Humanism and Humanity

Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900—1975), the greatest Russian-American geneticist and evolutionary biologist of the 20th century. He described a non-fixed universe, in which culture is “the actualization of the potentialities of man as the bearer of spirit.”

What follows is an excerpt from his influential work, The Biology of the Ultimate Concern, in which he examined the role of science within culture which together arrive at an understanding of the “Big Questions,” which in turn establish a “credo” for human life.

Dostoevsky makes his Ivan Karamazov declare: “What is strange, what is marvelous, is not that God really exists, the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God, could have entered the head of such a savage and vicious beast as man; so holy it is, so moving, so wise, and such a great honor it does to man.” This is even more marvelous than Dostoevsky knew. Mankind, Homo sapiens, man the wise, arose from the ancestors who were not men, and were not wise in the sense man can be. Man has ascended to his present estate from one still more savage, not necessarily more vicious, but quite certainly a dumb and irrational one. It is unfortunate that Darwin has entitled one of his two greatest books the “Descent,” rather than the “Ascent,” of man. The idea of the necessity of God, and other thoughts and ideas that do honor to man, were alien to our remote ancestors. They arose and developed, and secured a firm hold on man’s creative thought during mankind’s long and toilsome ascent from animality to humanity.

Organisms other than men have the “wisdom of the body”; man has in addition the wisdom of humanity. Wisdom of the body is the ability of a living system so to react to environmental changes that the probabilities of survival and reproduction are maximized. For example, a certain concentration of salt in the blood is necessary for life; if an excess of salt is ingested, it is eliminated in the urine; if the salt supply is scarce the urine contains little salt. Such “wise” reactions of the body are confined usually to the environments which the species has frequently encountered in its evolutionary development. This built-in “wisdom” arose through the action of natural selection.

The place of the wisdom of humanity in the scheme of things requires a separate consideration. Humanism, according to Tillich (1963), “asserts that the aim of culture is the actualization of the potentialities of man as the bearer of spirit,” and “Wisdom can be distinguished from objectifying knowledge (sapientia from scientia) by its ability to manifest itself beyond the cleavage of subject and object.” This wisdom is the fruit of self-awareness; man can transcend himself, and see himself as an object among other objects. He has attained the status of a person in the existential sense, and with it a poignant experience of freedom, of being able to contrive and to plan actions, and to execute his plans or to leave them in abeyance. Through freedom, he gains a knowledge of good and of evil. This knowledge is a heavy load to carry, a load of which organisms other than man are free. Man’s freedom leads him to ask what Brinton (1953) refers to as Big Questions, which no animals can ask.

Does my life and the lives of other people have any meaning? Does the world into which I am cast without my consent have any meaning? There are no final answers to these Big Questions, and probably there never will be any, if by answers one means precise, objective, provable certitudes. And yet seek for some sort of answers we must, because it is the highest glory of man’s humanity that he is capable of searching for his own meaning and for the meaning of the Cosmos. An urge to devise answers to such “metaphysical” questions is a part of the psychological equipment of the human species. Brinton (1953) rightly says that “Metaphysics is a human drive or appetite, and to ask men to do without metaphysics is as pointless as to ask them to do without sex relations. There are indeed individuals who can practice abstention from metaphysics as there are those who can practice abstention in matters of sex, but they are the exceptions. And as some who repress sex actually divert it into unprofitable channels, so do those who repress metaphysics.

The German word Weltanschauung and the Russian mirovozzrenie have no precise English equivalents. The usual translation, “world view,” subtly betrays the meaning. A world view, like a view from a mountaintop, may be pleasant and even inspiring to behold, but one can live without it. There is a greater urgency about a Weltanschauung, and some sort of mirovozzrenie is felt to be indispensable for a human being. The Latin credo is becoming acclimatized in English in a sense most nearly equivalent to Weltanschauung . It is most closely related to the “ultimate concern” which Tillich considers to be the essence of religion in the broadest and most inclusive sense. “Religion is the aspect of depth in the totality of the human spirit. What does the metaphor depth mean? It means that the religious aspect points to that which is ultimate, infinite, unconditional, in man’s spiritual life. Religion, in the largest and most basic sense of the word, is ultimate concern. And ultimate concern is manifest in all creative functions of the human spirit” (Tillich 1959).

It is the ultimate concern in man that Ivan Karamazov found so strange and so marvelous. Man’s nature impels him to ask the Big Questions. Every individual makes some attempts to answer them at least to his own satisfaction. One of the possible answers may be that the Questions are unanswerable, and only inordinately conceited or foolish people can claim to have discovered unconditionally and permanently valid answers. Every generation must try to arrive at answers which fit its particular experience; within a generation, individuals who have lived through different experiences may, not quite, one hopes, in vain, make sense of those aspects of the world which the individual has observed from his particular situation.

My life has been devoted to working in science, particularly in evolutionary biology. Scientists are not necessarily more, but I hope also not less, qualified to think or to write about the Big Questions than are nonscientists. It is naive to think that a coherent credo can be derived from science alone, or that what one may learn about evolution will unambiguously answer the Big Questions. Some thinkers, e.g., Barzun (1964) dismiss such pretensions with undisguised scorn: “…the scientific profession does not constitute an elite, intellectual or other. The chances are that ‘the scientist,’ from the high-school teacher of science to the head of a research institute, is a person of but average capacity.” And yet even Barzun, no friend or respecter of science, grudgingly admits that science “brings men together in an unexampled way on statements to which they agree without the need of persuasion; for as soon as they understand, they concur.” Some of these “statements” which science produces are at least relevant to the Big Questions, and in groping for tentative answers they ought not be ignored.

The time is not long past when almost everybody thought that the earth was flat, and that diseases were caused by evil spirits. At present quite different views are fairly generally accepted. The earth is a sphere rotating on its axis and around the sun, and diseases are brought about by a variety of parasites and other biological causes. This has influenced people’s attitudes; the cosmology that one credits is not irrelevant to one’s ultimate concern. To Newton and to those who followed him the world was a grand and sublime contrivance, which operates unerringly and in accord with precise and immutable laws. Newton accepted, however, Bishop Ussher’s calculations, which alleges that the world was created in 4004 B.C. The world was, consequently, not very old; it had not changed appreciably since its origin, and it was not expected to change radically in the future, until it ended in the apocalyptic catastrophe. Newton was a student of the Book of Revelation as well as a student of cosmology. In Newton’s world man had neither power enough nor time enough to alter the course of events which were predestined from the beginning of the world.

The vast universe discovered by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton became quite unlike the cozy geocentric world of the ancient and the medieval thinkers. Man and the earth were demoted from being the center of the universe to an utterly insignificant speck of dust lost in the cosmic spaces. The comfortable certainties of the traditional medieval world were thus taken away from man. Long before the modern existentialists made estrangement and anxiety fashionable as the foundations of their philosophies, Pascal expressed more poignantly the loneliness which man began to feel in “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces.” If he worked hard, man could conceivably learn much about how the world was built and operated, but he could not hope to change it, except in petty detail. An individual human was either saved or damned, and those of Calvinist persuasion believed that this alternative was irrevocably settled before a person was even born. This left no place for humanism in Tillich’s sense; an individual man had few potentialities to be actualized, and culture had scarcely any at all.

It has become almost a commonplace that Darwin’s discovery of biological evolution completed the downgrading and estrangement of man begun by Copernicus and Galileo. I can scarcely imagine a judgment more mistaken. Perhaps the central point to be argued […] is that the opposite is true. Evolution is a source of hope for man. To be sure, modern evolutionism has not restored the earth to the position of the center of the universe. However, while the universe is surely not geocentric, it may conceivably be anthropocentric. Man, this mysterious product of the world’s evolution, may also be its protagonist, and eventually its pilot. In any case, the world is not fixed, not finished, and not unchangeable. Everything in it is engaged in evolutionary flow and development.

Human society and culture, mankind itself, the living world, the terrestrial globe, the solar system, and even the “indivisible” atoms arose from ancestral states which were radically different from the present states. Moreover, the changes are not all past history. The world has not only evolved, it is evolving. Now, “In the Renaissance view, the world, a place of beauty and delight, needed not to be changed but only to be embraced; and the world’s people, free of guilt, might be simply and candidly loved” (Durham 1964). Far more often, it has been felt that changes are needed:

“For the created universe waits with eager expectation for God’s sons to be revealed. It was made the victim of frustration, not by its own choice, but because of him who made it so; yet always there was hope, because the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of God. Up to the present, we know, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth” (Rom 8:19-22).

Since the world is evolving it may in time become different from what it is. And if so, man may help to channel the changes in a direction which he deems desirable and good. With an optimism characteristic of the age in which he lived, Thomas Jefferson thought that “Although I do not, with some enthusiasts, believe that the human condition will ever advance to such a state of perfection as that there shall no longer be pain or vice in the world, yet I believe it susceptible of much improvement, and most of all, in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is to be effected.” This is echoed and reechoed by Karl Marx and by Lenin in their famous maxim that we must strive not merely to know but also to transform the world. In particular, it is not true that human nature does not change; this “nature” is not a status but a process. The potentialities of man’s development are far from exhausted, either biologically or culturally. Man must develop as the bearer of spirit and of ultimate concern. Together with Nietzsche we may say: “Man is something that must be overcome.”

Picasso is alleged to have said that he detests nature. Tolstoy and some lesser lights claimed that any and all findings of science made no difference to them. Fondness and aversion are emotions which admittedly cannot be either forcibly implanted or expurgated. One may detest nature and despise science, but it becomes more and more difficult to ignore them. Science in the modern world is not an entertainment for some devotees. It is on the way to becoming everybody’s business. Some people feel no interest in distant galaxies, in foreign lands, exotic human tribes, and even in those neighbors with whom they are not constrained to deal too often or too closely. Indifference to one’s own person is unlikely. It is feigned by some, but rarely felt deep down, when one is all alone with oneself. This unlikelihood, too, is understandable as a product of the biological evolution of personality in our ancestors. It made the probability of their survival greater than it would have been otherwise. Ingrained in man’s psyche before it was explicitly formulated, the adage “Know thyself” was always a stimulus for human intellect.

To “know thyself,” scientific knowledge alone is palpably insufficient. This was probably the basis of Tolstoy’s scoffing at science. To him science seemed irrelevant to the ultimate concern, and to him only the ultimate concern seemed to matter. But he went too far in his protest. In his day, and far more so in ours, the self-knowledge lacks something very pertinent to the present condition if one chooses to ignore what one can learn about oneself from science. This adds up to something pretty simple, after all: a coherent credo can neither be derived from science nor arrived at without science.

Construction and critical examination of credos fall traditionally in the province of philosophy. Understandably enough, professional philosophers often show little patience with amateurs who intrude into their territory. Scientists turned philosophers fare scarcely better than other amateur intruders. This proprietary attitude is not without warrant, but the matter is not settled quite so easily. What, indeed, is philosophy? Among the numerous definitions, that given by Bertrand Russell (1945) is interesting: “between theology and science there is a No Man’s Land, exposed to attacks from both sides; this No Man’s Land is philosophy.” Less colorfully, philosophy is defined as the “science of the whole,” which critically examines the assumptions and the findings of all other sciences, and considers them in their interrelations. Still other definitions claim that philosophy works to construct a coherent Weltanschauung . Under any of these definitions, scientists may have some role to play, at least on the outskirts of philosophy. At the very least, they must be counted among the purveyors of raw materials with which philosophers operate when they formulate and try to solve their problems. With some notable exceptions, modern schools of philosophy, especially in the United States and England, have been taking their cues very largely from the physical sciences; the influential school of analytical philosophy is engrossed with mathematics and linguistics. Biology and anthropology are neglected. Of late, there appear to be, however, some straws in the wind portending change.

The relevance of biology and anthropology is evident enough. In his pride, man hopes to become a demigod. But he still is, and probably will remain, in goodly part a biological species. His past, all his antecedents, are biological. To understand himself he must know whence he came and what guided him on his way. To plan his future, both as an individual and much more so as a species, he must know his potentialities and his limitations. These problems are only partly biological and scientific, and partly “theological.” In short, they are philosophical problems in Bertrand Russell’s sense.

Since I am a biologist without formal philosophical and anthropological training, the task which I set for myself is quite likely overambitious. I wish to examine some philosophical implications of certain biological and anthropological findings and theories. This small book [The Biology of the Ultimate Concern, 1967] lays no claim to being a treatise either on philosophical biology or on biological philosophy. It consists of essays on those particular aspects of science which have been particularly influential in the formation of my personal credo. This is said not in order to disarm the potential critics of these essays, but only to explain what may otherwise appear a rather haphazard selection of topics discussed and of those omitted in the pages that follow. Together with Birch (1965) I submit that:

My scientific colleagues might well say, “Cobbler, stick to your last.” But we have been doing that in science for long enough. I have attempted what is not a very popular endeavour in our generation. It is to cover a canvas so broad that the whole cannot possibly be the specialized knowledge of any single person. The attempt may be presumptuous. I have made it because of the urgency that we try, in spite of the vastness of the subject. I would not have written had I not discovered something for myself that makes sense of the world of specialized knowledge in which I live.

Featured: Theodosius Dobzhansky demonstrates the Hirsch index, 1966.

Fluttering Things

These poems are excerpted from Richard Pope’s recent collection, Fluttering Things: Poems about Birds. The book is beautifully illustrated with watercolors and photographs.

All proceeds go to Thicksons Woods Land Trust and Matt Holder Environmental Research Fund.


In feather-white silence
I hear them
discussing me
soft reedy whistles and thin nasal
talking it over
In a straggling swoop
a chatty wave invades
they inundate the clearing
all over the trees
these chickadees
upside down on branches
swaying in the breeze
constantly chattering
dee dee dee
audibly pecking
unconcerned by me.
One cocky fellow
in immaculate dress
with glossy black evening cap
bolder than the rest
drops down for a look
not fearing to land
on my outstretched hand
he cocks his head to watch me
set to fly
my eye to tiny jewel-like beady eye
then satisfied
he’s in the crowd again
which swoops off
sudden as it came
and for minutes
I can hear them
dee dee dee
then once again the snow hush lights on me.

Considerable Specks
Winter Wrens

Doughty trout lilies
curled like unborn babes
force their way
through last-year’s leaves.
The crowns
of towering hardwoods
colour and swell.
Apart from teetering partridges
gorging on buds
no birds can be seen
and the April woods
though poised for a mad rush of life
are chilly and spare
and one would say
spring is far away
were not the woods exploding with exquisite song
tumbling rushing melodies
and clear
trills and crescendos
and sustained –
powerful singing by masters
with soul and finesse.
Though nothing is visible
no matter how hard you look
the birds that produce this
Must be substantial in size.
No point checking your book
For the tiniest wren.
By June
the live warm greenwood
is quiet
and still.
There is sneaking
and skulking
and hiding
and streaking down holes
and an awful lot of furtiveness
by chipmunks
and voles.
Every time I walk past my pile of boughs
something whirs near the ground
and flits out of sight.
from afar
out the corner of my eye
I pick up action
a darting in or out
or mice
or the like
seeking cover
no doubt.
Certain something has just darted in
I lie on the ground
and peer into the tangle
at its most snarled spot.
I probe the impenetrable wall
of interwoven hemlock slash
and suddenly
as if by magic
I am seeing a bird
a tiny motionless milk-chocolate-flecked brown bird
a feathered ping-pong ball with a tiny sharp bill
and a stumpy tail
cocked ninety degrees to its back
with a jauntiness
hardly expected
in so small a mite,
once it knows it’s been seen,
flits further back in the brush pile
out of my sight.
No question about it
the books must be wrong
this shy silent lifespeck
can’t be the one
who shatters the wide glass woods
with his April song.

Lament in a Minor Key

Something of the ghost about the loon
no ripples
no splash heard
Indian mists
souls yearning
past lives blurred
its necklace makes the loon a totem bird
how can one withstand
the plea
forlorn and phantom
lakes away
lost forever
echo play
through damp night valleys from some hollow bay
Nighttime laughter
a maniac’s cry
The revelling of some werewolf spirit
exhuberant counterpoint to the long plaintive sigh.
Am I to be the last lost soul to hear it?

Richard Pope is a retired professor of Russian literature, and a lifelong birder. Aside from various scholarly publications, he is also the author of Flight from Grace: A Cultural History of Humans and Birds, Me n Len: Life in the Haliburton Bush 1900-1940, and a novel, Shadows Gathering.

A Student of Rhetoric. The Field of Art History: From Curtius to Panofsky

Marc Fumaroli (1932–2020) was a leading French historian who greatly advanced our understanding of art, rhetoric, culture and all those by-ways of culture which gird Western civilization. He taught at the Sorbonne and then at the Collège de France and was member of the French Academy. He was the recipient of the famed Balzan Prize, as well as many other honors. This paper was delivered at the Panofsky Symposium, Princeton, on October 2nd, 1993. Philippe-Joseph Salazar introduces us to the master himself, whom he knew well.

It is sometimes necessary to come back to the original and seminal texts. It is a principle of philological wisdom which may be welcome in a Panofsky symposium. I shall therefore begin this tribute to the Princeton master with two quotations from very famous texts, whose literal meaning is often obscured or forgotten. The first one is the main source of 20th century modern Art theory: Guillaume Apollinaire’s Les Peintres cubistes, 1912. We read there:

“Avant tout, les artistes sont des hommes qui veulent devenir inhumains. Ils cherchent péniblement les traces de l’inhumanité, traces que l’on ne rencontre nulle part dans la nature. Elles sont la vérité, et en dehors d’elle nous ne connaissons aucune réalité.”

This sort of sublime and compelling utterance, which has thrilled several European generations, has today lost its immediate power. But I want to quote in chronological disorder, an even more famous text, dating back to 1637, which is found in Descartes’ Discours de la Méthode:

“Ceux qui ont le raisonnement le plus fort, et qui digèrent le mieux leurs pensées afin de les rendre claires et intelligibles, peuvent toujours le mieux persuader ce qu’ils proposent, encore qu’ ils ne parlassent que bas-breton et qu’ ils n’eussent jamais appris de rhétorique”.

Both these texts may be superposed. They have, each on their own level, a common summoning content. The tabula rasa presupposed by the Cartesian Ego is no less radical than the methodic inhumanité Apollinaire required of the creative self. Cartesian or Apollinarian modernity supposes the elimination of memory, and of rhetorical invention founded upon a shared sensus communis. This superposition has abrasive potentialities which are today all around us. I dare to say that “we” (in a commonsensical meaning alien to the “nous” of Apollinaire in 1912) are more inclined to agree with the scholar who published in 1940 The History of Art as a Humanistic discipline, than the imprudent, if great poet, who invited artists to become inhuman before the two world wars had taken place!

It took thirty years before The Meaning in the Visual Arts reached the French public, in Bernard Teyssèdre’s translation, in 1969. When I read it for the first time, I was struck by footnote 18. There Panofsky quoted at length a Letter to the Editor published in the New Statesman and Nation, in June 1937. Written by an English Stalinist, this letter considered that it was morally sound that Stalin should fire from Russian Universities professors who insisted on teaching Plato and the classics of Western philosophy. This sort of teaching according to this moralist, was aimed at barring students an immediate and fresh access to the study of Marxism, the modern scientific truth. Panofsky contented himself with the following brief comment:

“Needless to say, the works of Plato and other philosophers also play an antifascist role in such circumstances, and Fascists too recognize this fact.”

Twelve years earlier, there appeared the French translation of a book which, in the field of literary studies, has had a decisive impact upon my generation: European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, by Ernst Robert Curtius. In the Preface to the 1953 German edition (the second one) Curtius wrote:

“This book doesn’t content itself with scientific purposes; it attests a concern for maintaining Western civilization.”

And further, the great German Romanist, Curtius, quotes Georges Sainsbury’s sentence:

“Ancient without Modem is a stumbling block; Modern without Ancient is utter and irremediable foolishness.”

Recently I happened to read the unpublished, pre-World War Two correspondence, between Curtius and a French lady poet, Catherine Pozzi. It throws an extraordinary light upon the genesis of the Curtius’ masterwork, and its philosophical significance. Curtius, who did his best since 1918 to awaken the French from their own nationalist conceit, is just as indignant about the so-called Nazi national revolution in Germany. He describes with a stern lucidity the budding lawlessness of the new regime and its cynical violence. But he is a scholar, not a hero, and he wrote in 1933:

“Je fais un cours sur la littérature latine du Moyen Age qui mt intéresse passionnément… Je suis lassé de toute modernité. Les siècles obscurs me reposent… Je me tapis dans mon coin. Le présent me dégoûte. Je ne désespère pas de l’avenir. Il nous apportera de nouvelles révélations de beauté et de bonté. Mais vivrai-je pour les voir? La beauté incréée ne vaut-elle pas mieux? Mais comment y atteindre?
      A spark disturbs our cloud. But at
      present I realize more the cloud
      than the spark.”

The reading of this correspondence makes clear what an immense labour of hope and love this European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, started as an University course in 1928-1929, had been until the end of World War Two. When it appeared in German, in 1948, dedicated posthumously to Aby Warburg and to the great Romanist Gustav Grober, it looked like a dove above the ruined landscape of Europe. In his correspondence with Catherine Pozzi, Curtius mentions on several occasions their common friend James Joyce, then working on Finnegan’s Wake. He says to his correspondent that this new novel in order to be correctly understood, will require a full acquaintance with Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova. This first-hand information is retrospectively illuminating for me. When I first discovered Curtius’ masterwork, at the beginning of the Sixties, I was engaged in reading Vico’s Opening Lecture, On the Study Method of Our Time (1699), where the Napolitan humanist launches his first fierce attack against the excesses of Cartesianism, and defends the traditional primacy of rhetoric in the teachings of the humanities. Without being fully aware then of the issues at stake for us in these 17th century debates, I was nevertheless struck by the correspondence between Vico’s thesis, and the role a philologist like Curtius attributed in his masterwork to rhetoric as the frame for the correct reading and understanding of Western Literature. And when at last I had the opportunity to read, in the early seventies, Panofsky’s Meaning in the Visual Arts, I was ready to recognize the methodological kinship between the two German scholars—Aby Warburg’s disciple and Aby Warburg’s friend—who since the thirties had worked on both sides of the Atlantic, and Vico, whose Scienza Nuova is after all the Italian seed of German romantic historicism. I am personally convinced since then that this alliance between the Warburg school, the best of German Roman philology, and the most able spokesman for the Ancients in the 18th century, has been in our century the only spiritual home and pledge against the dominant anti-humanist trends at work in the modernist poetics of Apollinaire, as well as in the Cartesian Cogito. I should like to ponder upon this alliance today. There is more here, I think, than a nostalgic and respectful glance to the past and its scattered achievements: I see there a living moral and scientific force, a spark illuminating our own clouds.

So, before assessing how Panofsky’s method may be fused, without losing its own sharpness, with the same field of reunified and enlarged humanities as that of Curtius, I should like to recall briefly the latter’s originality and enduring contribution to literary studies. I hope that this suggestion of synthesis will be attuned to this symposium, and to our guest’s expectations, Professor Irving Lavin. I cannot forget that he has himself pointed out the same direction in his excellent Washington lecture: Art History as a Humanistic Discipline.

Nineteenth century positivism, the radical heir of Cartesianism, has split academic literary studies and teaching between res and verba. Res, related to the outside world, was left to biorgaphical and referential research; verba, related to the subjective talent of the author, was left to stylistical and philological scrutiny. This split reflected the Cartesian division between the knowing subject, related to positive science, and the sensitive or irrational one. The task of the literary historian was therefore to separate the expression of the subjective self, from the objective facts to which this expression may be related. Rhetoric was rejected from literary studies on the double grounds of a formalist hindrance to free subjective expression, and of an archaic cloud obscuring scientific truth. Curtius took a contrary stance, following the path opened up by Norden and Dilthey. He discovered—or rediscovered—that the Cartesian division between res and verba was not applicable to the res literaria. In the rhetorical regime of literature, res and verba, invention and style have been, in the Western past as in the contemporary most self-conscious writer, James Joyce, a continuum, not two ontologically different realms. Res were themselves language constructs in time, which have their home in collective memory, their kernels in classical texts, and their structure in the “places” among which rhetorical-literary invention moves in order to find the proper contours of the thing it has to say or write; order and style gave to the matter thus gathered the appropriate form in order to exert an effect upon the auditor or the hearer. Res, res literaria, were therefore forms of human experience accumulated and ordered by a collective and proleptic memory; it was there that the inventive ingenium had to journey before finding the right response to its own challenge, in prudent agreement with contemporary commonsense. This rhetorical artistic ingenium is not alienated, as the Cartesian raison or the Apollinarian génie, from its natural and social embodiment: it possesses the mnemonic resources to shape itself into a human form. Literature is the most complex and complete use of the rhetorical ingenium.

A friend and client of Carl-Gustav Jung, Curtius became a friend and admirer of Aby Warburg in 1928. He attended in the winter of that year, in Rome, at the Hertzian Library, the famous Warburg’s lecture about the great project Mnemosyne. Warburg died the next year. But Curtius, who had been enthusiast of the project, never forgot this decisive meeting. He found in the topoi re-used often with striking originality by medieval and Renaissance writers, the equivalent of Jung’s archetypes, of Warburg’s mythical places of memory, and of Vico’s universali fantastici, a vast and relatively autonomous frame of symbolic forms where the poetical, philosophical and social experience of the West, has been treasured and ever renewed since Antiquity. Even style, the persuasive new form that this mnemonic fount of accumulated wisdom has to receive in order to find new effectiveness, had its own objectivity and relative transcendence from circumstances and whims. Curtius enucleated in the medieval “longue durée,” what Vico called corsi and ricorsi of classic and mannerist styles, the first moulded on a few models of naturalness, the second eclectic and above all virtuoso, up to the point of ostentatious artificiality. Why can this rhetorical tradition be called humanist? Curtius hated the insipid and goody-goody abuse of the word. He insisted that humanist literature deserved this name because it was founded upon well-tried precedents crystallized in symbolic forms and classical texts, and confronting through them the past experience of humanity with the new, contemporary one. Time transfigured in Space was the compass of European wisdom. Antihumanism, either in the Cartesian school of modernism, or in Apollinaire’s, abstracted human reason or unreason from any reliance on the scale of wisdom summarized and symbolized in the literary tradition.

Far from being limited to medieval Latin Europe, this rhetorical approach, and the method of study it implies, could, and has been since Curtius, extended to Early Modern and Modern literature. If today we expect a renewal of literary studies in France, after the failure of the so-called sciences humaines, it will obviously be in the Curtian line. I am happy to say that I work in perfect intellectual agreement with Curtius’ best pupil, Harald Weinrich, who is German, and despite his nationality, if I may use that very inappropriate clausula, my full-time colleague at the Collège de France.

Why does Art history, as exemplified by Panofsky’s Meaning in the Visual Arts relate so naturally with literature history as exemplified by Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages? This is the question which haunted me since my first reading of Panofsky, and it is, I think, a good question to raise today if we agree that, at the end of this century, when the modernist credo has become less credible, the future lies in a wise reunification and renewal of the humanities.

It is not so much, in my view, their common philological and critical exactness, nor their common use of definite concepts, like classic and mannerist, that resume the kinship between Panofsky as Art historian and Curtius as a historian of Literature. It may be correctly assumed that this common ground of textual acribia was the general heritage of European and German Roman philology. What brings them so close, in spite of their specialized fields, visual images and literary texts, is their common rupture with the positivist assumptions of modern history and philology. This positivist rationalism could easily be associated with nationalism, which is absent in the generous Romanist Curtius and is subtly derided in Panofsky’s polemics, for example when he stresses the indebtedness of Albrecht Dürer’s classicism to Quattrocento Italian artists. The anti-positivist stand, in both Panofsky and Curtius, is manifest above all in their common reliance upon rhetorical notions in describing and understanding the working of the topical and inventive imagination. Both, before any theory, were magnificent performers of what they tried, as historians, to resurrect. Curtius, not only in his correspondence and essays, but in his scientific work as well, is a foremost and virtuoso writer. Panofsky’s own humanity combines moral insight and literary grace: he knows not only how to prove, but how to revive the contradictory human facets of his subjects, their natural evidence. In his magnificent piece about Suger, Panofsky exposes the elusive personality of the Abbot of Saint-Denis to the proof of the different places of human experience, character, temperament, national type, social persona, culture, taste, and his narrative synthesis, imbued with humour and sympathy, equals the art of the best novelists by its power of bringing alive a superb example of balanced and ogival humanity. It is a scientific, literary and moral portrait, it is history, it is history of art, at their best at one and the same time. But Panofsky’s rhetoric was inseparable, like Antique and Renaissance rhetoric he understood as few other did, from the philosophical quest for truth. This philosophical background, far from being impaired by literary skills, is serenely asserted in the concluding chapter of The Meaning in the Visual Arts. Cassirer’s friend quotes Goethe and Kant, and locates himself in a tradition of thought which goes back to Cicero’s New Academy. This tradition allows him to relate artistic and literary invention to the same memory. This memory, vital and ideal at the same time, harbours symbolic forms which may be mirrored in texts as well as in visual works, and generate plastic or literary eloquence. Humanistic emblematic language combined both regimes of expression. The memory-imagination is a store of “universals” which are not deduced from reality, by discursive abstractions, but give form and meaning to nature, through intuitive synthesis. This harvest of mnemonic forms allows a mutual understanding and a reciprocal stimulation between inventors of texts and inventors of images. It implies, between literary texts and visual images, rhetorical operations such as transposition, interpretation, variation and combination.

The description Panofsky gives of the genesis of Dürer’s etchings or drawings does not rely only upon logical deductions: it reconstructs the poetic logic of imaginative invention, according to the four major rhetorical figures: metaphor, metonymy, catachresis, and irony-allegory. The last chapter of The Meaning is the birthplace of Panofsky’s major achievement as a philosopher-historian of art: Idea, a book that fortunately reached France much earlier than its belated translation, in 1983, may let us to believe this. The influence of this book on French literary studies cannot be overstated. It has merged with the influence of the Latinist and Romanist Alain Michel, who has renewed Ciceronian studies along the same line as Panofsky. Since the 19th century the major role of Cicero in the Western tradition has been generally understated, notably in France. Cicero has been viewed as a rhetorician and a translator: he could not be an original thinker. Michel has shown that the Ciceronian synthesis of rhetoric and philosophy, of Aristotle-ism and Platonism, was an original Roman achievement, and a fertile and enduring one. We may now trace, through Renaissance and Renascences, corsi and ricorsi, the seminal and central function of Cicero in the development of Western thought, literature and arts. Vico’s Scienza Nuova has been, in full Quarrel between Ancients and Moderns, the most powerful re-assertor of this humanist tradition. What Panofsky’s Idea revealed to us, was the pregnancy of this tradition and its fertility in European Renaissance Art. Aristotelian pragmatism combined with Platonic idealism, according to the liberal Ciceronian synthesis, allowed experience of the phenomenal world to be enlightened and shaped by proleptic Forms, themselves inherited from the collective experience of Western humanity. These Forms are not a logically deduced system, but a Theater of memory where ingenious invention may find the matter and the models of new ideas, responding accordingly to time, person and place, in the everchanging world of human history. Panofsky insisted upon the aesthetic flexibility of the Ciceronian philosophic rhetoric, able to sustain as well classicism as mannerism. He showed convincingly its liberal and shifting fecundity, capable of thinking unity and multiplicity at the same time. But what emerges from Panofsky’s Idea, as well as from recent French studies on rhetoric, is the common ground that this new understanding of Ciceronism offers for literary and artistic studies. Modern Art theory, in spite of its debt to a poet, Apollinaire, has insisted upon the unbridgeable gulf between plastic and literary forms, between the visible and the word. This view, in a less systematic version, was not unknown to the rhetorical tradition. It is a founding presupposed principle of Ciceronian rhetoric, reasserted by Vico, that human experience ranges well beyond language, and that by its multifaceted and ingenious figures rhetorical invention essays what escapes unilateral words. The visual arts therefore offer another order of figures able to mean what is beyond the reach of words. But artistic invention, unless it claims to be creation ex nihilo, is no less rhetorical than that of the orator or the poet. Their invention draws upon a common mnemonic world of “places,” and symbolic forms, mapping the multiple richness of human experience. And their style, through metaphorical transpositions, may be tasted and evaluated according to analogous standards. At least if we intend to reconstruct the meaning of works, literary or visual, invented according to these rhetorical assumptions, we may and we must learn again how a Rubens painting could resound with Seneca’s Stoic amble or Ovid’s Epicurean savours. Panofsky’s own literary learning and sensitivity plays a major part in his reconstructing the full intended meaning and aesthetics effects of Old Master works.

There are, in the Western tradition, departures from the main Ciceronian line. Panofsky, like Curtius, was perfectly aware of this. Curtius has devoted brilliant pages to the theological domination of 12th and 13th century learning. Panofsky has devoted a major book to the scholastic background of the invention of gothic style. The Cartesian Ego, which pretends to do away with rhetoric, has been the cornerstone of a new rationalist rhetoric, which has been immensely productive, and which is the background of neo-classical aesthetics. The Rimbaldian Je est un autre is no less rhetorical, as Apollinaire’s Peintres cubistes, a topical and tropical text, shows abundantly. But even these departures and ruptures can be measured and understood in relation with, or in reaction against, the main liberal tradition of the West, which after all is best qualified to understand the whole gamut of the human experience, since its central assumption is the infinite variety of humanity and of its access to form in different times, places and persons.

I apologize for this rather too allusive apologetics for a prospective Scienza Nuova of which Panofsky and Curtius have been the forerunners in this century. I would have preferred to content myself with listening to the discourse that the greatest French Warburgian, the late André Chastel, should have delivered today in this room. I hope I have been faithful to the living and burgeoning legacy of these Masters.

(last corrections made on September 22, 1993)

Marc Fumaroli: A Reminiscence and Prologue

On October 2nd, 1993, Marc Fumaroli, first citizen in the Republic of Letters, delivered a paper at Princeton on the subject of rhetoric. Philippe-Joseph Salazar was his student and worked closely with him. He “sets the scene” for this paper.

Marc Fumaroli was a master, yet one without disciples. In fact he scorned the idea of having “groupies,” a word he used with gusto well before French intellectual moeurs were impregnated with Americanisms of all sorts.

I knew him well, and over a long period of time, indeed. In fact, in 1979, he set me on the path of rhetoric, after proofreading pen in hand my first book, on opera, and quipping: “And now, after ce tour de piste, onto the real stuff.” I was barely twenty-four, it was my first book, and he spared no time and effort to guide me so that I would not mess up my début at the (then) sanctum of Presses universitaires de France. He was generous, but in his own way, which never was devoid of “raillerie.” Then he supervised my Doctorat d’Etat, a hallowed and now defunct degree thanks to the Plan-Organize-Lead-Control system imposed by Brussels (and Bologna) managerial bureaucracy on academic outputs. I can hear him punning on “output.” We are only a handful to have had him as a directeur de travaux for that recondite degree.

He was a laconic supervisor. My last supervision meeting took place over dinner in a dark restaurant in Göttingen—a side event to some colloquium he left half-way through it as it was his custom when “les cafards” (his word) started taking, and talking, over. He gave me sparse advice, but always cutting to the quick. Odd supervisor he was who mocked the routine rhetoric of academia, yet an adroit player in the cursus honorum game. One day, to my bewilderment, he took a school edition of Les Fourberies de Scapin, jumped into a large office cupboard, and burst out reciting with a high pitched voice the famous tirade when the imposter defines himself:

“Heaven has bestowed on me a fair enough share of genius for the making up of all those neat strokes of mother wit, for all those ingenious gallantries to which the ignorant and vulgar give the name of impostures; and I can boast, without vanity, that there have been very few men more skilful than I in expedients and intrigues, and who have acquired a greater reputation in the noble profession.” He added: “Tout est là!

I remember sitting there, next to his desk, aghast at his comedic skills. He admired and knew Grotowski. Whenever I attended a colloquium where he spoke, that impersonation of his came back—not for its content, of course, but for the performance itself.

His preferred eloquent mode however was the Voltairean causerie, the off the cuff (but on target) erudite comment, to sum the supple exercise and witty display of intelligence in a conversation between peers or meant to educate novices. Formalities were not his forte. Once, upon returning from England, while dropping his leather duffel bag with a loud plonk, he exhaled: “Ah, ces pompeux emmerdements d’Oxford.” Translation needed?

Nonetheless Fumaroli had a following, of students and colleagues, whom he did not always treat very kindly as the man could never resist un trait d’esprit, at their expense of course. Victims would usually succumb in silence. All his witticisms and actes manqués and antics would fill up a Fumaroliana—a book of ana, that exquisite literary genre of the Republic of Letters that has disappeared from intellectual life. Nothing more unwoke than a book of ana. You’ll get sued.

Nevertheless in September 1993 his (non) disciples together with his peers congregated in the redoubt of trendy intellectualism at Cerisy-la-Salle manor house. It is hard to imagine today what a shock it was to have a Fumaroli colloquium there. Imagine Derrida being feted at Davos. Or the Che at the RAND corporation. He told me, the moment he arrived from the tiresome rail and road journey to that gentilhommière in the Western Normandy countryside: “Well, merci, you put me a foot in the grave” (he died in 2020, though). The Cerisy colloquium had a provoking title, he chose: “Les Lettres: un gai savoir,” an ironical, rhetorical clin d’oeil to the fashionableness of Cerisy’s dedication to avant-garde in all its forms. But the actual theme was of course the dignity of Ciceronian otium, the joys scholarship affords to free minds—as in Nietzsche’s Fröhliche Wissenschaft—while paying homage to the poetic inventiveness of medieval gay saber. Two years later he was elected to the Académie française while the transactions, Le loisir lettré à l’Age Classique (Geneva, Droz) came out at about the same time.

About ten years after Cerisy, his epigones congregated again, this time by way of a special issue of XVIIe Siècle, the apex journal of erudite studies on “Age classique” (in the French sense of classical) to reflect on “Trente ans de recherches rhétoriques” (vol LIX, No 3, July 2007). We took stock of Fumaroli’s influence in shaping an entire new generation of rhetoric scholars in Europe.

Fumaroli is now nearly forgotten. I tested this on a young man who has just entered my college, Ecole normale supérieure. This Telemachus of France’s intellectual elite had only a vague idea of who Fumaroli was. If not forgotten altogether, he remains “sulfureux” with those who were part of the cultural and political struggles of the 80s. Significantly, after his death, a leading literary magazine of probing intelligence turned down a suggestion to highlight his contribution to French intellectual life: “Too toxic.” Buried or toxic, like nuclear waste. His staggering erudition and sharp pen were feared by his opponents on the left and, I suggest, misunderstood by his political supporters on the right. In fact, Fumaroli admired intelligence, including that of his intellectual opponents like Bourdieu (I know that first hand). He helped careers of junior academics of great scholarly promise, while deriding in private their political certainties, and vanities.

Here is a key to his temperament: his favourite American writer was Gore Vidal. To this day I regret having turned down his invitation to go to Italy with him, and meet Vidal—confirming the dictum that youth is wasted on the young. He admired Vidal’s ability to use his first-hand knowledge of the American patriciate, a form of erudition and, armed with it, paint compelling historical frescoes, composed with wit, elegance and a light touch. Fumaroli was the Gore Vidal of French erudition. This comparison goes further: when he wrote eloquently about the Tridentine rhetorical aggiornamento and the Roman Church as the power of oratory, his mind and taste were not religious or devout, they were cast in the mould of his beloved Poussin and “paganism.” He was, in effect, a radical sceptic in the great tradition of French libertinage.

His skepsis distrust of ideas for ideas’ sake (“la peste des intellectuels!” one of his favourite sayings) is something his intellectual opponents on the left and his fans on the right never quite fathomed about him. That is why, I believe, he felt at ease in Italy where intellectual life is far less compassé. For instance, I recall an episode in Rome when, at a bus station, someone shouted at him, “Fumaroli, vieni qui,” and then began an animated chat, at the kerb, on Castiglione’s Courtier. The bus stop became a salon, nay, an academy. And, dear me, how long that conversation lasted. Buses came and went, and were missed while they talked, like in a Bertolucci movie.

In the days following Cerisy Marc asked me to go over a lecture he was to deliver at Princeton, in October. I did not alter his style, I merely tried to shorten sentences and wipe off some Gallicisms. He gave me the revised version he had typed up—the text presented here. Typos are his. He actually typed his books and papers himself, sat at his gothic desk framed by two heavy Venetian damask curtains on the second floor of a XVIIth century building where he lived, quite derelict at the time as most of the hôtels particuliers in the Marais—before gentrification and then globalisation by various means. A mutual friend, and descendant of Marinetti, would help him sell it later when he moved to illustrious Left Bank quarters, rid of the sight of leathermen in chaps gathering at a gay bar round the corner.

Before that time, when he was writing, one could hear, at night, the morse-like tac-tac-tac (with longer Typex pauses) of his typewriter from the corner of rue des Mauvais Garçons (the name amused him) and rue du Bourg-Tibourg. An Italian trattoria owner across the narrow street was worried sick about his late night typing, and tried to make sure he ate properly. When Age de l’éloquence came out, she asked him for a signed copy. He sighed: “She thinks it is a novel, imagine un peu! (go figure!).” That summed up for him the difference between les Lettres and literature, one of his pet topics.

The text presented here is emblematic of the utterly French style of lecturing, light yet profound, a sprezzatura of the mind that has always been misunderstood in Anglo-American academic circles (with some notable exceptions)—to wit, and this is my last ana, it led him once to refuse adding footnotes to an invited article by a leading English-speaking Renaissance journal, and to exclaim in sheer exasperation: “What a nerve! If their readers don’t know what my references are, then est-ce vraiment une revue savante?” Rich from a scholar whose hermeneutic skills were astounding and whose juggernauts of technical footnotes and primary sources (at a time when one had to go into archives and special collections; one book at a time, four a day only, and “make sure you only use a pencil”) are so intimidating that they prevent his monumenta from being translated. This Princeton lecture is therefore without notes. Caveat emptor. Or cave canem. Take your pick.

French philosopher and essayist Philippe-Joseph Salazar writes on rhetoric as philosophy of power. Laureate of the Prix Bristol des Lumières in 2015 for his book on jihad (translated as, Words are Weapons. Inside ISIS’s Rhetoric of Terror, Yale UP). In 2022, the international community of rhetoricians honoured him with a Festschrift, The Incomprehensible: The Critical Rhetoric of Philippe-Joseph Salazar. He holds a Distinguished Professorship in Rhetoric and Humane Letters in the Law Faculty of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The Light of God in a New Light

Reflections on the Divinity of Jesus, Formless Matter, and Conceptualization in the Human.

Here, I will endeavor to try to grasp the way in which the symbol of light is deployed on several levels of meaning, which are themselves linked to correspondent levels in the architecture of reality. Namely: those levels of meaning that are God considered in His ideality, God considered in His relationship to contra-material nothingness, God considered in His incarnation into the universe, and the consciousness of God considered in its incarnation into the consciousness of Jesus. On that basis, I will endeavor to overcome those three philosophical cleavages that are the opposition between radical Arians and the Trinitarians on the issue of whether Jesus is divine; the opposition between Gersonides and saint Thomas Aquinas on the issue of whether there was formless matter instead of a temporal beginning of matter; and the opposition between Averroes and saint Thomas Aquinas on the issue of whether the mind of God (rather than the human mind) is what conceptualizes in the human mind.

I understand God, let us recall, as follows: an infinite, eternal, substantial, volitional, and conscious field of singular ideational models which is completely incarnated into the universe while remaining completely external to the universe, completely ideational, and completely subject to a vertical (rather than horizontal) time; and which is not only completely sheltered from any forced effect (whether ideational or material) with one or more efficient causes in its willingness, but which, besides, is traversed, animated, efficiently-caused, and unified by a sorting, actualizing pulse which stands both as the active part of God’s will and as the apparatus, the Logos, through which God incarnates Himself while remaining distinct from His incarnation.

Considering some entity from the angle of one of its (present at some point) properties consists of considering how the property in question is inscribed within the whole of the entity’s (present at that point) properties. Considering some entity independently of one of its (present at some point) properties consists of considering what are the other (present at that point) properties in the entity when the property in question is ignored. In the majority of ideational entities and of material ones, the fact of ignoring some property lets all the other properties apply. In the case of that material entity that is the universe, some of its properties present at some point apply depending on whether the universe is considered from the angle (or instead independently) of that substantial relational property that is the incarnation relationship of the universe with respect to God.

Neantial, Ideational, and Material Conceptual Objects

A concept is a unit of meaning: it signifies a certain object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties (rather than from the angle of all of its properties). The properties (including constitutive) of a conceptual object coincide with the properties (including constitutive) that are imputed to the concerned conceptual object depending on whether material or ideational reality validates the imputation of the imputed properties. In a material or ideational conceptual object, its existential properties of (i.e., those of its properties that are relating to whether the object exists, and to how it exists or inexists) rank among the constitutive properties of the conceptual object in question. A neantial conceptual object is a conceptual object that contains no existential properties; just as every neantial conceptual object is contra-material or contra-ideational, no neantial conceptual object is material nor is it ideational.

Just as every conceptual object is material or ideational or neantial, every conceptual object is fictitious (in a weak or strong mode) or matching (in a weak or strong mode). Just as a fictitious material conceptual object and a matching material conceptual object are respectively a material conceptual object which happens to not exist (in the material field) and a material conceptual object which happens to exist (in the material field), a fictitious ideational conceptual object and a matching ideational conceptual object are respectively an ideational conceptual object which happens to not exist (in the ideational field) and an ideational conceptual object which happens to exist (in the ideational field). Just as a fictitious neantial conceptual object and a matching neantial conceptual object are respectively a neantial conceptual object which is a type of nothingness having not actually preceded the universe and a neantial conceptual object which is a type of nothingness having actually preceded the universe, a contra-ideational neantial conceptual object and a neantial contra-material conceptual object are respectively a type of nothingness substituted for the field of the Idea and a type of nothingness substituted for the field of matter.

A concept and its linguistically accepted definition (i.e., its definition accepted in a certain language) are considered synonymous in the considered language; that synonymy, instead of being true or false independently of reality (whether ideational or material), is nevertheless true or false according to ideational reality (in the case of the ideational objects and of the contra-ideational neantial object), or according to material reality (in the case of the material objects and of the contra-material neantial object). Just as the ideational reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between an ideational object (for example, God) and its accepted definition depending on whether the ideational reality validates whether the constitutive properties (including existential) of the concerned ideational object are those alleged by the accepted definition, material reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a material object (for example, Chi) and its accepted definition depending on whether material reality validates whether the constitutive properties (including existential) of the concerned material object are those alleged by the accepted definition. As for the neantial objects, material reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a contra-material neantial object and its accepted definition depending on whether material reality validates whether the constitutive properties of the concerned conceptual object are those contained in the accepted definition; just as the ideational reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a contra-ideational neantial object and its accepted definition depending on whether the ideational reality validates whether the constitutive properties of the concerned conceptual object are those contained in the accepted definition.

The object of the concept of light is a matching material conceptual object, i.e., a material conceptual object that happens to exist in the material field. The concept of light means light taken from the angle of its constitutive properties; the linguistically accepted definition of light, which evolves as language evolves, must be judged true or false in the light of material reality. The currently accepted definition of light is as follows: “electromagnetic radiation whose wavelength, between 400 and 780 nm, corresponds to the sensitivity zone of the human eye, between ultraviolet and infrared.” Our knowledge of reality remaining irremediably perfectible, that definition is subject to a hypothetical revision one day or another (under the hypothetical progress of physics on that level); we will start from that definition, which we know is “true” until further notice.

Light: Symbol of the Ideality of God

Every light has: its source (i.e., what it emanates from), and its object (i.e., what it illuminates). We cannot correctly grasp what the symbol of light refers to without focusing on that conceptual trio—luminaire (i.e., source of light), illuminated object, and light. The light of a candle manifests itself via the flame which envelops the wick, and via the wax which the light of the candle illuminates; however the light of the candle is not visible itself. More generally, light manifests itself without making itself visible: in other words, it manifests itself in a mode other than that which would consist for it of making itself visible. In order for light to manifest itself via its source, a necessary, sufficient condition is that light manifests itself via the illuminated object; it is by illuminating its object that light manifests itself via what it illuminates, but it is, besides, by manifesting itself via the illuminated object that light manifests that it emanates from a certain luminary (and manifests which is its luminary). In other words, just as it is by illuminating that object it illuminates that light manifests itself through the illuminated object, it is by illuminating that object that light manifests itself through the luminaire.

A symbol is a concept that allows one or more other concepts to be glimpsed while leaving them in obscurity; it is both an incomplete path towards those other concepts, and a completely hermetic enigma about them. Let us endeavor to see what the concept of light opens up to: to begin with, the ideality of God. Just as matter is that which exists in a consistent, firm mode, the Idea is that which exists in a mode devoid of the slightest consistency and firmness. Just as materiality is what a material entity is composed of, ideality is what an ideational entity is composed of. Reality is subdivided into a material field and an ideational field; the universe occupies (and summarizes) the material field, but God occupies (without summarizing) the ideational field. The supramundane field is to be not confused with the ideational field: the supramundane field, in that it encompasses everything that is beyond the world, encompasses the ideational field as well as the neantial field (i.e., the field of the nothingness prior to the temporal beginning of the material field).

Interstellar vacuum, energy, or thought are modes of matter: they are as consistent as is wood or fire, but consistent in a different way. Light is a certain mode of matter; but it is a mode of matter which is so “fine” in its consistency that it evokes the ideality of which God is made. Let us specify that the Idea (which Plato and Pythagoras deal with) must be distinguished from the idea: the Idea is that which exists in a mode devoid of the slightest consistency and firmness, but the idea is a material entity (in the case of an idea lodged in the mind of a material entity) or an ideational entity (in the case of an idea lodged in the mind of an ideational entity). God is an Idea; but the concept of God in the mind of a certain human is an idea lodged in the mind of said human. Let us also clarify that physics only deals with a certain mode of matter: namely that mode of matter which has mass and extent. Thought (which has neither mass nor extension), as well as the void (which has extension but is devoid of mass), are both excluded from the field of physics; they nonetheless remain modes of matter. Light, although it falls within that mode of matter which occupies physics, evokes a mode of being which is beyond physics; although light is material, it evokes a mode of being that is truly immaterial.

Light: Symbol of God Considered in His Relationship to Contra-Material Nothingness

The light which crosses the void where the celestial bodies “float” barely manifests itself because it barely illuminates the celestial bodies; in other words, the void is black because the light emanating from the stars barely illuminates the celestial bodies. In that regard, light is a symbol of God considered in His relationship to contra-material nothingness. Namely that God—just as starlight barely illuminates the black of the interstellar void that it travels through—does not dissipate at all the contra-material nothingness that it overhangs.

Every conceptual object is either supramundane or intramundane. Just as every supramundane object is ideational or neantial, every intramundane object is material. Just as every conceptual object is intra-mundane or supramundane, every intra-mundane conceptual object is: either fictitious in a weak mode, or fictitious in a strong mode, or matching in a weak mode, or matching in a strong mode; the same is true of every supramundane conceptual object. A fictitious object in a weak mode is a fictitious object which could have been a matching object had this world been different or had another world existed; a fictitious object in a strong mode is a fictitious object which would have been fictitious even if this world had been different or if another world had existed. A matching object in a weak mode is a matching object which could have been a fictitious object had this world been different or had another world existed; a matching object in a strong mode is a matching object which would have been matching even if this world had been different or if another world had existed.

Every intra-mundane object matching in a strong mode is a material object; but a supramundane object matching in a strong mode is either ideational or neantial. Every matching intra-mundane object is a material object matching in a weak or strong mode; but a matching supramundane object is either an ideational object matching in a strong mode, or a neantial object matching in a strong mode. Every fictitious intramundane object is a fictitious material object in a weak or strong mode; but a fictitious supramundane object is either an ideational object fictitious in a strong mode, or a neantial object fictitious in a strong mode. A supramundane object of an ideational type is either matching in a strong mode, or fictitious in a strong mode; the same applies to every supramundane object of the neantial type. Every intramundane object (and, thus, every material object) is either matching in a strong mode, or matching in a weak mode, or fictitious in a strong mode, or fictitious in a weak mode.

Two modalities of the concept of nothingness are valid: a matching modality (in a strong mode) that is contra-material nothingness, i.e., that sort of nothingness that is substituted for the existence of matter; a fictitious modality (in a strong mode) that is contra-ideational nothingness, i.e., that sort of nothingness that is substituted for the existence of the Idea. Of those two modalities of the concept of nothingness, the former has as its object the contra-material nothingness (i.e., the absence of matter) which effectively preceded (chronologically) matter: at least, matter considered independently of the incarnation relationship of matter with regard to God. The latter modality has as its object contra-ideational nothingness (i.e., the absence of any ideational entity), which is fictitious. That the absence of matter was chronologically prior to matter (at least, matter considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God) is a fact which would have occurred even if our world had been different or if another world had existed; thus, contra-material nothingness is a modality of the concept of nothingness whose object is matching in a strong mode. God exists from all eternity (whether matter is considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God), and His existence would be eternal even if our world were different or if another world had existed; contra-ideational nothingness is thus a modality of the concept of nothingness whose object is fictitious in a strong mode.

Matter, in that it had a temporal beginning (if we consider it independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God), was preceded by contra-material nothingness. By Himself, however, God cannot dissipate contra-material nothingness; no more than starlight can dissipate the black of the interstellar void. Precisely, the black of the interstellar void symbolizes contra-material nothingness. By itself, the ideality of which God is made cannot dispel that darkness; what is ideational cannot get substituted for the absence of what is material, no more than it can generate ideational effects substituted for the absence of what is material. The only way God can dispel that darkness, and introduce matter in place of darkness, is for Him to change Himself into what He is not: matter.

Light: Symbol of the Incarnation of God into the Universe

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” the Gospel of John tells us. The sorting, actualizing pulse which unifies, animates, and traverses the field of ideational essences present within God, and which operates the incarnation of God into the world (while allowing Him to remain external to the world which is His incarnation), is that “Word” whose mystery occupied the apostle John (or the Johannine community). It is inaccurate to say of God that He is His Word; the Word of God is nevertheless the active part of His will, as well as the apparatus of His incarnation. The Word, although it unfolds in a time that is eternal (i.e., which has neither beginning nor end) and vertical (i.e., where past, present, and future are simultaneous rather than successive), does unfold; in other words, the Word operating in the ideational field is gradual as is every speech formulated in the material field. Just as God creates (by incarnating Himself) in a gradual mode, the universe exists in a gradual mode; like a discourse that is being held, the universe is unfolding. That joint gradualness in the creation on the part of God, and in the existence of the universe, lets itself be glimpsed in these terms in the Koran: “And, with Our powers, We have built the sky, and assuredly, We continue to extend it.” For its part, the fact that God creates through His Word lets itself be glimpsed here as follows: “When He decides a thing, He simply says: “Be”, and it is immediately!”

What light is a symbol of is not only God considered from the angle of His ideality or of His relationship to contra-material nothingness; it is also God considered from the angle of His incarnation into the universe. Light, let us recall, does not manifest itself in the way that would consist for it of making itself visible. Instead of making itself visible, it manifests itself through its source (what illuminates), and its object (what is illuminated); and it is by illuminating its object that it manifests itself both through its object and its source. Let us see how the symbol of light illuminates the creation by God through incarnation. God is (symbolically) a light that stands out in three ways from the light of this world. In the first place, that light is its own source; it is both the lighting and the light that illuminates, the luminaire and what emanates from it. In the second place, that light that is God does not manifest itself by what it illuminates; God certainly enlightens the universe, but the universe does not manifest the presence of God who enlightens it. In the third place, the light that is God engenders what it illuminates; the light of God brings the world into being by illuminating it. To those three properties of light taken as a symbol of God incarnated into the universe correspond three properties of the incarnation of God into the universe. In the first place, God is substance, i.e., exists from all eternity and without having any efficient cause. In the second place, God remains external to the universe; that exteriority of God with respect to His own incarnation, that independence of God with respect to His own creation by incarnation, it follows from it that the universe does not manifest the presence of God. In the third place, God remains that which created (and is incarnated into) the universe; God is certainly external to His creation, the universe nonetheless remains what God created by means of His incarnation.

Light: SDymbol of the Incarnation of the Consciousness of God into the Consciousness of the Son of God

It is useful to remember that the light of God is ideational, whereas the light of our world is a modality of matter. God, who hardly manifests Himself through His creation by incarnation that is the universe, nevertheless inspired the words of the prophets; that inspiration, although it did not manifest God through the speech of the prophets, allowed the prophets to express themselves about God. God inspired what was said about Him; His inspiration, however, was not His manifestation. The Gospel according to John, however, says of God that while “no one has ever seen God [until then],” “the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, is the one who has made him known.” That inspired symbolic language can be deciphered in these terms: God, who until then had no more manifested Himself (were it partly) in His creation than His consciousness had been incarnated within the world, saw His consciousness become a human consciousness (i.e., the consciousness of the earthly soul of a certain human), but neither His consciousness nor anything of God manifested itself on that occasion.

Just as in any novel the plot can be considered from the angle of the creation relationship of the novel with regard to the novel’s author, or considered independently of said relationship of creation, a same statement with respect to a novel’s plot can be true or false depending on whether the novel is considered from the angle of the creation relationship of the novel with regard to the novel’s author, or considered independently of said relationship of creation. Let’s take a novel whose plot ends on a cliffhanger: in the novel considered from the angle of its relationship of creation with regard to its author, the plot ends on the cliffhanger in question; but, in the novel considered independently of its relationship of creation with regard to its author, the plot continues after the cliffhanger (instead of stopping at the end of the novel). The universe is a novel whose author is God, which He writes by means of his Word; but it is a novel whose words are incarnated into what they say (while remaining external to that material incarnation). Just as God’s words are those ideational essences that He selects and actualizes, the respective incarnation of God’s words is the respective incarnation of those ideational essences that He selects and actualizes. Jesus, in that he is the incarnation of the ideational essence of Jesus, is the incarnation of a certain part of God; but, in his consciousness, Jesus is also the incarnation of a certain (other) part of God in that the consciousness of God is incarnated into the consciousness of Jesus.

The consciousness of Jesus is symbolically a light, but it is a light that stands out in three ways from the non-symbolic light. In the first place, that light is its own object; it is both what illuminates and what is illuminated, the light and what the light illuminates. In the second place, the light that is the consciousness of Jesus illuminates its object while nevertheless leaving it in the shadows; that light illuminates itself without making itself visible. In the third place, the light that is the consciousness of Jesus does not manifest the source from which it emanates, no more than it manifests that it is an emanation. To those three properties of light taken as a symbol of the consciousness of Jesus correspond three properties of the consciousness of Jesus. In the first place, the consciousness of Jesus is at the same time the incarnated consciousness of God (regarding his consciousness in the universe considered from the angle of the relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God) and the consciousness of the soul nestled in the human Jesus; thus the consciousness of Jesus is both a property present in God (regarding the consciousness of Jesus in the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God) and a property present in that non-divine entity that is the soul of the human Jesus. In the second place, the consciousness of Jesus, although it existed in the world, was no more manifested in the world than the consciousness present in some conscious material entity is in a position to manifest itself in the world; what is ideational and nevertheless in the world cannot manifest itself alongside any material entity. In the third place, the consciousness of God taken in its exteriority with regard to its own incarnation into the consciousness of the earthly soul of the human Jesus was not manifested in its incarnation; it was incarnated without that incarnation being manifestation.

Grasping what, of Jesus, is of God requires that we go beyond what John (or the Johannine community) seemed to understand from his own symbolic language when he expressed himself in these terms in his Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” What, of God, became flesh is not His word, but it is the respective ideational essence of those entities endowed with flesh (including the entity Jesus); what makes Jesus a Son of God is that are respectively incarnated a certain ideational essence into Jesus, and the consciousness of God into the consciousness of Jesus. The word of God is what operates the selection and actualization of some ideational essences; the ideational essence of Jesus, in witnessing its selection and actualization get carried out, witnesses Jesus come into the world with a substantial essence that includes the property (that is itself inscribed in the ideational essence of Jesus) of the incarnated consciousness of God. The universe is indistinct from God (although distinct from God who remains external to His own incarnation that the universe is); for his part, Jesus is indistinct from the ideational essence of Jesus and, thus, from a part of God (although distinct from his ideational essence which, while incarnated into Jesus, remains external to Jesus), but the consciousness of Jesus is indistinct from the (totality of the) consciousness of God (although distinct from the consciousness of God which, while incarnated into the consciousness of Jesus, remains external to the consciousness of Jesus).

Overcoming the Divide between Radical Arianism and the Trinitarian Doctrine

The entire universe, not just Jesus, is the incarnation of God; but, although God is entirely incarnated into the entire universe, the consciousness of God is only incarnated into the consciousness of one or more human individuals precisely elected so that their respective consciousnesses be the incarnated consciousness of God. The consciousness of God, while incarnating itself into one or more human consciousnesses, does not see the object of the consciousness of God incarnate itself into the object of those human consciousnesses in which the consciousness of God gets incarnated. The object of God’s consciousness is (at every point) one’s existence and the entire field of the ideational essences and the (simultaneous) past, present, and future of the operation of the sorting, actualizing pulse, as well as the entirety of the (successive) past, present, and future of the universe; but the object of the consciousness of the one or those in whom the consciousness of God is incarnated is (at every point) one’s existence and a certain part of the universe, and hypothetically (and in a mode which is, at best, approximative) a certain part of the field of the ideational essences. Only a handful of humans (rather than all or the majority of humans) or a single human (rather than several humans) sees the consciousness of God incarnate itself into theirs; Jesus was either the only human whose consciousness was the incarnated consciousness of God, or one of those few humans (through the ages) whose respective consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God.

In the universe considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is both the incarnated consciousness of God and the consciousness of the soul of Jesus; but, in the universe considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is only the consciousness of the soul of Jesus. Likewise, in the universe considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is at the same time a human endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God (in that his consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God) and a human who in his consciousness has nothing divine nor anything of God; but, in the universe considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is in his consciousness only human (instead of being endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God). In that the consciousness of God is co-eternal with God, the consciousness of Jesus is co-eternal with God in the universe taken from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God; but, just as much in the universe taken from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God as in the universe taken independently of said relationship of incarnation, Jesus (instead of being co-eternal with God) has a temporal beginning and end.

The soul, as I expressed myself on that subject in a previous writing, is an Idea which, like the ideational essence, is eternal although endowed with an efficient cause (through God); but which, unlike the ideational essence (which remains within God, and which sees God communicate to it His consciousness and will), is endowed with a consciousness distinct from the consciousness of God, and with an existence external to God. The soul retains its consciousness both when the soul is supramundane (i.e., located in the ideational field) and when it is earthly (i.e., located in a living entity within the material field); but, whereas the earthly soul is without any willingness and without any mind (although every terrestrial soul is nested in an entity that is, if not endowed with a mind, at least endowed with a willingness), the supramundane soul has a willingness and a mind respectively distinct from the willingness of God and from the mind of God. The (supramundane) soul rises to the rank of a god in the ideational field by having experienced, during its stay or stays (as an earthly soul) in the material field, a heroism that is sufficient in order for God to grant it a divine rank. Every divine soul is supramundane; but no earthly soul is divine, just as not every supramundane soul is divine. Although the soul of Jesus became divine at the end of the earthly stay it effectuated in the biological entity that Jesus is, the soul of Jesus had nothing divine during the stay in question.

Heroism and exploit, as I expressed myself on that subject in the same previous writing, must be taken respectively in the sense of the accomplishment (as a conscious material entity) of one or more exploits; and in the sense of an act that is jointly exceptionally creative (i.e., characterized by the mental creation of one or more exceptionally creative ideas), exceptionally successful (i.e., characterized by the complete achievement of an exceptionally difficult goal), and exceptionally endangering for one’s material subsistence. The (earthly) soul of Jesus rendered itself divine (on its return to the ideational field) by experiencing an earthly stay (as Jesus) which saw Jesus accomplish an exploit great enough for that stay to be sufficient to render divine the (supramundane) soul of Jesus. That exploit is that of having created a new, semi-worldly, and multi-millennial religion by dying on the cross. Each supramundane soul knows perfectly the content of each ideational essence; thus each supramundane soul pre-knows perfectly what its earthly stay will be when it opts for a certain earthly stay. God, although each supramundane soul makes use of a self-determined willingness in its decision to opt for some particular earthly stay rather than for another one, perfectly pre-knows the decision of each supramundane soul on that level. God, although He elected the (supramundane) soul of Jesus so that his (earthly) soul be the earthly soul (or one of the earthly souls) whose consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God, saw the (supramundane) soul of Jesus make use of a self-determined willingness in its choice of an earthly stay characterized by the incarnation of the consciousness of God into the consciousness of the (earthly) soul.

God, while incarnating Himself in the world, remains external to the world which is His incarnation; but the world, for its part, remains indistinct (rather than distinct) from God whose incarnation it is. A same statement can nevertheless be true or false depending on whether we consider it in the world taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, or in the world considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God. In the world taken from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God, Jesus is endowed with a consciousness that is both indistinct from the consciousness of God and distinct from the consciousness of God; but, in the world taken independently of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God, Jesus is endowed with a consciousness distinct from the consciousness of God (rather than indistinct from all or part of the consciousness of God). Accordingly, the overcoming of the cleavage between radical Arianism and the Trinitarian doctrine is constitutive of a correct answer to the question of the divinity of Jesus (i.e., the question of knowing whether Jesus is divine). Moderate Arianism considers Jesus as a human who, in that he is the incarnated Father, was both created by the Father and created as indistinct (though distinct) from the Father; and who, in that he has a temporal beginning and end, is not co-eternal with the Father whose incarnation he is. For its part, radical Arianism envisages Jesus as a human who has nothing divine and who, in that he was created by the Father in a mode other than a creation by incarnation, is human (rather than God) and distinct from the Father (rather than indistinct from the latter); and as a human who, in that he has a temporal beginning and end, is not co-eternal with the Father. Whereas, according to moderate Arianism, Jesus is (incarnated) God without being co-eternal with the Father, Jesus, according to radical Arianism, is neither God nor endowed with anything divine nor is he co-eternal with the Father (although he is created by the Father).

Intermediate positions are found between radical and moderate Arianisms; but all modalities of Arianism have in common that they are opposed to the Trinitarian doctrine, for which Jesus is both the incarnation of God (instead of being a creature without anything divine nor anything of God) and an entity co-eternal with God. Knowing which modality of Arianism was the one that Arius actually defended is a problem on which I will not take position here. The cleavage between radical Arianism and the Trinitarian doctrine sees my position on the question of the divinity of Jesus operate an overcoming in these terms. The entire universe (and not only Jesus within the universe) sees God incarnate Himself into it, what is beyond the understanding of the Trinitarian doctrine and of radical Arianism (as well as of all modalities of Arianism). The assertion (in the Trinitarian doctrine) that Jesus is both human and indistinct from God (rather than a part of God) is partially true in that, in the case of the world taken from the angle of its incarnation of God (rather than in the case of the world taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God), Jesus is his incarnated ideational essence (and thus an incarnated part of God), and a human endowed, besides, with a consciousness which is both the consciousness of the (earthly) soul of Jesus and the incarnated consciousness of God. For its part, the assertion (in radical Arianism) that Jesus has nothing divine is partially true in that, in the case of the world taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is a human who is no more an incarnated ideational essence than he is a human endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God.

In the case of the world taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is co-eternal with the consciousness of God; but (whether the world is taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God) Jesus himself does have a beginning and an end in (horizontal) time. As such, the assertion (in radical Arianism) that Jesus is not co-eternal with God is true; but the affirmation (in the Trinitarian doctrine) that Jesus is co-eternal with God retains a part of truth in that the consciousness of Jesus in the world taken from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God is indeed co-eternal with the consciousness of God.

Overcoming the Divide between Gersonides and Saint Thomas Aquinas

The question of formless matter (i.e., the question of whether the universe, instead of having known a temporal beginning from contra-material nothingness, experienced a formless matter that was without any temporal beginning) is another question which demands the overcoming of a certain philosophical cleavage: here, the cleavage between Gersonides and saint Thomas Aquinas. Whereas formless matter is matter that exists without entering into the composition of any material entity, arranged matter is matter that enters into the composition of a certain material entity (within which it coexists with formal properties). The Gersonidean position on the question of formless matter is that the universe, instead of having experienced a temporal beginning (from contra-material nothingness), experienced a formless matter (which had always been) from which God operated to create a universe which be endowed with form and not only matter; for its part, the Thomist position on the question of formless matter is that the universe, instead of having experienced a formless matter (without any temporal beginning), had a temporal beginning which saw the universe begin with an already arranged matter.

Each of those two positions has a part of truth (depending on whether the universe is considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God, or from the angle of said relationship), and a part of falsehood (depending on whether the universe is considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God, or from the angle of said relationship). The relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God is co-eternal with God; but the relation of incarnation of a given entity within the universe with regard to its own ideational essence is no more co-eternal with the ideational essence in question than a given entity within the universe (whether the latter is considered independently of the relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God or from the angle of said relationship of incarnation) is co-eternal with its own ideational essence. The universe is nevertheless co-eternal with God when it comes to the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God; regarding the universe considered independently of said relationship of incarnation, the universe, instead of being co-eternal with God, is endowed with a temporal beginning. The universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God certainly saw arranged matter begin temporally; but, whereas the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God sees the temporal beginning of arranged matter follow a phase (without any temporal beginning) of the universe that was characterized by formless matter, the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God saw the universe begin temporally (from contra-material nothingness) and begin with an already arranged matter.

What renders partially true the Thomist affirmation of the temporal beginning of the universe (from contra-material nothingness) is that the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God is (unlike the universe considered from the angle of said relationship of incarnation) effectively endowed with a temporal beginning. Likewise, what renders partly true the Gersonidean assertion that the universe, instead of having experienced a temporal beginning (from contra-material nothingness), experienced a formless matter is that the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God has (unlike the universe considered independently of said relationship of incarnation) actually passed through the phase (without any temporal beginning) of a formless matter rather than through the phase of an arising from contra-material nothingness. Every entity (whether ideational or material) is a compound of form and composition: the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God was therefore a semi-entity so long as the matter which composed it was a formless matter. For its part, the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God was an entity as soon as its existence began temporally.

Overcoming the Divide between Averroes and Saint Thomas Aquinas

Conceptualization consists of producing a concept or a definition of said concept or a description of all or part of the object of said concept; conceiving a concept consists of conceptualizing, or judging that a concept or a certain definition of said concept or a certain description of all or part of the object of said concept are valid. The question of conceptualization in the mind of God (i.e., the question of whether it is the mind of God, not the human mind itself, which conceptualizes in the human mind) has been the subject of a cleavage between Averroes and saint Thomas Aquinas. Whereas the former conceives of the human mind as incapable of conceptualizing, and the mind of God as that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind, the latter conceives of the human mind as capable of conceptualizing (just like the mind of God), and the conceptualization in the human mind as the work of the human mind itself.

Every concept (i.e., every unit of meaning) is an idea; but every idea is either a concept or an association of concepts. Every definition is an association of concepts; but not every association of concepts is a definition. The willingness (i.e., the pursuit of one or more ends) is either acting (i.e., employing one or more means for the purpose of an end), or non-acting (i.e., pursuing an end without employing any means for the purpose of that end); in God, the sorting, actualizing pulse, the Word, is the acting willingness. An object of willingness (i.e., an end that a willingness pursues, or the means or the various means that it employs for the purpose of an end) is never an idea; in every conscious volitional entity, willingness (whether it is acting or non-acting) is nevertheless accompanied by the idea of the object of willingness. Just as a volitional idea is an idea that accompanies an object of willingness (without causing the object in question), an actional volitional idea and a non-actional volitional idea are respectively a volitional idea that accompanies an end or means present in an acting willingness; and a volitional idea which accompanies an end in a non-acting willingness. In God, the sorting, actualizing pulse, in that it merges with acting willingness, is distinct from volitional ideas; each operation of said pulse is nevertheless accompanied by a correspondent idea in the mind of God. Just as an actional volitional idea in God is a volitional idea which corresponds to a certain operation of the sorting, actualizing pulse, an actional volitional idea which, in God, corresponds to a means in acting willingness and a non-actional volitional idea which, in God, corresponds to an end in acting willingness are respectively a volitional idea which corresponds to a selection and actualization; and a volitional idea which corresponds to an incarnated ideational essence. From an ideational entity present in the material field, nothing can be the object of an experience by a material entity; but it is possible for a human material entity to have an experience (which nevertheless is, at best, approximative) of all or part of an ideational essence, as well as of the consciousness of God or of a supramundane soul, as well as of all or part of (what are at the moment of that experience) the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, as well as of all or part of (what are at the moment of that experience) the ideas in the mind of a certain supramundane soul.

A non-actional volitional idea in God is an idea corresponding to an end which is certainly in the will of God, but which does not relate to the operations of the sorting, actualizing pulse. Just as an ideational essence present in God must be distinguished from that essence’s concept present in the mind of God, the direct grasping of an ideational essence in God must be distinguished from the direct grasping of an idea in the mind of God. In the mind of God, ideas that are other than non-actional volitional ideas are also those ideas that God does not allow humans to grasp; in the mind of God, non-actional volitional ideas are those ideas that God allows humans to grasp, but a grasp that is, at best, approximative and whose effectiveness varies from one individual to another. The mind of God, although capable of conceptualization, is no more the mind that conceptualizes in the human mind than humans are incapable of conceptualizing; the Thomist position that the human mind, like the mind of God, is itself a conceptualizing mind (instead of the mind of God being that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind) is true. The Averroist position that the human mind, although incapable of conceptualization, sees the mind of God conceptualize in it remains partially true: on the one hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasping of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another. On the other hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasp of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another.

A non-actional volitional idea in God is an idea corresponding to an end which is certainly in the will of God, but which does not relate to the operations of the sorting, actualizing pulse. Just as an ideational essence present in God must be distinguished from that essence’s concept present in the mind of God, the direct grasping of an ideational essence in God must be distinguished from the direct grasping of an idea in the mind of God. In the mind of God, ideas that are other than non-actional volitional ideas are also those ideas that God does not allow humans to grasp; in the mind of God, non-actional volitional ideas are those ideas that God allows humans to grasp, but a grasp that is, at best, approximative and whose effectiveness varies from one individual to another. The mind of God, although capable of conceptualization, is no more the mind that conceptualizes in the human mind than humans are incapable of conceptualizing; the Thomist position that the human mind, like the mind of God, is itself a conceptualizing mind (instead of the mind of God being that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind) is true. The Averroist position that the human mind, although incapable of conceptualization, sees the mind of God conceptualize in it remains partially true: on the one hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasping of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another. On the other hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasp of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another.


Genesis distinguishes between primordial light and the light of the sun and the moon; the primordial light was created before the first day, with “the heavens and the earth,” but the sun and the moon were created only on the fourth day. Genesis tells us of God that He creates by “speaking,” and that the primordial light is His creation. As God invites humans to complete His creation that is the universe, the word that He inspires invites humans to deepen the symbolism it contains. The primordial light, we think, is a symbol of God envisaged in that ideality that is evoked by the finesse of the mode of matter that is light; a symbol of God envisaged in His inability to replace contra-material nothingness so long as He is only a light in the darkness; a symbol of God envisaged in the fact that He incarnates Himself into the world as a light which would create, by illuminating it, the illuminated object itself; and a symbol of God envisaged in the fact that His consciousness, while seeing itself incarnated in the consciousness of Jesus, remained hidden in that incarnation like a luminaire that its light would not manifest.

The “beginning” with which Genesis and the Gospel according to saint John open is no chronological beginning, but a pre-chronological one. In other words, the time of origins, instead of being the beginning of the time of this world, is that time without beginning and without succession from which the beginning of the succession of time in this world stems. Saint John, who symbolically identifies “the Word” to “the true light, which, when coming into the world, enlightens every man,” adds that this light “was in the world, and the world was made by it, and the world did not know it.” The deciphering of those inspired symbolic words involves the overcoming of these three ancient philosophical cleavages: the cleavage between radical Arians (for whom Jesus is a creature with a temporal beginning and end, and a creature who is God-created without being incarnated God) and Trinitarians (for whom Jesus is a creature co-eternal with God, and a creature who is incarnated God) on the question of the divinity of Jesus; the cleavage between Gersonides (for whom a formless matter without temporal beginning, not contra-material nothingness, was prior to the compound of form and matter in the universe) and saint Thomas Aquinas (for whom the universe had a beginning in time and began as a composite of form and matter) on the question of formless matter; and the cleavage between Averroes (for whom it is the spirit of God which conceptualizes in the human spirit) and saint Thomas Aquinas (for whom it is the human spirit which conceptualizes in the human spirit) on the question of conceptualization in the mind of God.

It is false that God is entirely incarnated into Jesus; it is no less false that there is nothing of God that is incarnated into Jesus. Jesus sees a part of God incarnate itself into Jesus, and an (other) part of God incarnate itself into a part of Jesus. What, of God, is incarnated into Jesus is a certain ideational essence; but what, of God, is incarnated into that part of Jesus that is the consciousness of Jesus is the consciousness of God. Jesus (whether the world is taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, or independently of said incarnation relationship) has a beginning and an end in time; but the consciousness of Jesus in the world considered from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God is indeed co-eternal with the consciousness of God.

The universe considered from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the universe with regard to God has experienced—instead of a temporal beginning which would have seen it begin with an already arranged matter—a formless matter which never began temporally, but from which God operated to create a universe which be veritably a composite of form and matter. Concerning the universe considered independently of the incarnation relationship of the universe with regard to God, the latter—instead of having passed through a formless matter whose phase would never have begun in time, but would have temporally preceded the phase of a universe composed of arranged matter—has effectively begun in time with an already arranged matter which temporally began from contra-material nothingness.

The human mind (rather than the mind of God) is what conceptualizes in the human mind; the human mind, with an efficiency which varies from one individual to another, and which is, at best, approximative, is nevertheless in a position to conceptualize from a direct experience of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God. Besides, the human mind, with an efficiency which varies from one individual to another, and which is, at best, approximative, is in a position to conceptualize from a direct experience of the consciousness of God and of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in the mind of God. Precisely, the mystical experience is the suprasensible experience a conscious material entity makes of the consciousness of an entity that is ideational (and present in the ideational field), or of one or more ideas contained in the mind of an entity that is ideational (and present in the ideational field). To humans, God allows the grasp (in a mode that is, at best, approximate) of all or part of His non-actional volitional ideas; of His mind, it prevents him from grasping (even in an approximate mode) the slightest idea other than a non-actional volitional idea.

The Word, which incarnated the consciousness of the ideational entity that is God into the consciousness of the soul of the human entity that is Jesus, made himself the object of the symbolic discourse inspired to Jesus; thus it can be said symbolically of the Word that he is “the true light, which, when coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Jesus saw his consciousness incarnate the consciousness of God in the world, and the (global) incarnation of God into the universe, while having formless matter precede the universe considered as incarnation, caused the beginning in horizontal time of the universe considered independently of that incarnation, and the consciousness of God, although it manifests itself in the mystical experience of the consciousness of God, was not manifested in its incarnation; thus it can be said symbolically of God that He is a light which “was in the world, and the world was made by it, and the world did not know it.” God, who no more manifests Himself in His incarnation into the world than He manifests Himself in the incarnation of His consciousness into the consciousness of (the earthly soul of) the human Jesus, manifests in suprasensible experience (which is carried out in a mode which is, at best, approximative) all or part of the ideational essences contained within Him, as well as all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in His mind. Suprasensible experience—when it has as its object all or part of the field of the ideational essences in God, or all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in His mind—is that through which God illuminates us; the grasp of what are (at a given moment) all or part of those non-actional volitional ideas present in the mind of God (at the concerned moment) is that by which God reveals to us the content (at the concerned moment) of that which is sometimes considered His heart.

The fact that a certain human entity, at a given moment, is grasping in an approximative mode all or part of what the non-actional volitional ideas are at the moment in the mind of God is inscribed in the ideational essence of the human entity in question, just as is inscribed in the ideational essence in question what are those non-actional volitional ideas present in the mind of God at the moment of the grasping. The same applies to a grasping whose effectiveness is less than approximative. God is not constrained by any actualized ideational essence to have some non-actional volitional ideas in mind at a given time; He nevertheless ensures in the operation of His Word that, when a certain actualized ideational essence states what all or part of His non-actional volitional ideas are at a given moment, what His non-actional volitional ideas are effectively at the moment in question validates what the ideational essence states about all or part of those ideas. Likewise, no supramundane soul is constrained by any actualized ideational essence to have some ideas in mind at any given moment; but God, in the operation of His Word, ensures that, when a certain actualized ideational essence declares what all or part of the ideas are at a given moment in a given supramundane soul, what the ideas are effectively in the soul in question at the moment in question validates what the ideational essence states about all or part of those ideas. If the parallel between what a certain actualized ideational essence states about a certain idea present in the mind of God at a given moment and the content of the mind of God at the moment in question were to fail, then the universe would not fail to implode and to experience a reset; the same is true of the parallel between what a certain actualized ideational essence states about a certain idea present in the mind of a certain supramundane soul at a given moment and the content of the concerned supramundane soul at the concerned moment. Although God makes Himself capable of errors in His quest to make the universe evolve towards ever-increasing order and complexity, He is (and forever remains) incapable of errors in His approach to ensuring that never any of those parallels fails.

Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He also worked on a (currently finalized) conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website.

Featured: God separating the water from the land; engraving, Nazerene Brotherhood, 19th century; published in 1937.

Musician? Mathematician? Or Murderer?

Der Prinz.
Was ist sonst? Etwas zu unterschreiben?

Camillo Rota, his secretary.
Ein Todesurteil wäre zu unterschreiben.

Der Prinz.
Recht gern.—Nur her! geschwind.

Camillo Rota (stutzig und den Prinzen starr ansehend).
Ein Todesurteil—sagt’ ich.

Der Prinz.
Ich höre ja wohl.—Es könnte schon geschehen sein. Ich bin eilig.

Camillo Rota (seine Schriften nachsehend).
Nun hab ich es doch wohl nicht mitgenommen!—Verzeihen Sie, gnädiger Herr.—Es kann Anstand damit haben bis morgen.

Der Prinz.
Auch das!—Packen Sie nur zusammen; ich muß fort—Morgen,
Rota, ein Mehres! (Geht ab.)

Camillo Rota (den Kopf schüttelnd, indem er die Papiere zu sich nimmt und abgeht).
Recht gern?—Ein Todesurteil recht gern?—Ich hätt’ es ihn in diesem Augenblicke nicht mögen unterschreiben lassen, und wenn es den Mörder meines einzigen Sohnes betroffen hätte.—Recht gern! Recht gern!—Es geht mir durch die Seele dieses gräßliche Recht gern!

Anything else, anything needs signing?
A death warrant, subject to Your Highness’s signature.
Perfectly happy to do so! – Show here ! Quick!
CAMILLO (starting, looking fixedly at the Prince).
A death warrant, I said.
I’ve quite understood. It might have already been dealt with. I am in haste.
CAMILLO (looking at his papers).
It seems I haven’t the warrant with me. Begging Your Highness’ indulgence. Tomorrow will do.
Let it be then. Gather these papers up. I must away. We’ll see to the rest later, Rota.
CAMILLO (shaking his head, as he collects the papers).
“Perfectly happy to do so!”–A death warrant, Perfectly happy to do so! At such a moment, I would not have had him sign, had the murderer struck down mine own son.–“Perfectly happy to do so!” The words cut through my soul. (Exit.)

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Emilia Galotti.

Until the 20th Century, when Palestine suddenly found herself a target to thousands of usurpers, likely Aryan in origin but purportedly adhering to an ancient Semitic belief, others of our “tribe” had been celebrated throughout the world for two disciplines: music, and mathematics. Residing as he does on the art world’s fringes, Mendelssohn has little acquaintance with the latter science. But music…

Today, faced with the jubilation amongst the Jabotinski soldiers brought up on the Holocaust Education Project as they raze Gaza and put her people to the sword, it may not be otiose to review the thoughts, feelings and intimations of immortality once prevalent in Europe and more especially in Judaism. Bearing in mind that our tiny sect of dissidents, day-dreamers and free-thinkers sheltered under the wing of a more advanced religion eschewing the notion of vengeance, nämlich Christianity, which, before sinking beneath the waves in 1914, permeated life both East and West of the Urals.


Can one imagine Franz Schubert joining the Jabotinski forces to perpetrate obscene murders in Gaza? Obvious perhaps the answer, less obvious the cause, which lies in the structure of the musician’s mind.

Without a word, an image, without surface, weight or volume, the greatest space-time density of all human activity occurs in classical music.

Breasting the waves between the pre-conscious and conscious, it is in music that thought manifests its changes, almost unobstructed.

Spurred on by love for one’s fellow man, swayed by no authority other than himself, the composer sets out a challenge with which he struggles, before inventing the next. Meanwhile heeding Wilhelm Furtwaengler’s warning to avoid outright abstraction, a domain where few men will care to follow.


In order to keep to actual matter that the reader can himself hear and judge, we propose to listen to Richard Tauber, an Austrian tenor of Mendelssohn’s er, “tribe,” in the tricky Lied number 8, from Schubert’s Winterreise, “Rückblick”—tricky, as making use of the technique I call S’legato—a quasi-legato where each note is detached as though spoken and nearly as distinctly as though it were staccato. In this recording made sometime in the 1920s, chosen for its singular qualities (although the wax imprint is fresher on other recordings), Tauber’s pianist is probably a Russian coreligionary, Mischa Spoliansky.

Straight off, one acknowledges that Tauber’s marked Austrian accent, flamboyant personality and above all, style of singing—idiosyncratic perhaps but rock-solid—are completely out of the fashion, in favour of the current impersonal-arbitrary; but, as Forbes-Robertson said, “I know only the BAD old style, and the GOOD old style.”

Be that as it may, “Out of the fashion” is a conceit, while Richard Tauber is still considered to be amongst the most eminent singers of all time.

Unlike Fritz Wunderlich, for example, Tauber’s voice is neither notably beautiful nor melodious but rather proteiform, “all Things, to all Men” (1 Corinthians 9).

Although the song-line seems enormous, moving at will from the faintest ripple to a tiger-like bound, that is an illusion proper to a great artist: Tauber was no Heldentenor. The true volume was quite unsuited to Verismo or Wagner, not something Mendelssohn would deplore.


Now to “Rückblick” (Winterreise, Lied 8, Franz Schubert to Wilhelm Müller’s cycle of poems).

In Tauber’s interpretation—and Spoliansky hardly qualifies as a spare wheel!—the listener’s attention is drawn neither to the interpreters, the voice, the keyboard, the words of the poem nor even the score in and of itself but rather to the whole—”a single ardent thought,” as Alastair Macaulay once wrote. The Lied becomes a “thought-object,” an idea that takes to the open seas relative to Müller’s text, an idea intangible—but intelligible. The two artists’ submission to the idea allows the shifts (Schattierungen, Zwischentöne) that characterise Schubert to manifest; shifts that guide one’s thought to indefinite unknowns, the metaphorical “ferne Geliebte.” This, despite each word, each note, being clearly enunciated and given proper weight.

Most likely, song preceded spoken language, and thus at first, most languages were doubtless tone-languages, i.e., the same phonemes produce two or more words of different meaning, depending on the frequency. In the Indo-European group, although Swedish and Norwegian are readily acknowledged to be tone-languages, English is notoriously so. Black bird and blackbird are differentiated only by tone. As for words thought to be single-tone (cat, dog, day…), if one listen carefully, they have two or more tones. Within the Western system of tonal music, the singer remains within the perimeter traced by the overtone, halo, aura, Oberschwingung around each note, without exceeding a quarter-tone; the aura nevertheless exists, nor is it entirely under conscious control.

In the recording with Tauber here, while each verse has its fullness, the arrow necessarily falls on the verb. Take the words “glühten” and “geschehn.” In theory, F sharp/E on “glühten,” and G/ D on “geschehn.” However, around each of the verbs’ two notes, flits an aura. Whereas the nouns “Krähen” and “Bäll” (harshly stressed by most singers apart from Tauber) are marked with the little symbol for “accented,” these accents are less telling than the verbs “glühten” and “geschehn,” to which Tauber lends the halo or aura, faint, fleeting but there nevertheless.

A further, capital aspect pointed to by our coreligionary, the musicologist Elam Rotem: before the War, the strong beat on the melodic line—here, the voice-line—was not mechanically pasted onto the orchestral strong beat—here, the keyboard. There was nearly always a tiny and deliberate gap, a hiatus, leaving the soloist a certain freedom.

Plainly, rhythm and melody are the two more primitive components of music, while harmony and counterpoint occupy the higher planes. The moment a soloist aware of what he decides “staggers” the vocal line relative to the keyboard, a slight syncopation occurs and a slight dissonance as well. For example, the syllable “Krä” of Krähen, on E; rather than placing the Krä on the A-E chord of the keyboard, Tauber presses it closer to the dissonant E/F sharp of the keyboard chord—which adds something like a further “voice” to the keyboard + vocal lines.

With many such moments within scarcely two minutes’ space, Rückblick quits the domain of “charm” and “melody” for that of thought, where out of the dusk appear ideas and emotions which now strike us as quite foreign. Indeed, under the massed blows of Hollywood, video-games, pop-rock-techno pseudo-music and GAFAM entertainment, what Schubert and his like once represented have vanished from the Earth, rather like sparks flying towards us from stars and planets extinct thousands of years ago.

If, amongst our purported co-religionaries one were to meet up with an Artur Schnabel, a Richard Tauber, a Clara Haskil only… or perhaps even an Elam Rotem who sticks to his own kale-patch, namely, early Italian music… well, a Man may Dream! As it happens, more’s our rotten luck, we are saddled with the Recht Gern faction, the Hélène Gordon Lazareffs of this world who according to her magazine’s designer Peter Knapp, was wont to invite to Sunday fêtes at Louveciennes, most excellent company such as the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. And a Knapp can be found to boast of it.

Text of the Lied “Rückblick.”

Es brennt mir unter beiden Sohlen,
Tret’ ich auch schon auf Eis und Schnee,
Ich möcht’ nicht wieder Atem holen,
Bis ich nicht mehr die Türme seh’.

Hab’ mich an jeden Stein gestoßen,
So eilt’ ich zu der Stadt hinaus;
Die Krähen warfen Bäll’ und Schloßen
Auf meinen Hut von jedem Haus.

Wie anders hast du mich empfangen,
Du Stadt der Unbeständigkeit!
An deinen blanken Fenstern sangen
Die Lerch’ und Nachtigall im Streit.

Die runden Lindenbäume blühten,
Die klaren Rinnen rauschten hell,
Und ach, zwei Mädchenaugen glühten. –
Da war’s gescheh’n um dich, Gesell!

Kommt mir der Tag in die Gedanken,
Möcht’ ich noch einmal rückwärts seh’n,
Möcht’ ich zurücke wieder wanken,
Vor ihrem Hause stille steh’n.

The soles of both my feet burn,
Though I tread upon ice and snow,
I will not again catch my breath,
Until the towers I can no longer see.

I stumbled on every stone,
As I hurried out of the city;
Rooks threw bits of snow and hail
Upon my hat from every house.

How otherwise you greeted me,
You city of impermanence!
At your bare windows sang
The lark and nightingale in quarrel.

The round lindens were in bloom,
The clear gullies rippled brightly,
And, ah, two eyes aglow of a girl!
It was all over for you, my friend!

That day comes again to mind,
And I want to look back,
I want again to stumble back,
And stand still before her house.

Mendelssohn Moses writes from France. 

Featured: Richard Tauber, cigarette card, ca. 1932.

Artists as Intellectuals?

In a society like ours, of consumption, opulent for the few, whose god is the market, the image has replaced the concept. We stopped reading to look, even when we rarely see one.

And so artists, actors, singers, announcers and TV hosts have replaced intellectuals.

This replacement comes from a deeper one; when intellectuals, especially after the French Revolution, came to replace philosophers. It is true that philosophers continued to exist, but the general tone of these last two centuries marks their public disappearance.

Progressivism, that infantile disease of social democracy, is characterized by assuming the vanguard as a method and not as a struggle, as was the case with the old socialism. The old newspaper La Vanguardia still exists in Barcelona.

The vanguard as a method means that for the progressive it is necessary to be, against all odds, always on the crest of the wave. Always ahead; in the vanguard of ideas, fashions, uses, customs and attitudes.

The progressive man always places himself in the temporal ecstasy of the future, neither the present, much less the past, has any significance for him, and if it does, it is always in function of the future. He is not interested in the ethos of the historical Nation, and even goes against this historical-cultural character. And this is so, because the progressive is his own project. He is always installed in the future because he has adopted the avant-garde as his method. No one and nothing can be in front of him, otherwise he would cease to be progressive. This explains why the progressive cannot give himself a project of country or nation because it would be placed in front of him, which implies and creates a contradiction.

And as no one can give what he does not have, the progressive cannot give himself nor give us a political project because he himself is his political project.

The progressive man, being the one who says yes to every novelty that is proposed to him, finds in artists his intellectuals. Today, in our consumer society where images have replaced concepts, we find that artists are, in the end, those who translate concepts into images. And the formation of the progressive consists in that, in a succession of truncated images of reality. The homo festivus, the emblematic figure of progressivism, of which thinkers such as Philippe Murray or Agulló speak, finds in the artist his ideologist.

The artist frees him both from the effort of reading (a habit that is irremissibly lost) and from the concrete world. The progressive does not want to know but only to be informed. He is greedy for novelties. And the world is “his world” and he lives in the glass bell of the old neighborhood stores where the flies (the people and their problems) cannot enter.

Porteño progressives live in Puerto Madero, not in Parque Patricios.

The tactic of the progressive governments is to transform the people into “the public;” that is, into a consuming public, with which the people cease to be the main political agent of any community, to cede that protagonism to the mass media, as ideologists of the masses, and to the artists, as ideologists of their own elites.

This is a mechanism that works at two levels: a) in the mass media, hundreds of journalists and broadcasters, those loquacious cultural illiterates, according to Paul Feyerabend’s (1924-1994) apt expression, tell us what we should do and how we should think. They are the messengers of Heidegger’s “anonymous one” that through the dictator “is,” says, thinks, works, dresses, eats, plunges us into improper existence; b) through artists as translators of concepts into images in theaters and cinemas and for a more restricted public with greater purchasing power: for those who are satisfied with the system.

The artist fulfills his ideological function within progressivism because he sings the infinite themes of vindication: gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, adoption of children by homosexuals, consumption of marijuana and cocaine, the fight against imperialism, the defense of indigenism, immigrants, the reduction of sentences for criminals, a nod to marginality and a long etcetera. But he never sings about the insecurity in the streets, prostitution, the sale of children, pedophile tourism, the lack of employment, the increasing murder and robbery of people, gambling for money, etc. No, that is not what Mastroiani’s film talks about. In short, he does not see the sufferings of society but its joys.

The artist as an actor represents all those plays where political correctness is represented. And in this sense, as Vittorio Messori says, in the first place is to denigrate the Church, to criticize the social order, the bourgeois virtues of moderation, modesty, thrift, cleanliness, fidelity, diligence, reasonableness, making the apology of their opposites.

There is no actor who does not rend his clothes talking about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, although no one represents the Christian or gypsy women in those same concentration camps.

Thus, if they represent Heidegger as a Nazi and Stalin as a master of humanity. The Pope always as an executioner and the nuns as perverts, but the moneylenders as needy and the pimps as liberators. No more depictions of the Merchant of Venice, nor of Martel’s La Bolsa. The conductor who dares to touch Wagner is excommunicated by the thought police of Jewish aesthetics in classical music.

In the local order, if they represent Martin Fierro, they remove the payada and duel with Moreno. General Belgrano is portrayed as a doctor. Perón as a bourgeois and Evita as a revolutionary. Even when the emblematic figure of every actor is Che Guevara.

All the theatrical hermeneutics is penetrated by psychoanalysis tinged by the logic of Freud and his hundreds of disciples. Logic that is resolved in the rescue of the “other” but to transform him into “the same,” because in the heart of this logic “the other,” like Jehovah for Abraham, is lived as a threat; and that is why in the supposed rescue I have to transform him into “the same.”

The artist is educated in difference; we see it in his outlandish clothing and behavior. He thinks and looks different but his product ends up being one more element for the homogenizing cohesion of all differences and otherness. He is one more agent of cultural globalization.

The pluralism preached and represented ends up in the apology of the sweet totalitarianism of the social democracies that reduce our identity to that of all equally.

Finally, the political mechanism that is at the base of this dissolution of the other, as the distinct, the different, is consensus. In it functions the simulacrum of the Kantian “as if.” Thus, I lend an ear to the other but I do not listen to him. A delayed negation of the other is produced, because, in the end, I seek to bridge the differences by reducing him to “the same.”
This is the ultimate reason why we have been proposing for years the theory of dissent, which is born of the real and effective acceptance of the principle of difference, and has the requirement of being able to live in that difference. And this is the reason why it is necessary to practice metapolitics: a discipline that involves the need to identify ideological diversity in the area of world, regional or national politics, trying to turn this diversity into a concept of political understanding, according to the wise opinion of the political scientist Giacomo Marramao.

Dissent should be the first step in making genuine public policy and metapolitics the philosophical and axiological content of the political agent.

Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles. His website is here.

Featured: The Serenade, by Jacob Jordaens; painted ca. 1640-1645.

Vademecum of the Beginner Realist

Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) published this essay in 1935, in which outlines the importance of realism to counteract the excesses of idealism. The translation is by Philip Trower and appeared in Methodical Realism (1990).

The first step on the realist path is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however hard one tries to think differently, one will never manage to,; the third is to realize that those who claim they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If one then asks oneself why, one’s conversion to realism is all but complete.

Most people who say and think they are idealists would like, if they could, not to be, but believe that is impossible. They are told they will never get outside their thought and that a something beyond thought is unthinkable. If they listen to this objection and look for an answer to it, they are lost from the start, because all idealist objections to the realist position are formulated in idealist terms. So it is hardly surprising that the idealist always wins. His questions invariably imply an idealist solution to problems. The realist, therefore, when invited to take part in discussion on what is not his own ground, should first of all accustom himself to saying No, and not imagine himself in difficulties because he is unable to answer questions which are in fact insoluble, but which for him do not arise.

We must begin by distrusting the term ‘thought”; for the greatest difference between the realist and the idealist is that the idealist thinks, whereas the realist knows. For the realist, thinking simply means organizing knowledge or reflecting on its content. It would never occur to him to make though the starting point of his reflections, because for him a thought is only possible where there is first of all knowledge. The idealist, however, because he goes from thought to things, cannot know whether what he starts from corresponds with an object or not. When, therefore, he asks the realist how, starting from thought, one can rejoin the object, the latter should instantly reply that it is impossible, and also that this is the principal reason for not being an idealist. Since realism starts with knowledge, that is, with an act of the intellect which consists essentially in grasping an object, for the realist the question does not present an insoluble problem, but a pseudo-problem, which is something quite different.

Every time the idealist calls on us to reply to the questions raised by thought, one can be sure that he is speaking in terms of the Mind. For him, Mind is what thinks, just as for us the intellect is what knows. One should therefore, in so far as one can, have as little as possible to do with the term. This is not always easy, because it has a legitimate meaning, but we are living at a time when it has become absolutely necessary to retranslate into realist language all the terms which idealism has borrowed form us and corrupted. An idealist term is generally a realist term denoting one of the spiritual antecedents to knowledge, now considered as generating its own content.

The knowledge the realist is talking about is the lived and experienced unity of an intellect with an apprehended reality. This is why a realist philosophy has to do with the thing itself that is apprehended, and without which there would be no knowledge. Idealist philosophers, on the other hand, since they start from thought, quickly reach the point of choosing science or philosophy as their object. When an idealist genuinely thinks as an idealist, he perfectly embodies the essence of a “professor of philosophy”; whereas the realist, when he genuinely thinks as a realist, conforms himself to the authentic essence of a philosopher; for a philosopher talks about things, while a professor of philosophy talks about philosophy.

Just as we do not have to go from thought to things (knowing that the enterprise is impossible), neither do we have to ask ourselves whether something beyond thought is thinkable. A something beyond thought may well be unthinkable, but it is certain that all knowledge implies a something beyond thought. The fact that this something-beyond-thought is given us by knowledge only in thought, does not prevent it being a something beyond. But the idealist always confuses “being which is given in thought” with “being which is given by thought.” For anyone who starts from knowledge, a something beyond thought is so obviously thinkable that this is the only kind of thought for which there can be a beyond.

The realist is committing an error of the same kind if he asks himself how, starting from the self, he can prove the existence of a non-self. For the idealist, who starts from the self, this is the normal and, indeed, the only possible way of putting the question. The realist should be doubly distrustful; first, because he does not start from the self; secondly, because for him the world is not a non-self (which is a nothing), but an in-itself. A thing-in-itself can be given through an act of knowledge. A non-self is what reality is reduced to by the idealist, and can neither be grasped by knowledge nor proved by thought.

Equally, one should not let oneself be troubled by the classic idealist objection to the possibility of reaching a thing-in-itself, and above all to having true knowledge about it. You define true knowledge, the idealist says, as an adequate copy of reality. But how can you know that the copy reproduces the thing as it is in itself, seeing that the thing is only given to you in thought. The objection has no meaning except for idealism, which posits thought before being, and finding itself no longer able to compare the former with the latter, wonders how anyone else can. The realist, on the contrary, does not have to ask himself whether things do or do not conform to his knowledge of them, because for him knowledge consists in his assimilating his knowledge to things. In a system where the bringing of the intellect into accord with the things, which the judgment formulates, presupposes the concrete and lived accord of the intellect with its objects, it would be absurd to expect knowledge to guarantee a conformity without which it would not even exist.

We must always remember that the impossibilities in which idealism tries to entangle realism are the inventions of idealism. When it challenges us to compare the thing known with the thing in itself, it merely manifests the internal sickness which consumes it. For the realist there is no “noumenon” as the realist understands the term. Since knowledge presupposes the presence to the intellect of the thing itself, there is no reason to assume, behind the thing in thought, the presence of a mysterious and unknowable duplicate, which would be the thing of the thing in thought. Knowing is not apprehending a thing as it is in thought, but, in and thought, apprehending the thing as it is.

To be able to conclude that we must necessarily go from thought to things, and cannot proceed otherwise, it is not enough to assert that everything is given in thought. The fact is, we do proceed otherwise. The awakening of the intelligence coincides with the apprehension of things, which, as soon as they are perceived, are classified according to their most evident similarities. This fact, which has nothing to do with any theory, is something that theory has to take account of. Realism does precisely that, and in this respect is following common sense. That is why every form of realism is a philosophy of common sense.

It does not follow from this that common sense is a philosophy; but all sound philosophy presupposes common sense and trusts it, granted of course that, whenever necessary, appeal will be made from ill-informed to better-informed common sense. This is how science goes about things; science is not a critique of common sense but of the successive approximations to reality made by common sense. The history of science and philosophy witness to the fact that common sense, thanks to the methodical use it makes of its resources, is quite capable of invention. We should, therefore, ask it to keep criticizing its conclusions, which means asking it to remain itself, not to renounce itself.

The word “invention,” like many others, has been contaminated by idealism. To invent means to find , not to create . The inventor resembles the creator only in the practical order, and especially in the production of artifacts, whether utilitarian or artistic. Like the scientist, the philosopher only invents by finding, by discovering what up to that point had been hidden. The activity of his intelligence, therefore, consists exclusively in the exercise of his speculative powers in regard to reality. If it creates anything, what it creates is never an object, but a way of explaining the object from within that object.

This is also why the realist never expects his knowledge to engender an object without which his knowledge would not exist. Like the idealist, he uses his power of reflection, but keeping it within the limits of a reality given from without. Therefore the starting point of his reflections has to be being, which in effect is for us the beginning of knowledge: res sunt . If we go deeper into the nature of the object given us, we direct ourselves towards one of the sciences, which will be completed by a metaphysical of nature. If we go deeper into the conditions under which the object is given us, we shall be turning towards a psychology, which will reach completion in a metaphysics of knowledge. The two methods are not only compatible, they are complementary, because they rest on the primitive unity of the subject and object in the act of knowledge, and any complete philosophy implies an awareness of their unity.

There is nothing, therefore, to stop the realist going, by way of reflective analysis, from the object as given in knowledge to the intellect and the knowing subject. Quite the contrary, this is the only way he has of assuring himself of the existence and nature of the knowing subject. Res sunt, ergo cognosco, ergo sum res cognoscens [Things exist, therefore I know, therefore I am a knowing subject]. What distinguishes the realist from the idealist is not that one refuses to undertake this analysis whereas the other is willing to, but that the realist refuses to take the final term of his analysis for a principle generating the thing being analyzed. Because the analysis of knowledge leads us to the conclusion “I think,” it does not follow that this “I think” is the first principle of knowledge. Because every representation is, in fact, a thought, it does not follow that it is only a thought, or that an “I think” conditions all my representations.

Idealism derives its whole strength from the consistency with which it develops the consequences of its initial error. One is, therefore, mistaken in trying to refute it by accusing it of not being logical enough. On the contrary, it is a doctrine which lives by logic, and only by logic, because in it the order and connection of ideas replaces the order and connection between things. The fatal leap (saltus mortalis ) which catapults the doctrine into its consequences precedes the doctrine. Idealism can justify everything with its method except idealism itself, for the cause of idealism is not of idealist stamp; it does not even have anything to do with the theory of knowledge; it belongs to the moral order.

Preceding any philosophical attempt to explain knowledge is the fact, not only of knowledge itself, but of men’s burning desire to understand. If reason is too often content with summary and incomplete explanations, if it sometimes does violence to the facts by distorting them or passing them over in silence when they are inconvenient, it is precisely because its passion to understand is stronger than its desire to know, or because the means of acquiring knowledge at its disposal are not powerful enough to satisfy it. The realist is just as much exposed to these temptations as the idealist, and yields to them just as frequently. The difference is that he yields to them against his principles, whereas the idealist makes it a principle that he can lawfully yield to them. Realism, therefore, starts with an acknowledgement by the intellect that it will remain dependent on a reality which causes its knowledge. Idealism owes its origin to the impatience of a reason which wants to reduce reality to knowledge so as to be sure that its knowledge lets none of reality escape.

The reason idealism has so often been in alliance with mathematics is that this science, whose object is quantity, extends its jurisdiction over the whole of material nature, in so far as material nature has to do with quantity. But while idealism may imagine that the triumphs of mathematics in some way justify it, those triumphs owe nothing to idealism, they are in no way bound up with it, and they justify it all the less, seeing that the most mathematically oriented physics conducts all its calculations within the ambit of the experimental facts which those calculations interpret. Someone discovers a new fact and what happens? After vain attempts to make it assimilable, all mathematical physics will reform itself so as to be able to assimilate it. The idealist is rarely a scientist, more rarely still a research scientist in a laboratory, and yet it is the laboratory that provides the material which tomorrow’s mathematical physics will have to explain.

The realist, therefore, does not have to be afraid that the idealist may represent him as opposed to scientific thought, since every scientist, even if philosophically he thins himself an idealist, in his capacity as a scientist thinks as a realist. A scientist never begins by defining the method of the science he is about to initiate. Indeed, the surest way of recognizing false sciences is by the fact that they make the method come first. The method, however, should derive from the science, not the science from the method. That is why no realist has ever written a Discourse on the Method. He cannot know how things are known before he knows them, nor discover how to know each order of things except in knowing it.

The most dangerous of all the different methods is the “reflective method”; the realist is content with “reflection.” When reflection becomes a method, it is no longer just an intelligently directed reflection, which it should be, but a reflection which substitutes itself for reality in that its principles and system become those of reality itself. When the “reflective method” remains faithful to its essence, it always assumes that the final term of its reflection is at the same time the first principle of our knowledge; as a natural consequence of this it follows that the last step in the analysis must contain virtually the whole of what is being analyzed; and, finally that whatever cannot be discovered in the end point of the reflection, either does not exist, or can legitimately be treated as not existing. This is how people are led into excluding from knowledge, and even from reality, what is necessary for the very existence of knowledge.

There is a second way of recognizing the false sciences generated by idealism; in starting from what they call thought, they are compelled to define truth as a special case of error. Taine did a great service for good sense when he defined sensation as a true hallucination, because he showed, as a result, where logic necessarily lands idealism. Sensation becomes what a hallucination is when this hallucination is not one. So we must not let ourselves be impressed by the famous “errors of the senses,” nor startled by the tremendous business idealists make about them. Idealists are people for whom the normal can only be a particular instance of the pathological. When Descartes states triumphantly that even a madman cannot deny his first principle “I think, therefore I am”, he helps us enormously to see what happens to reason when reduced to this first principle.

We must, therefore, regard the arguments about dreams, illusions, and madness, borrowed by idealists from skeptics, as errors of the same kind. The fact that there are visual illusions chiefly proves that all our visual perceptions are not illusions. A man who is dreaming feels no different from a man who is awake, but anyone who is awake knows that he is altogether different from someone who is dreaming; he also knows it is because he has had sensations, that he afterwards has what are called hallucinations, just as he knows he would never dream about anything if he had not been awake first. The fact that certain madmen deny the existence of the outside world, or even (with all due respect to Descartes) their own, is no grounds for considering the certainty of our own existence as a special case of “true delirium.” The idealist only finds these illusions so upsetting because he does not know how to prove they are illusions. The realist has no reason to be upset by them, since for him they really are illusions.

Certain idealists say that our theory of knowledge puts us in the position of claiming to be infallible. We should not take this objection seriously. We are simply philosophers for whom truth is normal and error abnormal; this does not mean it is any easier for us to reach the truth than it is to achieve and conserve perfect health. The realist differs from the idealist, not in being unable to make mistakes, but principally in that, when he does make mistakes, the cause of the error is not a thought which h as been unfaithful to itself, but an act of knowledge which has been unfaithful to its object. But above all, the realist only makes mistakes when he is unfaithful to his principles, whereas the idealist is in the right only in so far as he is unfaithful to his.

When we say that all knowledge consists in grasping the thing as it is, we are by no means saying that the intellect infallibly so grasps it, but that only when it does grasp it as it is will there be knowledge. Still less do we mean that knowledge exhausts the content of its object in a single act. What knowledge grasps in the object is something real, but reality is inexhaustible, and even if the intellect had discerned all its details, it would still be confronted by the mystery of its very existence. The person who believed he could grasp the whole of reality infallibly and at one fell swoop, was the idealist Descartes. Pascal, the realist, clearly recognized how naïve was the claim of philosophers that they could “comprehend the principles of things, and from there – with a presumption as infinite as their object – go on to knowing everything.” The virtue proper to the realists is modesty about his knowledge, and even if he does not practice it, he is committed to it by his calling.

A third way of recognizing the false sciences which idealism generates is by the fact that they feel it necessary to “ground” their objects. That is because they are not sure their objects exist. For the realist, whose thought is concerned with being, the Good, the True and the Beautiful are in the fullest sense real, since they are simply being itself as desired, known and admired. But as soon as thought substitutes itself for knowledge, these transcendentals begin to float in the air without knowing where to perch themselves. This is why idealism spends its time “grounding” morality, knowledge and art, as though the way men should act were not written in the nature of man, the manner of knowing in the very structure of our intellect, and the arts in the practical activity of the artist himself. The realist never has to ground anything, but he has to discover the foundations of his operations, and it is always in the nature of things that he finds them: operatio sequitur esse .

So we must carefully avoid all speculation about “values,” because values are simply and solely transcendentals that have cut adrift from being and are trying to take its place. “The grounding of values” is the idealist’s obsession; for the realist it is meaningless.

The most painful thing for a man of our times is not to be taken for a “critical spirit.” Nevertheless, the realist should resign himself to not being one, because the critical Spirit is the cutting edge of idealism, and in this capacity it has the characteristics not of a principle or doctrine but of zeal for a cause. The critical spirit expresses, in effect, a determination to submit facts to whatever treatment is necessary so that nothing in them remains refractory to the mind. To achieve this, there is only one policy; everywhere the point of view of the observer must be substituted for that of the thing observed. The discrediting of reality will be pursued, if necessary, to its most extreme consequences, and the harder reality resists, the more determined the idealist will be to disregard it. The realist, on the other hand, should always recognize that the object is what causes knowledge and should treat it with the greatest respect.

Respecting the object of knowledge means, above all, a refusal to reduce it to something which complies with the rules of a type of knowledge arbitrarily chosen by ourselves. Introspection, for instance, does not allow us to reduce psychology to the level of an exact science. This, however, is not a reason for condemning introspection, for it seems probably that, the object of psychology being what it is, psychology ought not to be an exact science, not at least if it is to remain faithful to its object. Human psychology, such as a dog knows it, ought to be at least as conclusive as our science of nature; just as our science of nature is about as penetrating as human psychology as known by a dog. The psychology of behavior is therefore very wise to adapt the dog’s outlook on man, because as soon as consciousness makes its appearance, it reveals so much to us that the infinite gulf between a science of consciousness and consciousness itself leaps to the eye. If our organism were self-conscious, who knows whether biology and physics would still be possible?

The realist must, therefore, always insist, against the idealist, that for every order of reality there is a corresponding way of approaching and explaining it. He will then find that, having refused to embark on a critique preliminary to knowledge, he is free – much freer than the idealist – to embark on a critique of the different branches of knowledge by measuring them against their object; for the “critical spirit” criticizes everything except itself, whereas the realist, because he is not a “critical spirit,” is continuously self-critical. The realist will never believe that a psychology which in order to understand consciousness better starts by placing itself outside consciousness, will give him the equivalent of consciousness; nor will he believe with Durkheim, that the real savages are those found in books, or that social life consists essentially of prohibitions with sanctions attached, as though the only society we had to explain were the one described in Leviticus. Nor will he imagine that historical criticism is in a better position than the witness it invokes to determine what happened to them or discern the exact meaning of what they themselves said. That is why realism, in subordinating knowledge to its objects places the intelligence in the most favorable position for making discoveries. For if it is true that things did not always happen exactly as their witnesses supposed, the relative errors they may have made are a trifling matter compared to those our imaginations will embroil us in if we start reconstructing facts, feelings and ideas we never experienced, according to our own notions of what seems probable.

Such is the liberty of the realist. We can only choose between deferring to the facts and so being free in thought, or being free with the facts and the slave of thought. So let us turn to the things themselves which knowledge apprehends, and to the relationship between the different branches of knowledge and the things which they apprehend, so that, conforming itself ever more closely to them, philosophy can progress once more.

It is this spirit, too, that we should read the great philosophers who have preceded us on the realist path. “It is not in Montaigne,” wrote Pascal, “but in myself that I find everything I see within.” And we can equally say here; “it is not in St. Thomas or Aristotle, but in things, that the true realist sees everything he sees.” So he will not hesitate to make use of these masters, whom he regards solely as guides towards reality itself. And if the idealist reproached him, as one of them has just had the kindness to do, with “decking himself out in hand-me-downs taken for truths,” he will have his answer ready: much better to deck oneself out in truths which others have handed down, as the realist, when necessary, is willing to do, rather than, like the idealist, refuse to do so and go naked.

Featured: October, by Jules Bastien-Lepage; painted in 1878.

Beauty against Force: Simone Weil’s Venice Saved

The tragedy Venise sauvée (Venice Saved) is Simone Weil’s only literary works. She began writing it in 1940, and continued to work on it until her early death interrupted its completion in 1943. The action takes place in a Venice threatened by a plot, but saved by one of the conspirators who, seized by its beauty, cannot bring himself to take it by force. Although, like many of Weil’s writings, it is rarely read due to its incompleteness, the play offers a synthesis of the philosopher’s views on ethics, politics and even ontology.

Inspired by the Conjuration des Espagnols contre la République de Venise en l’Année MDCXVIII (1820), by the Abbé de Saint-Réal, the action takes place in 1618 against the backdrop of a conspiracy to overthrow the Serenissima Republic of Venice and place it under the control of the Spanish Empire. A group of mercenaries, led by the characters Renaud, an old French lord, and Pierre and Jaffier, two privateers from Provence, plan to seize the city on Ascension night, just as the Venetians are celebrating their sea betrothal, a sort of national holiday during which the Doge boards his ceremonial galley to cast a golden ring into the sea, symbolizing his city’s domination over the sea. From the outset, we see the antagonism between two typical political ideals: the city and the empire.

Empire: The Archetype of Strength

First and foremost, the Spanish empire of the House of Habsburg. Its hegemonic aspirations is expressed by Renaud in a speech to his troops:

Thanks to you, the whole of Europe will be united under the Habsburg dynasty, and the ships of a united Europe, sailing the seas, will conquer, civilize and convert to Christianity the entire globe, just as Spain did for America. And it will all be thanks to you…. The House of Austria is very close to universal domination; if it lets it slip, bloody, long and ruinous struggles will ensue all around (Venise sauvée, I, 2).

Here, the empire appears to be driven by a movement of expansion, which will only end in universal domination. However, this expansion is presented here as subordinate to two aims: the verb “to conquer” is followed by “to civilize, to convert to Christianity.” Yet it is hard to give real substance to these aims, given that the hegemony of the House of Austria, which reigned over Spain at the time, immediately comes to the fore in Renaud’s discourse. If these manifestly cosmetic ends make the strengthening of the empire seem like a means, it appears here as its own end: the empire serves its strength as much as it serves itself. Indeed, Weil seems to place the Habsburg empire in a filiation that runs through Western history: that of Rome, the hegemony drunk with conquest. This Roman spirit, devoid of any real spirituality, conquering and dominating, would run through the history of Europe right up to Hitler at the time of her writing, via the colonial empires of the 15th to 19th centuries. This is what she suggests in La Personne et le sacré when she writes: “The Romans, who understood, as Hitler did, that force is only fully effective when it is clothed in a few ideas, used the notion of right for this purpose.”

Here, we find a relationship to the notion of right, analogous to that which the conspirators have with civilization or religion, which are summoned only to clothe force. Simone Weil’s notion of force is the subject of particular elaboration, notably in L’Iliade ou le poème de la force, where she characterizes it as a mechanism that acts on bodies and minds, reducing them to the status of things. Indeed, she sees force as the main subject of The Iliad, which perfectly depicts its effects on its characters, singing with equal melancholy of the loss of Greek and Trojan heroes. Force is at work, for example, when, in the hands of Achilles, it reduces a begging Hector to a thing, or when it intoxicates the victorious Achaeans, who find themselves submissive to its impulse and go on to the total destruction of Ilion:

The victorious soldier is like a scourge of nature; possessed by war, he is as much a thing as the slave, though in a very different way, and words have no power over him as over matter…. Such is the nature of force. The power it possesses to transform men into things is twofold and is exercised from two sides; it petrifies equally the souls of those who suffer it and those who wield it (L’Iliade ou le poème de la force)

Through the Spanish conquests, the mechanics of force are at work, making both the conqueror and the conquered their own. Rome, Habsburg Spain, Hitler, the empire is thus the collective at its most dangerous, the vessel through which force crushes individuals, the allegory of the Big Animal with its random movements used by Plato (Republic, 493d) to imitate the inertia of collective opinion that drags souls along.

The City: Archetype of Harmony

Facing the empire, the city. The lexicon of the city refers almost systematically to beauty. This beauty is crystallized in the betrothal festival at sea that is about to take place, as seen in the joy it brings to the character of Violetta, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman:

Oh, how I wish I could be there tomorrow! Have you never seen the Venice festival? There’s nothing like it in the world; you’ll see tomorrow! What a joy for me, tomorrow, to show you my city in its most perfect splendor! There will be such beautiful music… (Venise sauvée, II, 3).

The beauty of the feast seems to culminate in music. Given the centrality of reading Plato in Weilian thought, it is hard not to see an echo of the role he attributes to it in Books IV and VII of The Republic. Like gymnastics for the body, music is described as the cultivation of harmony in the soul. Here, Venice appears on the side of Western Hellenic heritage. In contrast to Rome, Greece represents the rooted civilization par excellence, a community that, rather than crushing individuals, nurtures them by allowing them a “real, active and natural participation in the existence of a community that keeps alive certain treasures of the past and certain presentiments of the future,” so as to “receive almost the totality of its moral, intellectual and spiritual life through the intermediary of the environments of which [the individual] is naturally a part” (L’Enracinement). This moment of Venetian communion in the beauty of one of their traditions is precisely the one chosen by the Spaniards to subdue the Venetians by uprooting them by force, as Renaud explains to Jaffier, in charge of executing the plan: “Tonight and tomorrow, the people here must feel that they are only toys, that they are lost. The ground must suddenly and forever give way from under their feet, and they must be able to find equilibrium only by obeying you” (Venice Saved, II, 6). Thus, by uprooting it—that is, by destroying the beauty and harmony that the city cultivates—the empire seeks to throw it into the arms of the force that drives it, in order to subjugate it.

A City Saved by its Beauty

The action concludes with Jaffier’s denunciation of the conspiracy, resulting in the arrest of his companions and his banishment from the city, hated by the Venetians who see him as a traitor to the Republic as well as to his own people. Haunted by the guilt of having delivered his companions to their death, he finally takes his own life. His decision to betray the conspirators seems to come from a sort of revelation of the city’s beauty during a discussion with a Venetian nobleman and his daughter Violetta: “No man can do such a thing as Venice. Only God. The greatest thing a man can do, which brings him closer to God, is, since he cannot create such wonders, to preserve those that exist.” The effect of beauty on Jaffier’s soul cannot be summed up here as a form of seduction that would divert him from his mission. It is to be understood in the context of the ontology that Simone Weil developed in various writings at the end of her life, consisting mainly of a rather original exegesis of Plato.

According to Fernando Rey Puente, this exegesis postulates a profound internal unity in Plato’s work, set in the context of a Greek civilization whose spirituality was centered around the idea of mediation between divine eternity on the one hand, and human misery on the other. Thus, Plato’s thought consists of the articulation of pairs of antagonistic notions: “identity and diversity, unity and multiplicity, absolute and relative, pure good and good mixed with evil, spiritual and sensible, supernatural and natural” in two relationships: contradiction and analogy. This confrontation of opposites, from which the intermediary between them emerges, is then understood by Weil as the driving force behind Platonic dialectics, described in The Republic as the means by which the soul tears itself away from appearances and rises to the contemplation of the intelligible.

In the ontological domain, this structuring duality is the relationship between Good and Necessity, understood as the chain of causes and effects that conditions the becoming of all things here below. At first glance, it appears as an antagonism, particularly in the Weilian reading of The Iliad, which shows the world inside the Cave, deprived of good, where necessity is embodied in the force at play with characters struggling, passive in the face of it. Plato’s work then consists precisely in thinking the intermediary and the passage from this reality to the good. In this respect, The Republic must be seen in relation to other dialogues, as she points out in her Cahiers (“February 1942-June 1942”):

“An Aborted Iliad”

Basically, there is only one path to salvation in Plato; the various dialogues indicate different parts of the path. The Republic does not say what first does violence to the chained captive to remove the chains and compel the unfortunate. We will have to look for that in The Phaedrus. It is beauty, by means of love (every value that appears in the sensible world is beauty). It is the contemplation of beauty in the order of the world, conceived a priori. Next comes beauty as an attribute of God, and then the Good. Then the return to the cave; this is The Timaeus.

Indeed, The Timaeus depicts the sensible world in terms of the Demiurge’s will: “He (the Demiurge) was good, and in that which is good there is no jealousy of anyone. Without jealousy, he wished all things to become like him” (29e). From this perspective, necessity, which orders the becoming of the sensible world, is an imitation of the Good emanating from the Demiurge. This perspective clarifies what, in The Republic, appeared to be an abrupt dualism between the intelligible, good world, and the sensible, marked by necessity. Indeed, in The Timaeus, becoming is beautiful insofar as it bears the imprint of the Good. The Symposium and The Phaedrus make this intermediary role of beauty explicit, showing how it is the sensible presence of the Good in things, correlated with the love personified by Eros, the daemon who comes to possess souls in the form of madness, to carry them towards it.

Thus, when Jaffier pays attention to the beauty of Venice, he is literally seized with love for this city, which, as Weil writes of art, “is an attempt to transport in a finite quantity of matter shaped by man an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe” (Formes de l’Amour implicite de Dieu). The emergence of this beauty in his soul subtracts it from the inertia of force and imbues it with a movement of love, which translates into a renunciation of the need to destroy the object of love. In the words of Léo Tixier in the preface to the Payot et Rivages edition, Venise sauvée is “like an aborted Iliad,” in that Jaffier prevents another sack of Troy. Paradoxically, through the beauty of the city of the Doges and his attention to it, Jaffier also saves himself through his sacrifice.

This state of grace gives it full life in a final gesture of love, in contrast to the state of inertia in which force holds man under its sway. This double salvation by beauty, of a city and a man, illustrates how, far from being superfluous and ornamental, beauty is a need of the soul just as fundamental as food is to the body, as Weil herself writes in L’Enracinement: “The point of view of aesthetes is sacrilegious, not only in matters of religion, but even in matters of art. It consists in having fun with beauty by manipulating it and looking at it. Beauty is something to be eaten; it is food.”

Mattis Jambon writes from the Sorbonne. This articles appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.

Featured: The Bucintore Returning to the Molo on Ascension Day, by Canaletto; painted ca. 1727-1729.

Well-Being vs. Salvation

Behind a burning red fog
The great mind swims in confusion
Its blood ferments in anger
Honor and wisdom will cower

Your river's flow is damned all to hell
Your river's flow is damned all to hell

Drifting in a current to stagnate
Encircle the vision of rust

Your river's flow is damned all to hell
Your river's flow is damned all to hell
Strong hearts soar through blindness

Tearing the fog, tearing the eyes
To clarity
To a place where truth is seen

Your shell is hollow, your shell is hollow, so am I
The rest will follow, the rest will follow, so will I
So will I
(Neurosis, “Under the Surface”)

“Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Mt 6:10)
Lead me, Lord, in the path of your commandments.
Teach me the demands of your precepts
and I will keep them to the end.
Train me to observe your law,
to keep it with my heart.
Guide me in the path of your commands;
for there is my delight.
Bend my heart to your will
and not to love of gain.
Keep my eyes from what is false;
by your word, give me life.
Keep the promise you have made
to the servant who fears you.
Keep me from the scorn I dread,
for your decrees are good.
See, I long for your precepts;
then in your justice, give me life.
(Psalm 118)

There are only two paths in life, the one that leads to heaven and the one that leads to hell. And there are only two modes of living, salvation and well-being. One must live in the mode of salvation to end up in heaven, and the mode of well-being can only lead to hell. Heaven begins on earth when one pursues salvation, and hell is right here for those who pursue well-being. One cannot live in both modes, as they are mutually exclusive, though one can live in one and then another. It is the mode that one persists in unto the end that determines eternity. It is not that well-being is hell per se, for it is a good, though not the ultimate one, and the fruit of living the mode of salvation is true well-being in this life, the most that is possible on earth, a life of sometimes agonizing and unspeakable suffering, surely, but also ineffable peace, supernal joy, and indomitable hope. Living in God’s Divine Will is heaven itself, and it begins now. And it culminates in eternity with the most well-being possible to a creature, complete union with God. So, well-being is good, but if we seek it and not God as our main goal in this life, if it is our primary existential mode, with salvation taking a back seat, we obtain neither well-being nor salvation.

What exactly do I mean by salvation and well-being, and why are they mutually exclusive? In a fascinating 1970s book entitled, Marriage: Dead or Alive, the twentieth-century Swiss Jungian psychiatrist Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig explained that marriage was failing more than ever before because it was mistakenly portrayed and understood in the mode of well-being, where in truth it is a relationship and institution grounded in and ordered to salvation, only succeeding when understood and lived out as such. About well-being vs salvation, he writes:

Clearly not belonging to the state of well-being are tensions, dissatisfactions, painful emotions, anxiety, hatred, difficult and insoluble internal and external conflicts, obsessive searching for an undiscoverable truth, confused struggles about God, and the felt need to come to terms with evil and death. Sickness most certainly does not belong to the state of well-being. It is much easier, at any rate, for physically and psychologically healthy people to enjoy a sense of well-being than it is for the sick. “Give us our daily bread” really implies, “Give us daily our sense of well-being.”. . . As goals, salvation and well-being contradict each other. The path to happiness does not necessarily include suffering. For the sake of our well-being, we are urged to be happy and not to break our heads with questions that have no answer. A happy person sits at the family table among loved ones and enjoys a hearty meal. A person who seeks salvation wrestles with God, the Devil, and the world, and confronts death, even if all of this is not absolutely necessary at that precise moment.

The mode of salvation was modeled perfectly for us in the life of Jesus Christ, and it is only by following His model that we can attain our soul’s salvation, but it is not that the salvation mode of life only became known to us by the Incarnation. It was known to the ancient Jews as well as the pagans, and it is known to today’s Jews, Muslims, pagans, and secular humanists, for it is a fundamental part of natural human consciousness. Those who prefer this mode over the mode of well-being, and live it unto the end, are saved, regardless of what they know or do not know about Jesus Christ, unless, of course, they reject Him knowingly and deliberately. But if they are truly living within the mode of salvation, they will never do that. When Jesus comes to them three times before they die, as St. Faustina said He would, they will recognize Him as the unknown Someone they were looking for, and the reason they rejected the mode of well-being for the much less comfortable mode of salvation.

A good pagan example of the two modes in contrast is found in the two heroes of Homer’s epics, Achilles and Odysseus. Achilles is given a choice to live a long life of well-being or a short life of salvation. The mode of salvation for the warrior was a life of valor on the battlefield, seeking honor and glory more than the mere preservation of one’s life. Achilles fulfilled this mode excellently until he was deprived of the honor he deserved by King Agamemnon. Achilles reacted with a superhuman rage and offense at this affront, and this not mainly because his war-trophy bride, Briseis, was taken from him, but more because he was destined before birth to have been the new Zeus, but was deprived of this by Zeus himself. According to a Pindaric tradition, Thetis, at the behest of Zeus, acceded to marriage with the mortal Peleus instead of Zeus in order to avert the birth of a son who would be stronger than his father. Achilles would have surpassed Zeus if his mother had not consented to a marriage beneath her divine status that neutralized the threat he constituted to Zeus’s order. Achilles knew this, and so harbored in the recesses of his soul an infinite desire for divine power and glory that could never be satisfied, as well as an infinite divine rage at this existential frustration. This is an excellent image of the desire all humans have for divinization, along with the nagging sense that we were all destined for greatness but somehow lost it, and the ineradicable feeling of futility, dissatisfaction, and guilt with a mere life of well-being. Until Jesus came, we had no real ground for hope that our infinite longings could ever be fulfilled, yet some before Christ, such as faithful Hebrews and noble pagans, still chose to live in the mode of salvation, somehow knowing they were obliged to do so even without a grounded hope in an eventual successful end. Getting back to Achilles, when he was dishonored by Agamemnon, a mere mortal, it was as if his whole raison d’etre was destroyed, and he chose to leave the battle and live the mode of well-being in his tent, hanging out with his friends and playing music. When some of the Greek leaders come to his tent to try to convince him to rejoin the battle, Achilles says:

Neither Agamemnon nor any other Greek will change my mind, for it seems there is no gratitude for ceaseless battle with our enemies. He who fights his best and he who stays away earn the same reward, the coward and the brave man win like honor, death comes alike to the idler and to him who toils. No profit to me from my sufferings, endlessly risking my life in war.

Here Achilles reveals the mode of well-being he has recently adopted, with its irrefutable logic of the futility of a life pursuing salvation. For those living at the time of the Trojan War, 1200 BC or so, the afterlife in the underworld was a shadowy thing, neither punishment nor reward but a flittering, ghostlike, and passionless existence, barely alive, with no drama or purpose. In the Odyssey, Odysseus meets Achilles in the underworld and is told by him that it is so lame that it is better to be a slave on the earth than to rule Hades, in other words, that there is no reason to pursue the life of salvation. But somehow, in spite of the nihilistic yet airtight well-being logic he entertains for a moment—what good is it to be a warrior if in death all are equal, and equally half-dead?—Achilles knows that a life of honor and courage and death-defying valor is obligatory for him and that it violates a primordial, cosmic law for him to allow his fellow Greeks to die dishonorably, and so when his best friend Patroclus dies in battle due to his wallowing in well-being despair, he re-establishes himself in salvation mode and kicks much Trojan ass with some bedecked and armed with god-designed armor and a cosmos-wrought shield that contains the whole cosmos, signifying that the way of salvation, and not the way of well-being, is written into the very fabric of things. And he dies soon after by getting shot by an arrow in his heel.

Odysseus lived the salvation mode until, on his way home from Troy, he is waylayed by a nymph goddess, Calypso, who “traps” him on her island for seven years. I put trap in scare quotes because in the less-literal yet more accurate reading, Odysseus was free to leave anytime he wanted, and it was just the case that he did not want to, as he now had a matchless goddess as a very willing wife, one who also shared her immortality with him. But her name means “she who conceals,” and the price he had to pay for his well-being on steroids was never again to be seen and known, and perhaps to have his life up till then never sung by bards to the future generations of Greeks. Somehow he knew (when he got the seven-year itch) that risking abominable suffering in unknown waters populated by horrendous monsters with a very uncertain prospect of ever getting home alive was worth more than an eternity of perfect, earthly well-being. So he put on the helmet of salvation, as it were, built a raft, and eventually sang his own song on the island of the Phaecians, a paradisal mecca of well-being whose king also invited him to renounce his salvation, marry his beautiful daughter, and stay forever with them before sailing him (almost) home on a magic ship.

My last example from the ancient world is Job. According to the theology of his day, which was probably after the Flood but well before Moses, those who followed God’s law were blessed with a life of well-being, and this was a reason as good as any other to do so. If one did not experience well-being—health, long life, wealth, and a big family with lots of land and flocks—it meant that one was not following God too well, and deserved not to have it. But this was a mistaken notion of the economy of God and the true purpose for following Him, as Job was to discover. Satan challenged God by saying, essentially: “The only reason anyone ‘loves’ you and doesn’t curse you is because you reward them with well-being. Take away their well-being, and see what happens. You talk about salvation all the time. Well, they never really choose it, if it even exists. There is only well-being disguised as salvation.” God takes away all the well-being from Job, and his counselors tell him to repent of his sin. They are firmly in the well-being mode. Perhaps Job was as well at some time or another, but he meditated for a while on the dung heap, and he was now in salvation mode, as he cried, “I know my redeemer lives.” How did he know that? Everyone in the salvation mode knows it, for it is somehow knowing it that puts one into that mode. He eventually was given his well-being back, just as Jesus was resurrected, but an intimate meeting with the unknowable God was what he wanted all along, and he got it, in a terrifying whirlwind cross-examination that almost killed him. He didn’t get a comprehensible and satisfying answer to the mystery of suffering, as the mode of well-being would expect. What he got was confirmation that salvation is not at all about human well-being or the lack of it, or even being just or unjust or pious or impious. It’s something way beyond even morality, however essential that is. It’s about God, period. As St. Louis de Montfort often said: “God alone.”

Why not just call these modes religious or non-religious, or even Christian or non-Christian? It is because those who practice religion and identify as such are not necessarily living the mode of salvation, and those who say they are not religious are not necessarily living the mode of well-being. People can say they believe in God and actually practice worship and seem to live for Him while living completely or mainly in the mode of well-being, and people can say that they don’t believe or care about God or spiritual matters, and appear not to, while living completely or mainly in the salvation mode. It seems to me that the well-being/salvation modes are more fundamental and definitive than the religious/non-religious labels, or even the self-identification of Christian or non-Christian. For, they are existential and primary, residing and operating in the deepest recesses of the heart and the will. Before we consciously choose to act at any specific time in any particular way, we have always-already chosen, as it were, one of these modes, and our choices from then on are derivative from and caused by that primordial choice. Why we choose one mode or the other and persist in it is ultimately a mystery, but I would still like to say something about it later on.

We live within a global culture of well-being, an elite-imposed and artificial, totalitarian therapeutic prison, and this means that through an inexorable, ineluctable, and inescapable cultural conditioning process, well-being is the default position of the collective consciousness. Charles Taylor calls it the Immanent Frame. We are meant by our puppeteer conditioners to know of nothing other. If we do not deliberately fight to resist and escape this conditioning, it will mold and poison our souls unconsciously. But even if we somehow become acquainted while within this prison with the salvific mode of consciousness, through, say, encountering traditional religion or reading classic literature or meeting a living saint, we are programmed to translate this experience into the discourse, grammar, and social-imaginary of well-being, thereby turning it into its opposite.

If the reader is still wondering what exactly the modes of well-being and salvation are, that’s ok, for I am as well. It’s not possible to nail them down in precise language. They are too big and deep for language. The particular mode of thought, cast of concepts, and exigency of language we happen now to understand and employ derives from and is constituted by one of these modes or the other. There is no third. If we are in the mode of well-being, we see the world that way, and we will not only not understand the mode of salvation, we will despise it. Furthermore, we will not even recognize that we are in a mode at all—it is just the way things are. One has to be in the mode of salvation to understand that experiential modes even exist, and then to understand the nature of each mode and their radical opposition. For, these two modes determine exhaustively the very contours of the meaning of life itself, as they are the earthly images of the two modes of eternity. Thus, it must not be expected that they can be discretely and definitively defined in this life. They can be described, pointed to, adumbrated, suggested, intuited, exemplified, metaphorized, allegorized, unveiled, demarcated, translated, and cartographed—but never exhaustively grasped. It is these modes, after all, that define us. Nevertheless, I intend to keep describing and attempting to define them as we proceed, hopefully with increasing lucidity.

This is the clearest definition I can think of at the moment: The mode of well-being is a living hell that leads to eternal hell. The mode of salvation is a living heaven that leads to eternal heaven. And here is the most compelling reason I can think of why this is the case: Hell is the choice for the complete absence of God, Who is ultimate reality. Hell is thus the choice for ultimate unreality. Thus, the mode of well-being chosen in this life is a life of perpetual and absolute war with ultimate reality.

Perhaps an example will be helpful. The plandemic of 2020 was a test, a trial run for the Final Judgment deciding the eternity of every human being ever to live, either Heaven or Hell. What was placed before every human being was a stark existential and theological choice, a choice that was also a judgment. For those for whom this trial would be the manifestation and confirmation of their prior existential choice for well-being, or for those for whom it would be the uber-choice of their preferred long-term state, it seemed no choice at all. I mean, there was a deadly virus, you know, the deadliest one, and all you needed to do to avoid your own sickness or death and prevent the sickness and death of others was to do what you were told to do by those authorized to protect you from sickness and death. If you did that, I mean, the curve would be flattened, man. They told you to allow certain others to stick a swab in your nose, wear a mask all day, stay six feet away from other people, stay home, and close your business or school or church. They were so loving and committed to your health that they coerced these directives, rewarding you if you obeyed them and punishing you if you did not. They told you to get the vaccine or else you would most probably die and kill others, and they helped you to make the right choice by making sure that your life would be a living hell if you refused the shot. Choice? What the hell are you talking about?

The problem is that if you chose to do what they told you, you were not choosing to protect yourself and others from a deadly virus, but you were choosing hell. Now, there were some who were genuinely invincibly ignorant to the lies they were believing, at least at first, and so not culpable. But in the weeks and months after, as reality reasserted itself, it became impossible to believe the lies without fault. You were choosing hell because you were choosing unreality, and knowingly so. By choosing to obey these arbitrary and irrational prescriptions—and you knew, didn’t you? that they were arbitrary and irrational—you were choosing to believe in the Big Lie that underlay them, namely, that healthy people with no symptoms of illness are contagious. You, of course, knew this to be untrue. This is a lie, and an insane one. And you knew it was an insane lie, but you believed it anyway and acted accordingly. And you were quite proud of your mendacious insanity. You believed this insane lie because it made you feel good, in both the pleasurable and moral meaning of the word, but in doing so you put yourself under false authority. And you knew that it was false authority, because what they prescribed was all predicated on a manifest lie, and you knew it was a lie. No one thinks that healthy people with no symptoms are contagious, not even you. But you thought it anyway. “Just wear the f$%*in mask”—the first commandment of Hell. You obeyed this commandment with diabolical pleasure and took the same pleasure in torturing those who disobeyed it. Now, not everyone behaved this maliciously, and I am describing the extreme covidiot here, but all of us to some extent participated in this treasonous behavior.

Is putting oneself under false authority really so bad? Yes, it is the worst sin possible. It is the sin against the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said is unforgivable. It is calling good evil and evil good. Salvation comes from putting oneself under the authority of Truth, Who is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, Who was with God in the beginning and is God. Damnation comes from putting yourself under the authority of untruth, whose father is Satan, the father of lies, who was a liar and murderer from the beginning. And it is this that distinguishes the mode of well-being from the mode of salvation. In well-being, one puts truth second to everything else. Truth is never first. Perhaps it is an authority, but it is never the authority. In salvation, truth is always first. It is Authority, period. One strives for well-being, for we are permitted to do so, but it is always a striving for well-being in the light of and under the authority of truth. And if believing in and obeying the truth means that one’s earthly well-being is sacrificed, then so be it. Salvation comes first. Salvation means eternal well-being, which is all that matters. Earthly well-being is a good, and those who live in the mode of salvation obtain it in its essence, which is joy and peace in union with God in this life, which no one can take away. Sometimes this joy and peace are accompanied by worldly goods, such as financial prosperity and bodily health and good reputation. But sometimes not. And it doesn’t matter one way or the other for the salvation-minded. Obedience to truth is all that matters. For the well-being-minded, a feeling of well-being is all that matters, and knowing and obeying truth is, at best, only a means to this highest end.

I mentioned earlier, and it bears repeating, that “We live within a global culture of well-being, an elite-imposed and artificial, totalitarian therapeutic prison, and this means that through an inexorable, ineluctable, and inescapable cultural conditioning process, well-being is the default position of the collective consciousness.” And this includes those, whether traditional Catholic, fundamentalist Christian, Koranic mystic, alt-right groyper, paleocon-bearded hipster, dark web gnostic, or perennialist blackpiller, all of which would seem quite immune to such conditioning and who would certainly, it seems, reject the default position. I have news for you: not necessarily. The mode of well-being has been firmly in place in the West for centuries, and it has been getting ever more well-being-ish ever since, exponentially since the year 2020. Medieval Christendom was a culture of salvation. Well-being as a legitimate mode of life didn’t exist. People sinned, of course, by choosing for well-being against salvation, but they were ashamed of it, and society let them know. Modernity, on the other hand, is a culture of well-being as The Good, a culture in which the mode of salvation is utterly shameful.

The Catholic Church is the mode of salvation on Earth, for it is the mystical body of the Incarnate Savior. If this mode existed in cultures before Christ and His Church, it was solely due to His providential grace in anticipation of and preparation for His Church, the soul and lifeblood of the world with its various cultures. At the present moment, the human infrastructure and clerical personnel of the Church, in league with her unbaptized external enemies, are at war with her divine core, and Satan is in control of the majority of the clerical human personnel and all of her external enemies. Satan’s hegemony over the Church and thus the world has been building since the 1900s but really in earnest after 1962. Leo XIII and Our Ladies of Akita and Fatima had prophesized it and told us what to do to prevent it, but most didn’t listen.

What this means is that there has never been a time in the history of the human race in which the mode of salvation has been more eclipsed and difficult to live out, and the mode of well-being more pronounced, seductive, irresistible, ubiquitous, and easy to practice, than today. One might think of the time before Christ as comparable or even worse than now, but consider that the corruption of the best is the worst, that nothing could be worse than a counterfeit of salvation replacing the true one, and such could only be possible after the historical manifestation of the full salvific truth of Jesus Christ. What we have today is much worse than paganism, and much worse than even the most corrupt and “dark” of post-Incarnation ages of years past. What we have is a culture of well-being that wears the mask of salvation, with the salvation mode practically counterfeited out of existence. Even the best of the salvation-mode sub-cultures are more or less compromised and tainted by the ubiquitous well-being culture, and they easily end up becoming mirror images of it, appearing to be solidly salvific but surreptitiously and subtly counterfeit. They talk salvation but walk well-being.

This is all I've known
A way to be
True to all
All that inspires

A torch in a black sea
Our stones still stand
To remind us of loss
A loss mirrored on our souls

A watchfire brings strength
Breathe in the heat
In the eternal path
Armoured against life
(Neurosis, "Watchfire")

Human beings were created by God for happiness in the worship of God. For reasons entirely inscrutable to human beings (all of the best reasons that have been offered cannot adequately explain it), God decided to make this happiness a personal choice for which we are responsible. This means that humans can choose not to worship God, that is, choose unhappiness over happiness. Why would a human being choose unhappiness and reject the very reason he was created? No one knows the answer to this question, for it is a mystery, the unfathomable and inscrutable mystery of evil. All we know is that we cannot escape this choice. Whether we obtain eternal happiness in the worship of God or eternal unhappiness in the refusal of this worship is entirely up to us, and any of us is capable of choosing against his own happiness. If you end up in hell for all eternity, it is because you wanted while alive and want now to be there. You refused to worship God, and you did so knowing it would mean eternal hell, and you chose it anyway. Think this is impossible? Think that God would and could never allow anyone to suffer eternal separation from Him? Well, have fun hanging out with know-it-all spiritual morons like David Bentley Hart and engage in gnostic spiritual masturbation, but just know that the Hell you deny awaits you if you persist in rejecting truth.

What does the choice for hell look like? The Catholic Church teaches us that if we die in a state of unrepentance, in a state of mortal sin, we go to hell. What is it to commit a mortal sin, and what does a state of unrepentance look like? Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” At its core, mortal sin is the refusal to know and obey truth, which is to say, to reject reality, for truth is the conformity of our souls with reality. At the core of reality is the Good, which is reality qua desirable. And since Jesus Christ is the truth, reality incarnate, then every refusal of reality, refusal to know and obey truth, is a rejection of Jesus, the Incarnate Good. Unrepentance means that we persist up to the moment of death in this rejection in the knowledge that we are choosing hell because of it. We end in up hell if we persist in our rejection of reality, truth, and Jesus Christ.

Why would anyone reject reality and truth and the Good and Jesus Christ? The obvious answer is due to a mistake. For whatever reason, we are not in a right relationship with reality and so misunderstand the truth about it. We reject what we do not know is truth. This is certainly possible, but why do we not know the truth? We are personally responsible for the relationship we have with reality when we die, and if it is not a right one, it is ultimately our fault. Not knowing something is the truth at one time or another can certainly be the fault of someone else whom we depend on for knowing what is true, such as a parent or a teacher or a culture, but this is a temporary and remediable situation. The injustice done to our souls by false authorities may not be our fault, but we have the ability and responsibility to rectify this injustice. Even though it is the case that reality is mediated to us by human authorities that could be mistaken or lying about the truth, and mediated by our own faculties of knowing that might be, due to ourselves or others, damaged or faulty, this does not excuse us from the personal responsibility of doing all we can to ensure that we are in a correct relationship with reality and thus know what is true. And we have the responsibility of not only knowing what is true, but also loving and obeying it. If we did not have this responsibility, hell would not exist, for we would always have a legitimate excuse that renders us not personally responsible for our not knowing and not loving truth. There would be no real guilt.

How do we overcome the damage done to our souls by others and ourselves that has caused us, right now, not to be in a right relationship with reality and thus not to know or love what is true? If we are dependent on others for knowing certain truths, and even for the development in us, especially when we are young, of the habit of being docile to truth, how do we overcome this dependency when it has led us into a soul-state of untruth? The answer is that we are always able to choose between well-being, in which truth isn’t a priority, and salvation, where it is the only priority, regardless of how badly we might have been damaged. Indeed, if we had always chosen salvation over well-being, we would not be damaged right now in the first place, for when in a state of salvation, we are immune to the damage done to our souls by the truth-treason of others. The problem is, of course, that we were not and are not now fully in a state of salvation, and so have been damaged. But we can begin to undo this damage by choosing, right now, to be in the salvation mode, and we can keep choosing until the moment we die.

Consider the situation of a Pharisee at the time of Christ. He was badly damaged by the Jewish culture in which he was raised, for it was thoroughly corrupt, even though it was given to the Jews by God Himself. Jesus gives a very clear picture of this culture:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. . . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Imagine being raised as a Pharisee in this culture. It was now a culture of well-being, not salvation, due to the Jewish leaders’ treason against God. No Pharisee was forced to participate in this corrupt culture, for he still had access to uncorrupted scriptures and traditions. He could have resisted the corruption and even called it out, as Jesus did, but this would have required consistently being in and acting from the mode of salvation, which would have been quite difficult with all the pressure to and rewards from being in the mode of well-being masking as the mode of salvation. Who was modeling it for them? No one. It was the opposite. Everyone was modeling Satan, whom Jesus called their father. But Jesus, the perfect embodiment of the uncorrupted scriptures and tradition, was now present in their midst; now they had a model and thus the ability to compare themselves to the Good and see and repent of their evil. He made their evil quite clear to them, and there was no reason not to believe Him, for He had no hypocrisy in Him, and He spoke to them in love and from the mode of salvation. Perhaps before Jesus came they had some excuse for their evil, but not now.

All a Pharisee had to do was to pose one question to himself: “Is He the evil one, or is it I?” This is a question anyone at any time can ask, and it is a question evoked by the existential mode of salvation, a mode anyone at any time can adopt in the deepest recesses of his soul. Saul became Paul when he adopted this mode and asked this question, a question prompted by a shocking mystical encounter with the Risen Lord that knocked him to the ground and left him physically blind. God will always provide the precise experiences we need to get into the salvation mode and begin asking salvific questions, but only if we first desire to exist in the mode by which such questions will be salvific. Saul must have desired this in the core of his being, and Jesus saw this and helped him to fulfill it. Jesus knew how evil was the culture that produced Saul the Christ-hating Pharisee, and He provided him a way out. Of course, the desire and ability to live in the salvific mode is itself a gift of God unmerited by us without which we could never be saved. But it is always offered and made available to us. We must simply choose it.

A good culture is one that forms its denizens to be in a right relationship to reality, causing the mind to know it and the will to love it. A good culture makes it easier to know and love truth, and a bad culture makes it harder. The Pharisee culture of the Jews in Saul’s day was a bad culture, for it disposed its leaders to reject Jesus Christ. The rejection of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of Western culture in our day, and has been so for a long time, though harder to recognize in past centuries. Our present culture makes it very easy not to know and love truth, for it makes it all but impossible and undesirable to ask questions from the mode of salvation, especially this question: “Is it true?” It thus makes it very easy to be, live, and act in the mode of well-being while thinking one is in the mode of salvation, or not even knowing that there is any other mode than well-being, or that one is in any “mode” at all. How can we be saved from this most perilous deception? Alasdair MacIntyre:

We have within our social order few if any social milieus within which reflective and critical enquiry concerning the central issues of human life can be sustained…. This tends to be a culture of answers, not of questions, and those answers, whether secular or religious, liberal or conservative, are generally delivered as though meant to put an end to questioning.

Paul Evdokimov:

The outdated religious person and the modern sophisticated irreligious individual meet back to back in an immanence imprisoned within itself…. The denial of God has thus permitted the affirmation of man. Once this affirmation is effected, there is no longer anything to be denied or subordinated… On this level total man will not be able to ask any questions concerning his own reality, just as God does not put a question to himself

The totalitarians ruling us are satanists, whether officially or not, and they want to abuse us to such an extent that we no longer ask questions in the mode of salvation in obedience to the ultimate authority of Truth and thereby save our souls. Asking questions indicates a soul that is aware of her dignity as a responsible creature, personally responsible to know and obey the authority of truth, not human counterfeits of it. The satanists want us to degrade ourselves by choosing idols over God, and they want us to do so knowingly and deliberately. This is why they hate questions more than anything. Ultimately, they want us to feel we are so worthless and stupid and deserving of nothing but abuse and death that we voluntarily murder ourselves. They’d rather we do it to ourselves, for it would mean more souls in hell. The first step to obtaining their goal is to get us to stop asking questions and caring about the Truth. God is the answer to all questions. They want us to see them as God. If we stop asking questions about the claims and actions of any human being, we are obeying their satanic command. Origen once wrote: “Every true question is like the lance which pierces the side of Christ causing blood and water to flow forth.” It is the blood and water that saved the Centurion, and it will save us if we so desire it. All we need to do is continually ask ourselves these questions: “Is it true? Am I pursuing salvation right now, or well-being?” And God will do the rest.

O divine Redeemer! As a victim of love for the Church and souls, I surrender myself to you and abandon myself to you! Please, I pray, accept favorably my offering, and I will be happy and confident. Alas! It is very little, I know, but I have nothing more, and I give you everything. I love my poverty and weakness because they bring me all your mercy and your most tender concerns. My God, you know my fragility and the bottomless abyss of my misery… If I were ever to be unfaithful to your sovereign will for me; if I were to shrink back from suffering and the cross and desert your sweet path by fleeing the tender support of your arms, oh! I beg and implore you, grant me the grace to die instantly. Hear me, O most loving Heart of my God, hear me by your sweetest name of Jesus, by the love of your Most Holy Mother, by the intercession of Saint Joseph, Saint John the beloved, and all the other saints, and by your divine ardor to fulfill in all things the will of your Father. (Servant of God Marthe Robin).

Thaddeus Kozinski teaches philosophy and humanities at Memoria College. His latest books are Modernity as Apocalypse: Sacred Nihilism and the Counterfeits of Logos, and Words, Concepts, Reality: Aristotelian Logic for Teenagers. He writes here.

Featured: Crucifixion, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, ca., 1200.