The Concretion of the Spiritual: A Summation
In one of his prefaces to The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser acknowledges Sri Aurobindo and his “reformed Hinduism”. What Gebser doesn’t fully acknowledge is his own approach as being “reformed Catholicism”, although that can be inferred from a few of his statements in the second half of the book (his apologia for, and defence of, the Christian world outlook as well as his preference for “the Mediterranean way of life”). Most of Gebser’s innovations or insights actually have precedents in theology.
This may come as a complete surprise to fans of Gebser’s work, but Gebser’s credentials as an “apocalyptic thinker” (as well as Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and grammatical method) are owing to an allegiance to a reformed Catholicism. Also, when he speaks of a new “universal way of looking at things”, that is the very meaning of the word “catholic” (cata-holon).
We need to be very clear on this, for what Gebser means by the “concretion of the spiritual” is “secularisation”.
My last few posts addressing Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Cross of Reality” and “grammatical method”, have been attempts to put flesh on the skeleton structure of the Cross of Reality, which is a kind of new “scaffold” that is intended to replace the Newtonian “Frame of the World”. It should be appreciated in that sense. It was Rosenstock-Huessy’s very ambitious attempt to displace the Newtonian-Cartesian “Frame of the World” (paradigm, framework) with a new “Frame of the World” — a quadrilateral logic. And that also accounts for his full frontal attack on the Newtonian-Cartesian model in his essay “Farewell to Descartes“. It’s a very important essay. It’s very “militant”. It’s a call to take up arms against the “deficient mental-rational” in Gebser’s sense, and every student of Gebser should familiarise themselves with it.
Gebser was also acutely aware that his powerful intuitions and insights into consciousness, history, and civilisations as “structures of consciousness” lacked a robust methodology. He looked forward to a champion who would provide that methodology to justify his intuitions, and especially of the “integral consciousness.” The Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm was not adequate to the task (in that sense, then, “deficient” also).
I’m persuaded that Rosenstock-Huessy’s grammatical method and Cross of Reality provide that rigorous methodology. Oddly, even though both men wrote principally in German, were contemporaries, and even died in the same year (1973) they appeared not to know of each other’s work (except for one very brief footnote referencing Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Age of the Church in Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin).
My last few posts, therefore, have been an experiment in the “concretion of the spiritual” by also attempting to demonstrate where Rosenstock’s “metanoia” or “New Mind” and Gebser’s “integral consciousness” intersect and illuminate each other, and in much broader terms the meaning of the “spiritual” and the “concretion of the spiritual”. I hope I’ve shown that the Cross of Reality is truly the “open sesame” to the spiritual life of humankind, as Rosenstock-Huessy claimed for it, and as it is revealed in William Blake (the fourfold vision), the Dance of Shiva (Hinduism), the “Guardians of the Four Directions” (Buddhism), in Rumi’s “four nafs” (“animal souls”, Islam and the Kaa’ba), and, of course, in the Sacred Hoop or Medicine Wheel (Lakota, et alia. And in a future post, I’ll demonstrate how the aboriginal “Sweat Lodge” is also a concretion of the spiritual and of the Cross of Reality, as a performance of the Sacred Hoop).
I have claimed that both Jean Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy are “catholic thinkers”, inasmuch as they are also “apocalyptic thinkers” or “time thinkers”. Rosenstock-Huessy is more explicit in acknowledging that influence in his writings. Both also wrestled with Nietzsche and with Nietzsche’s announcement of the “death of God” and the attendant problem of nihilism, and of Nietzsche’s forecast of a human tragedy of “two centuries of nihilism”. Incipit tragoedia, Nietzsche once wrote towards the end of his productive life — “the tragedy begins”. And indeed, it did. For him and for us as well.
So, again, one can’t fully appreciate the meaning of Gebser or Rosenstock-Huessy without appreciating the meaning of Nietzsche, too. The “revaluation of values” that Nietzsche advocated as a corrective to nihilism (or “devaluation of values”) is what Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy are about. I think I’ve demonstrated that “devaluation of values” and the problem of nihlism pretty thoroughly and convincingly in earlier posts in The Chrysalis. Certainly in the former Dark Age Blog. The Chrysalis is also an experiment from beginning to end in the “revaluation of values” and in “the concretion of the spiritual”. But I also consider this “trans-Christian”, if you will. And Nietzsche’s philosophy is also shot through with Christian themes. That’s what I’ve called “the irony of Nietzsche”. Nietzsche’s philosophy is not so much “anti-Christ” as it is “trans-Christian”, and what I mean by that is somewhat similar to what the Buddha said about his dharma in comparing it to a raft. Once you “cross over”, what need to do you have for the raft? Even the dharma is impermanent, and is meant to serve only as a springboard or a raft.
Once you really know, you have no need for mere belief. That is to say, “the truth that sets free” and the “facts of the matter” differ as knowledge and belief differ. “Same but different” as it were. “Nirvana and samsara are the same”, and yet not the same at all. The “integral consciousness” is also “trans-Christian” in the same sense, and is largely what people are trying to articulate in a fumbling sort of way when they say that “I’m spiritual, but not religious”. But what that means is, the secularisation of the spiritual. Nietzsche’s “revaluation of values” actually has the same meaning as the term “leavening” used in the New Testament. Seeding the secular order with the kiss of the Infinite and Eternal. Or, as William Blake put it, “eternity is in love with the productions of time”.
No one was truer to the message of Jesus than Nietzsche. But in following that faith to its ultimate logic, he transcended Christianity itself. His amorality in that respect is exactly equivalent to that enigmatic saying in Buddhism: “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”.
The real test of a new consciousness structure lies in the detection and perception of surprising, startling and oftentimes delightfully meaningful relationships and connections between things that were not perceived before, and were perhaps even seen as absolute “opposites”. Nietzsche’s philosophy is likewise not “anti-Christ”. It’s trans-Christian, and in that sense Nietzsche was a prophet of the integral consciousness, a kind of “John the Baptist” to the trans-Christianity of Jean Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy. That’s what is means to be areligious.
Now, by “concretion of the spiritual” we mean “actualisation” or “realisation”. They are equivalent terms. By this is meant also “secularisation of the spiritual”. I have already pointed out how the four principle political ideologies of our time in terms of liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism all started life as theological controversies and sectarianisms of the Protestant Reformation, as various interpretations of the four Gospels of the New Testament — Mark, Matthew, Luke or John. The end of Christendom was the fracture and disintegration of the Cross — of the four arms of the Christian crucifix. That’s reflected in the four European Revolutions — the Lutheran or German Revolution, the English “Glorious Revolution”, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. Their theological precedents are all very apparent to anyone who cares to trace their histories. What we today call “conservatives” and “liberals” were originally referred to as “primitivists” and “libertines” in relation to their interpretation of the Gospels and the Church.
The “death of God” began with the dissolution of the cross as loss of the vital centre, ie “the Word”. Marx (who was a Jewish convert to Lutheranism by the way) in trying to make socialism “scientific” was working with raw material that had its precedents in theology. Making socialism “scientific” meant, really, secularisation of the theological category. The “comrade” of communism had its precedent in the communion of Catholicism, and in the Gospel where Jesus announces “no longer do I call you servants, but friends”. The precedent for Marx was Luther. When Luther dissolved the monasteries, and sent thousands of monks and nuns into the secular world to make their way, they “leavened” or seeded the secular order with their theological convictions. Before there was “scientific socialism” there was “the social gospel“.
The disintegration of the crucifix and of “the Word on the Cross” coincided with the transition of the name — from Christendom to “Europe”. “Europe” was the pagan Greek name for the West. That also coincided with the displacement of the crucifix symbol by the now familiar “illuminati” symbol or symbol of freemasonry, the pyramid surmounted by an “all-seeing eye”. The “all-seeing eye” of the rational intellect replaced the symbol of “God on the Cross”
This “all-seeing eye” is an interpretation of “the Logos” (hence “logic” or our various -ologies). The Logos is no longer “the vital centre” or integrating and unifying “Word on the Cross”, but a specialisation of one arm of the cross of reality.
One of the main influences on Gebser’s thinking was the University of Munich’s Catholic theologian Romano Guardini. Guardini’s book The End of the Modern World not only informs much of Gebser’s thinking, but also has influenced the present Pope. Guardini is the surprising common link between the Pope’s Laudato Si and Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin. And it’s very significant indeed that Pope Francis opens his encyclical not with an appeal only to the Catholic world, but beyond that and inclusive of other faiths and the secular order. That’s “catholicism” in its authentic sense as “universal”. And in that sense, Laudato Si is not a “religious” text at all. It is also an experiment in “the concretion of the spiritual”.
This is Gebser’s “double-movement” of the times. Secularisation or “concretion” brings with it the danger of corruption. At the same time, it holds the promise of spiritualisation of the corrupted. This is what Gebser means by “transparency of the world” or “diaphaneity”. This “concretion” is the danger recognised by what I call “Khayyam’s Caution” — that “only a hair separates the false from the true”. In effect, the secularisation of the spiritual, and the attendant dangers of that, is what is meant in the New Testament as “throwing pearls before swine”, but also “do not hide your light under a bushel basket”.
Healing the wounded cross, and restoring the Word or Logos to the centre of that cross — that’s almost entirely what Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy are about, and which makes them such (small-c) “catholic thinkers”. And yet, because it is “universal” in that sense, it is also “trans-Christian”. It does not depend upon the authority of Church or Bible for its validity, but on a genuine insight into the more universal meaning of the cross and “the Word on the Cross”, which, as we have seen, is also universally represented in the sacred symbols of humankind.