Metamorphoses of the Spirit: Incarnating the Christ
Many brilliant thinkers have impressed upon the ongoing dialogue of metamorphoses (see first part here). We find the beginnings of these dialogues clearly expressed in the pre-Socratics such as Heraclitus, who remarked, "no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man" and "nothing endures but change". Later, we find Socrates himself remarking, "change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality". Plato and Aristotle also had much to say on matters of the Spirit - so much so that many philosophers are still trying to figure out what exactly they said, but we can be confident they both perceived the metamorphic Spirit clearly. We will now jump way ahead to Hegel and observe the following in his Phenomenology of Spirit:
The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. The ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes these stages moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and constitutes thereby the life of the whole.
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)
Do not confuse Hegel's dense prosaic style for lack of insight. We find plenty of the latter in his writings. He introduced the framework of "evolution", as captured nicely in the above quote, more than half a century before Darwin. I would further argue that Hegel's thought marked the pinnacle of Western idealist philosophy up until the end of the 19th century. Right around the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, however, a plethora of thinkers appeared on the scene and engaged the metamorphic phenomenon in amazing detail. I cannot include them all in this essay, so below are a few who still stand out the most for me in my personal quest for knowledge and have provided me with the clearest and most comprehensive evidence and reasoning I have come across on this topic.
Before we embark on this metamorphic tour, I want to draw attention to two common threads you will see in the references. First is the thread of phenomenology - each person below started their analysis with the experiences and appearances which presented themselves in the world, rather than abstract intellectual concepts about the world which then serve as a basis for rational deductions. Whether dealing with patients, church-goers or academics, they always remained grounded to experience in their philosophical thought. Second is the thread of Christ. Not only did all of the below thinkers consider themselves as philosophizing from within the Christian perspective, they explicitly incorporated the phenomenon of the 'Christ events' into their philosophy and science.
PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN
Here we have a Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and a geologist (he was involved in the discovery of "Piltdown" and "Peking" man). Teilhard de Chardin developed the theological concept of the "Omega Point", where the living activities of all Being-beings spiral back into harmony and higher unification over time, in the integral process of their becoming.
We might say that the whole Omega Point of life lies in that verb - if not ultimately, at least essentially. Fuller being is closer union: such is the kernel and conclusion of this book. But let us emphasize the point: union increases only through an increase in consciousness, that is to say in vision. And that, doubtless, is why the history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen. After all, do we not judge the perfection of an animal, or the supremacy of a thinking being, by the penetration and synthetic power of their gaze? To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence. To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence. And this, in superior measure, is man's condition.
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (1930)
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
Most people would have no clue that Coleridge was a profound philosopher, despite him being one of the most profound in the modern era. He was philosophizing and poetizing early in the 19th century, with the likes of William Blake. His train of thought is not very easy to follow, which is why one is well-served to approach him from Owen Barfield's book on What Coleridge Thought. His rhythmic and witty style, however, is also unmatched in philosophy, the only other close contender being Nietzsche, and, for that reason alone, his philosophical writings are worthy of being read directly just as his profound poetry.
The former - that thinking is a property of matter under particular conditions - is, indeed, the assumption of materialism; a system which could not but be patronized by the philosopher, if only it actually performed what it promises. But how any affection from without can metamorphose itself into perception or will, the materialist has hitherto left, not only as incomprehensible as he found it, but has aggravated it into a comprehensible absurdity... Now in our immediate perception, it is not the mere power or act of the object, but the object itself, which is immediately present. We might indeed attempt to explain this result by a chain of deductions and conclusions; but that, first, the very faculty of deducing and concluding would equally demand an explanation; and secondly, that there exists in fact no such intermediation by logical notions, such as those of cause and effect. It is the object itself, not the product of a syllogism, which is present to our consciousness. Or we would explain this supervention of the object to the sensation, by a productive faculty set in motion by an impulse; still the transition, into the percipient, of the object itself, from which the impulse proceeded, assumes a power that can permeate and wholly possess the soul... And like a God by spiritual art, Be all in all, and all in every part. To make myself intelligible as far as my present subject requires, it will be sufficient to briefly observe - 1) That all association demands and presupposes the existence of the thoughts and images to be associated; 2) That the hypothesis of an external world exactly correspondent to those images of our own being, which alone we actually behold... removes all reality and immediateness of perception, and places us in a dream-world of phantoms and specters, the inexplicable swarm and equivocal generation of motions in our own brains; 3) That this hypothesis neither involves the explanation, nor precludes the necessity, of a mechanism and co-adequate forces in the percipient, which at the more than magic touch of the impulse from without is to create anew for itself the correspondent object. ... We might as well rationally chant the Brahim creed of the toirtoise that supported the bear, that supported the elephant, that supported the world, to the tune of "This is the house that Jack built."... It is a sophisma pigrum, and (as Bacon hath said) the arrogance of pusillanimity, which lifts up the idol of a mortal's fancy and commands us to fall down and worship it, as a work of divine wisdom, an ancile or palladium fallen from heaven. By the very same argument the supporters of the Ptolemaic system might have rebuffed the Newtonian, and pointing to the sky with self-complacent grin have appealed to common sense, whether the sun did not move and the earth stand still.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Biographia Literaria (1817)
Steiner is easily the most prolific and profound commentator on the metamorphoses of Spirit, writing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He picked up from where Hegel left off intellectually and built on that foundation a rigorous phenomenology, adding to that foundation a structure of 'higher cognition' including imagination, inspiration, and intuition. He used that Tri-Unity of cognition to philosophize directly from his experience and knowledge of 'higher worlds' (it must be noted, however, that he wrote The Philosophy of Freedom in 1895, which is strict phenomenology of the highest caliber). It is stunning for me to consider how many of his books, lectures and articles I could have chosen here to reflect his wisdom on matters of the Spirit. I finally settled on a lecture he gave comparing and contrasting the Spirit of ancient Greece with that of ancient Rome.
This distinction between Greece and Rome is especially revealed when we consider the Greek and Roman languages in their inward spiritual aspects. Men who have looked more deeply into these things as, for instance, Herbart in the nineteenth century, were anxious that secondary education should not be so overwhelmed by the waves of that powerful stream of Rome as it has become. He wanted college students to learn Greek first rather than the customary Latin because in his opinion Latin deadened a man's soul to the more inward and intimate working of the Greek idiom. Nothing has as yet come of his suggestion, but it is still an ideal held by many teachers with insight today. As you know, our age is not guided by insight and it thus must bear the karma of that failing. The Greek language repeatedly reveals a stream flowing behind the Greek spiritual life that comes from the old imaginations of the Egypto-Chaldean age. Our modern humanity is certainly not sensitive enough to feel this living element behind every Greek word, but for the Greek soul each word was rather an outer gesture of a full inner experience. Of course, imagination was no longer present to the same degree in the Greek as it was in the men of the Egypto-Chaldean age, but we can still detect in Greek words a strong feeling remaining from the inspiring force of the old imaginative ideation. An utter disregard of the mere word and a saturation of the language with soul can be felt in Greek. This inner soul element can still be sensed in those Greek words, which have been transmitted to us in the purest form. We see through the word; we do not just hear it but see through it to a soul process that takes place behind it. This comes to expression in the very sound and grammatical configurations of Greek. With the Roman-Latin language it is quite another thing. Even in Roman mythology you can recognize a characteristic of the Roman-Latin idiom. In Greek mythology with its traditional names for the gods you will find everywhere behind these divine names the most concrete events of the myth and, living with these events, the gods. The gods themselves stand before us and we watch them pass. They show themselves to us in flesh and blood, as it were. (I am speaking, of course, of the soul.) But the divine names of the Romans — Saturnus, Jupiter, etc. — have almost become abstract concepts. The same is true of the entire Roman-Latin idiom. Much of what lies behind the Greek language has been lost, and attention is now focused on the word as it sounds and forms itself grammatically in speech. One lives in the word. The direct soul element, the kernel, the inner feeling that we sense in Greek has been cooled in Latin. It was not necessary for the Roman to hear behind his language the echoing of the life of imagination. Indeed it was no longer there. Instead, the Roman needed passions and emotions to bring his word into movement because Latin is essentially logical. For it to be something more than a stream of cold logic, it had to be continually kindled anew by the emotional element that was always behind Roman life and history.
- Rudolf Steiner, Inner Impulses of Evolution: Lecture I (1916)
While Steiner focused much of his efforts on matters of the human Spirit, Jung honed in on matters of the human Soul. What is the difference? We could say the Spirit takes a more individualized journey 'up' into higher thought-realms, where we get a high-resolution 'bird's eye view' on all phenomenon of of daily and cultural experience, while the Soul journeys 'down' into the collective realm of 'lower' desires, instincts, and feelings to bring them into alignment with our Spirit. Jung, like Steiner, was a prolific thinker and produced much content on these matters. He also spent time living with indigenous groups in North America and Africa, who he referred to as "archaic" or "primitive" - terms which he did not intend in any derogatory way, as should be clear from the excerpt below.
Primitive Man is unpsychological. Psychic happenings take place outside him in an objective way. Even the things he dreams about seem to him real; that is his only reason for paying attention to dreams... God now speaks in dreams to the British, and not to the medicine-man of the Elgonyi, he told me, because it is the British who have the power. Dream activity had emigrated. Occasionally the souls of the natives emigrate, and the medicine-man catches them in cages as if they were birds; or strange souls immigrate and cause diseases. This projection of psychic happenings naturally gives rise to relations between men and men, or between men and animals or things, that to us are inconceivable. A white man shoots a crocodile. At once a crowd of people come running from the nearest village and excitedly demand compensation. They explain that the crocodile was a certain old woman in their village who had died at the moment when the shot was fired. The crocodile was obviously her bush-soul. Another man shot a leopard that was lying in wait for his cattle. Just then a woman died in a neighboring village. She and the leopard were one and the same. Levy-Bruhl has coined the expression participation mystique for these curious relationships. It seems to me that the word "mystical" is not well chosen. Primitive man does not see anything mystical in these matters, but considers them perfectly natural. It is only we who find anything strange about them, and the reason is that we seem to know nothing about such psychic phenomenon. In reality, however, they occur to us too, but we give them more civilized forms of expression. In daily life it happens all the time that we presume that the psychic processes of other people are the same as ours. We suppose that what is pleasing or desirable to us is the same to others, and that what seems bad to us must also seem bad to them. ... Equality before the law still represents a great human achievement; it has not yet been superseded. And we still attribute to "the other fellow" all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves. That is why we have to criticize and attack him. What happens in such a case, however, is that an inferior "soul" emigrates from one person to another. The world is still full of bêtes noirés and of scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves. ... The simple truth is that primitive man is somewhat more given to projection than we because of the undifferentiated state of his mind and his consequent inability to criticize himself. Everything to him is perfectly objective, and his language reflects this in a radical way... we often represent a person as a goose, a cow, a hen, a snake, an ox, or an ass. As uncomplimentary epithets these images are familiar to us all. But when primitive man attributes a bush-soul to a person, the poison of the moral verdict is absent. Archaic man is too naturalistic for that; he is too much impressed by things as they are to pass judgment readily... The theme of bush-soul, which seems so strange when we meet with it in primitive societies, has become with us, like so much else, a mere figure of speech. If we take our metaphors in a concrete way we return to a primitive point of view... since all unconscious psychic life is concrete and objective for archaic man, he supposed that a person describable as a leopard has the soul of a leopard. If the concretizing goes further, he assumes that such a soul lives in the bush in the form of a real leopard. These identifications, brought about by the projection of psychic happenings, create a world in which man is contained not only physically, but psychically as well. To a certain extent he coalesces with it... In the primitive world everything has psychic qualities. Everything is endowed with the elements of man's psyche - or let us say, of the human psyche, of the collective unconscious, for there is as yet no individual psychic life. Let us not forget, in this connection, that what the Christian sacrament of baptism purports to do is of the greatest importance for the psychic development of mankind. Baptism endows the human being with a unique soul... I mean the idea of baptism lifts a man out of his archaic identification with the world and changes him into a being who stands above it. The fact that mankind has risen to the level of this idea is baptism in the deepest sense, for it means the birth of spiritual man who transcends nature.
- Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933)
Prior to writing this essay, I was not aware that Gebser had befriended Jung and began teaching at Jung's institute for many years. He was also pals with Frederico Garcia Lorca and Pablo Picasso. Eventually he published his masterpiece on the metamorphoses (he called them "mutations") of the Spirit. It is by far the most detailed analysis of that process in a single work, taking us from the "archaic" mode of consciousness all the way through the "integral" mode (which we are now currently developing, according to Gebser). He surveys the metamorphoses which occurred in art, literature, philosophy, and science throughout all of these different time periods.
We have only one option: in examining the manifestations of our age, we must penetrate them with sufficient breadth and depth that we do not come under their demonic and destructive spell. We must not focus our view merely on these phenomena, but rather on the humus of the decaying world beneath, where the seedlings of the future are growing, immeasurable in their potential and vigor. Since our insight into the energies pressing towards development aids their unfolding, the seedlings and inceptive beginnings must be made visible and comprehensible. It will be our task to demonstrate that the first stirrings of the new can be found in all areas of human expression, and that they inherently share a common character. This demonstration can succeed only if we have certain knowledge about the manifestations of both our past and our present. Consequently, the task of the present work will be to work out the foundations of the past and present which are also the basis of the new consciousness and the new reality arising therefrom. It will be the task of the second part to define the new emergent consciousness structure to the extent that its inceptions are already visible. We shall therefore begin with the evidence and not with idealistic constructions; in the face of present-day weapons of annihilation, such constructions have less chance of survival than ever before. But as well shall see, weapons and nuclear fission are not the only realities to be dealt with; spiritual reality is its intensified form is also becoming effectual and real. This new spiritual reality is without question our only security that the threat of material destruction can be averted. Its realization alone seems able to guarantee man's continuing existence in the face of the powers of technology, rationality, and chaotic emotion. If our consciousness, that is, the individual person's awareness, vigilance, and clarity of vision, cannot master the new reality and make possible its realization, then the prophets of doom have been correct. Other alternatives are an illusion; consequently, great demands are places on us, and each one of us have been given a grave responsibility, not merely to survey but to actually traverse the path opening before us.
- Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin (1949)
Recall that we currently experience perceiving as a passive process flowing from the outside inwards and thinking as an active process flowing from the inside outwards. As we discussed in the first part of the essay and should be clear from the excerpts above, that relation between perceiving-thinking was not always the same. There was a time when both perceiving-thinking flowed inwards. Or, more accurately, the inward-outward distinction did not exist - all perceptions and thoughts were experienced as the world itself and the "ego" remained in nascent form - in Utero, so to speak. What is most interesting and what we need to pay close attention to is the time when a reversal occurred and the thoughts which once flowed inwards began flowing outwards.
We would naturally expect such a reversal to leave a large imprint on human history - one that can easily be excavated. Perhaps a series of events when the sovereign individual consciousness became the most important locus of the Spirit. Owen Barfield locates such a period of time from nothing other than the philological study of language meanings. No philosophical or theological assumptions are made. Although the following excerpt is rather lengthy, it perhaps provides more value in proportion to it's length than anything else I have ever read apart from the Biblical stories. It was extracted from Barfield's essay on Philology and the Incarnation.
It is impossible to give much attention to words and their meanings, and more especially the history of words and the history of the changes which those meanings have undergone, without making a number of interesting discoveries. Moreover, in my experience the discoveries one then makes are of a kind which it is impossible to make without being forced by them to reflect rather intensively on the whole nature of man and of the world in which he lives. Let me give you a very simple example. Has it ever occurred to you, I wonder, that the epithet charming, as people use the word today, has certain very odd features about it? In the first place, it is the present participle of a very active verb, namely the verb “to charm.” Grammatically, therefore, when we speak of an object, a garden, for instance, or a landscape, or perhaps a person, as “charming,” we make that object or person the subject of a verb which denotes an activity of some sort. That is what we do grammatically, but it is not at all, or it is only very rarely, what we mean semantically. When we speak, for instance, of a child as charming, we do not mean that the child himself is actually doing something. On the contrary, as soon as we notice that anyone, a child or a woman, is “charming” us in the verbal sense [in which case we rarely use the simple verb by itself, but we find some other expression such as “putting on charm” or “exerting charm” so as to ring out the notion of a willed activity, when that happens, the charmer who is charming in the verbal sense generally ceases to be charming in the adjectival sense! Well, you could say the same thing about the word enchanting. I mention these two words because they're good examples of a whole class, quite a noticeable group of words in our language which possess the same peculiarity. One has only to think of such words as depressing, interesting, amusing, entertaining, fascinating, and so on to realize that we tend to allude to qualitative manifestations in the world outside ourselves by describing the effect they have on us, rather than by attempting to denote the qualities themselves. The next thing that you find about this little group of words, if you go into the matter historically, is that these words, when used with these meanings, are all comparatively recent arrivals. Most of them first came into use in the eighteenth century — none of them is earlier than the seventeenth, I think. The kind of question one is led to ask is: is this just as accident, or has it any wider significance? That is just the kind of question which the philologist, the student of language in its historical aspect, is led on to ask himself. Is the appearance of these words at this comparatively late state just something that happened to happen, or is it a surface manifestation of deeper currents of some sort? So you have a linguistic habit, one must say, arising in the West in the course of the last few centuries, of describing or defining or denoting the outer world in terms, as it were, of the inner world of human feeling. ... Can we go still further and, at least in some cases, observe the transition taking place? The answer is that in some cases we can. You see, if in the case of any word of the immaterial language, we can lay our finger on a period in its history when the older material meaning had not yet evaporated, if I may put it that way, while the later immaterial meaning had already appeared, then we shall have located the transition itself. Now let me take one of the examples which Emerson himself gives, where he writes: “spirit means primarily wind.” I imagine that is as good an example as any you could choose of an immaterial meaning which was originally a material one. In this instance we have the best possible evidence that there was a particular time when the material meaning and the immaterial meaning still operated side by side in the same word. Not only so, but we know that that time was the time, about the beginning of our era, in which the New Testament was being written. Because in the third chapter of John's gospel you read in the account of our Lord's encounter with Nicodemus, first the words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” But in the Greek it is the same word pneuma that is used, whether it is wind or spirit that is being referred to. In rendering the two phrases, which occur in one and the same verse, “the wind bloweth where it listeth,” and “every one that is born of the Spirit,” the translator has to use two different words for what in the original text is one and the same word. The two meanings, the material and the immaterial, were present side by side, or mingled, in the one Greek word. ... So we see, reflected in language, a curiously equivocal relation between this outside world and the inner man, the self or ego of the human being which experiences it. But we see something more than that. If you survey that equivocal relation, as I've called it, historically, you can't fail to be struck by the fact that there has occurred in the course of ages a change of emphasis. One could really say a change in the center of gravity, a change of direction in the way in which this equivocal relation operates. Looking back into the past, we observe an external, an outer language, a material language referring to the outer world of nature, which becomes more and more used in such a way that it becomes an inner language or an immaterial language, as Bentham called it. And this is clearly a very important process, for it is only to the extent that we have a language in which to express a thing that we can really be said to be properly conscious of the thing at all. That may sound a controversial proposition, but I think it's an experience which we all have as children, when our learning to speak on the one hand, and on the other our whole awareness of our environment as a coherent and articulated world, increase side by side as correlatives to one another. What then was the thing of which this gradual historical development of an inner or immaterial language out of an outer or material language enabled mankind as a whole to become aware? The answer is clear, I think. It was none other than the existence, hitherto unsuspected, of an inner world in contradistinction to the outer one. In other words it was the existence of a man's self as a conscious individual being. Clearly, it was with the help of language — it was through the instrumentality of language — that individual men first began discovering themselves. But now, what do we imply when we say that something has been “discovered”? ... there is one case where we can be absolutely certain that the discovery was not of the first kind, and therefore was of the second kind [the discovery of something which did not exist until it was discovered]; and that is the discovery by man of his own existence as a self-conscious being. The reason is plain enough. It simply does not make sense to say that at one time self-consciousness was an existing fact which had not yet been discovered. You can be unaware of many things, but you cannot be unaware of being aware. In this case, therefore, the discovery and the birth of the thing discovered are one and the same event. ... I have, it is true, given only a single indication of this last, namely, a particular small group of words. There are, in fact, plenty of other indications of what I am saying, but it would take too long to go into them. I'm not, and I should like to make this very clear, attempting to argue a case. I can go no farther than stating it. Now, a change of direction is, by its very nature, a change which must have taken place at a definite point in time. The moment of change may be easily observable, may be easy to determine or locate, or it may not. In the case of a billiard ball hitting the cushion and rebounding, it is easy enough. In the case of a more complex phenomenon, it may be very much harder. The waves, for instance, keep on coming in even after the tide has turned. And an extra large wave may make us doubt whether it has turned yet after all. In the case of an infinitely more complex phenomenon, such as the evolution of human consciousness, it is even less likely that the actual moment of change will be easily observable. But that there was such a moment, even though we are unable to locate it exactly, is a conclusion to which reason itself compels us; for otherwise there could not have been a change of direction at all. Moreover, if the moment of change or reversal cannot be exactly pin-pointed, that does not mean that it cannot be placed at all. I don't know the exact moment at which the incoming tide changed to an outflowing one, but I do know that it is an outflowing one now, and that five minutes ago, let's say, it was still coming in. And now, if I may leave my analogy of the turning of the tide, and return to this change I have been speaking of, this reversal in the direction of man's relation to his environment, this change from a period, in which, with the help of language, man is drawing his self-consciousness, as it were, out of the world around him, to a period in which he is, again, with the help of language, in a position to give back to nature something of the treasure he once took from her, then a student of the history of word-meanings can certainly be as definite as this: he can say with confidence that the great change of direction took place between, well, let's say between the death of Alexander the Great and the birth of St. Augustine. Indeed, there are indications which would tempt him to be much more precise. And so, if it were possible [and of course it is not] that a man should have pursued the kind of studies I have been speaking of, without ever having read the gospels, or the epistles of St Paul, without ever having heard of Christianity, he would nevertheless be impelled by his reason to the conclusion that a crucial moment in the evolution of humanity must have occurred certainly during the seven or eight centuries on either side of the reign of Augustus and probably somewhere near the middle of that period. This, he would feel, from the whole course of his studies, was the moment at which the flow of the spiritual tide into the individual self was exhausted and the possibility of an outward flow began. This was the moment at which there was consummated that age-long process of contraction of the immaterial qualities of the cosmos into a human center, into an inner world, which had made possible the development of an immaterial language. This, therefore, was the moment in which his true selfhood, his spiritual selfhood, entered into the body of man. Casting about for a word to denote that moment, what one would he be likely to choose? I think he would be almost obliged to choose the word incarnation, the entering into the body, the entering into the flesh. ... Lastly, let me further suppose that, excited by what he had just heard, our student made further inquiries and learned that this man, so far from being a charlatan or lunatic, had long been acknowledged, even by those who regarded his claim to have come down from heaven as a delusion, as the nearest anyone had ever come to being a perfect man. What conclusion do you think our student would be likely to draw? Well, as I say, the supposition is an impossible one, but it is possible — I know because it happened in my own case — for a man to have been brought up in the belief, and to have taken it for granted, that the account given in the gospels of the birth and the resurrection of Christ is a noble fairy story with no more claim to historical accuracy than any other myth; and it is possible for such a man, after studying in depth the history of the growth of language, to look again at the New Testament and the literature and tradition that has grown up around it, and to accept [if you like, to be obliged to accept] the record as an historical fact, not because of the authority of the Church nor by any process of ratiocination such as C. S. Lewis has recorded in his own case, but rather because it fitted so inevitably with the other facts as he had already found them. Rather because he felt, in the utmost humility, that if he had never heard of it through the Scriptures, he would have been obliged to try his best to invent something like it as an hypothesis to save the appearances.
- Owen Barfield, Philology and the Incarnation (1976)
Below are verses from scripture which highlight the reversal of flow that Barfield described above. Specifically, they highlight the individual ego becoming responsible for its own progressive reintegration within the Divine. The verses are taken out of context because I am not attempting to argue on behalf of Christian theology per se, but rather, in the spirit of phenomenology, to explore how Jesus' sayings immanently present themselves to our Spirit. We must try hard to refrain from presupposing any theological dogma before reading the following verses. Although citations have been left out, one can easily find the wider context for each verse by searching for them.
"Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
"The Kingdom of God is within you."
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
"Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit."
"But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
"If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
"While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit."
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain."
"But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves."
Christ in Jesus also speaks of fulfilling the law and the prophets rather than abolishing them. Ideally, no pun intended, that should bring to mind the image of continuity and wholeness within the entire phenomenon of legal codes and traditions from ancient times to the present day. Further, it should be done so without losing the resolution of each living activity which instantiated specific aspects of those codes and traditions. It will help to consider Barfield's distinction between "images" and mere "things". The latter are only comprised of exterior surfaces of phenomenon, while the former reveals to us a multi-dimensional and multi-layered interiority undergirding the exterior surfaces. That interiority is the same as our own interiority - desires, feelings, thoughts, and the meaning of those thoughts. An image reveals itself and is connected to other images, as the name suggests, in our spiritual imagination.
As maddening as it may be for militant skeptics, what Christ revealed is not much different from what modern science has also revealed. Studies within physics and cognitive science have discovered and repeatedly verified that the world we sense arises from the individual who is consciously sensing it. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of such sciences would tell us that all qualities in the world we find familiar, i.e. colors, shapes, textures, smells, tastes, sounds, etc., are only manifested from within us and added to what is really 'out there'; that even the 'particles', 'waves', or 'strings' we always hear about are useful abstract fictions standing in for processes which do not 'physically' resemble any of those 'things' in the slightest.
The only difference between sound Christian theology and sound assessment of theoretical physics stems from the latter's refusal to acknowledge that what is standing 'behind' the appearances of the world is psychic in nature. What illuminates the shadows dancing in front of us on the cave wall is not more shadowy stuff, but the true Sources of Light. With the help of our imagination, we find that both spirituality and science are speaking of the human individual's participation in the co-creation of the phenomenal world. If we now to take a step back and survey the history of the metamorphic process, we may find it stunning how far humanity has gone to avoid the conclusions reached above. Whatever we have concluded is quickly questioned and just as quickly forgotten.
We hear a good deal about a ‘collective unconscious’; but no-one seems to have realised that the culmination of materialism simply forces the conclusion that the familiar world we all agree that we see and hear around us is – apart from its foundation in the mysterious ‘particles’ – a ‘collective conscious’. In other words, that we do still participate in the very structure of the world of nature; but we have lost the old awareness of our participation. Yet, if this conclusion is ever acknowledged, it is instantly forgotten again. The other sciences [apart from physics], for instance, ignore it. They go on dealing with the familiar world as though it were independent of our consciousness as the ‘particles’ – and only the particles – are in fact presumed to be. If they really took the findings of physics seriously, they would have to say: “That which creates all that is familiar and recognisable in the visible universe creates it through the eyes of man; that which creates all that is familiar and recognisable in the audible universe creates it through the ears of man.” And if they said this, then, when they looked within man, they would divine behind the mystery of his consciousness the infinite riches of the spiritual world which also created the universe. Instead, they forget. There is a time-lag between the progress of science and the habit of materialism which the Scientific Revolution in its earlier stages engendered. They go on treating nature as though it existed independently of man and without his participation. And so, when they look within man himself, they find, instead of riches – emptiness.
- Owen Barfield, Israel and the Michael Impulse (1956)
That is why we need to make a sustained effort to not only recall what was previously concluded, but to experience it as a living reality. In his latest Q&A session (May 2021), Jordan Peterson remarks, "the fundamental ethical responsibility for the individual is to become as Christ-like as possible", because "at a minimum, speaking psychologically, [that is the safest way to speak about such things], the figure of Christ is the ideal avatar of the Good in the Western imagination". Peterson is expressing the same essential idea of all our previously referenced thinkers, except those thinkers also explicitly added that what is "psychological" must be, by definition, ideal and ontological. And, therefore, we are striving to become Christ-like in the most real and concrete sense we can possibly imagine for ourselves.
The older type of consciousness, wherein man felt an inner unity between himself and nature, and a kind of coming and going between them, remains mirrored for us in the mythologies; and in the Greek myths especially we find this sense of inner unity with nature associated with a ready faculty for grasping in images the startling business of changing from one form into another. It is no accident that the richest storehouse of these myths which has survived to us is a poem by Ovid called the ‘Metamorphoses’. Notice, too, that it was during his stay in Italy, when he was dividing his time between the study of classical antiquities and observation of nature, that Goethe himself first fully realised the implications of his own view. ... Just as it was an event of immense importance when, in the eastern Mediterranean, before and after the birth of Christ, there occurred a certain fusion of the Greek and Hebrew worlds of thought, so I venture to see in Goethe the herald of a new and equally intimate fusion of modern thought with – no, not with Greek mythology, but with what lay beneath it. I mean a unitary consciousness older and more living than anything that still lingered in the Greek mind and the Greek language of New Testament days. For by that time Greece in her philosophy had herself long felt the impact of the dualism. And just as at that time the Jew, who was directed to look, and did look, for the law of God inside himself, instead of without as formerly, found there something very different from Ten Commandments inscribed on two Stone Tables; so I believe that Goethe’s message to us is this: that if, instead of looking at nature only outwardly, only through the senses, as formerly, we begin to look for her at the same time within ourselves, then we shall find something very different from a couple of laws of thermodynamics and a struggle for existence. And yet as in the one case, so in the other, what we shall find will not be a denial of the laws of nature as we know them, but their fulfilment.
- Owen Barfield, Goethe and Evolution (1949)
That idea is simultaneously simple, straightforward and shocking to the perspective of our limited ego. It places a cross on our shoulders that is seemingly impossible to carry. Here is when the dualist Christian chimes in to say, "it is not only seemingly impossible, but actually impossible, and that is why we remain forever dependent on God's grace". Yet, if our broad overview through the metamorphoses of Spirit has revealed to us anything so far, it is that our cross is only ours to bear right now; that the natural metamorphic process has provided us with the blueprints and tools to build back our Temple, and it is only left for us to begin building it up on the solid rock so that it does not fall when the floods come.
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you... whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
- Mark 7:7,12
The third and final part of this essay will explore the reason why our spiritual activity, as it has metamorphosed over the centuries, is connected to the Divine. We will see how anyone reading these words right now can begin exploring these connective relationships of the Spirit at any given time they choose. We all have a choice to make and let us remain honest with ourselves when doing so, because the stakes remain very high. Only then can we begin contemplating how it is that Saint Paul remarked so many centuries ago, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." And then can we also begin taking seriously what Jesus prayed to his disciples at the Last Supper.
"You, Father, are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one - I in them and You in me - that they may be perfectly united..." - John 17:21-23