Thursday, January 24, 2008

Up, up, and away!

To the Nirvana beyond the Buddha under the tree in the year of the Buddha under the tree.

To the Brahman beyond the many-headed Hindu pantheon on the many-ended streets of India.

To the Allah beyond the Muhammad of the Allah beyond all Muhammad's irrefragable ways.

To the Yahweh beyond the smoke and fire of Moses' roving camp in a sea without water.

To the cosmos of atoms and fields beyond the chimeras called humans persons and substantial objects.

All these and the like go beyond the concrete, beyond the historical, beyond the frames of the normal human frame, to a wisdom, a paradigm, a nameless Name, a faceless Head, a matterless Form, to a shapeless soulless physical All, to a wordless Truth, from which perspective we see the lesser, historical rungs of that mystical ladder actually count for nothing––are nothing. Nothing is anything since everything is nothing but the All.

Only Christianity insists on the opposite. Not to the Deus Unus above but to the One Flesh in hand. Not on the All in which the Many are dissolved. Truth is not an idea––not a Hegelian Pure Idea––but is a person (cf. John 14:6). All the populist emergence of "personal", humanist devotion in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and materialism are but manifestations of the deeply human––and divinely instilled––need for truth to be made manifest, corporately, with a human face. Islam is about Allah, but invariably, the majority of Muslims don their pants and eat their food after the pattern of Muhammad. For every iconoclastic impulse and phase in Islam, there is a counterblast––if not simply a constant under-current––of graphic eroticism centered on the human form. Even the ethereal transcendence of Sufism is driven by a vilified desire to pierce the veil of Allah's will that Muslims may know Allah as a person, as a friend, as a lover. Hinduism may be about Brahman, and thus about every-thing as no-thing, but Hindus invariably crowd to stroke and kiss the many arms and breasts and tusks of their little statue people-gods. Buddhism may be about the ego-erasing oneness of Nirvana, but on a vast scale this philosophical austerity has been––and always will be––trumped by the zealous attachment Buddhists have to the anthropomorphic bodhisattvas, especially in Pure Land Buddhism. Likewise, while classical Judaism proscribes depicting God in any way, the intuitive face of God for the Jew is known only in its reflection off Moses' face, or, more so, in the periodic emergences of messianic rebbim through the centuries. And while materialism's creed reduces man to matter and humanity to a passing, doomed, inexplicable cosmic hydraulic of self-consciousness, it contradicts this stoic religiosity with a celebration of man for man's sake. When the heavens conceal an unknown and unknowable face, in traditional religion, the face of man is concealed in turn; when the heavens, however, no longer suggest any faces in the gaseous clouds, the face of man is a gassy mirage on a larger sea of mindless matter. Man is not tolerated when the immaterial gods trivialize his frame in eternity, nor, just as easily, when the material cosmos incinerates it in down-winding time.

Truth is known only in "triunogenic" communion with others, not in the pure, individual mind. And only because Christ is united with all people, historically and substantially, can we know truth, even if not formally viewing it in relation to Him. Christ is the only lens through which God sees us; outside Christ, God is blind to us, and thus no light of truth can shine upon us. The same holds for humans. Christ is the lens in which we see God; outside Him, or at least, without the magnifying, filtering effects of His person in the very structure of our created nature, we do not see truth. Except for the pesky fact of Christ immanent in history, the world really is closed to God, and God, in the same wise, is closed to the world.

"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." Or so say the Zen masters. Likewise, if you place Muhammad between your religious imagination and Allah, flee from such blasphemous shirk; kill Muhammad to save Allah. If you meet Vishnu in Brahman, kill her, flee from her myriad of particular arms and legs. Run away from the face you see, decapitate the head that speaks with supple tongue and fleshly lips, for truth is divine and divinity is always impersonal. Flee from the history that embraces you, for truth is eternal and eternity is always anti-historical.

Utterly different is the Christian Gospel with its rabid insistence on one person as the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice in the One Covenant made radically, humbly, and perpetually present on the One Altar. In the words of St. Francis de Sales:

Receive Holy Communion with courage, peace and humility, in response to the Divine Spouse, Who, in order to unite Himself to us, humbled Himself and so wonderfully abased Himself as to become our very food--we who will soon become a meal for worm….
(Letters 1529; O. XVIII, p. 400)

And in the words of Gilbert of Hoyland:

In times past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son, with the strong, powerful accents of a lover.
(On the Song of Songs, Sermo 42, 1-4: PL 184, 221-222.)

This is, of course, the old matter of the Christian "Skandal der geschichtlichen Einzigartigkeit" (scandal of historical particularity). How can the eternal be the historical, the universal be the particular, and vice versa? There is no rational basis for it apart from its historicity (i.e., its freely historical immanence). While every other religion says its prophets, shamans, leaders, icons, and heroes are, alas, "really just" misleading approximations which we must "aufheben" (Hegelianese for transcend/cancel), Christianity insists on the opposite maneuver. Not a flight up, up, and away from the earth-bound icons, but down, back, and into the concrete person of Jesus Christ. To fixate on the Buddha is really to fail to see Nirvana. To fixate on Muhammad is really to cloak the invisible oneness of Allah with a shawl of mortal clay. To fixate on Moses or Rabbi Nachman is to derogate from the unseen glory of Yahweh beyond imaging. To fixate on the idiosyncrasies and mutable features of human existence is to ignore the brute, eternal simplicity of matter-in-motion. For Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and materialists, the particular content and vessel of truth is ultimately an obstacle to the absolute, dehistoricized truth.

It is often remarked that because truth is historical, it is therefore relative. Quite to the contrary. Precisely because truth is deeply embedded in the communion of persons across time throughout cultures, truth is a burning, relevant force among humans. Were it completely dehistoricized, truth would be an abstraction, an irrelevance, a human unreality. It is because truth is a person that truth is an inter-communal reality. Truth is patterned after the immanent historicity of Jesus Christ in His Sacrifice and Risen Glory. The Incarnation is not an ad hoc solution to the mess man got into, but is in fact the prime analogate for human nature itself. Hence, restoring human nature entails re-historicizing it in the concrete unifying act of worship before and in the One Flesh. We only know truth in any way because we are, all of us, substantially and primordially unified with Christ in the immanent structures of the historical world which He has suffused with divine love.


Anonymous said...

Now You feel much better

the Cogitator said...


A lone bubble of in the shape of an insipid smirk breaks forth from the lake of ignorant tar!


The Cheshire smiles once before vanishing back into his fleshless opium-deluded self-satisfied stupor!

How blessed this blog has been! Surely such limpid lightning won't strike twice!

Thus, alas, it may be we yeoman must finish our days on earth only settling to hope for a gracious, intelligent comment from Aninnymouse instead.

May Ariadne aid Aninnymouse in finding its way out of the warped, sunken loom its mind back to our humble abode!