Saturday, January 02, 2021

Why? and Why.

Let's move on to the second paragraph of Schuon's essay on Man in the Cosmogonic Projection. 

I realize we've discussed this subject in the past, but it's always helpful to review important principles, especially when practically the whole world -- AKA the World -- believes otherwise and exerts a constant pressure to conform to its anti-principles. 

I'm not complaining about the latter, mind you. Rather,

Unless what we write seems obsolete to modern man, immature to the adult, and trivial to the serious man, we have to start over.

Here's the first sentence:

The question of the "why" of creation has given rise to many speculations.

I detest speculation, except in the strict classical sense of the term, which doesn't refer to impotent conjectures of the can-I-buy-some-pot-from-you style midwit intellectual adventurer. 

Rather, real speculation involves nailing down the ultimate reasons for things. It is simultaneously the most useless (because it isn't for the sake of something else) and useful knowledge there is (because it pertains to our origins and end, or to the whole reason for being here).

You could say that practical and utilitarian knowledge is material and efficient (like science), whereas speculative knowledge is formal and final, AKA vertical.  But for this very reason, it is actually more certain than merely scientific knowledge, which is by definition tentative and preluminary, always on-the-way-to.

To what?

From what?

Yes, and yes.  

the cosmogonic projection [what we call "cosmogenesis"] has as its ultimate cause the infinitude proper to the Absolute.

This sentence is ineluctably true even if you would prefer that it not be, for there is no truth in the absence of Truth itself; this latter principle is either explicit or implicit, but without its vertical/ontological sponsorship, our local epistemological franchise is rendered blankrupt, and no coherent or consistent statement about anything is possible. We will no doubt return to this subject latter.

Now, to say infinitude is to say All-Possibility and consequently the overflowing of the divine potentialities, in conformity with the principle that the Good wills to communicate itself.

In Christian metaphysics this would be analogous to kenosis, the following definition of which taken from Essential Theological Terms, by Justo Gonzalez. It is "A term derived from the Greek word for emptying," in reference to a passage in Philippians, which forms

the basis of a christological view that sought to explain the possibility of the incarnation by claiming that the eternal Word, or Logos, of God divested himself of the divine attributes that are incompatible with being human... 

By virtue of what other principle could God possibly make himself not-God? Here's a passage from Lossky's Mystical Theology that describes it more concretely (I could find better ones, but this is close to hand): 

As we have said may times, the perfection of the person consists in self-abandonment: the person expresses itself most truly in that it renounces to exist for itself. It is the self-emptying of the Person of the Son, the Divine kenosis.

Later he describes "His true humanity which voluntarily submitted to death as a final stripping, emptying, and culmination of the divine kenosis."

Which goes to a debate I often have with myself, going to the question of whether it is possible to root theology in a more universal metaphysics, but let's not get sidetracked; we'll no doubt return to this question too as we proceed.  

It is said that God "created" the world by a "free act of His will," but this is only to stress that God does not act under constraint; this last term somehow lends itself to confusion for it goes without saying that God is indeed "obliged" to be faithful to His Nature and for that reason cannot but manifest Himself by a quasi-eternal or co-eternal chain of creations... 

Analogously, since God's essence is love, we could say that  he "constrained" by it as well. This probably sounds a bit suspicious, but in my view this "constraint" is precisely what distinguishes the trinitarian Christian God from the less differentiated God of, say, Islam. 

The Muslim would insist that God has no constraints whatsoever, but this has certain baleful consequences for man and civilization, for it means that -- for example -- God doesn't do things because they are good; rather, things are good because he does them. 

It makes for a morally arbitrary, unintelligible, and impenetrable world from the human perspective, with no speculative basis for natural law or theology -- a God of pure will. It reduces any speculative Why? to Because I said so. Very much like the left that way.  It's why authoritarian leftism is so congenial to assouls such as Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Linda Sarsour, and Keith Ellison.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wrapping our Minds Around the Ontology of Trinity and Trinity of Ontology

We've analyzed the first two sentences of Schuon's essay on Man in the Cosmogonic Projection, but with the third sentence things get... interesting:

The divine Essence, "Beyond Being," reverberates in Relativity, giving rise to the Divine Person, to Creative "Being."

Obviously, any sort of fundamentalist or literalist or sola-scripturalist will object to the suggestion that there is something beyond the personal God, or that the personal God is relative to anything; rather, everything is relative to God, and that's the end of it.

I think it's a matter of what you can "wrap your mind around." The great majority of Christians presumably could (or would) never wrap their minds around Schuon's description, which is fine. Indeed, Schuon would say that this is the very purpose of exoteric religion: to provide man with a means to wrap his mind around an ultimate reality that is -- obviously, and by definition -- unwrappable.  Man cannot contain what is uncontainable -- at least outside the fact and principle of Incarnation. 

Incidentally, it's difficult to write about this subject without sounding elitist, or esoteric, or Gnostic, but this is not my intention. Rather, the purpose is fundamentally no different from the fundamentalist, as I'm just trying to conceptualize God in a manner I can wrap my little mind around -- or, more to the point, in a way that doesn't repel what I call my intelligence. Sr. D:

God does not ask for the submission of the intelligence, but rather an intelligent submission.

Nor, of course, would we ever presume to cut God down to the size of our own conceptions of him. Indeed, that is the whole problem of which Schuon is speaking: there is the God we can imagine and the unimaginable Godhead, and these two are distinct but related, in a way that just may be analogous to the reality <---> appearance complementarity discussed in the previous post.

This has been an issue from the earliest days of Christianity. "As the Greek Fathers insisted," writes Ware, "A God who is comprehensible is not God." Rather, such a God "turns out to be no more than an idol, fashioned in our own image."  

[W]e need to use negative as well as affirmative statements, saying what God is not rather than what he is. Without this use of the way of negation, of what is termed the apophatic approach, our talk about God becomes gravely misleading.

Or, "As Cardinal Newman puts it, we are continually 'saying and unsaying to a positive effect.'"  In this mythsemantical realm, negative x positive = a deeper positive.  Call it the metabolism or respiration of mystical theology.

Yes, that's all orthodox, as it places the relativity squarely on our side of the infinite <---> finite divide.  But Schuon is hinting at something more radical, at something that occurs -- if that's the right word -- on God's side of this divide.

Like anybody could know that!

Well, bear with me. In my opinion -- for what it's worth, since I'm just another amateur theographer -- Christian metaphysics tends not to explore and draw the vast metaphysical consequences flowing from a trinitarian Godhead as opposed to a purely monistic one.  If there are no such consequences, then what's the point? Why does God go to all the trouble of disclosing the intimate and indeed personal nature of reality, if it makes no difference to our conception of it (and of him)?

If I'm not mistaken, this is one of the points of the whole communio movement, which highlights the possibility "of created participation in uncreated being ":

Since the being of God is decisive for the being of whatever is not God, the being or nature of the Judaeo-Christian God must be elucidated. 
The first and decisive assertion is that this God is triune, three Persons in one God. Thus are avoided the inadequacies inherent in both polytheism and even certain traditional monotheisms. 
In Greek philosophy substance denotes a being that stands on its own, that does not inhere in nor form part of another being. It tends to connote independence and even separation, apartness, isolation. Baneful results for certain religious approaches to God are obvious, for the deity becomes not only the One, but the Alone, even the Alien. 
The Judaeo-Christian God, on the other hand, and precisely as triune, emphatically reveals that by virtue of his divine unicity God is not reduced to the isolated and phthisic status of a monad. In Greek philosophy substance and relation tend to be mutually hostile, so that the more one really is (substance), the less one is related (relation). 
The ontology implicit in the triune God simply undoes this. For this God, substantial being is being related; relation is substance. Thus, God's very being is the relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for God is not first Father, and then only derivatively and subsequently Son and Holy Spirit. Rather, the very substance of God is originally communicated Being. Hence, all being, wherever it is in being, is inescapably "being with" (emphasis mine).

It seems that God is an eternal dancing in which dancer and dance can only be artificially or accidentally deustinguished:   

This is aptly expressed by perichoresis, which comes from Greek words meaning "to dance around with." If the anthropomorphism be permitted, perichoresis means that God is so full of being that his oneness is manyness, a manyness that in no way divides or separates, negates or isolates his oneness. 
Thus a term from "to dance" expresses God's being happy with himself, with his shared beingthe being together of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a kind of joyful unity in diversity....

With this in mind, I don't think Schuon's characterization is so wide of the mark -- or at least there is a way to reconcile it with a Christian metaphysic:

Within this view it is perfectly "natural" that God, whose very being is communicated plenitude, should also communicate being to that which of itself is not God and, hence, which otherwise is simply not at all. 

(That and previous quotes yoinked from https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/communio)

Monday, December 28, 2020

In the Beginning is the With

In a remarkably concise but resonant essay called Man in the Cosmogonic Projection, Schuon sketches his -- he would say everyone's -- map of ultimate reality, or his ultimate map of reality. This isn't the first time I've read it, but on this occasion I found myself wondering exactly how it can be reconciled with Christian metaphysics.

Then, in an idle moment, a thought popped into my head: Christianity of itself obviously doesn't have an explicit metaphysic, only an implicit one. What it says about creation (limiting ourselves to the Bible) is rather brief and to the point: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

From the Jewish perspective -- or so we have heard from the wise -- this is partly to cut us off at the pass before we waste our lives trying to understand things we can't possibly understand: the world is created. Now, get over it and do something to make yourself useful.   

In a way this makes practical sense: either the world is created or it isn't, and it's above our praygrade to know which. Not only does it cost us nothing to assume it is created, but the principle of creation opens up whole new dimensions of interesting entailments without which we could scarcely be human. 

Actually, we couldn't be human, period. Remove the Creator and you have eliminated transcendence from the cosmos. Man is just another animal. Some men pretend not to be animals, while the rest are leftists.

Aquinas himself readily conceded that there is no way to prove whether the cosmos is eternal or had a beginning. Nor -- obviously -- does Big Bang cosmology settle the issue, since it is only the beginning of our cosmos, not the beginning of existence, let alone being, much less beyond-being.

The prologue of John is intended to parallel Genesis 1, although with a new trinitarian twist. Bear in mind that, being Jewish, he would have fully assimilated the principle of creation, so he's not denying monotheism, only fine-tuning it.      

Well, now that's a coveniedence: I just got my morning email from The Catholic Thing linking to this morning's essay, called Recovering the Theology of Creation, perhaps just what we need to set the stage for where we think we're going with this post:

Hans Urs von Balthasar writes somewhere that “the Christian is called to be the guardian of metaphysics in our time.”

That's a bingo.   

This entails the defense of the person as destined for the knowledge of God..., but it also entails guarding a proper understanding of natural being, that is to say, of the intrinsic and deep meaning and mystery inherent in all created things.

That's another bingo. 

For some religions, this world is a place of illusion or distraction to be overcome so that our souls may be lost in unity with God. But this is not possible for the Christian. We understand that God has created all things and called them “very good.” The mystery of our faith thus entails coming to understand the ways in which created things stand in relation to the One who made them.

That's a trifacta. But the Christian doctrine of creation doesn't only distinguish itself from Buddhist or Hindu doctrines that would negate the significance of the human person, it also distances itself from the pure and simple monism of Judaism (or of Islam or even certain Protestant denominations that deny free will).

Limiting ourselves again to the Bible (as opposed to tradition more generally), John outlines a more differentiated doctrine of the One, and he does so with a single preposition: with. Yes, God still is; moreover, he is still I AM.  However, there is more to AM than meets the I -- specifically the We implied by with.

At risk of straining language beyond it's carrying capacity, the Christian ought to say: I AM, therefore WE ARE;  and WE ARE, therefore I AM.  These are true simultaneously and irreducibly: there is no I prior to We, just as there is no Father prior to the Son.

Here is where things get a little dicey as it pertains to Schuon's essay, and yet, I believe he's on to something. He begins with this account:

The entire world is Maya, but Maya is not entirely the world. The divine Essence, "Beyond Being," reverberates in Relativity, giving rise to the Divine Person, to Creative "Being."

Now, at first blush this might sound suspiciously un- or even anti-Christian, but there is a way to understand it as quite Christian indeed. Begin by replacing "Maya" with the less loaded "appearance," and its truth is self-evident -- so self-evident that there's a blunt and pointed aphorism for that:

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

The Christian believes the world is real, but not ultimate reality; for the same reason, he believes the world is Maya, but not only Maya. The following aphorism describes and prescribes the proper balance:

Christianity does not deny the splendor of the world but encourages us to seek its origin, to ascend to its pure snow.

In other words, it doesn't deny that the world is Maya, but Maya isn't just "appearance." Rather, it is an appearance of reality, precisely.  

And back to the little preposition alluded to above: with. If John is correct, then, thanks to the Incarnation, the appearance is now ultimately with the reality in an intimate and final way: there is an unbreakable bond between the two. A martial covenant even.

I think we'll end for now. We're just getting started -- we've only discussed a couple of sentences in a ten page essay.  We'll leave off with an aphorism which may have sounded a bit cryptic before you read this post:

Any shared experience ends in a simulacrum of religion.