Archive for July, 2012

The Messiah, Son of Mary

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

I agree that what you say in your article concerning the Koranic refutation of a Trinity consisting of God, Jesus, and Mary (5:72-75), on the one hand, and of a purely biological or carnal understanding of Christ as God’s “Son” (112:4 passim), on the other, is in perfect accord with traditional Christian theology.

I’m not so sure, however, about your interpretation of the formula “Messiah, son of Mary” (Koran 5:17). For the Christian, the “Son of Mary” is most certainly divine. This is why the Virgin is called Theotokos (Mother of God), and not merely Christotokos (Mother of Christ = Messiah), the latter being the epithet preferred by the heretic Nestorius.

A Christian would therefore very readily subscribe to the formula which the Koran rejects in this ?ya, though he would doubtless express the second half of the verse in reverse. The Koranic text says, “They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary.” A Christian, on the other hand, would profess instead, “They indeed have believed (and very rightly so) who say: Lo! The Messiah, son of Mary, is Allah (God).” The reversal underscores the fact, of course, that there is “more” to God than the Logos alone.

On the other hand, if one maintains as you do that in its Koranic context “the Messiah, son of Mary” is meant to apply only to the human nature of the Son—as does the root Christos in the Nestorian Christotokos—then you may be correct in thinking that the Koranic passages you cite are in opposition only to some heretical view and not to orthodox Christology, though the heresy in question, contrary to what you claim, would be neither Monophysitism nor Nestorianism.

The Monophysites taught that Christ has only one nature, the divine, and that He has no human dimension at all; hence they would never have said, as you imply, that “Christ’s humanity is divine”. Meanwhile, as I’ve already indicated, the Nestorians would have concurred with the Koran that Allah (God) is not “the Messiah, the son of Mary”, for Nestorius used the term “Christ/Messiah” in reference to the Son’s humanity alone, which he construed to be something hypostatically separate from His Divinity.

Jnanic Renunciation

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

I find the article you sent me an exceptionally interesting piece. It’s the best apologia you’ve yet provided for your own modus operandi, which is to remain spiritually engaged with the news of the day.

I do wonder, though: is it really only monks who may conscientiously ignore the world? Are the rest of us truly obliged to be always on the informational alert and up to date? Must our renunciation otherwise prove (as you claim) merely “fantastical” and “egotistical”. Why can’t spiritually serious people who must live and work in the world remain humbly, and not pridefully, ignorant of “what’s going on”.

I’m reminded of a footnote in Schuon’s Transcendent Unity of Religions. It seems to me what you’re recommending is (to use his language) a “bhaktic” mode of renunciation:

The life of the great bhakta Shri Ramakrishna provides a very instructive example of the “bhaktic” mode of Knowledge. The saint wished to understand the identity between gold and clay; but instead of starting out from a metaphysical datum, which would have enabled him to perceive the vanity of riches, as a jn滱in would have done, he kept praying to Kali to cause him to understand this identity by a revelation: “Every morning, for many long months, I held in my hand a piece of money and a lump of clay and repeated: Gold is clay, and clay is gold. But this thought brought no spiritual work into operation within me; nothing came to prove to me the truth of such a statement. After I know not how many months of meditation, I was sitting one morning at dawn on the bank of the river, imploring our Mother to enlighten me. All of a sudden the whole universe appeared before my eyes clothed in a sparkling mantle of gold. . . . Then the landscape took on a duller glow, the color of brown clay, even lovelier than the gold. And while this vision engraved itself deeply on my soul, I heard a sound like the trumpeting of more than ten thousand elephants, who clamored in my ear: Clay and gold are but one thing for you. My prayers were answered, and I threw far away into the Ganges the piece of gold and the lump of clay.”

If I understand what you’re saying, you think the jn滱in of our day must in fact be a bhakta, for keeping abreast of events and issues, political and otherwise, with a view to understanding their underlying causality seems to me analogous to repeating “for many long months … gold is clay, and clay is gold”, whereas in fact the causality in question is an a priori “metaphysical datum” and can be seen as such without having to slog one’s through the news. I for one would still like to hold out for that vocational possibility, even (or perhaps especially) in these ever darkening days.

Speaking of monks and ever darkening days, I recently had an opportunity to speak with a disciple of a disciple of the Elder Joseph the Hesychast. We were talking about ascetical struggle, and indirectly (I suppose) about modes of renunciation. This man had told me once before that the Elder was “the last of the great ascetics”, and in this conversation he observed that “for hundreds of years the greatest saints came from the ranks of ascetics”. So, I asked the obvious question: is there then no hope in our day for “great saints” to arise?

The monk’s reply was to say: Oh, yes, of course, there will be great saints in our day, but they won’t be ascetics…. They’ll be confessors and martyrs!

Buckle your seat belt.