Monday, 30 July 2012

Spiritual warfare: 2

This is a guide to the arts of spiritual warfare, to the training and conduct of the Warrior.

From the outset, the reader should know that this war is different from every war of man against man. We have no human enemy. The most evil human being you can imagine, however cruel and dangerous, is merely a victim. There are no warriors for evil, merely men and women who fail to be warriors for good.

Our Enemy attacks us by exploiting human weakness and sin, both in others and in ourselves. He sends against us not human enemies but demons from hell: the battle is lost whenever we judge a fellow human being to belong to the Enemy. Against such tactics, only two weapons will suffice: the shield of Detachment and the sword of Love. the only arms we can safely bear are those the Enemy cannot grasp.
"To redeem the created world, the saint makes war on all its fabric with the naked weapons of truth and love. That war begins in the deepest and most hidden recesses of the soul and of his desires, and will end in the coming of a new earth and a new heaven, when all the powers of this world will be brought low and what is now despised will be exalted" (Jaques Maritain, cited in Communio, Fall 1993, p. 555).
The following prayer is from the Carmina Gadelica.

Thou Michael the victorious,
I make my circuit under thy shield,
Thou Michael of the white steed,
And of the bright brilliant blades,
Conqueror of the dragon,
Be thou at my back,
Thou ranger of the heavens,
Thou warrior of the King of all,
O Michael the victorious,
My pride and my guide,
O Michael the victorious,
The Glory of mine eye.

Illustration: St Michael, Japanese style, by Daniel Mitsui (from

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Spiritual warfare: 1

The books of Carlos Castaneda were among the first to popularize the concept of the "Warrior Way" in the 1960s. Many modern readers and cinema-goers have also been fascinated by the spirituality of the Japanese Samurai, and the martial arts generally (bushido). George Lucas tried to capture this in his notion of "the Force" in Star Wars. Christianity has its own teachings on spiritual combat, developed most explicitly perhaps in the library of Eastern Christian writings assembled under the title Philokalia ("love of beauty").

The chivalric romances, especially the Grail legends that inspired Francis of Assisi, largely concern the preparation and conduct of the true Knight of the Spirit in the tradition of Western Christendom. Hans Urs von Balthasar dedicated his book Tragedy Under Grace to the "secular institutes" which he regarded as the modern manifestation of Christian knighthood.

Some years ago I prepared a book proposal that never got anywhere. It was for A Little Book of Spiritual Warfare. It was designed for the pocket of the spiritual warrior, and intended to be of practical use as a tool of recollection, for one of the greatest enemies on the Path of the Warrior is distraction or forgetfulness. After a brief introduction to the concept of the book and the history of spiritual combat, each page would have contained a quotation or recollection to recall the Warrior to his or her mission, or to encapsulate one of the lessons to be learnt on the Way.

Spiritual combat takes place in the midst of everyday life. It is a war to defend our interior freedom and personal integrity. We are each fighting for our immortal soul, for the True Self that we have the potential to become, and for the protection of the souls of others. From another point of view, the "war" is a Quest, and the "enemies" we face are the obstacles, challenges, and trials that lie on the path, especially the Monster or Shadow that guards the Self. After sections on the Warrior's arms and training, and on the tactics of the Enemy, the book would focus on the Mission or Quest, concluding with guidance on how to remain faithful to this teaching in everyday life.

The book was not completed, but some notes and fragments may be worth putting on record, and I intend to do this in later posts. It may be regarded as supplementary to the material on Christian spirituality in All Things Made New.

Illustration: Toshiro Mifune as Yojimbo in the movie of that name by Akira Kurosawa.

Friday, 20 July 2012


While in Italy recently, in the town of Ascoli Piceno I saw this lovely "sea-horse" fountain in a public square. The Roman father-god of horses is, surprisingly perhaps, Neptune, who was at first a land-god but later (after his conquest of Amphitrite of the golden spindle, mistress of the ocean) the god of the sea. He is associated with horses because of their fluid movements and great strength. In general horses can be taken to represent the energies of the human organism, but also – with wings in the case of Pegasus, or fishes' tails in the case of the hippocampi – they are the forces that bear us between worlds or states of being, or the three worlds of sea, land, and sky, which we may perhaps take as roughly the waking state surrounded by the powers of the unconscious (the sea) and the superconscious (the sky).

As for the middle region, the centaur (for example, in the figure of Sagittarius) with the torso of a horse and the shoulders and head of a man represents the human being as a unity of body and soul. The fact that Sagittarius is an archer emphasizes the creature's mobility in the middle region, over land in other words, and also contains the idea of aiming at a target, which for the human person (body-soul unity, in Christian terms) can be none other than Beatitude – the "mark" for which we were fashioned, and from which we fall short by sin. In a Christian reading of the symbol, the arrow, which is itself made of wood, flies to the wood of the Cross.

When the horse is ridden by a man and winged, as in the case of Pegasus (sired by Poseidon/Neptune), it represents the active power of the spirit that enables the soul to have direct contact with the gods on Olympus. In C.S. Lewis's tale The Magician's Nephew it is a winged horse called Fledge, created and called by Aslan, who carries the boy Digory to the earthly paradise in order to bring back an apple of life for his dying mother. This is a detail from the "Narnia Window" in Holy Trinity Church, Headington, where Lewis used to sit in the congregation, close to the site of his grave.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


The mathematician George Cantor (d. 1918) uses the word infinite to refer to a number defined as being greater than any finite number. In this sense of the word, the number of whole integers and the number of rational fractions are both “infinite” in the same degree. This is because for every fraction, no matter how many there may be of them, a new integer can always be assigned to it without ever running out of integers, and vice versa. In other words, you can use whole integers to number each item in a series of fractions.

The irrational numbers are rather different. Both integers and rational fractions of integers possess an inherent “graininess” because they are essentially definite, i.e. discontinuous with each other. Irrational numbers, on the other hand, occupy the spaces between each of the rationals, and fill them up continuously. The number of irrationals always exceeds that of the rationals, and therefore, according to Cantor, the “infinity” of the irrationals is of a different order.

The discovery of orders of infinity is highly significant for us. In fact Cantor’s set theory proves that there is an infinite series of infinities, each of a higher order than the last, right up to an “absolute” infinite, which he seems to have identified with God. As he wrote: “The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.”

Monday, 16 July 2012


In modern physics, there is no such thing as complete “nothingness”. Even a complete vacuum said to be is permeated by “fields of force” (electromagnetic, gravitational, etc.), or perhaps a “dark energy”, shaping the space-time continuum. Put this together with the Uncertainty Principle, which means that the value or intensity of the field and its direction cannot both be fixed, and it follows that quantum field activity can never be reduced to zero but is always subject to random fluctuation.

In fact the energy in a “complete vacuum” is potentially infinite – assuming that space is a continuum and that all the variations in this fluctuating field cancel each other out overall. The existence of such “zero-point energy” in a vacuum has even been experimentally demonstrated (the Casimir effect). According to the inflationary universe model, the birth of the cosmos is based on such a quantum fluctuation in the field-value of nothingness.

You could say that the whole world – according to this theory – is a product of zero and infinity, in a sense poised between these two extremes. What can be manifested is not the infinite itself, but only the differences in energy between the “virtual particles” (quantum fluctuations) that happen to appear there. This enables scientists to handle the calculations without involving infinite quantities.

The theory bears a strange resemblance to many ancient metaphysical theories that were advanced to explain the world as the result of an interplay between two Principles; such as (in Plato) the One and the Unlimited. The world of Being was the result of Form (the Form of the One or the Good) having been imposed upon Chaos.

In that case, however, the "infinite" principle was the lower one, which seems odd to us because of the notion of "positive infinity" that matured after Aristotle under the impact of Christian thought about God, and which we now take for granted. The concept of divinity as an “infinite oneness” or an “absolute maximum” than which nothing greater can be conceived was developed by Plotinus in the third century, Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth, Augustine and Dionysius in the fifth, Saint Anselm of Bec in the late twelfth, and in the fifteenth Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa. Infinity, applied now to actuality rather than potentiality, was used to express the utter transcendence of God over creation.

For Aquinas, God is the unlimited act of Being (or supra-Being), inexhaustible “isness”, unknowable by us directly until we come in the Beatific Vision to share by grace in God’s knowledge of himself. God is “infinite” in the strict etymological sense, meaning without limits of any kind.

If we wish to reconcile this idea with Plato’s original conception, we might say that the limits we wish to deny God are in this case merely any limitations imposed from without. As pure isness, he does in fact have “limit” in the (Platonic) sense of form – he is “the Form of the Good” or the One. All else, including everything created and everything numerical, is limited in the sense that its existence is “restricted” in relation to the divine plenitude: it participates or shares in one aspect or another of that plenitude but never completely. It may be indefinitely prolonged or extended in one respect or another, making it “indefinite”, but it cannot be said to be infinite in the same sense as God. To the most limited of all we now give the name "zero".

Next in this series: Infinity.

"Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God" (Stephen Barr)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

3. Boehme's myth of the Trinity

Boehme described his great vision of 1600 in the work known as The Aurora (not published until 1656). While not, as I have said, a theological work, it contains the following fine description of the Christian Trinity:
“Now when we speak or write of the three Persons in the deity, you must not conceive that therefore there are three Gods, each reigning and ruling by himself, like temporal kings on earth.
No: such a substance and being is not in God; for the divine being consisteth in power, and not in body or flesh.
The Father is the whole divine power, whence all creatures have proceeded, and hath been always, from eternity: He hath neither beginning nor end.
The Son is in the Father, being the Father’s Heart or light, and the Father generateth the Son continually, from eternity to eternity; and the Son’s power and splendour shine back again in the whole Father, as the sun doth in the whole world.
The Son is also another Person than the Father, but not externally, without or severed from the Father, nor is he any other God than the Father is; his power, splendour, and omnipotence, are no less than the whole Father.
The Holy Ghost proceedeth from the Father and the Son, and is the third self-subsisting Person in the Deity.... he is nothing less or greater than the Father and the Son; his moving power is in the whole Father.”
John Sparrow’s seventeenth-century translation of The Aurora is reproduced in B. Nicolescu, Science, Meaning and Evolution (New York, Parabola Books, 1991).

God’s own nature, according to Boehme, is not the seemingly static perfection implied by medieval scholastic philosophy under the influence of the Greeks. It is a dynamic process, eternally fulfilled and complete in itself without the need of a creation. To create the world, according to Boehme, was therefore an act of divine freedom motivated by love alone. The world is “Magic”: an outbirth of God’s eternal nature formed by the divine Will through the Imagination. The Mirror of Wisdom contains all angels and souls as eternal “possibilities”. God imbues these with actuality through his Word (the Fiat lux: 'Let there be Light").

Boehme is neither a pantheist nor an emanationist: the world is not made out of “nothing”, but yet it is other than God. It is made out of the seven archetypal forces, the “seven spirits of God” that form the Heavenly Sophia; it is made out of Fire and Light woven together by divine Eros (“all things stand in the wisdom in a spiritual form in the attraction of the Fire and Light, in a wrestling sport of Love”).

The first strictly created reality is the Heaven of the Angels. Angelic life is a partial or derived eternity, free of space and time; it is not divided up into a succession of moments or locations but is simultaneous and everywhere present. (Martenson struggles with this idea, but it is simply a rediscovery of the medieval Catholic notion of the Aevum, an intermediary state between God’s eternity and our time.) The freedom of the Angels consists in the ability to choose between nature and grace – or, in Boehme’s terminology, to sacrifice the Wheel of Nature (self-centred existence) in the fourth natural energy for the sake of the Wheel of Light (the life of Love).

The Angel Lucifer “fell” by choosing to dwell in his own nature, and so the Fire was transformed not into Light but into Anguish. The Hell in which he suffers, and into which he drags the rest of creation, is caused not by God but by his own choice. (However, the possibility of Hell lies in the natural imperfection of a created reality, which must be distinct from eternity and therefore cannot be perfect in itself.)

Boehme believes that the Fall of Lucifer affected his entire subordinate kingdom, which happens to be the world of our own Earth, reducing this to a fiercely burning Chaos. It was the Fall that initiated the war of Light against Darkness that we call time and space. God’s merciful reaction to this first Fall was to submerge the Earth in water and begin a new creation. The process (recapitulated later in the story of the Flood) is described in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis – the account not of the first or Angelic creation but the re-creation from Chaos, and specifically the attempt to establish a new harmony based on Man.

Adam is made in God’s image, tripartite. He is body, soul and spirit; his body drawn from that created world that is a copy of Uncreated Heaven, his soul and spirit reflecting respectively the Father (Fire) and Son (Light). Even the human soul is tripartite, in that it can turn towards one or other of the three primordial worlds of the Ternary. Indeed, Man was created with a view to his becoming (in Christ) the Consummator of the creation and Mediator between heaven and earth. But to be made imperishable in blessedness and to bring the Light out of the Fire in himself he must first overcome temptation. This, as we know, he did not do. Time as we understand it – let us call it “entropic time”, meaning time that is measured by decay and death – began with the Fall of Man, as a secondary cycle of reparation and restoration centred on the Cross.

1. Jacob Boehme.
2. Boehme and the birth of God.

Friday, 13 July 2012

2. Boehme and the birth of God

Jacob Boehme’s visionary writings are not understood correctly when they are confused with philosophy or theology. He is making theological use of mythological and poetic speech. In his account of creation, he is describing structural elements that lie deep within the visible world, below the surface of nature; but he presents these as story, applying temporal categories to eternity and inventing mythical events within the life of God in a way that remains extremely hard to disentangle. Nor should we assume that Boehme, just because he may have been vouchsafed a vision of these things, was always correct either in what he saw or in the way he interpreted and expressed it. His work is a stylistic mess, and full of real or apparent self-contradictions. He was, after all, a cobbler not a trained theologian or writer. Yet his influence on subsequent thought was immense (see previous piece).

According to Boehme, cosmogony recapitulates theogony. That is, creation is preceded by, and echoes, the primordial “birth of God”. In a “beginning before the beginning”, there is only the primal Abyss or chasm of the Ungrund, containing the unoriginated divine Will. This Will generates a Son, and breathes forth its energies as a Holy Spirit. Of these three principles the first (unoriginated Will) is a principle of darkness or mysterious fire in the “Unground” of God’s mystery. The second (the Son) is a principle of light, corresponding to the Will’s apprehension of itself as truth. The third is a reconciling force, in which the previous two are united – the radiation of the fire in the light. Through this third principle, which describes the operation of the Holy Spirit, the fulness or content of the divine nature streams out into the void and (having, one supposes, nowhere to go) is “reflected back” from it as though in a mirror. To this illuminated reflection Boehme gives the name Sophia, Wisdom. At first no more than a dream of the divine Imagination, when clothed by the desire of God in an eternal, imperishable body she becomes “Uncreated Heaven”, the Kingdom of Beauty or Body of God in which his Glory is forever manifested.

Boehme supplies further detail concerning this "eternal construction" of Heaven, which is the model for all subsequent creation. The three divine operations (which we associate with the Ternary of Father, Son, and Spirit) establish a separation between darkness and light within the divine nature itself, whilst reconciling the two in an eternal harmony. As far as I can understand it, the dark or “Nature Will” consists of a dynamic tension of three archetypal forces or energies, which he calls Salt (contraction), Mercury (expansion) and Sulphur (rotation). This is the “Wheel of Life”. A fourth energy called the “Lightning Flash” marks the transition between darkness and light, or the point where divine Love overcomes the darkness of the wheel, transfiguring it into a Light or Spirit Will consisting, again, of three energies (making seven in all). Contraction becomes the vital fluid symbolically called “Water”, expansion becomes “Sound” (vibration or rhythmic motion), and rotation becomes the “Essence” integrating both, for which a better term might be “Music” – music being, as Bishop Martenson suggests in his commentary, the best earthly symbol for the Kingdom of God.

In language that is less alchemical and more theological, one might say that the Trinitarian Will of God has entered into the knowledge of itself by reconciling in Love the otherness of Father and Son. God eternally “becomes” what he eternally already is: a Trinity of Persons enthroned in an Uncreated Heaven full of peace and beauty.
Illustration from Wikipedia Commons: Boehme's Cosmogony, "The Philosophical Sphere or Wonder Eye of Eternity" (1620).

Saturday, 7 July 2012

1. Jacob Boehme

French physicist Basarab Nicolescu has argued in his book Science, Meaning and Evolution that the obscure poetical cosmology of the German cobbler Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) provides us with the basis for restoring the Philosophy of Nature in our time, and hopes for a New Renaissance as the likely result. Catholic physicist Wolfgang Smith in Christian Gnosis: From St Paul to Meister Eckhart seems to concur, or at least sees in Boehme’s writings a Naturphilosophie of the deepest order.

A contemporary of Francis Bacon and follower of Paracelsus, Boehme was a gentle and devout Lutheran. A family man, with little education, around 1600 he received a remarkable illumination which became the basis for his obscure but influential visionary writings. Although he never broke from his church, the Lutheran authorities deemed him unorthodox, and as a result he was forced into an itinerant life. Boehme was an influence not only on William Blake but on Isaac Newton, and on Catholics and Protestants alike, from Franz von Baader and F.C. Oetinger to William Law and Hegel (who took from him the dialectic but appears to have misunderstood the rest), Vladimir Solovyev and Nicolas Berdyaev.

I am writing about Boehme simply because I found some notes on him in my files as I was working on my next book for Angelico Press – but can't quite see where to fit them in yet. They seemed interesting enough to make available online. In future posts I will look at some of Boehme’s key ideas, guided in part by Hans L. Martensen (1808-1884), Bishop of Denmark, who wrote a useful book on the mystic in which he tried to salvage from Boehme whatever could be reconciled with Christian orthodoxy. In fact there is quite a lot, as we shall see. But for Balthasar's critique of Boehme, you'll have to read Theo-Drama II, or wait for my book,

2. Boehme and the birth of God.
3. Boehme's myth of the Trinity.

Illustration: Jacob Böhme's House in Zgorzelec (Poland), by Varp, from Wikimedia Commons.