Archive for December, 2012

O Felix Culpa

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

You ask whether there is anything in the Christian tradition that justifies going beyond the idea that the Jews would be forgiven for crucifying Jesus (“for they know not what they do”) and saying that they would actually be rewarded by God for their actions. And you cite the case of the Sufi saint and martyr Mansur al-Hallaj, who told the Muslims of Baghdad that, if they killed him, they would not only be pardoned but also rewarded, “for you will have acted out of zeal for your religion”.

I’m certainly intrigued by this possible parallel, but in point of fact, no, I know of no reference in the Christian tradition, scriptural or otherwise, to anyone being “rewarded” for the Crucifixion. Indeed, Orthodox liturgical hymnody, especially during Lent and Passion Week, is full of invective against the “Jews”. Of course, one must put this word in quotation marks, for the reproaches in question are not to be construed in an ethnic or “anti-Semitic” way. On the contrary, the “Jews” are but a “type” for all who sin against God.

There might be another way for you to work out a parallel, however. I’m thinking of Augustine’s teaching concerning the “fortunate” nature of the Fall. According to Augustine, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit the existence of evil” (Enchiridion, VIII), an idea which reappears in the West in a traditional hymn for the Easter Vigil: O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem, “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.”

Perhaps you could therefore argue thus in your lecture: Inasmuch as every sin is a “fall”, and inasmuch as every fall “merits” redemption, it follows that sinners (the “Jews” being their “type) are “rewarded” for their Crucifixion of Christ. I realize this is considerably more roundabout than Hallaj! But that’s about as close as I can come.

Responsibility for Projection

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

I’m delighted to know you’re translating Schuon’s books into German. It’s rather ironic that so few of his writings have appeared to date in his own mother tongue. He once observed that French is more suited to metaphysics and German to poetry, and this of course is why he chose to compose his many books and articles in the former language, reserving the latter for a final outpouring of lyric verse during the last few years of his life. Even so, the relative capacities of a given language notwithstanding, you’re to be commended for this important contribution.

You’ve encountered a “difficulty”, you say, in your work on Logic and Transcendence, specifically in the chapter “The Demiurge in North American Mythology”, and you refer me to p. 133 of my own English translation of the book, which reads as follows:

The key to the doctrine [that of My] is basically this: by definition Infinitude requires the dimension of the finite; this dimension, while “gloriously” manifesting the inexhaustible possibilities of the divine Self, projects them right up to the limits of nothingness, if one may put it this way; nothingness “is” not, and yet it “appears” in relation to the real, which projects itself in the direction of the finite.

You then raise an interesting question: “Is it not the Infinite, the Principle, which does the projecting, as in fact is stated at the end of the sentence, where Schuon speaks of the ‘the real, which projects itself in the direction of the finite'”?

I can see your point. On the other hand, the syntax of the original French makes it clear, as I’m sure you’ll agree, that it’s “the dimension of the finite” which “projects” the possibilities.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the Self (or the real) doesn’t also project; on the contrary, its Infinitude is a priori “responsible”—if one can use such an expression—for the radiation or projection in question. Nevertheless, the finite, which is at once the result and the means or medium of this radiation, is itself also involved in the continuing “work” of projection, and necessarily so.

Needless to say, this is all very paradoxical! But that’s the point, isn’t it? And that’s why the Native American traditions that Schuon is discussing in this context so often have recourse to the figure of the “buffoon” or the “trickster”, for whom and in whom the border between what “is” and “is not” is repeatedly crossed and fruitfully “violated”.

The key, or at least one key, to grappling with this apparent antinomy is to remember that “the dimension of the finite” is necessarily a “part” of the Infinite, not something over against or opposed to the Infinite. I often return to these telling words of Ibn al-Arabi: “Do not declare Him non-delimited and thus delimited by being distinguished from delimitation! For if He is distinguished, then He is delimited by His non-delimitation. And if He is delimited by His non-delimitation, then He is not He.”