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Anatomyzing Divinity: Studies in Science, Esotericism and Political Theology
By James L. Kelley
Trine Day LLCCopyright © 2011 James L. Kelley
All rights reserved.
The Magnum Opus of the Franks: The Carolingian "Shield of Faith" and the Preservation of Cosmic Analogy Triadology in the Western Church
At the end of our introduction we found ourselves in seventh century Egypt, where we examined a snippet from the pen of Stephanos of Alexandria. We did not mention, however, that Stephanos dedicated his famed lectures to Heraclius (ca. 575 – 641 A.D.), the Roman Emperor whose ecumenist policies raised the hackles of many in the Church. Heraclius was by all accounts friendly to a wide range of ideas, and was interested in philosophy as well as theology. Stephanos' lectures, besides being written for an imperial figure known for his involvement in theology, also included many references to Christian theology, at one place even asking for the blessings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, in tracing the forward path of alchemy from its Egyptian beginnings to its arrival in Medieval Europe (by way of Islamic texts in Spain), we are obliged to add another variable to our already crowded equation — Christian theology. But that is far from all. By the thirteenth century, during which alchemy became widespread in Western Europe, there was a plurality of Christian Churches — 1) the Eastern or Greek Orthodox, 2) the Roman Catholic, and 3) the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Herein lay quite a tale, which, due to space constraints, we must squash into a vignette. Though the Oriental Orthodox Churches (or at least some individual prelates from those Churches) had a hand in transmitting alchemy to the Arab world (and thus indirectly to Europe), as many of their theologians and clergymen fled to the Far East in the aftermath of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (451 A.D.), bringing their Greco-Egyptian alchemical knowledge with them.
In the aftermath of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 A.D.) of the Christian Church, which promulgated the Orthodox teaching that icons are necessary to Christianity and must be venerated, we see the Frankish Church under Charlemagne (ca. 742 – 814 A.D.) holding its own national church council. At this Council of Frankfurt (794 A.D.), Charlemagne condemned both the position of the iconodules (venerators of icons) and that of the iconoclasts (those against icons).
The Franks were that martial Teutonic group who took over many positions of power in Europe once the Western Roman Empire became only a memory in the hearts of many a Gallo-Roman. The Council of Frankfurt has been cited by many scholars of ecclesiastical history as an example of Charlemagne's ingenious penchant for geopolitical scheming, his goal being, it seems clear, to keep Rome and the West separated from the Christian East. Why else condemn both sides of the icon controversy? The Frankfurt council steered a middle path by upholding the use of icons but also condemning their veneration! No matter which side prevailed on the Eastern front, Charlemagne could then declare the winning group heretical. All that was needed was a distinctive theology that could be forced on a weak Pope, and then the job of divide and conquer was completed. The trump card was the filioque.
That Charlemagne's goal was to pressure the papacy into accepting his idiosyncratic "Frankish theology" is evinced by the controversy that resulted in the early ninth century concerning the filioque clause that the Franks had added to the Nicene Creed. When the Creed was chanted at the Frankish palace at Aachen, the Holy Spirit was professed to proceed from both the Father and the Son (filioque). Charlemagne tested the religio-political waters by sending a group of his filioque-chanting monks to Jerusalem, where some Greek Christians who happened along were scandalized at hearing the interpolated Creed. A certain John led a kind of Christian commando raid on the Latin monastery. Psalters were confiscated and the filioque declared a heresy by the offended Greeks. Shocked Latin monastics (surely with Charlemagne's knowledge) wrote to Pope Leo III. They meekly inquired of the Holy Father: Are the Greeks right in calling us heretics? Pope Leo later declared that it was not proper to change the Nicene Creed, which did not originally contain the Greek equivalent to the Latin "filioque," "and the Son." This problem of papal inflexibility was solved when the Franks realized that they could manipulate papal elections behind the scenes. Charlemagne's descendents, following their forefather's stratagem, succeeded in getting the filioque officially accepted in Rome by 1009, and even took over the papacy itself during the "time of the German popes" in the middle of the eleventh century. In 1054, the papal representative Cardinal Humbert hurled a bull of excommunication at the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Kerularius and others besides. This greatest of schisms continues up to today: Orthodoxy in the East and Roman Catholicism in the West.
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In order to come to grips with the subtleties of filioquist theology, we will now take a close look at the famous pictogram known since the Carolingian era as the "Shield of Faith" (fig. 1). This figure, the earliest examples of which date to just before Charlemage's reign, was intended to express the Christian West's religious faith in the Holy Trinity. It consists of three circles arranged in a triangular pattern, each circle bearing the name of a Divine Person — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the center of the triangle is a fourth circle, one labeled simply "God."
Most significant for our purposes is the fact that some versions of the "Shield of Faith" place the Holy Spirit at the bottom of the figure, below the horizontally positioned Father and Son, both of whom occupy an upper corner of the top-heavy triangle. This aspect of the diagram is meant to indicate the dual origin of the Holy Spirit, Who, in Western Christianity, is believed to proceed from the Father and the Son (filioque). Farrell comments: "... [I]t may come as a surprise to many people [that] the doctrine which came to prevail in the mediaeval Latin Church was not the original Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which survived only in the Orthodox Catholic Churches of the East." While it is not our immediate purpose to argue for or against a particular religious creed, it does behoove us to recognize that the filioquist Trinity was first ratified as dogma in the Christian West by Charlemagne's national church councils in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. Also, we should realize the little known fact that the original Christian Creed — the Nicene-Constantinopolitan — is still proclaimed by the Christian East though not by the Western Churches, who added the words "and the Son," to the original "I believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceedeth from the Father."
Farrell reminds us that this filioquist Trinity is at its core a binity — in other words, there is a "2" hiding behind the "3" — since it places the Holy Spirit on a lower ontological level than that of the Father and the Son. Thus, the Western Trinity is really "two and one," two Persons and their one common energy. Indeed, the Holy Spirit depicted on the "Shield" is a mere pseudo-person, since He (or, more accurately for the filioquist West, It) exists merely as the activity of the other two Persons. The Holy Spirit is the "bond of love" between the Father and the Son; the Spirit is an activity, while the others are fully-fledged Persons who possess their own activity, which activity turns out to be none other than the ghostly Third Person Himself.
So how does the filioquist Trinity relate to alchemy? Both are based upon what Farrell calls a "dialectic of oppositions," a cast of thought that sees the world as a vast system of binaries, each side of every individual dichotomy being defined by its opposition to its counterpart. The spirit is only spirit because it is opposite to matter, and so on. This dialectical mindset predetermines, in both filioquism and alchemy, that a peculiar line of thought — a specific methodological contour — will be followed. The best way to illustrate the similarity between the Filioquists' and the alchemists' approach to reality, I am convinced, is to start from the end and work our way backward. In other words, because both groups think alike and are thereby led to the same series of conclusions, we will first list those conclusions. Then, we will flesh out our comparison with a brief examination of relevant historical evidence. First the list of Franco-alchemic "conclusions":
1. God is the radically unknowable monad (Gr. monas, unit).
2. However, as the ultimate principle of unity, He cannot fail to imprint the image of His divine unity upon everything that exists in the cosmos;
3. God's radical transcendence is conceived in terms of the "dialectic of oppositions," and thus,
4. the "absolute" separation of the two poles — God and world — is maintained by the (perhaps unwitting) position of a plane of interaction, a middle term which "cuts both ways" in that it can only oppose terms by making them conceptually comparable.
5. This middle term — this plane of divine-cosmic interaction — promises to keep God and cosmos separate, but ends up defining the unknown term (God) according to the known term (world, and ultimately, man).
6. The result is an analogia entis, a theo-cosmological tangent that accomplishes the opposite of its wielder's stated intention.
Now, with these conclusions in mind, let us now return to that most elusive of texts, the Corpus Hermeticum. In the introduction, we sought to demonstrate that the Hermetic writings overlapped, in content and in approach, with Greco-Egyptian alchemy. Here our aim is to show the alchemico-hermetic writings' similarity to the distinctive theological formulations of the post-Charlemagnian West.
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In the Corpus Hermeticum, a short exchange between Hermes and his disciple Asclepius is recorded:
Of what magnitude then must be that Space in which the Kosmos is moved? And what of nature? Must not that Space be far greater, that it may be able to contain the continuous motion of the Kosmos, and that the thing moved may not be cramped through want of room, and cease to move? — (Asclepius): Great indeed must be that Space, Trismegistus. — (Hermes): And of what nature must it be, Asclepius? Must it not be of opposite nature to Kosmos? And of opposite nature to body is the incorporeal. ... Space is an object of thought, but not in the same sense that God is, for God is an object of thought primarily to himself, but Space is an object of thought to us, not to itself."
The Hermetic trinity presented here — God, Space, Cosmos — has for its middle term "Space" (topos). Like St. Augustine's filioquist Holy Spirit, Who is nothing more than what is common between the Father and the Son (See St. Augustine, De Trinitate, 15.1), the Hermetic topos is the tangent between the God Who cannot be conceived and the Cosmos that is God's utter and total opposite. 1) Space is the soul of the 2) Cosmos-body, both 1 and 2 being opposed one to another as oil to water. However, the principle of opposition itself, viewed from another angle, becomes a connection between God and Cosmos, for Space as the object of Cosmos' thought is analogous to God as the object of His own thought. Put differently: Cosmos becomes self-conscious through its own soul; God is always conscious through his own essence. Man and the World Soul achieve finitely what God is always achieving infinitely.
This seemingly harmless notion of theanthropic analogy is one of the most portentous formulations in the history of religion, for it allows, mutatis mutandis [that is, given the appropriate adjustments of terminology], for a Christian mysticism of a beatific vision of God's essence. The God/world/man analogy has not only survived the twists and turns of the Middle Ages and the upheavals of the Modern Era, but in fact thrives as the official theology of the Roman Catholic Church, most recently affirmed at the Second Vatican Council. Some form of analogia entis [analogy of being] is also commonly held by other groups of Western Christians.
Herein lay the great significance of the "Shield of Faith" and its alchemico-hermetic basis: The theology of the "Shield" is grounded in the same analogia entis that undergirds both the Western theology of beatific vision and the esotericism of the cosmic analogy trinity. Hermeticism, alchemy, and Western Christianity are in complete accord on this most crucial of dogmas: God possesses in an infinite measure every virtue that man possesses finitely.
Before delving into a full examination of the iconography of the alchemical trinity in the concluding section of this chapter, we will first outline a few salient features of the Trinitarian theology of the Christian East and compare it to the alchemico-hermetic view.CHAPTER 2
Anthropos, Cosmos, and Theos According to the Orthodox Catholic Tradition and the Alchemico-Hermetic Tradition: Two Divergent Triadologies
According to the Orthodox Fathers of the Church, theology's proper beginning point is not any concept of God, however intellectually satisfying or emotionally compelling such an idea may be. Rather, the Orthodox begin with the reality of the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God. "God became man that man may become as God." The Son is the perfect image of God the Father. We know that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three divine Hypostases or Persons because those masters of the spiritual life who have become united to the Holy Trinity in this life all report the same thing: They have become united to the Holy Trinity through a sharing in the divine resplendence or glory (Gr. doxa), which, though being from Three, is also One.
However, Orthodox spiritual life has nothing in common with individualism or pietism, for no one can baptize himself, and no one can be perfected apart from the communal life of the Divine Liturgy. One begins as a hearer, as a babe who must begin with milk before he can have solid food. The milk is the opening stages of ascesis in the form of 1) obedience to a spiritual father who is a doer, one who teaches from experience of God, and 2) participation in the Holy Sacraments of the Church, the Sacrament par excellence being the Holy Eucharist, where the communicant receives the Body and Blood of God into his body. The higher stage that constitutes "solid food" is direct experience of the uncreated glory of God, though the friend of God never rises above the need for repentance and the Sacraments, but rather lives out these aspects of Orthodox life more fully. Such a communion, far from being magical, is in actuality the only Way (Heb. Torah) that delivers man from idolatry: "There are two ways, one of life and one of death." "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
So, if man does not come to know God through concepts, then how does man ever know God at all? Man is created in the image of God, which means that his life is meant to be an eternal journey toward the divine. This journey is possible because man's center is his God-created nous, or inner man (eso anthropon). The nous is never equated with the brain or the rational mind (dianoia) by the Orthodox Fathers; it is precisely this confusion of the noetic with the merely rational that characterizes the Augustino-Platonic tradition of the Christian West. The nous is also designated as the heart (kardia) by the Orthodox Fathers. This spiritual heart is man's unique organ of communion with the uncreated energies of God. These energein of God are not a part of God, nor are they an intermediary between man and God. Neither are God's energies anything other than the very Life, Light, and Love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These energies are God's going out of Himself toward creation in an act of love (kenosis, self-emptying) to save creation from corruption through communion with His incorrupt life. The recipient of God's energies does not receive a part of God, because God is not composite, but rather man receives the body of Christ, which is a mystico-noetic — and for that very reason eminently realistic — communication of the life of the Holy Trinity. Nor are the divine energies anhypostatic, but rather are the true resplendence of God, distinguished from the divine essence but not separate from it.
The suffusion of the divine energies throughout all of creation is the overflowing of divine love. This descent of the Hand of God into the heart of man is the new thing under the sun for which St. Solomon, the prophets, and all of the sages of every era have pined. God divides Himself undividedly to enter the heart of each and every man who will co-operate with Him to perfect selfless love therein. Accordingly, the true significance of man being "in the image of God" is that man has been created already conformed to God in such a way that he can — with the aid and sustenance of divine grace, that is, synergistically and ascetically — love in the exact way that God loves His creation, that is, freely and selflessly (the only difference being that man is not uncreated by nature, as is the Holy Trinity, but rather man becomes uncreated by grace or energy).
Excerpted from Anatomyzing Divinity: Studies in Science, Esotericism and Political Theology by James L. Kelley. Copyright © 2011 James L. Kelley. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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