I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christopher Dawson, Pope Benedict and Erotic Life: A Hebrew Catholic Insight

Eros (son of Aphrodite) and Psyche by Marta Dahlig

 Recently I have discovered the writings of the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson. He writes about the spiritual and mystical Catholic as a man of eroticism, desire and passion like St Francis of Assisi and St Augustine. True erotic love is generous, warm hearted and giving rather than the self-absorbed parsimonious and economic cold "charity" of the bourgeois. However Dawson's warning is for all of us who have that hidden closed Pharisee or Bourgeois within us. He proclaims: "...The question of the bourgeois involves a real issue which Christians cannot afford to shirk. For it is difficult to deny that there is a fundamental disharmony between bourgeois and Christian civilization and between the mind of the bourgeois and the mind of Christ. But first let us admit that it is no use hunting for the bourgeois. For we are all more or less bourgeois and our civilization is bourgeois from top to bottom. Hence there can be no question of treating the bourgeois in the orthodox communist fashion as a gang of antisocial reptiles who can be exterminated summarily by the revolutionary proletariat; for in order to "liquidate" the bourgeoisie modern society would have to "liquidate" itself...". 

Dawson champions a Christian ethos that is creative, free, passionate and mystically erotic: "...Seen from this point of view, it is obvious that the Christian ethos is essentially antibourgeois, since it is an ethos of love. This is particularly obvious in the case of St. Francis and the mediaeval mystics, who appropriated to their use the phraseology of mediaeval erotic poetry and used the antibourgeois concepts of the chivalrous class-consciousness, such as "adel," "noble," and "gentile," in order to define the spiritual character of the true mystic..." 

Pope Benedict XVI wrote is his encyclical on love about eros and agape love as ascending and descending love. He quotes from his predecessor Pope Gregory the Great in regards to Jacob's ladder, Paul's ascent and descent to the Third Heaven and Moses' entry in and out of the Tabernacle as referring to this ascent and descent. He understands eros as the love that searches for God in mystical ascent and after this mystical love-making one descends to share that love with others. This whole process produces the agape love described in the Bible. The Pope associates the Greek agape with the Hebrew ahavah. He refers us to the Song of Songs. 

Pope Benedict also associates eros with the spousal love and union between Adam and Eve which would link eros with the Hebrew word daat (to know). Pope Benedict refers to God's passionate love for man. God is not the cold machine-like passionless Unmoved First mover of Greek philosophy. He is the God referred to by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as the most moved Mover- the God of the Biblical prophets. Pope Benedict writes: "...The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves her—but he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race. God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape..."

Benedict XVI would seem to agree with Rabbi Heschel. He writes: "...The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God's passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God's relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus adultery and prostitution. Here we find a specific reference—as we have seen—to the fertility cults and their abuse of eros, but also a description of the relationship of fidelity between Israel and her God. The history of the love-relationship between God and Israel consists, at the deepest level, in the fact that he gives her the Torah, thereby opening Israel's eyes to man's true nature and showing her the path leading to true humanism..." 

Pope Benedict then gives this a eucharistic dimension. He writes: "... Jesus gave this act of oblation an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He anticipated his death and resurrection by giving his disciples, in the bread and wine, his very self, his body and blood as the new manna (cf. Jn 6:31-33). The ancient world had dimly perceived that man's real food—what truly nourishes him as man—is ultimately the Logos, eternal wisdom: this same Logos now truly becomes food for us—as love. The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God's presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus' self-gift, sharing in his body and blood. The sacramental “mysticism”, grounded in God's condescension towards us, operates at a radically different level and lifts us to far greater heights than anything that any human mystical elevation could ever accomplish...".

Pope Benedict goes on to say: "...The transition which he makes from the Law and the Prophets to the twofold commandment of love of God and of neighbour, and his grounding the whole life of faith on this central precept, is not simply a matter of morality—something that could exist apart from and alongside faith in Christ and its sacramental re-actualization. Faith, worship and ethos are interwoven as a single reality which takes shape in our encounter with God's agape. Here the usual contraposition between worship and ethics simply falls apart. “Worship” itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn...". In another document he writes about this interwoven unity in regards to the Torah: "...For, to be sure, one cannot simply separate out universally valid moral principles and transitory ritual and legal norms without destroying the Torah itself, which is something integral, which owes its existence to God's address to Israel. The idea that, on the one hand, there are pure morals which are reasonable and universal, and on the other that there are rites that are conditioned by time and ultimately dispensable mistakes entirely the inner structure of the five books of Moses. "The Decalogue" as the core of the work of the law shows clearly enough that the worship of God is completely indivisible from morals, cult and ethos...". Pope Francis seems to be making the same point that we can't just focus on a few moral issues without reference and integration of the whole rich tapestry of Catholic Faith and teaching.

Dawson writes about this erotic type as open and the spiritual bourgeois as closed. "...But it is no less clear in the case of the Gospel itself. The spirit of the Gospel is eminently that of the "open" type which gives, asking nothing in return, and spends itself for others. It is essentially hostile to the spirit of calculation, the spirit of worldly prudence and above all to the spirit of religious self-seeking and self-satisfaction. For what is the Pharisee but a spiritual bourgeois, a typically "closed" nature, a man who applies the principle of calculation and gain not to economics but to religion itself, a hoarder of merits, who reckons his accounts with heaven as though God was his banker? It is against this "closed," self-sufficient moralist ethic that the fiercest denunciations of the Gospels are directed. Even the sinner who possesses a seed of generosity, a faculty of self-surrender, and an openess of spirit is nearer to the kingdom of heaven than the "righteous" Pharisee; for the soul that is closed to love is closed to grace...".

Pope Francis is fully in tune and accord with Dawson and Pope Benedict against these middle class and 'respectable' bourgeois who are morally and ethically obsessed in the manner of the 'closed' Pharisees of Jesus own time. These insights of course would be even greatly enhanced when read in light of Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body". These spiritual bourgeois shudder at the very mention of the words eros and erotic and cling to a disembodied spirituality that has more in common with Gnosticism rather than true Catholic erotic mysticism rooted in the human experience. It would seem Greek Philosophy (the preserve of an intellectual elite) separated itself from the passionate humanity of the Greek mythic characters (beloved and meaningful to the ordinary person). The Church took both and saw in them the hidden seeds or sparks of the Gospel which were then adapted and transformed in order to more fully understand and enculturate the Gospel into the Romano-Greek societies. 
Wings of Love by Stephen Pearson

In a sense the Logos (the bridegroom) and Sophia (the bride) can be perceived in seed form in the Greek mythic characters of Eros and Aphrodite.  In Jewish thought this is Tiferet as the Blessed Holy One of Israel seeking and uniting (cleaving) with Kneset Yisrael (Shekhinah/ Matronita). The erotic life according to Pope Benedict is this seeking and searching for the lover associated with the ascending eros (the male) and the attaining or receiving of eros (the female) and returning in order to share this love is the fullness of agape.This is the love feast of virginal nuptial unions in the Kingdom of the Divine Will. Pope Francis said just this week : "The Lord never says that the Kingdom of God is a show. It’s a party (festa or feast)! But it is different. And a party is beautiful, of course. A big party. And Heaven will be a party...“The Kingdom of God is not far from us. It’s close! This is one of its features: It’s close to us every day.”" This kingdom is violent or wild (see Matthew 11:12) just as C.S. Lewis states that Aslan is not a tame but a wild Lion and Pope Francis told the Youth at the World Youth Day in Brazil to go home and make a mess (a wild party) in their dioceses even if the Bishops and priests resist. The Jewish mystical tradition links mystically the wild beasts of Genesis 1 with the heavenly " four living creatures or beasts (chayot)". You can imagine my delight when I did an internet quiz on "What Yiddish word describes your personality?" and my result was 'Vilda Chaya' (wild beast). Wild beasts in nature live totally in accord with God's Will for them and thus are also a symbol of those who live in Divine Will.

 The servant of God Luisa Piccarreta stresses the concept of first desiring and having knowledge ( in Hebrew daat) of the Divine Will before one comes to fully live or dwell in Divine Will which is linked to feasting in Divine Will. The linking of daat (an experiential knowing) with eros demonstrates that this desiring and knowing of Divine Will is not some cold intellectual knowledge of religious facts and teaching but a journey into the true and beautiful passionate erotic life of the religious mystic in personal and intimate communion with the Divine Lover with whom we commune in our "Hours of the Passion". This is the agony and ecstasy of the joyful embracing of the Cross of the Messiah on the Via Dolorosa of our times.

Christopher Dawson sums up the call to today's young generation of Catholics. He states: "...There is always a temptation for religion to ally itself with the existing order, and if we today ally ourselves with the bourgeois because the enemies of the bourgeois are often also the enemies of the Church, we shall be repeating the mistake that the Gallican prelates made in the time of Louis XVIII. The Christian Church is the organ of the spirit, the predestined channel through which the salvific energy of divine love flows out and transforms humanity. But it depends on the Christians of a particular generation, both individually and corporately, whether this source of spiritual energy is brought into contact with the life of humanity and the needs of contemporary society. We can hoard our treasure, we can bury our talent in the ground like the man in the parable who thought that his master was an austere man and who feared to take risks. Or, on the other hand, we can choose the difficult and hazardous way of creative spiritual activity, which is the way of the saints..."