Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Sherrard's critique of Rene Guénon
Before his death, then, Sherrard had come to the conclusion that a Christian thinker who accepts Revelation must start from an entirely different point of view – must begin, in fact, from the knowledge that the supreme Principle is the Trinity, and furthermore that “personality” (indeed, triple Personality) in God is not necessarily a limitation. Without it, in fact, the Absolute has no actual freedom to determine itself or create a world: the freedom of God becomes merely the absence of external constraint. Although Sherrard assumes Schuon’s “transcendental unity” approach throughout his book, this insight calls into question one of Schuon’s core teachings: that a personal (or Tri-Personal) deity derives from an impersonal Godhead and will be “dissolved” in the gnosis which transcends Being. (As Sherrard writes, “This view thus involves a total denial of the ultimate value and reality of the personal. It demands as a condition of metaphysical knowledge a total impersonalism – the annulment and alienation of the person.”)
Sherrard’s insight leaves the other religions intact. It even leaves open the possibility that the perennialists have correctly understood them. But it separates Christianity, and perhaps even raises Christianity above them, in a way that seems to me incompatible (more so than he himself realized) with the theory of “transcendental unity” as stated by Schuon. Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, for one, believes that what Christians have to say is not something less than, say, Vedanta or Sufism, but more. In fact “the Christian is called to be the guardian of metaphysics for our time”. Of one exemplary Christian mystic he writes: “Looking into his own ground, Jan van Ruysbroeck sees beyond it into the eternal I, which for man is both the source of his own I as well as his eternal Thou, and in the final analysis this is because the eternal I is already in itself I and Thou in the unity of the Holy Spirit” [Glory of the Lord, V, p. 70]. The encounter with God in this “ground” is a nuptial encounter, a spiritual marriage. Thus “The pantheistic tat tvam asi, which identifies subject and object in their depths, can be resolved only by virtue of the unity between God and man in the Son, who is both the ars divina mundi and the quintessence of actual creation (see Book III of Nicolas of Cusa’s [De] Doctor Ignorantia), and by virtue of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from this incarnate Son in his unity with the Father” [GL, I, 195].