Thursday, November 06, 2014

Heaven Scent

I guess I have time this morning to get back to the Jesus project, now on to his ministry -- which seems like too banal a description. A ministry is obviously the activity of a minister, "a person whose job involves leading church services, performing religious ceremonies (such as marriages), and providing spiritual or religious guidance to other people." Okay, but...

For starters, who made him a minister? By what authority? We can see where he gives that authority; in Acts 26:16 he says "I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of things which I will yet reveal to you."

Benedict writes that this is a question that confronts any reader of the Gospels: that is, where did he get this stuff? "The reaction of his hearers was clear: This teaching does not come from any school. It is radically different from what can be learned in schools."

And yet, it is taught with great authority. Which doesn't automatically mean it's true. But it does raise a second question: how is it that he is so eerily -- one might say charismatically -- confident about what he professes?

How does one ever attain certainty on any matter? Schuon writes that it is not a question of mere logic, since logic can only deduce proof from premises that must be furnished by another source. He says that certainty is actually "an aspect of knowledge," somewhat like an attribute of the truth it confirms:

"It is situated beyond the domain of the sentiments but on the individual plane it nonetheless possesses a perfume which allows us to look on it as a sentiment. One can likewise speak of a sentiment of doubt; doubt is nothing else but the void left by absent certainty..."

Of course, we can always be certain of error and doubt the truth, or Obama would have no explanation. How then to discern the difference?

I would say that if you read and understood what Schuon said above, then you are well on the way to understanding where real certainty comes from. Conversely, if you have no earthly idea of what he's talking about, then -- among other problems -- you will be insensitive to the perfume that attends Jesus' ministry (or better, Jesus himself).

Jesus is truth and presence, or the presence of truth. "Thus," writes Schuon, "Christ is essentially a manifestation of Divine Presence, but he is thereby also Truth."

One might also say that he is the manifestation of the metacosmic Center at the cosmic periphery. Importantly, this is both a spatial and temporal center, or the axis of history. Jesus is both "the Word which manifests itself in the Universe as the divine Spirit," and "the Real Presence affirming itself at the center of the soul..." Or in other words, the metacosmic and microcosmic personal centers.

I am reminded of how neurologists say it is possible to diagnose incipient senility: don't panic, but if you hold a jar of peanut butter a few centimeters from your nose, and can't smell it, then you may be developing Alzheimer's. I suppose something similar must occur to the spiritual olfactory system to cause spiritual dementias such as atheism.

As to the ultimate source of his certainty, Benedict writes that "Jesus' teaching is not the product of human learning," but "originates from immediate contact with the Father" -- whatever that means.

What it means is that it is grounded in the ultimate principle, except that this principle is not an abstraction, but rather, a concrete person. Thus, it is grounded in relationship and in dialogue, which are prior to any specific content.

For Jesus, it appears that "prayer" is the name for this dialogue. "Again and again the Gospels note that Jesus 'withdrew to the mountain' to spend nights in prayer 'alone' with his Father." To con-verse is to flow-with, so we are talking about a mysterious spiral of communion.

Now, it seems to me that the (or a) deeper meaning of baptism is a radical reorientation to the metacosmic center: "it is meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever" (ibid.). It is to simultaneously turn toward, to be in, and to be drawn toward, this Center, so it embodies both the already and the not yet: real change and real hope.

You are now on the vertical path, which consists of many roads all leading to the same place. Unlike profane philosophy, which consists of many roads leading from nothing to nowhere, here all roads lead from anywhere to everything (or from anyone to the One and back again, in a round trip of ascent and descent).

But one still has to give up the Nothing (which resembles the "false plenitude" alluded to above), or in other words, die to death, so "immersion into the waters is a symbol of death." Water always has two symbolic meanings; on the one hand, it can be "the annihilating, destructive power of the ocean flood," "a permanent threat to the cosmos, to the earth..." At the same time, "the flowing waters of the river are above all a symbol of life" (ibid.).

So, while you can't fight fire with fire, I suppose one can vanquish water with Water, so this post ends not with a bang but with a groaner.


Paul Griffin said...

How does one ever attain certainty on any matter?

Polanyi says that we know more than we can tell, that our knowledge is not merely little blocks of information that can be easily passed from brain to brain. The larger part of it is tacit, resides within our bodies, and to a large extent, we don't know how we know what we know.

Even this little tidbit of metadata about how we know seems to be difficult to pass along to other people, in my experience of conversing about it. People either seem to get it, or else look at me like a foot sprouted out of my forehead. Perhaps our knowledge of how we know is itself largely tacit.

Even then, intellectual assent and a feeling of assurance tends to disappear when the rubber meets the road. I can assure my wife that drifting a car around a corner is a perfectly safe maneuver, one that I have done many, many times, and one that has saved my bacon more than once, and she can (well, theoretically) intellectually assent to that while we're sitting on the couch at home. Strapped into the passenger seat, sliding sideways at 60 miles an hour, all that certainty has a way of flying out the window...

Paul Griffin said...

(Mom, I've never actually drifted a car. I've never done anything bad in a car, and I certainly didn't learn any of it from dad.)

Gagdad Bob said...

Godel felt that his theorems proved not that man can't know truth, but rather, that he has access to a realm of truth that cannot be proved with mere logic.

And Davila said something to the effect that we only deeply believe things we can't fully explain, although I'm not doing the aphorism justice...

Christina M said...

Your post fits with the Mass readings for next Sunday. Some of my most favorite verses....anything having to do with springs of water and rivers, really.

I once came upon a little church out in the middle of the Odenwald in Germany and it had water springing and flowing out of the ground all around the mount the church sat on. It was spectacular. And on the side was a stone table where women used to wash their laundry. I couldn't believe the church didn't tumble down because it seemed to built on top of water, but it had been there since the early middle ages.

Paul Griffin said...

Godel felt that his theorems proved not that man can't know truth, but rather, that he has access to a realm of truth that cannot be proved with mere logic.

What a shriveled picture of man our culture has constructed. Even our scientists know better, but we have built up an image that caters to our desires, so even our supposed adoration of "Science!" falls by the wayside when it gets in the way of our good time...

I was having a conversation with a good friend last week to the effect that reason doesn't do you much good until you become oriented in the proper direction, until you become sane. Until then, your reason is just a tool you use to deceive yourself.

Petey said...

Outside the Word, the mind is just an Idol Factory.

mushroom said...

I've never done anything bad in a car, and I certainly didn't learn any of it from dad.

My daughter would have said, But if I did, it's because that's how Dad taught me to do it.

julie said...

Funny - re. the "Idol Factory," that's the third time I've heard that observation in the past couple of days, though one person attributed it to the heart and not the brain.

My dad pretty much gave up teaching me how to drive after I (relatively slowly) backed into a wall with my 90 year-old granny in the seat next to me.

My driving has improved since then.

mushroom said...

I always read the Bible, and I could remember pretty well. So I was telling a person one time that I probably should spend more time praying and less time studying. His response was something about airplanes needing two wings.

But you're not going to understand the Bible apart from prayer, and you are right, prayer really is a conversation with a Person.

The plane won't fly without two wings; it also won't fly if it doesn't get off the ground.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

You are now on the vertical path, which consists of many roads all leading to the same place. Unlike profane philosophy, which consists of many roads leading from nothing to nowhere, here all roads lead from anywhere to everything (or from anyone to the One and back again, in a round trip of ascent and descent)."

The road to gnowhere leads to the road to gnohere leads to the road to demaskus, if you gno what I mean.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Ha ha! I like the title of this recent Powerline. post:


Rogelio Bueno said...

Concerning Ploanyi and Godel.
I'm reminded of Plato's fondness of "true opinion", that the person with no experience, learning or map who possessed a true opinion of how to get to Athens was just a correct as the person with the experience and learning. Of course, the only way to determine if your opinion is true is to follow it to Athens. If you arrive, it was true, if you don't, you are a false prophet. It is to say that there are more avenues to knowledge than the physical senses, but they cannot be confirmed without experience.

Rogelio Bueno said...

Concerning teaching anyone how to drift a car; I plead the 5th.

Rick said...

RB, one can be correct but accidentally.
A true statement from personal experience (grateful, by the grace of God). In fact, if I had a nickel for every time I was correct accidentally...I'd be a broken clock!

Rick said...

Comment left at American Digest, in case youz miss it:

"Our baby was born without a functioning brain. Prenatal hydrocephalus smashed her brain into a layer 1 mm thick lining the interior of her skull.

We were advised to abort her several times: "Other children could use her organs." Our response: "We're not going to kill our baby. End of discussion."

On the day of her birth, we were told "She won't live more than a minute." My response: "Yeah? Well, she's going to get her full sixty full fucking seconds, then, Doc."

That night, as she was implanted with a cerebral shunt, her doctor showed me her cranial CT scan. Her head was entirely filled with fluid. He told me "I've seen these cases many times. They never end well."

That night, our priest came and baptized her, the confirmed her. She became a Christian and her sould was ready for Heaven.

The next day, the hospital chaplain came and administered the Sacrament to me in her room. Later, as I bent over her tiny body, a crumb of the Lord's Body that had gotten into my beard fell onto her forehead. I don't know where it went.

That night, a cranial CT scan showed that a brain had somehow appeared in her head. She was taken off the vent. She began IV feeding.

She's almost two years old today: a big, pink, healthy White baby. Gosh, I sure am glad we didn't execute her in the womb for the crime of being less than perfect.

A brain does not make a human being. A human being is that which is born of woman -- an individual human life. And all human life is sacred, with or without legs, hands, eyes, or brain.

And every life is meaningful -- even a life no longer than a minute or two. We have no way of knowing what role even the briefest life plays in the Big Picture. We have no right to decide who is worthy of life and who is not. The path of strict utilitarianism leads straight to the concentration camp gate -- or its modern form, the abortion clinic. If we take the path you suggest, we will end up with Peter Singer or someone like him on the railroad platform separating the Useful from the Lebensunwertesleben. Is that really where we as a civilization want to go?

Our daughter is, frankly, a mess. She can't see or eat normally. She may never walk, or talk, or even sit up. But she's alive, she can laugh, and she can love, and that's enough. Even with a malformed brain my kid is 10x as great as any other baby. That's just the way we are.

I won't soft-soap you. It's hard, damned hard, to care for a severely disabled child -- but it is our duty and we are by God going to do it. We have never regretted our decision to keep her and we never will."
~ Shibes Meadow

Love the part about the crumb.
Imagine...a crumb.

Rogelio Bueno said...

Would Plato say they are accidents or true opinions?
I'm very much in the same boat with you and greatly appreciate God's grace covering my untrue opinions.
Experience has taught me, don't depend on true opinion at the dog track.

Rick said...

"Would Plato say they are accidents or true opinions?"

That's what I've got Van for.

Joan of Argghh! said...

I can see I need to check in here more often...

Van Harvey said...

Rick said "That's what I've got Van for."

Sorry so late on my duties... busy weekend... 27th anniversary, friends book signing event, staining the deck - and throwing the back out - and prepping for today's MO Curriculum Framework group, things lag.

In the Meno, Socrates plays his games, but mostly sums it up in this:

"Soc. I mean to say that they are not very valuable possessions if they are at liberty, for they will walk off like runaway slaves; but when fastened, they are of great value, for they are really beautiful works of art. Now this is an illustration of the nature of true opinions: while they abide with us they are beautiful and fruitful, but they run away out of the human soul, and do not remain long, and therefore they are not of much value until they are fastened by the tie of the cause; and this fastening of them, friend Meno, is recollection, as you and I have agreed to call it. But when they are bound, in the first place, they have the nature of knowledge; and, in the second place, they are abiding. And this is why knowledge is more honourable and excellent than true opinion, because fastened by a chain."

And while I'll disagree on the cause, I think he's got it right with "...are not of much value until they are fastened by the tie of the cause...", if your opinion in fact agrees with what is true, has solid ties back to reality, it sort of geometrically fits in with the rest of what you know in fact to be true.

But. We have that internal fudgefactorability to ignore the discrepancies, to make the puzzle pieces squish together so as to complete our picture of things. And while there may be a certain grace for innocent error, as those mismatches become, or would if you didn't ignore them, more glaring as you go, your 'right opinion' transforms into an ideological dead weight, and distorts your entire picture.

Beware 'the facts as you know them' which you don't truly and personally know to be true.

Rick said...

Thanks, Van.

"because fastened by a chain"

I wonder if this is where we get:

"Ah-ha! I was right all along.."

Which is an error to think it, since, according to So-crates, we only imagine a chain.