Thursday, January 13, 2022

Hallow, New Man!

The Baader-Meinhof Word of the Day is transform. Once I started thinking about it, it began appearing everywhere.

Paul uses the word twice, advising us to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2); ultimately we are being transformed into the [image of God] from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Co 3:18).

It shows up seventeen times in the book I read a couple days ago (Salvation); if we toss in related words like "growth" and "change," then there's something on nearly every page. 

Likewise the much more substantive Three Ages of the Spiritual Life by Garrigou-Lagrange. I'm reading that one much more slowly, like a chapter a day. Here are a few passages that touch on our subject, either directly or really directly:

We reach up to God and God reaches down to us, and in divine love we are made sharers of the Divinity.

What human nature can never do can be done in the supernatural power of divine grace.

Because our interior life descends to us from on high, it can reascend even to God... 

[T]he deification of the intellect and that of the will presuppose the deification of the soul itself (in its essence) from whence these faculties [intellect and will] spring.

[T]he inward man is renewed day by day. His spiritual youth is continually renewed... by the graces which he receives daily. 

[G]radually there disappears what St. Paul calls "the old man" and there takes shape "the new man."

Hello, new man! 

This new and inward man

is renewed unceasingly in the image of God, who does not grow old. The life of God is above the past, the present, and the future; it is measured by the single instant of immobile eternity.

Here is a sampling of similar passages from Salvation, which is 

an unmerited gift of righteousness that actually transforms us.

Humanly speaking, what God calls us to is completely beyond our reach. It is truly impossible.

D'oh! 

What is impossible with men is possible with God.

Woo hoo! 

[Grace] enables us to become something more than our human nature alone could ever achieve.

"Paul holds that believers are truly changed," for "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." We are "truly remade."

We'll leave off with a few passages from Balthasar's Heart of the World, which I also recently reread slooooowly:

Here the old man is replaced by the new. Here the world dies and another world rises. Here the two eons intersect. Here every ending becomes a beginning.... Here springs forth out of the hardest rock the water of eternal life. Here the road of reason and faith sprouts wings.... Here is bridged the chasm between heaven and earth.

Patient as a seed, we are to let your Kingdom grow in us...

You transfigure enigma and replace it with mystery.... you take each being to yourself and, without destroying its reality, you confer upon it a new being. You change refuse into jewels...

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

I Don't Believe in God, I Only Participate in Him

This is a two-part post, in that the first part was incompleted yesterday while the second part was left undone this morning. 

Transform: to change completely or essentially in composition or structure : metamorphose.

The question is, how is this even possible for human beings? You can "transform" yourself from fat to fit, but this isn't a literal transformation. That is, there has been no change to the substance, only to one of its accidents: irrespective of your size, you are nevertheless you, and you've been you since the moment of your conception.

It would seem that most of the things we call "transformation" aren't really so. Reducing a log to ashes in your fireplace is an actual transformation; likewise going from life to death, which represents the adiós of form (AKA soul), precisely. 

But no amount of learning, for example, is a transformation, rather, just an actualization of latent potential. It is change, but not transformation.

Is there a kind of transformational learning? Is there information that results in a literal change? We'll return to the question, but the quick answer is Yes and No. 

The whole premise of psychotherapy is that change is possible, but what kind of change? Analogously, a medical doctor helps us change, but only from unhealthy to healthy. Or vice versa in the case of Dr. Fauci.

A positive change in health presupposes a teleological or homeostatic state of health. The doctor can't change you from one essence to another, which of course goes to the criminal fraud of pretending a medical procedure can achieve sexual transformation, which is strictly impossible.

Back when I was in grad school one of my main influences was a fellow named Bion, who wrote a little book called Transformations, which I haven't looked at since then. 

I wonder what present Bob would think of the book? Let's have a quick peek.  

Ah, it's all coming back to me now. Bion, I think, had a little trick up his sleeve, which he never made explicit. That is, I think the title -- Transformations -- is a kind of meta-commentary on the cryptic nature of his writing, which I believe was intended to provoke a kind of transformation in the reader. In other words, his writing is intended not just to be "informational" but transformational.

Speaking of which, a little secret: this is always the aim of my writing, i.e., to provoke a little transformation in the head. I have never claimed to be a scholar, nor would I waste all this time and space -- we're up to 3,733 posts now -- simply conveying information that is not only readily available elsewhere, but presented in a much less annoying manner.

Here's something from the book: "Eckhart considers Godhead to contain all distinctions as yet undeveloped and to be Darkness and Formlessness. It cannot be the object of Knowledge until there flows out from it Trinity and the Trinity can be known."

So much for Part 1. On to Part 2, in which we hope to get to the point.

Let's begin with a strictly orthoparadoxical coonfession: I do not believe in God. Rather, I only participate in Him.

We all know Augustine's line about "faith seeking understanding." And if you're not familiar with the gag, here's the punchline, courtesy of Professor Wiki:

Fides quaerens intellectum means "faith seeking understanding" or "faith seeking intelligence." It is the theological method stressed by Augustine and Anselm of Canterbury in which one begins with faith in God and on the basis of that faith moves on to further understanding of Christian truth.

Chronologically, faith precedes understanding, like when small children first trust their parents and believe what they state, and it is only later on, when they grow up, that they want to examine and understand the reality by themselves. In the words of Anselm of Canterbury, "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand."

But for me and possibly other members of the Vertical Community, it's more the other way around: understanding (or intelligence) seeking faith. In other words, we already know plenty. The head is good to go. Rather, it's the heart that might be a little undernourished, and it is fed from a different source, or at least it requires a more balanced diet.

Along these lines, yesterday I read a book called Salvation: What Every Catholic Should Know. I don't recommend it, because it's pretty basic, but it does at least touch on the vast differences between knowledge, faith, justification, salvation, redemption, and transformation.  

So, when were you saved? For most of my life I never heard that irritating question, since I made it a point to avoid contact with Christians. It was first posed to me around five years ago, but I didn't know quite how to respond, since it's a loaded question and I reject its implicit premise and assumptions.

A more sensible question would be Have you been transformed?, or better yet, How's the transformation going? Any progress today? Only if the transformation attains a certain minimum standard can we start talking about the possibility of "salvation." 

Yes, the transformation isn't possible without Christ, but nor is it possible without our cooperation; he is the necessary condition -- the "without whom" -- but this in no way robs us of our dignity to be sufficient conditions -- the "with whom."  

We might even say that the With Whom is left free to participate in the Without Whom, and in between is the transformation of the former into the latter: as the early fathers said, God becomes man in order for man to become God. But walking on water wasn't built in a day, and while It is accomplished, we aren't unless we are accomplices in the transformation.

Monday, January 10, 2022

My Kind of Cosmos

Over the weekend a phrase kept popping into my head: Principles of Christian Transformation

It sounds a little pretentious, and besides, the subject is too vast to be tackled by a lazy blogger. So I pushed it aside and waited for a new idea, but here it is again. Perhaps Petey will stop pestering me if I embarrass him with a post: if it goes badly, blame him.

Let me begin by saying that prior to 2003 or so I didn't know that such a thing -- "Christian transformation" -- existed. I was happily practicing a kind of Vedanta Yoga while putting the upanishing touches on the bʘʘk. I won't bore you with all the details, but around that time a book fell into my hands called A Different Christianity: Early Christian Esotericism and Modern Thought, by Robin Amis.

That's precisely when, to my surprise, I discovered the connection between Christianity and the "spiritual technologies" of the East. What attracted me (and really, my whole dreaded boomer generation) to these  was the promise of 1) secret knowledge, 3) superiority (cosmic narcissism) and 2) spiritual transformation, up to and including nirvana, AKA immortality while you wait.

So I explored and even seriously dabbled in all those things, from Advaita to Zen, Aurobindo to Zohar, Abhishiktananda to Zoroaster. 

I still like Abhishiktananda. My kind of guy. 

Anyway, up until then I had never heard the word theosis -- AKA divinization -- no doubt because this is a Protestant country and in Protestantism there's no such thing. Therefore, a whole generation of annoying boomers went searching for spiritual transformation in non-Christian traditions, when it was actually here all the time. 

In fact, I rejected Christianity by the age of 10 or 11, because the way it was presented to me seemed just too stupid to believe. It was an entirely top-down affair, as in "just believe this and you're good to go." 

But you can't force yourself to believe what is repugnant to the intellect, any more than you can will yourself to desire what you don't really want, or pretend that ugliness is beauty.

Nor, as of 2003, would I have been attracted to anything that smacked of the mainstream or of normality. To the extent that I was attracted to Truth, it had to be presented in an esoteric or gnostic manner that let me in on the Secret and thereby placed me above the grazing multitide. Therefore, Big Box Christianity was a non-starter. Not my kind of guys.

But wait!

This book presents the esoteric original core of Christianity with its concern for illuminating and healing the inner life of the individual. It is a bridge to the often difficult doctrines of the early church fathers, explaining the spiritual psychology of the fathers that underlies the current renewal of spirituality in the Greek church. 

Sounds like my kind of guys! 

Now let's fast forward to the present. I shouldn't really be surprised that Principles of Christian Transformation keeps popping into my head, because all around me are books that touch on this very idea of Christian Transformation.

Example.

From Man and the Cosmos: The Vision of St. Maximus the Confessor: For Max, soteriology (salvation) isn't just

man's liberation from sinfulness. It is the doctrine (and mystery) of man's perfection in deification, and through man the doctrine of the fulfillment of the destiny of the whole cosmos.

The whole cosmos?! Now, that ought to be weird enough for anyone.

But how? Please tell me there's more to it than "believe this and you're good to go." No, the human being  

is called to mature and to develop his likeness to God to the point of perfection of his nature as image of God. Likeness is thus the realization of all that is given as possibility because of man's nature as image of God (emphases mine).

Understood. But how?

Well, first of all, it's impossible. For man. That's the bad news. We can "ascend," but only so far, because to what or whom are we ascending? Suffice it to say, we can't lift ourselves by our own buddhastraps.

I have good news: what if there is a "reciprocity between God and man"? How would that work? Turns out there is 

a double movement: God's movement toward man in the Incarnation and man's movement toward God in the imitative process of deification.

In short, the latter (deification) is possible because of the former (Incarnation). So, the ultimate Principle of Christian Transformation is obviously the Incarnation, not as something to only "believe in" but to participate in:

There is in man no natural power that can deify him, but there exists on the other hand a reciprocal relationship between God and man that permits him to become deified to the degree to which the effects of the Incarnation are conferred on him....

The goal of the Incarnation is precisely to make possible a communion between the energies which alone can bring into being the divinization that is the final goal of human life. But not only this, for divination is in fact also the goal of God Himself, having created in man a model corresponding to Himself.  

Wait -- are you telling me that God becomes our kind of guy so that we may become His kind of guy?   

Well, I hope Petey is sufficiently chastened. If not, we'll have to continue this line of thought tomorrow.