Gemma Animae (148-149): The Cloister as Paradise

Ch. 148
On the Cloister

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Convent Thoughts by Charles Allston Collins


The form of the cloister beside the monastery is taken from Salomon’s portico built next to the temple. The apostles all lived in this place and they met in the temple to pray, and “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4). Following this form, religious live together in the cloister and meet night and day in the monastery for the divine service. To this day some of the faithful leave the secular world and lead a common life in the cloister.

CAP. CXLVIII. – De claustro.

Claustralis constructio iuxta monasterium est sumpta a porticu Salomonis constructa iuxta templum. In qua apostoli omnes unanimiter commanebant, et in templo ad orationem conveniebant, et multitudini credentium cor unum et anima una erat, et omnia communia habebant (Act. IV) . Secundum hanc formam religiosi in claustro unanimiter degunt, nocte ac die in monasterio ad servitium Dei conveniunt. Et fideles adhuc saecularia relinquunt, communem vitam in claustro ducunt.

Ch. 149
The Cloister is Paradise

The cloister also signifies Paradise (Genesis 4) and the monastery Eden, the more hidden part of Paradise. There, there was a fountain of concupiscence; in the monastery there is a fount of Baptism. The tree of life is in paradise; the body of the Lord in the monastery. The diverse fruit trees are the various books of Sacred Scripture. The cloister’s secretum is a figure of heaven, in which the just are separated from sinners just as the professed religious are sequestered from those in the secular state.

The cloister presents us with an image of the heavenly paradise [1]. The fountain and the tree of life signifies Christ, who is the fountain of life and the food of the blessed in eternal life. In the monastery two choirs sing God’s praises; and in the heavenly paradise the angels and saints will praise the Lord in sweet concert unto the ages of ages. The multitude of persons living in the cloister have one heart and one mind in religion and possess all things in common, and in the heavenly homeland all the elect will have one heart and one mind in love, and all will possess all things in common, because whatever each one lacks he will have in that place where God will be all in all. In the cloister each monastic has his own proper place, and in paradise each one will receive his own rooms according to his merits [2].

CAP. CXLIX. – Quod claustrum sit paradisus.

Porro claustrum praesefert paradisum (Gen. IV) , monasterium vero Eden securiorem locum paradisi. Fons in hoc loco voluptatis, est in monasterio fons baptismatis; lignum vitae in paradiso est: corpus Domini in monasterio. Diversae arbores fructiferae sunt diversi libri sacrae Scripturae. Secretum enim claustri gerit figuram coeli. (0590C) In quo iusti ita a peccatoribus segregantur, sicut religiosae vitae professores a saecularibus in claustro sequestrantur.

Porro monasteria praefert coelestem paradisum. Fons et lignum vitae signat Christum, qui est fons vitae et cibus beatorum aeternaliter viventium. In monasterio duo chori laudes Deo concinunt; et in coelesti paradiso angeli atque sancti in saeculum saeculi dulci concentu Dominum laudabunt. Multitudo in claustro conversantium unum cor et unam animam in religione habent, et omnia communiter possident, et in superna patria omnes electi cor unum et animam unam in dilectione habebunt, et omnes omnia communiter possidebunt, quia unusquisque quod in ea minus habet in aliis habebit, ubi Deus omnia in omnibus erit. In claustro singuli singula loca secundum ordinem tenent, et in paradiso singuli singulas mansiones secundum merita recipient.

 


NOTES:

[1] Anciently, the area in front of the church enclosed by a walled courtyard was called the atrium or paradisus. It often included a garden, as today in the old Roman basilicas such as St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. To enter a basilica, therefore one had to enter a garden. This symbolism was often reinforced by the decoration of the nave and especially of the apse, which might include a scene of the Garden of Paradise.

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Gemma Animae does not much apply this symbolism for the Church itself, but has transferred it to the monastery grounds, which contain the same sort of interior walled courtyard that the ancient basilicas once had in front of the church building.

[2] We saw the same idea in ch. 140 in his gloss on the monastic choir stalls, which represent the houses of the just in the Kingdom.

Excerpts from The Philosophy of Cult (5): Sketches Toward a Phenomenology of Cult

Excerpt 1: What is orthodoxy?
Excerpt 2: Liturgy and Emotion; The Titanic Principle
Excerpt 3: Cult at the Center of Classical Culture
Excerpt 4: Plato and Kant Compared

VI.
Sketches Toward a Phenomenology of Cult

1.

We have spoken about the seven sacraments, attempting to comprehend their “whatness.” Now we have come to the point when we ned to clarity the modality of their operation, their “how.” Let us once again ask ourselves: “What does a sacrament do?” Because through the “what” of the operation is also defined “how” it works.

A sacrament selects, distinguishes an event from its surroundings, from the sum of similar events, isolates it, separates it from the ordinary. Existence flows, however, as one act, in a compact succession, and extends itself as a web of events out of which nothing emerges as peculiar.

To separate a fibre of this web it is necessary to extricate it from the whole, cut back the ordinary links between events, their usual correspondences. Thus it is distinguished. In metaphysical terms the sacrament is above the world, but in phenomenological terms it is a distinction from the world. We would have no need to add further, if there were not points of contact between a similar response and other spheres. Once distinguished, the event is also an aesthetic phenomenon. Distinct and aesthetic are synonyms. Then how do these two things differ, the religious and the aesthetic? We will respond for now with a non-phenomenological answer.

The aesthetic effects a distinction through the very act of distinguishing, and its meaning is precisely the actualization of this distinction, in the enjoyment that derives from it. Thus the aesthetic is illusion: as distinct, the event is not different in substance from the environment from which it is distinct, there is no difference in its being and therefore it remains the same as the environment, but with a distinct form conferred upon it. … the aesthetic phenomenon appears distinct, but is not so in reality; it bears the pretense of peculiarity, without having it in fact. In a word, the act that makes the distinction is everything, whereas that which is distinguished is nothing.

The sacrament effects distinction in a completely different sense, in fact in an opposite way. [In] the religious phenomenon, the act of distinction is only the first moment. In the religious phenomenon, the aesthetic is only the beginning, the thing presupposed. …. Thus the religious dimension produces in man exactly the opposite effect of the aesthetic dimension. Insofar as they are isolated from the rest and among themselves, true and proper microcosms (incorniciati) and thus standing alone, aesthetic phenomena atomize the attention, loosen internal coordination and conferring absoluteness to single acts, thus destroying the integrity of the interior life.

Religious phenomenon, on the other hand, form a complete whole, confirm and unite the integrity of the life of the soul and in this way strengthen the will, where the aesthetic phenomena weaken it. Religious phenomena mold being into a coordinated whole, in self-recollection of the person, whereas aesthetic phenomenon destroy all this. The elements of existence distinguished by cult become so by entering into a new connection and becoming centers of unification. The web of temporal life is torn and the same threads used to weave a new life, a spiritual life. The masks are reduced to dust and from this dust true countenances are molded: from the natural toward the supernatural. Thus it fixes every series of the events of existence upon its own incarnate idea, upon its own absolute root [….]

[On the “metaphysical correlation” between sacraments and rites. ]

The common opinion about the status of rites is comparable to the response of one who, asked about the structure of the human organism, were to say that a man has a head and a torse and that the difference between them is that the head is more important than the head, but said nothing about the fact that the two organs are connected to each other. It is evident that if in the life of the Church both rites and sacraments, these must be internally related to themselves, and not only through the value that we give them; therefore to understand rites it is necessary to begin precisely from their subordination to the sacraments. In a certain sense it is right to affirm that the common double-term “sacraments and rites” is an example of the figure ἑνδιαδθοῖν indicating cult in its concrete integrity….there is no sacrament without rite, nor rite without sacrament. And it is possible to speak of one or the other only by abstraction, and when doing it we must never forget that we are abstracting.

[…]

The rite is an order, convention, condition, and if you will, a norm. Of what? Of a sacrament, obviously. Rites are the conditions or modalities by which sacraments are effected. They are the “how” of the sacraments, while the sacraments are the “what” of the rites.

[…]

The rite is an internal order, internal to something. To what? Internal to the sacrament. The rites create an internal order for the sacraments. The latter are the heart of the life of the Church, but in themselves they could not be distinguished from the rest, and so it is necessary to create an order internal to them, i.e. to give them layers, wrappings—rites—that prepare our consciousness for them. The rites are the order of the liturgical actions, whose meaning and goal is not in themselves, but in the sacraments that they serve and to which they give clothing and order. They are necessary conditions—but not in themselves—for the perception of the sacraments: they are the fingers that point to the sacraments. The series of such fingers, their succession—which in and of themselves do not constitute cult, but without which it would be impossible for us to draw near to the sacraments and comprehend them—cannot prescind from the sacrament indicated by them.

[…]

The sacrament is given to consciousness by its rite, but the rite is important precisely in that it exists for prepare consciousness for the perception of the sacrament, and not in and of itself. Thus in the life of the Church, rite and sacrament are not divisible: without the rite the sacrament would not reach our consciousness, without sacrament rite would not find its confirmation in the dimension of the absolute, would be a motion without wings toward heaven, and a vain illusion of firm ground in the midst of the aether.

4.

Without rite there would be no consciousness of sacrament, that is our claim. […] The norm thus stands in the fact that, because it is invisible in itself, in its intelligible essence, the sacrament must be indicated by its rite, that brings it near to our conscoiusness and leaves us before the act of faith or the sin of unbelief, left only to ourselves: in the sacrament as such, in fact, it is possible only to believe or not believe, and not to demonstrate or refute it….the sacrament is only registered as an object of faith, but it is possible that faith may not exist. Thus, our response to the question about what, in substance, in the rite leads us to the sacrament, is to search in the structure of the rite. In other words, we have arrived at the phenomenology of cult, at the “how” of its action, a “how” in which we must come to an understanding of the metaphysical questions posed above.

[…]

The sacrament unites above and below, the earth and heaven, the transcendent and the immanent. To do so, it must have in itself an earthly moment, and as only this is seen with the senses, with the senses it is impossible to distinguish the sacrament from other events and things in the world. The μυσήρια, the sacramental realities, bear with them no exterior sign and thus, although they are metaphysically defined, they remain still empirically indistinct. Cult is, however, an event both metaphysical and empirical, and so its empirical composition should comprehend something that is not only metaphysical and that also, in its very comprehension, separates it from the world, placing it “above the tumult of the world.” In other words, the sacrament must not only be transcendent, but also manifest itself as such: the sacrament in its manifestations—the rites—must reveal itself precisely as something existing per se. Further, as such it must necessarily and inevitably reveal itself to the consciousness of society (because consciousness of the sacrament is the condition of the very existence of society).

6.

The time has come to clarify what precisely I intend by the onion-like structure—or stratification—of the rite. We have to know whether the question refers to its spatial structure or temporal, or to concentricity, stratification, inclusivity and juxtaposition, or whether we mean rhythm, pulsation, consecutivity. From the outside, approach cult in a positive way, we would certainly resopnd that it is neither the one nor the other. The temple, the spatial component of cult, is the reiteration of the principle of isolation, in a repetition that elevates the aesthetic phenomenon to its maximum potency. The carpet laid out for the celebrant at the moment of the Gospel reading, during the polieleo, during the moleben, the panichide and other liturgical actions, the carpet placed before the holy altar, the episcopal eagles, the episcopal chair and so on, are not signs of veneration or objects of leisure, but isolators, instruments of separation from the rest of reality and therefore they have nothing to do with the rugs put out by over-zealous sacrestans in honor of an ecclesiarch, or for important members of the faithful or sometimes for sick parishioners.

The priest, as hierurgos, must be elevated—isolated—from the dimension of the people. The rug that he has underneath his fit isolates him from the ground; the liturgical vesture wrapping his body—called riza just like the vesture of the icon—isolates him from those standing about him, in various grades of isolation. Sometimes iconostases and curtains are added to all this. In this manner, to the subtracted world, the priest becomes “transcendent to the people,” is “in the world but not of the world,” in a transcendence that has multiple stages and possible grades. Elevated in this manner, seem from below the priest is not perceived as such, but as a sign of the height of his elevation, as an emblem of the higher, transfigured dimension. The isolation we perceive on the empirical surface must be interpreted mystically as an elevation, as a forward thrust, as a jump made into other coordinates of reality: it is ascension.

In the same way, the one who receives the sacrament, the pilgrim who gathers the sacred energy, is momentarily called forth: the so-called “cushion,” the sheet of satin layed out at the moment of the coronation in the marriage ceremony, or the approach to the ambo and the carpet at the moment of communion, approaching the carpet at the moment of confession and so forth, are rites of mystical separation of the pilgrim from everything else. To roll out the carpet for distinguished persons is not only an expression of privilege, or injustice—not in itself a disaster—but it is also and above all a perversion of the Christian rite. […]

The isolations of the hierurgos are his ascents into heaven, a sort of spiritual liberation. But each must limit himself to the measure that is given to him, ascending only to the dimension that is proper to him. IF someone tried to go beyond the sphere chosen for him, he would enter an atmosphere so rarified, into an element that the fire had so refined, that he would be suffocated and hurtled with broken wings into the recesses of the earth and the depths of the sea. A new little Icarus, he will tumble into the abyss of chaos and spiritual formlessness. God does not want that to happen to distinguished parishioners!

7.

[…]

Through the distance created by its isolation the sacrament draws near to us, and drawing near to it we notice the ever greater pathos of this distance, that fear of God that every more vividly attests our “below” status as we soar ever higher, and every more irrevocably elevates our creatureliness the more divine our place becomes. The succession of entrances and elevations permits us to some way to become acclimatized, to not be harmed by the “terrible” mysteries. In this way, we find ourselves ready to undertake the sacral act and the liturgical act, without being broken, thanks to the gradualness of the ascent, of the terror. If we were directly transported to such heights, it would be in all probability impossible to resist. In church the elevated potential of grace is little noticed in virtue of its gradual growth. It would be enough to abstain for several weeks form the divine liturgy and then enter suddenly into church when it is being performed on the altar, right at the moment of the rite, in order for the spiritual atmosphere of the church to appear incandescent.

But the onion-structure of cult, its stratification, is much wider that what we have pointed out so far. A first isolation is that of the Christian State which the borders separate from another State. There follows the isolation created by centers of habitation, cities, countrysides, villages, parishes: they are all realities that isolate themselves from spheres that are relatively indifferent to religion […]. In the church, the temple itself, the naos, is isolated from the narthex, there follow the ambo and the solea, ….Then the iconostasis and the sanctuary, the place of the hierurgy of the sanctuary. Then the altar and so on. So much for space. The same is true also for time.

In the course of history, the sacred epoch is fundamental, as with it the calculation of time begins. And as space is partitioned by a series of barriers that dispose each part in layers with respect to the others, time is divided into a series of chronological formations that rhythmically isolate one part of sacred time from another which is even more sacred. To distinguish the more sacred from the less sacred times, sacred from earthly, earthly from sinful, there is adopted a series of prescriptive measures. In effect, seen in the course of time the whole liturgical Office is a system of such temporal stratifications.

8.

Just as with space, time is articulated in a series of grades that in succession approach to the most sacred center, to the holy Body and the Holy Blood, and in the beginning there is a tower, a tower with levels like that of Babylon or…..just so also the liturgical office that is carried out in the temple leads up to communion with the sacred Body and Blood through the chronological succession of elevations, through the series of incremental ascents. Take for example the sound of bells: in the liturgy, the sound of bells and sound in general are considered integral parts of the divine office, actions not merely utilitarian and earthly, but liturgical; to which one must make the sign of the cross and in the past, salute with the words: “With the voice of the Archangel we cry to thee, O Virgin pure: ‘Rejoice, o full of grace, the Lord is with You!’” The sound of the bell—which normally lasts for an hour, as it still does in the smallest districts—then the Trisaghion, the Cherubic Hymn and the Pater Nostser are all isolatory events that stratify the liturgical office into ever more transcendent times.

At the sound of the bell, the evangelion, i.e. at the good news of the coming of a holy and celestial time, all states of existence, the quotidian and earthly thoughts, all aspirations and sentiments are interrupted in their course. Our interior life takes another direction, enters another course. It is still of this world, but now manages to escape from the dimension of this life. We enter the temple with devout thoughts and sentiments, with our will turned toward heaven. And our devoted disposition finds satisfaction in reaping a a spiritual content. We hear the words of the saints about the sacred Word; we see images and symbols of sacred events revealed by the saints. This, then, is the first of the concentric circles. The Trisaghion lifts us up to heaven, and the words of the angelic chant to the Holy, Mighty, and Eternal one—holy words of apt force—are no longer earthly words, but heavenly. The sanctity of God is also his transcendence over the world, his not being of this world, his being above the world. Because he is holy, transcendent, other-worldly and not of this world, God is for this reason Mighty, Immortal. And he is Mighty and Immortal because Holy, because other-worldly and above the world.

The same words are sung for the faithful departed, because they are no more of this world, because they are now in another dimension. But to hear the sacred words, which are not of this world, we too must die to the world. For us too—as for one who has died and ever dies in Christ—must be sung the “Holy God”…And once we have died, heavenly things are related to us: the sacramental words, themselves events, the acts and the letters of the apostles and the Gospel. This is no longer human speech, but divine, of God, a new life, a new level of existence. We are dealing, simply, with holy speech about eternal speech, which comes from Eternity, about speech of the Word himself (the apostolic writings). But there follow the words of the Word (the Gospel) which vivify and inspire. They elevate us, then, to a new level of transcendence above the world. The Cherubic Hymn takes us toward all the heavenly spheres even up to the throne of God, to the cherubim themselves, sacramental lives and sources of life above whom the Lord is seated, King of Life. And drawn along by an invisible current, by a stream, by a subtle breeze, by a slight chill that shoots from the feet to the head, by an extremely subtle storm, by a current that flows in spirals from here below to the world above, we lift off from earth and take flight: we are no longer on earth, but suspended in the air. We are with the cherubim, we who are a symbol of them in the sacrament, we assume their aspect, in them we are transfigured.

 Then in the space above the heavens there follow in succession the events of the life of God, the tremendous Sacrifice is accomplished, the blood of God is poured out, his Body broken and the Spirit, peaceful Joy, Oil of comfort and Softener of our hardness, arises and gives form to our being, shapes our body “with light fingers, like sleep,” with their delicate touches. On the clouds of the heavens we turn ourselves toward the heavens and meet the Heavenly Spouse, among the clouds we meet our Lord, raptured, finally before the Tremendous and Life-Giving Body and Blood of the Lord. Then the Lord who is higher than the Heavens, unreachable on the earth, makes the visible out of the invisible, reveals himself with the Father. The veil of heaven is ripped aside and we glimpse Eternity: the Our Father is the final passage, the word of the Word that we dare to pronounce as if it were our own, as if it came from us, with mortal lips calling the Father father. And then, at the last level of transcendence, we communicate with the most holy Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, with the Word itself, with He who is One and Consubstantial with the Father, who is the Source of Intellect and Life.

9.

Just as in space, this system of isolations recalls a system of locks that raises gradually, and without too much force, the level of the water. If the difference between the two sides was not held back by the series of locks but swelled suddenly, no barrier could contain the pressure of the water. The same thing happens in the sacrament. The soul cannot sustain too great a leap toward the sacramental medium without the aid of a gradual passage, represented by the system of locks of mystical isolation.

But in the smallest instance it functions as in the greater, and in the greatest it functions again as in the greater. The liturgical office is rhythmically divided into a series of levels, but the office itself is itself, in its totality, a level. In the initial invocation of any liturgical service, in particular of the divine liturgy, the priest rips the web of time and in this rip sacred time is placed nakedly, the image of Eternity, the nouminous foundation of time. “Give the blessing, Master” or “Give the blessing, Father” is the invitation to thrust time aside, an invitation to the earth who awaits heaven. “Give the blessing, Master” is the beginning of the liturgical service and means “tear time apart,” tear the continuity of the cloth of time.” And He does so: time is pulled aside, the temporal nexus comes apart and the Kingdom of the Most Holy Trinity begins as a historical event in time, although it is an eon that contains all time in itself. The time of God begins.

10.

In a strict sense this time is also prazdnik, “feast,” because prazdnik means not occupied, free of duties, at liberty, open, available: the feast is, thus, tiem not occupied by the everyday, a time dead to the everyday, a particular time, made free of what is of this world, transcendent, holy. And it begins with the nedelja, not in the modern Russian sense of “week,” but in the old Slavonic meaning of “Sunday,” or the time of not-doing: “Six days you will labor, but the seventh day, the Sabbath, is in honor of the Lord your God.” And the liturgical service is a pause of great silence, just as the highest point of the liturgical service is the not seeing, the not hearing, the silence, as in the great entrance of the lituryg of the Presanctified, as the Holy o fholies, empty and dark. In utilitarian terms, the temple is a non-thing, the feast is a not-doing. In this not-doing and this not-thing, however, the things of the whole week and the whole universe are contained.

11.

Interrupting the monotonous course of time, the feasts give the sense of duration and contribute toward perceiving and measure time with an interior significance. For us time exists because the feasts exist. Time is organized by the calendar, by the rhythm of the feasts.

[…]

Excerpts from The Philosophy of Cult (4): Plato and Kant Compared

Excerpt 1: What is orthodoxy?
Excerpt 2: Liturgy and Emotion; The Titanic Principle
Excerpt 3: Cult at the Center of Classical Culture

III. Cult and Philosophy

[Plato and Kant Compared]

The so-called philosophy of Plato is a philosophy of cult. It is cult as seen by a profound and wise thinker. Not without reason Plato expounds his most substantial questions in the form of myths, in many of which there are clearly hidden torments and sufferings, for example in Phaedrus and Republic, in the accounts of Hydra and others. This are the myth-parables of Plato. Therefore Kant’s philosophic design, the negation of Plato’s, is nothing else than the negation of cult.

This means that Kant too takes his starting point from cult and founds his system entirely upon it. But he does not maintain a positive orientation to it, as Plato does, but rather negative, not reaching out toward it, but fearing to reach it, like a pirate who avoids a port.

While the gaze of Plato, turned upon the profundity of the human spirit, was concerned with something objective, that of Kant, interested in exterior experience, was dedicated to pure subjectivity. The former was precise, the second evasive. Plato was a wealthy aristocrat, Kant a penurious plebeian, but while Plato frequented every kind of place in search of anything that was worthy of attention, Kant sought knowledge like a wealthy noble man. Plato traveled his whole life, running great risks and even ending up in slavery. Kant never left Konigsberg and lived among the influential.

Plato was a poet, pervaded with erotic impulses, who struggled to spiritualize his own sensuality. Kant was a grand ascetic, far removed from eros, a “castrato”, he busied himself with commodities, with goods and with his table. While Plato sought the divine-humanity, Kant sought the human-divinity. While Plato was always and everywhere a gentleman, despite the danger of the subjects he treated, Kant, despite his disinterest for everything dangerous, was always and everywhere a Philistine. Plato sought sanctity, Kant sought correctness. Thus Plato’s humble acceptance of reality led in the end to the idea of deification–theosis–and thus the proud self-exultation to heaven, the proud construction of objects by the self in Kant.

Everything in one is also in the other, but the convexities of one or the concavities and empty spaces of the other. One is more, the other is less. And if this is the case, if two of the greatest philosophers, who together have defined all philosophy, move in two opposite directions, if the sense of their divergence is defined precisely in the question of the concrete reality of the spiritual world that manifests itself in cult, we must say that philosophy defines herself in general by her relationship with cult, derives from it and make sit the object of its efforts to understand.

[…]

Of its nature philosophy is nothing other than coming to comprehension and consciousness of a spiritual, elevated, celestial, transcendental world. But we know this world only as cult, as the incarnation of the superior world in our concrete symbols. This is because philosophy is idealism, meant not as a matter of ideas, but as the concrete contemplation and experience of spiritual realities, which is to say, of cult.

The Philosophy of Cult (3): Cult at the Center of Classical Culture

Part I: Introduction
Part II: Method

The next parts of the paper I deemed too boring….so I’m skipping to the historical section. Perhaps I will post the whole next week.


 

V.

An Historical Illustration

a) The Unity of Ancient Religious Culture

Florensky moves on to justify his theoretical solution with an historical illustration. If he is able to show that, from an empirical perspective, religious cult has been the coordinating center of human activity throughout the history of human civilization, it lends credence to his claim that Divine Incarnation is the universal interior logic of human culture.

He first gives a brief rehearsal of the Slavophile critique of Western cultural decadence. The incoherence of modern western, humanistic civilization can be traced to the dissociation of culture and cult. Once the arts and sciences asserted their independence from religion they became superficial and sacrilegious. “Thus they lost their true utility and with it their certainty of their own undeniable necessity” (126). They are no longer “effective realities” but “intentional operations.” Things have become mere objects of practical use, and concepts are not longer links with the divine world but only utilitarian categories: a wholly “secular civilization” (126).[1]

But it was not always so. In the past, cult and culture were intimately linked, and any attempt to part an artistic or intellectual work from its divine source was considered sacrilege: “Historically, the fine arts are rings on the chain, or fledglings from the nest, of a more serious and creative art: the art of divine action, theurgy… the ‘maternal bosom’ of all the arts and sciences. The name for activity that claimed autonomy from theurgy was sacrilege” (125).

Since Florensky is rather impatient about historical particulars in this fragmentary work, we have to fill in the historical material ourselves, and this might be done by taking Greek culture as an example. The Greeks considered every art—even the most menial—to be a gift from the gods. The fine arts in particular were not only directly inspired by divine beings—the Graces and Muses—but participations in divine realities. The harmonic ratios, astronomical science, and the ideal forms of the marble statue are incarnations of the divine music that could harmonize one’s own soul. Artistic production in this view is participation in the divine work, a revelation of nous, a spiritual purification, an extension of divine incarnation. All works of culture—moral, practical, political, intellectual—are united in the one craft of divinization: making men god-like.

b) The Unity of Ancient Religious Culture: Pierre Hadot and Others

Florensky’s reading is supported by scholars of antiquity. In his classic studies of ancient philosophical culture, for example, Pierre Hadot argues that for the ancients, the task of the philosopher was not primarily one of communicating “an encyclopedic knowledge in the form of a system of propositions and of concepts that would reflect, more or less well, the system of the world.”[2] Rather, “the teaching and training of philosophy were intended not simply to develop the intelligence of the disciple, but to transform all aspects of his being.”[3] Ancient philosophy was a set of spiritual exercises aiming at spiritual “metamorphosis” and “transformation.” Each discipline had both a theoretical and spiritual aspect, so that the Stoics spoke of a “lived logic, lived physics, lived ethics”[4] which were the sciences as integrated into the unitary pursuit of wisdom. The disciplines of philosophy were not cut up into parts, but considered “a single act, renewed at every instant, that one can describe, without breaking its unity, as being the exercise of logic as well as of physics or of ethics, according to the directions in which it is exercised.”[5]

VI.

Religion as Cult

After this preliminary answer to the problem of cult and culture, Florensky proceeds to the second part of his project, to develop an account of human culture based on the philosophy of cult.

He outlines the three possible accounts of human culture, each depending on which tool-making activity one privileges: concept-terms (notiones), machine-tools (instrumenta), or holy things (sacra).

1) Ideologism: (N –> I, S)

If in its search for the sources of being, the intellect is seduced into seeing itself as the sole source of its own activity—e.g. the cogito or Transcendental Ego—it is led to approve a view of culture in which the primary activity is a system of concepts, elaborated by intellectual geniuses, that transcend the empirical world. All acts of production and religious rites “are a simple application of theoretical structures—scientific, mythological, dogmatic.” One first conceives a project in the rational faculty and then enacts it in the practical and religious realms. Under this category we might identify several modern forms of gnosticism, for which religion is a metaphorical expression of the system of abstract truths, which are the superior discourse.[6]

2) Economic Materialism: (I –> N, S)

This view holds that the formation of human culture is driven by the inexorable laws of economy. The cumulative force of infinite small actions produce conditions that define all man’s intellectual and sacral actions. Conceptual systems and sacred rites are ex post facto justification of existing economic arrangements:

“A world-view is really the a posteriori justification of an economic order that has formed itself using its own instruments and arms, through economic and social relationships that derive from it, while cult is the consecration of this very order, also a posteriori” (135).

3) Concrete Idealism (S –> N, I)

In an act of confidence that is tragically ironic in light of subsequent history—though not untrue to the experience of his generation of Russian philosophers—Florensky claims that economic materialism has become passé, ceding its place to a new, as yet undefined view he ventures to call concrete idealism. The term is borrowed from Soloviev, who is never cited in the text, but Florensky chooses to apply the term instead to the fruit of the Cambridge ritualist school of anthropology.[7] It is: “a theory according to which all existence is determined by a type of ritual, incarnate in religion, from which then derive all practical utility and theoretical concepts” (137).

The rationalist schools of the previous century tended to privilege dogma as the primary expression of faith. They looked on dogma as the expression of pure reason, superior to ritual and life, which are poetic elaborations or even obfuscations, of this primary datum. The new school recognizes the central and dominant role of cult in religion, making dogma, myths, and practices ancillary disciplines. (See Excerpts from The Philosophy of Cult (1): What is orthodoxy?)

Florensky gives several striking examples of the contrary view. The Symbol of Faith should not be seen as a compendious dogmatic summary or a declaration of personal or collective faith, but as a liturgical-sacramental performance of unity with the Trinitarian communion of love and thought. In fact, only in this liturgical, Trinitarian communion of love can a true faith in the Trinity be confessed,[8] and outside of it the creed is barren and without meaning:

“Outside the life of the Church there is neither Symbol of faith nor faith, but only something useless and incomprehensible. Thus outside the liturgy the Symbol of faith can be neither understood nor studied, just as, for example, the activity of the human body cannot be understood or studied from some chemically separated elements that were once integral parts” (146-47).

Doctrine is subsidiary, a “moment of cult” and not an independent reality in its own right. Scripture too is only a “liturgical moment,” and to read it outside the liturgy is as sacriligious as it would be to wear a cassock casually in the street.[9]

But one might object: If cult is a symbolic system constructed by a human community, there must be a prescriptive dogma or rational explanation that precedes it, “gets behind it” and mediates its meaning. Florensky denies that this is the case, for reasons consistent with his Neo-Patristic and symbolist inspirations. The ancients never bothered to describe the “meaning” of their rituals, precisely because their exterior forms were thought to be one with their “meanings,” such as not to require the mediation of concepts. Ancient cult is mute because its symbolic expression was understood to convey its message directly. These views are clearly derived from Florensky’s early exposure to the Russian symbolist movement and from Neo-Platonic accounts of religious cult, though in this context he cites the German Protestant theologian Karl Bähr.[10]

This epistemology, be in Symbolist or Neo-Patristic, is the ultimate reason why cultic objects do not require demonstration. The mode of liturgy—a poetic mode—precludes the necessity of rational explanation by the dogmatist or the scientist because it furnishes the participant a contemplative performance of concreted logoi transcending abstract reason. It is a divine condescension, making its forceful appearance in symbolic forms that speak directly to the mind. The force of this superior symbolic discourse explains why the logos of cultic objects requires no demonstration, and so fulfills the criteria for an activity of fruitful antinomy. It is probable that this solution, little justified in this text, will be unsatisfying to the modern reader.[11]

But once again we must recall that Florensky never promised a comprehensive, fully justified account of cult. The Philosophy of Cult is explicitly predicated on a prior subjective experience of divine fear and creatureliness in the face of the Divine Presence in the liturgy. Only the contemplative soul seized by the holy fear of the ceremonies can adequately exegete their contents and expression, and then only in the context of inspired discourse among friends, in the Platonic sense. Thus the ultimate transcendental precondition for unitive experience is not the symbol-structure itself any more than an a priori principle, but the fearful Advent of the Divine Savior upon the Altar. Florensky is conscious that his fragmentary, lecture-based format, delivered to friends, is a performance of this apophatic truth. Nothing could be further from the Kantian ideal.

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NOTES:

[1] There is nothing novel in this Romantic-inspired critique of modernity’s technical logic, found everywhere in Khomyakov, for example, and the German Romantics. It is well expressed by Balthasar: “In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself ot affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. …Syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of these answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. The very conclusions are no longer conclusive” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Introduction to The Glory of the Lord, vol. I, San Francisco: Herder, 1982, pg. 19).

[2] Pierre Hadot, “La philosophie antique: une éthique ou une pratique?,” in Études de philosophie ancienne (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2010), 11; cited in Davidson, 21.

[3] Davidson, 21.

[4] Hadot, “La philosophie antique: une ethique ou une ratique?,” 18–29, cited in Davidson, 24.

[5] “It is the same Logos that produces the world, enlightens the human being in his faculty of reasoning and expresses itself in human discourse, while remaining completely identical with itself at all stages of reality. Therefore, physics has for its object the Logos of universal nature, ethics the Logos of reasonable human nature, logic this same Logos expressing itself in human discourse. From start to finish, it is therefore the same force and the same reality that is at the same tiem creative Nature, Norm of conduct and Rule of discourse” (Hadot, “Les divisions des parties de la philosophie,” in Études de philosophie ancienne, 211.)

[6] C.f. Cyril O’Regan, Gnostic Return in Modernity (New York, State University of New York, 2001).

[7]This new way has been elaborated largely by English anthropologists, among whom he names Spencer, Tylor, Jevons, Grant Allen, Robertson Smith, Andrew Lang and of course Frazer; Durkheim, Toutain, Hubert and Mauss and Reinach as sociologists.

In later scholarship, we might also point out the work of Louis Bouyer—e.g. Rite and Man—where he engages with the same body of scholarship and similarly concludes the priority of ritual to myth; and of Pierre Hadot, Roy Rappaport, and Mary Douglas.

[8] As opposed, e.g., to Cornelius Tiele (1830–1902) who wrote: “In doctrine, whether it be mythological and poetic or dogmatic and philosophic, I find the origin of every religion….Only from here do we come to understand what man thinks about his God and his relationship with Him. Cult, ritual, ceremony teach me nothing when I look at them, unless I have some explanation of their meaning” (f. 60, pp. 150-51).

[9] “Let us clarify our meaning with another example. The apostolic letters and the Holy Gospel are often considered books. The Holy Gospel and the holy apostolic letters are not “books,” but rather moments of liturgical action, derived from the liturgy, where they do not have a simply narrative or purely edificatory meaning, but one even more important: precisely an active, sacramental meaning.

In the same way the “books” of the Old Testament which should be read only in prayer, in an active, liturgical manner, and not a passive, mental, theoretical manner. The Psalter, for example, is a book of exorcism. That is why it is read over the dead, to defend them from the wicked powers of the devil. Some of its psalms, such as “Qui habitas in adiutorio altissimi” (Ps 91 [90]), are principally for exorcism, which is why they are embroidered on cinctures and transcribed in cases when spiritual defense is needed, and are recited for defense against rabid dogs and wicked persons. Upon the exorcistic power of the Psalter is based also the spiritual habit of continually repeating the Psalms from memory, even in the midst of doing other things, as a form of spiritual activity and consecration of one’s whole being through the sacramental words [. . . . ] Not only the Psalter, but all of Sacred Scripture has a cultic meaning, not merely a literary one” (The Philosophy of Cult, 147).

[10] “This is surely because in antiquity real and sensible objects were in general held to be immediate images of ideal and suprasensible things. Signs were at the same time words, or even more comprehensible than words” (K.W.C.F. Bahr, Symbolik des Mosaischen Kultus, vol. I, pp. 35–36; pg. 154).

[11] The problem with this epistemology is that it is perhaps insufficiently attentive to the analogical nature of the lumen fidei, as if the liturgical symbols could speak directly to human intelligence without the mediation of supernatural faith. Elsewhere, however, Florensky discusses the process of ascesis and purgation required to experience the liturgical vision: “The isolations of the hierurgos are his ascents into heaven, a sort of spiritual liberation. But each must limit himself to the measure that is given to him, ascending only to the dimension that is proper to him. If someone tried to go beyond the sphere chosen for him, he would enter an atmosphere so rarified, into an element that the fire had so refined, that he would be suffocated and hurtled with broken wings into the recesses of the earth and the depths of the sea. A new little Icarus, he will tumble into the abyss of chaos and spiritual formlessness” (The Philosophy of Cult, 306).

Excerpts from The Philosophy of Cult (2): Liturgy and Emotion; The Titanic Principle

Excerpt 1: What is orthodoxy?

IV. Sacraments and Rites

The function of cult is to translate the natural lament of grief, the natural cry of joy, the natural exultation, the natural tears and distress into sacred song, sacred word, sacred gesture. Not to prevent natural motions, not to be ashamed of them, not to nip off the richness of the interior life, but on the contrary to express this richness, to affirm it in its fullness, to reinforce it and make it grow. In cult the accidental is elevated to the necessary, the subjective is illuminated in the objective. Cult translates natural reality into the ideal.

It is possible to try to suffocate the emotions. But repressed emotions consume body and soul. And where is the border between the admissible and the non-admissible? Who has established it? What does it mean that it has been established? By what right can it be imposed on me, buffeted by my emotions? Fighting with the emotions amounts to a root and branch rejection of the very nature of man, the abyss that the emotions generate and that contains nothing besides the emotions. To fight with the emotions can signify two things: if the struggle does not succeed, humanity is poisoned with “the passions hidden inside”; if it has succeeded, humanity is castrated and murdered, deprived of its vitality, energy, and finally its very life.

Cult works another way. It affirms the entire nature of man along with all of its emotions. It carries every emotion and passion to its greatest compass, opening for them an infinite space for expression. It brings human nature to a salutary crisis, purifying and healing it from τραύματα τῆς ψυχἡς. Cult not only permits the emotions to express themselves to their full extent, but even demands their greatest intensity, extends them and accentuates them. It even stirs up and incites them. And by giving them their full acknowledgement, affirming their justness, cult transforms them. The “mourning over the grave” is translated into an “alleluia” of praised sung in the heavens, the earthly is changed into the heavenly. This is because cult reveals the emotions in a manner even more vigorous and powerful than the emotions could express themselves naturally. Cult revokes interdictions and calls out to what has been interdicted. Thus summoned on high, our emotions now exist supernaturally rather than naturally. They do not operate according to their own rules but according to others that are not theirs, being swept up in a celestial vortex in which they swirl ever higher, ever farther from our earthly and subjective existence. The emotions thus cease to be our accidental states and become universal objective truths.

[…]

Behold another clear example of a wounded soul. A wound produced by an emotion kept inside. He has spoken a word to himself and his soul suffers. The word ought to go out to the external world and act there. There it might ignite and fecundate another soul, seeing how it is full of energy like an overflowing vase. But left unsaid, it screws itself into the soul, which becomes heavy with it, it bruises, lacerates, and wounds it. The Church teaches that an anathema unjustly pronounced returns on the head of the one who declared it. [….] In the same way, whatever word does not manage to enter as it is destined into the soul of another, or which doesn’t find the space to be uttered all the way to the end, it returns to the one who has pronounced it, or who would have liked to pronounce it, and wounds him. Though there may not be a human soul capable of hearing that word, there is the Soul of Humanity, Humanity Herself, The Very Reality of Man Who, in a manner infinitely more attentive to every other soul, is capable of hearing every word of man. And not with horror and aversion, but with confidence, because in that word she hears an echo of her very self. Yes, no man deigned to hear the words that bruise me, but the Most Pure Reality of Man—the Church—does not disdain even my most agonized stammers. Thus mark how cult has entered, taking upon itself and into itself this word that bruises me, transfigures it and heals my soul. Whether it is anger, wrath, ennui, cult takes everything upon itself and transfigures all, gratifying the emotions to the very end. In cult we drink the very essence of our anxiety through and through. We are completely satiated, leaving no desire even minutely unsatisfied, because cult always gives more than we ask and even more than we could ever desire—infinitely so—and this fount of humanity will never be extinguished.

[On the Titanic Principle]

Image result for titans painting
Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem – The Fall of the Titans

The construction of instruments, the aspect that is not the fruit of thought, finds its proper root in another element of man, the natural forces. An extension of our body, this activity is in essence precisely that which our body has constructed. It is the swelling of the forces of nature. It is a blind, impulsive power that knows no restraint. Knows no restraints because it does not recognize them, and does not recognize them because it has no meaning within itself. It is the principle of disruption. It has been called the Dionysian principle. I prefer to call it more precisely, or at least, less ambiguously, the titanic principle. Titanic signifies that it rises up from the earth. The Titans are the offspring of the Earth. It is that which arises from, comes out from being, is an emanation from it. It is therefore impersonal. And it eternally lusts, eternally drives, eternally rebels. “We, the Titans, know nothing but the yoke of eternal guilt and the burning, malicious flame that greedily consumes all and the lustful misery of our Mother…

As the marine abyss generates waves, the titanic principle breaks itself eternally against the marine cliffs that hedge it around, in a continual act of rebellion. Its rebellion has no sense, because it is precisely the lack of meaning. The titanic can be oppressed, but not suppressed. It struggles without rest against every limit, against the νόμος;

[…]

This blind force in which the principle of all things resides is impersonal. It is an abyss that generates. It is blind impulse. This principle of generation can also be called generation—γένος—not in a historical-sociological sense, not as the sum of generations united by a shared origin, name, religion and domestic hearth, but in a purely metaphysical sense. It is the creative force of generation. Tyutchev understood this obscure foundation of being. In theological terms such a principle of actualization, this fullness of potentiality of being, is called οὐσια. Οὐσια, which is ἐσία from εἰμί, being. That impersonal thing that tries with its waves to shatter every barrier, every “restriction of the law” according to an expression of the Talmud, because the law is limitation and finitude, the definition of an end: “Until here and no further”. The limit of power: “Here you will come and here the pride of your waves with be broken” (Jb 38:11). The essence of potency, then, consists in its appearing never to exhaust its own being. The essence of the titanic consists in the impulse and struggle against limits. In its eruption it presses, raises itself, breaks itself against the bulwarks of the laws. “We hate the shackles of the heavenly order and under the roof of our nights we make to shake the foundations of the world’s peace, Prometheus!”

The person, or hypostatic meaning, the spirit, the intellect—and I intend all these in the same sense as classical antiquity and the Fathers—gives a measure to the impersonal potency of human nature, so that the activity of the person consists precisely in a measure, in a limitation and in placing definitions and boundaries. This activity of collection and limitation has been called the Apollonian principle. But I am not sure that it is a happy definition. The impersonal aspires to take the place of the person, because it does not recognize the person as a person, it cannot comprehend that the person is or what he is. The titanic imagines everything like itself, as an emanation from the Earth, as impersonal. In the limit placed by the person the titanic sees only the contrary of the titanic itself, and nothing else. It perceives the limit as impersonal potency, as an opposing potency. In meaning the impersonal sees only a contrary current. And it cannot think otherwise, being itself only impersonal. In this consists its blindness. Standing against it only raises the waves. As a mountain stream, the titanic rushes every toward the base. But try to place one finger in front of it and it will make the mountains crumble. There is no interior dam and so any exterior dame is useless.

[…]

The titanic principle is not sinful in itself, but a good: it is potency for life, it is existence itself. But it leads to sin. Always? No. The same titanic principle, this same force of nature is also actualized in good. The titanic possesses the potentiality for any sort of activity.

[….]

The insatiability and indestructibility of the titanic are imagines of the divine being. The negative infinity of human desire is an image of the positive infinity of the essence of God, just as Time is a moving image of Eternity. But God is not only ousia, but also hypostasis. He is not only Essence, but also Person. And also man is not only ousia, but also hypostasis, person. It is impossible to comprehend Christian anthropology without reflecting on these concepts of patristic theology. Man is not only hidden desire, but also luminous image. He is not only primordial impulse, but also his countenance which is manifested in reality, as appears clearly in the saints and artistically is shown in icons. [….] Man is not only existence but also justice. Not only life, but also truth. Not only potency but also intellect (nous). Not only flesh, but also spirit. In God is the harmony of ousia and hypostasis. The person of God fully manifests his Being, his Being is fully manifested by his Person. In man, on the other hand, the antinomy of these poles does not find harmony. The hidden substrate of existence rises against his countenance, demanding to be actualized. The countenance undergoes the agitation of primordial forces, seeking to draw from them the proper truth. In man two truths are present: the image of God and the likeness with God, the truth of being and the truth of meaning [….] Now in metaphysical analysis, we will call them precisely thus: truth of the reality of being and truth of meaning, truth of ousia and truth of hypostasis. They are two. And because they are not reconcilable, each one is opposed to the other.

The spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit. But these are both truths. Their unity cannot be attained through reciprocal mutual compromises. Infinite in their tension, both principles of the essence of man require an infinity of their own manifestation, the maximum of their own affirmation. Not in the limitation of the one by the other, but in the reciprocal acknowledgement of their indubitable truth—the truth of their infinity in likeness with God—their harmony can be realized, which is the integrity of man. Not immediately in themselves, but only in their absolute limits, exhausting their infinite possibility, can these two truths fully discover themselves. Any mid-way stop is a lie. The search for objective reality must be exhausted with the attainment of the ultimate divine essence. The search for meaning must be concluded with the attainment of the ultimate divine meaning. There is no other way to satisfy the two principles of man. Once these proper extremes have been reached in God through different paths, diverging entirely along the way, both principles of man arrive at the One, at He in Whom all the fullness of reality and all the fullness of meaning coexist from eternity: in God. In gnoseological terms, we would call this the unity of what is given and what is demonstrated, of intuition and deduction. In ontological terms, we will call it the Countenance of the Absolute. In concrete religious terms, this would be called the absolute point of the religious life, the absolute concreteness of cult. We have defined cult as an activity of reconciliation of meaning and reality. [….]

To satisfy his thirst for a reality without limits, in the expansion without limits of his own titanic foundation and in overcoming by his force every boundary, every norm, every meaning, man will eventually arrive at the Absolute Meaning, the Meaning of all meanings, the Face of all faces, the very foundation of Meaning as such. And once satiated, satiated forever in his triumph, he must seek to take possession of this also, to convince itself that the Supreme Meaning is Potency itself, the Supreme Potency, viz. that in whose name and through whose truth man has dashed aside all meanings. Arriving here, in its very expansion up to this Meaning which, conceding to it the gratification of absolute victory, reveals itself at the same time as absolute defeat—because the truth of Earth at its summit is nothing different from the truth of Heaven, but is the same truth–, man, the emotion of his titanic anger satiated, is illumined and pacified.

To satisfy his own need for unconditioned Truth, in liberating himself necessarily from every thing—of every being, of every concrete reality—he eventually arrives at the Absolute Reality, to the Reality of all realities, to the Being of all beings, to the foundational Reality itself. And thus, satisfied by its own ascent, it must also ask of this absolute Reality, who attests to its own right of existence, to convince itself that the Supreme Reality is Meaning itself, the Supreme Meaning, or that in whose name man has rejected everything that was given.