Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Broken Circle & Your Eternal Birthday

Just some timelessly timely passages from Balthasar's Heart of the World, presented mostly without comment, although rearranged and strung together in such a way that they reveal a story, or perhaps even the story:

Prisons of finitude! Like every other being, man is born of many prisons. Soul, body, thought, intuition, endeavor; everything about him has a limit, is itself tangible limitation...

From the grilled window of the senses each person looks out to the alien things which he will never be. Even if his spirit could fly through the spaces of the world like a bird, he himself will never be this space, and the furrow which he traces in the air vanishes immediately and leaves no lasting impression. 

How far it is from one being to his closest neighbor! No one can tear down his own dungeon; no one knows who inhabits the next cell.

The mere fact of existing as an individual constitutes renunciation. The limpid mirror has been shattered, the infinite image has been shattered over the face of the world, the world has become a heap of fragments.

                                                                 ***

They were dead, so thoroughly dead that they thought they were alive.... So much the prey of sin that they had no idea what sin was. So rejected that they took themselves to be among the elect. So doomed to the abyss and the flames that they mistook the abyss for God and the flames for love.

The world was hermetically closed, closed the cycle of human life, ascending from the womb and bent on returning to the womb. Closed, too, the society of men, self-sufficient and self-satisfied.... Closed his religion, and reduced to a circle of observations and rites, prayer-formulas and sacrifices.... Closed and well-armored was the world against God from all sides.  

                                                                ***

Man wants to soar up, but the Word wants to descend. Thus will the two meet half-way, in the middle, in the place of the Mediator. But they will cross like swords cross; their wills are opposed to one another.

He beamed into the gloom, but the darkness turned away.... God came into the world, but a bristling barrier of spears and shields was his welcome. 

It was a menacing void, a chasm fitted with teeth. The light came into the darkness, but the darkness had no eye for the light: it had only jaws.

                                                       ***

And now that God's Word saw that his descent could entail nothing but his own death and ruination -- that his light must sink down into the gloom -- he accepted the battle and the declaration of war.   

And he devised the unfathomable ruse: he would plunge, like Jonas, into the monster's belly and thus penetrate to death's innermost lair; he would experience the farthest dungeon of sin's mania and drink the cup down to the dregs; he would offer his brow to man's incalculable craze for power and violence; in his own futile mission, he would demonstrate the futility of the world.... 

                                                             *** 

Suddenly all of them standing around the gallows know it: he is gone.... There is nothing more but nothingness itself. The world is dead. Love is dead. God is dead. Everything that was, was a dream dreamt by no one. The present is all past. The future is nothing. The hand has disappeared from the clock's face....

Chaos. Beyond heaven and hell. Shapeless nothingness behind the bounds of creation.

                                                             ***

But look: What is this light glimmer that wavers and begins to take form in the endless void? It has neither content nor contour. A nameless thing, more solitary than God, it emerges out of pure emptiness. It is no one. It is anterior to everything. Is it the beginning?

A wellspring in the chaos. It leaps out of pure nothingness, it leaps out of itself.... It is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death.

Just as the first creation arose anew out of sheer nothingness, so, too, this second world -- still unborn, still caught up in its first rising -- will have its sole origin in this wound, which is never to close again. 

                                                            ***

No one is witness to the birth of a world.

All of your past is like a dream which one can no longer recall precisely, and the entire old world hangs within the new space like a picture in its frame.

And so you stare into the void. For in fact: the grave is empty, you are yourself empty.... You stare ahead of you, and behind your back stands your Life! It calls to you, you turn around and cannot recognize it. 

                                                   *** 

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...

Bind yourself to me so irrevocably that I will be able to descend to hell with you; and then I will bind you to myself so irrevocably that, with me, you will be able to ascend to very heaven. Empty yourself out into me so completely that I can fill you with myself.

In a thunderclap I am the new creation. I am given back to myself....

                                                            *** 

And today is your Last Day (your youngest day), the newest, most childlike of days. No other day will ever be as young for you as this today, when Eternal Life has called you by name.

This Now when our two names shall have met is my birthday in eternity, and no time shall ever cease this Now. Here is where the starting point has been set. Here is creation and a new beginning.... The rigid envelope which enclosed me from the outside and preserved my emptiness now shatters to fragments...

For at last everything we can comprehend lies pitifully beneath us. And our spirit does not desire to to contain, but to be contained in you...

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

All There is to Know About All There Is

Just some passages I like from W. Norris Clarke's The Philosophical Approach to God, presented with or without comment. The point is, sometimes there's a man -- I won't say a Raccoon, because what's a Raccoon? -- but sometimes there's a man who, well, he fits right in here with the restauvus cosmic misfits:
As we reflect on the activities of our intellectual knowing power, we come to recognize it as an inexhaustible dynamism of inquiry, ever searching to lay hold more deeply and widely on the universe of reality. It is impossible to restrict its horizon of inquiry to any limited area of reality, to any goal short of all that there is to know about all that there is (emphasis mine).

This same idea is expressed in another book I recently read, The Two Cities: A History of Christian Politics. First, 

realism means that our reasoning about the world around us is a participation in the reason that is actually embedded in that world.

What's the alternative? That we are intelligent, but that our intelligence reveals nothing essential about the world? 

Yes, that is the alternative: it's called nominalism, and not only is it alive and well, it has been kicking ass in various forms and iterations for several centuries. Nevertheless, what cannot go on will not go on.

As to its appeal, nominalism affirms that no natures or essences exist, which could hardly be more convenient if one wants to pretend men can be women, or that homosexuals can marry, or that we can't even know what a "woman" is, because for the nominalist there is no such thing as human (or any other) nature:

Mankind is not being prompted through his reason to steadily fulfill his nature. Rather, he is moving through the world in total freedom. There is no natural law... that emerges from within human nature itself and which provides a guide to how people ought to behave.

Superstition is a perennial temptation for fallen man, and in our day and age this superstition goes under the rubric of ideology. Every ideology is a pseudo-religion that is superimposed upon reality in order to provide a host of benefits, including a faux sense of meaning, and with it, a diminution of existential anxiety. 

The ideology is also an inexpensive signal of "intelligence" (despite being stupid), redemption-innocence (despite its depravity), and "sanity" (despite being insane; it's really just conformity, so a kind of "quantitative sanity" or safety in numbers). 

For that matter, ideology also signals virtue and caring despite being narcissistically self-enclosed, and pretends to be skeptical while being childishly credulous. 

Conversely, (orthodox, which is to say, realist) Christianity

proposes a world in which the material and temporal are united with the spiritual and eternal, in which the particular is real and solid and yet finds its intelligibility and full realization in the universal. The drive of modernity was to undo this profoundly realist, and yet ultimately mysterious and incarnational worldview.

Modern ideologies emerging from the Enlightenment amount to the imposition of a material flatland by intellectual flatheads:

It is a world that is itself without mystery, without inherent symbols or sacramental implications. It is the merely material and the merely temporal...

Ideologies are catechisms of pseudo-control and pseudo-mastery to tame and ultimately disable the intellect, allowing it maintain its slumber:   

They are attempts at categorizing the things within it so that the world can be seen to function within our thought, without remainder, with nothing left over. They are machines of thought... (emphasis mine).

In case you haven't noticed. And because they are machines, they are dead on arrival, and moreover, communicate this deadness to the sensitive soul, who will spontaneously rebel against them. (We see this happening all over the country, for example, with parents fighting back against progressive groomer ideology.) 

Bottom line:

Ideologies are religious systems for the faithless, for people who deny mystery and refuse humility.

Conservatism, whatever else it may be, should be at antipodes to ideology, since there is no philosophical system rich enough to model reality. Every ideology is a model of the world, stripped of complexity, richness, vertical depth (and height), and sundry unknown (and unKnowable) unknowns. Ideology is the precise opposite of the Cosmic Person who renders intelligence and intelligibility possible. 

Back to Clarke. The process of knowing all there is to know about all there is

continues indefinitely in ever-expanding and ever-deepening circles. As we reflect on the significance of this inexhaustible and unquenchable drive toward the fullness of all there is to know, we realize that the only adequate goal of our dynamism of knowing is the totality of all being.

Now, what -- or who -- could this be? -- this a priori present-absence that ceaselessly draws us into its vortex? One possibility is that

somewhere hidden within this unlimited horizon of being there exists an actually infinite Plenitude of Being, in which all other beings participate yet of which they are but imperfect images.

I'll buy that. And "If I accept and listen to this radical innate pull of my nature as intellectual being,"

I will affirm with conviction the existence of the ultimate Fullness and Center of all being, the lodestar that draws my intelligence ever onward..., the mystery of inexhaustible Light, a Light that with my present, body-obscured vision I cannot directly penetrate or master with my own powers, but that renders all else intelligible (Clarke).