First and foremost, I will tell you who should work in this work, and when, and by what means: and what discretion you shall have in it. If you ask me who shall work thus, I answer you—all who have forsaken the world in a true will. ~ The Cloud of Unknowing
Going through the Ruins
To reconstruct Tradition in the West, we need build on the ruins left behind. Despite a mini revival of Thomism, as useful as that it, it does not go much further than skirmishes in academic debates. Rather, we must take it seriously, so seriously in fact, that it leads to an intellectual conversion. That conversion is a “forsaking” of the modern world for the real world. In other words, it begins with an “unknowing” and ends in the contemplative life which is true will.
Here are some basic notions that cry out for further development:
- the distinction between essence and existence
- the soul life of man
- the intellect as the form of the body
- human nature
Those are recited and then neglected. Now the Summa was intended as a beginner’s book so it cannot, as such, contain the whole of the teaching. The logical consequences of each notion must be teased out.
Essence, Existence, and Freedom
Every substance is the result of the union between an essence and existence, or, form and matter. What is unclear in that is how an essence becomes a substance. Science, the dominant ideology of today, only needs to deal with substances and their interrelations. The capability to “see” the essence in the thing has been lost. The intellectual conversion will therefore reveal that the world of things is but the reflection of a transcendent, perfect order.
But back to the problem. Kant determined that we cannot know the real world through pure reason since our experience of it is filtered through the categories of the mind. Only practical reason uncovers the truth about God, freedom, and immortality. This led those who followed, especially Schopenhauer and Fichte, to conclude that it is the Will that is fundamental, since that is what we know directly, “from the inside” as it were. Julius Evola, drawing on that line of thought as well as the energy (“Shakti”) of the Tantras to make his own contribution: The world, then, is my Will. (from the Individual and the Becoming of the World). This is justified on the grounds that
the concept can account for what constitutes the “essence” of a thing, or the totality of the characteristics that logically define it, but it is impotent to deduce – and even less to produce – its “existence”, the naked fact of its “being there” (dasein) as a real thing.
In Guenon’s terms, the possibilities of manifestation or of non-manifestation are logically the same. Hence, only a Will can bring an essence into manifestation. The extent to which the manifestation does not match the essence is called “privation”, the failure to fully manifest. In other words, the amount of “being” a thing has is related to its power and esoterically, power is freedom. (from Gnosis 1, IX, (7))
Essence, Accident, and Human Nature
The popular view is that humans share a common nature. That nature, then, is the essence of man and all other qualities are “accidents”, i.e., they do not change one’s essential nature. In Aristotelean terms, that nature is rational. But is that sufficient? Does it represent the “totality of characteristics” that define a man or woman?
Take, for example, one’s sex. In today’s belief system, sex is an accidental quality. Given that, same sex marriage and transgenderism make perfectly good sense. The Church, however, tries to hold out against the modern world. For example, a transgendered person can go to the political authorities and have documents such as birth certificates and drivers licenses changed to reflect the new sex. However, baptismal records cannot be changed. Another example is the commitment to the male priesthood, something that is unjustifiable is sex is an accidental quality.
Hence, one’s sex must be part of one’s essence, but Thomism as currently understood has no place for that. The same goes for one’s race, ethnicity, and so on: are these accidental or essential? Of course, a man is more that an abstract essence, he is also a person, an “I”.
The world process takes into account both involution and evolution. Involution is ontologically prior. Beings fall into different states of existence along a chain of being from the higher to the lower. The inverse of this is the apparent evolution from the lower to the higher, which is really the manifestation in time of involution.
In esoterism, we seek regeneration through the reversal of involution through evolution. In our human situation, we are born into a “matrix” that precedes us while keeping us within its bounds. If you recall, Joseph Ratzinger put it this way:
The seat of original sin is to be sought precisely in this collective net [or matrix] that precedes the individual existence as a sort of spiritual datum, not in any biological legacy passed on between otherwise utterly separated individuals.
That is the human-created reality, the justification for Seth’s claim that we “create our own reality”. Battered by the vast number of conflicting opinions, the first step is an “unknowing” of that false reality. Gradually one develops a “Real I” that is transcendent to the matrix. To the extent we are freed from false opinions, we become a unified and integral being. As we become more conscious of the forces that operate through us, we develop a higher intellect that is open to revelation free from the distortions of the collective net.
The next Thomist principle is that the Will follows the Intellect. Hence, the next stage in esoteric evolution is the True Will. Note that the Will is beyond even consciousness. From the Intellect’s perspective, this is “dark and irrational”, but freedom, to be truly free, cannot be determined by anything else, not even by God. For the time being, I’ll refer you to The Teaching about the Ungrund and Freedom, an essay by Nicolai Berdyaev on Jacob Boehme.
The Subtle Rules the Dense
Involution then is the reversal of evolution. First there is the Will, then Consciousness, then the Person or I, and finally manifestation. Now it is obvious that we are not manifesting the True Will exactly since we are born into the collective net. That is original sin and represents a privation of what we truly are or could be.
This is the true understanding of “creating our own reality”, as the Will seeks to manifest itself in the various stages. We don’t remember doing this, and on the occasions that we get a flash of remembrance, many people assume it to be a proof or “reincarnation”. A good exercise is to try to recall how much of our own lives we have chosen or created. At night, go through the events of the day and see how much you may have contributed, even unconsciously and unwittingly, to what happened. Plato describes this in the Myth of Er.
This is not incompatible with exoteric teaching insofar as it claims that God creates life. Of course, but God created man with a free will which cannot be interfered with. As a man aligns his own will with God’s will, the distinction becomes moot.