This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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6.1. Characteristics of Christian Doctrine

Christianity and esoterism

Christianity has a unique relationship with esoterism, in the sense that, if we’ve referred to esoterism as “the spirit behind the letter,” then Christianity would seem to be focused solely on the esoteric side of things, considering the emphasis we find in the words of Christ and his disciples. The New Testament writers spoke of the Old Testament as “the letter” and the Gospel of Christ as the “the spirit”, and Christ was nothing less than the Word of God that had always been standing behind the word of God contained in the Scriptures. This is quite different from the early structure of Judaism and even Islam, where there was always a division, even in the beginning, between the esoteric and the exoteric. For Christianity, Christ came to overthrow “the letter”, not because the letter (exoterism) had no right to exist, but because it had become a “dead letter”. Once this was overcome and the spirit of the new revelation had taken root, an appropriate exoterism could begin to form around it.

Esoterism of structure and content

When we say that Christianity was an esoterism, we are speaking not in reference to its structure, at least not primarily, but in relation to its content. The types of truths Christ brought to light are those normally dealt with via esoterism in other faiths, except with the Gospel we find them first and foremost, and from the beginning, and the exoterism built only later. Christianity worked from the center outward. This created difficulties, as I’ll explain below. But this is very different from the “esoterism of structure” that we find in, for example, Hinduism or Islam, where the esoteric knowledge and the exoteric dogmas are organized side-by-side and have never been unseparated.

This unique ordering of things in their development—a preacher of esoterism with a close and private group of followers who spread a doctrine that was esoteric in content, which then adapted itself to the common people with an appropriate exoteric formulation—is why so many of the words spoken by Christ and by the early Christian fathers seem incomprehensible or at odds with what Christians typically understand to be the content of their faith.

Restrictive nature of exoterism

When we come to exoterism, or dogmatic formulations, we can say that they place a twofold restriction upon the truth in question: they take a secondary truth and give it the appearance of integral truth, and in doing this, the relative is given the appearance of absoluteness.

Citations from the early church regarding universality

To show that Christianity even in its earliest days understood the true nature of universality beyond form, and knew that it shared the truth even with those who came before, we need only look at the writings of the fathers:

There exist diverse forms of the Word under which It reveals Itself to Its disciples, conforming Itself to the degree of light of each one, according to the degree of their progress in holiness.”[1]

That which today is called the Christian religion existed among the ancients and has never ceased to exist from the origin of the human race until the time when Christ Himself came and men began to call Christian the true religion which already existed beforehand.”[2]

The passage above from Augustine has been explained as follows:

The Catholic religion is but a continuation of the primitive religion restored and generously enriched by Him Who knew His work from the beginning. This explains why St. Paul the Apostle did not claim to be superior to the Gentiles save in his knowledge of Jesus crucified. In fact, all the Gentiles needed to acquire was the knowledge of the Incarnation and the Redemption considered as an accomplished fact; for they had already received the deposit of all the remaining truths…It is well to consider that this Divine Revelation, which idolatry had rendered unrecognizable, had nevertheless been preserved in its purity and perhaps in all its perfection in the mysteries of Eleusis, Lemnos, and Samothrace.[3]

In other words, the Eucharist—the one and only means of ‘saving’ grace—is just as universal as Christ Himself, although it is found in various modes and degrees of perfection depending on time and place and people.

[1] Origen, Contra Cels. 4:16.

[2] Augustine, Retractions I.13.3.

[3] Abbe P.-J. Jallabert, Le Catholicisme avant Jesus-Christ.

Difficulties that result from intermingling of levels

Another unique aspect of the Christian intermingling of esoteric and exoteric formulations is that this frequently leads to a confusion of levels with regard to interpretation. Thus, it is said that all departed souls, from Adam on through the prophets, had to ‘await’ Christ’s redemptive descent into hell. This saying pertains to metaphysics and describes the eternal work of the Logos as Redeemer, a work that does not take place at some point in history but through which history itself is conditioned. But due to the nature of Christianity, this esoteric saying is interpreted exoterically as if those departed souls were literally sitting somewhere in the underworld for all those millennia, still subject to the temporal condition, counting the hours until the Word became man and performed a function within time, on which their redemption depended. This is nonsense. The only reason we can say that Jesus Christ’s work was redemptive is because he was the Word ‘through which all things were made’ and Who is the eternal Redeemer. To apply the exoteric interpretation is to treat the eternal Word as if He required the accomplishment of some particular work within history before His nature could become effective–as if Christ’s work was not simply the manifestation in a inferior order of the universal function of the Word, as present at the moment of Creation as it will be at the moment of Destruction. In other words, Christ’s function is eternal and beyond history, and the historical facts associated with Christ earthly life are the reflection of this function on a lower plane–they do not determine or limit it.

Christ is not the ‘Redeemer’ because he became man, died for our sins, and accomplished some great work, earning himself this new title; no, Christ became man and died because he is, was, and always will be, the Redeemer. What he did was a manifestation in time of what he always was from all eternity, so that what he already was could be witnessed by men in history.

The Redemption wrought by the Word is universal and is the only salvation available to men always and everywhere, but the life and death of Jesus the God-man concerned a specific ‘world’ and type of person, and a specific revelation that entered the world through him. This is the two-fold nature of Jesus Christ, implied in the name. Jesus, the man who lived and died, pertained to a specific world and revelation; and Christ, as the eternal Word, pertains to every world that could ever be, although the Word is made manifest in each in a different way. The Word is necessary for all–Jesus only for Christianity. To borrow the words of Jesus Christ Himself, his death and resurrection was for the ‘sick’ and not for those who are ‘whole.’ In other words, he came to provide the means of grace in a specific context where the pre-existing means (Judaism) had been rendered ineffectual.

Providential limitations

We should reiterate here that the restrictions inherent in the religious-exoteric perspective are not evils in themselves, and although the Christian perspective does seem to make a mess of things at times by mingling the esoteric and the exoteric, we must admit that this is due to the type of man for whom this Revelation exists.

It is, in fact, due to Divine Mercy that the religious perspective is restricted and ‘exclusive.’ It conveys only what is necessary for the salvation of the ‘average man,’ and in a form that is accessible to everyone. This implies a certain degree of obviousness, and we cannot blame the average believer for insisting that all of his religious ideas be obvious. This is healthy so long as it remains within the realm of exoterism and subordinate to a teaching authority that understands its own Revelation. However, outside of this context, for example in the context of contemporary Protestantism, with its “Bible Christians” who insist on interpreting Scriptures according to their own lights, it becomes suicidal. Since the most important truths contained in the Scriptures are the esoteric ones, and since these never permit of an ‘obvious’ interpretation, the ‘Bible Christian’ is bound to reduce his book to a list of platitudes and, when it comes to those sayings which in fact demand an esoteric perspective, it can only result in the most ridiculous errors.

Again, though, we should say that the above is due to the wrong-headedness of certain groups and not to the religious-exoteric perspective in itself, which serves believers very effectively when kept within the proper context.

The spirit and the letter

Something else that warrants comment about the uniqueness of Christianity is that its teachings seem focused on the creation of a ‘spiritual attitude’ more than the creation of a social order or code of conduct. We’ve said elsewhere that the great religious teachers manifest either a norm or a sublimation (an exception or transcendence over the norm). Christ’s attitude toward the Law (of the Old Covenant) and the law (of Caesar) is an example of a spiritual attitude that witnesses to the superiority of esoterism over exoterism (in the case of the Old Law) and of the spiritual in general over the temporal (in the case of Caesar). But at the same time, because this attitude is demonstrative of an orientation toward the spiritual as supreme, it also cannot be taken as if it were trying to lay out guidelines for a norm. No society can operate without giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s; and to turn the other cheek is laudable as an exception but as a rule it would result in slavery to the violent.

Here is an illustration of the Gospel’s concern for distinguishing between levels and establishing the proper ordering between the esoteric and exoteric, or the spirit and the letter:

For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Romans 2:25-29)

St. Paul conveys here the truth that although the ‘spirit’ seems to contradict ‘the letter,’ it is only because it operates at a different level. For the same reason, it is also emphasized that the Gospel does not ‘depreciate’ the Mosaic Law but is its ‘fulfillment,’ not first and foremost in a chronological sense, but in an absolute sense, in that the spirit is the ‘principle’ and source of the letter, and the letter is merely its formulation.

We find the same meaning conveyed in the Koranic saying:

They say: Become Jews or Nazarenes in order that you may be guided: answer: No, we follow the way of Abraham who was pure [primordial, hanif] and who was not one of those who associate [creatures with Allah, or effects with the Cause, or manifestations with the Principle]. [Receive] the baptism of Allah [and not that of men]: and who indeed baptizes better than Allah? And it is Him whom we adore.[1]

Of the latter, we can say that the word ‘baptism’ has the same meaning as ‘circumcision’ in Paul’s usage above. In both cases the intent is not to render the concept (either circumcision or baptism) meaningless or wrong, but to illustrate by comparison that the reality in question operates at a superior level to ritual procedures and does not depend upon them for its effectiveness.

Consider the fact that the Christian notion of ‘turning the other cheek,’ or Jesus’s treatment of the woman caught in adultery. Neither of this attitudes could possibly be used as a basis for a social order, nor could the be used as a basis for moral norms of any kind. That is why Christians themselves, aside from a few exceptional examples, have never treated these teachings as ‘normative.’ Here, at least, they’ve understood correctly, and this is why it is obvious that the Gospel message concerned a level beyond that of moral norms and ‘the law,’ which is to say, it could not possibly have been a ‘replacement’ for the Law, since it offered no guidance at that particular level. Christ intended to create in his followers a certain spiritual posture or attitude that would predispose them to becoming vessels of the Holy Spirit through which grace could operate.

[1] Surat al-Baqarah 135, 138.

The distinction of levels reconciles contradictions

In order to properly understand and apply the teachings of Christ, especially those offered with regard to the Mosaic Law, it is important to keep in mind the principle of subsidiary function applied in a doctrinal context. There exist different orders, and each has its function, and they do not contradict one another so long as they are understood properly and respected as such. The lower must never rebel against the higher, and the higher never replaces the lower. Thus, one may ‘turn the other cheek’ while acting according to prudent self-defense, and since one of these concerns a spiritual posture and the other a practical action, they do not come into conflict.

Divergences good and bad

It is said in Islam that ‘the divergence of the exegetists is a blessing.’ We could apply this to Christianity only with certain reservations. Prior to what we might call the ‘Roman solidification’ of the Church, there were various communities and ‘paths’ for Christians as scattered throughout the world. As the Church concentrated its powers in Europe, it became less capable of adaptation and less flexible with respect to the ‘spiritual perspectives’ it was capable of embracing. The Great Schism between the Latin and the Greek Churches was the first rupture that occurred. The Reformation was the last. Returning to the Islamic saying, we can say that the original universality of the Church, which proved itself capable of adaptation to almost any mentality with which it came into contact, was a ‘divergence’ and a ‘blessing.’ We cannot, however, say the same with regard to the current ‘scattering’ of Christians, which is not a ‘divergent unity’ but is instead a rupturing and a kind of decomposition of what was once a living body.

Divergence of exegesis is healthy and natural within a tradition, and the highest expression of this can be found in the Hindu darshanas. But when the tradition in question becomes weakened and sick, unable to sustain its various parts, it tends to concentrate all its powers on an epicenter and to withdraw from the extremities, as the blood withdraws from the limbs prior to death. The body then breaks apart and its pieces, their connection with the tradition having been severed–with or without their consent–plunge into ignorance and lose their legitimacy. Hence Protestantism which, even if we grant that it was caused by disease within the Church and in a sense was ‘inevitable,’ was doctrinally stillborn, and although ‘virtually’ in possession of the Holy Spirit, its knowledge would always remain fragmentary and it would struggle to rise above humanism and sentimentality as animating forces.

This distinction between the spiritual and social orders is also present in Islam and is demonstrated in a hadith wherein we are told of the following scene: a thief is brought before the Prophet so that his hand might be cut off according to the law. When the Prophet appeared visibly disturbed, they asked him ‘Hast thou some objection?’ He responded: ‘How should I have nothing to object to! Must I be the ally of Satan in enmity against my brothers? If you wish God to forgive your sin and conceal it, you also must conceal the sin of others. For once the transgressor has been brought before the monarch, the punishment must be executed.”

It is also said in Islam that all sins are forgivable except ‘association,’ which is the confusion of the created with the Creator, or in Christian terminology, idolatry.

Christ did not condemn the Old Law

We should remember that it was not the Old Law in itself that needed replacement, but Phariseeism, which was the reduction of all doctrine of the level of the Law—the stifling of the spirit in favor of the letter. Christ, and St. Paul after him, were not so much condemning the Law itself as they were a false pretension on the part of its guardians.

Christian mysteries

All traditions are constituted as a two-fold, esoterism-exoterism, hierarchically related teaching. The difficulty with Christianity is that, unlike other traditions, its exoterism is one ‘of fact’ and not ‘of principle.’ It was never consciously formulated or developed, and so the line between the two levels of doctrine remains blurred, if indeed it is acknowledged at all. To quote (once again) Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar:

Even so truly a ‘church of the people’ as the Catholic Church does not abolish genuine esotericism. The secret path of the saints is never denied to one who is really willing to follow it. But who in the crowd troubles himself over such a path?[1]

Christians do not consider their religion to have an esoteric component because they are too familiar with it. They do not understand it, mind you, but they are so familiar with it that they forget that they do not understand it. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity and the Eucharist are both purely esoteric, and while contemporary Protestantism pretends to have rejected all of these elements that are not ‘obvious’ and immediately accessible, first and foremost the Eucharist, it retains almost unanimously the Trinity, which is no more comprehensible on rational grounds and is a doctrine which could in no way be derived from Scriptures alone. It is part of the Tradition and persists in Protestant theology only as an odd superstition.

The term ‘mystery’ is also inseparable from initiatory and therefore esoteric doctrines, but here also Christians have become so familiar with the term that they generally assume it means no more than it means it common parlance: something mysterious, to be ‘believed,’ and that is all. In other words, when applied within the religious or ‘theological’ sphere, the term is simply a mask for the fact that certain doctrines are not capable of theological proof. Instead of having the positive meaning it retains within the initiatic order, mystery becomes an admission or ignorance.

To further elaborate on the meaning of ‘mystery’ when used in the religious or exoteric domain, we can refer to the example of the Trinity. Now Divine Unity is easy comprehensible to anyone of sound mind, and so it is capable of exoteric formulation. The Trinity, however, pertains to a development of Divine Unity at a more differentiated and secondary point of view. It is an aspect of Divine Unity. Particularized knowledge is, by nature, not accessible to everyone, and the Trinity itself cannot be formulated in exoteric terms–as a thing both necessary and accessible to all, for it is neither of those things. Augustine said that the Trinity was ‘incomprehensible’, and from the standpoint of rational development, he was speaking truly. That is why the Trinity is only accessible to those capable of engaging with metaphysical knowledge, and this is not a common aptitude.

We must insist, however, that from the standpoint of pure intellectuality, no mystery, however ‘mysterious’ it may be from the exoteric point of view, is incomprehensible. The only thing that is properly speaking ‘incomprehensible’ is pure nothingness, or ‘impossibility,’ which, as ‘nothing,’ cannot become an object of the understanding.

There is much more to be said about the role of ‘mystery’ and its doctrinal significance, and so we will dedicate a separate section to this subject.

[1] The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. 1.

Christian mingling of levels and the Islamic response

We’ve tried to explain that many of the Christian dogmas, including the sacraments, are formulated in such a way that the two ‘levels’ or degrees of knowledge are intermingled. It is this characteristic that lies at the root of the hostility shown toward Christianity on the part of Islam. In the eyes of Muslims, Christians have mixed esoteric truths (Haqiqah) and the exoteric Law (Shari’ah), which inevitably brings disequilibrium, as has been evidenced by the development of the Christian West, eventually resulting in the modern world we know today. The offense that this ‘mixture’ of esoteric and exoteric is the same which Christ described: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.’

To offer but two more examples of the confusion in question:

First, in the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, the bread and wine are consecrated via the same ritual and without distinction between the two species. However, these two species represent, in the traditional world, exoterism and esoterism, respectively. Wine in particular has always played a role in the initiatic order. Christian dogma does not acknowledge this in any way, but treats them as equal.

Second, and more easily described, is the disregard shown for the two degrees of inspiration possible in Holy Scriptures. In Hinduism, for example, we find two categories of inspiration: shruti and smriti. These terms will be elaborated elsewhere, but they pertain to ‘direct Revelation’ and ‘secondary’ or ‘reflected knowledge’, respectively. In Islam there are the corresponding terms: nafas ar-Ruh and ilqa ar-Rahmananiyah. In Christianity again we find no distinction, although any reading of the New Testament shows that both are present and intermingled. Thus, St. Paul will pause to state: “I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgement,” (1 Corinthians 7) which is the definition of the kind of secondary inspiration noted above. The distinction is quite important because it explains certain apparent contradictions in Scripture and allows readings and meanings to be kept in their proper place in relation to others, everything given the respect it is owed without being either elevated or deprecated unjustly.

The revelation is perfect even if problematic

We should now ask ourselves if this ‘confusion’ (of the two domains: exoteric and esoteric) is the result of a deviation within Christianity, or if, on the other hand, it is part of the nature of the Christian Revelation and could not (and therefore should not) be any other way.

The Word became Man and declared Itself as such without adaptation or compromise. Again and again throughout his teaching, Christ acknowledged that he would only really be understood by those ‘with ears to hear’ and even among his close followers there was constant confusion. If we were to summarize the uniqueness of the Christian Revelation it is this characteristic–that by its nature it is the manifestation of the most esoteric truths ‘in broad daylight’. In other words, we can say that this ‘confusion,’ as problematic as it has proven to be and as abnormal as it certainly is with respect to other Traditions, is not abnormal within the context of Christianity and is in complete conformity with its spirit.

We could say, as a general statement regarding the manifestation of Christ and the Gospel, that ‘the Light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.’ This is not an accident, but is an aspect of the Revelation itself, and should be kept in mind throughout any discussion of Christianity. While other Revelations have presented themselves as distinctively veiled (to the average believer in the form of exoterism) and unveiled (via their esoteric element), Christ presented himself as esoterism unveiled and provided a witness as to the incomprehension of ‘the world’ with respect to the Absolute.

To put it another way, it was Christ’s purpose to burst forth from the shriveled wineskin of the Mosaic Law and bear witness to the spirit as ‘living water’ and ‘true vine,’ and although that meant that the light was brought into the world, it would, as a natural consequence, bring with it general incomprehension. But this incomprehension is not a flaw in the Revelation so much as it is the corresponding aspect of man as creature when placed in front of the Logos as Creator.

To declare truth is to expose oneself to misunderstanding, and the higher the truth, the more pronounced the misunderstanding. Christ was ‘more true’ than the Law, and therefore more susceptible to being misunderstood. The gift of the Gospel is both a blessing and curse, salvation for some and folly for others, depending on whether it is comprehended.

Even if Christ’s mission was to lay bare certain truths of an esoteric order, it remains true that these truths do not lend themselves to plain explanations. That is why he spoke in parables and made use of symbolism–the primary vocabulary of metaphysical knowledge.

We will still want to ask the question, “Why?” Why would the Divine choose to manifest in a problematic way? The answer to this question is twofold. First, manifestation in this way is a possibility, and as such it cannot not be. It had to happen at one point or another. But secondly, and from the human point of view, we can insist that there must have been some sufficient reason within the human environment itself to justify this appearance. We are forced to acknowledge that the conditions of the ‘world’ to which Christ addressed Himself that necessitated it, and that this precise form of Revelation was the only way of bringing about a reorientation. Only this can justify the apparently disordered element in Christ’s message, and justify His mission, since it could not have been accomplished otherwise, even if this element would have been ‘abnormal’ in any other context.

Christianity as a bhaktic way

To further elaborate on this intermingling of levels, we can say that what Christianity offers is primarily the ‘way of Grace’ or ‘the way of Love,’ as opposed to salvation by contemplative knowledge or works. This way of Grace or Love corresponds to the ‘bhaktic’ way (bhakti-marga) in Hinduism and similar paths in Buddhism and other Traditions. Therefore, although this path is not unique to Christianity, Christianity is unique in that here it serves as the primary path. In this way, Christianity stands in between the paths of Knowledge and that of Action, and chooses instead salvation by Faith, and the former two are incorporated into this approach in a ‘synthetic’ manner. This synthetic approach, which we must assume was the precise approach necessary for the type of humanity it was to serve, brings with it problems closely related to those already mentioned. Namely, since men tend to be called either to contemplation or to action, hence the two corresponding paths offered by other Traditions, many spiritual temperaments will not easily identify with the way of Grace since it does not cleanly align with either but combines them paradoxically. This would lead inevitably to debates about the superiority of ‘works’ or ‘faith’ and the proper place of each in the economy of Christian salvation.

Faith, in the Christian and bhaktic sense, can be framed as a ‘mode’ of knowledge that is different from contemplative knowledge. It differs from contemplative knowledge in that contemplative knowledge is called ‘direct intuitive’ or ‘pure intellection’ and is knowledge in an active mode, while Faith is a passive act of the intelligence in the sense that its object is not ‘truth’ on the metaphysical or universal level, but rather a specific symbol of the truth. In the case of Christianity, this symbol is Jesus Christ. ‘Bhakti’ itself can be described as ‘an attitude of confidence’ or ‘emotional certainty’ based on Love. This attitude of confidence is directed at the symbol of Truth, and this is ‘loving Faith’ or ‘Faith in Love’ and constitutes a kind of virtual knowledge through which the believer gains spiritual certainty and Grace.

Faith is a natural disposition of the soul toward the supernatural. It is kindled by Grace, and Grace is kindled by the fervent confidence of the believer. Grace and Faith combine and become Love, which is the ultimate goal of the bhaktic way. Thus, we come to the great virtues of the Christian way: Faith, Hope, Love: and the greatest is Love, being the product of the other two.

Love, or Charity, is paramount in the Christian scheme–the highest of virtues. This follows from what has already been said, but we can elaborate. Charity has two aspects: passive and active. Love of God, or spiritual Love is a kind of passive participation in God’s Love, or Infinite Love. Natural love, or love of creatures, is active, and is the necessary complement of the passive form of love and is in fact the former type of love insofar as it is expressed through us. We passively participate in God’s Love, and through our relations with others and things, this passive participation is actively expressed. This is why it is said that love of neighbor is an accurate measure of one’s love for God.

This twofold aspect of Christian Love is summarized by Christ when He gives the Supreme Commandment. First: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” because God alone is the source of all things, the ultimately Real; and second: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which is to say, “love yourself well and your neighbor equally well, because you are one in the Creator.”

It should now be easy to see how the Christian insistence on Faith is quite different from either ‘salvation by works’ and from the more contemplative paths, although we should emphasize that there are Christians who are more predisposed to contemplation and the Christian Tradition does offer paths for such temperaments.

Divine Mercy is the aspect of God emphasized in the New Covenant; Divine Justice the aspect emphasized in the Old. This aligns perfectly with what we’ve said about Christianity as a bhaktic way, and could not be otherwise since the bhaktic way proceeds naturally from a focus of Divine Mercy. It is legitimate to claim, as Christ Himself does, that the way of Mercy is ‘easier’ than the way of Justice, since ‘justification by Faith’ present a ‘yoke that is easy and a burden that is light’ since the ‘yoke of Heaven’ renders the Mosaic Law unnecessary. This liberation is justified since Faith, being analogous (although of a lower order) to ‘liberation by Knowledge, is a kind of deliverance from the Law and from ‘works,’ since these are of the lowest order.

Love of neighbor is the bhaktic way of ‘realizing’ the transcendent Unity of all before the One God. Love God first, and thy neighbor as thyself. In other words: God is worthy of all our love, and before Him there is no distinction between my neighbor and my ‘self’ and we are ‘all members of one body.’ Christ again and again insists on the indistinction between ‘me’ and ‘not me,’ at one time identifying me with my neighbor, and at other times identifying Himself with that neighbor (‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’)

One might ask why an indirect means of acquiring this knowledge of ‘non-dualism’ is necessary, and why it is not simply stated explicitly. One might answer first that it is stated quite explicitly, but that Christ also states it in other terms so that the explicit references can be ignored by those not predisposed to comprehend them. But in order to more fully answer this question, one need only try and explain the doctrine of non-dualism and ‘identity with God’ to the average believer. The response will usually be indignation and claims of heresy. This is, again, expected, as the type of person for whom the Christian Revelation is meant is a type of person predisposed to conceive of God only in separative terms: Creator and creature, God and man. In other words, within the realm of Being and never beyond, where dualism ceases to operate. For this reason, it is not appropriate to insist that such people contemplate non-dualism, and that they be left to the means of realization that is appropriate to them, even if it means approaching God through a relative truth.

To complement what was said above, I’ll add that there have nonetheless always been teachers within the Christian world who were ready and able to enunciate the doctrine of non-dualism, but they have never been ‘popular,’ and that is of necessity and not a mark against the doctrine or the teacher. To cite one example, we can turn to Meister Eckhart:

We are entirely transformed into God and changed into Him. Just as, in the sacrament, the bread is changed into the body of Christ, so am I changed into Him, in such wise that He makes me one with His Being and not simply like to it; by the living God, it is true that there is no longer any distinction.

We said above that the way of Grace or Love, which amounts to salvation by Faith, which in method is a persistent and fervent reliance on Divine Mercy and the ‘Grace of God’ in order to find Redemption, did in fact have correspondences in other Traditions. Further comment is needed here.

We can observe the bhaktic mode of knowledge at work in the life of the Hindu, Sri Ramakrishna, for example. It is said that he wished to know the identity between gold and clay. A contemplative (jnanin) would have begun with metaphysical data, proceeding perhaps to the perception of the unreality of riches and the passing away of all matter. Instead of this, he prayed to Kali. In other words, he persistently focused on a symbol of the truth in confidence that, by Grace, the desire of his heart would be given to him. And it was:

…every morning, for many long months, I held in my hand a piece of money and a lump of clay and repeated: gold is clay and clay is gold. But this thought brought no spiritual work into operation within me; nothing came to prove to me the truth of such a statement. After I know not now many months of meditation, I was sitting one morning at dawn on the bank of the river, imploring our Mother to enlighten me. All of a sudden the whole universe appeared before my eyes clothed in a sparkling mantle of gold…Then the landscape took on a duller glow, the colour of brown clay, even lovelier than the gold. And while this vision engraved itself deeply on my soul, I heard a sound like the trumpeting of more than ten thousand elephants who clamoured in my ear: Clay and gold are but one thing for you. My prayers were answered, and I threw far away into the Ganges the piece of gold and the lump of clay.

Returning to the ‘esoteric’ character of primitive Christianity–whether the aspect in question is the Christian rites (the Eucharist) or its doctrine (the Trinity) or those words of Christ which clearly possess no exoteric meaning–we should now ask what testimony is provided by the early Christian fathers on the point, expecting to find confirmation of our position.

First, in St. Basil’s work on the Holy Ghost, he describes,

…a tacit and mystical tradition maintained down to our own times, and of a secret instruction that our fathers observed without discussion and which we follow by dwelling in the simplicity of their silence. For they understood how necessary was silence in order to maintain the respect and veneration due to our Holy Mysteries. And in fact it was not expedient to make known in writing a doctrine containing things that catechumens are not permitted to contemplate.

Again, this time from St. Denys the Areopagite,

Salvation is possible only for deified souls, and deification is nothing else but the union and resemblance we strive to have with God. That which is bestowed uniformly and all at once, so to speak, on the Blessed Essences dwelling in Heaven, is transmitted to us as it were in fragments and through the multiplicity of the varied symbols of the Divine oracles. For it is on these Divine oracles that our hierarchy is founded. And by these words we mean not only what our inspired Masters have left us in the Holy Epistles and in their theological works, but also what they transmitted to their disciples by a kind of spiritual and almost heavenly teaching, initiating them from person to person in a bodily way no doubt, since they spoke, but I venture to say, in an immaterial way also, since they did not write. But since these truths had to be translated into the usages of the Church, the Apostles expressed them under the veil of symbols and not in their sublime nakedness, for not everyone is holy, and as the Scriptures say, Knowledge is not for all.

We can summarize these remarks by saying that Christianity is an esoteric way, translated into terms acceptable to the exoteric temperament. In other words, although all great Traditions have an esoteric and exoteric element, in Christianity these two are not institutionally distinct, but synthesized and in some ways inseparable. The problem with this is that the teachings will always be susceptible to misinterpretation, and the esoteric aspect commonly denied; the strength and reason for this approach, however, is that it enables the believer to participate in an initiatic way more intimately by being, as it were, incorporated into it without his knowledge. This means that the true nature of the Way will not be clearly visible to most believers, who are enabled to participate in it only virtually and who do not bother with transcending the exoteric interpretation of their Church’s teachings, which are to him ‘hidden’ within the Christian ‘mysteries.’

And what is the ‘hidden’ end of the Christian Way, the Way of Love? It is, as Eckhart and all Traditions tell us, union with the Divine. As a primary illustration of this fact, we can briefly examine those communities which represent the ‘crystallization’ of the Christian life in concentrated and systematic form, namely the Hesychasts of the East, and the Marian cult of the West. Both of these forms of Christian invocation of the Divine Name are explicit in their unitive intent. Especially within the context of the monastic life, Hesychasm illustrates perfectly the fact that Christianity is an initiatic and in this sense ‘esoteric’ way, aimed at nothing less than Divine Union

The ambiguity of providence

One last thing needs to be said, and it will go a long way toward explaining Christianity’s ultimate purpose in the history of this world and of mankind. Please remember that what I’m about to say it does not in any way make Christianity inferior to any other tradition, or imply that it is not exactly what it needed to be and therefore perfect in itself. The characteristics I’ve been describing such as the confusion of levels which brings with it distinctive problems imply that Christianity was not only put in place to serve mankind at a certain point and in certain world that was so disordered that it could no longer a pole the separation between exoteric and esoteric. But that it set the stage and in a certain sense made possible the deviation that would be the modern world and eventually the final dissolution. Christ said that he came at the fullness of time, and this could only mean that after the apex comes the decline, and so while Christ is the Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end, it is also perhaps try to say that he is the alpha of the Omega, the beginning of the end. This is why along with the gospel he also says and we can see that in Christianity there is also the foundation or a vessel of corruption as is also described in Scripture. Again, we need to emphasize that this does not in any way attack the Dignity of Christian Revelation, being exactly what it needed to be and perfect; but being positioned, as it were, ‘at the beginning of the end,’ it had to have within it the seeds of the dissolution that necessarily had to follow it. Christ and Antichrist were born together. And so the problematic nature of Christianity itself is linked to the ruling disorder of the modern world and was, in this sense, its source. Perhaps those who blame Christianity for the fall of Rome and the eventual decay of Western Civilization altogether are saying this because they have seen only the malefic side of Christ, the two-edged sword. They look at Christianity and see only that it brings with it the Antichrist, and so they have only received one side of the whole, and interpreted as weakness what was simply the negative and unavailable aspect of a necessity that also brought with it a path to salvation.

To be man is to know

The instinct of bird to fly north has its reason for existing, and is just as necessary as the animal urge to find a mate, which produces offspring and continues the existence of the species. In all of these cases we see the nature of the creature as a thing with purpose, and all the impulses inherent in it with their own meaning. It is the same with man, although his higher nature and inner life give a different meaning to the same impulses and add a completely new order of impulses that do not exist in other animals. The foremost of man’s impulses is to know, and this coincides with his capacity for knowledge of a different order than the knowledge possessed by animals: only man can foresee death and understand immortality as an alternative; only man asks ‘why’ about his existence, and seeks to understand not only his life but the ultimate meaning of creation. If we give human nature its due respect–which we happily show to other creatures, not writing off their impulses as nonsensical, misdirected, contrived, or meaningless–then we should admit that this impulse to know the why and the meaning of things implies that there are answers and that these answers satisfy the impulse that seeks them. ‘To know’ things, to think about what matters and what matters absolutely and finally about the Absolute Itself, is the unique vocation of man; to be man is to know the Absolute. This summarizes the anthropology of Traditional world.

Human intelligence is distinguished from animal intelligence in that man is alone is capable of ‘objectivity,’ or what we could call ‘self-reflection,’ and this remains true even if man does not often employ or develop this power. That man is capable of objectivity and of conceiving the absolute, we can say that his intelligence is ‘total,’ hence the saying that man is the measure of everything and the insistence on the part of Tradition of placing man at the peak and center of Creation.

Debates on primacy of intellect and will

There have been debates in the West regarding the primacy of the intelligence vs. that of the will. But will is but a ‘prolongation’ of intelligence. In fact, the notion of man as a ‘free being’ with a ‘free will’ is only possible because man has an intelligence that is ‘total’ and capable of objectivity. Without objectivity the will could not be free at all. Man is capable not only of acting against his own self-interest but of actually willing against self-interest; but again this is possible only because of his objectivity, hence his intelligence, because he alone is able to place himself in the position of another and to look and feel through them. Man alone is capable of sacrificing himself for the sake of another.

It could be argued that the will is responsible for actualizing, or bringing things about, but what it brings about is again determined by the intelligence. There is no merit in ‘blind love’ anymore that mindless action–intelligence is the light without which willing and sentiment cannot be animated by Truth.

To say ‘man’ is to imply intelligence; man is distinguished by this objective intelligence; intelligence determines all that he does (wills, loves).

Intelligence and sincerity

When discussing intelligence there is a related concept that is often overlooked, and that is ‘sincerity’. To put it plainly, intelligence is not enough in itself, but has need of a kind of ‘nobleness of soul’ in order to rise above things and grasp Truth without interference and with clarity. ‘Nobleness of soul’ is another way of saying ‘virtue’, and this is why the virtues and right living have been such a focus of spiritual teachers. This is also the justification for morality, and is the real justification for moral philosophy. That is to say, morality is a means toward contact with the Truth, and is not an end in itself. It is one of the great failings of contemporary Christianity that it tends to make Christian doctrine into a kind of moralism that is the end-all-be-all of the Gospel, so that the means becomes the end and moral acts the sum total of the Christian life. The real justification for morality, however, which does not lessen its importance but transfigures it by placing it in relation to the Absolute, is that intelligence divorced from virtue lacks sincerity. Thus, intelligence without virtue is handicapped and easily disfigured. To say it another way, virtue allows us to conform ourselves via action to the transcendent order we seek to know, and so virtuous living is a way of participating in the good so that we can know it better.

Another point that is necessary to emphasize is that intelligence in itself does not belong to us but we participate in it in the way that a ray of light reflected on the surface of a pool of water is a participation in the light but is not the ray of light itself. We possess a particularized intelligence that is specific to each of us but the source is above us, beyond us, and One.

I can know God as ‘above me’ and as ‘within me.’ The former knowledge is gained via Revelation and ‘belief,’ the latter via Intellection.

The weakness of Thomism and Western epistemology in general

The primary weakness of Thomism is that it does not understand the Intelligence as a ‘naturally supernatural’ power. For the Thomist there is knowledge obtained by natural reason, which must stop short of metaphysical or spiritual certitudes, and knowledge obtained by grace, which is granted by God incidentally and is not in this sense inherent in man’s intelligence. In this sense, St. Thomas is very nearly a rationalist, albeit one who pairs his rationalism with fideism and comes to a kind of synthesis between the two. It would be better to avoid the dualism altogether and grant to man’s intelligence the capacity to know the Absolute in which it participates. To put it another way, the problem with fideism, rationalism, and St. Thomas, who represents a synthesis of the two, is that they both split what is proper to the intelligence into two separate orders: natural and supernatural. This imposes a false dichotomy on the intelligence and splits and disfigures it. The intelligence is the point of transition between the natural and the supernatural and participates in both and so it cannot be divided neatly without denying something essential in it and reducing it to two partial truths which do not add up to a whole. That is why it is best to consider the intelligence in the Hindu or Islamic light as something inseparable from the Absolute which is its origin and in which man participates. That intellectual intuition occurs is acknowledged even by contemporary Christians, but they explain it in the same way as St. Thomas and call it ‘inspiration’ and see it as a kind of special phenomenon with only temporary effect. This allows for the reality of intellectual intuition but ‘disguises it’ by rendering it incidental and thus no threat to the axiom that the intellect cannot grasp the Absolute.

We can solve the Thomistic ratio-fideist dichotomy by saying that the Intellect is a kind of indwelling Revelation, hence ‘naturally supernatural’, and so to place it in opposition to Scripture, which is a kind of ‘collective Revelation,’ is to misunderstand what is at work in both cases and makes revelation of any kind possible.

The intellect is a kind of ‘divine immanence.’ If man has a part of him that attains to immortality, it is the intellect. If man can know the Truth only through ‘inspiration’ and ‘a gift of grace,’ then these are things which he was given as part of his supernatural nature and not as superadded and passing phenomena. In short, man is the meeting of God and nature and is his own kind of hypostatic union. If we are asked to become like Christ as members of his body, this could only be possible if our nature permitted it. That Christians are ‘regenerated’ via baptism does not bring about a change in the nature of man. The language itself implies that something that was already there is ‘re-animated’.