Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Trinocular Myopathy and Freewheeling Angelology

Kind of longish, but probably no post tomorrow...

Let's move on to Letter XIV, Temperance, which may sound a little boring -- like some kind of lukewarm neutrality -- but it is not. In fact, one of Josef Pieper's best books is on The Cardinal Virtues. In it he shows how temperance is critical to our navigating, both horizontally and vertically (i.e., in the natural and transnatural worlds). Here, I'll let this amazon reviewer explain why, while I take a sip of coffee:

"Today, temperance is associated with bodily pleasures, but the classic [understanding of] temperance included spiritual temperance as well, such as the virtue that regulates the desire for knowledge ('studiositas') as compared to the pathological need for sense perception which is the vice of 'curiositas.' It is a worthwhile exercise to read the section on temperance to see how moderate St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic tradition are when they recognize that virtue is the means between two antipodal vices."

In other words, "Even a disordered turning toward the goods of the world is not necessarily a mortal sin if it does not involve a turning away from God." Conversely, "Even fasting can be a sin if done too strenuously, because it is against reason to overtax nature. Modern libertines, who can only imagine an either/or world -- either all sexual activity is good or we face a world of totalitarian repression by 'prudes' -- would benefit from seeing the nuance that comes from looking at the world as if it had three dimensions, not two..."

Or, one could say that there is a proper balance between both horizontal and vertical extremes -- like the center of a cross or something.

Tomberg says as much, writing that Temperance is the card of "integrated duality," which is actually rather thrilling, since it accounts for most of the tension and drama on the vertical plane. Without this tension, life would be a bit of a snooze. You will have noticed how all these tiresome "artists" are parasitic on a reality which they need to be there in order to transgress.

Most of us get this out of our system by the age of three, and then move on. Others forsake temperance in favor of an imbalanced, reactionary pose. But there is nothing transgressive -- not to mention brave -- about, for example, making a pro-homosexual movie in Hollywood. Likewise, if Madonna really wants to be transgressive, she might begin by putting those worn out things away for a change. {Shudder}

To exist is to live amidst polarity and tension, the penultimate tension being the distance between image and likeness (the ultimate being creature and God, or relative and Absolute). It is this that creates the dynamic potential to transcend ourselves and "become what we are." The narrowing of this gap is the objective measure of our lives. And if not for the Great Attractor that draws us beyond (and toward) ourselves, our lives really would be a vicious and inescapable duality. Coming down on one side or the other would essentially be arbitrary, plus there would be no way to move beyond that. It would be de Sade on one end and d' Buddha on the other, with nothing in between.

As Tomberg explains, the image represents our essential structure, while likeness represents the functional structure; the former is "timeless," while the latter can only be deployed in time. The image is indestructible and responsible for our freedom, since it is a spark of the Absolute.

But the immortality of the likeness is "optional," so to speak, in that "it is immortal only in proportion to the measure that it conforms to its image." For a variety of reasons, many people choose Death. But to paraphrase the outlaw Josey Wales, "dyin' ain't much of a living," for it is analogous to choosing prison for the image while imagining that the likeness roams free. But this results only in freedom for the me (or a self-created ego/image), not the I -- the object and not the true subject.

Tomberg then goes into an extended meditation on the metaphysics of angels, which, in the overall scheme of things, might be thought of as personifications of (↑) and (↓); in other words, they are "vertical emissaries," so to speak. Rabbi Steinsaltz's classic Thirteen Petalled Rose contains one of the most clear and concise explanations of angelology I've ever found, and it is very much compatible with what Tomberg has to say. In fact, here is something I wrote about it several years ago:

"Steinsaltz notes that the soul [read: image] should not be thought of as a 'point' in space time. Rather, it is 'a continuous line of spiritual being, stretching from the general source of all the souls [O] to beyond the specific body of a particular person.... and because the soul is not a single point in space, it should be viewed not as a single existence having one quality or character, but as many existences, on a variety of spiritual levels...'

In the past, I have playgiarized with Alan Watts' analogy of a lampshade with many pinprick holes in it. From the outside it will look as if there are many "local" individual lights, but in reality, they are all coming from a single nonlocal source.

In another way, it's analogous to progressive bifocals, which change the focal point depending upon where you direct your eyes. Look up through the bottom, and things that are near become out of focus; look down through the top, and the distant becomes blurry. So many errors of scientism result from looking through the wrong end of the bifocals! And they've never even heard of trifocals.

Steinsaltz discusses the distinction between the vertical and horizontal, which for me is the essence of any spiritual metaphysic. Obviously, in speaking of the vertical, of the qualitatively higher and lower, he is not speaking of an actual physical location. Vertically speaking, "to call a world higher signifies that it is more primary, more basic in terms of being close to a primal source of influence; while a lower world would be a secondary world -- in a sense, a copy."

Thus, viewed horizontally, we may trace the material cosmos back to a primordial event some 13.7 billion years ago. But this is only a horizontal explanation. Traditional metaphysics deals with the vertical causation of the cosmos, which is what confuses some people. Irrespective of whether the cosmos had a beginning in time (which it appears to have had), it is still dependent on God, and not self-explanatory.

From the vertical perspective, this world is indeed a copy, as are human beings, of a divine prototype. The Logos might be thought of as the model of all things, the nexus between the divine mind above and the creation here below. Looked at in this manner, the inexplicable beauty of the world is not somehow the outcome of horizontal cause and effect, which would be a ridiculous assertion. Rather Beauty is a fundamental cause of the cosmos (among other nonlocal causes, such as Love and Truth).

Because of the ubiquitous vertical and horizontal influences, every aspect of human existence is made up of both matter and spirit. While we are fundamentally spiritual, we are unavoidably material, which sets up a host of, er, interesting tensions and conflicts. The fall -- or exile, if you like -- is indeed a vertical one, a declension from the divine repose of celestial slack, down to this world of toil, conflict, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

Steinsaltz writes that an angel is simply a "messenger" constituting a point of contact "between our world of action and the higher worlds. The angel is the one who effects transfers of the vital plenty between worlds. An angel's missions go in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of God downward..., and it may also serve as the one who carries things upwards from below, from our world to the higher worlds."

I ran it by Petey, but he was, I don't know, noncommittal. But that's not unusual. It's more like he's disinterested, or at least pretends to be. The roll of the eyes, the impatient, audible exhalation, the way his little wings flutter, as if he's got something better to do....

At any rate, here's what he said:

"Blah blah, I'm here, but I'm not here. How to explain.... I'm always here in the same sense that all 200 or whatever it is crappy TV stations are always streaming into your house. They're what we might call 'implicate.' But you can only tap into one station at a time -- assuming you don't have picture-in-picture, which is a little like schizophrenia, or mind parasites -- thereby making a part of the implicate explicate.

"The multidimensional implicate order is anterior to the explicate order, so that what you solid folk call 'consensus reality' is more of a mutual agreement to limit the implicate order in a certain way. It's all about power, or about managing existential anxiety, not getting at the Truth. If you want to get at the Truth, you're going to have to tolerate the anxiety of not knowing, not make the anxiety go away with some stupid scientistic-materialistic nonsense.

"You know the old crack -- 'if the doors of perception were cleansed, then everything would appear as it is, infinite.' It is such a childish conceit for humans to imagine their puny minds can encompass the generative reality that generatively produces and encompasses them!

"Yes, there are higher and lower worlds. I guess this isn't obvious to a leftist, but if any of you saw those Occupy Wall Street encampments, you know all about people who inhabit a lower world. Their language, their music, their feelings, their hygiene, their childish understanding -- all emanate from a lower world. Ironically, most of them aren't even from the earth plane, but a notch or two below that.

"The point I'm making is that the words high and low refer only to the place of any particular world on the ladder of causality. 'To call a world higher signifies that it is more primary, more basic in terms of being close to a primal source of influence; while a lower world would be a secondary world -- in a sense, a copy. Yet the copy is not just an imitation but rather a whole system, with a more or less independent life of its own, its own variety of experience, characteristics and properties' (Steinsaltz).

"This is why the flatlanders can become so enclosed in their absurcular delusions. In a way, their worldview is complete (on its own level), and yet, it's radically incomplete (with regard to the whole).

"If you have stayed with me this far, then you will understand that, just as there are evil beings, there are evil worlds. These are simply the 'space' inhabited by the evil beings. Wisdom too is a space, or 'mansion.' Also creativity, love, beauty, peace. You can sense it when you enter one of these houses of the holy. You can also sense it when you are near one of those demon haunted McMansions of the left.

"Enough malevolent wishes and wicked deeds, and pretty soon you have created a closed world, cut off from the divine influence. As Steinsaltz describes it, 'the sinner is punished by the closing of the circle, by being brought into contact with the domain of evil he creates.... as long as man chooses evil, he supports and nurtures whole worlds and mansions of evil, all of them drawing upon the same human sickness of the soul.... as the evil flourishes and spreads over the world because of the deeds of men, these destructive angels become increasingly independent existences, making up a whole realm that feeds on and fattens on evil.'

"Being that I was once an ordinary embodied and enmentalled man, just like you, prior to the farming accident, I feel that I am fit to pronounce on these subjects. Human beings live in a world of physical 'action,' and imagine that this is where all the action is. Not true.

"Allow me to explain. Or better yet, allow Steinsaltz to explain: 'The lower part of the world of action is what is known as as the "world of physical nature" and of more or less mechanical processes -- that is to say, the world where natural law prevails; while above this world of physical nature is another part of the same world which we may call the "world of spiritual action."

"What these two realms have in common is the action of Man, since 'the human creature is so situated between them that he partakes of both. As part of the physical system of the universe, man is subordinate to the physical, chemical, and biological laws of nature; while from the standpoint of his consciousness, even while this consciousness is totally occupied with matters of a lower order, man belongs to the spiritual world, the world of ideas.... Every aspect of human existence is therefore made up of both matter and spirit.'

"It is my nature to be a 'messenger, to constitute a permanent contact between [your] world of action and the higher worlds. The angel is the one who effects transfers of the vital plenty between worlds.'

"'An angel's missions go in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of God downward, to other angels and to creatures below the world of formation; and it may also serve as the one who carries things upwards from below, from our world to the higher worlds' (Steinsaltz). You might call us the transpersonal postal service for prayers and so forth.

"Just to make it clear, it was not I who prompted Bob to steal the Las Vegas Holiday Inn flag back in 1980. For there are 'subversive angels' that are actually created by the thoughts and actions of men. I believe Bob calls them 'mind parasites.' They are contingent objectifications from various vital-emotional domains. Up here we sometimes call them the 'tempters.' Either that, or the 'mesmerers.' The Holiday Inn incident was a fine example of a tempter tantrum emboldened by what we call 'liquid courage,' and fueled by a desire to be seen by his friends as, I don't know, transgressive or something.

"It would be wrong to conclude on the basis of what I have just said that the difference between you and I is that you have a body and I don't. Rather, 'the soul of man is most complex and includes a whole world of different existential elements of all kinds, while the angel is a being of a single essence and therefore in a sense one-dimensional' (Steinsaltz).

"This is why you and I play such different roles in the cosmic economy. You actually have the tougher job, which is to say, because of your 'many-sidedness' and your 'capacity to to contain contradictions,' this makes it possible for you to 'rise to great heights,' but also to fuck up big time, neither of which is true for me. Rather, the angel is 'eternally the same; it is static, an unchanging existence,' 'fixed within rigid limits.' Every angel is his own species.

"You might say that I am already 'whole' in space, whereas it is your vocation to become whole in time. Not easy, I realize, but there you are."


mushroom said...

...analogous to progressive bifocals ...

I like that one. You've got to match your view to the distance from your object.

mushroom said...

...a mutual agreement to limit the implicate order in a certain way ...

That scares me a little for some reason.

I appreciate Petey taking the time from his regular duties to soliloquize for us. It was just what I needed today.

Gagdad Bob said...

Re the implicate/explicate, it reminds me of a paradoxical aphorism of Don Colacho:

The universe is important if it is appearance, and insignificant if it is reality.

mushroom said...

Peggy Lee addresses the latter.

River Cocytus said...

Must have been some farming accident.

ted said...

You know the drill: what subversive angels consumes you in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

John Lien said...

The multidimensional implicate order is anterior to the explicate order, so that what you solid folk call 'consensus reality' is more of a mutual agreement to limit the implicate order in a certain way.

Makes me think back to a question a reader made a couple of years ago concerning all the supernatural phenomenon described at a Coptic monastery.

It may be that the monks all watch a different channel than we do.

John Lien said...

err.. phenomena...

julie said...

Re. the original meaning of temperance, it shares the same root meaning as the process of tempering steel:

"temper (v.)
late Old English temprian "to bring to a proper or suitable state, to modify some excessive quality, to restrain within due limits," from Latin temperare "to mix correctly, moderate, regulate, blend," usually described as from tempus "time, season" (see temporal), with a sense of "proper time or season," but the sense history is obscure. Meaning "to make (steel) hard and elastic" is from late 14c. Sense of "to tune the pitch of a musical instrument" is recorded from c.1300. Related: Tempered; tempering."

mushroom said...

Nice, Julie.

Tune your blade.

John and I should have gotten that one.

River Cocytus said...

I've heard the Greek was 'sosophrine', but I'm not finding it right now. There's 'temperance' in the scripture, but that's 'enkratios' or some such, meaning 'self-power(mastery).'

This other word which came into use later, probably inspired by monastic tradition, meant more of balance or 'economy of being'.

My supposition is that it relates to the pre-modern ideas of medicine, i.e. the balancing of humors. Nonetheless, it definitely has the sense not merely of self mastery, which is about exertion of the will, and more of the sense of 'temperance' - being 'well tempered', being as being, in balance.

swiftone said...

Wow Julie. The testing, like tempering of steel. There's the walk I've been traveling with our little congregation.

Sounds like tracing the Greek and the changes is like following the twists and turns of Christian history and philosophy. Where do you go to learn some biblical Hebrew and/or Greek, and relearn some Latin? Maybe not the nail I should hammer on, but of interest nonetheless.

ge said...

[imagine a don colacho but more gnostic-nietzschean...check out ol' E M Cioran]

Illusion begets and sustains the world; we do not destroy one without destroying the other.
-Drawn and Quartered

If we had the courage to confront the doubts we timidly conceive about ourselves, none of us would utter an 'I' without shame.

Each of us is born with a share of purity, predestined to be corrupted by our commerce with mankind.

Chaos is rejecting all you have learned, Chaos is being yourself.
-A Short History of Decay

Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide to anyone.
-The Trouble with Being Born

A distant enemy is always preferable to one at the gate.
-History & Utopia

Shame on the man who goes to his grave escorted by the miserable hopes that have kept him alive.
-The Temptation to Exist

Man started out on the wrong foot. The misadventure in paradise was the first consequence. The rest had to follow.
-The Trouble with Being Born

A great step forward was made the day men understood that in order to torment one another more efficiently they would have to gather together, to organize themselves into a society.
-History & Utopia

So long as man is protected by madness, he functions and flourishes.
-A Short History of Decay

A marvel that has nothing to offer, democracy is at once a nation's paradise and its tomb.
-History & Utopia

I would like to go mad on one condition, namely, that I would become a happy madman, lively and always in a good mood, without any troubles and obsessions, laughing senselessly from morning to night.
-On the Heights of Despair

Life inspires more dread than death — it is life which is the great unknown.
-A Short History of Decay

What is pity but the vice of kindness.
-History & Utopia

God: a disease we imagine we are cured of because no one dies of it nowadays.
-The Trouble with Being Born

It's not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.
-The Trouble with Being Born

Tragic paradox of freedom: the mediocre men who alone make its exercise possible cannot guarantee its duration.
-History & Utopia

What every man who loves his country hopes for in his inmost heart: the suppression of half his compatriots.
-History & Utopia

A man who fears ridicule will never go far, for good or ill: he remains on this side of this talents, and even if he has genius, he is doomed to mediocrity.
-The Trouble with Being Born

He who has never envied the vegetable has missed the human drama.
-The Fall Into Time