This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

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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Intellect and will

So far we’ve used various terms to clarify the love-knowledge distinction. We’ve used primarily the jnana-bhakti distinction, borrowed from Hinduism, but also used several terms interchangeably with the “love” component, such as “faith” and “devotion.” All of these highlight the fact that bhakti is situated on the plain of action. There is still another way of framing the confrontation, which is the intellect-will distinction, and this way of dealing with the distinction became particularly pronounced in Christianity through the opposition between Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas. For Scotus, the will was primary, while for Aquinas it was the Intellect. While we can say that from the point of view of the Absolute, Aquinas was perhaps “more right,” but at the same time we need to point out that Thomistic philosophy limits itself to a rationalized conception of the Intellect and in this sense it stops short of metaphysics properly speaking. It is this self-limitation that opened the way for Scotus, who was, for his part, right in seeing the Thomistic form of Intellect-primacy as insufficient, hence his formulation which placed the will above all else.

Bhakti is the perfection of the will; jnana is the perfection of the Intellect. This summarizes each, and demonstrates why no imperfect being can perfectly exemplify one or the other.

The opposition between Aquinas and Scotus should be seen as the opposition between a kind of baptized rationalism and a transcendent voluntarism. Scotus developed the doctrine of the will to its fullest while Aquinas (without unduly insulting his work) degraded the doctrine of the Intellect, and the result was that the two could appear to be placed on the same plane and come into opposition. The truth is that the will, being the principle of action, belongs to the relative order. All action is relative, in other words. This means that the will is subject to the Intellect properly understood, which is its principle. But this is only true if the Intellect is properly understood as supra-rational and, in its essence, not other than the mind of God Himself insofar in which the individual participates. If one stops short of this doctrine of the Intellect, then one gets a limited notion that is only slightly more than the rational faculty itself. The intellect is no longer clearly seen as the principle of the will and in order to demonstrate it as such one must do a bunch of philosophical gymnastics, which not everyone, including Duns Scotus, will accept.

The point of this digression is to say that a bhaktic people will tend to see things in terms of will and action, and the first thing to be lost in this context will be a proper appreciation of the Intellect as inherently Divine. The identity of Intellect and the Absolute, once lost, is difficult to recover. One cannot arrive at the identity by elaborating from below. Aquinas is an example of what it looks like when you try. He worked from the point of view of relativity and built his epistemology accordingly, effectively decapitating the Intellect. It is telling that he tried to fill in the void by grace and faith—in other words, he made up for the absence of the Intellect in exactly the way we would expect from a bhakta. This does not mean that he was necessarily of that spiritual type, but we cannot deny that his whole theology is a bhaktic theology, and so is that of Scotus, although more explicitly by making the will primary. Both of these men produced bhaktic systems because they worked within the context of a budding rationalism that in a few centuries would become Descartes.

It is also notable that Aquinas drew much from his Islamic contemporaries, and that one of the most significant points on which he ignored them was precisely on the Divinity of the Intellect. For Aquinas, as the reader may know, man needed a kind of “infusion of grace,” which is to say man needs specific Divine intervention in order to participate in the Intellect, as opposed to the Islamic and traditional view which is that the Intellect itself is Divine and requires no intervention since it is what it is. This rejection of traditional “intellectuality” demonstrates, in minute clarity, the mental rift between East and West in its beginnings, and between Europe and the other traditional worlds.

We can conclude by saying that the examples of these two men are helpful to demonstrate that a person need not be a pure-and-simple bhakta in order to fight against jnana, since Aquinas clearly had a profound contemplative life. Moreover, this allows us to see that powerful minds do not necessarily always produce complete doctrines if the forces of the Age are working against them, which was precisely the case near the close of the medieval period. The whole lesson of cosmic cycles and the Dark Age is that doctrine will (in fact must) become more and more obscured. Try as they may, even men as great as Aquinas and Scotus cannot stop it.

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