As the festival of the Gentile world nears, Christmas will cast its inevitable charm over the hardest pagan heart, and it will beguile the most Christian heart (as it humanly should) into a forgetfulness of the metaphysical foundations of the Faith; we will forget our deep questions, and will instead celebrate like little children, only hoping to be more childlike than childish. Rather than Christmas being a diversion, a concession from God, or just sentimental nonsense, perhaps a meditation is possible on the relation of Birth, with Death. If Christ is born, will he not also, then, die? If such is His fate, how much more so ours? And can we do this in a way that is joyful? How about the transcendence of the Northern tradition, where does this fit into Christmas, or should it?
Even in Christmas, there is a bass undertone. The weather reminds us of this, as do countless morality plays in literature, such as The Phantom Carriage. Dicken’s Christmas Carol is sentimental, but not sentimentalist – the Ghosts are not “tame” or “happy”, though they are joyful. The root of the season is in the hard earth, like iron, and the frozen water, as a stone. Nature lies dying, dead, sleeping. And we are part of this nature. Our bodies harden, dry up, and wither, as age progresses. The universe is “cold” to the natural and easy nature of man, as he is born. In order to “get inside”, to come into the cheer and the hearth, he must be “born again”. Having power over Nature will not save him, unless he is first able to extract himself from Nature, because otherwise, power over Nature is only power over himself as an object, or slave. Western man sought this short cut, & it has failed.
What is this New Birth? Is it (as the modern Church would have, offering us Santa cookies and cool-aid, instead of a Eucharist), a saccharine and emotional change in the psychological tone of the man? Is it (as the fundamentalists would argue) something as necessarily easy as saying a Jesus prayer, much like humming along with the Christmas elevator music we hear? The Church may be eternal, and it may be indefectible, but its modern state proves that it is not infallible. The New Birth is hardly known, and even more rarely understood. We will have to turn to Evola and Steiner, two men “outside the pale”, to explicate it. Only then can sip our wassail without drinking damnation, or at least stupidity, unto our souls. Strange times, when the Church is still necessary, but no longer sufficient?
Isn’t this what Christmas means, anyway? Steiner points out that all entities or even “things” (and certainly combinations of both such as Sacred writings) can induce a spiritual experience:
When a man does this day by day, then something shows itself in the soul which gives him new life, he is reborn, he is spiritually transformed. He sees around him a spiritual world of which he had previously no idea. Everyone who takes the first verses of the Saint John Gospel and lets them work upon him for the education and training of his soul, experiences the Saint John Gospel itself in mighty pictures.
These “soul pictures” were once known & studied in the Church; however, during this dark time, our Mother Church is barren and cold and dying, and there is no room in the inn for the weary traveler. Out of something dark, and into something small, the rebirth of the mystery occurs, a re-birth which will and must (in the end) redeem that which suffered and went astray to bring it to pass.
Evola speaks about learning to put up with suffering as if it were a case of bad weather (in Cologero’s words) –
The Trial by Suffering is the acceptance of whatever appears to be. The individual’s attitude towards suffering must be no different from his attitude toward a rainy day; it is something exterior and of no concern. Besides the writings of the saints and Stoics that Evola mentions, there is also Nietzsche’s concept of amor fati…
This, too, is taught in Steiner, for without the lesser or even least part of Creation, and without the dark chiascuro of suffering or the chaos of the end times, that which is subtle, higher, and permanent could not come to pass. Evola gives the inward metaphysic of the dogma, Steiner provides the poetic or symbolical meaning of the correspondent theology. Thus, Steiner inclines towards the exoteric, while Evola adumbrates the esoteric inwardness.
In order for the pupil to receive aright the influence of these words and find the ‘word’ which is proclaimed by the Saint John Gospel, the teacher spoke as follows: “Thou must fill thy soul for weeks at a time with this one feeling. Think of the plant. It is rooted in the dead stone. If it had consciousness, it would have to bow down to the dead stone and say to it: ‘Without thee I could not live; out of thee I drew nourishment and strength: I owe to thee my being, I thank thee.’ The animal would have to speak in similar words to the plant: ‘Without thee I could not live, I incline myself towards thee in thankfulness, because out of thee I draw that which I require for my existence.’ And it is the same with all the kingdom. Man, who has attained to a higher stage of evolution, must also bow down, as the plant to the stone, to those who work for him, and thank them.” He who would become a Christian Initiate must develop this feeling during a period of many weeks — the feeling that he owes gratitude to him who stands beneath him. Then he experiences in the spirit the thirteenth chapter of the Saint John Gospel where this feeling is given sublime and eternal expression by Christ in the Washing of the Feet. Christ means to say: “Without you I could not be, I incline myself to you as the plant to the stone.” As an outer symbol the Initiate experienced at this stage a feeling as if water were flowing around his feet. It continued for a long time. When he had gone through this, the Christian Mystic could experience the next stage of initiation. For this he must cultivate the power to endure all the storms and stresses of life. Then he experienced a second picture. He saw himself scourged, and could feel in his own body something like pain at certain points. This went on for many weeks. He experienced the scourging. Now he could rise to the third stage. The teacher said to him: “Thou must cultivate a feeling which can endure that all thou holdest highest should be treated with scorn and derision.” The scorn and derision must be for him nothing, in comparison with his own inner strength and certainty.
Our stable, or inn, here below is dignified by the eventual destiny it will participate in. Evola speaks of fire, suffering, & love in three steps (which roughly correspond to purification, illumination, & glorification in the Christian tradition). Steiner complicates this somewhat with more “stations of the cross”; his final stages are cosmological in nature on the one hand, and on the other hand, seem to stretch out the three steps of Evola to end up in the same place (Resurrection or Instantiation).
Understanding the way-stations of Christ’s life (and/or accepting the destiny of our own), the “new birth” is a nothing hanging upon a nothing, a spark of life issuing from a heap of apparent death. In the personal life, this may be something quite small and seemingly innocuous (to our fallen nature) -Bonaventura wrote it, Ignatius of Loyola put it on his tombstone, and Holderlin put it at the beginning of The Hyperion:
Non coerceri maximo, contineri minimo, divinum est.
God chooses the weak things of the world to bring to nothing what is strong.
Why? Not because it is “strong” or because being weak is good, but because what is reckoned strong is unreal. On the contrary, the least part of God’s reality is more real than the greatest devising that Titanism can construct, because that which is prior, or inward, rules that which is outward, and that which is outward must flow from what gave it birth, and return to it, or fall into chaos.
This is the meaning of the Christmas story, not that a sentimental little ragamuffin in a barn is all that matters, but that he is the source of all that is. Nations are redeemed, miracles performed, cathedrals built, because of the child; Christianity did not beat swords into plough-shares, but rather inverted it into a cross, which becomes a sword in a stone for the hour of need. Sentimentalistic Christianity wants to undo Creation (and therefore Redemption) by denying all glory in order to kill the glory of the world.
Glory is real. The glory of the world is unreal, before that which is before it. Because of the cradle, we know that the foundation of God’s kingdom is forever assured. God himself built upon that which is unshakeable, which the enemy desired to see into, but could never anticipate. Evil, chaos, suffering, unreality – all these will continue to be foiled and defeated by the lonely, insignificant, and outcast. Even the glory of the world shall be saved.
This is the same tale, not told of an idiot, but whispered by the snow and the ice and the wind itself, which blows where it wills, and which contains the kiss which (passing strange) awakens the Sleeping Beauty of Spring. It is the tale of Robin Hood, the Hooded Man, & all of the troubadours who sang the Romance of the Rose, whose song gave birth to the chivalry that still lingers in the West at this late date. Death cannot conquer that which is deathless.
Tomberg thought that there were two paths available to those who wished to overcome the illusion, “Me, living – you, shadow”. The first choice was that of India, which involved extending the illusion to the self. This is the path of indifference. The second choice involves extending love of the self to the “neighbor”.
Perhaps Christianity has a permanent temptation, as the case of Steiner shows, towards an evolutionary worldview (which is unsound) and an affirmative path, an allurement towards matter. However, at Christmas, before the light dawns, the watching & the Lord are at one.