Prolegomena to any future Western metaphysics.
Meeting of the Minds
In 1921, the great Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain criticized Rene Guenon for participating in the rebirth of gnosis, the “mother of heresies”. Guenon responded, “It would make as much sense to speak of Catholicism as the father of Protestantism. In fact, you are simply confusing gnosis with Gnosticism.”
“If you take the word ‘gnosis’ in its true sense, that of pure knowledge, as I always do when I happen to use it … Gnosis so understood — and I refuse to understand it otherwise — cannot be called the mother of heresies. That would be the same as saying that the truth is the mother of errors.”
To be clear, by ‘gnosis’ or ‘wisdom’ as Evola usually called it, Guenon is referring to a state of being, not to a science or a set of doctrines to learn. At that point in his career, Guenon was involved in studying eastern doctrines on the one hand, and Christian symbolism on the other.
On May 25, 1925, Guenon participated in a round table discussion that included Maritain, where Guenon defended Hindu metaphysics. Guenon denied that it was either pantheist or idealist, contrary to academic consensus. Rather, it is connected more closely to the Aristotelian tradition, including the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages as exemplified by Thomas Aquinas.
Maritain objected because, from his point of view, this alliance between eastern and Catholic metaphysics is “an inadmissible subordination and the ruin of the distinction between the natural and supernatural order, between nature and grace.” For Maritain, metaphysics is not beyond theology, the “supreme science”.
Although Maritain had an authentic intellectual respect for Guenon, he eventually forced Guenon out of contributing to Catholic journals, and an opportunity was lost to further develop Thomism more fully and completely.
First of all Maritain fails to grasp Guenon’s distinction between philosophy and metaphysics, so he thinks from the perspective of the former. Since metaphysics is by definition the study of supernature (“beyond physics”), the distinction between the natural and the supernatural order is preserved. Maritain simply asserts that the supernatural order can be grasped only by faith and not by any sort of gnosis; this is remarkable, since as Guenon reminds us, for “Aristotle and his Scholastic successors .. the intellect was in fact that faculty which possessed a direct knowledge of principles.” In other words, Thomism does indeed admit a gnosis, though its full consequences have not been incorporated into theological thinking insofar as it may present a threat to the primacy of faith.
Evola also accepts Guenon’s judgment about Thomism, which he sees as part of the process of “rectification”. Interestingly enough, John Woodroffe, although he does not explicitly refer to the Aristotelian tradition (as far as I can recall), similarly denies that Tantrism is “idealist”, but is likewise “realist”. In his “Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines”, Guenon develops this topic more fully. Although at one point he claims that the only Western metaphysics is that of Aristotle and the Scholastics, he clarifies:
We do not include the Alexandrians, however, upon whom Oriental influences came to be exercised in a direct manner.
Where Thomism falls short is that it is a metaphysic of Being. It needs to be enhanced with an understanding of non-being as described in the Multiple States of Being. Catholic theology is hampered somewhat by the Eighth Ecumenical Council which denied the tripartite nature of man as spirit, soul, and body. (The Eastern churches don’t accept this council.) This needs to be overcome, so elements from the Great Triad and Man and his Becoming according to the Vendanta can be incorporated.
In summary: to recreate a Western metaphysic for our time one would:
- Begin with Thomism
- Incorporate an understanding of non-being, infinity, and non-duality from the Vedanta and Taoism
- Develop more fully the understanding of tripartite nature of man
- Integrate it with the ancient Hermetic tradition
- Integrate this with a spiritual practice so it arises from a true gnosis and does not devolve into yet another intellectualizing philosophy or theology
The young man who will take up this task may already have been born.
Reference: Rene Guenon: Le philosophe invisible by Jean-Luc Maxence. All translations from the French are mine.