Archive for December, 2008

Some Serious Errors

Friday, December 26th, 2008

I can see from your letter that there are several rather serious errors in your thinking.

First of all, you need to come to terms with the fact that all religions are made in such a way that their adherents think them the best, if not the only, means of salvation; this is natural, and indeed necessary, and a matter of divine dispensation. As I have said several times in this forum, a church qua church is not in the business of promoting ecumenical dialogue; it exists in order to transmit saving teachings and sacraments. Of course one finds “narrowness” and “dogmatism”, but a genuine metaphysician is not surprised by this. Indeed if you don’t find at least some resistance to the claim (in your words) that “the great religions are equal”, you can be quite sure you are not really dealing with a great religion!

As for your question regarding the Lord’s Prayer and the Trisagion, I would say no: these petitions are much too discursive to serve as a basis for quintessential orison or Prayer of the Heart, nor is there any traditional precedent for using them in this fashion. You express concern that, unlike the Trisagion, the Jesus Prayer does not “include the Trinity”. But the Name is the Named, and according to the Scriptures, the Named in this case—that is, Jesus Himself—is the embodiment of “all the fullness of God” (Colossians 1:19). There is therefore nothing not included in this Name … so long as one looks along and not at it.

You’re also bothered by the fact that, unlike the Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer is not traditionally used by Catholics and Protestants, but this is of no importance whatsoever. You’re making another serious mistake if you think that the “transcendent unity of religions” means there is likewise some “equivalence of Christian churches” (again your words). Schuon is crystal clear on this score: “Only the Eastern Church maintains the Christic message in perfect equilibrium” (see my anthology of his writings on Christianity: The Fullness of God [World Wisdom, 2004], p. 91). He certainly had the highest respect for traditional Roman Catholicism—not the Novus Ordo church!—but he did not put it on the same level as Orthodoxy, which he regarded as “the most direct, the most ample, and the most realistic” expression of the Gospel (see my new edition of Christianity/Islam: Perspectives on Esoteric Ecumenism [World Wisdom, 2008], p. 29). “The Orthodox are right about everything,” he once told me, “except”—he added with a smile in his eyes—”for their interminable liturgies!”

You say that “perennialists are supposed to uphold the universalism of the spiritual life”, but once again this is a grave misconception. I would ask you: who of the perennialist authors you have read supposes this, and upon what is such a supposition based? The fact that there is a “transcendent unity of religions” in no way implies that every expression of every such religion is “created equal”. Being a perennialist does not mean jettisoning one’s powers of discrimination.

“The people who like us,” one of Schuon’s Sufi disciples once observed, “we don’t like, and the people we like don’t like us!” A paradox, to be sure, but one that cuts straight to the heart of our perspective. I would encourage you to ponder it.

The Codifying of Unintelligence

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Why do I think most modern academic religionists are so opposed to perennialism? Because they’re mostly relativists, and perennialists are absolutists. Or, if you prefer, because most scholars are confused as to what is truly “abstract” and what is truly “concrete”.

Look back at the post you’ve asked about (“Too Much Perennialism“), scroll down to the lines I quoted from the “external review” of my department, and take special note of the word “concreteness”, thrice repeated. An entire philosophy—empiricist in its epistemology and materialistic in its ontology—is simply taken for granted in those lines, and any objection to this philosophy is dismissed without argument; or rather it’s assumed that there can be no objection, since all Ph.D.’d people know—do they not?—that “real” things are particular, historical, and of course “concrete”?

I recently finished work on the latest title in my on-going series of new translations and editions of Schuon, namely, Logic and Transcendence. If you’d like to get a better grasp on this issue, I strongly recommend the chapter called “Abuse of the Ideas of the Concrete and the Abstract”. Here is the author’s opening summary of the problem we’re faced with in dealing with modern, and a fortiori post-modern, colleagues:

There is in modern thinking a significant abuse of the ideas of both the abstract and the concrete…. Everything that is not physically or psychologically tangible—although perfectly accessible to pure intellection—is described as being “abstract” with a more or less disparaging intention, as though it were a matter of distinguishing between dream, or even deception, and reality or healthiness of mind. Substance—that which exists of itself—is regarded as “abstract”, and the accidental as “concrete”; it is imagined that an idea of the supra-sensible is obtainable exclusively through abstraction, by prescinding from contingencies; while having a certain meaning on the logical plane, this is false at the level of direct intellection. Our certainty of the Absolute is not dependent upon a process of mental unwrapping; it is innate in our essential intelligence and can erupt into our consciousness without the aid of logical operations. If intelligence is the capacity to discern “substances” either through “accidents” or independently of them, “concretism” can only be described as a kind of philosophical codifying of unintelligence.

Actually, I’m being rather too generous to contemporary critics of perennialism in suggesting that these observations apply to them. An Aristotle may have supposed that our ideas concerning “the supra-sensible” and our “certainty of the Absolute” depend on “prescinding from contingencies” and not on “direct intellection”. But we’re a long way from Aristotle here! For the “concretists” who penned our departmental review, even if there is an Absolute, “certainty” is certainly out of bounds for the scholar.