Esoterism and Christian Mysticism (3)

This is part 3 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 2

If we now consider the grades in Christian asceticism beyond the preparatory levels, those which are realized in it and actually mystical, the fundamental point, which is almost exclusive of references, is the imitation of Christ on a sacramental base. Here we will omit the purely devotional and emotional forms, which lack any value for us; that they were able to take root in active and volitive races, in general, as are the Western races, remains an enigmatic point. The mystical view that is encountered on a slightly higher plane is the following: Christ has transfigured the human nature he assumed by incarnating himself in the body of the Resurrection and Ascension. And the glorification of the body of Christ must be likewise understood in its deepest sense, in relation to the Redemption as restoration and fulfillment of the life of our body in paradise. Christian asceticism considers moreover the event of Christ as the way to glorification with reference to the restoration of the Adamic state in which the body was completely subject to the soul and its sensory part, to the spirit. And since in the redemptive work of Christ the way toward a renewed harmony between the soul and the body is passed through death, and since we only must follow this way in order to assure for our body victory over the effects of original sin, so Christian asceticism has as its central point the concept of mortification, of dying and being reborn in Christ [TM 182,183].

That would be accomplished previously in the sacramental area beginning with Baptism. It is believed that redemptive and sanctifying grace shared in man by baptism already contains the seed of supernatural mystical life, because one is baptized in the sign of the death of Jesus and the crucifixion of ancient man. If in baptism, the faithful imitate and follows Christ into death, in the Eucharist, instead, food and nourishment of new life, they would participate mystically at the sacrifice, in the resurrection and ascension: a real participation already in the mystery of the sacrament, even if it is fulfilled in a veiled, invisible way, not accessible to our experience [AC 71-79]. Therefore, the idea prevails in the orthodox Catholic conception, that there is no essential discontinuity between the sacramental life of the common believer and the mystical life: the latter should not be exceptional, it would be already contained germinally in the former. The mystic, instead of leaving the seed of union with God inactive, brings its energy into actuality to the point of realizing this union as experience [TM 44-50]. A more concrete interpretation is the following: ritual (sacramental) participation in the death and resurrection of Christ does not transform the entire man in a single blow. It is first of all the interior man (eso anthropos, Rom 7:22) who is to be transformed. Then the ascetic, aided by a special grace, will have to kill little by little the “law of sin” in his limbs and to prepare in that way, according to the new supernatural principle of life received, a new body, the resurrection of the flesh, physical death going finally to definitively divest man from the “body of sin” [TM 39-42]. In terms of dogma, this realization is nevertheless remanded to the time of the “universal judgment”. It is not admitted that one can accomplish that in life.

We now see how one can judge the whole of this doctrine from our point of view. In this area, there is no need to emphasize that the model of death that opens the way to the supernatural order is not specifically Christian; even if it is not such as to be essential for every way of spiritual realization (because it is not said that this must always entail a crisis), it can have initiatic value. Specific to Catholicism is the idea that it is not an exceptional and dangerous initiatic operation, but the religious rite accessible to everyone that has a power to induce in man a supernatural quality, even if only germinally and potentially, and to produce it in a certain way from the outside, without any participation of the person, even beyond his consciousness, as is evident in the case of infant baptism. Even if, as was mentioned, one speaks of the further actions of the grace of the Holy Spirit for mystical development, this view contains the principle of a dangerous confusion of planes. If conceived in terms of reality, death, resurrection, and glorification in the sacraments, it cannot be other than symbols and prefigurations, concealing an order that transcends the generic sacralization connected to religious life. And it would be erroneous to suppose that the Christian, having had baptism and participating in the other sacraments of his tradition, finds himself for that reason in any position of advantage through the realizations foretold by an effective initiation. The Alexandrian distinction between the pistikos and pneumatikos, i.e., between the simple believer and the gnostic or initiate, must be maintained. Only through mystical experience can the idea fit, that is does not necessarily imply a rift, but can be an almost natural development of life which, in the Christian, is supposed to be supernaturalized by the work of the sacraments. Sacramental life, as pure mystical life, cannot go beyond a psychological-subjective or moral plane, while the initiatic one has an ontological and super-individual character. In regard to the former one can speak, at most, of sanctity, not of deification.

As for formal correspondences, through some details we can point out that baptism is a simple ritual image of contact with the “Waters” of “dissolution” in the life-principle anterior and superior to every individuation or form: experience, that in its radical, exceptional, and even dangerous character cannot obviously have any comparison with whatever is happening—even if invisibly—in Christian baptism.[1] The notion of the “glorified body”, in which the law of death is conquered, comes directly to Christianity from the earlier mystery traditions, losing nevertheless, in the form of the dogmas of the resurrection of the flesh or of purely eschatological perspectives in the afterlife, its concrete and initiatic meaning. The scheme, actually, is already found in the rite of the transmutatio [transmutation] of the Eucharist: the bread counts as the body, the wine as blood and soul. The one and the other principle are transformed and when, after that, a piece of the host is united to the wine, the meaning is the joining of the transfigured soul with the body in the manner proper to the resurrection body or immortal body of Christ. Now it would be the case of speaking really of superstitions whenever one presumes, in the Eucharistic participation, anything more than a simple allegory, with effects of moral elevation and, if one prefers, of mystical rapture: certainly not that which always is taken as the furthest limit of possible accomplishment on this earth to an adept. In regard to all this, whoever has a notion of what it actually is about, would come to think of it almost a profanation.[2]

Aside from the hoped for intervention of grace, in the purview of realization, i.e., of the development and the actualization of the influences induced by the sacraments, there is no precise way recommended to the Christian. The simple subjective dispositions corresponding to the so-called theological virtues, i.e., faith, hope, and love, remain. “Mortification” is conceived in essentially moral terms, with undeserved stress on the value of everything that is suffering and “penance”. Here there is actually an incompatibility with what is typical to a healthy and normal Western type of man: on the basis of the sense of “guilt” and the congenital sinfulness which every man must be conscious of, we know that almost pathological tendencies have often appeared specifically in Christian mysticism. Moreover, prayer, oration, understood as a gift of the Holy Spirit, is conceived as the fundamental power of the mystical life, to the point that ecstasy itself is considered by some as a level of it, the highest level [AC 121].[3]

[1] The Gospels speak of a baptism by fire beyond that of water. This double baptism and double regeneration corresponds to the two phases of initiatic work called albedo and rubedo in Hermetism.

[2] Cfr. the article on the “immortal body” in Introduction to Magic.

[3] The contemporary writer, Frithjof Schuon, who strove to find initiatic prospects in Christianity, believed that the active counterpart of passive participation mediated by the sacraments was (with specific reference to the Eastern Church) the practice of the invocation of the saving name of Christ. This is one of the more primitive techniques for the “killing of the manas”, i.e., for the neutralization of the mental ego, analogous to the continuous repetition of the “divine Name” in Islam. Moreover, the abuse of the liturgy in the Catholic contemplative orders does not have objectively any other end. That, beyond the negative aspect, the “virtue of the name” also enables certain states of illumination, is something problematic. In every way, it is a chance event, and it is necessary to have faith in the protective actions of the sacraments in order to unwrap the possibility of an action of the most diverse extra-sensible influences, once the manas is “killed”. In any case, the mystic has little way of interpreting correctly the phenomena that occur, because it is held on an emotive, rather than intellectual, level, and the Christian devotional framework, with its various images, rather than helping him, serves instead to lead him astray.

15 thoughts on “Esoterism and Christian Mysticism (3)

  1. Ah, a lion, and I perhaps a lamb. It seems both you and I are outsiders then.

    Take care that your higher faculties are not falling under the power of a baser instinct, like rage (a very common undercurrent these days), seeking to justify itself. You do not want to find out too late that your ‘noble’ animator was no knight, but a vicious commoner in purloined armour.

    You will have to ask the church authority about your status as the last Christian warrior; just be sure you don’t become the next Breivik instead.

  2. I can only speak for myself but within me I have always felt that I do belong in this world and I want to live as far apart from it as I can; the more I come into contact with the degeneracy that is modern life I get very angry and want to destroy it all. That is why, before I became aware of Tradition, I was attracted to punk – the pure hardcore nihilist punk to be exact – but since becoming aware of Mediaeval civilisation I do feel an instinctive attraction to it, I feel as if I belong in the Middle Ages. When I first read old works of chivalry, I immediately desired to become a knight, a desire that has not left me at all. That’s why I feel alienated from most Traditionalists equally as I do from moderns because they do not share my values and beliefs, which are those of the crusaders. I do feel at home around SSPX circles but those people tend to be of a more intellectual bent whereas I want to take those beliefs and fight for them. Can I be the last Christian warrior ?

  3. Hi Jason-Adam, here is my comment, feel free to explain your question further if my interpretation is off.

    A movement toward his primordial center may be undertaken by a man, along which path he may certainly recover the memory of what it was to belong to a prior age, particularly the essential part, and those ages that are to him directly ancestral.

    Yet, this is not the same as making himself that prior man, for his point of departure is inevitably the modern form, that very manhood that could not but emerge after the cosmic shift described above; at least some part of this modernity, even if only the memory, will likely remain a part of his soul.

    In any case, the recovery of primordiality is an internal movement, and while its effects may be reflected on the outer man, the individual as such remains what he is within the world in which he manifested.

  4. August your explanation of Evola’s thought is very good and I agree with your analysis.

    Do you think it is possible though for someone to make himself a man of a prior age ?

  5. Evola considered the world to have suffered a schizoid event, namely the consolidation of modernity as negation of existing traditions without inauguration of a new one. He did not consider this to be a mere cultural change, but a ‘concrete’ event of cyclical transition that affected the world and man on many planes; not absolutely, but deeply enough that only ‘esoteric’ penetration offered a real escape, whilst even religions had been more or less tainted. Much of this, of course, derived from Guenon, and summarized by Nietzsche as the ‘death of God’.

    Evola thought that the gravity of the change was such that new, modern man could no longer be accommodated by the structures of yesteryear, hence his intrepidity in exploring late modern expressions of this novel atmosphere and its resultant existential turmoil, whilst recognising the fundamental health and normality of the prior traditional forms and the absolute principles they protected.

  6. The reply function isnt working for some reason. The previous post was in reply to Mihai’s post below.

  7. Well said. Your response, I think, sums up the entirety of Evola’s problematic relationship with Christianity. It seems that both he and Guenon largely ignored the Orthdox church, and i’ve often wondered why this is.

    There seems to be competing ideas of Orthodoxy as Eastern Orthodoxy, meaning a cultural phenomenon, and Orthodoxy, meaning the true, historical, ancient form of Christianity. Perhaps the former conception made it possible for them to overlook Orthodoxy. The more I learn, however, the more I tend towards the latter, though I do feel a certain sense of loyalty to Catholocism.

  8. Not really, but, admittedly, he does have problems identifying genuine spiritual knowledge from counterfeits. For example, he cherry-picks some interesting bits from Crowley found here and there in his doctrine, but he doesn’t see the big picture in all of this: namely that Crowley was, in the end, just another occultist whose system is no more than pseudo-spiritual syncretism with certainly lots of material that strikes me as of sinister origin.

    (By the way, when I enter the facebook account for Gornahoor, I see a Crowley picture at the top: I believe it harms the mission that Gornahoor has set for itself and attracts all sorts of unwanted individuals).

    In his first volume of the Introduction to magic, there is some material written by antroposophists, which (the material) is certainly filled with occultist concepts.

    I think Evola was one of those individuals who feared getting past and leaving behind certain initial steps (such as Nietzsche) of fear of contradicting himself.

  9. Evola strikes me sometimes as getting close to schizophrenic – I mean here’s this guy who’s an admirer of De Maistre, Cortes, De Poncins, who says the pre-1789 world is the healthy one, yet then he’s also into Dadaism, Beatniks, Crowley, is anyone seeing a split mind ?

  10. F. Seraphim of Sarov, for example, is spoken of in the Eastern Church, as actually having transcended monasticism, and gone back into the world. Isn’t there more than a “trace”, here, of recognizing that the journey doesn’t end in mystical absorption into God?

  11. “The Alexandrian distinction between the pistikos and pneumatikos, i.e., between the simple believer and the gnostic or initiate, must be maintained.”

    Certainly agree with this; lately, reading Ousepensky’s The Fourth Way, and certainly (for myself, and perhaps other believers) would agree that there is a danger in Christianity today of assuming that one “knows” when nothing of the kind has happened, when the individual has merely transferred illusions to another plane. If there is a danger of giving in to a “higher” illusion, that danger can be obviated by efforts not to succumb to further illusions. The danger, inherent if any, could come merely from institutionalizing those tendencies to illusion in the forms and sacraments, which certainly goes on, but can still be obviated by the individual, if they are being guided in that Tradition by a higher spiritual impulse. There are many resources, within the Faith, to aid in that possibility. I don’t think blaming Catholicism or Christianity in toto, as Evola dances about the possibility of doing, flirting with it, so to speak, serves a constructive purpose in and of itself.

  12. “Even if the hesychasts are at a “low level”, that is still much higher than anyone else. ”

    True, and I would even go further to say that even doing nothing but the ‘external’ discipline of going to church and receiving the Sacraments is still better than doing nothing but stand in front of the computer screen and complaining on ‘traditional’ forums of how the West, because of Christianity, has lost all contact with esoteric knowledge- much like the pseudo-traditionalists of our days are doing (not surprisingly, many being affiliated to the new-right).

  13. The problem, it seems to me, is the terminology employed. Since the Eastern Church (as did the One Church in the beginning of Christianity) describes its methods, disciplines and knowledge as mystical, and Evola identifies “mysticism” solely with what came to prevail in the West under this name- that is individualist and spontaneous achievements of an admittedly sentimental and subjective nature- he comes to the conclusion that the Jesus prayer must be nothing more above this sentimental and subjective experience.

    He clearly had no direct insight into the mystical teachings that have been kept here until the modern times, he probably had no adequate knowledge of the Philokalia- and this is proven by the fact that he doesn’t once cite a given Church Father, but only modern authors talking about the Fathers, so his conclusions in this area are terribly superficial.

    Mysticism means here something that resembles his definition of esoterism- and I say resembles, because even his definition of esoterism is somewhat strained and certainly only includes a portion, not the whole of what used to be ‘named esoteric’ knowledge throughout history.

  14. Well, Jason-Adam, as Guenon pointed out in a letter to Guido de Giorgio, Evola was full of prejudices. That is unfortunate, given his otherwise brilliant insights. Evola, apparently, was not so concerned with intellectual coherence. For example, he referred to the time before the French Revolution as “healthy and normal”. Were the medieval knights not healthy and normal? Painting with such broad strokes does not produce any art.

    Even if the hesychasts are at a “low level”, that is still much higher than anyone else. Evola included, since he was never initiated into anything.

  15. Catholicism is incompatible with what is “healthy and normal” for the “active and volitive” Western man……and what is the source for Evola’s characterising Western man this way ? Nietzsche doesn’t count as the man had no transcendent knowledge so why repeat his prejudices ?

    The dismissal of Schuon strikes me as very superficial. I’ve spoken to hesychasts and they told me that actively repeating the Jesus prayer does induce a transcendent state, it’s not a mantra. And also the hesychasts have methods for recognising false and deceitful visions.

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