Inseparable from the ontology outlined in Burckhardt’s book is an epistemology and an anthropology – that is, a doctrine of knowledge (of how we know things and what we can know) and of man (what we are and what we can become). The doctrine of the degrees of reality, in both macrocosm and microcosm, leads Perennialists to reject any “dualistic” anthropology that might deprive the human subject of access to archetypal reality. The human subject, they insist, is tripartite not dual; not just body and soul, it consists of body, soul, and spirit, corresponding to the three main levels of reality. The faculty by which we know the divine Ideas, variously called Nous, Intellectus, or Buddhi, constitutes a ray of the divine Sun in the heart of man. It knows the logoi by “connaturality”; that is, by intuition. At the level of the soul, these intuitions are clothed in symbols by the imagination, which mediates between the intellect (supplier of the “form”) and the bodily senses (which provide the “matter”) for human cognition.
Though these ideas are today more closely associated with writers on Islamic than on Christian philosophy, it would not be hard to relate them (as Perennialists often do) to Scholastic thought in the West, which has survived in fragmentary fashion right up to the present time within the Catholic Church. The Christian Scholastics were well aware of the great Neoplatonic and Islamic philosophers, to whom in many cases they owed their knowledge of the texts of Classical philosophy, and they spent a great deal of time refuting or reworking their ideas in the light of the Christian revelation. Nevertheless, though the Christian, “Pagan”, Islamic, and Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages were in many respects opposed, they were very much closer to each other than they were to the Nominalists of the fourteenth or the Rationalists of the seventeenth centuries. Modernity marks a definite break from the thought-world of the Middle Ages. More on that another time.
Illustration: interior of mosque at Isfahan.