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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Existing in Relation - Trinitarian Thoughts from Gilson's Esprit de Philosophie Medievale

The purest form of phenomenal being, and therefore that which most closely approximates being qua being, is the rational - that which can be understood and not merely sensed; that which is most true (one of the transcendentals) and therefore closest to being (because being is also one of the transcendentals), and most true because least subject to illusion, misperception, or of course the mutability of qualia.  

One might even say, speaking strictly from a phenomenological or at least a Kantian view of being as the world presented to the mind, that the object of the intellect is being.  (Levinas and the whole critique of ontotheology throw a wrench into this; but one really must be an ontotheologian first in order to deconstruct ontotheology.  One cannot deconstruct what has not first been constructed, if only as a provisional yet still edifying approximation; this is a very basic principle in deconstruction emphasized over and over again by the likes of Derrida and Nancy.)

If God is identified as ipsum esse subsistens, as He must be within the framework of the classical theistic tradition (even if we situate this within a deeper grounding of Areopagitic meontology), then if the object of the intellect is being, the object of the intellect is God.  This is close to a fundamental insight that lay behind, and was harshly criticized by Rome in, the philosophy of immanentism and the theology of "Modernism" that grew out of it.  It was perhaps poorly phrased at the time, just as it is perhaps poorly phrased now, but no less worth pondering as a result.

One might plausibly wonder if this is a line of thought Aristotle was coming to when he thought of God (pure Being) as the pure act of thought thinking itself.  In this case "act" cannot mean the everyday use of the word to mean “to act on something else” (actus secundus or second actuality), for then it must exist first in order to act (as it must in the logical order of thought in everyday speech).  Bizarrely to our ears, actus primus or first actuality means the act of being itself, completely intrinsic to the acting being and completely identical with its existence.  The act/potency distinction (first actuality meaning "to be"; potency meaning "to be possible") remains one of the most jarring and strange concepts from the Thomistic tradition to my ears, though to the ancient and medieval world it came very naturally and congenially.  

A problem still remains that the concept of an "act" seems at a very fundamental level to be a relational concept, even if we accept the idea of the "act of being", the identity between being and actuality.  To act is to act on.  This is no problem for the world of creatures - all things come into being as a consequence of the actions of other beings, perdure through their existence in relation to other beings, and fall apart and turn into other beings through processes that involve other beings.  The Buddhist doctrine of "dependent origination" summarizes the fact quite neatly and concisely.  With due respect to the process theologians, whose faith in the face of a very easy atheist critique seems impressively unshakeable, God would not be God were He by His nature subject to the chain of dependent origination like all the other beings.  But if to act were to act on, God could not be act - and therefore not being.  (So far the negative theologians and deconstructionists are still nodding their head in agreement.)  God need not relate to things outside of Him as created things must  (by virtue mainly of causality, action, passion, space, and time) - though were God to create a universe there is nothing preventing such a Creator from relating to His creation either as something external to Him, or as something participating in His act of being.  Orthodox theology has always insisted on the gratuitous non-necessity of creation.  But orthodox theology has also insisted on calling God being, not in His relationship to us (his "energetic" mode of being, in Greek or Orthodox terms), but as He is in Himself (his ousia), His name.

And yet we cannot conceive of something existing without in some way having relation to something else, whether by being known, or knowing, or by location or by comparison, or by some other such standard.  Therefore, it follows that a part of existence means existing-in-relation, that implied in the term “to be” is how it relates to either itself or something else.

These meditations were written over a decade ago in high school - I neglected to find, polish and publish them until now - and I wrote them before encountering Metropolitan John Zizioulas' famous insistence on being-as-communion.  The general idea is similar, however, and the Trinitarian thrust evident in both places.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Saguna Brahman/Nirguna Brahman vs. Essence Energies: An Exchange in the comments bar

For reasons I'm not entirely sure the blog seems to be refusing to let me add comments to my own posts, or stay signed in as Seraphim, which is frustrating because somebody left a question I wanted to respond to on the post "Transcendental Idealism:  Brief Thoughts."  I am going instead to respond here.

My original post was indeed quite brief.  It read as follows:

Transcendental idealism in three sentences: I am I. I am not not-I. The non-I is given, and not derived from the self; the non-I is transcendentally constructed by and not known apart from the self.
Or in three words: identity, difference, act.

A poster named Christ wrote the following words last March, words which due to my family/work blogging absence I did not read until tonight:

Hi Seraphim,

I discovered your blog by way of the exchange that you had with the late Stratford Caldecott. It is oh so rare to find orthodox Christians who are genuinely familiar with the Traditionalist School of Guenon and Schuon.

I apologize for my presumption, but I hope that you'd be willing to give your opinion on a couple of things that have preoccupied me. I came (returned) to the faith of my childhood, Roman Catholicism, by way of the Perennialist point of view. Ever since then, I have immersed myself in the spiritual/intellectual tradition of the Roman Church, especially the Thomistic thinkers. I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to hear that I have found it difficult to reconcile the "transcendent unity of religions" with the central tenets of traditional Christianity. The "Perennialist-Christian project" seems to rest on the applicability of the doctrine of maya in Divinis, of the distinction between Nirguna and Saguna Brahman. Christian Perennialists seem to make the claim that same teaching can be found in their tradition by way of the Essence-Energy distinction. Do you think that these are, in fact, the same? And, how can a western Christian view this position who don't admit of the essence-energy distinction in the first place?

I would like to respond in the comments, and hopefully will when the bug is fixed.  In the meantime, here goes:

Hi Chris,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I apologize that I did not see your question until now.  I get notifications of comments on my email, which I have not checked in a very long time - a heavy work schedule and increasingly growing family life has set things like that, and my blog, on the back burner.  I'm about to quit teaching positions at two secular universities and move across the country to begin teaching at a small, orthodox Catholic liberal arts high school - named (appropriately enough for my background and interests, Chesterton Academy!) while finding that for the third time in the third year of our marriage we are once again pregnant.  A quick prayer or two on your part would be appreciated once you see this.

You raise a good point, and I think that the comparison made between the two distinctions (saguna vs. nirguna or "s/n" and essence vs energies or "e/e") is illuminating, that it increases our understanding of the problems, and often applicable, but that ultimately it doesn't work.  They're close, but not quite the same.

For one, the energetic mode of being God extends into the Trinity itself, and I don't believe that one can be an orthodox Christian and relegate the Trinity to saguna Brahman, as I suspect most "perennialist-Christians" or at least most Perennialists would do.  I also don't think that, despite the "Godhead" language he uses that appears to do this, Meister Eckhart actually intended to relegate the Trinity to a lower way of being God below the ineffable Godhead.  Meister Eckhart is of course the lens through which perennialism views Christianity - often in a manner which I believe is unbalanced and does not correctly reflect Eckhart's context within the Christian tradition.  Perhaps a better recovery of Eckhart and his context and setting would help make the reconciliation between perennialism and Christianity a little bit less difficult?

The divine "energies" *do* need to be applied to the Trinity for two reasons.  The first is that that is the Orthodox teaching concerning the procession of the Spirit - that the role of the Son in the Spirit's procession is energetic, not hypostatic.  Neither hardline Orthodox nor Roman Catholics will necessarily feel the need to make this distinction, but both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions on a magisterial level have shared that common understanding since the 14th century.

The second reason is that the Trinity is not only immanent but also economic - and therefore preeminently "energetic" in the latter case - and the two ways of being Trinity are nondual.  In Rahner's terms, "the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity, and the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity".

A second way in which the comparison breaks down is that in Hinduism, if I understand it correctly, Brahman actually refers not to God-as-He-exists-apart-from-any-consideration-of-our-existence, but rather quite directly and tangibly to the realization or experience of God; the word "Brahman" actually refers directly to the sacrificial Vedic prayers, and only by extension to the experience of God sought through those prayers.  (And of course, any other God-talk would be dismissed as misguided - atman is Brahman, which entails that ALL discussion of God is discussion of the experience of God.  Orthodox Christian theology must concur, acknowledging no avenue to God apart from the meeting-point between the human and divine natures in the Incarnation of Christ, and we remember Meister Eckhart's words about the threefold nativity of Christ in the eternal generation of the Logos in the cave of the Father, in the cave of Bethlehem, and in the cave of our heart - and these three are all one and the same.)

So saguna Brahman is the relationship of the devotee to his Lord, and nirguna Brahman is the nondual experience of God in the cloud of unknowing.  In either case, we experience God through His energies.  Theosis is energetic, which is simply another way of saying that we are God by grace and not by nature, that we are creatures who are becoming uncreated.  This is still true if we take the standpoint of other standard schools within Hinduism that view the same process in terms of shedding ignorance and realizing something which was always the reality to begin with - God is eternal and if we "become God" that does not mean that God has not always been God or that He experienced some change in time.

So I'd point out those two ways in which the s/n and e/e distinctions don't exactly map onto each other.  Nonetheless they're close to each other.  God as He is beyond manifestation and form (nirguna Brahman) is God as He exists beyond all knowing and reach (God's ineffable Essence).  God as manifested to us as Creator and Lord is God as known and loved and participated (God's uncreated Energies).

From a Latin Catholic POV, you'd want to talk about the analogy of Being and participation.  There simply is no e/e distinction because there is no adequate Latin translation of the word "energeia".  "Energeia" connotes the whole process of participated analogy of being which the mechanistic "operatio" misses.  And "Essentia" in Latin is the whole Being of God in which we participate, which I believe is a bit broader than the Greek "ousia" (the divine depths of God-in-Himself beyond all knowing and participation).

When viewing through an Eastern Christian view, one must be careful not to separate God into a knowable part and an unknowable part.  That destroys the paradox and mystery, which is that we know the unknowable God.  (The blog wars over the apparent contradiction between absolute divine simplicity ["ADS"] and e/e testify to this.  I plainly and simply believe the Thomists are right to affirm ADS.  I also do not believe that their development of the understanding of divine simplicity departs from that of Damascene, who very strongly affirms both divine simplicity and e/e together.)

When viewing from a Western Christian view, one must also be careful to maintain the paradox of knowing the unknowable God, rather than settling in for rationalizations which ultimately make God knowable, either in full (but only to Himself) or in part (as we know God through the Beatific Vision "partially" or "imperfectly").  God remains unknowable.  And we know the unknowable God.  And "knowledge" in this context is transformative, and transformation is deifying.  Duality is overcome - the creature becomes uncreated - and yet individuality and createdness somehow persist ["baqa" to the Sufis] through it all, even as the ego and everything which is strictly and precisely "I", isolated and distinguished from the Trinitarian communion of love in which alone we can find our identity, is extinguished.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Transcendental idealism: brief thoughts

Transcendental idealism in three sentences: I am I. I am not not-I. The non-I is given, and not derived from the self; the non-I is transcendentally constructed by and not known apart from the self.

Or in three words: identity, difference, act.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

On Divinity and Being - Thoughts from Gilson's Esprit de Philosophie Medievale

In The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, Etienne Gilson quotes Plato as saying that “the degree of divinity is proportionate to the degree of being; that, therefore, is most of all divine which most of all is being; now that which most of all is being is the universal Being of the All of being.”  

To modern ears, having forgotten the ontological and swimming in the ontic, this sounds strange (as, perhaps, does the Heideggerian terminology here).  God is in His heaven and we are on earth; divinity is "up there", and we are "down here", and only a madman would question that this lower level of our "two-story universe" is populated with beings, and therefore, with being.  It takes a quite radical readjustment of our entire way of thinking to understand what Plato could have meant to assert a unity between divinity and being.

The first thing that needs to go in our entire way of thinking is what a prominent Orthodox blogger, Fr. Stephen Freeman, has referred to as the "two-story universe" (along with its concomitant theological outlook which various prominent Catholic and Protestant bloggers have referred to as "moral therapeutic deism").  God and the universe are not two separate components or pieces to the totality of reality.  Rather, God IS the totality and fullness of reality, or as Plato phrased it, the "All of being".  And if the universe is populated with beings, it is because it shares in and participates in the radiance of that which is most properly Being - God.

The second thing that needs to go is the idea that divinity is a binary state.  Catholic and Orthodox Christianity scandalizes the modern world by its radical assertion of man's deification or theosis - that, in the words of St. Athanasios the Great, the Pope of Alexandria and champion of orthodoxy against Arius, "God became man so that man might become God."

The Byzantine theological tradition understands theosis in terms of participation.  Despite its protests to the contrary, Orthodoxy's conceptual framework was influenced heavily by Neoplatonism, although its spiritual foundation lies entirely and completely in the monastic experience of prayer and sanctification.  The Cappadocian Fathers developed the concept of God's "energies" or participatory action in the world, a theology which would become formalized by St. Gregory Palamas, the Archbishop of Thessaloniki in the late 14th century.  Palamas distinguished between the ineffable "Essence" of God - God as He is in Himself, by nature, apart from any participation - and the "Uncreated Energies" of God.  The contemporary Greek philosopher Christos Yannaras defined "energies" (rather controversially, among those who posit a stronger separation and reject absolute divine simplicity) as "the capacity of a hypostasis to be known and participated in", and as no creature except Jesus Christ is God by nature, it can be easily seen that the Essence/Energies distinction serves to present the mystery of man becoming God by grace.

Theosis is also a process, borne out of repentance and prayer.  As any process, it is attained in degrees, passed through stages, and blossomed in a growth characteristic of any form of life, of which spiritual life is really the analogue to which all other life should be compared.

And so divinity, as participated in, is a matter of degree.

Divinity can be found in its fullness, even when participated in.  This can be illustrated by reference to the famous filioque controversy.  Orthodoxy has always insisted that the Father is the single principle from which the Son spirates - while admitting that the Son bears a role in that process, participating the procession of the Spirit from the Father.  As the Logos is the perfect Image of the Father, He perfectly shares in whatever the Father does, and that includes the procession of the Spirit - including, as the Latin tradition insists, being the causa of the Spirit, the cause of His divinity.  From a Byzantine Catholic and eirenic Roman Catholic or Orthodox perspective there is no contradiction between the filioque and the Orthodox theology, because divinity - as being something that can be participated in - is an energy.  We balk at calling the Son the aitios or arche of the procession, but nonetheless He does join, so closely that it is "from a single principle", to whom must properly be attributed the name of the Father, with the Father in everything the Father does.  That includes being the source or cause or Latin causa of the Spirit, which would include being the source of His divinity.  Other Orthodox formulations of the Son's role include the "energetic manifestation" of the Spirit "resting on" the Son, and the procession of the Spirit "through the Son"; in my opinion the clearest explanation is a distinction between the "energetic procession" of the Spirit from the Son and the "hypostatic origination" of the Spirit from the Father.  

Divinity can also be found in partiality, in the imperfect saints.  These saints are said to be "divine" insofar as grace - created and Uncreated - is growing in them, but also "divine" insofar as they are images and likenesses of God, reflections of the Father, little icons of Christ.  As we refer to a picture by the name of the subject being drawn, so we call the saints by the name of the God whose image they are being formed into.  God is the standard or prime analogue to which we are icons, and insofar as we resemble Him, He is present in our soul (by "essence, presence, and power", if we are Thomistic by inclination).  We participate in the Uncreated Grace, the Uncreated Light of Tabor, insofar as our souls are "created grace", created and molded anew by God.  We participate in the Uncreated Grace precisely by becoming created grace - not that one is the cause of the other, but simply that they are two ways of saying the same thing.  Gratia creata and gratia increata, debated so bitterly between East and West, are ultimately nondual.

Plato adds his insight by showing us that insofar as we are “like God” – “divine” in a sense – we are like Absolute Being, Who is God.  Theosis is a process of becoming real.

O God, lead us from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.  Shanti, shanti, shanti.


There are of course those who have heavily criticized me in past conversations for referring to Our Lord Jesus Christ as a creature, or as a "human person", including some quite well-educated and well-respected Catholic and Orthodox bloggers and amateur theologians (including Nathaniel McCallum, among others).  In my defense, I profess the orthodox Chalcedonian faith of Jesus Christ, True God and true Man, possessing human and divine natures in one hypostasis (although I admit the orthodoxy of the Cyrillian formula "one Incarnate Nature of God the Word", which I hold to be convertible with the Chalcedonian formula).

However, my understanding - which I take to be properly characterized as nominalistic in a sense, and which McCallum thought was closer to Platonism - is that any adjectival characterization of a hypostasis, or of any substance or "thing" or subject, is a "nature", broadly speaking (without making any distinction between "nature" and "accident", as accidental determinations of Christ's being are not under discussion).  In other words, to speak of a hypostasis as having a human nature is, BY DEFINITION, to speak of it as a human hypostasis.  To say that Christ possesses a human nature is, BY DEFINITION, to speak of Him as a "human person" - and likewise, to speak of Him as possessing a divine nature is to speak of Him as a divine person.  To say that Christ was human is to say that Christ was a human person; this is simply how our everyday language works.

This is not Nestorianism (a bizarre allegation), because He is one person, who is both divine and human.  Unlike McCallum, I do not admit of any "personal properties" or adjectival characteristics proper to a hypostasis distinguishable from natures; I do not admit that one can speak of a "human hypostasis" without having already mentioned the nature (as if "humanity" were the hypostasis, rather than the nature).  To do so would seem to divorce a hypostasis and the hypostasis' being from their nature, and it reifies "nature" in the process (making "nature" something that one could possess, like a thing, rather than making it a statement about what the hypostasis is).  To say anything *about* a hypostasis is to give its nature (or accident).

I have also come under criticism for calling Jesus Christ a creature.  Yet any proper anthropology must do so, for the human body and soul are Christ *are* a creature (and, contra popular Cartesian dualism, one must say "a creature", not two creatures).  Bodies and souls are not something that humans possess, and if Christ truly became Man, He became a man.

(Theologians will correctly say that Christ's human nature was human nature itself, not just one instantiation of it, and hence human nature itself is redeemed and only awaits our participation - we are not only become real, but becoming human, through theosis - but the fact remains that Jesus of Nazareth was a man, who had a body, living in a certain time and place, with a height, weight, blood type, etc. - a particular, not a universal.)

I am my body.  I am my soul.  Christ *was* His body.  Christ *was* His soul.  His body was a creature.  Therefore, by a simple valid syllogism (BARBARA), Christ was a creature.  That is the full thrust and paradox of the Incarnation - "the Creator became a creature, so that the creature might become Uncreated".  A very wonderful book on Orthodox theology by Fr. Daniel Rogich is entitled "Becoming Uncreated:  The Journey to Human Authenticity", and the flip side to this paradox is that Christ became a human creature.  He remains the Creator in the process.  Nowhere in the entire corpus of Patristic literature is this denied, or the statement "Christ is a human person" rejected.  Rather, what is constantly and incessantly affirmed is what has been affirmed here - Jesus Christ is God made man, with the human and divine natures subsisting in one person, the God-Man, 100% God and 100% Man.

Finally, there are those who will object to my Hindu prayer at the end of the essay.  The prayer is entirely and utterly orthodox to any Christian.  If one objects to the word "shanti", he may take it up with the quite Christian poet T. S. Eliot, who employed it quite as freely as I do without looming under any cloud of heterodoxy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

On Holiness as Instinctive

To the unfallen soul, holiness is instinctive.  As Lao Tzu said, “It was when the Great Way declined that human kindness and morality arose.”  The Great Way declined at the Fall, but we can still see hints of this in very naturally good people who act kindly and with goodness merely by nature.

Holiness is the ground of our being as Christians.  “Were it not for their holiness, the spirits would soon wither away,” as Lao Tzu said.  Lao Tzu knew the identity of goodness and being.  Hell is witheredness.  Lao Tzu also uses images of a brook needed replenishing and species needing to be propogating – thus implying that holiness is as natural as natural processes, as indeed it is.  And he saw joy, the joy of the world, the joy of holiness.

And Lao Tzu even saw hints of Sehnsucht, of that ecstatic longing that joy instills in us.  Yet it is still hard to tell if it is Sehnsucht, or a more world-weary jadedness lying behind his words.  “What is most perfect seems to have something missing.”  With prayer, with the peace of hope, that "something missing" is experienced as the pangs of longing for the Beloved, as awe - but without the peace of hope, one can only become resigned to the sense of lack.

Did Lao Tzu experience that peace?  We cannot know.  A first reading of the Lao Tzu seemed to exude a jaded resignation.  A second reading indicated a joyful, quiet tranquility.  His words are a bit of an enigma.
In the Western tradition, the philosophers say that God is Pure Act; the theologians say that He is the Hound of Heaven.  Lao-Tzu said that “Tao never does; yet through it all things are done.”  These reveal complementary aspects of God, Who is both a burning act and yet, somehow, a quiet tranquility.  His Act, His Uncreated Energy, is shown to us through His Revelation.  But He held back His revelation for a time, and could only be known as the Natural Law or Way – the distant, passive, even awesome mystery “in which we live, and move, and have our being”.

I close these scattered thoughts with a Chinese poem, by Po Chu-i, one which seems to appropriately confound the puzzle further.

‘Those who speak know nothing,
Those who know are silent.’
These words, I am told,
Were spoken by Lao-Tzu.
If we are to believe that Lao-Tzu
   Was himself one who knew,
How comes it that he wrote a book

   Of five thousand words?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunyata and the Golden Mean - a Taoist Rapprochement between East and West, Courtesy Seraphim Rose

One of the most simultaneously iconic and controversial figures in 20th century American Orthodoxy was Seraphim Rose, a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church and monastic founder who quickly achieved "guru" status and veneration as a saint, despite the violent controversies he stirred within and without the Church. Born under the name Eugene Rose, he was by education a linguist, studying Chinese at Pomona College with the unique and fascinating Taoist philosopher Gi-Ming Shien.  In his masters' thesis, Emptiness and Fullness in the Lao-Tzu, Rose argued against a nihilistic interpretation of the concept of emptiness in the Tao Te Ching (or, as he idiosyncratically calls it, the Lao-Tzu, after the purported author), in favor of an interpretation governed by the concepts of the "opposite" and "return".  This interpretation is surprisingly fruitful in hinting at a solution to the seeming impasse between the essentialist and ontotheological metaphysics of the Socratic/Western world and the "emptiness" experientialism of the Buddhist Orient.  An examination of Rose's thesis is a worthwhile exercise for the purpose of re-grounding and recasting the problematic ontotheological tradition in Buddhist terms, as well as for freeing our understanding of Buddhist thought from Western categories.

The Taoist syzygy of "emptiness" and "fullness" corresponds to an analogous conceptual duality in Buddhism, "emptiness" and "form", where "emptiness is form and form emptiness", an idea that resonates closely with modern physics.  As superficially interpreted through a European lens, talk of emptiness can appear to be a nihilistic denial of being, but Rose argued that for Lao Tzu emptiness is a golden mean between unbalanced affirmation and apathetic negligence.  "Emptiness" and "fullness" are not nouns in Lao Tzu's Chinese idiom, but rather verbs (which may be better translated as "waning" and "waxing"); however, the concept he elucidates corresponds remarkably to the Aristotelian concept of the "golden mean", also appropriated by Christian theology.

As Rose explained, the nihilistic concept of "emptiness" is referred to by Lao Tzu by a word best translated "exhaustion".  "Exhaustion" or "finality" means death, "reaching the end of the breath, total expiration" (Rose, Emptiness and Fullness, 33).  This is not the word Lao Tzu uses many many times to explain the "good" sort of emptiness, however:  "In the usual understanding of the word, both in English and Chinese, "emptiness" has a contrary, "fullness"; but if this kind of emptiness, and extreme, is what Lao-Tzu has in mind when he speaks of it, all that we have said on the "mid-point" as the ultimate goal of his thought is set at nought.  But in fact this is not what he had in mind.  To be "emptied" is not the same as to be "exhausted". "  (Emptiness and Fullness, 29)

Lest we mistake "emptiness" and "fullness" for metaphysical concepts, Rose reminds us that Lao Tzu's language is oriented around verbs, not reified nouns, and that "emptiness" and "fullness" are translations of words literally meaning the "waning" and "waxing" of the moon.  The comfortable Western concepts of “substance” and “person” are simply absent from Lao Tzu's vocabulary.  By contrast to Aristotelian essentialism, for the East a static or permanent plenitude of being or "nature" or "essence" is not what constitutes form, but rather emptiness, becoming, or sunyata.  The Hindu language of maya and illusion is avoided by the Taoists, but a somewhat more Heraclitean ontology of becoming and doing still eclipses any possibility of ontotheology.

This lack of substantive ontology has ramifications for Lao Tzu's quietism.  Since he did not reject appearances or phenomena or things as illusions, Lao Tzu did not embrace the violent rejection of being seen in certain strands of ascetic Hinduism, and since he did not regard "things" as real (lacking the vocabulary to place "things" as ontological categories at all), he did not embrace the worldly attachment to them.  Instead, he preaches the quietistic and apparently (though misleadingly so) complacent acceptance of the Tao, by exhorting us to be supple and fluent with the Tao - it is through suppleness that is found power (the famous "wu wei" paradigm).  "Wu wei" should not be viewed as cynical, nihilistic, or pessimistic resignation - it is through suppleness that is found power; it is through the Tao that we flower into who we are, that we find our "true potential", as humanistic psychology might see it.  As Lao Tzu said, “If one uses it [the Tao], it is inexhaustible” – for while the Tao is emptiness, all form is emptiness, so there is no contradiction in saying that this emptiness is inexhaustible.

The challenge for cross-cultural philosophy remains reconciling the Western categories of personhood and substance, so essential to Christian theology, with the common Oriental tradition of emptiness and fullness; Lao Tzu's placement of the "golden mean" within the context of sunyata provides a possible clue to its solution.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Phenomenological Demonstration from Sartre that Grace is Necessary for Salvation

Man is marked by his quest to unite both the being-in-itself (Being) and being-for-itself (Nothingness or consciousness).  “Man is the being whose project is to be God”, “man fundamentally is the desire to be God” (Being and Nothingness 694).  Man recognizes that he cannot satisfy this union in himself so he sees it as beyond the world – consciousness is haunted by its absent being.  Because Being and Nothingness are contradictory properties in man, man is left always striving for God in vain.  Man on his own cannot reconcile them; God has to descend in grace.