Christ is the eternal amalgam of matter and spirit as one. They hold and reveal one another. Wherever the human and the divine coexist, we have the Christ. Wherever the material and the spiritual coincide, we have the Christ. That includes the material world, the natural world, the animal world (including humans), and moves all the way to the elemental world, symbolized by bread and wine. The Eucharist just offers Christians the message in very condensed form so we can struggle with it in a specific and concrete way. We cannot think about such a universal truth logically; we can only slowly digest it! It is the spiritual version of healthy eating and nutrition.
Only gradually does the truth become believable. Finally, the Body of Christ is not out there or over there; it’s in you—it’s here and now and everywhere. The goal is then to move beyond yourself and recognize that what’s true in you is true in all others too. This was supposed to spark a political and social revolution. But Christians wasted centuries arguing about whether it could even be true and how it might be true. The orthodox insistence on “Real Presence” is merely taking the Mystery of Incarnation to its natural, full, and very good conclusion. Here I am quite happy to be traditionally Catholic. “There is only Christ, he is everything, and he is in everything,” Paul shouts (see Colossians 3:11). This is not pantheism; it is the much more subtle and subversive panentheism, or God in all things. (The only trouble with our Catholic belief in “transubstantiation” is that this explanation smacked of pantheism, whereas panentheism would have been much easier to defend and understand.)
You and I are living here in this ever-expanding universe. You and I are a part of this Christ Mystery without any choice on our part. We just are, whether we like it or not. It’s nothing we have to consciously believe, although that sure helps and seems to accelerate the enjoyment. Incarnation is first of all announcing an objective truth. If we consciously take this mystery as our worldview, it will create a deep contentment and inherent dignity in those who trust it. It gives us all significance and a sense of belonging as part of God’s Great Work—no exceptions. We are no longer alienated from God, others, or the universe. Everything belongs from the beginning. And it has always been pure, undeserved gift. The utter gratuity of it all is what we cannot comprehend!
Participating in Christ allows me to know that I don’t matter at all, and yet I matter intensely—at the same time! That’s the ultimate therapeutic healing. I’m just a little grain of sand in this giant, giant universe. I’m going to pass from this form in a little while, just like everyone else will. But I’m also a child of God and part of the eternal Body of Christ. I’m connected radically, inherently, intrinsically to the Center and to everything else. I call this “ontological holiness” as opposed to the moral holiness most of us were taught and inside of which no one really succeeds.
For all our technological breakthroughs, we’re still wrestling with the same basic questions as the Enlightenment philosophers.
Modernity cannot be identified with any particular technological or social breakthrough. Rather, it is a subjective condition, a feeling or an intuition that we are in some profound sense different from the people who lived before us.
Modern life, which we tend to think of as an accelerating series of gains in knowledge, wealth, and power over nature, is predicated on a loss: the loss of contact with the past. Depending on your point of view, this can be seen as either a disinheritance or an emancipation; much of modern politics is determined by which side you take on this question.
.. If we are looking for the real origins of the modern world, then, we have to look for the moment when that world was literally disoriented—stripped of its sense of direction. Heliocentrism, the doctrine that the earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa, was announced by Copernicus in 1543 and championed by Galileo in the early sixteen-hundreds.
.. Nietzsche is usually classified as a philosopher, Donne as a poet, and Galileo as a scientist. But one of the premises of Anthony Gottlieb’s new book, “The Dream of Enlightenment” (Liveright)—the second installment of his lucid, accessible history of Western philosophy—is that thought cannot be divided according to disciplines in this way.
.. “the history of philosophy is more the history of a sharply inquisitive cast of mind than the history of a sharply defined discipline.
.. in treating the philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it is conventional to cast it as a struggle between “rationalists” and “empiricists.” In this account, everyone from Descartes to Hume is engaged in one long battle over whether truth is to be found “in here,” through strictly logical reasoning on the model of mathematics, or “out there,” through observation of the world.
.. Immanuel Kant, in the late eighteenth century, when he figured out a way to show that both sides were correct, since all perception is necessarily filtered through the categories imposed by our minds.
.. it was because these times were so tumultuous that they were able to think in such a radical way.
Eras in which everything is up for grabs are very rare, and they seem to be highly productive for philosophy. As Gottlieb points out, much of the Western philosophy that still matters to us is the product of just two such eras: Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and Western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries A.D.
.. The discovery of America destroyed established geography, the Reformation destroyed the established Church, and astronomy destroyed the established cosmos. Everything that educated people believed about reality turned out to be an error or, worse, a lie.
.. Perhaps if it were somehow confirmed that, as some thinkers speculate, our universe is actually a simulation run on a computer by an unfathomably advanced intelligent civilization, we would feel an analogous sense of confusion and possibility.
.. the comic playwright Aristophanes, in his play “The Clouds,” portrayed Socrates as discussing questions such as whether a gnat buzzes through its nose or its anus.
.. the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were one of those rare periods when a lot of people cared, because their sense of the world was decomposing so dramatically. Literate people—and, thanks to the printing press, there were more of these than ever before—were eager to hear from philosophers who could give new answers to the ancient questions.
.. To Plato, this could be explained by the fact that the soul had a life before birth in which it learned mathematical truths, so that learning is really a form of remembering.
.. Begin, Descartes wrote, by doubting absolutely everything you know, think, and perceive; assume that it is all delusive, as in a dream. Does anything remain absolutely certain, even after this purge? One thing does, he argued: the fact of my consciousness. If I did not exist as a mind, there would be no “I” to be deceived by appearances. If I think, I must exist—Cogito ergo sum.
.. Descartes would have been disappointed to know that he gave rise to a whole new era of philosophy. He thought that there would not have to be any philosophy after him, since he had solved all the problems; only experimental research would remain.
.. Even today, cognitive scientists struggle to understand how consciousness arises from matter, though few doubt that it does.
.. There could not be two substances in the universe, Spinoza argued, one physical and the other divine, since this involved a logical contradiction. If God and Nature were distinct, then it must be the case that Nature had some qualities that God lacked, and the idea of a supreme being lacking anything was incoherent. It follows that God and Nature are just two names for the same thing, the Being that comprises everything that ever existed or ever will exist.
.. it says that we ourselves are part of God. On the other hand, an immanent God is not the kind of God who watches over the world, hears prayers, and punishes sinners.
.. He was also much bolder than other philosophers in stating what many of them surely believed, that the Bible was a human document that contained no privileged information about historical events or the nature of divinity. It should therefore be read and studied like any other book, with due attention to the motives of its authors and the errors that had crept in throughout years of transmission. This secular, rational approach to Scripture made Spinoza arguably the father of Biblical criticism.
.. A more unexpected corollary of Spinoza’s pantheism is that it eliminates the possibility of free will, or of contingency of any kind. After all, if everything is God, and God is absolute, then there is no way that anything could happen differently from the way it does.
.. Spinoza’s definition of “blessedness” was “the intellectual love of God,” in which the mind sees the necessity of everything in the world as simply and indubitably as Plato’s slave perceived the necessity of the Pythagorean theorem.
.. Democracy, he argued, was “of all forms of government the most natural, and the most consonant with individual liberty.” He insisted on libertas philosophandi, freedom of thought, and, while he granted that the state had the power to establish the outward forms of religious worship, he adamantly opposed any coercion of conscience. Each person had the right to decide what God was and how best to serve him. Taken together, these beliefs give Spinoza a claim to be considered the first great philosopher of liberal democracy.
.. a Warsaw intellectual who spends his life trying to achieve that superhuman serenity, only to fall humiliatingly in love with his nurse.
.. Where Descartes and Spinoza tried to come to grips with reality through purely deductive logic
.. Locke and Hume valued the evidence of the senses. Their empiricism is often taken to be a peculiarly British kind of virtue
.. We can, of course, trust that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, just as it did yesterday and every day before that. But we can’t prove that it will rise in the same way we can prove that two plus two is four.
.. In Hume’s view, Descartes’s program of demolishing the world through doubt and then rebuilding it through logic is bound to fail. Instead, we have to accept that our knowledge of the world is not absolute, as much as we might like it to be.
.. But we are still living with the problems that these thinkers formulated and tried to solve. We are never quite as modern as we think.