Chasing the Incarnation

1 04 2019

A haunting image that has been etched into my mind manifested itself to me in a Russian Orthodox church during the All-Night Vigil for the Feast of the Annunciation. At a certain point during Matins (I won’t bore you with the context too much), the bearded priest stood before the icon of the Annunciation and chanted one of those old leftover ancient Slavonic chants with censer in hand. I am not sure why this made such an impression on me: it was a good hour into the service, and I know little Old Slavonic (I can sort of muddle my way through understanding what is going on.) The priest wore a sky blue phelonion gilded in gold, the robust baritone voice echoed through the church, and the melismatic chant reached back into time and grabbed from it some hidden reality that gleamed like the clouds at dusk… Read the rest of this entry »

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Hart on Plotinus

17 01 2019

Plotinus gave exquisitely refined expression to the ancient intuition that the material order is not the basis of the mental, but rather the reverse. This is not only an eminently rational intuition; it is perhaps the only truly rational picture of reality as a whole. Mind does not emerge from mindless matter, as modern philosophical fashion would have it. The suggestion that is does is both a logical impossibility and a phenomenological absurdity. Plotinus and his contemporaries understood that all the things that most essentially characterize the act of rational consciousness—its irreducible unity of apprehension, its teleological structure, the logical syntax of reasoning, and on and on—are intrinsically incompatible with, and could not logically emerge from, a material reality devoid of mind. At the same time, they could not fail to notice that there is a constant correlation between that act of rational consciousness and the intelligibility of being, a correlation that is all but unimaginable if the structure and ground of all reality were not already rational. Happily, in Plotinus’s time no one had yet ventured the essentially magical theory of perception as representation. Plotinus was absolutely correct, therefore, to attempt to understand the structure of the whole of reality by looking inward to the structure of the mind; and he was just as correct to suppose that the reciprocity between the mind and objective reality must indicate a reality simpler and more capacious than either: a primordial intelligence, Nous, and an original unity, the One, generating, sustaining, and encompassing all things. And no thinker of late antiquity pursued these matters with greater persistence, rigor, and originality than he did.

The rest here





Ficino

11 01 2019

In his Theologia platonica, Marsilio Ficino sought to defend the immortality of the soul and inherent dignity of humanity. Ficino argues that the soul rests in the middle of a great chain of being, with the Christian god and angels above and animals below. His great chain of being consists of five basic levels: God, angelic mind, rational soul, quality, and body. Humanity occupies a central position between mortal and immortal — the body being mortal and the soul immortal. Ficino was deeply influenced by arguments for the immortality of the soul presented by Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo as well as the works of Plotinus.

The rest here





On the dignity of the soul

9 12 2008

pythagorean_tarot_2

The Renaissance Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino tells two stories from his family’s history to define some philosophical principals. The first story is how his maternal grandmother appeared to her mother in a dream to bid her farewell, even though she lived in the town over. The next day, his grandmother was dead. Some years later, his mother had a child and entrusted him to a wet nurse. She then had another dream where her mother came to comfort her telling her not to grieve. When she awoke, someone told her that her child had died that night, having been smothered by the wet nurse. Then she dreamt that her husband would fall from a horse, and it happened just as she dreamt it.

We probably all have stories of these types of premonitions. We have been taught to dismiss them as coincidences or freak occurences. The mind of man now presumes that human beings exist in an anti-metaphysical bubble, that our animal sensory world is all there is and all that affects our regular lives.

Ficino has a different explanation for these occurences. He explains as follows:

…the souls of men that are almost separated from their bodies because of a temperate disposition and a pure life may in the abstraction of sleep divine many things, for they are divine by nature; and whenever they return to themselves, they realize this divinity. The second thing that these stories confirm is that the souls of the dead, freed from the chains of the body, can influence us, and care about human affairs.

-taken from Meditations on the Soul

For Ficino, the fact that the soul is immortal means that it has a potential to absorb and dominate all things. (It is Aristotle I believe who said that the soul is in a sense all things.) Because we are immortal, because there is the spark of the divine nature in us, the potential of human beings is almost infinite. It is no surprise then that people can have such dreams, or can heal people using only an egg, or can create works of genius that approach audaciously the throne of Divine Beauty. That is just who we are. There is in this sense no such thing as the “paranormal”; such frenzies are part of our everyday life. We have just become blind and deaf to them in our society full of artificial lights and noise.

Maya Plisetskaya as Odette in Swan Lake

(Appropriate since the Greeks thought that the swan was one of the sacred animals of Apollo since they could divine when they were going to die.)





Perfection

14 10 2008

‘Perfection’ thus formulated extends beyond metaphysics into values, epistemology, and science. The good is the possession of pure wholeness, which keeps one integral and untroubled. Love is the desire to acheive this state of wholeness. The exercise of reason is superior to gathering incidental facts empirically. Intuitive or direct apprehension of reality is superior to discursive reasoning about it. Fundamental cosmic bodies have invariable and simple properties, but bodies in ordinary experience are transient and complex.

-Lucas Siorvanes, Proclus: Neo-Platonic Philosophy and Science





Between High Theory and Low Praxis

29 09 2008

image credit

Some notes towards a Christian theory of magic

In response to some of Christina’s concerns :

I think Christina is correct in asserting the first principle to consider: magic that manipulates and does harm is demonic and against the will of God. In Mexican folk practices, the women and curanderos who practice these feats of preternatural healing are usually devout Catholics. Magic is often considered a defensive mechanism against los brujos  and la brujeria  (witches and witchcraft). As E. Bryant Holman, an expert in Mexican folk religion, points out, it would be an insult to these people to associate them with Wicca or other New Age forms of the occult. Most curanderos  are merely trying to clean up the mess that witches cause, and they do so using common objects: a cross, an egg, a branch from a tree, water etc. Many sociologists would like to see in these practices survivals of a pagan past, but in reality these practices are tied into the Catholic nature of these societies. The priest is often seen as the curandero  par excellence, and many treatments in Mexican folk medicine involve taking the patient to the priest.
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Plotinus’ Doctrine

26 08 2008

And yet a literary monument from antiquity is something very different from a modern composition. Nowadays, it is possible for an author to say, “I am Madame Bovary.” Today, authors lay themselves bare, expressing and liberating themselves. They strive for originality, for what has never been said before. Philosophers set forth their system, expounding it in their own personal way, freely chosing their starting point, the rhythm of their expositions, and the structure of their work. They try to stamp their own personal mark on everything they do. But like all productions of the last stages of antiquity, the Enneads are subject to servitudes of a wholly different nature. Here, originality is a defect, innovation is suspect, and fidelity to tradition, a duty. “Our doctrines are not novel, nor do they date from today: they were stated long ago, but not in an explicit way. Our present doctrines are explanations of those older ones, and they use Plato’s own words to prove that they are ancient.”

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision





Two Venuses

14 08 2008

Heav’nly, illustrious, laughter-loving queen, sea-born, night-loving, of an awful mien;
Crafty, from whom necessity first came, producing, nightly, all-connecting dame:
‘Tis thine the world with harmony to join, for all things spring from thee, O pow’r divine.
The triple Fates are rul’d by thy decree, and all productions yield alike to thee:
Whate’er the heav’ns, encircling all contain, earth fruit-producing, and the stormy main,
Thy sway confesses, and obeys thy nod, awful attendant of the brumal God:
Goddess of marriage, charming to the sight, mother of Loves, whom banquetings delight;
Source of persuasion, secret, fav’ring queen, illustrious born, apparent and unseen:
Spousal, lupercal, and to men inclin’d, prolific, most-desir’d, life-giving., kind:
Great sceptre-bearer of the Gods, ’tis thine, mortals in necessary bands to join;
And ev’ry tribe of savage monsters dire in magic chains to bind, thro’ mad desire.
Come, Cyprus-born, and to my pray’r incline, whether exalted in the heav’ns you shine,
Or pleas’d in Syria’s temple to preside, or o’er th’ Egyptian plains thy car to guide,
Fashion’d of gold; and near its sacred flood, fertile and fam’d to fix thy blest abode;
Or if rejoicing in the azure shores, near where the sea with foaming billows roars,
The circling choirs of mortals, thy delight, or beauteous nymphs, with eyes cerulean bright,
Pleas’d by the dusty banks renown’d of old, to drive thy rapid, two-yok’d car of gold;
Or if in Cyprus with thy mother fair, where married females praise thee ev’ry year,
And beauteous virgins in the chorus join, Adonis pure to sing and thee divine;
Come, all-attractive to my pray’r inclin’d, for thee, I call, with holy, reverent mind.

-Orphic Hymn to Venus, translated by Thomas Taylor

Therefore, let there be two Venuses in the World Soul, the first heavenly and the second vulgar. Let both have a love: the heavenly for contemplating divine Beauty, the vulgar for creating the same in the Matter of the World. For such beauty as the former sees, the latter wishes to pass on as well as it can to the Machine of the World. Or rather both are moved to procreate beauty, but each in its own way. The heavenly Venus strives, through its intelligence, to reproduce in itself as exactly as possible the beauty of the higher things; the vulgar Venus strives, through the fertility of its divine seeds, to reproduce in the Matter of the World the beauty which is divinely conceived within itself. The former love we sometimes call a god for the reason that it is directed toward divine things; but we usually call it a daemon since it is halfway between lack and plenty. The other we always call a daemon since it seems to have a certain affection for the body, and to be more inclined toward the lower region of the world. Which is certainly foreign to God but appropriate to the nature of daemons.

-Marsilio Ficino, Commentary on the Symposium





On Soul

31 07 2008


Pas de deux from Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading as danced by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner

There is nothing to be found in this whole living world so deformed that Soul does not attend it, that the gift of the Soul is not in it.

Marsilio Ficino, De Vita Coelitus Comparanda





On Form

29 07 2008

To perpetuate the image of “an ordinary man”, to represent an individual, is not art. The one thing worthy of detaining our attention, and of being fixed in an immortal work of art, can only be the beauty of an ideal form. If one is going to sculpt the figure of a man, let him gather together everything beautiful as he can find. If you’re going to make a statue of a god, says Plotinus, do as Pheidas did when he sculpted his Zeus: “He did not use any sensible model, but he took him as he would be, if Zeus wished to appear before our eyes”.

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision