Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Caught in the Cross Fire

The highest beings hear God not only through and in existence, or through and in life, but through and in understanding itself. In that realm, understanding and speaking are the same. --Meister Eckhart

I'm afraid my wires are getting a little crossed. I'm trying to finish up our little review of Bolton's Self and Spirit at the same time I have begun fulfilling my new year's resolution, which is to complete Balthasar's sprawling 15 volume systematic theology, consisting of the aesthetics (seven volumes), theo-dramatics (five volumes) and theo-logic (three volumes; most of the volumes are 500-600 pages).

In the past, I've only read him in dribs and drabs, plus a fair amount of secondary literature, but now I'm diving right in. You could say it's overloading my circuits. I don't recall ever reading anything so dense. I can't really make a general raccoomendation, any more than I would recommend climbing Mount Everest. The best available introduction, by Oakes, says that writing a one-volume book on him was "like trying to fit the Mediterranean Sea into a child's pail." That's a bit of an exaggeration; I would say "thimble." I have no idea how I'm going to boil it all down to wisecrock of a post or two.

Interestingly, I am noticing many connections between Bolton and Balthasar, which suggests to me that the plane of exoterism becomes an esoterism if you simply pursue the former all the way down -- or up. I first ran across Balthasar's name because he had written the afterword for the highly esoteric Meditations on the Tarot. And yet, he was nominated by Pope John Paul to be a cardinal, which again highlights the hardy-harmonic coonvergence between exo- and esoterism. (Oddly, Balthasar was born in Switzerland a couple of years before, and 40 miles away, from Schuon; must have been something in the holy water.)

Ironically -- or not -- it was the opposite path for Unknown Friend. He pursued esoterism to its limits, and it brought him right back to the Catholic Church! So it seems that extremes truly do meet, so long as we really take them to the extreme, and don't stop at some arbitrary point.

And because it has been around the humans for so long, it's easy to forget how extreme and extremely esoteric Christianity was at the time of its appearance. As always happens, the container ends up domesticating the contained, in whatever arena. There is a downsde to dogma, and that occurs when it becomes stagnant and loses it generativity. It's not so much the fault of dogma as its interpreter. A Meister Eckart can come along and unsaturate the dogma in shocking ways -- which is why his writing is still refreshing today.

In a way, it is up to each generation to rediscover the uncontainable within the contained. If we can't do that through official channels, schisms inevitably form, because man was made to know the Absolute, and won't be satisfied with anything less. In turn, follow the schism to its logical limits, and it will (hopefully) lead you back to orthodoxy, only in a revitalized way. It is fair to say that one will return to the beginning, and know the place for the first time. This is what it has been like for me. To immerse oneself in the wor(l)d of Balthasar is like being shocked by the scandal of Christianity all over again for the first time. And what a shock to the system!

First of all, the man is a genius, which is obvious. Second, just this one trilogy consists of what, 8,000 pages? As I think I've mentioned before, I believe genius is genius. This or that genius will simply find a medium, or "idiom," for the expression of their particular genius. For one person it will be music. For another, physics. For another, theology.

I take the example of Bion, another obvious genius. In his case, he expressed his genius through the discipline of psychoanalysis. In order to appreciate him, one must, to a certain extent, obscure the particulars in order to see how "genius itself" approaches the world and its problems. In other words, you must look at it from a meta-level and not only see what genius "knows," but what it does. And what does it do?

For one thing, it always sees beyond the exterior, to the "within of things." Over at Just Thomism, James has one of his typically elliptical and Bionically unsaturated posts on Difficulties in Understanding Abstraction. As with Bion, I'm often not quite sure I understand what brother James is talking about, but he nevertheless provokes a flurry of my own untamed thoughts, which is a rare quality in a teacher. Good teachers always "disturb the peace" -- which eventually allows for a deeper peace that surpasses understanding.

In my comment, I mentioned that what he wrote about the "unimaginability" of the intellect reminded me of mountain biking, in which, if you want to avoid crashing, you don’t look down at what you're trying to avoid in your path, but look ahead about 20 yards, to where you want to go. Similarly, the intellect is always reaching “beyond itself.” Eliminate the beyond, and your intellect will lose its balance and crash in the dirt.

A narrow and mediocre intellect -- let's say, oh, Queeg -- is fixated on the Darwinian rocks in his path, and therefore stumbles on them. He can't ride his intellectual bike any further than that, but then leaps to the wholly unwarranted conclusion that the path doesn't continue infinitely beyond the rocks. Just because he got bent, it doesn't mean that we have to. I mean his bicycle got bent.

Again, the real genius takes the facts of Darwinism, or psychoanalysis, or theology, and sees "through" and "beyond" them, to something far deeper. And you may think that this has nothing to do with yesterday's post, but you'd be wrong. Because yesterday we left off with the idea that the Incarnation signifies the union of the infinite and finite, which is precisely why the there is an unlimited "depth" to reality accessible to the deep thinker. The depth, AKA the metaphysical transparency, is only there because it is the infinite shining through the finite. This in turn resonates with Balthasar's emphasis on the aesthetics of theology as of equal importance as the Good and True.

Theology is never "merely true," like, say science. Rather, to the extent that it is "truly true," then it will also be infused with, and radiate, the divine glory, which is none other than beauty itself. And what is the "sense" with which we appreciate divine beauty? To try to answer that question is a little like trying to avoid the rock in the bike path. In order to answer it, you must look ahead -- or above -- to where the trail of beauty is headed -- which is the very purpose of the trail.

Bolton cites a passage by Plotinus, who wrote that we mustn't "complain about the lower in the higher; rather, we must be grateful to the higher for giving something of itself to the lower." Thanks to that, our minds are on fire, but never consumed, for we exist in that sinaiptic gap where the divine grace touches our aspiration. And our as-piration is God's in-spiration, or the breath of grace by another name.


Warren said...

"my new year's resolution, which is to complete Balthasar's sprawling 15 volume systematic theology"

I'm not that easily impressed, Doc, but this impresses me. Best wishes on your long journey, and please send a few postcards back to us mortals as you go. As for me, I plan to read Balthasar in Heaven....

Gagdad Bob said...

That's no joke -- like reading Schuon, it is like being in heaven, an urgent vertical murmurandom from above and beyond the call of deity.

jwm said...

Good morning all. My brother sent this along to me. Need a little inspiration?
Stand by Me



Gagdad Bob said...

Ben E. King, who wrote and performed the original Stand By Me, says that when he recorded it in the studio, "I had tears in my when I sang it."

James said...


I'm not at the meta-physical beachhead like Bob here, but I can say I'm right back where I started from a year ago. I haven't moved on to a new job. I'm still single, and I haven't sorted my life out. In other words, all the major goals I set for myself, fail. However, I have arrived again, but on a higher level. I've let go of so much, dead weight. Here I am again, but seeing so much more from a higher vantage point. I feel like a Raccoon in a hot air balloon.

wv snexple snarky example

walt said...

When you need a short break from Bolton and Balthasar, could you please explain the word "sinaiptic"?
It's in neither of my dictionaries.

Related to synovial?

Gagdad Bob said...

Sorry; combination of Sinai and synaptic, meaning the neurocosmological gap where divine revelation meets man's ascent.

julie said...

JWM - thanks for that; what a beautiful example of jazz, which is to say, different people taking the same basic framework, infusing themselves into it and out of it, and taking it for a marvelous, whirling dance, while still remaining connected to the structure and each other.

On the best of days, that's what it feels like is happening here.

Good teachers always "disturb the peace" -- which eventually allows for a deeper peace that surpasses understanding.


word veri of the morning: subblers - people who try to follow the Depth by remaining enclosed in a safe little bubble, thus missing out on all the most important aspects of the experience.

Robin Starfish said...

I don't know Bolton from Balthazar and never will, but I do know that a daily OC vitamin goes a long way towards balanced nutrition. Some polls seem to indicate it's an acquired taste, but oh wait until you try it.

jwm - ooh, that gave me chills.

Rob said...

I find it particularly apt that you have stated your New Year resolution as one of mine is to read you daily entry mediate on it and comment. Do not worry it is not my intention to make you my idol or demi-God (Deprak-God?). Heck you don't even possess a secret let alone "The Secret" - you merely comment on a Revelation, which is neither locked away (as all are to be made aware) nor a good product to sell (as it is freely given).

I found particularly apt your comment: "In a way, it is up to each generation to rediscover the uncontainable within the contained." I have a friend who is obsessed with trying to think outside the box about how to present Christianity I think he sometimes misses that in the end one must possess a container - even if it is your own body. He was/is fascinated with the emergent Church and saw this new brand of Church that will shift away from the 70s-80s "seeker" model which has itself stagnated in meeting the minds of the current generation. I never got wedded to his ideas as I never saw anything fundamentally "new" about what he was trying to do. There is nothing new under the sun - every effort to reform, correct, revolutionize, what-have-you Christianity is nothing more than football practice. Which as my coach always yelled at us as we were grinding away was an attempt to get us "Back to Basics". Everyone in the end is trying to return to the simplicity of loving God with all your heart, strength, soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself. Sadly, we fail to realize we will always be replacing a container until we ourselves are replaced and placed in the entirely new container of the Presence of O. (forgive me if some Coonology is incorrect, I have yet to acquire a glossary)

Mulling on it some more this fact of Basisology might in fact have some relevance for why genius works the way it does. If it indeed is the process by which the mind looks ahead far better than others, remains fixated on the ahead as it were, it might be because those who are geniuses are so centered in the Basic they will never have to recommit to it. That rock that we get bent on is so often our attempt to reform, reflect, and return. Yet, while we philosophize to the stone ("Alas I hardly knew ye") the genius grounded on the path (what is Basic is in you and above you) is free to look ahead and pursue.

To carry this metaphor further (yes yes this is quite a long walk off a short pier) those of us who get wedded to the rock (it need not be Queeg's) might be traveling on our bike as if this is a race - as if what is Basic to life can be possessed as a medal. True geniuses are those who are biking for the journey - what is Basic is never to be possessed but always in front - that who they are might be over that next hill; and in whether or not they can make it.

julie said...

yes this is quite a long walk off a short pier


For some of us, that becomes a specialty on O->Ksion

fametra - sounds like the latest weight loss pill

julie said...

Robin - "It's good eatin'."
Oh, that's just so wrong!

mushroom said...

And because it has been around the humans for so long, it's easy to forget how extreme and extremely esoteric Christianity was at the time of its appearance.

Indeed, one of the things about the non-synoptic Gospel of John is how listening to Jesus just freaked people out. Like in chapter 6 where He had the big crowds following Him, and it ends with most deserting to the point where He turns around to the Twelve and says, "You don't want to go away, too, do you?"

Peter says -- if I may loosely translate, "We might, but we don't have any place else to go because You have the words of eternal life, and we know You are the Holy One of God."

Stand by me.

Anonymous said...

For the dedicated OC troll, the post represents a problem. You can circle it and sniff it and there doesn't seem to be a vulnerable spot inviting an attack.

And that's not because it is like an armored being, so much as it is just inscrutable like a granite wall. It doesn't seem to be alive.

I'll just have to wait and snap my jowls impatiently until another post drops out of the ether on its unsteady new legs...and hope for better fare.

Till then, Die Wolfen-Sturm will abide.

NoMo said...

Mushroom - "Stand by me." That's funny considering that it wasn't but a short time later that Pete (everyman) suffered his own case of the "Jesus willies".

That always gets me. Definitely "caught in the cross fire".

Ricky Raccoon said...

Bob, sorry for the length but you said,

“In a way, it is up to each generation to rediscover the uncontainable within the contained.”

..and why just last night William Arnot was saying,

“The literature of one century, whether sacred or common, will not, when served up in the lump, satisfy the craving and sustain the life of another. The nineteenth century must produce its own literature, as it raises its own corn, and fabricates its own garments. The intellectual and spiritual treasures of the past should indeed be reverently preserved and used; but they should be used as seed. Instead of indolently living on the stores which our fathers left, we should cast them into the ground, and get the product fresh every season--old, and yet ever new. The intellectual and spiritual life of an age will wither, if it has nothing wherewith to sustain itself, but the food which grew in an earlier era; it must live on the fruits that grow in its own time, and under its own eye.

Nor will a servile imitation of the ancient masters suffice. A mere reproduction, for example, of the Puritan theology would not be suitable in our day; while the truth, which constitutes its essence, remains the same, it must be cast in the moulds of modern thought, and tinged with the hues of modern experience.

Engineers surveying for a railway lay down the line level, or as nearly level as the configuration of the surface will permit; but an engineer's level is not a straight line; it is the segment of a circle,--that circle being the circumference of the globe. The line which practically constitutes a level bends downwards continually as it goes forward, following the form of the earth, and at every point being at right angles to the radius. If it were produced in an absolutely straight line, it would, in the course of a few miles, be high and dry above the surface of the earth, and entirely useless for the practical purposes of life. Such would sacred literature become if in blind admiration of the fathers, the children should simply use the old, and not produce the new.

As we advance along the course of time, we are, as it were, tracing a circle; and he who would be of use in his generation, must bend his speculations to the time, and let them touch society on the level at every point in the progress of the race. To throw a new contribution into the goodly store does not, therefore, imply a judgment on the part of the writer that the modern theology is better than the ancient. We must make our own: it concerns us and our children that what we make be in substance drawn from the word of God; and in form, suited to the circumstances of the age.

Still further, the accumulations of the past should be used by those who inherit them, as a basis on which to build. It is the business of each generation to lay another course on the wall, and so leave the structure loftier than they found it. The Bible, like the world, is inexhaustible; in either department hosts of successive investigators have plied their tasks from the beginning, and yet there is room.”

The Parables of Our Lord, William Arnot 1874

Ricky Raccoon said...

And was it just me reading it, or were you typing this post faster than your fingers could keep up with it?

Gagdad Bob said...

The latter.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Reading it.. it was like you were telling it as you were running just ahead.

I'm a little pooped in fact.

WV: Peted

julie said...

Ricky, Amen.

And just last week, Riordan was saying,

Each of the divine names becomes the opportunity for a new variation on the theme using this same basic melody line.

(Now that I've read about Denys, I suppose I should get around to actually reading Denys, one of these days...)

Van said...

"The highest beings hear God not only through and in existence, or through and in life, but through and in understanding itself. In that realm, understanding and speaking are the same. --Meister Eckhart"

On a much lower level, I find this to be the case with most of what I read, see and do these days. It's as if before, most things were fully and unremarkably contained like words on a page lay within its two dimensional frame. But more and more so in the last few years, it is becoming a deep three dimensional experience, as if experiences and even words themselves are behaving as those 3-D pictures that were popular a few years ago; the ones which looked like simple 2-D static, but after you starred at it and starred at it, suddenly you clearly perceived a three dimensional rocket ship floating towards you in deep space... what had been disintegrated static, were revealed to be artistically stylized lines and shapes.

"In a way, it is up to each generation to rediscover the uncontainable within the contained. "


mushroom said...

Nice find, Rick.

I know what you mean, NoMo. There seems to be quite a fall for Peter between this strong statement and the repeated denial in the courtyard. The thing that gets me about that passage, though, is how Jesus puts the question. It's almost like He expects them to walk away as well.

In any case, as I have learned from bitter, personal experience, just because you're on the Holy Ghost Express today doesn't mean you can't be eating gravel by the tracks tomorrow. Pride goeth before a fall.

I was just listening to a version of "Stand By Me" done by Ry Cooder back in the '70's. He does it as gospel straight up.

Van said...

"I have begun fulfilling my new year's resolution, which is to complete Balthasar's sprawling 15 volume systematic theology, consisting of the aesthetics (seven volumes), theo-dramatics (five volumes) and theo-logic (three volumes; most of the volumes are 500-600 pages). "

I'm doing somewhat the same, though your quest casts my mountains into molehills! I've been reading and rereading on different ideas of law and justice from the Greeks forwards... pretty much dump out all the reviled dead white guy names, on up through the living dead dudes, and they're bowing down my nightstand, from which I'll eventually spill out a set of posts on my site.

What is interesting is how different words, ideas, concepts seem to shape shift between 2-Dimensional, 3-Dimensional and even 4-Deimensional comprehensions, and back again, through the ages. The same phrases take on new forms, grow and alter... like a mouse passing through a snake, then shed their skins and start again from almost, but not quite the same place.

The uncontainable container indeed.

One Cosmos - Metaphysical Tupperware.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Speaking of Van Gogh, as far as the person goes, I have an impression of him that seems to be changing over the years. Maybe that person needs a little unsaturating …based more on his work and not so much on what I’ve heard of him. He seemed to see a target others couldn’t.
Bob, have you read a good biography on the man? I’ve gotten the standard art school and street version history lesson, saw the over-acted Kirk Douglas movie, but only recently read some very beautiful letters that started changing my mind…and of course the paintings too are brighter.

Hi Julie, Van!
Mushroom, yeah, I dropped what I was reading when I ran across that eBook.

Van said...

Ricky said "Speaking of Van Gogh, as far as the person goes, I have an impression of him that seems to be changing over the years. "

I'll second that, what I've seen and read about him so far, doesn't intrigue me in the least, but I've read a few of his letters, and they are a completely different ball game - the person who wrote them is not the same pathetic soul I've seen and heard described. There's a documentary with John Hurt, which Ximeze mentioned awhile back... I've had it from NetFlix for ages - I've been dying to get to it, but still haven't.

He is a puzzle to me. Intellectually, I dislike everything about his style, but man-O-man does it grab me nonetheless. But not all of his work.

His paintings of people I heartily dislike. His interior paintings I mostly dislike, they scream to me of madness, and not in a good way... though some (one of his bedroom) do disturbingly draw me in.

But his exteriors... landscapes, cypress trees, wheat fields, star filled nights... oh.... physically impossible for me to pass one by without being body slammed into the canvass.

That's one character I'd really like to look into... from a safe distance, anyway.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Thanks, Van. I’ll check it out from netflix and report back.

ximeze said...

Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh with John Hurt reading letters V wrote to his brother Theo.

For more Van Gogh film fun: as one of the reviewers on Amazon put it:

"The story of Vincent van Gogh's life seems best told in his own words, complete with casual sketches, detailed drawings and famous paintings. In the spirit of "Crows" in Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (where we see the Langlois Bridge and Crows in the Wheatfields brought to life), we are entertained by visions of painting after painting. It is fun to watch Akira Kurosawa's Dreams after viewing this movie because then you recognize the paintings that were brought to life in a dream of pure visual delight."

Crows is a kick, with Martin Scorsese as an art admirer who finds himself living within the paintings of Van Gogh as created by Lucas's ILM special effects group. (My personal favorites in Dreams are the first two stories: "Sun Under the Rain" & "The Peach Orchard", tho likely that's due to me being a fan of Noh)

I saw both Vincent & Dreams on large screens back when the films came out some 20 years ago, so can't vouch for the tranfer quality of the DVDs (the VHSs were fine)

Completely OT for Vincent, but don't miss Rashomon if you've never seen it.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Thanks, Ximeze.
I’ve seen Dreams twice. My kind of Scorsese.

Aloysius said...

A blast at Chopra

julie said...

Aloysius - awesome, thanks :D

julie said...

And in other news, good intentions run amok once again.

Anonymous said...

"For the dedicated OC troll, the post represents a problem. You can circle it and sniff it and there doesn't seem to be a vulnerable spot inviting an attack."

This OC troll doesn't actively seek conflict. If there is something wrong, it's pointed out. Bob has often misrepresented ideas or concepts, I merely point out when he does.

Anonymous said...

I am the variety of troll that must make an attack in order to fulfull my function, which is to be oppositional.

If any benefit comes from it (or harm), oh well. I just have to follow the Dharma that I have been handed.

I also contradict other trolls. Everything is fair game.

Anonymous said...

Trolls are only trolls when they're oppositional. You point out something obvious. But I'm not always oppositional, so I'm not always a troll.

That's what's great about being anonymous, when these people aren't being idiots you can enjoy their discourse and participate, without having to deal with their dispositions towards you(which tend to cement themselves rather quickly, within say 2 or 3 posts, regardless of your stance on issues.)

Anonymous said...

Then again I also haven't always brought up something that isn't on topic, so even when I point out something that the community disagrees with, most of the time I'm not actually a troll.