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Sunday, September 7, 2014

That Paradox is the Essence of Sanity

Wholeness, as Friedrich von Schlegel knew, could only be found by embracing our opposites.  We are not created whole; man was made for woman.  Man is not made in the image of God; the family is.  

Yet wholeness is found not in becoming our opposites as Schlegel seemed to think, but by uniting oneself to our opposites while the two remain completely distinct, in image of the soul’s union with God.  Because wholeness is imaging God, and imaging God is the essence of religion, and embracing our opposites leads to wholeness, and philosophy (which is male) and poetry (female) are the opposites, it is completely true to say with Schlegel that Religion = Philosophy + Poetry.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

God as Transcendental Given

Why do we wonder how it can be that consciousness exists?  Why do we try to explain the phenomenon, break it up into its component parts, comprehend the act of consciousness?  

So far from being a mystery, consciousness is the most obvious phenomenon of nature - a phenomenon prior to, and more obvious than, any explanation we could give of it.  Descartes hit upon a deep insight when he put consciousness as the most fundamental datum of phenomenology, although the later phenomenologists were equally correct to insist on the primordiality (we might say co-primordiality) of the contents of consciousness.  

In light of this, the perspective of the objective scientific worldview can be a distraction from the ordinary, usual human way of looking at the world.  It is not marvelous that we should be conscious, but rather that there should exist a material being which is not conscious.  It is only through accustomization that we accept the material world; the only self-evident truths are the spiritual truths.  

Indeed, as Descartes tried rather unconvincingly to prove rigorously, the only self-evident truth is that something should exist which is both a knowing (conscious) being and a necessary one.  I AM is the foundation of all our knowledge; it is only our immersion in the sensible world that has made it mysterious to us.  I repeat, it is natural to think and unnatural to be an object; it is the rock that needs explaining, not the mind.  What is only mysterious about the mind is its contingency.  How is it possible for me not to exist?  How can one imagine what it would be like to not exist, the experience of the world without existing to experience it?  And who can imagine the world apart from our experience of it?  Necessity is the only truly natural state for consciousness.  

All genuine philosophy begins in persona Dei; it is quite wondrous that we have realized our own non-divinity.  I AM is a transcendental given; it lies coprimordially with the contents of consciousness in every thought and every act of the mind, no matter how creative or abstract.  That our minds can even imagine a reality which does not experience the "I AM" - inert matter - is hence the real mystery to be solved.  If one were to speculate on the nature of the angels, one must think that they, in all their intellectual vision, cannot understand matter – or if they can, that to them it seems an unnatural and arbitrary thing compared to the awesome obviousness of Mind.  

I do not suggest that we should understand mind; to understand anything fully is to be able to reproduce it; therefore only God can understand Mind, for only God can create contingent intellects, and only God is His own understanding of Himself (again, philosophy – as all true philosophy does – leads to the Trinity).  We know that the created world exists because we see it; only God’s existence is too obvious to need sight.  

God is a fundamental, simple primary a priori truth; that is to say, it is the a basic thing we know without having to think about it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Transcendental Thomism, Orthodox Apocalyptic Theology, and the Eucharist

In his semi-recent blog post "The American Apocalypse," Fr. Stephen Freeman references the eminent Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann in pointing to a basic difference in perspective between the Orthodox and Latin approaches to the sacraments.  The sacraments, Fr. Schmemann said, do not make things to be what they are not; rather, the sacraments reveal things to be what they truly are.

This character of the sacraments is true of the Christian faith in general - that it reveals the truth of things - and is rooted in the fundamentally apocalyptic character of the Christian faith.  Apocalypsis, or the revelation of a reality that once was hidden and now is know, is the core of the Christian faith; it is a necessary condition of theosis, since by the Incarnation Christ revealed the hidden Father, thereby making Him known to us and making us sons of God.  The "apocalypse" is the uncreated energy of God resulting from the Incarnation.  Just as the revelation of the Father through Christ is "energetic", so the descent of the Holy Spirit into the Eucharist is "energetic".  What apocalypse is not, despite the common American Protestant view, is a sensationalistic warning of future things to come into being.  It is rather a revealing, manifesting, and unfolding of the truth that is given to us now.  As Fr. Stephen writes, "the apocalypse is now."

The purpose of this essay is to explore how the theologian should respond when this apocalyptic view of the faith as applied to the sacraments meets the Latin theological structure of hylomorphic sacramentology, declared dogmatic in the Western Church as a way to combat the Protestant errors regarding the sacraments.  In hylomorphic theology, the sacraments are not revelations of a reality already present, but a real and substantial change in the matter under question.  The soul really is given an "indelible mark" that was not present before; the bread and wine really stop being bread and wine and become something they had not been, the Body and Blood of Christ.

The two points of view really do need to be harmonized.  There is little danger in the Orthodox world of falling into a Protestant view of the sacraments, but when Orthodoxy is preached in the Western world to an audience imbued with Western categories of thought, the clarity of simplicity of Latin hylomorphism is useful for telling us, plain and simply, that God is present and should be worshiped, that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ, that baptism really does sanctify a soul and is not simply a social rite of passage.  On the other hand, a return to the Orthodox vision of the cosmos as sacramental, liturgical, apocalyptic, theophanic or hierophanic, and iconographical in nature is absolutely necessary to save the West from the mechanistic and quasi-magical view of the sacraments that comes from the "two-story universe", which comes from a degraded late scholasticism that replaces authentically sacramental Christianity with a particular strain of "moral therapeutic deism" (or "theistic personalism"), and which is unable to hold water in the face of the atheistic critique.

Furthermore, for the Byzantine Church to be affirmed as equally Orthodox and equally Catholic as the Latin, the Byzantine theology must be accepted.  The Church's liturgy follows its theology.  Fr. Stephen quotes the Byzantine Liturgy of St. Basil with words similar to the Eucharistic formula of Cranmer - regarded at the time as suspect by Rome - "We implore You and call upon You, O Holy of Holies, that by the favor of Your goodness Your Holy Spirit may come upon us and upon the gifts now offered, to bless, to hallow, and to show… this bread + to be the precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ…"

The truth of the matter is that the sacramental action happens in eternity, and is made manifest in time.  The sacrament - whether it be the sacrament of the Divine Liturgy, or any other sacrament - is not a "repeat" of the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary, but is a mystical participation and making present of it.  The bread and wine do not become something they are not on Sunday morning at 10 p.m.  The bread and wine were divinized with the whole cosmos, made into the Body and Blood of Christ through His becoming flesh, at the Incarnation.  Christ did not assume the nature of one man.  He assumed human nature - that human nature in which all men partake - and which includes the nature of the less specific genera in which it partakes.  By God becoming flesh, all flesh partakes in divinity, and that divinization of the cosmos through man in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is revealed to us, made manifest to us, in the apocalyptic action of the Eucharist.

If the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Christ from all eternity, then what was it before the Eucharistic anaphora?  Clearly the prosphora/host is not treated as being God before it is consecrated - it is not worshiped or consumed - and yet the East does recognize its holiness and sanctity before consecration; the saintly Melkite archbishop of Galilee, Sayyedna Joseph Raya, was known to prostrate himself on the floor during the Great Entrance and insist that the unconsecrated prosphora be carried over his prostrate body.  The Eucharist may be the Body and Blood from all eternity, but we have not partaken in that mystery yet; it is hidden and has not yet been revealed to us until we enter into the eternal action of the Liturgy.

If the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Christ from all eternity, then how can the Latins say that the "substance" of bread becomes the "substance" of Christ?  The solution to this problem is quite easy, once we adopt the philosophical insights of German idealism.  Idealism and transcendental phenomenology were well known to have influenced 19th-century Roman Catholic and, even more prominently, Russian Orthodox theology, but curiously there are few overt traces of it in Schmemann.  The "substance" of the bread depends on what has been made manifest to us.  In other words, Aristotelian categories must be thought of as phenomenological categories, not metaphysical constituents of reality.  The cosmos really has been assumed into the light of Glory at the Incarnation; at the Liturgy we enter into that Mystery, the being and ultimate end of the Eucharistic elements are revealed to be nothing other than God Himself, transfinalized, transsignified, and transusbtantiated into God for our theosis.  This change in "substance" cannot be separated from our sanctification, since the nature of the bread and wine as it exists apart from our salvation - its "accidents", its chemical and physical properties - remain unchanged.  What remains changed is the final end it has for us (its transfinalization, in Rahner's term) and what it truly signifies for us (its transsignification, in Schillebeeckx's term - recalling that a sacrament makes really and substantially present that which it signifies).  Only God can bridge the infinite gap between creature and Creator, so to really understand what it means to efficaciously and substantially intend and signify God as the final end is to understand that the substance of the bread - that which enacts and signifies its end - is truly shown to be God.  Before the Liturgy, when the Mystery was still hidden, its final end for us was still that of bread and wine, God had not yet energetically shone through the elements of bread and wine to become really present for us, and consequently, it is correctly said that the "substance" of the Eucharistic elements were not God, but rather bread and wine.

In this way, by recognizing the phenomenological nature of Aristotelian categories, the transcendental Aristotelianism of Rahner and Schillebeeckx can be used to reconcile Latin hylomorphism to the Orthodox theology of the Eucharistic presence.

Friday, August 1, 2014

ADS, e/e, and Heidegger's Critique of the Occluding of Being

One of the apparently insurmountable contradictions between Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology is the dispute over St. Thomas Aquinas' teaching of absolute divine simplicity, which appears to contradict St. Gregory Palamas' teaching of the real distinction between God's Essence and His uncreated Energies.  To summarize the conflict, absolute divine simplicity (ADS) recognizes that God is infinite, and as such, cannot have His being partitioned into parts.  To be able to divide God into parts is to turn Him into some finite entity.  The reasoning (Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1 chapter 18) takes two approaches; the first is that metaphysical composition implies act and potency where potency implies imperfection (i.e. God was not composed or cobbled together out of prior existing parts which He could later dissolve into - that leaves us uneasy as we think of God as the primordial reality), and the second acknowledges that any part taken by itself is imperfect compared to the whole, which would require imperfection in God's goodness, love, and all the other "parts" of God.

The essence/energies (e/e) distinction, by contrast, attempts to preserve the full force of the paradox of divine communion, that we know the unknowable God.  To do so, God as He is in Himself apart from participation by creatures (God's Essence) is held as absolutely ineffable, apophatic, and unknowable - to know God by "essence" would be to be God by nature.  And yet God is still known and participated in.  The capacity of an essence or hypostasis to be known or participated in is called an "energy" in Greek (following the definition of Christos Yannaras), so the participation of God is called knowledge of God's Energies.  These Energies are eternal and uncreated; Orthodox theology has no analogue to the Scholastic concept of created grace, and the Energy of God is identified with the Uncreated Light of Mount Tabor during Christ's Transfiguration.

These two positions are widely held as incompatible in ecumenical discussions between Roman Catholics and Orthodox.  The thesis here is that they need not be, if viewed in light of the work of Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger was known for his strong critique of Western philosophy and scholasticism - including that of St. Thomas Aquinas, for whom he makes no exception and whom we follow in not making any exception (following the argument of John Caputo in his extensive study of the question, Heidegger and Aquinas:  An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics) - for the "occluding of Being", for losing sight of the self-disclosure of Being in favor of beings, of losing the ontological by restricting thought to the ontic, substituting ontology for meontology, and for replacing the fundamental question of existence with metaphysical composition masquerading as an ultimate explanation.  Heidegger believed that Aquinas' philosophy contributed to the decline of Being in the West and advocated returning to the pristine purity of pre-Socratic thought.  Following Caputo, we can take the critique seriously and acknowledge its application to Thomism, but nonetheless see Aquinas' thought as being capable of being salvaged using its own principles.

It is easy to see how Heidegger's critique of Scholasticism shows a roadmap for overcoming the impasse between e/e and ADS.  Thomas' basic insight in the SCG I:8 is the same as Heidegger's - God transcends metaphysical composition, and categories like act/potency (the scope of whose applicability to the created world can be "bracketed" here) cannot apply to the realm of the ontological, but are purely ontic.

In order for the Uncreated Energies to be truly uncreated, truly divine, they must also transcend metaphysical composition and belong to the realm of the ontological.  As such, they are not a metaphysical composition dividing a "thing" into parts.  They are of course existential, not ontic, categories, and therefore apophatic.  They do not describe a part "things" cobbled together from some prior existing parts.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Unpublished Correspondence with Stratford Caldecott - a Conversation on Jacob Boehme, Meister Eckhart, and Frithjof Schuon

A few days ago, the Catholic literary figure and theologian Stratford Caldecott passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.  Mr. Caldecott was an acquaintance and friend over many years since my adolescence, and in sadness over his passing I would like to share some memories of the friendship he offered me, and print some of the email correspondence we exchanged a couple years ago as it is, like the correspondence of so many other great literary figures, a publishable art form in its own right.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Caldecott, he is known to me primarily as the G. K. Chesterton Research Fellow at Oxford, and curator of Chesterton's manuscripts (and inheritor of many of his personal belongings).  Mr. Caldecott, called "Strat" in the rest of the blogosphere although I will continue to call him by the name I knew him in life, bore the no less eminent positions on on the editorial board of the international theological journal Communio, co-editor of the Magnificat devotional journal in the UK, editor of the cultural magazine Second Spring, and author of many books, including his magnum opus and theological masterpiece, The Radiance of Being:  Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity, which was published last winter.  Byzantine Christians may know him as the editor of Beyond the Prosaic:  Renewing the Liturgical Movement, which included a famous essay by the saintly and widely-venerated Archimandrite Serge of recent memory, and he himself held dear his writings on education - Beauty for Truth's Sake:  On the Re-Enchantment of Education and Beauty in the Word:  Rethinking the Foundations of Education.  I have not yet read his last book, Not as the World Gives:  The Way of Creative Justice.

I met Mr. Caldecott at the 2005 annual conference of the American Chesterton Society, held at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota (minutes from my childhood home).  Dale Ahlquist, president of ACS and a longtime friend of my family's, introduced him to me the evening before his presentation "Reeling but Erect:  How Not to Be a Heretic", which bore with it several alternative subtitles, including "The Transcendent Disunity of Religions", an allusion to Frithjof Schuon's influential book "On the Transcendent Unity of Religions".  (Unfortunately, Mr. Caldecott had already used that title in a conference a few years earlier.)

In complete frankness, Mr. Caldecott was one of the most interesting people I have ever had the joy of dining with.  Serving on the editorial board of the premier theological journal coming from Vatican II, the successor of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger, his own journey to the Catholic faith took a long route through an upbringing in the New Age movement, a dabbling in Sufi Islam, the practice of the Baha'i faith, and the study of meditation at the foot of a Tibetan master.

I met him at about the time I was beginning to become interested in the writings of the Swiss metaphysician Frithjof Schuon, leader of the "traditionalist" or "perennialist" interpretation of Sufism, and whose writings were introduced to me by the music of (also recently reposed) Orthodox composer Sir John Tavener.  Caldecott is, to my knowledge, the only published commentor on Schuon whose orthodoxy remains unimpugned and fidelity to the Catholic faith remains public and well-known, although there are other Catholic writers who have positioned themselves in some position vis-a-vis the traditionalist camp.  (Caldecott credits his own conversion to Catholicism to the influence of perennialist Robert Bolton, whose Catholic faith I only knew of through Caldecott's reference.  Kathleen Raine's interest in Jungian psychology has earned her the scorn of the purists.  Jean Hani has written a couple beautiful books published by Sophia Perennis et Universalis; Wolfgang Smith has become notorious for his preference for medieval cosmology; the late sedevacantist priest Rama Coomaraswamy [son of perennialism's godfather Ananda] was revered in Roman Catholic circles opposing Vatican II; Alphonse Levee OCSO was the author of "Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism", and more famously Jean Borella tried to systematically reconcile perennialism and Christianity, being criticized from the perennialist camp for turning farther towards orthodoxy late in life, and also damned as a heretic in a book written by an SSPX bishop.)

Caldecott was one of those rare souls who could take a figure like Schuon as his guide, be led to the fullness of truth with and through Schuon's influence, engage with Schuon on a deep, serious philosophical level from within the Thomist viewpoint, rise above the questionable academic problems with the perennialist viewpoint, and maintain an incredibly respected reputation within the Catholic theological world, rooting himself deep within Catholic culture with his strong ties to the Chestertonian community.

It was that ability to be truly perennialist and truly and fully Catholic at once, in one act, in the eyes of the whole world, that I admire and have looked up to in Mr. Caldecott, as it is that very synthesis I was seeking myself, being a faithful, orthodox Catholic (at the time, of the Roman rite), yet drawn to the wisdom and depth of Schuon's religious philosophy, seeking to grasp the truth of both.  I have always looked up to Mr. Caldecott as an intellectual role model, a pioneer in a path I sought to blaze and follow myself, in a small pantheon of personal heroes beside such other minds as Aidan Nichols OP, Francis X. Clooney SJ, John Chryssavgis, Catherine Pickstock, and a few other contemporary theologians whose thought and work have inspired and guided me.

At the time, I was a lad of 16 years of age - excited, enthusiastic, homeschooled, and not necessarily in possession of the best conference/classroom etiquette.  My participation in the ACS conference was enthusiastic and vocal, to phrase it mildly, asking multiple questions (not necessarily of a superficial nature, or easy to answer) after each lecture, and I'm afraid basking a little in the opportunity to show off my brains, having a precocious intellect and having been reminded of the fact frequently growing up.  After Mr. Caldecott's lecture the next day, my hand shot up first as soon as he had finished speaking, and Mr. Caldecott gave a nervous smile and said something to the effect of "Jimmy's asking a question; now I'm a bit nervous."

(My question to him was actually just following up on learning of his possession of Chesterton's manuscripts.  I asked if he had discovered any new books that were left unpublished.  A rather naive question, to be sure - Mr. Caldecott answered no, but he had discovered articles here and there that Chesterton had penned.)

In July 2012, seven years later at a more mature age, I realized that I had much to learn from a mind like Caldecott's, and little time to learn it, and that the only way to truly learn from him as I ought, I had to overcome my social shyness and write to him.  And so I did.  The letters that we exchanged involved my blog - I wrote to him asking for feedback and guidance - and they are certainly every bit as worth publishing as the letters of equally honorable literary figures of past times, including C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton.  I am confident that Caldecott will be remembered as a modern-day Inkling, with the same prestige as Lewis and Tolkien, and with that confidence, I am publishing our correspondence, just as Lewis and Tolkien's correspondence has been published.  The other authors on the receiving end of the letters (myself in this case) are always irrelevant, except in rare cases like letters from Lewis to Tolkien, or the letters from Lewis to St. Giovanni Calabria, but in order to maintain the flow of the conversation, I am printing both my own and Caldecott's.

When I introduced myself, I did not point out that I was the kid who had asked him a question after his talk.  I was embarrassed about my conduct at the conference.  So these letters, for all intensive purposes, represent the effort and care Caldecott took to talk to someone who was, for all he knew, a stranger, a story repeated over and over again in the memories shared by those who corresponded with him.  Caldecott always took the time to respond in depth to every letter he was sent, by email or handwritten, and his letters show a profound humility and deep reverence for truth.

My first email is dated July 17, 2012:
Dear Mr. Caldecott,

I have been following your blogs since you started them, and have wanted to correspond with you for some time, since I am interested in many of the same things you are and I could learn a lot from you.  (I am an orthodox Greek Catholic, I am finishing my masters in physics, and I have a strong preoccupation with the writings of G. K. Chesterton, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Frithjof Schuon among others.  Although I have no theological training [but following the advice of Chesterton, that won't stop me from thinking about theology!], I want to redeem or salvage the many beautiful insights Schuon has given us in a manner fully compatible with and implanted in the heart of the Orthodox/Catholic faith, but I am somewhat unsure where to start.)  Until now I have had nothing tangible to ask you.  Since you started this series of posts about Jacob Boehme (whom I have read and found completely incomprehensible), I want to ask you some pointed questions about him for further clarification and insight.

(1)  "According to Boehme, cosmogony recapitulates theogony.  That is, creation is preceded by, and echoes, the primordial "birth of God"...Through this third principle, which describes the operation of the Holy Spirit, the fulness or content of the divine nature streams out into the void and (having, one supposes, nowhere to go) is “reflected back” from it as though in a mirror. To this illuminated reflection Boehme gives the name Sophia, Wisdom. At first no more than a dream of the divine Imagination, when clothed by the desire of God in an eternal, imperishable body she becomes “Uncreated Heaven”, the Kingdom of Beauty or Body of God in which his Glory is forever manifested."  

Is Boehme talking only about what later theology will call the "immanent" Trinity, as this paragraph seesm to indicate, or also the "economic" Trinity?  In The Way of Christ, Boehme described Sophia as the bride of the soul engraced by Christ - the life of grace depicted as the wedding between the soul and Sophia.  "When Christ the cornerstone moves in the corrupted image of man in his deep conversion and repentance, the Virgin Sophia appears in the movement of Christ's spirit in the corrupted image in Her Virginal clothing before the soul."  (The Way to Christ, p. 60)

In Eastern theology the uncreated energies of God pertain both to the "immanent" and "economic" Trinities, since the Holy Spirit proceeds energetically from the Son (according to the definition of the "Palamite Councils", the 14th-century Council of Constantinople and Blachernae) and we are also divinized energetically by the Taboric Light of the Uncreated Energies.  Since I am only an amateur and you understand Boehme better than I do, (a) do you think it is correct to identify Boehme's Sophia with the Church's notion of the Energies?

I have a personal blog that nobody reads (not even my mother or my fiancee) in which I argued this at greater length in the following post: http://byzantinechesterton.blogspot.com/2012/05/sophia-in-russian-theology-as.html

I understand if you do not have the time to patronize me on this, but if you could please read it and give me your feedback as to whether I am thinking about Boehme correctly I would appreciate it.

(2)  Is Boehme's Sophia the same insight that Alfred North Whitehead had in Process in Realitywhere he talks about the "antecedent" and "consequent" natures of God, with the latter being related to the "created Sophia"?  (Unfortunately I had to return the copy of Whitehead's book to the library some time ago so I cannot quote exactly what the author said - but it seems that with Boehme's Sophia being related to the Divine Energies which created the world, this world explain in a better way than Whitehead did how God is reciprocally affected by the world.)

(3)  In the third paragraph of that same post ("Boehme and the Birth of God"), would it be correct to say that the "energies" that you speak of are understood in the same way that "energies" are in the Palamite tradition?

My apologies for the length of this post (I am long-winded), and thank you for your time and patience.  I would enjoy corresponding with you about this since I do not know anyone else who knows what they are talking about.

Sincerely in Christ and the Theotokos,

Jimmy Broberg


P.S.  You would probably not remember this, but I have actually met you before in person, at the annual conference of the American Chesterton Society back I think in 2002.  You gave a talk about Blake - I think you might have entitled it "The Transcendent Disunity of Religions" - and I made an embarrassment of myself by asking far too many questions.  I ate dinner at your table the night before you gave the talk.  I was homeschooled my entire childhood and was oblivious to the fact that I wasn't supposed to ask dozens of questions from every speaker (and having mild asperger's syndrome did not help me catch on).  [EDIT, 2014 - the talk was in 2005 and was entitled "Reeling but Erect:  How Not to Be a Heretic".  He gave a talk in 1999 by the title "The Transcendent Disunity of Religions" at a different conference, so on account of my mistake there, he would not have even remembered which conference I had met him at.]

Mr. Caldecott wrote me back the same day:

Thanks - good to meet you (again)!  Just to let you know I will reply. I am not feeling too well at present, but your letter is interesting, indeed fascinating. 

Just don't think of me as a Boehme expert by any means. I am struggling with him too. 

Later that day, he wrote a lengthy reply:



Dear Jimmy,

Your blog is great, and I will recommend it. Impressive piece on homosexuality. I will read more of your pieces when I have the time.  [EDIT, 2014:  Mr. Caldecott was referring to my essay, still in draft form as the core to a much longer and deeper essay I have been researching for several years now, here:  http://www.byzantinechesterton.blogspot.com/2012/05/mar-louis-massignon-and-redemption-of.html]

Re Boehme, I am no expert, and I would advise you look at Wolfgang Smith's "Christian Gnosis" book, since he is a (Catholic) perennialist and admirer of Boehme.

Off the top of my head, I don't think Boehme's description tallies too clearly with the dualism of  immanent/economic Trinity, or rather one could say this is too simple a duality for him, so that rather he could be said to describe a series of "stages" of the extroversion of the Trinity (in itself totally transcendent).

I am not much good on the Essence/Energies thing, because I am not Orthodox and am not convinced by the Palamite theology (I am more guided by Balthasar and Bouyer on that). But I know Schuon and co[mpany] endorsed it. To the extent I understand what I am talking about (which is hardly at all), I would think the Energies could be identified in some way with Sophia, although it is complicated, because he often talks of her in terms of the manifestation of the "essences" of God rather than the "energies". I will go on looking into this.

I don't really understand about the Unground. In one way it seems to be feminine, as if it were to be identified with Sophia. He sometimes speaks of God/Spirit and the Ungrund in terms of Will and Craving (which sounds rather brutish and puts many people off), or as Willing and Seeing (Mirror). It is as if he were peering into the Trinitarian relations and conceiving them afresh, rather than using conventional theological formulations. Thus (in Six Theosophic Points, First Point):

"15. And herein we understand the eternal Essence of the triad of the Deity, with the unfathomable wisdom. For the eternal will, which comprehends the eye or the mirror, wherein lies the eternal seeing as its wisdom, is Father. And that which is eternally grasped in wisdom, the grasp comprehending a basis or centre in itself, passing out of the ungroundedness into a ground, is Son or Heart; for it is the Word of life, or its essentiality, in which the will shines forth with lustre.
16. And the going within itself to the centre of the ground is Spirit; for it is the finder, who from eternity continually finds where there is nothing. It goes forth again from the centre of the ground, and seeks in the will. And thn the mirror of the eye, viz., the father's and Son's wisdom, becomes manifest; and wisdom stands accordingly before the Spirit of God, who in it manifests the unground. For its virtue, wherein the colours of the wonders shine forth, is revealed from the Father of the eternal will through the centre of his Heart or Ground by the forthgoing Spirit....
19. Thus the essence of the Deity is everywhere in the deep of the unground, like as a wheel or eye, where the beginning hath always the end; and there is no place found for it, for it is itself the place of all beings and the fulness of all things, and yet is apprehended and seen by nothing. For it is an eye in itself, as Ezekiel the prophet saw this in a figure at the introduction of the spirit of his will into God, when his spiritual figure was introduced into the wisdom of God by the Spirit of God; there he attained the vision, and in no other way can that be."
Does any of this help at all?

Maybe this will: http://www.berdyaev.com/berdiaev/berd_lib/1930_349.html

All for now.

Stratford Caldecott

On July 19, 2012, I replied:

Dear Mr. Caldecott, 

Yes, your response was quite helpful.  Thank you for writing me back.  I will check out Smith's book, although I've always been a bit suspicious of him because of his reputation for preferring traditional cosmology over real physics.  (I'm a bit biased due to having taken most of my college philosophy classes with Edward Macierowski, who studied with Henri Corbin at Seyyed Hossein Nasr's school in Tehran, and did not have a high opinion of Nasr's views on science which happen to be similar to Smith's - also, I grew up a seven-day creationist Protestant, and have a strong aversion to creationists now that I am a Catholic with a degree in physics.) 

Following up on your response on two points, (a) Do you think I would be correct in making a strict identification between Boehme's "Ungrund" and Eckhart's "Gottheit"?  If so, orthodox theology would require that both be identified (in traditional Trinitarian terms, which obviously Boehme is trying to avoid) with God the Father.  Eckhart's "Gottheit" would seem to me to be one valid application of Theodore de Regnon's oft-quoted over-simplification about Latin philosophy considering the nature in itself and proceeding to the person, viewing personality as a mode of nature, with Greek philosophy starting from the person and proceeding to the nature as its content.  An Orthodox such as myself would say that the Regnonian Latin way of thinking (in itself simply a different method) leads one to erroneous conclusions when exaggerated to claim that there is somehow some real separation between the primordial Unity and the Trinity, or a derivation of the latter from the former (an error Schuon certainly makes, and Eckhart arguably does, but which Boehme seems more careful about).  The Christian East is quite insistent on the primordiality of the Trinity, or I would say the co-primordiality of the Unity and the Trinity.  God the Father must be the Gottheit/Ungrund, not some manifestation of it or consequence of it.  The Essence of God (in Palamite terms) pertains to the Trinity; by placing the Trinity on the level of maya in divinis Schuon makes the Trinity purely energetic thereby falling into the heresy of modalism. 

(There is an illuminating exchange of letters between Robert Bolton and Charles Upton, printed in the journal Sacred Web here:  http://www.sacredweb.com/online_articles/sw17_bolton-upton.pdf in which Upton describes Ishvara or saguna Brahman as an emanation from nirguna Brahman.  It would certainly seem from a perennialist point of view that the Trinity must be identified with Ishvara for both its personal nature and its role as creator of the universe - but to say that the Trinity emanates from some "Gottheit" almost as if the Gottheit/Ungrund were a separate and higher (an)hypostasis would seem to be unavoidably heretical and modalist.  Gottheit/Ungrund/Nirguna Brahman/Nirvana/Nothingness-beyond-Being, whether as discussed by Paul Tillich or Frithjof Schuon or Eckhart or Boehme or T. J. J. Altizer, must from an orthodox Christian point of view be God the Father.  Christ has taught us to call Nothingness Abba, and I don't think the perennialist synthesis always fully grasps that paradox.) 

(b)  Further regarding the Essence/Energies distinction:  From Aurora, copying and pasting from part three of your blog:
"for the divine being consisteth in power, and not in body or flesh.The Father is the whole divine power, whence all creatures have proceeded, and hath been always, from eternity: He hath neither beginning nor end.The Son is in the Father, being the Father’s Heart or light, and the Father generateth the Son continually, from eternity to eternity; and the Son’s power and splendour shine back again in the whole Father, as the sun doth in the whole world.The Son is also another Person than the Father, but not externally, without or severed from the Father, nor is he any other God than the Father is; his power, splendour, and omnipotence, are no less than the whole Father.The Holy Ghost proceedeth from the Father and the Son, and is the third self-subsisting Person in the Deity.... he is nothing less or greater than the Father and the Son; his moving power is in the whole Father.”" 

Since Boehme claimed to have derived his teaching from the experience of God alone and not from the Schoolmen, it would seem incorrect to try to pin his use of the term "power" (energy) to either Aquinas or Palamas (and I would be highly surprised if he had access to Palamas), and he seems to be using the term in a little less technical way.  Saying that the whole divine being consists in power seems to be equivalent to Aquinas' "actus purus", but I still think that his "Sophia" is equivalent to Palamas' "energias".  Aquinas' actus and Palamas' energeias have different meanings, a fact which von Balthasar badly and horribly misunderstood.  (I do not pretend to be more intelligent than von Balthasar, but I was taught Palamas by an Athonite schemamonk - so I can feel confident in asserting that I understand it better than von Balthasar by virtue of learning it from a more direct authority.) 

In the East, "essence" refers to what-God-is-irrespective-of-what-God-does, God in Himself, found fully and completely in each person of the Trinity ("one in essence and undivided", as we sing during Liturgy in the hymn of Severus).  (Hence the East insists that God's essence is unknowable, for to know God's Essence would be to be God as a strict identity - but this is clearly not what the West means in speaking of the Beatific Vision, even in Angelus Silesius, and this was what von Balthasar got confused on.)  "Energy" means "the capacity of a nature or hypostasis to be known or participated in" (Christos Yannaras' words), or more generally "operations", and since we know God by participating in Him and by how He manifests Himself to us, we know Him "energetically".  The fact that we do know God energetically is precisely what makes real union with Him possible - and defending the possibility of real union with God is precisely the whole point of the entire hesychastic theology, as Hieromonk Stephen never stopped stressing.  (Von Balthasar's claim that it makes God unknowable is just wrong, plain and simple.)  The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son only because the Son participates in the working of the Father, therefore we insist that the Holy Spirit proceeds "energetically" and not "hypostatically" (this is why the filioque is so repugnant to us).   

In the West, God's "essentia" is the same as His "natura" which is manifest to us in his "operationes", so to say that God is "actus purus" as Aquinas and Boehme do does not mean that in Palamite terms God is pure Energy without Essence, and nor does imply the heresy of the Messalians who said that we could know God's essence perfectly and completely (treating "essence" simply as a statement of terms - one might "define" God by one or another attribute of His nature like Being Itself and then claim that they "know God's essence perfectly".  St. Clement of Alexandria had some pretty harsh words to say about one such early heretic, in the Stromateis Book 2ish.) 

In the immanent Trinity one cannot make a distinction between essence and energy, since the East holds to a triadology of communion (cf. Zizioulas etc.) and the West expresses the same theology by calling the Persons "subsistent relations".  Instead the distinction is between hypostasis and energy.  For example, following the defined teaching of the Council of Constantinople-Blachernae which is dogmatic for us (whether we are Eastern Catholic or Eastern Orthodox) we say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son "energetically" but not "hypostatically".  Boehme seems to be going beyond this by saying that the Son and Spirit are both energetically reflected in the Father, a very profound thought.  It is certainly true that in the economic Trinity the Son is begotten of the Spirit at the Annunciation, and if cosmogony recapitulates theogony - or if there is any partial truth in Rahner's dictum about the unity of the economic and immanent Trinities - then the reciprocal energetic manifestation of each Person in each other would be expected, as well as required by the full expression of perichoresis in the Trinity. 

I don't think Boehme would have had a clue as to what I'm talking about.  He was a cobbler who had never studied Byzantine theology.  But I do think that he did hit on an insight about perichoresis that naturally lends itself well to explanation in terms of essence/energies, and that, unless a disharmony arises somewhere else, that the synthesis between Boehme and Palamas I attempted in the article I sent you last time is illuminating.  You can judge for yourself and let me know.  But I would have to sell you on the essence/energies distinction. 

I should probably go to bed now.  I enjoy talking/writing too much, and could be up all night at it.  I will be busy the next week and may be slow in writing back again.  I have to defend my masters' thesis a week from Monday.  The paperwork submitted to the graduate school said that I have completed writing it.  I haven't started it yet - slight miscommunication between the secretary who handles the bureaucratic stuff and my advisor.  I'll start it when I get back in town on Sunday.  My best friend's getting married tomorrow, and since he's a physical chemist I imagine that the event will be a completely disorganized mess which I will probably be spending the weekend trying to put together or clean up the mess from. 

Yours in Christ, under the Pokrova, 

Jimmy 
XC NIKA 

Caldecott's reply came the same day:

Thanks, Jimmy. I believe you may have persuaded me that Balthasar misunderstood Palamas! In any case I will ponder the whole thing (to the extent my chemotherapy treatment allows). Most of it I find myself in agreement with. As to whether the Ungrund can be simply identified with the Father, yes and no. I see the problem, but I suspect there is a way of making a distinction that does not put the Essence "before" the Persons (or the Person of the Father as the Principle of the Trinity), and I feel it in Eckhart. I have tried to dance around this mystery a bit in my Communio piece on Eckhart, which I am incorporating into a forthcoming book (where the Boehme stuff will find a home also).
Get back to your duties, and I will to mine, but we will stay in touch as long as God permits.
Stratford  

On July 31, I replied,

Hi Mr. Caldecott, Your new series of posts about spiritual warfare is a good idea.  I would encourage you to actually publish it, in book form, not just on your blog.  Have you read Lorenzo Scupoli's Spiritual Combat ?  I haven't, regrettably, but despite being written by an Italian Roman Catholic it is a staple of Orthodox spiritual literature. Peter Kreeft has (rather boldly considering the attitude of most neo-conservatives in America towards Islam) adopted the term jihad as a virtue.  (He also spoke of the virtue of islam, which is bolder yet.)  Modern Islam may have emphasized the "lesser jihad" to the detriment of the "greater jihad".  But we as Christians should all be jihadis - we should all be Crusaders, both in the lesser and in the greater jihad.  For those of us (like me) inordinately interested in Islam, Kreeft's use of the terminology is a beautiful way to incorporate whatever is good and holy in Islam into its proper proportion within the greater context of Christianity. I hope you continue your series of posts on Boehme.  I was learning quite a bit from them. Yours truly, 
Jimmy 

He replied on August 24 by sending me a thesis he had found on Bulgakov, without any substantial commentary to share.

My last email was dated October 29, asking him to subscribe me to an online newsletter whose website simply directed subscribers to contact him, wishing him well as he had been feeling sick, and telling him that I had completed my masters and accepted a professorship.

I look forward to finishing the conversation in Heaven.  Stratford Caldecott, pray to God for us!  Eternal memory, and blessed repose!  Vecnaja pamjat, i blazhenny pokoj!

Forms and Energies in the Platonic Theology of Ficino

In his Platonic Theology, Book II chapter XVI, Marsilio Ficino says some interesting words about the forms of created things subsisting in God.

Every cause acts through some form and produces its effect which is in a way like its form; and therefore the form of the effect must be comprehended by the cause.  As God is the cause of all, necessarily the forms of all are in Him.  God is therefore in essence omniform.  Hence the Orphic saying:  "Jupiter, form of all."  In pure potency, which is matter, exist all the natural forms confusedly and potentially.  Similarly, in pure act, which is God, exist all the forms distinctly and actually.  But, really, are these forms differentiated in God as they would be in the way of nature, just as light, heat, dryness and lightness are in fire; and does He act through them prompted by some necessity of His nature?  Certainly not.

"Form" here does not imply a commonality of nature, since something is obviously capable of engendering or creating something else of unlike nature.  Rather it means the principle of something coming into being.  Perhaps this could be understood with less confusion if the Greek concept of "energy" were employed.  Every cause acts through its energy, an energy ordered to its effect.  God created the world with His infinite uncreated Energies, which exist in Him undifferentiated, distinctly, and actually.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is Post-Conciliar Theology "Modernist"?

One of the most abused pieces of terminology in the internal Roman Catholic debates over Vatican II is the word "modernism".  Originally referring to the Modernist school of theology and exegesis led by Alfred Loisy and George Tyrrell, it quickly became condemned by Rome as the "synthesis of all heresies", and as with so many other theological fads soon passed out of fashion in the wake of Vatican II, when it was supplanted by the turn back to the Fathers and the nouvelle theologie.  The terminological abuse lies in the denotation of this nouvelle theologie as "modernist" by those of a traditionalist persuasion, and by extension the application of the term "modernist" to all postconciliar, post-Tridentine, and post-scholastic Catholic theology and liturgics, and all the ecclesiastical condemnations pertaining thereto.

The extension of the term "Modernist" to the nouvelle theologie may seem obvious at first.  At Vatican II the Church reconciled itself with modernity, embraced modernity, and apparently embraced the anathematized proposition from the Syllabus of Errors that the Church can and must reconcile itself with modernity and progress.

The problem is that conciliar and postconciliar theology is not the successor of classical Modernism at all.  Arguably, only two true successors of classical Modernism persisted in influencing Catholic thought into the conciliar era, Teilhard de Chardin and Hans Kung, and both are, frankly, unique exceptions rather than leaders of their schools, and if we follow the line of argumentation proposed here, Kung would be only dubiously a Modernist at best.  Instead, the nouvelle theologie turned to a different inspiration - the theology of Protestant thinker Karl Barth.  Barth was a student of the leading figure of Protestant Liberalism, Adolf von Harnack, and he was a major influence on both Rahner and von Balthasar, whose students in turn became the "Concilium" and "Communio" movements in contemporary Catholic theology.

Liberalism and Modernism are often grouped together as simply the Protestant and Catholic equivalents of each other.  Such a categorization overlooks some radical differences in their philosophical underpinnings, however.  Modernism was essentially immanentistic in its philosophy, depending on the dynamic ontology of the likes of Maurice Blondel, Henri Bergson, with more remote affinities to Schopenhauer.  Protestant Liberalism bears direct descent from German Romanticism, with whom Friedrich Schleiermacher was affiliated.  Liberalism bears the inheritance of Schelling and Hegel; Modernism that of Schopenhauer.  Both owe their origin to Kant, but as any student of the history of philosophy knows, among Kant's heirs the division between the Hegelians and the partisans of Schopenhauer run deep.  To conflate the two schools is irresponsible and dishonest at best.