Saturday, February 10, 2024

The Incarnation and You: What You Need to Know

Warning: Pedantry Ahead. It can't be helped, as it lays a foundation for the fun to follow.

We've been drawing from an excellent little tome called The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition from Plato to Denys, by Andrew Louth. Plotinus is the last pagan discussed before moving on to Origen, the first Christian covered in the book. For Origen, "the soul's ascent to God" -- AKA () --

begins, or is made possible, by what God has done for us in Christ.... The mystical life is the working-out, the realizing, of Christ's union with the soul effected in baptism, and is a communion, a dialogue, between Christ and the soul.

We might call this dia-logos (↑↓). Now, Plotinus was able to ascend pretty, pretty far via (↑) alone. Problem is, he wasn't able to take Plotinus with him, as union with O meant the extinction of himself. D'oh! 

Switching over to a book on the Incarnation and its consequences, Mascall echoes Origen, writing that "sanctification is the progressive realization" of "the change that was made in the ontological realm by baptism."

In other words, baptism entails an actual change in reality. I want to say that the Incarnation is the necessary condition for the possibility of this transformation, but that we remain sufficient conditions -- i.e., we must choose to participate in the ongoing real-ization of this realchange. 

To express it in abstract terms, while the Incarnation provides the (↓) that has forever joined heaven and earth, we nevertheless must exert our own (↑) to facilitate the return. Christ has done the heavy lifting, but this doesn't mean we don't do any lifting at all (at least in orthodox theology). 

In this regard, it is important to emphasize the fact that Christ is actually both --  (↓) and (↑) -- but that we may hitch a ride on the vertical winds of the latter, so to speak, via insertion into the nonlocal body of Christ. 

This answers the wholly reasonable question of what the Incarnation -- an event that happened over two thousand years ago -- has to do with us. Again,

the Incarnation must be viewed as the taking up of manhood into God and not as the conversion of Godhead into flesh. 

Importantly, Christ cannot be a "new person," for Before Abraham was, I am

The Person of this human nature was not created, as in the case of all other human beings; it was the pre-existent Word or Logos.


we are not concerned with the production of a new person, but with the assumption of a new nature by a Person who already exists.

Big. Difference. 

The divinity of the Person is derived from his eternal generation by God the Father, in virtue of which he is, as it were, the Father's alter ego...

Yes, his yoke is easy but this is a difficult and ticksy doctrine that is easily misunderstood, especially due to the difference between Person and human being: Jesus assumes human nature while retaining his divine personhood. As such he is not -- unlike the restavus -- a human person. Again, tricksy, because he is the only human being who is not a human person.

No wonder they had to have all those early councils to work out these critical distinctions. The bottom line is that Christ is nothing less than

a new creation of manhood out of the material of the fallen human race. There is continuity with the fallen race through the manhood taken from Mary; there is discontinuity through the fact that the Person of Christ is the pre-existent Logos.

This is a Very Strange Doctrine, for which reason we once quipped that the weird became flesh, but I was wrong, because it's weirder than that. For this is 

the Creator himself becoming man and moulding human nature to the lineaments of his own Person. Christ is quite literally the Second Adam, the Man in whom the human race begins anew. 

Here again, this is the "fourth bang" to which we alluded couple posts back, the first three being Existence, Life, and (human) Consciousness. "In him human nature is made afresh" by "the uncreated and pre-existent Person of the divine Word."

As rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.

Too weird, or not weird enough? 

As to the third bang, when, "in the course of biological evolution some sub-human creature received from the Creator that spiritual soul which made him the first man," we do not suppose that "some sub-human element had to be removed to make room for it."

Rather, it is very much as if the sub-human was assumed, or something, into the human. We're still primates, but of a very special sort. But where is the line between the human and infra-human? 

The whole range of animal life was caught up into the higher mode of life proper to a spiritual and rational being, yet without any destruction in the process.

In other words, not "by the conversion of spirit into ape, but by the taking up of apehood into spirit." And here we are: the monkey in the middle: "animals are imperfect beasts, man is a perfect beast."

Or perfectible, rather, for "the relation of spirit to animal in man" is analogous to "the relation of Godhood to manhood in Christ."

But only analogously. At any rate, in

the formation of the first man, there would be a lifting up into the human order of a being that already existed on the animal plane.

Whereas "we are forbidden to suppose that the Word assumed to himself an already existing man."

For "What was assumed into God was not a man but manhood." And that makes all the (big) difference. 

The point is, if we appreciate the mysterious fusion of such disparate elements in ourselves -- of matter, ape, and human -- it shouldn't be such a leap to wrap our minds around "the union of Godhead and manhood in the one Christ."

"The question isn't whether it it is easy, but whether it is possible." I'm going with possible. It is not possible for man to become God, but it is certainly not impossible for man to be assumed into God, since we know damn well that once upon a timeless animality was assumed into humanness.

Friday, February 09, 2024

Grow with the Flow

vision of the world outside of which a religious vocabulary is meaningless. It occurs to me that a list of philosophic non-starters converges with a vision of the world in which religion makes no sense. 

Which is another way of saying that there can be no real conflict between science, philosophy, and religion, because it is always One Cosmos hence one God, one reality, one truth, one human nature, et al.  

But it's not just religion that is rendered meaningless as a result of such metaphysical deformations and pneumapathologies; supposing one is a reductionist, the reduction must proceed all the way down, from psychology to biology to physics to ontological nothingness, which is to say, the Bad (pseudo) Infinite.

Conversely, a rejection of reductionism inevitably leads all the way up, unless one stops at some arbitrary point in between. For

All truths converge upon one truth, but the routes have been barricaded.

Where is the Ground? Only two possible places: below, in immanence; or above, in transcendence. Materialism or Platonism. 

Yes, but we are the mysterious monkey in the middle. We cannot actually ever reach immanence until we're dead, nor can we reach transcendence per se -- i.e., the place where all this truth and beauty comes from.

So we live in the Tension, and I suppose it's tempting to want to make it go away by veering toward one pole or the other. But -- speaking of visions --

Only the theocentric vision does not end up reducing man to absolute insignificance.  

Absolute insignificance. Is such a thing actually conceivable? Or is the very conception of insignificance significant, and therefore a performative contradiction?  

Either God or chance: all other terms are disguises for one or the other. 

Truly truly, it comes down to O or Ø, and everything else is, and must be, a disguise for one or the other. 

Now, bear in mind that we are coming at this from the purely philosophical side, not the properly theological; that is, we are sketching a metaphysic in which it will be possible for religion to later make sense. Therefore, from our side, we would say that God is a consequence of O, even though, once we arrive at God, then we would have to say that the relation is reversed.

What do you mean, Bob?

What I mean is that we can only get so far from our end, and that if our abstract conception of O is to have any concrete meaning and experiential content, it will have to be provided by God. To take an obvious example, no one ever, on his own, arrived at the notion of Trinity as the ultimate ground.

Oh? You think so? Lao Tse would like a word:

The Tao gives birth to One. / One gives birth to Two. / Two gives birth to Three. / Three gives birth to all things.

Now, I call that a pretty, pretty good guess. There are also "echoes of a doctrine of the Trinity in Vedic Hinduism," for in "the conception of God as satchitananda," Sat corresponds to "the absolute existence of the Father, Chit to the Logos, and Ananda to the Holy Comforter" (Varghese).

And yesterday we spoke of Plotinus' trinity, and of how the One overflows into existence and returns to Itself. Of course, Christianity rejects such emanationism, because it seemingly denies the doctrine of creation as a free act of God. It's a gift, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it but be thankful. 

Nevertheless, once we get to the Godside of things, it isn't difficult to harmonize divine creativity and emanation, for example, in Echkart, whose characterization of the divine overflow is very much in line with Plotinus. 

We could write a whole post on his "metaphysics of the flow," but we don't have to, since McGinn has already done so in chapter 5 of his The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart: he posits a 

dynamic reciprocity of the "flowing forth" of all things from the hidden ground of God, and the "flowing back," or "breaking through," of the universe into essential identity with this divine source.

This chapter is 34 pages long, so dwelling on it would consume the remainder of our timelessness together. Instead, let's focus on what he says about the Trinity: "The Son is the 'Principle from the Principle,' the Father is the 'Principle without Principle,'" and the Holy Spirit is the "nexus, or bond, of Father and Son," and therefore "the ground of our return to the source."

Being is God's circle and in this circle all creatures exist.

Just as God breaks through me, so do I break through God in return (Eckhart).

Aaaaand here we are, trying to break on through to the other side because God has already broken through to our side. 

Let's get back to Plotinus, who, in coming at things from our side, posited an eternal cosmos. Not his fault of course, since he knew nothing of the revelations of modern physical cosmology. He was enclosed in circularity, but at least his was a rather largish circle:

A favorite analogy is the One as the center of a circle, containing potentially all the circles that can emanate from it. In this analogy, Intelligence is the circle with the One at its center, and Soul such a circle revolving around the One.

Not bad, not bad at all. It reminds us of what Schuon says in the comment box, that

Fundamentally there are only three miracles: existence, life, intelligence; with intelligence, the curve springing from God closes on itself like a ring that in reality has never been parted from the Infinite.

Louth expands upon this:

The furthest limit of the One's emanation is matter, which is on the brink, as it were, of being and non-being.

Thus, materialism as such is an anti-intellectual doctrine of nothingness, of a radical absurdity that no one actually believes, just an atheistic fairy tale and opium for the tenured. It's a vision alright, but a vision that can't even account for sight. Let those with third eyes open see! For

Everything desires to return to the One, to return to the fulness of being to which it is an outflow.... all things are striving after Contemplation, looking to Vision as their one end...

Or to hell with it. 

As the soul ascends to the One, it enters more deeply into itself.... Self-knowledge and knowledge of the ultimate are bound up together, if not identified.

Bound up together, in the most intimate way imaginable, in the Incarnation, but that's a subject for the next installment. 

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Introduction to a Vision of the Possibility of Religious Meaning

Today we require a methodical introduction to that vision of the world outside of which religious vocabulary is meaningless.

In other words, we need what amounts to a "pre-religious" vision of the world, into which religion can then be possibly fitted. 

Why do we need that, Bob?

Shut up Dupree. You're out of your element.

Isn't such a vision already religious? No, not necessarily. For example, there is nature mysticism, nor did Buddha need no steenking deity. Likewise Plotinus, who, come to think of it, had an excellent preconceptual paradigm that could later be re-purposed for Christianity by the likes of St. Augustine.

Plotinus is more than  an episode in our passage from Plato to the Fathers. In him we find the supreme exponent of an abiding element in what we might call "mystical philosophy." He represents man's inherent desire to return to heaven at its purest and most ineffable (Andrew Louth).

Here again, the use of the term "heaven" already hints at a religious vision. Instead, what if we focus on the inherent desire, which is obviously vertical and unique to man? Unless one is prejudiced against religion, or simply came into the world with what amounts to vertical autism, we can all agree that this restless desire exists, for we can find no culture in which it is absent. 

This is what we call ().

True, in the past century or more there have been cultures that have systematically attempted to suppress, deny, and/or redirect (), most obviously in communism and Nazism, but also increasingly in our own culture. Indeed, it is one of the defining differences in our uncivil war, as illustrated in the following graph:

The gap between the two is a measure of the tension between us and them -- or between upright () folk and downwrong (⇆) folkers. 

Plotinus at once represents a convergence of "eight hundred years of Greek speculation," from which "issues a new current destined to fertilize" -- we can't help saying vertilize -- "minds as different as those of Augustine and Boethius, Dante and Meister Eckhart, Coleridge, Bergson and T.S. Eliot," vertilized visionaries one and all.

So, let's stipulate that the religious vocabulary to which the Aphorist alludes is necessarily meaningless in the absence of (). And even then, the question comes down to the ontological status of () -- both whether it, and the object to which it points, are Real.

Are they?

Too soon to tell. At this point were still outlining our methodological introduction. Could be that we are enclosed in immanence, so () is just circular -- an existential tautology, so to speak. It doesn't rhyme with reality but just stutters and stammers with opinions about it.

If that's the case, then we have to disregard the experiential visions of thousands of mystics who have journeyed to the toppermost of the poppermost and back. Of course, they could be delusional or deceptive, liar or lunatics.

So, who you gonna believe? The corner atheist or the dazzlingly self-evident testimony of your own experience?

Mysticism is the empiricism of transcendent knowledge.

The objectivity of mystical experience cannot be demonstrated. Just like that of any experience.

The mystic is the only one who is seriously ambitious. 

Experience. What is that? What is it like? It's not like anything, for there is nothing to which it can be compared, and anything to which we compare it presumes its existence.

So, the larger question is, is experience sealed in the absurcularity of immanence -- (⇆) -- or does it furnish a kind of window into transcendence?

While thinking about that, let's sketch Plotinus' vision and see where it leads. I mean, we know it leads down to such vertical luminaries as Dante, Eliot, and Eckhart, but let's not prejudge the case. There are rules. 

Plotinus' hierarchy is expressed in terms of three principles.... Beginning with the highest, these are the One or the Good; Intelligence, nous; and Soul, psyche. Soul is the level of life as we know it, the realm of sense-perception.... Beyond this, there is the more unified realm of Intelligence, nous.

Let's try to render this in a more abstract and unsaturated form: for the One, let us call it O; for the soul, let us call it (¶); and for intellection -- the link between -- let us call it (). 

Turns out we can say a great deal with just these three pneumaticons. Equally important, there is a great deal we can never say if we try to exclude any one of them up front. 

For example, with the preconceptual principle of (), "knower and known are one" -- any knower and any known, for knowledge per se is already transcendent; to merely affirm that man is a knower is already to know a great deal indeed. 

Let's talk about O. What is the least we can we say of it? It must be "absolutely simple, beyond any duality whatsoever." In this context, simple does not mean "simplistic," rather, composed of no parts, eternally abiding in itself. 

It is the One, because beyond duality; it is the Good, because it has no need of anything else. It is the source of all, it is beyond being. Nothing can be affirmed of the One: "we must be patient with language.... everywhere we must read so to speak."

Now, assuming transcendence, it seems that () is really (↕), which implies the immanent drive at one end, the transcendental attractor at the other; for our three terms -- O, (↕), and (¶) --

are related by processes Plotinus calls emanation and return. Intelligence emanates from the One, and Soul from Intelligence: out of the utterly simple there comes multiplicity, and that multiplicity is further diversified and broken up at the level of discursive understanding. 

This process of emanation is a process of "overflowing," the potent simplicity of the One "overflows" into Intelligence, and Intelligence overflows into the soul. Emanation is met by return. Emanation is the One's unfolding its simplicity: Return is the Good's drawing everything to itself. Everything strives for the Good, longs to return to the Good: and this is Return.

Not a bad start to the vision we're seeking. Nor is it difficult to Bobtize this vision. The question is whether it can be baptized. I think so, but that's enough for this morning.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Incarnation: The Fourth and Biggest Bang

I'm a little fuzzy this morning, because I woke up too early. There's some extracurricular excitement going on in the Cosmos, in that my mother-in-law is visiting, and we're having a little party for her 90th. What with all the activity, my focus is not what it could be and should be, and not even the ZYN is helping. We'll do our best and try to regroup tomorrow.

We're switching books, but still on the subject of Cosmic and Theological Anthropology. Of course, we could just bottomline it with a brief aphorism and be done for the day:

Truth is a person. 

Bang. That is my suspicion as well, and the Incarnation only makes me more suspicious. 

To back up, we're still mediating on John Paul's observation that man is forever a mystery to himself absent the Incarnation, and Ratzinger's statement about the truly revolutionary consequences of a trinitarian metaphysic -- i.e., of relationship elevated to the same level as substance

Not only is Personhood the first and last Truth -- the Alpha and Omega -- of all our searching, this Truth explains a great deal that cannot be otherwise explained. Does it unexplain anything important -- for example, any scientific finding? Nah. Science doesn't explain persons, rather, the other way around. I don't need to remind you that

To believe science is enough is the most naive of superstitions.


The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician's rule book.

And that

Science, when it finishes explaining everything, but being unable to explain the consciousness that creates it, will not have explained anything.

Well, I'm here to say that it is more than okay to start at the top, with persons. In fact, it's mandatory

Indeed, people spontaneously recognize this, even if they pretend not to. After all, no metaphysical Darwinian actually lives as one, nor does any materialist, because doing so would no longer be a human life. True, there is obviously an animal component, but it is a humanized animality, or animality refracted through the reality of human personhood. 

Come to think of it, I was going to use our animal-human fusion as an analogy to the Christ-human fusion. Might as well do so now. 

You know what they say about Christ's yoke -- that it's easy -- but not if we want to philosophize about it and integrate it with everything else we know about the Cosmos. That's a little tricksy, in that our quest is surrounded by heresies on all sides. Some of these are superficially more plausible than the truth, hence the perennial attraction. 

I am reminded of another aphorism:

Properly speaking, the social sciences are not inexact sciences, but sciences of the inexact.

And if we are on the right track, theology turns out to be the last word in social science, since God turns out to be nothing less than a society of persons.

Let's begin with a recurring principle and theme that pops up throughout the book we're discussing (Christ, the Christian, and the Church: A Study of the Incarnation and its Consequences by philosopher and theologian Eric Mascall), that

the Incarnation must be viewed as the taking up of manhood into God and not as the conversion of Godhead into flesh. 

Again, that's an easy yoke, since God has already down the heavy lifting -- i.e., lifting man to a participation in the divine life. But how, exactly? For example, this presupposes that man must already be the type of being for whom this is possible -- that "human nature is an adequate medium for this purpose." And

if the doctrine of the re-creation of man in Christ is mysterious, it is no more so than is the nature of man himself.

For -- you have noticed -- "man is himself a very strange being," and we can only pretend to make the strangeness go away via theories and ideologies from our end. 

The problem is, there is nothing else in creation to which man can be compared without losing something vital in the comparison. True, we are like lower primates, but there is nevertheless a (literally) infinite gap between us and them. 

The continuity is easy enough to explain. But whither the ontological discontinuity? That's not supposed to happen in natural selection, but Here We Are. 

Let's think about our undeniable animality. Where is the "line" between it an our human personhood? Somehow, "in the course of biological evolution some sub-human creature received from the Creator that spiritual soul which made him the first man," and boom,

The whole range of animal life was caught up into a higher mode of life proper to a spiritual and rational being, yet without any destruction in the process.

In other words, there was no need to eradicate the ape in order to make room for the man, rather, humanness is more like "the taking of apehood into spirit" which rhymes (ontologically) with Christ's "taking up of manhood into God" alluded to above. 

In short, the latter is analogous to "the formation of the first man," whereby man is "lifted up," so to speak "into the human order" of "a being that already existed on the animal plane." In terms of cosmic evolution, man is to ape as Christ is to man?

Once upon a time -- in the book -- I described hominization it as no less than another Big Bang, only

into a subjective space that was somehow awaiting the primate brains that had to learn to navigate, colonize, and eventually master it. 

Just as the first singularity was an explosion into (and simultaneously creation of) material space-time, and the second singularity a discontinuous "big bang" into the morphic space of biological possibility, this third singularity was an implosion into a trans-dimensional subjective space refracted through the unlikely lens of a primate brain.   

I still say that's what happened, nor can it ever be explained via any "bottom up" metaphysic, rather, only from the top-down.

What I did not say in the book is that the Incarnation and man's subsequent "Christification" are the fourth Big Bang, which is to say, after the first three into matter, life, and mind.

Back to the third big bang, natural selection -- which governs the second bang -- 

did not, and could not have, "programmed" us to know reality, only to survive in a narrow reality tunnel constructed within the dialectical space between the world of phenomena and our evolved senses.

But suddenly, about 40,000 years ago, mind crossed a boundary into a realm wholly its own, a multidimensional landscape unmappable by [material or biological] science and unexplainable by natural selection. 

The point is, hominization is a "break with nature caused by the unexpected dawning of self-consciousness that vaulted Homo sapiens into this subjective world space."

All we're saying is that, considering this overall scheme, the Incarnation is the Fourth Bang. The last and biggest Bang of all. 

Like I said, I'll clean it up tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Make the Cosmos Great Again

Picking right up where we left off,  the rise of secularism has resulted in the transition "from living in a cosmos to being included in a universe," the former an enchanted hierarchy teeming with life and intelligence, the latter a skeletal and bloodless math lesson given by infertile eggheads. 

For our purposes, the Cosmos is an open system, the Universe a closed one. These are the only two options, so think before you choose. 

One of the most consequential differences between the two is that any form of ultimate meaning is strictly impossible in the the case of the purely immanent and closed Universe. 

In the enchanted world, meaning exists outside of us, is ours to receive. In the disenchanted world, the self is buffered; suddenly we feel ourselves to be "master of the meanings of things," we give our "autonomous order to life."

Ironically, the inhabitant of the enchanted world is more in touch with the Real than is the unhappitant of the disenchanted -- that is, supposing this is an open Cosmos.  

So many aphorisms go to this binary choice that we could get seriously bogged down in the pleasure of contemplating them, so I'll bottomline it with a single ironyclad zinger: 

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

But to even say "appearance" is to say "reality," or to hell with it. And the first man who looked around in astoneagement and cried WTF! -- which is to say, the first man -- knew this distinction. It is secular man who has forgotten it, whereas we remumble it every morning -- 5,508,849 words so far, but who's counting?

Of course, we don't intend to idealize our furbears, but Schuon has a choice passage on what It was like for them:

The whole existence of the peoples of antiquity, and of traditional peoples in general, is dominated by two key-ideas, the idea of Center and the idea of Origin.

The "space" of the Center "is the place where Heaven has touched the earth," whereas the Origin "is the quasi-timeless moment when Heaven was near and terrestrial things were still half-celestial." For example, in Genesis, Eden is this place. We'll have much more to say about this later on down.

In my view we can turn the whole meaning thing downside-up and outside-in, and construct the following syllogism: 

If there is no meaning, then there is no God.

But there is meaning.

Therefore God.  

Simple as, but we need to put some flesh on those bones, but how? I know -- Let Us incarnate as one of these fleshlings! Here again, I'll explain later. Right now I just want to finish the last chapter in this book on Theological Anthropology. 

Hmm. To be expelled from Eden is in a way to be alienated from the Center and to be more or less distant from the Origin. More generally, Revelation conveys a -- the -- Metaphysic. You're free to reject it, but

The result has been that, from the mid-twentieth century onwards, each individual has felt a compulsion to "discover their own fulfillment."

As if to say, invent our own Center and Origin. 

the effect of this compulsion is is a radical fragmentation of meaning, or hyperpluralism.... "We are now living in a spiritual super-nova, a kind of galloping pluralism on the spiritual plane."

I like that image of a super-nova, which is a star that implodes on itself and scatters the fragments farandwide -- far from Origin and Wide of the Center.

So many banged up and thunder-sundered images of the One, a vidy long descent indeed to the farthest reaches of sorrow and ignorance!

Yes, Petey, that's about the sighs of it, a

mutual fragilization, this being when "the many forms of belief and unbelief jostle," and one's increasingly idiosyncratic beliefs are implicitly challenged and potentially re-shaped or strengthened by the contest with others.

A war of each against all in the struggle for Meaning. But here again, it is a meaning enclosed in subjectivity and particularity, thus an intracosmic bogosity on stilts, everyone residing in his own private Idaho.

Make the Cosmos Great Again!

We'll try.

Better yet, we give up, because the whole effort to to do this is a more or less elaborate soph-deception. Obviously. For if every man is his own center, there is no Celestial Central, only the terrestrial periphery.

Instead, we must stop fleeing the Center, commit metanoia, and peacefully turn ourselves into the authorities -- the Author-ities of our being. For if we do not "share an overall vision of the real," then "the only alternative" is "a growing subjectivism" mired in incoherence and mutual incomprehension. Postmodernity, good and hard.

We're talking about nothing less than an "all-embracing tradition of wisdom fed by the Divine Logos," and why not? 

"Things have their intelligibility, their inner clarity and lucidity, and the power to reveal themselves because God has creatively thought them." 

As such, "our thinking is just a re-thinking; it is literally re-cognizing. Thus, it may be said that thinking can only be the act of a receptive creature" (emphasis mine). Or again -- you guessed it -- to hell with it.

Hell is the place where man finds all his projects realized.

This goes to the same binary stance alluded to in the second paragraph above, for "when the intellect is the norm and measure of things, then truth [which is no Truth at all] consists in the equation of things to the intellect" -- i.e., your truth and my truth, but no Truth as such, AKA the absurcular road to and from Kantville. 

Such an impoverished and ultimately tautologous creature "prefers itself in the role of creator who thinks things into being."

Conversely, the "good life" is 

"lived in contemplative assent to the world" which we have received.... such a view is at odds with living as "master of the meanings of things."

"In contrast, the secular mindset seeks satisfaction in fragments," which reminds us of an aphorism:

Philosophy ultimately fails because one has to speak of the whole in terms of its parts. 

Unless there's some kind of cosmic workaround, whereby, say, the Whole becomes one of the parts; or better yet, the part is somehow "taken up" into the Whole. Which provides a good diving board for the next post, so we'll end with this:

To be a creature means to be continually receiving being and essence from the divine Source and Creator, and in this respect, therefore, never to be finally completed. 

Still a lotta ins & outs, but for now we'll just relux and call it a deity, and fill in the threetales tomorrow.

Monday, February 05, 2024

A Riverruns Through Us

On second thought, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to return to the enchanted worldview of that old time religion, in which faith is taken for granted and everyone unquestioningly believes the same doctrine. I can't help thinking that such metaphysical uniformity would be a little tedious. 

Living in our debased culture has its annoyances, but then again, at least it's possible to be counter-cultural. Moreover, it's fun to try to integrate all the things that secularists are convinced render God and religion utterly moot. What's the word, Jeeves?

Frisson, sir?

That's the one -- I like the frisson of taking this and taking that, and then combining the ingredients into a new recipe.

Happily, the world is inexplicable. (What kind of world would it be if it could be explained by man?) 

A boring one. No frisson for you! 

Along these lines, the essay we're discussing (on Josef Pieper's anthropology) touches on Charles Taylor's diagnosis of secularism, whereby he claims that it is not just a matter of "less religion," but -- in my words -- the replacement of one metaphysic with another. 

Taylor calls this implicit worldview the "social imaginary," and -- to put it mildly -- our secular social imaginary is no less imaginary than the religious. Which in turn accounts for the unhinged and obnoxious fervor of our progressive neo-Puritans.

The social imaginary is 

the way in which "ordinary people 'imagine' their social surroundings." In the classical world the social imaginary was such that atheism seemed an impossibility. In the twenty-first century it strikes many people as inescapable.

Thus the frisson that results from escaping it. I'm guessing it feels similar to what Renaissance or Enlightenment thinkers must have felt in escaping the religious social imaginary. However, it is anachronistic to characterize these thinkers as secular in the modern sense. 

Rather, most of them remained thoroughly religious but merely wanted to "expand" and supplement the religious social imaginary with discoveries from the new science. Few of the important thinkers were as credulous as our contemporary bonehead atheists.  

"Taylor defines this secular mindset as being primarily shaped by the gradual distancing of God," with the result being that "we can [now] rationalise the world and expel the mystery from it."

As if! 

Supposing the Mystery is still here -- and cannot not be here -- where does it go? Into what is it projected and/or tamed? Besides neo-gnostic political ideology?

Off the top of my head I can think of several, for example, over the horizon of the "scientific unknown," so to speak (AKA the scientistic godlessness of the gaps). It is also projected into the future, thus the plague of futurists babbling about some great singularity over the temporal horizon. Speaking as a recovering psychologist, it is also projected into the "unconscious," which serves as a kind of placeholder for everything mysterious, uncanny, and etherworldly. 

In any event, one thing of which we can be sure -- maybe the only thing -- is O. Being that it is infinite and we are finite, there is actually a kind of non-stop frisson between us and it. This is indeed Voegelin's biggest of Big Ideas -- that man qua man is situated in the space between immanence and transcendence. We can pretend to escape it in either direction, but the result will be either a private or social imaginary.

There is an important sense in which we cannot escape the social imaginary since we cannot escape our imagination. I've mentioned on Many Occasions that for me, a proper function of religion is to provide a kind of map of the unimaginable and inexpressible transcendent so to speak. Let Schuon explain:

We are here at the limit of the expressible; it is the fault of no one if within every enunciation of this kind there remain unanswerable questions.... [I]t is all too evident that wisdom cannot start from the intention of expressing the ineffable; but it intends to furnish points of reference which permit us to open ourselves to the ineffable to the extent possible, and according to what is foreseen by the Will of God (emphasis mine).

Which tracks with some of our favorite Aphorisms, for example, that religion essentially maps a new dimension of the universe. The religious man lives among realities that the secular man ignores. And

He who speaks of the farthest regions of the soul soon needs a theological vocabulary. 

Alternatively, one can simply deny the existence of the soul. Problem solved. But 

When the authentic mystery is eclipsed, humanity becomes drunk on imbecilic mysteries.

A soulless social imaginary for secular simpletons. Thus

The simplistic ideas in which the unbeliever ends up believing are his punishment.


The universe is a useless dictionary for someone who does not provide the proper syntax.

We could write a whole post on that one alone, for one can know all the words in existence, but if one fails to string them together with the proper syntax, one cannot express the meaning. And even then, semantics can never be reduced to syntax, rather, we use syntax to express a meaning that transcends the words. Otherwise, to hell with it.

This is all just a way of saying that semantics transcends syntax, and at every level of being:

The meanings are the reality; their material vehicles are the appearance.

For example, as someone once said, DNA is not the secret of Life, rather, Life is the secret of DNA. Or

Truth is in history, but history is not the truth. 


It is not true that things have value because life matters. On the contrary, life matters because things have value.

I.e., a transcendent meaning and value that are a prolongation of eternity into time. Any objective meaning or truth we discover is a function of this vertical dynamic between immanence and transcendence. 

Back to our essay. As Taylor writes, with the rise of secularization "we might say that we moved from living in a cosmos to being included in a universe" -- in other words, enclosed in immanence. Which is again a totally imaginary construct -- as if the Cosmos could be self-sufficient, i.e., the cause of itself. In your dreams!

Did someone say dream?

A riverruns through us. 

Thaaaat's right, Petey, a vertical riverruning right through Eve and Adam's, a commodius vicus of recirculation, or something. 

"Riverrun" is not a beginning, but a continuation -- a continuation among other things of the ecstatic, swiftly slipping and abruptly interrupted sentence..., [whereby] the last word flows into the first, Omega merges into Alpha, and the rosary of history begins all over again (Campbell & Robinson).

That's a good place to end and beginagain. Tomorrow.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

How to Tell Your Friends from the Barbarians

One of our fundamental ideas is that man is an open system, not just horizontally but vertically. No one else to my knowledge puts it in exactly those blunt terms, but whenever I encounter a thinker who says something similar, the sparks fly in the manner described by the Aphorist:

Collision with an intelligent book makes us see a thousand stars.

As happened while reading the final chapter of Theological Anthropology, which is about Josef Pieper's own metacosmic anthropology.

What exactly is an intelligent book and a brilliant writer? It's an important question, and the answer comes down to the exigencies of Dunning-Kruger. For what we get out of a book depends upon what we bring to it, which again implies a kind of dynamic open system between text and reader.

Thus, most so-called intellectuals have no right to pass judgment on books that they can't even penetrate, much less understand. Instead, they elevate what they are capable of understanding to that which can be understood, which essentially seals them in their own ignorance and tenure. 

Believing that he says what he wants to, the writer only says what he can.

When conversing with such a flat and narrow-souled individual I don't always say what I'm thinking, which is You only believe that nonsense because that is what you are capable of believing

This limitation is as obvious in children as it is in adults -- especially those intellectual vulgarians who have passed through the educational system only to internalize an intrinsically pathological ideology, which is both a cause and effect of the deformation of the soul. 

The modern aberration consists in believing that the only thing that is real is what the vulgar soul can perceive. 


Nothing seems easier to understand than what we have not understood. 

For example, back when I was an atheist, I totally understood Christianity. Indeed, what could be easier?


Anthropology. Where would we be without it? It is the key to everything, for if you get it wrong, then everything else follows: as we know, even a small error at the foundation results in massive errors in the left. And any purely immanent philosophy starts with the negation of man as vertically open system: 

If man is the sole end of man, an inane reciprocity is born of that principle, like the mutual reflection of two empty mirrors.

Thus, man is either the reflection of something transcending him, or he is the inane reflection of something less, ultimately reducing to himself. Supposing one is trapped in this closed system, then

Man is the animal that imagines itself to be Man.

Quite literally, as in, say, a metaphysical Darwinism which encloses man in his "selfish genes," as one tenured ape puts it. We could say a lot more about this, but you get the point, even if they never will, and are darn proud of it. 

For it is beyond self-evident that man comprehends natural selection, not the other way around. Not to say that evolution tells us nothing about ourselves. 

To the contrary, it tells us a great deal, but it is necessarily silent about the nature of the being who transcends his genes and whose mind is free to conform to the truth of reality. Of course they have their theories of how we have transcended natural selection, which all fall under the heading of Performative Contradictions.  

Man is not educated through knowledge of things but through knowledge of man.

Which is why knowledge of every possible material thing doesn't add up to knowledge of the immaterial knower who knows those things. But

Man speaks of the relativity of truth because he calls his innumerable errors truths. 

We often wonder or chuckle at the differences between left and right, but what is the source, the deep structure of these differences -- the principle in light of which all the surface differences are revealed? 

It essentially turns on the question of whether man is open to transcendence or enclosed in immanence. In the case of the former, we are conformed to an objective intellectual and moral order. Which is why the latter never stop yelling fire! in the low-rent theater of their dreams. 

That was an unexpectedly long prologue. Let's get to the essay. 

Pieper's attention was riveted first on the real and then on making the truth of reality transparent through language. 

Same. "He developed three fundamental anthropological insights which form a unifying vision of the human person," one of which is "the receptivity inherent in our status as created beings." This receptivity is what we call vertical openness, symbolically represented by the pneumaticon (o). 

In our crudely secular world, people have become closed to transcendence; in contrast, "Our forbears were open, or porous, to the supernatural," perhaps even too open -- or not sufficiently open to the horizontal world mapped by science. 

Which goes to the necessary complementarity between vertical and horizontal, for any truth from either domain is ultimately reconciled in O -- or in other words, testifies to God. For if we are the truth-bearing creature, no immanent metaphysic can account for this Great Mystery. And Big Responsibility.  

Or, one can attempt to enclose the Mystery in our own ideas and categories, but "meaning exists outside of us, it is ours to receive." In other words, to the extent that we invent meaning, this is not meaning, rather, an existential dream or a Kantian prison, AKA intracosmic and infrahuman ønanism. 

"Once the human subject became solely responsible for the constitution of meaning and value," then "each individual eventually felt free to advance a cultural synthesis of [his] own, ransacking the tradition for spare parts."

Good times. I think we'll stop here and resume the discussion tomorrow.

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