• Michael Martin

 

Stella Matutina Farm

One of my earliest memories—I must have been five or six—is of going to the grocery store (Farmer Jack, for those of you from Michigan and old enough to remember) with my mother in the spring. During these visits, I would always ask her if I could look at the seeds displayed on the rack for intrepid Detroit-area gardeners. To me, it was a wonderland. All those colorful pictures of carrots, squash, peas, onions, radishes, and even flowers! I begged my parents to let me have a garden, and eventually my dad overturned some sod in our yard (the plot must have been 2’ x 3’) and I planted some radishes and carrots. Thus began my career as a farmer, though it was more than thirty years until I had a farm of my own. But, in the interim, I had plenty of gardens.

 

Accompanying my growing involvement with the Kingdom of the Plants has been what one might call an intuitive Christian spirituality, which has at times manifested in a kind of Celtic idiom, a quality my wife and I have sometimes described in terms of being “Catholic Hippies” and which I have more recently thought of as a variety of “Catholic Neo-paganism.” Indeed, when our children were very small, we adopted a Celtic prayer as a grace which we continue to invoke before meals:

 

The Maker of All Things,

The Lord God worship we,

Heaven white with angels’ wings,

Earth and the white-waved sea.

 

Eventually, my involvement in the Kingdom of the Plants was augmented by an equally devoted attachment to the Kingdom of the Animals, and on our farm (Stella Matutina) we take care of dairy goats, hogs, and poultry, as well as honeybees. This life also includes our English Shepherd, Sparrow, and a number of barn cats, not to mention the wild creatures—the deer, raccoon, opossum, squirrels, mice, shrews, voles, hawks, crows, insects, and other denizens of the woods—who share the land we call ours. None of this would be possible, of course, without the soil and water provided for us by the Kingdom of the Minerals.

 

Even though I already knew this, I recently found myself profoundly moved by the realization of how intimately the life of my family participates in the lives of the plants and animals and land around us. This occurred when I was sitting in a deer blind on a sunny November morning. Perhaps I was awakened to what Chas S. Clifton describes when he writes, “We enter into the cosmic give-and-take; we admit our sometimes predatory nature and thus let the wild into ourselves, a true form of holy communion, a participation.”1 Beat poet Gary Snyder describes the phenomenon in his own singular way:

 

Once every year, the Deer catch human beings. They

do various things which irresistibly draw men near them;

each one selects a certain man. The Deer shoots the man,

who is then compelled to skin it and carry its meat home

and eat it. Then the deer is inside the man. He waits and

hides in there, but the man doesn't know it. When

enough Deer have occupied enough men, they will strike all

at once. The men who don't have Deer in them will

also be taken by surprise, and everything will change some.

This is called “takeover from inside.”2

Cernunnos showing results of the take-over from inside

Snyder’s observation is very close to the Native American notion (of which I was reminded recently by my dear friend, Therese Schroeder-Sheker), that the deer actually offer themselves to us in this sacred gesture.

 

The fact is, that all of us are intimately intertwined with Nature, and, further, that Nature—like us—is intimately intertwined with Divinity. As I’ve written before in this blog and in my books, the observation shared by both Sergius Bulgakov and Rudolf Steiner that the moment Christ’s blood touched the earth at Golgotha the earth itself was sanctified and made the Holy Grail is a central tenet of my own spirituality. My work as a biodynamic farmer is simply an affirmation and commitment to this realization.

 

In my myriad meditations on the Christian Mystery, I have often puzzled over how to read the Ascension of Christ. Even though I believe in the existence of Heaven, I don’t think Jesus floated up to some location “up yonder.” If that’s the case, then maybe Erich von Däniken was onto something when he argued that Jesus, the saints, and angels were really extra-terrestrials and that those aren’t halos—they’re space helmets! My own thought has been to think of the Ascension as analogous to the sublimatio stage of alchemy, in which “the spiritual is raised from the corporeal,”3 and that Christ’s physical body became spiritual substance and united with the universe by expansion.

from Johann Daniel Mylius's 'Opus Medico Chemicum,' 1618

But I have recently been very taken with Margaret Barker’s interpretation of the Ascension. For her, Jesus, the High Priest, as he entered into the cloud on the Mount of Olives, like the High Priest in the Temple, was reentering into the Holy of Holies; that is, the interior of Creation is itself the Holy of Holies. She speaks of this integral relationship in terms of a Covenant: “The covenant of creation bound everything in one system: the material world, living beings, human society, and the invisible forces called angels or powers.”4

 

This, quite simply, is Sophiology. All of us, whether we realize it or not, whether we live on a biodynamic farm or in the middle of the city, are intertwined with the Kingdoms of the Plants and of the Animals, with the Kingdom of the Minerals and with the Kingdom of the Spirit. Realizing this is to enter the Kingdom, and this is how the Kingdom enters us. This is called “the take-over from inside.”

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.

 

1 Chas S. Clifton, “The Hunter’s Eucharist” in A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport, ed. David Peterson (New York, 19960, 143–49, at 149.

2 Found in his collection Regarding Wave (New York, 1970).

3 Paracelsus, Concerning the Nature of All Things in Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus the Great, ed. Arthur Edward Waite, 2 vol. (London, 1894). 1:152.

4 Margaret Barker, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (London, 2010), 111.

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If you can define Catholicism, you probably have no idea what it is.

A friend of his once described the great Irish writer James Joyce as a Catholic. Joyce thought this not quite accurate: “You allude to me as a Catholic,” he responded. “Now for the sake of precision and to get the correct contour on me, you ought to allude to me as a Jesuit.” People think they know what “Catholic” means. I wonder if anybody does.

 

As a Byzantine Catholic, I have been admonished I don’t know how many times by my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters who don’t quite seem to think Eastern Rite Catholics are as Catholic as those inscribed into the Latin Rite. Surely, a rite with a married priesthood, without a theology of Purgatory, and that doesn’t include the filioque in the Creed can’t really be Catholic. And the Copts—don’t even get me started on the Copts! They don’t include the words of institution, so how could they have a valid Eucharist? We Byzantines (and our brother Copts) do get points from the SSPX and their ilk for liturgical street cred (to us, even the Tridentine Mass is a modernist innovation), but their understanding of the Eastern Rites, in general, tends to be at best superficial and aesthetic. And to be fair, the Eastern Orthodox—with whom we have much more in common liturgically and theologically—don’t really get us either.

 

My point, however, is not to prove the validity of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church (because what would be the point?) but only to show that one can be Catholic without being “Catholic.” And, anyway, nobody really knows what it is to be Catholic.

 

I have had more than a couple of run-ins with Neothomists who accept the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas as the definitive expression of All Things Catholic. And while I like St. Thomas and appreciate Scholasticism, suggesting that St. Thomas is the centerpiece of Christian faith is absurd. (And, let’s face it: he blew it on the Immaculate Conception.) Scholasticism is a fine body of knowledge: but let’s not make a religion out of it. And it really is bad form trying to make it cohere with Eastern spirituality. Whatever. I suspect many of the postmodern Neothomists—quite a few of them young men in their twenties with an affinity for birettas, religious trivia, and high ceremony, from what I can tell— are attracted to Scholasticism because the rules are clearly defined and laid out. Like in the military. This is also the psychological profile for those attracted to radical Islam, incidentally.

 

Some people, in fact, are so Catholic that they feel entitled to call out the Pope as a heretic (which is apparently something the same group of crusaders do every couple of weeks). This is not just an innovation since the papacy of Francis, but goes back until at least until the time of John XXIII or whoever that guy was before him. But now that the internet has given everyone the illusion of an opinion that counts, the hubris of internet safety emboldens many to do that which they would never have dreamed was their business in earlier ages. And in public. The only problem is that nobody really knows what it is to be Catholic.

 

There are others, of course, who equate Catholicism with a project of social justice. They are not wrong. But there is nothing necessarily Catholic about social justice activism. Lots of atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc., do a fine job of furthering those aims. They don’t know what it is to be Catholic, to be sure, but neither do those self-identifying as Catholics engaged in this noble quest.

 

This is why I would like to propose that we stop calling Catholicism a religion. It’s more like a field, as in physics: gravitational, magnetic, cosmological. Or perhaps we could say it’s like John Keats’s notion of negative capability, the ability to be “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Catholicism, that is, is not a system. It’s the Presence of God. Christ never gives a definition of the Catholic Church, only that it is. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” And a house is never defined by one room.

 

If you can define Catholicism, you probably have no idea what it is.

 

 

This is a re-post from my old blog.

 

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.

  • Michael Martin

 

René Magritte, 'The Lovers'

What follows is an excerpt from the concluding essay from my recently published edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, entitled “Marriage and the Chymical Wedding: A Consideration.”

 

Coniunctio oppositorum

 

Charles Williams argues that sexual intercourse between a man and a woman “is, or at least is capable of being, in a remote but real sense, a symbol of the Crucifixion. There is no other human experience, except Death, which so enters into the life of the body; there is no other human experience which so binds the body to another human being.”1 As Pope Francis has instructed, “the sacrament of marriage flows from the incar­nation and the paschal mystery.”2 Marriage, moreover, as the Book of Revelation and even the Greek mysteries witness, is a telos but without its elevation to mysticism it inhabits a realm that is neither mysterious nor sacred and becomes a fraud, a sham, a carcass: something in need of regeneration. “Marriage as a sacrament, mystical marriage,” writes Nicolas Berdyaev, “is by its very meaning eternal and indissoluble. This is an absolute truth. But most marriages have no mystical meaning and have nothing to do with eternity. The Christian consciousness must recognize this.”3 This is a hard saying.

 

In the alchemical literature, the coniunctio oppositorum (conjunction of opposites) emblematizes an important paradigm of human flourishing: it is only by uniting opposites that the miracle can occur and the work be accomplished. As The Golden Tract has it:

 

Know that the secret of the work consists in male and female, i.e., an active and a passive principle. In lead is found the male, in orpiment the female. The male rejoices when the female is brought to it, and the female receives from the male a tinging seed, and is coloured thereby.”4

 

This telos, indeed, reaches beyond the grave and realizes its promise in the glorified body, which the alchemists were so bold as to assay with their materia this side of the Parousia. It is no surprise then that the marriages of alchemical practitioners Kenelm Digby and Thomas Vaughan figure so strongly in their own work. Digby, whose wife Venetia predeceased him by over thirty years, considers her glorification with scientific candor: “I can not place the resurrection of our bodies among miracles, but do reckon it the last worke and periode of nature; to the comprehension of which, examples and reason may carry us a great way.”5 Vaughan’s wife Rebecca (whom he referred to as “Thalia” in much of his writing)6 served not only as his life partner, but also as his partner in alchemical experimentation; and she continued to inspire him and his work through his dream-life following her untimely death at the age of twenty-seven in 1658. As Donald R. Dickson describes it, for Thomas, even after her death Rebecca served as “tutelary spirit through the medium of his dreams, as spiritual lover who teaches him the sublime mysteries of eternal versus earthly love…and as idealized muse.”7 The idea of a “chymical wedding” certainly had other than materialistic applications for Digby and Vaughan.8

 

The mystical understanding of marriage, albeit now compromised by legalistic and absolutely un-erotic determinations conditioned by a ghastly parody of the chymical wedding joining neoliberalism, socialism, and capitalism, persists in some quarters of contemporary culture not under obligation to religious or political ideology. In Lindsay Clarke’s novel The Chymical Wedding (inspired by the life and work of Maryann Atwood),9 for example, the narrator Alex Darken explains the importance of such a gendered typology: “many alchemists had worked with a female assistant—a soror mystica—for the Art required that both aspects of human nature, the male and female, the solar and lunar, be reconciled in harmonious union if the chymical wedding was to be celebrated.”10 Likewise, in the climax (note the apt metaphor) of Wim Wenders’s film Der Himmel über Berlin (known to English-speaking audiences as Wings of Desire), the trapeze artist Marion instructs her beloved, the newly incarnated in the flesh angel Damiel, regarding the significance of such a union:

 

You and I are now time itself. Not only the whole city—the whole world is taking part in our decision. We’re more than just the two of us now. We embody something. We’re sitting in Das Platz des Volkes. And the whole place is full of people with the same dream as ours. We are defining the game for everyone. I’m ready. Now it’s your turn. You hold the game in your hand. It’s now…or never. You need me. You will need me. There is no greater story than ours, that of man and woman. It will be a story of giants... invisible... transposable... a story of new ancestors. Look…my eyes. They are the image of necessity, of the future of everyone in the place. Last night…I dreamed of a stranger... of my man. Only with him could I be alone, open up to him, wholly open, wholly for him… welcome him wholly into me. Surround him with the labyrinth of shared happiness. I know... it’s you.”

 

Indeed, the union of the mortal Marion and the incarnated angel Damiel, marriage of matter and spirit, is nothing if not an image from the pages of alchemical tracts of the seventeenth century, only translated into a postmodern idiom filtered through the language of Rilke. And I have nothing but admiration for Wenders when we hear the applause (ostensibly for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) at precisely the moment when Marion and Damiel kiss.

 

Jung, in searching for a model for psychic well-being, looked to the integration of male and female (animus and anima) as the goal of psychology. He called this “a higher union….an indispensable prerequisite for wholeness,”11 and his long fascination with alchemy certainly bears witness to this insight. Of this union—which is a true communion—he writes:

 

They therefore represent a supreme pair of opposites, not hopelessly divided by logical contradiction but, because of the mutual attraction between them, giving promise of union and actually making it possible. The coniunctio oppositorum engaged the speculations of the alchemists in the form of the ‘Chymical Wedding,’ and those of the cabalists in the form of Tifereth and Malchuth or God and the Shekinah, not to speak of the marriage of the Lamb.”12

 

Adding to Jung’s examples we might point to the creative participation of Sophia with God depicted in the biblical literature: unfortunately, most of the Fathers and the greater part of the theologians to follow have preferred to keep her in the exile of personification—perhaps the source of the psychic unrest that pervades western civilization at our own cultural moment. As Margaret Barker has argued, it was not always thus.13 But, as we all know only too well, gendered typology has not had an easy go of it of late.

 

Alchemical literature often includes hermaphroditic images, which some might wish to hold up as more fitting emblems of our times than the chymical wedding and the coniunctio oppositorum. But this would be a mistake. The hermaphrodite, the Rebis or Lapis Philosophorum in other imaginative constellations, represents, as Jung rightly asserts, not only the achieved union of opposites but “a symbol of the self…a union of conscious (masculine) and unconscious (feminine).”14 There are no hermaphrodites in Andreae’s tale. The hermaphrodite is an interior reality, an interior integration. Sans integration, it is pathology, a pathology projected onto and manifesting in the tableau of culture. It has nowhere else to go.

 

Every marriage, therefore, needs to be a chymical marriage, a mystical marriage. For it is the case that, as Berdyaev argues, “the eternity and indissolubility of marriage is an ontological and not a social truth.”15 Otherwise, we have nothing but pathology: a caricature of marriage and not a metaphysical truth. Only a marriage between a man and a woman can embody this. A marriage that does not realize the union of a man and a woman, the coniunctio oppositorum, cannot properly be construed a marriage despite the presence of its political or ideological justification, for the political and the ideological are simply pathology writ large—and this can be true as well of heterosexual arrangements that do not manifest their union to this degree. Indeed, the existence of bad heterosexual marriages in no way delegitimizes the ontological reality of what marriage is. This too is a hard saying.

 

Marriage, that is, is an ontological and metaphysical reality; in the language of the Schoolmen, a universal. Nominalism, the tutelary philosophy of our age, cannot alter this reality, though it tries to avoid its truth by dismissing it as “culturally constructed” or as simply a reflection of a society’s norms. Disturbingly, such malaise indicates all too well that we are party to an “implicit teleology of the gradual exclusion of all otherness.”16 Laws and customs may change, dictionaries may change: ontology and metaphysics do not. As Paul Evdokimov argued, “Without a metaphysic, without a return to the beginning, the human being can never be grasped; there will always remain a residue that is irreducible to history and pure phenomenology. Only then will we be able to deal with the archetypal constitution of man and the distinction between the charismatic conditions of man and woman.”17 To understand marriage—between the Bridegroom and the Bride, between God and Sophia, between man and woman—as the archetypal constitution underpinning all biological, somatic, psychic, pneumatic, and supernatural existence is imperative to human flourishing. For the world is, indeed, a wedding;18 and each wedding has the potential to become the world. We must return to the beginning that is always already happening, the kairotic moment that acknowledges “the birth of the simple light / In the first, spinning place” when “it was all / Shining” when “it was Adam and maiden.”19

 

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.

 

1 Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology with which is reprinted “Religion and Love in Dante: The Theology of Romantic Love,” ed. Alice Mary Hadfield (Berkeley, CA: The Apocryphile Press, 2005), 24.

2 Pope Francis, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation: Amoris Lætitia, 74

3 Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, trans. Natalie Duddington (New York: Harper Torchbooks/The Cloister Library, 1960), 234.

4 In Hermetic Museum, 1:14.

5 Vittorio Gabrieli, ed., “A New Digby Letter-Book: ‘In Praise of Venetia,’” National Library of Wales Journal 9, no. 2 (1955): 455.

6 After the muse of comedy and idyllic poetry. Her name means “the flourishing.”

7 Donald R. Dickson, Introduction to Thomas and Rebecca Vaughan’s Aqua Vitæ: Non Vitis (British Library MS, Sloane 1741), ed. and trans. Donald R. Dickson (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2001), xxxi.

8 The notion also persists in the legend of the alchemical undertakings of Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel.

9 Atwood (1817–1910) was the author of one of the most curious works on alchemy written since the seventeenth century: A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery, with a Dissertation on the more Celebrated Alchemical Philosophers, being an Attempt towards the Recovery of the Ancient Experiment of Nature (Belfast: William Tait, 1918).

10 Lindsay Clarke, The Chymical Wedding (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), 162.

11 C.G. Jung, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, trans. R.F.C. Hull, 2nd ed., Bollingen Series XX (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), 32.

12 C.G. Jung, Aion, 268.

13 Margaret Barker, The Mother of the Lord, Volume I: The Lady in the Temple (London: Bloomsbury, 2012).

14 Ibid.

15 Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, 235.

16 Slavoj Žižek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (New York: Picador, 2008), 32.

17 Paul Evdokimov, Woman and the Salvation of the World: A Christian Anthropology on the Charisms of Women, trans Anthony P. Gythiel (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 16.

18 See A.M. Allchin, The World is a Wedding: Explorations in Christian Spirituality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

19 Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill,” lines 33–34, 29–30.