You were a model of perfection, full of wisdom, perfect in beauty; in Eden, the garden of God. ~ Ezek 23:12-13
I’ve been doing some preparation for the upcoming discussion on the sexes from an esoteric perspective. Besides the obvious sources, I started reading the Theology of the Body by John Paul II. I was more than a little surprised by what I read. As in any such work, the method is more important than the conclusion; the conclusion will make sense only by wrestling with the process.
Hence, this is a reflection just on chapter 1 which deals with the method. There are several themes which we have already addressed, showing the possibilities that can still be extracted from the Tradition. As such, the method is important in its own right, and not merely as a philosophically sophisticated justification of the doctrines on sexuality (the outcome is never in doubt). The real fruits will come when it is applied to other areas. I’ve highlighted several themes from my notes that warrant discussion.
- Opposition to modernity as defined by Bacon, Descartes, Kant
- Phenomenology as Hermetic meditation
- Subjectivity vs objectivity
- The relationship between experience and revelation
- Notion of the Person
- Nondual body/mind. Man as male and female
- Biblical texts as myth
- John of the Cross
- Tranquil witness of consciousness
While a pope has to be circumspect about what he writes, we are free to be more speculative in drawing out the logical conclusions and place these ideas in a wider context.
The primary reason that a refutation of the modern project is impossible is that it is perfectly logical within its own presuppositions, much like an alternative geometry is to the Euclidean. If you change one axiom, the rest ineluctably follows. What is necessary, therefore, is the refutation of the axiom. For that task, the ratio, or rational mind is inadequate. Rather, only the intellectus, or higher mind can accomplish it. This is the “intellectual conversion” that Guenon refers to. If the modern world is an illusion, only the truth can dispel it. But the truth must be “seen” or “intuited”, not discovered by reason, or philosophy, or scientific experiment.
Francis Bacon inaugurated the modern project when he eliminated formal and final causes from his philosophy. As a methodological assumption, it turned out to be quite powerful, leading to scientific discoveries and technological advances. The problem arises when the Bacon’s method is extended beyond that limited domain. Allegedly scientific theories about the origins of the universe, life, man, and society turn out to be destructive. The neglect of formal causes implies that the material world exists on its own and is self-explanatory. The denial of final causes implies the meaningless not just of the world, but also of man. There can be nothing “natural” beyond what we experience as nothing has a purpose beyond that.
Rene Descartes took the next step. For him, the body is part of the material world and consciousness is detached from it, with no clear relationship. This leads to Arthur Schopenhauer’s famous question in the introduction to the World as Will and Idea: where exactly is the scientist in his theory? How does he explain himself? Specifically, where is he at the “big bang” or the “origin of the species”? He claims to be an objective observer at those events, but that is clearly an absurdity.
JPII challenges this project radically. The body, for him, is never inert matter, but rather a fully integrated body/spirit. The very experience of bodiness forms the basis for his meditations.
The Turn to Interiority
Although JPII Does not reject the metaphysic of being, he is more interested in exploring the states of consciousness described in the Genesis story, rather than understanding it simply as objective fact. This has led to criticism in some quarters. However, the insistence on pure objectivity, if taken too far, implies that even atheists can be theologians (it is the case). Theology becomes a “language game” with a set of rules that anyone can follow.
Now such an approach is not arbitrary subjectivity, from which many theological deviations arise. Rather, it is more like the way theology is understood in the East, as theoria, i.e., the theologian must actually “know” God.
Thus, theology is not so much logic, but is based on the “interior gaze” as JPII expresses it. Confusion may arise because the distinction between the psyche or soul and the intellectus or spirit is poorly understood. At the soul level, experience is indeed merely subjective. However, paradoxically, the spirit is totally objective. It is the “witness to conscience” as JPII puts it.
The story of creation is “prehistory”, since it cannot be understood in terms of history or science. JPII describes it as a “myth” and relies on figures such as Mircea Eliade, Karl Jung, among others to grasp mythological symbols in their fullness. Note that this does not mean JPII denies that something “happened”, but he proposes a way to understand it.
He calls this method phenomenology, but it is not your grandfather’s phenomenology. Actually it is more like the Hermetic meditation described by Valentin Tomberg. He even refers to the lectures as “meditations”. So JPII uses the Biblical narrative to explore ever deeper levels of psychic layers. The main topics are “original innocence”, “original solitude”, the origin of shame, what it means to be embodied.
The objective text is insufficient. That is, revelation needs to be related to experience; it is not some incredible belief without relevance to life.
Now Adam’s original state was solitude. Although he named, or knew, all the animals, none were suitable companions to him. With Eve came the awareness of being embodied as male and female. Now this brings up an interesting point about how sex is related to humanity.
Definitions can be conventional or real. A conventional definition, for example, includes types of triangles (equilateral, isosceles). A type of triangle is still a triangle, it has the property “triangularity”. Hence, the distinction is conventional and is made for convenience and communication.
A real definition includes genus and difference, e.g., “man is a rational animal”. Man is of the genus “animal”, and what distinguishes him is “rationality”. So he is both animal and not-animal. Of course, the scientific project rejects that notion, and regards man as just a “type” of animal. Rationality is a matter of degree not qualitative distinction.
So what then is sex? Is it more like a type of triangle? That is the modern view that regards one’s sex as somewhat arbitrary, and a person can therefore reassign or redefine his own sexuality. That is rejected.
But is it not of the second kind, since both male and females are fully human, and not different species of the genus “human”. JPII writes that sex is “constitutive for the person” not an “attribute of the person”. Thus it is not conventional; it is essential to who one is, not accidental.
Thus there are differences between male and female. For example, man is the knower, woman is known, i.e., man is conscious.
In the Baconian project, every problem is presumed to have a technological solution. The body is no different than any other material object, so surgery, drugs, genetic manipulation, and other techniques are employed to solve existential issues.
However, for JPII, the human person is called to self-mastery. That is, the person is master of the body or, in Hermetic terms, the “subtle rules the dense”. Obviously this is also Evola’s position when he writes of an inner autarchy.
Now to be free is to be free of constraints. JPII points out that a “drive” is just an inner constraint. Of course, for the modern mind, freedom is the ability to act out on one’s “instinctual” drives. Any “voice” that opposes that misunderstanding is experienced as a threat. From that perspective, happiness should be the result of such acting out. In other words, “the dense rules the subtle”.
This false maxim is taken to the extreme by Marxism, for which the forms of consciousness are determined by the material aspects of life. Since few people bother to understand the roots thoughts of their worldview, they may hold Marxist ideas even while denying it. For example, the notion that all social problems can be “solved” by more education, programs, etc. is such a view. While a good regime is known for bringing peace and prosperity, it also requires a population that is able to exercise a certain measure of self-control.
This method of phenomenology can be applied into new areas. Since the focus of TOB is on marriage and procreation, there is still much more to be said about being embodied as a man. There is the meditation on “original innocence”, as JPII says:
Original innocence conceived in this way manifests itself as a tranquil witness of consciousness that precedes any experience of good and evil.
Obviously, the “witness” state is not descriptive, as phenomenology claims to be, but rather prescriptive. That is, it is a task and is therefore “real” only for those able to achieve such a state. Elsewhere, he writes:
Man is the causal origin of actions and at the same time the author of their meanings.
Thus, a man must act consciously, understanding the meaning and consequences of what he does, for a determinate aim. Much of human activity is meaningless.
Similarly, rationality in the animal is virtual in most cases. A man’s task, then, is to actualize that quality. We can quickly mention:
- A life lived in accordance with reason
- Becoming free from irrational drives, emotions, etc.
- Taking responsibility for one’s actions
- Recognizing the personhood of others, not treating them as objects
- Achieving an inner state of calm and detachment
- Letting the subtle rule the dense
- Becoming the witness of consciousness
These qualities, and more, deserve studies of their own.