Monday, February 12, 2007

"With one breath/With One flow . . .

Significantly revised and hopefully clarified a bit.

Apologies to Carol. Sometimes my reading too much Heidegger and von Balthasar really shows. Heidegger was my Plotinus before converting. I was only able to reclaim something of this effort by reading theologian John Macquarrie, who, along with Edward Robinson, was the first to translate Heidegger's magnum opus, Sein und Zeit, into English under the literally translated title Being and Time. By the way, there is another synchronous moment regarding Macquarrie, which I will share at a later time. My first entry into the work of Macquarrie was reading was his 1993-94 Hensley-Henson Lectures, entitled Heidegger and Christianity, around which the acausal connection occurred (we can probably baptize it as good old-fashioned Providence). Heidegger, to digress, believed he had reclaimed metaphysics both from the Greeks from Plato on and the corruption of the Latins, most particularly clearing the way for consideration of the question of being, which he phrased simply as Why does something exist rather nothing? While something of a prideful obscurantist, not to mention a Nazi collaborator, he had some tremendous insights and made a significant contribution to Philosophy, though less than other Phenomenologists, like Husserl, the father of Phenomenology, and the great Dietrich von Hildebrand, not to mention the brilliant Polish philosopher, Karol Wojtyla. Among the others who are/were self-described phenomenologists are both Edith Stein and Joseph Ratzinger.

"You will know/Sychroncity/A phone call/A star fall/It joins all/Synchronicity" . . . after writing yesterday on the spiritus mundi, I was reading the second of two epilogues to Peter Brown's updated biography of St. Augustine, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, which he first published in 1967. A new edition was published by the University of California Press in 1999. The biography was not revised, but the new edition does contain these two epilogues. The first epilogue takes account of re-discoveries of long forgotten-about texts by this magisterial Father of the Church, namely the so-called Divjak letters, which are 27 lost letters of Augustine. They were re-discovered by Johannes Divjak, who was participating in a project to catalogue all known Augustine manuscripts in the libraries of Western Europe in 1975. Divjak re-discovered these texts in the Municpal Library of Marseilles, France. The second major re-discovery occurred in 1990 and was made by Francois Dolbeau in the Municipal Library of Mainz, Germany. This second trove of texts consists of twenty-six sermons of the Bishop of Hippo Regius that had been similarly lost.

The second epilogue is Brown writing about how his views on St. Augustine have matured over the more than thirty years since he published his biography as a young man. It is from this epilogue that we read about Augustine and his relationship, or take on, the ancient concept as articulated, not so much by Plato, but later Platonists, or Neo-Platonists, foremost among whom is Plotinus, of the spiritus mundi. Brown's exposition serves as a great example of why Augustine is not an unreconstructed Platonist, as he is too often believed, written-about, and taught as being. Put simply, all this great saint's views after his conversion were refracted through the prism of his Christian faith and his engagement with Sacred Scripture.

As to Augustine and the spiritus mundi, Brown writes of his "extraordinary capacity to construct from his reading of Neo-Platonic material an entirely new sense of the inner life". Augustine's entirely new sense of the inner life, however, was "achieved at a cost". What, exactly, was this cost? The price paid, on Brown's view, is that Latin Christianty's foremost expositor "allowed the Platonic sense of the majesty of the cosmos to grow pale". Lost in his "preoccupation with the human will", Augustine "turned his back on the mundus, on the magical universe in later Platonism". For late Platonists the universe was "suffused with spirit and crowded with rank upon rank of invisible, loving presences". So, this understanding of the universe, though rejected, "remained always on the margin of Augustine's thought". Think of it as kind of a metaphysical house-cleaning. Perhaps taking his cue from St. Paul, Augustine was "convinced that the order of the mundus reminded human beings of the wisdom and power of their Creator". "But," Brown continues, no doubt exaggerating about the matter, "Augustine would never," like Plontinus, "look up at the stars and gaze at the world around him with the shudder of religious awe". Cutting to the chase, he "viewed the Platonic notion of a World Soul, a majestic anima [read spiritus] mundi that gave life and vividness to the entire realm of nature as uninteresting and basically unnecessary speculation: if such an entity existed at all, all that mattered was that it should not be worshipped instead of God. That was all that needed to be said on the matter".

Synchroncity, as defined by Jung, is an acausal connecting principle (i.e, something that connects, but does not cause two or more events- a star fall/a phone call, for example). Gordon Sumner (a.k.a. Sting), in the Song Synchronicty I elaborates on this:

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Yet nothing is invincible


I hope the tasty irony in this post is seen between the connection of events (i.e., writing that the first Latin phrase I learned was from this same Police song, namely, spiritus mundi and reading about it a day later in Brown's book) and the subject matter (i.e., Augustine's rejection of the ancient concept spiritus mundi). It seems as strange as von Balthasar writing the introduction to Valentin Tomberg's Meditation on the Tarot.

3 comments:

  1. Scott,

    Can help me. I just read your recent pot re: synchronicity. I gotta say, I don't understand one word.

    Without me being too offensive, I was hoping you could break it down for me. I feel so inept at this moment.

    Thanks.

    Carole T

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  2. I hope the tasty irony in this post is seen between the connection of events (i.e., writing that the first Latin phrase I learned was from this same Police song, namely, spiritus mundi and reading about it a day later in Brown's book) and the subject matter (i.e., Augustine's rejection of the ancient concept spiritus mundi). It seems as strange as von Balthasar writing the introduction to Valentin Tomberg's Meditation on the Tarot.

    Ahh! Eureka!

    Waaay over my head Scott. But indeed, interesting, and a fun challenge once again for me, to follow through (including several trips to dictionary.com) to reach a point where I can say: I think I kinda get it. Whew!

    Just please, don't pop quiz on us. *g*

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Carol: No offense taken and no inepitude intended. Hopefully, the revised post makes it more accessible.

    ReplyDelete