Monday, 29 February 2016

Being and Goodness

Lately I have been reading Meditations on the Tarot. It is a book that comes with a recommendation of several Christian abbots and an epilogue by Hans Urs von Balthasar, so I figured it was safe enough. It is written by an anonymous author who pursued esotericism and Hermetic philosophy for quite a while, but eventually converted to Catholic Christianity. So at some point during a discussion of one of the twenty-two Tarot cards, he remarks that his frequent devotional visits to the relic of the Holy Blood in Bruges were instrumental in his realization of the importance of blood as a life-force. (I am paraphrasing from memory here.)

In any case, I was particularly struck by a passage which occurs in his discussion of the second card, the High Priestess. (The book was originally written in French, and the English translation also gives the French names of the cards; this one is la Papesse, the female Pope.) The author talks about his discomfort with renaming the Holy Trinity as ‘Being, Consciousness, Beatitude’. For, he argues, goodness has primacy over being.

This sparked my interest, as St. Thomas defends the primacy of being (ST Ia Q5 A2), and the first adagium of the Thomist theologian is ‘when St. Thomas is not clearly wrong, he is obviously right’. So I read on with a sort of defensive intellectual posture, looking for flaws in the reasoning. The kernel of the argument was a reference to Calvary, in which God sacrificed his existence on earth for love’s sake. But what about the Resurrection, you say? The author argues this confirms his argument, showing ‘that love is not only superior to being but also that it engenders it and restores it’.

So the revelation to St. John, that God is Love, surpasses the revelation to Moses, that God is He who is.

The author further refers to the moral neutrality of being (as a concept); one could get an idea of ‘being’ from looking at plants or minerals, but ‘goodness’ presupposes an acquaintance with psychic and spiritual life.

I was still in defensive mode, trying to recall St. Thomas’s argument, when the author dived below the surface. He said:

The consequence of choosing between these two – I will not say “points of view”, but rather “attitudes of soul” – lies above all in the intrinsic nature of the experience of practical mysticism which consequently derives from this choice. He who chooses being will aspire to true being and he who chooses love will aspire to love. For one only finds that for which one seeks. The seeker for true being will arrive at the experience of repose in being …

So far, so good. True being, yes, that does sound like my cup of tea. And repose in being, certainly, against the horizon of ST Ia Q12 A1.

… and, as there cannot be two true beings … the centre of “false being” will be suppressed …

I felt a bit uneasy about this part, but before I had quite worked it out, I read on.

The characteristic of this mystical way is that one loses the capacity to cry.

That hurt!

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