Esoterism and Christian Mysticism (2)

This is part 2 of 5 of an essay originally published by EA, or Julius Evola, under the title “Esoterismo e Mistica Cristiana” from the third volume of Introduction to Magic. In this section he deals with the esoteric meaning of silence and homelessness.

Part 1    Part 3 ⇒

Anyhow, it will not be useless for our readers to delve deeper into this question, considering at various points the meaning of asceticism and Christian mysticism according to an esoteric valuation.

Above all we have to notice, in the history of Christian mysticism, a process of degradation in a certain way. If we refer here to the first centuries of the Church, we find in patristics not a few elements still having a connection with initiatic teachings, and that due to the simple fact that is was formed in the environment in which the influence of the traces of the preceding and co-existing mystery wisdom and neo-Platonism was still alive. From Augustine on, and then with the Spanish mystics, there is a rising humanization or psychologization of Christian mysticism, which not even the Thomist stream avoids. The subject of mystical experience becomes more the soul rather than the spirit, the affective aspect prevails, and moral views take the upper hand over the ontologico-existential.

The fundamental character of Christian mysticism is passivity. According to the Thomist conception “the fundamental element of mystical contemplation consists in a passive movement of love for God, which often depends on a certain feeling of his presence”.[1] It “is not the product of our activity but rather it is usually preceded by asceticism and meditation, and is normally received as the reward of one’s own efforts. But it depends on God’s initiative; and our spirit is passive in it, although it reacts vitally under the divine impulse.”[2] This idea of passivity is accentuated with the theory of double grace, one called “sufficient”, tied to normal Christian life, and the other extraordinary, due to the mystical gifts of the Holy Spirit, who would permit them alone a truly supernatural development. The same arising in the soul of the love of God—which takes the place here of the fire of intellectual initiatic asceticism—is conceived as an effect of divine grace.

Some positive aspects of Christian asceticism, as preparation for contemplation, were present especially at its origins. We will note them.[3]

A first guideline of asceticism is isolation and simplification. It, moreover, is justified in terms of analogy, with reference less to Christ than to the Father, and reflects the earlier pre-Christian ideal of “deification”.

“The man, who through the gifts of grace and his continuous esoteric effort will have to arrive at resembling God, must necessarily be an image of the simplicity and unity of God…Little by little deification increases, man approaches always closer to the perfect divine simplicity that asks nothing outside of itself, that is sufficoent in itself. It is obvious that a theology that (like the Greek) gives so important a place to the concept of deification and that conceives God first of all according to the aspect of a single, simple being, sufficient in Himself, will have to see the ideal of Christian perfection in man completely free from all passions and tends to God reproducing in him, as far as he can, unity and simplicity” [AS]

Originally, a not different base had the anchorite as the ideal, physical external isolation, in this case having to have, therefore, only a symbolic and ritual value, hence that of a discipline limited to the training period. In a higher degree, the extra mundum fieri, the isolation from the world, is no longer necessary to occur materially, but only in the spirit. In that regard, Christian and initiatic asceticism can meet halfway.[4]

Ascetic detachment can also assume the form of instabilitas loci and xeniteia. The detachment from one’s own land and from one’s family or people, eschewing a fixed home, wandering, bringing oneself to foreign and distant lands—all that can likewise have a symbolic or ritual value in order to bring to awareness the idea that one is not in this world as in a definite place and in one’s own country, but rather as a wanderer and an exile, not forgetting one’s celestial origin and end.[5] This meaning, as was noted, was very alive in early Buddhism and, we can mention, with a more special connection to the life of action, was not extraneous to the chivalric ideal in the form of the “knight errant”. One must nevertheless note that in Christianity the premise for the coherent realization of a more general meaning is missing, because Christianity rejects the initiatic theory of the pre-existence of the soul to this terrestrial life, and only with reference to this theory can terrestrial existence signify the passage of one who came from far away and again turns towards other states of being.

Christian asceticism also knows the technique of silence. “That is not only a renunciation of communication with other men, but is also a positive factor of the interior life” [AC, 62]. We know, therefore, the part that the discipline of silence had among the Pythagoreans, as well as the meaning of yogic and initiatic silence in general. In Christian asceticism almost all the practice of the more interiorized degree of such discipline is lacking, that is “being silent” not only with the spoken word but likewise with thought (Ibn-Arabi’s “not speaking with oneself”). The so-called “prayer of quiet” is known, where we meet the expression quies contemplationis and Saint Gregory, among the conditions for mystical contemplation, touched on freeing oneself from the noise of thought [TM, 112]. A precise and active method, in this regard, which is known in the East, however is missing in Christian asceticism. And in the monastic forms, as the anchoritic ideal is supplanted by the cenobitic ideal, more consistent with the collectivizing tendency of Christianity, as well as the liturgic element, brought to a hypertrophy, predominates over the individual discipline of silence even in contemplative orders, such as the Carthusians, the Carmelites, and the Camaldolese.

In Christianity in the state of, what we call, “silence”, one is more inclined to follow the techniques than to cultivate certain internal dispositions. The so-called “cognition of external things” comes back to that.

“It is actually the knowledge of Satan’s kingdom, in deriving the power that this exercises on the sensible world and in intuiting the true place that material things must have in relation to the divine plane. This knowledge must not remain purely speculative: it is necessary that the soul at the same time express it in practice, i.e., that it frees itself from the disordered affect for the creature, incompatible with the life of union with God”. In such regard there are those who think that such “knowing” must be received from angels, no natural and human science being able to give it to the soul. [AC, 130-3]

Initiatically, “separating the real from the unreal” corresponds to that, that are achieved essentially through lives of pure intellectuality, loosened from emotional being; the neutralization of “demonic” forces is one of its natural consequences. In the second place, always with the same goal, it is said that the soul of the Christian must know what it is before God, which would be tantamount to “being convinced of his own nothingness”, freeing himself from egoism, redeeming himself from his own will”. Such a discipline undergoes nevertheless the deformation peculiar to the Christian way of understanding “mortification” and the “creaturely” passive attitude. Initiatically, it is about “disidentification” and surpassing oneself as simple individual being, a surpassing, that does not come about through degradation and humility, nor with reference to the image of God as a distinct being, but rather in conceiving one’s own persona as a contingent mask and in itself irrelevant in relation to the true I, almost as in the consciousness of an actor who does not confuse himself with the part that he played. In every way, these are the two principle ways through which, the knowledge of external things of oneself as individual being achieved, Christian asceticism seeks to propitiate the quies contemplationis and to not be more susceptible to inner things, or to passions and frivolous desires.

[1] Padre F. D. Joret, La contemplation mystique selon s. Tomas d’Aquin.

[2] Ibid, p. 9

[3] On this topic we refer to two books by Father Anselmo Stoltz, “L’ascesi Cristiana” [AC] and “La Teologia della mistica”, [TM] part of the current that is seeking to revalue Greek patristics.

[4] Cfr. Islam, which has no monastic asceticism, the concept of zuhd, which is not actual material renunciation, but inner detachment.

[5] AC, 53-60. In such visual persecutions, expulsions, and similar situations, it would be of value as extraordinary means used by God to remind us of what is our true country.

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