Friday, 27 January 2012

The Symbolic Imagination

Worldly intelligence is not enough. Rationalism equated Reason with discursive, conceptual thought (ratio) – thought that is both “prosaic” and “mechanical”. All very well in its place. But there is another, rather vital kind of intelligence, which the medieval writers tended to call intellectus. “Intellect”, in this sense, refers to our capacity for the intuition of essences. The Intellect is not discursive, linear or mechanical. It makes leaps, it is “poetic”; it is the heart thinking (if by “heart” is understood the highest or most central element of the person, or the faculty in which body and soul are gathered to a unity). Intellect perceives the truth directly, rather than inferring or deducing it; and indeed it may never express that truth in words, for the deepest truth of an essence or of a being is not such that it can be fully captured by any verbal proposition. Intellect, then, perceives the truth directly; but normally in our human condition it does not do so without some kind of mediation or support, at least as a “trigger”; and this support for intellection is called the symbol.

Friday, 6 January 2012

A book of spiritual exercises

In the fourth chapter of All Things Made New I refer to a comment by Valentin Tomberg, the (no longer) anonymous Catholic author of Meditations on the Tarot. Here I want to expand that reference. Meditations, of course, is a highly controversial book, and at the mere mention of it orthodox Catholics tend to reach for their pitchforks. The positive (but not unreserved) recommendation by Hans Urs von Balthasar has undoubtedly done more to damage Balthasar's reputation than to elevate Tomberg's. Nevertheless, this strange book contains many interesting insights – things which "ring true", to me at least. Let us look at what he says about the Book of Revelation.
"The key to the Apocalypse is to practise it, i.e. to make use of it as a book of spiritual exercises which awaken from sleep ever-deeper layers of consciousness. The seven letters to the churches, the seven seals of the sealed book, the seven trumpets and the seven