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).

Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3| Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6

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

Share This