A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

20 My Doctrine Is Not Mine

John 7:14-18

"14 Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.
15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?
16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
18 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him."

You must have noticed by now, that a recurring theme runs obsessively throughout all my sermons: it is that the over-reliance on, or the over-identification with, the WORDS of our theology may expose us to the insidious danger of false truth--that the sincere fervency of the LANGUAGE of our catechisms may actually COME BETWEEN us and the very living personal spirit Whom our theology is supposed to be helping us to understand.

In the scripture quoted above, Jesus's attackers stand in awe of His knowledge of the sacred writings, assuming that a carpenter's son should possess no such knowledge. Jesus answers saying that:
1. any man who knows God should be able to speak with the same authority as He does, since the truth comes not from a book, but from God Himself;
2. He says that it is not the knowledge of the writing that glorifies the student of the scriptures, but the enlightening spirit of God--
3. He also says that he who seeks knowledge so he can feel superior to his peers is indulging in unrighteousness;
4. He says, furthermore, that DOING the will of God is the same as KNOWING the will of God.

Doo Bee Doo Bee Doo.

It is absolutely true that the moral imagination (spoken of by Rudolf Steiner) is the origin of all righteous acts; as we have been discussing for weeks now, it is the KNOWING, not the FEELING, that supports faith in times of trial. Remember the C.S. Lewis quote from last week:

"Now Faith … is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.

I think the trouble with me is lack of faith.  I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old skeptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feeling of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address.  Mind you I don’t think so–the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so.”

My key point, as always, is that belief should not be based on a verbal formula borrowed from somebody else's catechism, but from your own personal experience. The thought process that this personal experience inspires may be slightly different for everybody, because everybody's mind, everybody's level of verbal ability, not to mention everybody's education, is a little bit different. If we can find a community of like-minded people with whom we can share commonly held beliefs, expressed in similar language, fine; however, if we can find a community of souls who have shared similar mystical experiences to our own, so much the better. To my way of thinking, it is the personal experience that is the final authority in spiritual matters; and, as we shall see, the personal experience of God, however is it expressed, is the same for all of us.

I picked up a term from Wikipedia this week that has proved useful: "perennial philosophy":

"The term perennial philosophy, coined by Leibniz and popularized by Aldous Huxley, relates to what some take to be the mystic's primary concern: the one, divine reality substantial to the manifold world of things and lives and minds. But the nature of this one reality is such that it cannot be directly or immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit.

Some mystics use the term to refer to a manner wherein the mystic strives to plumb the depths of the self and reality in a radical process of meditative self-exploration, with the aim of experiencing the true nature of reality."

This paragraph elegantly echoes the words of Jesus, in the sense that:

only through self-exploration and the discovering of the God Within, can we come to know the truth of any sacred saying written or unwritten.

Also, this definition of "perennial philosophy" quoted above is practically word-for-word a paraphrasing of the central thesis of the medieval work, The Cloud of Unknowing. The Wikipedia summary of this work is as follows:

"The Cloud of Unknowing (Middle English: The Cloude of Unknowyng) is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages.

The Cloud of Unknowing focuses on the via negativa road to discovering God as a pure entity, beyond any capacity of mental conception and so without any definitive image or form. This tradition has reputedly inspired generations of mystical searchers from John Scotus Erigena, through Book of Taliesin, Nicholas of Cusa and St. John of the Cross to Teilhard de Chardin (the latter two of whom may have been influenced by "The Cloud" itself). Prior to this, the theme of "Cloud" had been in the Confessions of St. Augustine (IX, 10) written in AD 398."

[Sidebar: We'll get to St. Augustine in a moment, but, at this point, I can't help veering a bit sideways to mention Teilhard de Chardin's Omega Point; Wikipedia tells us this:

"Omega Point is a term coined by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) to describe a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which he believed the universe was evolving.

In this theory, developed by Teilhard in The Future of Man (1950), the universe is constantly developing towards higher levels of material complexity and consciousness, a theory of evolution that Teilhard called the Law of Complexity/Consciousness. For Teilhard, the universe can only move in the direction of more complexity and consciousness if it is being drawn by a supreme point of complexity and consciousness.

Thus Teilhard postulates the Omega Point as this supreme point of complexity and consciousness, which in his view is the actual cause for the universe to grow in complexity and consciousness. In other words, the Omega Point exists as supremely complex and conscious, transcendent and independent of the evolving universe.

Teilhard argued that the Omega Point resembles the Christian Logos, namely Christ, who draws all things into himself, who in the words of the Nicene Creed, is "God from God", "Light from Light", "True God from true God," and "through him all things were made."

"The increasing complexity of matter has not only led to higher forms of consciousness, but accordingly to more personalization, of which human beings are the highest attained form in the known universe. They are completely individualized, free centers of operation. It is in this way that man is said to be made in the image of God, who is the highest form of personality.

Teilhard expressly stated that in the Omega Point, when the universe becomes One, human persons will not be suppressed, but super-personalized. Personality will be infinitely enriched. This is because the Omega Point unites creation, and the more it unites, the increasing complexity of the universe aids in higher levels of consciousness. Thus, as God creates, the universe evolves towards higher forms of complexity, consciousness, and finally with humans, personality, because God, who is drawing the universe towards Him, is a person."

Thus, it will readily be seen that, Omega Point, understood as a UNITING of all creation, it is merely another synonym for "collective consciousness", a term to which we have had cause to refer MANY times. The thing I love so much about this idea, is that it is in perfect agreement with a principle that C. S. Lewis propounds over and over: that giving up our personal will to that of the Father's will, rather than diminishing us, simply makes us more and more our true individual, anomalous selves. God, as a "super-personalized Personality" subsumes us all under a single implicate (enfolded) umbrella.

Back to The Cloud of Unknowing:]

"The book counsels a young student to seek God, not through knowledge and intellection (faculty of the human mind), but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought. This is brought about by putting all thoughts and desires under a "cloud of forgetting", and thereby piercing God's cloud of unknowing with a "dart of longing love" from the heart. This form of contemplation is not directed by the intellect, but involves spiritual union with God through the heart:

"For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens."

[Sidebar: I cannot think of a more perfect description of the open-ended verbal character of faith as it reaches past the borders of verbal articulation into the mythological domain of epiphany.]

As Samuel Taylor Coleridge says:

"Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process."

As  C. S. Lewis says, in his "Is Theology Poetry?" (1945):

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

In these past few sermons, we have been getting closer and closer to a defense of reason, perhaps not as defined by articulate thought, but perhaps as something else, something less defined, yet more real. Today we will examine a few more arguments on the subject from time-honored sources, beginning with the Englishman, ‪Anselm of Canterbury‬. Anselm's so-called "ontological proof of the existence of God", (proof of the existence of God based WHAT IS), relies on reason, but not language-based reason, but rather, faith-based reason:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Anselm of Canterbury (Aosta c. 1033 – Canterbury 21 April 1109), also called of Aosta for his birthplace, and of Bec for his home monastery, was a Benedictine monk, a philosopher, and a prelate of the Church who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. Called the founder of scholasticism, he has been a major influence in Western theology and is famous as the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God and the satisfaction theory of atonement.

Anselm's writings represent a recognition of the relationship of reason to revealed truth, and an attempt to elaborate a rational system of faith.

Anselm sought to understand Christian doctrine through reason and develop intelligible truths interwoven with the Christian belief. He believed that the necessary preliminary for this was possession of the Christian faith. He wrote,

"Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand."

This is possibly drawn from Augustine of Hippo's Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John Tractate XXIX on John 7:14-18, §6:"

[Sidebar: As we will see in a moment, it is absolutely an exact quote from the St. Augustine sermon. The point is that Anselm developed his premises from the premises of earlier great men.]

"Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand. Anselm held that faith precedes reason, but that reason can expand upon faith.

The groundwork of Anselm's theory of knowledge is contained in the tract De Veritate, where he affirms the existence of an absolute truth in which all other truth participates. This absolute truth, he argues, is God, who is the ultimate ground or principle both of things and of thought. The notion of God becomes the foreground of Anselm's theory, so it is necessary first to make God clear to reason and be demonstrated to have real existence."

[Sidebar: Notice the vivid connection between this and Teilhard's Omega Point.]

"Anselm's world-view was broadly that of Neoplatonism, which he inherited from his primary influence, Augustine of Hippo, as well as from Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and possibly Scotus. He also inherited a rationalist way of thinking from Aristotle and Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius.

[Sidebar: More on this in just a second.]

Anselm wrote many proofs within Monologion and Proslogion. In the first proof, Anselm relies on the ordinary grounds of realism, which coincide to some extent with the theory of Augustine. He argues that "things" are called "good" in a variety of ways and degrees, which would be impossible were there not some absolute standard and some good in itself, in which all relative goods participate. The same applies to adjectives like "great" and "just", whereby things involve a certain greatness and justice. Anselm uses this thought process to state that the very existence of things is impossible without some one Being, by whom they come to exist. This absolute Being, this goodness, justice and greatness, is God. Anselm is not thoroughly satisfied with this reasoning, however, because it begins from a posteriori grounds, meaning that the reasoning is inductive (the general from the specific). The philosophy also contains several converging lines of proof.

[Sidebar: remember the section from Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy on the subject of "good":

"And here I conceive it proper to inquire, first, whether any excellence, such as thou hast lately defined, can exist in the nature of things, lest we be deceived by an empty fiction of thought to which no true reality answers. But it cannot be denied that such does exist, and is, as it were, the source of all things good. For everything which is called imperfect is spoken of as imperfect by reason of the privation of some perfection; so it comes to pass that, whenever imperfection is found in any particular, there must necessarily be a perfection in respect of that particular also. For were there no such perfection, it is utterly inconceivable how that so-called imperfection should come into existence. Nature does not make a beginning with things mutilated and imperfect; she starts with what is whole and perfect, and falls away later to these feeble and inferior productions."

Back to Anselm:]

"In his Proslogion, Anselm put forward a proof of the existence of God called the ontological argument; although this type of proof had been produced by Avicenna some time before. The term itself was first applied by Kant to the arguments of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century rationalists. Anselm defined his belief in the existence of God using the phrase "that than which nothing greater can be conceived".

He reasoned that, if "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" existed only in the intellect, it would not be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived", since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. It follows, according to Anselm, that "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" must exist in reality. The bulk of the Proslogion is taken up with Anselm's attempt to establish the identity of "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" as God, and thus to establish that God exists in reality."

It will be observed that this argument is very much like "I think therefore I am", and would therefore be an object of ridicule for Kant. Still, it is hard to believe that something that can be imagined does not exist!

Much earlier than Anselm, St. Augustine explored the subject of verbal meaning. I was going to present Augustine first, before Anselm, but as I was re-reading the sermon, I felt it was so inspired it must come last.

First a little background on Augustine from Wikipedia:

"Confessions is the name of an autobiographical work, consisting of 13 books, by St. Augustine of Hippo, written between AD 397 and AD 398. Modern English translations of it are sometimes published under the title The Confessions of St. Augustine in order to distinguish the book from other books with similar titles. Its original title was "Confessions in Thirteen Books", and it was composed to be read out loud with each book being a complete unit.

The work outlines Augustine's sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity. It is widely seen as the first Western autobiography ever written, and was an influential model for Christian writers throughout the following 1000 years of the Middle Ages. It is not a complete autobiography, as it was written in his early 40s, and he lived long afterwards, producing another important work (City of God); it does, nonetheless, provide an unbroken record of his development of thought and is the most complete record of any single person from the 4th and 5th centuries. It is a significant theological work. In the work St. Augustine writes about how much he regrets having led a sinful and immoral life."

The following is from the a sermon of St. Augustine's taken from Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John Tractate XXIX on John 7:14-18:

"Then afterwards the Lord went up to the feast, “about the middle of the feast, and taught.”

“And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knows this man letters, having never learned?”

He who was in secret taught, He was speaking openly and was not restrained. For that hiding of Himself was for the sake of example; this showing Himself openly was an intimation of His power. But as He taught, “the Jews marvelled;” all indeed, so far as I think, marvelled, but all were not converted.

And why this wondering? Because all knew where He was born, where He had been brought up; they had never seen Him learning letters, but they heard Him disputing about the law, bringing forward testimonies of the law, which none could bring forward unless he had read, and none could read unless he had learned letters: and therefore they marvelled.

But their marvelling was made an occasion to the Master of insinuating the truth more deeply into their minds. By reason, indeed of their wondering and words, the Lord said something profound, and worthy of being more diligently looked into and discussed. On account of which I would urge you, my beloved, to earnestness, not only in hearing for yourselves, but also in praying for us.

How then did the Lord answer those that were marvelling how He knew letters which He had not learned?

“My doctrine,” says He, “is not mine, but His that sent me.”

This is the first profundity. For He seems as if in a few words He had spoken contraries. For He says not, This doctrine is not mine; but, “My doctrine is not mine.” If not Yours, how Yours? If Yours, how not Yours? For You say both: both, “my doctrines;” and, “not mine.” For if He had said, This doctrine is not mine, there would have been no question.

But now, brethren, in the first place, consider well the question, and so in due order expect the solution. For he who sees not the question proposed, how can he understand what is expounded? The subject of inquiry, then, is that which He says, “My, not mine” this appears to be contrary; how “my,” how “not mine”?

If we carefully look at what the holy evangelist himself says in the beginning of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” thence hangs the solution of this question. What then is the doctrine of the Father, but the Father's Word? Therefore, Christ Himself is the doctrine of the Father, if He is the Word of the Father. But since the Word cannot be of none, but of some one, He said both “His doctrine,” namely, Himself, and also, “not His own,” because He is the Word of the Father. For what is so much “Yours” as Yourself? And what so much not Yours as Yourself, if that You are is of another?

The Word then is God; and it is also the Word of a stable, unchangeable doctrine, not such as can be sounded by syllables and fleeting, but abiding with the Father, to which abiding doctrine let us be converted, being admonished by the transitory sounds of the voice. For that which is transitory does not so admonish us as to call us to transitory things. We are admonished to love God.

All this that I have said were syllables; they smote through the air to reach your sense of hearing, and by sounding passed away: that, however, which I advise you ought not so to pass away, because He whom I exhort you to love passes not away; and when you, exhorted in transient syllables, shall have been converted, you shall not pass away, but shall abide with Him who is abiding.

There is therefore in the doctrine this great matter, this deep and eternal thing which is permanent: whither all things that pass away in time call us, when they mean well and are not falsely put forward. For, in fact, all the signs which we produce by sounds do signify something which is not sound. For God is not the two short syllables “Deus,” and it is not the two short syllables that we worship, and it is not the two short syllables that we adore, nor is it to the two short syllables that we desire to come— two syllables which almost cease to sound before they have begun to sound; nor in sounding them is there room for the second until the first has passed away.

There remains, then, something great which is called “God,” although the sound does not remain when we say the word “God.” Thus direct your thoughts to the doctrine of Christ, and you shall arrive at the Word of God; and when you have arrived at the Word of God, consider this, “The Word was God,” and you will see that it was said truly, “my doctrine:” consider also whose the Word is, and you will see that it was rightly said, “is not mine.”

[Sidebar: We have been talking for weeks about the deceptive aspect of words. How beautiful to contemplate the true God in the sound of the words, as they melt into silence!

Back to Augustine:]

Therefore, to speak briefly, beloved, it seems to me that the Lord Jesus Christ said, “My doctrine is not mine,” meaning the same thing as if He said, “I am not from myself.” For although we say and believe that the Son is equal to the Father, and that there is not any diversity of nature and substance in them, that there has not intervened any interval of time between Him that begets and Him that is begotten, nevertheless we say these things, while keeping and guarding this, that the one is the Father, the other the Son.

But Father He is not if He have not a Son, and Son He is not if He have not a Father: but yet the Son is God from the Father; and the Father is God, but not from the Son. The Father of the Son, not God from the Son: but the other is Son of the Father, and God from the Father. For the Lord Christ is called Light from Light. The Light then which is not from Light, and the equal Light which is not from Light, are together one Light not two Lights.

If we have understood this, thanks be to God; but if any has not sufficiently understood, man has done as far as he could: as for the rest, let him see whence he may hope to understand. As laborers outside, we can plant and water; but it is of God to give the increase.

“My doctrine,” says He, “is not mine, but His that sent me.” Let him who says he has not yet understood hear counsel. For since it was a great and profound matter that had been spoken, the Lord Christ Himself did certainly see that all would not understand this so profound a matter, and He gave counsel in the sequel. Do you wish to understand? Believe.

For God has said by the prophet:

“Unless you believe, you shall not understand.” Isaiah 7:9

To the same purpose what the Lord here also added as He went on—

“If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself.”

What is the meaning of this,

“If any man be willing to do His will”?

But I had said, if any man believe; and I gave this counsel: If you have not understood, said I, believe. For understanding is the reward of faith.

Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand; since,

“except ye believe, you shall not understand.”

Therefore when I would counsel the obedience of believing toward the possibility of understanding, and say that our Lord Jesus Christ has added this very thing in the following sentence, we find Him to have said,

“If any man be willing to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.”

What is “he shall know”?
It is the same thing as “he shall understand.”
But what is “If any man be willing to do His will”?
It is the same thing as to believe.

All men indeed perceive that “shall know” is the same thing as “shall understand:” but that the saying, “If any man be willing to do His will,” refers to believing, all do not perceive; to perceive this more accurately, we need the Lord Himself for expounder, to show us whether the doing of the Father's will does in reality refer to believing. . . . . .

By believing to love Him, by believing to esteem highly, by believing to go into Him and to be incorporated in His members. It is faith itself then that God exacts from us: and He finds not that which He exacts, unless He has bestowed what He may find. What faith, but that which the apostle has most amply defined in another place, saying,

“Neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith that works by love?” Galatians 5:6

Not any faith of what kind soever, but “faith that works by love:” let this faith be in you, and you shall understand concerning the doctrine. What indeed shall you understand? That “this doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me;” that is, you shall understand that Christ the Son of God, who is the doctrine of the Father, is not from Himself, but is the Son of the Father."

I'm sorry, I can't say it any better than that; but I don't mind reminding you that I have been saying this over and over again for about six weeks: Jesus is the mediator between the essence of existence and the manifestation in finite form of existence. Thank God for such a beautiful, beautiful design, and let us praise Him with thanksgiving. Let us pray:

Jesus give us the doctrine of Your truth that springs from and returns eternally to the Father. Give us your self so that we may grow in ourselves, in each other and in You. Amen

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