "touch God" in a way, because this is not a human -- or at least merely human -- knowledge. Since it is knowledge that must be, it is knowledge that will always be, and is therefore timeless and transcendent. It will never be out of date. It is not derived from reason, but rather, "made of truth," so to speak. It is the substance of truth, hence its intrinsic certainty. It is why Jesus can confidently say "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (not to reduce his words to mere metaphysics, because in his unique case he is the Truth he is speaking).

"The foundation of metaphysical certitude is the coincidence between truth and our being; a coincidence that no ratiocination could invalidate." Thus, "things deriving from the Absolute become clear by their participation in the Absolute, hence by a 'superabundance of light' -- according to Saint Thomas -- which amounts to saying that they are proven by themselves."

That sounds like a tautology -- "proven by themselves" -- but it isn't. Imagine, for example (speaking of an abundance of Light), the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is followed immediately by Peter's recognition of Who This Really Is. Not only is it its own proof, but the proof is beyond the capacity of the apostles to fully assimilate: again, it is a superabundance of Light. So yes, you can have "too much proof," in that it overwhelms the (lower case r) reason.

Must be what happened to the OJ jury. Not to mention the FBI investigation of Hillary.

In any event, "universal truths draw their evidence not from our contingent thought, but from our transpersonal being, which constitutes the substance of our spirit and guarantees the adequacy of intellection" (Schuon).

Now, metaphysics is not God; rather, it is a kind of ladder to God. Or, it is the ladder God provides in order for the intellect to climb up to him. However, there are both ascending and descending energies along this ladder, just as old Jacob said upon his awakening.

Along these lines, Schuon is as helpful as ever:

"Metaphysics has as it were two great dimensions, the one 'ascending' and dealing with universal principles and the distinction between the Real and the illusory, and the other 'descending' and dealing on the contrary with the divine life in creaturely situations, and thus with the fundamental and secret 'divinity' of beings and of things..."

Whereas the first is more sober and static -- for it is Reason -- "the second is mysterious and paradoxical, seeming at certain points to contradict the first, or again, it is like a wine with which the Universe becomes intoxicated."

The first is like the ascent of Reason up the mountain of Spirit, while the second is the descent of Spirit down to the plains and valleys and hollers of maya, or appearance, or phenomena. It's probably good to practice both, since they are complementary, i.e., intellection and mysticism.

Of all our cosmic peeps, I think Eckhart might have pulled off this complementarity most successfully -- you know, words and music. Let's see if I can pluck an example from that very book.

Here, from page 3: "What the philosophers have written about the natures and properties of things agree [with the Bible], especially since everything that is true, whether in being or in knowing, in scripture or in nature, proceeds from the one root of truth.... therefore, Moses, Christ, and the Philosopher [i.e., Aristotle] teach the same thing, differing only in the way they teach, namely as worthy of belief, as probable and likely, and as truth" (emphasis mine).

As we know, the cosmos is a tree, its roots aloft, its leaves and branches down below. The leaves of science are only alive because they are connected to limbs and trunk. So don't be the sap. All our middling relativities are related by way of the Absolute-Father, and are only related in and by Him. In other words, everything in the cosmos is more or less related, literally.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Keys to the Damn World Enigma

In Schuon's To Have a Center there is a very short chapter -- just under four pages -- called Fundamental Keys. Since I don't have much time this morning, let's see how quickly we can review these underlying principles of the whole existentialada, and transform ourselves into quasi-omniscient bobnoxious gnosis-alls.

It reminds me how Ray Charles could size up a woman merely by holding her wrist in his hand. Someone asked him, "Ray, how can holding a woman's wrist tell you everything about a woman?," to which he responded, "I didn't say it tells me everything about her. It tells me everything I need to know about her."

So, perhaps these fundamental keys tell us everything we need to know about the cosmos.

He begins with the three modes of the spiritual life: meditation, concentration, and prayer. You might say that these are the means through which we gently place our fingers around the delicate wrist of the cosmos.

For Schuon, meditation is "an activity of the intelligence in view of understanding universal truths," whereas concentration "is an activity of the will in view of assimilating these truths or realities existentially, as it were."

So the first relates to intelligence and understanding, while the second relates to will and assimilation; to the extent that we know truth, then we want to be in conformity with it. Truth without will is powerless, while will without truth is blind (and therefore not free).

The third mode (prayer) "is an activity of the soul with respect to God." Looked at a certain way, one could even say that the soul itself is a prayer, in that it is always grounded in and oriented to its source. Conscious prayer only makes the relation explicit.

Back to the first mode, which revolves around intelligence. What is intelligence, really? Its "first function" must be "to distinguish between the Absolute and the Relative."

Which only means that if you attend the typical university steeped in postmodern relativism, it is overwhelmingly likely that the end result will be a systematic undermining of the first function of intelligence! In short, you won't just be unintelligent, but cosmically stupid. Is it any wonder that this -- the illiberal, totolerantarian multiversity -- is the great source of Bernie Sanders' support?

In addition (and related) to the distinction between absolute and relative, intelligence ought to be able to distinguish between reality and appearance, the necessary and contingent, the eternal and temporal, essence and existence, or more generally, the vertical and horizontal. Someone trying to unpack this post in a horizontal mode will get øwhere.

For Schuon this principle applies even -- or perhaps especially -- to God. In other words, there is in God -- or better, our perception of God -- the absolute and relative, the universal and particular, the eternal and temporal.

All religions recognize this distinction in some manner, but don't generally include it in the public program, since most people either won't understand it or will misunderstand it. Look at the trouble Eckhart got into for talking about it!

This distinction ultimately comes down to apophatic and cataphatic modes of knowing (or approaching) God; the first goes to the Beyond-Being of God, while the second goes to his Being. Note in this context that the unKnowing of apophaticism is considered a higher and more blessed form of knowledge than any mere cataphatic knowing. Orthoparadox alert!

In Vedanta there is Nirguna Brahman (God without characteristics) and Saguna Brahman (with characteristics). In Christianity there is the ontological Trinity (what goes on "inside" God) and the economic Trinity (which includes its activity in the world).

I think of it as analogous to God having a "dark side" (like the dark side of the moon). Whatever of God is "visible" to us must only be the appearance of an infinitely greater reality that is unknown to us.

And that is all we have time for this morning. We'll forge another key tomorrow, or at least try to pick the lock on heaven's door.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Vote Lovertarian

Just flipping through Love Alone is Credible and I see this interesting observation: only with Jesus' own "abandonment by God" (on Good Friday) and subsequent descent into hell (on Holy Saturday) does "deliberate atheism" become "possible for the very first time." This is because "without a genuine concept of God, there could be no true atheism."

This implies that Jesus is not only the world's first atheist, but by far the most thoroughly committed. After all, he is willing to forego God to the depths of hell, as far and as long as it takes to redeem fallen man -- whose very fallenness revolves around his alienation from God.

This is a point Balthasar emphasizes again and again, not just here, but in many of his works. There is a logic to the naked descent into hell, without which the Incarnation isn't complete. The circle of trinitarian love must expand all the way down and out, into the realm of its very negation.

Just as Light must penetrate the farthest reaches of darkness, Love must conquer hate, Life overcome death, and Truth sound the abyss of lies, "God, in the freedom of his love, makes the decision to descend kenotically all the way into the forsakenness of the world" -- a forsakenness that equates to a kind of auto-abandonment by God, of God, and in God.

People don't give it enough credit for being one of the more radical ideas imaginable.

"[T]he Spirit of Love cannot teach the Cross to the world in any other way than by disclosing the full depths of the guilt the world bears, a guilt that comes to light on the Cross, and is the only thing that makes the Cross intelligible."

I suppose what makes it intelligible is our guilt and God's love, the latter being sufficient to "cover" the former. We can't know just how guilty we are until we appreciate the death and God-forsakenness of the Cross. Nor without it can we begin to understand that from which we have been spared.

Again: wild idea.

We cannot leap over our own shadow (of guilt). Only God can do that. That we may be grafted onto this perfect circle is wilder still.

Yes, but at what price?

"Love desires no recompense other than to be loved in return; and thus God desires nothing in return for his love for us other than our love."

Love Alone is Credible. Incredible! Nothing short of it has sufficient explanatory power:

"Only a philosophy of freedom and love can account for our existence..."

This means that a true Christian must always be a lib- & lovertarian.

We've spoken before of how mere consciousness, or intelligence, or big brains, are insufficient to account for what is most remarkable about man -- that we are irreducibly intersubjectively open systems through which we find ourselves by giving ourselves away:

"One's consciousness, one's self-possession and possession of being, can grow only and precisely to the extent that one breaks out of being in and for oneself in the act of communication, in exchange, and in human and cosmic sympatheia."

This "circularity cannot be eliminated," for "it was conceived and set in motion by God alone..."

A footnote speaks of how, even in our bloodless and demythologized secular world, we can still perceive "the sheltering gaze that love casts upon being and essence," for example, revealing "the true nature of spousal love and the genuine love of children in the hearth of the triune fire of the family," not to mention "genuine friendship, and genuine love of country..."

Love does not come to man 'from the outside' because the human spirit is tied to the senses, but because love exists only between persons, a fact that every philosophy tends to forget. --Balthasar

Monday, April 04, 2016

Christianity: The Divine Comedy Club

In another book by Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible, he suggests that "if God wishes to reveal the love that he harbors for the world, this love has to be something that the world can recognize, in spite of, or in fact in, it's being wholly other."

On our end, he compares it to the ability to contemplate a great work of art. The person doing so "has to have a gift -- whether inborn or acquired through training -- to be able to perceive and assess its beauty, to distinguish it from mediocre art or kitsch." And there is a great deal of religious kitsch.

He then compares it to the mother-infant dyad (as discussed two posts back, only this is from a different book and makes a different point):

"After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child's smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge: the initially empty-sense impressions gather meaningfully around the core of the Thou."

This is interesting, because it definitively links love and knowledge, and is our first hint that these transcendentals are unified at a higher level. I believe MotT talks about how love synthesizes while hatred disperses.

However, on a purely horizontal level it seems to me that hate unifies, which is why so many people -- especially on the left -- are addicted to it. For chronic haters, the only thing that gives them a sense of interior unity is the hated object (think too of the Islamic world, which is mainly unified by its Jew hatred).

Now, "God interprets himself to man as love in the same way [as the mother]: he radiates love, which kindles the light of love in the heart of man, and it is precisely this light that allows man to perceive this, the absolute Love." Remember the first time you smiled back to God? It seems to me that the spiritual life is a matter of amplifying this transpersonal resonance.

What did Eckhart say? Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity? I will tell you. In the core of the Trinity, the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.

In this space, "the primal foundation of being smiles at us as a mother and as a father." A "seed of love lies dormant within us as the image of God." However, "just as no child can be awakened to love without being loved, so too no human heart can come to an understanding of God without the free gift of his grace -- in the image of his Son."

I suppose this is why it is so important to reflect Christian love horizontally -- i.e., to love the neighbor, not just because it helps us, but because it helps others to experience God via the neighbor who is us.

The Christian Word can never be understood a as a mono-logue (like the Koran), but can only be experienced as dia-logoue. Therefore, "the book 'about' him must concern the transaction between him and the man he has encountered, addressed and redeemed in love."

That being the case, God must sometimes find himself asking, Is this thing on?