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Gesthemane and the Archetypal Existential Temptation

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“Christ’s temptation in the garden of Gesthemane constitutes the archetypal temptation of human existence. The The Garden of Gethsemane, Andrea Mantegna c. 1470temptation in that case was impending death by crucifixion and the fear produced as a result. However, Christ does not allow his gnomic will to overpower his natural will and thus prevents through free will the penetration of temptation into the heart where it inflames the passions which eventually lead to sin.  [See Maximus Confessor, Opuscule 3.]”

Source: Ilias Bantekas, “The Metaphysics of Temptation in Eastern Orthodox Monasticism“, Theandros, 4(2), 2006/2007.

The terms gnomic will and natural will require clarification:

  • Gnomic will:  false, egoistic will
  • Natural will:  our will when set into motion, guided, and energized by God

Despite its unfamiliarity as a term, ‘gnomic will’ is the perhaps the more experientially familiar.  This is our ordinary will in the fallen state.  Thus, in a sense, what St. Maximus calls “‘natural will” might be thought of as a supernatural will or divinely inspired will, and what he calls “‘gnomic will” might actually be considered the ‘natural’ (i.e., more associated with our usual, fallen nature) will.

The WikiPedia has two paragraphs on gnomic will, the more important one being:

“The notion of gnomic will belongs to Eastern Orthodox ascetical theology, being developed particularly within the theology of St Maximus the Confessor. The term ‘gnomic’ derives from the Greek gnome, meaning ‘inclination’ or ‘intention’. Within Orthodox theology, gnomic willing is contrasted with natural willing. Natural willing designates the free movement of a creature in accordance with the principle (logos) of its nature towards the fulfilment (telos, stasis) of its being. Gnomic willing, on the other hand, designates that form of willing in which a person engages in a process of deliberation culminating in a free choice.”

The main point is that Jesus Christ’s temptation in Gesthemane corresponds to a continuing existential struggle and choice of ours: to follow either false reasonings and false will, or to exercise the true (natural), God-led will, and thereby to act in the way God wishes, the former producing unhappiness and the latter leading to the Kingdom of Heaven — in our souls and in the world.

A fine point invites further attention:  may it properly be said that we exercise our natural will, or is it exclusively God who exercises it?  That is, are we merely passive bystanders when our natural will operates?  This seems like a very relevant question, even at first it might seem like something that smacks of excessive scholasticism.  At stake here are fundamental ideas about personal individuality.  There is no need to pursue this topic here — it’s enough simply to mention it.  Let it suffice to suggest that we should not make any limiting assumptions in this regard.  It is entirely possible — if not experientially self-evident — that natural will may be a joint activity of personal and Divine action.  Although the power of natural will — and certainly it’s direction, may come ultimately from God, nevertheless there seems a definite sense in which it is our will: our doing, making, intending, or effort. It does appear that we are contributing or committing something of ourselves.

Having gone this far into the subject of Gethsemane we may add a little more.  The struggle associated with the choice between following gnomic will and natural will is so basic to the human condition that we would expect to find it repeatedly, and perhaps centrally, addressed in the Bible.  And, indeed, the entire story of the fall of Adam and Eve  may be understand precisely in these terms.  The Fall itself corresponds to Adam and Eve choosing gnomic will over natural will.  The events of Gethsemane, and the subsequent passion, crucifixion and death (and resurrection) correspond to a reversal of Adam’s primal sin, and, in a sense, a restoration of what was lost.   What was lost in a garden is corrected in a garden.

In case it has not been mentioned before in so many words (most likely it has, but in any case it bears repeating), the process of reversing the primal psychological sin of egoism corresponds not just to the events of Gethsemane, but through the point of John 19:30:

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

The Greek word for ghost here is pneuma, or spirit, so one might understand this as corresponding to the relinquishing of control (“giving up”) of the spirit, letting thereby the spirit guide and energize our will and actions.

The Garden of Gethsemane, Andrea Mantegna c. 1470
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Commentary on Psalm 71 (72)

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Psalm 71 (72)

This is a magnificent psalm. Here an interpretation is offered following depth-psychological framework developed in several of these posts.

To begin, we recall a primary principle of depth-psychological exegesis: that every element in the scripture corresponds to some element of the  self, psyche, or personality.

The Messiah’s royal power

Give the king your judgement, O God,

The king is the personality after salvation is attained. This is attested to by (1) our earlier understanding of what the Kingdom of Heaven implies, by (2) associations with the idea of a philosopher king in Plato’s Republic, and (3) the symbolism of the king in Alchemical writings and iconography.

give the king’s son your righteousness.

Here is something new. There is both a king and a king’s son! What the king’s son is not clear. One might thing this is the Christ Archetype. However, it seems more likely that the king is the Christ Archetype; that is  because, above, a distinction was made between the king and God. However, we are not dealing with literal logic here, and perhaps, in some sense, the king and the king’s son refer to the same entity.

Let him judge your people with justice

Is it the king or the king’s son who judges? Since it is the king’s son who receives righteousness (a quality associated with justice), this suggests that the king’s son is referred to. As the distinction between king and king’s son is not maintained in the psalm, we shall provisionally assume that these are, basically, two facets or functions of the same entity.

As repeatedly mentioned in these posts, the psyche or self includes components or facets that can be likened to peoples, nations, tribes, etc.

and your poor ones with wisdom.

Some of these ‘people’ are poor. These would correspond to neglected or suffering parts of the total person. In a sense, this also refers to the empirical ego –( i.e., you, the reader, as you see yourself) — because it is the suffering ego that is drawn to the psalms and seeks salvation.

Let the mountains bring peace to your people,

What are the mountains? This is something perhaps for future consideration.

let the hills bring righteousness.

He will give his judgement to the poor among the people,

he will rescue the children of the destitute,

Expanding on earlier statements.

he will lay low the false accuser.

The false accuser is our primary adversary and source of negative thoughts. Related to doubt, anxiety, fear. This is to the Christ Archetype what King Herod is to the infant Jesus.

He will endure with the sun, beneath the moon,

Sun and moon here surely have iconic significance — relating to the solar and lunar aspects of the psyche. Much has already been written about this.

from generation to generation.

Our personality/ego continually changes. These ‘versions’ might be likened to generations.

He will come down like rain on the pasture,

As in the form of grace.

like a shower that waters the earth.

In his time, righteousness will flourish

and abundance of peace,

until the moon itself is no more.

The last statement is interesting; note that the author does not say “until the sun and moon are no more”, but only “until the moon itself is no more.”

He will rule from coast to coast,

from the world’s centre to its farthest edge.

The desert-dwellers will cast themselves down before him;

his enemies will eat dust at his feet.

The kings of Tharsis and the islands will bring tribute,

the kings of Arabia and Sheba will bring gifts.

All the kings will worship him,

Potentially there is some significance to the specific references to kings of Tharsis, Arabia, Sheba, and the islands. In general we see reference to the same theme as the Adoration of the Magi.

The Magi were kings, magicians, who came to prostrate themselves to Jesus Christ. This implies there are elements of our psyche or our personality — Magi analogs — which revere and subordinate themselves to the Christ Archetype. What are these Magi analogs? This is a worthy subject for speculation. We can say this much: the Magi are presented in the Bible as wise and noble. This implies there are wise and noble elements of our personality — let us suggest, perhaps, elements that, like the Christ Archetype, seek our integration and improvement, and accomplish good things towards that. But these eventually must see themselves as inferior and subordinate to the Christ Archetype.

all nations will serve him.

Because he has given freedom to the destitute who called to him,

to the poor, whom no-one will hear.

He will spare the poor and the needy,

he will keep their lives safe.

He will rescue their lives from oppression and violence,

their blood will be precious in his sight.

He will live long, and receive gifts of gold from Arabia;

they will pray for him always,

bless him all through the day.

There will be abundance of grain in the land,

it will wave even from the tops of the mountains;

its fruit will be richer than Lebanon.

The people will flourish as easily as grass.

Let his name be blessed for ever,

let his name endure beneath the sun.

All the nations of the earth will be blessed in him,

all nations will acclaim his greatness.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

who alone works wonders.

Let his majesty be blessed for ever;

let it fill all the earth. Amen, amen.

To emphasize the special importance of this psalm, the author concludes with not one, but two Amens. Let it be! Let it be!

via Universalis: Office of Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

January 6, 2009 at 8:26 am

Isaiah 40: 1 – 5, 9 – 11

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Isaiah 40: 1 – 5, 9 – 11

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”

10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

via Daily Scripture Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

January 4, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Apocatastasis

Psalms 85: 9 – 14

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Psalms 85: 9 – 14

9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

12 Yea, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way. ————————————————————————

via Daily Scripture Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

January 4, 2009 at 9:20 pm

2 Peter 3: 8 – 14

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2 Peter 3: 8 – 14

8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,

12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!

13 But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

14 Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

via Daily Scripture Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

January 4, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Daily Scripture Readings

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Isaiah 25: 6 – 10

6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.

7 And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.

8 He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.

9 It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

10 For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain, and Moab shall be trodden down in his place, as straw is trodden down in a dung-pit.

via Daily Scripture Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

January 4, 2009 at 9:08 pm