Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Role of the Aliquis

   The writings of Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), especially the passages quoted in Enchantments by Thomas King (1929-?), speak to the heart of the struggle of being a Christian in the world. As embodied spirits, human beings yearn for the Transcendent while at the same time exist in a world that, all too often, does not seem responsive or open to the presence of God. Teilhard de Chardin refers to God as “the Omega Point” which bears a strong resemblance to Paul Weiss’ understanding of God as Invitor. Thomas King’s assessment that one (namely the Aliquis for Robert J. McTeigue) must not approach this “Omega Point” from either the standpoint of Experience or Revelation which allows one to see that there is a possible harmony between the two instead of these avenues being at odds with each other.
   I think the sense of feeling caught between two absolutes tells much of the ongoing conflict between science and religion. (Teilhard, of course, tried to show that the two world complement each other.) Many people have felt caught by the oppositions, and some have alternated from one to the other, while others have decided their own integrity required that they make an either-or choice. Like Teilhard, I believe that both “absolutes” are necessary for humanity to be complete.1
   One important question is: Is the approach using both avenues possible? Using the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) as an example I intend to show that the answer is “yes”. Referring to Plato’s Poem of Parmenides Thomas King states, “The Stranger told of a conflict between Giants and Gods and this turns out to be the now familiar conflict between prisoners in the cave (Giants) and philosophers on high (Gods), it is the conflict between earth and heaven presented often in this study.” 2 The cave could be equated with the Humanized World and the philosophers on high with the Invitor (using Weiss’ terms). The tension between the Humanized World and the Invitor is common to human experience given the fact that we are embodied spirits, as stated earlier, and yearn for the Transcendent. The main challenge to Thomas King’s writings is that while this vertical tension is elaborated on, there is no mention of the horizontal tension between the avenues of the Rational and Value. For King, the Knight-Errant is the one who is able to “transcend” this vertical tension though Enchantment and the three baptisms (Fire, Water, and Spirit). The Baptism of Water allows the Knight-Errant to enter into the narrative which provides the enchantment. This enchantment is known as “first fervor” among newly baptized Christians. This “first fervor” draws the newly baptized into the Primal Invitingness and become transformed by the experience.
   Next is the Baptism of Fire. The new Christian is “body slammed by life” and experiences the tension between the Humanized World and the Inviter firsthand. All too often the narrative of enchantment is of little consolation because the new Christian says to him or herself, “It is not supposed to be like this.” The Invitor, who had “appeared” to be close enough to touch, now feels further away than ever. There is a temptation to believe that re-entering the journey to the Invitor is not worth the pain experienced in the tension. The Lord Jesus refers to such an experience in His parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-8).
   The word of God (represented by the seed) is the enchantment. The seed eaten by the birds can be understood as the enchantment which is not heard at all. The seed among the rocks expressed the point about the Baptism of Fire. This seed (experienced in “first fervor”) withers and dies to a lack of moisture. The moisture can be expressed in terms of the journey to the Invitor who nourishes and sustains the traveler. Being “body slammed by life” causes some to turn away from this source of moisture which makes the experience fruitless. There is one; however, who appears to be able to consistently make the journey either in spite of or because of the tension. This one is referred to as the Aliquis.
   Using St. Ignatius of Loyola as an example of the Aliquis, we can uncover what is necessary to approach the Invitor from both the avenue of the Rational and the avenue of Value. Unlike St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547), St. Ignatius did not leave the world in order to experience God in the monastery. Instead, he chose to serve God as a “contemplative-in-action” which expressed the tension between these two avenues. It is not my intention to portray St. Ignatius as one who was not “body slammed by life”. In fact, quite the opposite is true. As a true Knight-Errant, St. Ignatius was enchanted by what he read in the Lives of the Saints while recovering from his war wounds. This enchantment drew him into a relationship with the “Invitor” that he never experienced before and St. Ignatius left behind his previous goals in order to serve God.
   This was St. Ignatius’ “first fervor”, however, in no time at all the tension between the Rational and Value avenues impacted him. The four-way tension became so strong that at one point in his life, St. Ignatius actually contemplated suicide. These thoughts of suicide did not appear to stem from a sense of despair, but from his scruples regarding the tension he was experiencing. In his effort to serve his Crucified and Risen Lord, St. Ignatius is “body slammed by life”, but he realizes that God is “the pearl of great price” and his efforts would not go unrewarded.
   With St. Ignatius as our model and referencing the works of Paul Weiss and Thomas King, it has been shown that one can reach the Invitor from both avenues, rather than having to resort to an “either-or” approach.
   The following statement regarding the teachings of Teilhard de Chardin ties in quite well with the writings of Thomas King and conveys the importance of enchantment:
If God-Omega is the ultimate mover of evolution and so the ultimate principle of consciousness and personalization, it seems reasonable to suppose that God somehow manifested Himself to men in a way that is commensurate with their nature and with His own, in a personal way, by some sort of “word” or “speech”. Some divine revelation by God-as-personal to man-as-person seems probable.3
  The Baptism of Spirit can be understood in terms of this idea of God-as-personal offering His revelation to man-as-person. While this baptism is a profound experience, it does not replace the Baptism of Fire, but inspires those who have received to continue the journey since the reward more than makes up for the struggle.

End Notes

1. King, Thomas Enchantments: Religion and the Power of the Word (KC: Sheed & Ward, 1989), 218 
2. King, p. 171 
3. Faricy, Robert L. Teilhard de Chardin’s Theology of the Christian in the World (NY: Sheed & Ward, 1967), p. 78 

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