The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So, you think you're so damn smart...


(I usually only write normal posts so that some of you will read weird ones, like this one.)

I read with much delight the recent post from Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasti Me on Paganizing Christianity. You should all read it. I like this in particular:

In the enlightened post-Vatican II world, such stories are seen as far from the pristine Christianity of the Early Church, and one that is envisioned by the Council. I know one man who was a devotee of the Holy Child in his younger years, but altogether stopped believing when he came to realize the full extent of 'paganizing' elements in the cult of the Santo Nino. But how does one exactly define paganism? Is it rising from the dead, or turning water into wine, casting out demons, or speaking with forces beyond our reach? If we are to apply this frame of thought to the Gospel, then it would seem as if the Gospel itself were Pagan; indeed, such a radical framework would almost invariably filter out any hint of the supernatural, leaving only the natural-- cold, lifeless, historical, dry.

This is somwhat apropos of the book I am currently reading, The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart. In the figure of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, Stewart finds one of the founders of the modern, secular perspecitve of thought. Here are a couple of enlightening quotes from his work:

[Spinoza] adopted as his guiding maxim the words of [Rene Descartes]: "That nothing ought to be admitted as True, but that which has been proved by good and solid reasons." It wasn't long before he concluded that this maxim ruled out most of the Bible, not to mention Descartes' own philosophy....

The most impious man of the century transparently took himself to be the most pious. He rejected the orthodoxy of his day not because he believed less, but because he believed more.

...which is very much a sentiment that underlies much of the discourse in even conservative Christian circles. How many times do we hear of the necessity of purging of certain elements from religion that are unsavory to modern man? How many times are we asked, even by some legitimate ecclesiastical authorities, to make sure we have a "mature faith"? I would contend that such exhortations have the danger of slouching slowly towards the modern agnosticism founded by our apostate Jewish philosopher. And I would rather be put in a category with pagans and idolaters a million times rather than be lumped in with "civilzied" and "rational" atheists and agnostics.

And speaking of pagans, our favorite pagan hierophant and philosopher wrote something very pertinent to this discussion. When addressing the problem of evil when it comes to divine incantations, Iamblichus wrote the following:

For those that are good are the causes of good; and the Gods possess good essentially. They do nothing, therefore, that is unjust. Hence other causes of guilty deeds must be investigated. And if we are not able to discover these causes, it is not proper to throw away the true conception respecting the Gods, nor on account of the doubts whether these unjust deeds are performed, and how they are effected, to depart from notions concerning the Gods which are truly clear. For it is much better to acknowledge the insufficiency of our power to explain how unjust actions are perpetrated, than to admit any thing impossible or false concerning the Gods...

-De Mysteriis, emphasis mine

So here we have our solutions to the problem of evil and all the other doubts about whether God could make a meal for thousands out of a few fishes and loaves, among other things. The beautiful thing about Iamblichus, in spite of the fact that he was a staunch pagan in the early Christian era, is that he knew exactly where his place in the cosmos was. (A common thing to say in Argentina when someone is asking something impertinet or stupid is: ¡ubicate!, which sort of means, "wake up and realize where the hell you are!") He knew that, being a mortal, rational animal, he had to defer more often than not to beings that were higher up on the cosmic food chain than he was. This does not mean that one sinks into fideism or intellectual sloth, as is evident in the mind-boggling systematic rigor of late Neoplatonism. But it does mean that we should realize that our dianoia (our discursive thinking) is a means of union to that which is higher and not an instrument of ultimate power. This sentiment was also passed on to the Church through that famous figure of St. Dionyisus. But now it is becoming a voice and a warning that is increasingly faint.

In my own life and my own family, as you may know, the Holy Infant of Atocha is the manifestation of the Christ Child that most revered. I leave you, dear reader, with part of his story, from this website:

The statue that came from Spain had the Holy Child sitting on the lap of His Mother. At one point, the statue separated itself from His Mother. No one knows exactly why this happened. The people had a throne built for the Santo Niño, where he sits even today. He is also to be found in His own Chapel in the Santuario de Plateros.

Many mornings, the Sisters that care for the Shrine find the Infant’s shoes all dusty, from being out all night caring for pilgrims. Many people who have seen Him during the night confirm that His basket is always full of food and His gourd is always full of water, yet the statue itself has an empty basket and gourd. At times, He is referred to as the "Night Walking Infant of Atocha". Many miracles are attributed to His Presence and the Shrine is filled with acknowledgements of these.

12 Comments:

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Shepard said...

If I told the average Catholic the story like the one about the holy child statue or maybe the miracle of the lactation of St. Bernard they would probably think it blasphemous. Its a damn shame. Catholics used to be known for barking at the moon and talking to their dead relatives instead of voting republican and homeschooling their kids.

This Iamblichus guy you quote often is very interesting, he seems to have so many bases covered that modern people struggle with. If he had converted he could have been a real asset to the early Church.

 
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