In which we review Christian Gnosis: From St. Paul to Meister Eckhart by Wolfgang Smith.
None of the things which are comprehended by the senses or contemplated by the mind really subsist; nothing except the transcendent essence and cause of all. ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa
As fire is concealed by smoke, as a mirror by dust, as an unborn babe by the womb, so is Knowledge concealed by ignorance. ~ Bhagavad Gita III.38
Part 1 of our review of Christian Gnosis: From St. Paul to Meister Eckhart by Wolfgang Smith focused on the beginnings and the justification for a Christian Gnosis. Part 3 will deal with Smith’s evaluation of Jacob Boehme and Meister Eckhart, culminating in the notion of a “Trinitarian Non-Dualism” vis-à-vis the Vedantic conception.
The middle chapters of Smith’s book prepares the ground for a deeper understanding of Creation, the Incarnation, and the Trinity. First of all, Smith explains his cosmology. We won’t need to linger on this, since it has been thoroughly covered in more detail in his books on the metaphysics of science. His contribution to the field is his interpretation of quantum mechanics that is consistent with traditional cosmology.
Smith then puts himself in the stream of the Hermetic tradition by reliance on the Christian Kabbalah. He explains the insights of Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, and Egidio di Viterbo (“who ranks among the greatest Christian Kabbalists of all time”). Along the way, he mentions Friedrich Christoph Oetinger, the follower of Boehme, Valentin Weigel and the “great” Paracelsus.
Rather than repeating Smith, which would be little more than a review of his reviews in any case, we will explain Smith’s vision in slightly different terms. Thus it will be more like a jazz piece. The chord changes are the same, the melody is recognizable, we follow the same drummer, but we hope it will be a smoother composition. For Gornahoor readers, we can dispense with the intellectual justifications, but instead recommend the original text for that.
Smith calls his philosophical position Anthropic Realism: “realism” because both universals and particulars are mind independent, and “anthropic” because it stands on the bedrock of unmediated apperception. He admits his admiration for the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, although Smith goes far beyond Husserl.
Scientific realism leaves no place for man, for the transcendent Intellect, which is a witness to the cosmos. It is not traditional cosmology that is absurd; it only seems absurd because scientific cosmology is absurd. In other words, scientific realism leaves the knower out of the picture. Of course, this goes back to Arthur Schopenhauer who asked the same question. Or even to Bishop George Berkley: does the cosmos exist if there is no one there to experience it? Smith’s answer is a resounding “No” and I’m sure that if you think about it, you, too, will feel compelled to agree.
The cosmos exists for us as an object of intentionality, i.e., man & cosmos, microcosm & macrocosm are complementary polarities. If one goes, so does the other. Certain artificial conundrums of naïve realism and Cartesianism are dissolved by anthropic realism. Viz., we don’t see the image of a mountain or a tree in our brain; we actually “see” the mountain or tree. The Cartesian universe, devoid of qualities, cannot be known and hence does not subsist on its own.
By distinguishing the corporeal world of apperception from the physical world without qualities, the existence of higher planes makes sense again. Above the quotidian corporeal world of our sense experience, there is the subtle or astral world, and the celestial world above that. No drugs or techniques can take us from the astral to the celestial world. Most today mistake the subtle as the “spiritual” life. Modern man is stunted, with the higher centers merely virtual. Kundalini energy remains coiled up in the lowest chakra. Of course, gnosis awakens the higher centers, “realizing” them, or making them actual rather than virtual.
Smith then deals with the exoteric teaching of Creatio Ex Nihilo. This view sees creation as static, as “other than God”. A breakthrough is possible to arrive at a nondualist conception: a theophany rather than a creation.
Created things exemplify ideas in the Mind of God, which is ultimately the Divine Essence. God is simple, thus they are “one” in God. Creation therefore exemplifies in its multiplicity what in God is “one”, i.e., nondual. But this is not a “one time” affair. Creation is not manifested archetypes, but rather manifesting archetypes; this is a change from a static to a dynamic conception. We “see” the thing, but we “know” the archetype. That is, the archetype is “repeated” in our mind, but not as another copy. Rather, it involves the participation of the human mind in the Mind of God.
Bottom line: There is no static creation, in addition to, and apart from, God. Rather there is God revealing himself. We get a sensual representation of the divine ideas; the world becomes phenomenal. Since God does not have “sense” organs, God is conscious of the world through the human consciousness.
Smith devotes two chapters to the Kabbalah. Since there is extensive literature on the topic, we will just present some highlights. At some future point, a comparison with Valentin Tomberg and Vladimir Solovyov would be useful. Smith claims that, in addition to Christian gnosis, there are three other such traditions: Kabbalah, Tantra, and Vedanta. Due to its Scriptural roots, Smith asserts that the Kabbalah — of the three — is the most most compatible with Christian Gnosis.
Smith finds in the Kabbalah keys to the Trinity, the Incarnation, Wisdom, the Eternal Feminine, and the four worlds, among other topics. The origins of Kabbalah lie in the mystical visions of Ezekiel. Tomberg does likewise, interpreting Ezekiel’s visions as a revelation of the archetypal world and the chariot as the central symbol of cosmic knowledge.
The En-Sof is the Absolute and Infinite Godhead and the ten Sefiroth are God’s self-revelation. It is the world, yet the highest Sefiroth represent the Trinity:
- Keter: the transcendent
- Hokhmah: Wisdom
- Bina: Intelligence
There is then an emanation down to Malkuth, or the World. Malkuth is also represented by the Feminine principle of Shekinah, which in turn is tied to Bina, the Holy Spirit.
The mystery of sex is symbol of the love between the divine I and the divine You. The hieros gamos is the central fact in the whole chain of divine manifestations
Adam and Eve, man and cosmos originate in higher world. Interestingly, Smith comes close to the ancient Gnostic idea of the world, as we now experience it, as the creation of a “Demiurge”, an inferior being. Originally, the material world which we behold with our senses and contemplate with our rational mind did not exist. It was “sin”, the awareness of evil, that created this world. This is not precisely a “new world” but more like a new way of knowing. Adam becomes attached to the glamour of the world, worshiping the Shekinah exclusively, and failing to see the connection to the higher Sefiroth.
There is a deep truth here, since it is a commonplace that God “created the world”. But are mosquitoes, cystic fibrosis, and so on really part of the original creation? Clearly the answer is No, otherwise the “Fall of Man” and the “expulsion from the garden” would make no sense.
This bears connection to Tomberg. Adam’s originary orientation was vertical, that is, he experienced the theophany directly. The fall, then, was to change orientation to the horizontal, the false belief that things are independent of any transcendence. So the fallen world was not created by another being, or demiurge, but rather by the Antichrist, which is an egregore. It is only ignorance that considers the egregore to be independently real.
The Kabbalah describes four worlds: emanation, creation, formation, and action. In Neoplatonism, these correspond to the One, the Intelligible, Soul and Matter. Leaving out emanation which is totally transcendent, these correspond to the angelic, subtle, and proto-material worlds. They are also the three worlds of the Hindu Triloka.
Tikkun, or redemption, is the restoration of the ideal order. Today, of course, that primal order is seldom understood. Its foundations are polarity and hierarchy. There is a hierarchical order to everything, from the spiritual, to the subtle, to the material. Manifestation requires a series of syzygies; this notion will be expanded in a further explanation of Tomberg’s ideas on Salvation and Evolution.
The divine order is Hierarchy, which revolutionaries oppose. Moreover, without polarity, there is no manifestation. Hence, the attack starts with the flesh and promotes the idea that polarity is nothing more than an arbitrary preference or orientation.
On the other hand, the Shekinah, as the Theotokos, can lead us upward out of ignorance, whether through the connection with Binah, or with the Tifereth, the Heart Sefiroth, which represents Jesus Christ. Smith points out that Christ has the perfect balance of masculine and feminine virtues. In a series of paradoxes, reminiscent of the Tao Te Ching, he explains:
- He is the King who rules, yet is meek and lowly in heart
- He commands, yet is submissive to all
- He the Judge of kings and the Friend of sinners
In short, he personifies the Word [Logos] that was in the beginning. In the Chinese translation of the Gospel of John, “Tao” is used to translate “Logos”.