JB, I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one, or maybe I'm not understanding you. My response to what you've written above is that:
a. Rahner's understanding of contemplation is (with the exception of his reference to acquired contemplation) sanjuanist. Quoting his dictionary (glossary) again, here, it is . . . infused contemplation, in which God gratuitously makes himself known to the individual. The latter is true contemplation, directly engaging man in the transcendence that is natural to him but elevated by grace . . . So I'm not seeing that "wider lens" in Rahner to which you keep alluding.
b. You note: The sanjuanist account addresses a narrower category of experiences that is restricted to those found in our saints.
- Not only to our saints but to people of any religion to whom God gifts with this grace. I don't think St. John would have a problem saying that Jews, Hindus, Moslems, etc. experience infused contemplation.
Now my whole point in all this is that the term, "infused contemplation," has a very specific use in the Christian tradition, and I don't see Merton or Rahner broadening this in any way. Whatever else they might say about "contemplation," they mean by "infused contemplation" what John of the Cross meant. Barring a typo by Rohr, that's not what he seems to be saying. Perhaps I was wrong to call him confused -- I'll grant you that one. The piece has a number of problems, however.
My other major point is that once one leaves the "narrow" context implied by "infused" contemplation, one is most likely referring to metaphysical, aesthetic, natural or other types of contemplations. I don't have a problem using the term "contemplation" with regard to those experiences, but I do have a problem using "infused" contemplation to designate them. I don't think Rahner nor Merton does this, but I do see Rohr doing so.
Now, as Bill O'Reilly is fond of saying, you can have the last word.
Perhaps this is partly a simple misunderstanding. Again, I am not setting the sanjuanist and Rahnerian accounts in anyway over against. Nor am I suggesting that St. John would have a problem saying the above. And I am exceedingly pleased to see you say that. I am simply saying that he did not say the above, that he was not (consciously or explicitly) talking about the above, was not, as I said, addressing that per se. St. John wasn't theologizing about matters of implicit faith and unthematic grace, at least not explicitly (although he may well have been an anonymous Rahnerian). Rahner, on the other hand, DID address those things, did talk about them. He did explcitly invite us to look at them, as did Merton, as they occur in other traditions.
I am not saying that Rahner or Merton or others are changing sanjuanist theology, if that's how you took it, but I am suggesting that they have expanded our horizons with regard to where and in whom we might see the grace of infused contemplation.
Clearly, Merton advanced our understanding of contemplation and invited us to look at contemplation as a vocation for all. Clearly, Rahner advanced our self-understanding from an exclusivistic ecclesiocentrism to an inclusivistic Christocentrism. Clearly, without the interreligious dialogue of these men and others like them, no one would be affirming either Eastern practices or contemporary contemplative prayer forms as providential gifts of the Holy Spirit. Can we call them infused? Can we call them contemplation? Apparently, we do disagree, here, and that's okay.
Yes, you do see Rohr doing so. And this is where we can indeed agree to disagree. For I do see Rahner doing this also, although one might have to examine more than one quote or dictionary entry. To wit:
I think the way to reconcile the apparent differences is this. The old sanjuanist usage of the term infused contemplation described an experience that was 1) infused 2) contemplation and 3) extraordinarily FULL. This Rahnerian usage, as explicated by Fr. Larkin, describes experiences that are 1) infused 2) contemplation and 3) of all manner of manifestations of varying degrees.
In this sense, what really distinguishes an experience as infused contemplation in the classical, sanjuanist sense is NOT that it is infused or not but whether it is extraordinarily FULL or not.
So, we can all affirm that there is this experience that differs in degree and that St. John highly nuanced and well-described it. And he called this infused contemplation. But, that's unfortunate in the same way that calling both Cardinals and Scarlet Tanagers red birds does not serve to properly and diagnostically distinguish the two. The term "Infused" is not what diagnostically sets apart the experience St. John wrote extensively about, for other experiences are also infused. The term "contemplation" is not what diagnostically sets apart the experience either, for other experiences are contemplation. Rather, the DEGREE of fullness is what diagnostically distinguishes the sanjuanist description.
Now, there is a practical consideration for our contemporary contemplative prayer forms, broadly considered, and it is whether or not, in Fr. Larkin's words, they teach the person to be appropriately active in their prayer. I think, with Larkin, that most do. Might Tolle, however, have a quietest bent? That'll take a closer examination and can be discussed on that thread. I'll close with a quote of my earlier correspondence to Phil:
Who is O'Reilly?
The auto-parts franchise, of course.
Thanks for your update and clarification. Of course I would recognize the possibility of infused contemplation in other religions. Inclusivist Christology certainly allows for this possibility, which we see realized in countless mystics in other religions.
I see the distinctions you're making, only you're using Larkin's interpretation of Rahner and have seemingly ignored the quote I provided from Rahner's own glossary, where he spoke of contemplation as "acquired" or "infused," the latter referring to "true contemplation." Of course, all contemplation -- all existence! -- is "infused" in one dictionary meaning of the term. Nevertheless, the term, "infused contemplation" has come to have a meaning that is well-understood and broadly agreed upon in the Church, especially in comparison with other kinds of prayer experiences. Every writer on Christian contemplative spirituality uses "infused contemplation" in a sanjuanist sense; no one that I've read (well, maybe Richard Rohr) means it any other way. It's sort of like when, years ago, the NIH wanted to change the term "alcoholism" to Jellinek's Disease. That didn't last long. What usually happened was: "Jellinek's Disease," you know: "alcoholism." Same goes for "infused contemplation," which didn't neglect the issue of "levels of fullness" in its recognition of different levels of contemplative prayer. The term, "infused contemplation" was to contrast with "acquired" vs. other types such as "natural," "metaphysical" and "aesthetic." To say that these are all "infused" contributes nothing to the discussion, imo. Might as well say they are all "natural" because they happen to creatures in nature, or that they are all "metaphysical" because they all happen to beings, or they are all aesthetic because they communicate beauty and value, in some way. Too much of this nit-picking and words/phrases tend to become meaningless and communication impossible.
If one wants to use the term "infused contemplation" to mean something other than what pretty much everyone else means by it, then they can surely expect to be misunderstood. That's been my main point, and I'm stickin' with it.
I have no problem with your points about word usage, in general, or with your observation that Rohr was confusing and invited misunderstanding. My point, all along, and I'm sticking with it, was that, given Larkin's interpretation of Rahner, Rohr's unclear usage then became clear to me. I acknowledged that Rohr might be confusing but maintained that he was not confused.
I would not characterize Larkin's article that way at all. The confusion is rooted, as I pointed out, in the fact that people understandably have misunderstood the classical categories in terms of kinds and not degrees, with respect to origins and not objects, and, resultingly, miss seeing the Holy Spirit's movements in other places and peoples. That's neither trivial nor nitpicking.
Et bien. Let's give the "infused contemplation"/Rohr article discussion a rest, then. Maybe Rohr will clarify things more with another article or in his new book.
Sorry for the delay. I was Gustaved and am about to get Iked, but I'll give you a head start based on what Fr. Richard told me. With this glossary, below, maybe you can more precisely map his terminology and better discern his meaning in the Tolle article:
1) Contemplation is broadly conceived, not narrowly.
2) Everything is supernatural and at God's disposal. Natural and supernatural comprise a distinction without a difference (Rahner).
3) The Holy Spirit dwells in all (infused) and is experienced by all (naturally), not necessarily consciously but certainly efficaciously, if we don't oppose or resist it (Rahner). It's cultivated through contemplative practices or natural mysticism.
4) Asceticisms, teachings, disciplines, practices, exercises and such can build on this divine indwelling bringing it to new levels of freedom and praise and conscious choice, hence acquired and theological.
5) Rohr bases his understanding of these spiritual realities, in part, on Rahner. Please understand, however, that this is not the same thing as saying that he literally employs Rahner's specific jargon, which I have no reason to think is not, itself, conventional. (I say this because, notwithstanding my several acknowledgments that Rohr's usage was confusing, still, it seems that my explications in the posts above somehow continued to be mistaken for a defense of Rohr's idiosyncratic terminology rather than merely an explanation of same. Thanks for your forbearance --- and longsuffering --- with my own inartful expressions.)
6) There is a natural contemplation (natural with respect to object and not origin and also where one is cognizant of the divine indwelling) that Merton spoke of and which his biographer described as infused, truly mystical, but this was not under consideration by Rohr, although I had earlier thought that it might have been. At any rate, this is not exactly the same as Underhill's first type but more in the theological vein.
7) That's all that comes to mind.
I hope this helps.
I will provide, below, a quote and comment on what I think Rohr refers to in Underhill. First, let me further explicate my Merton reference above.
I first thought that Rohr might have been speaking of Merton's teaching on Maximus regarding natural contemplation. It is the physike of the Patristics and is kataphatic and mystical. Evagrius treated it as a developmental (serial) stage in theosis. Maximus saw it more as a parallel experience in which we all properly balance our practical and contemplative approaches. Since Rohr had mentioned Orthodoxy, I thought he might have been talking about this. As we know now, he was, rather, invoking his Ranhnerian hermeneutic. As for the natural contemplation of Evagrius or of Maximus, its departure point is theological, so it doesn't really play into this Tolle consideration, at least not directly.
Underhill, regarding nature, discusses what mysticism and vitalism have in common, then goes on to show how the mystics surpass mere vitalistic intuitions, such as the pantheists, for example. But she distinguishes further what she calls a full mystic consciousness, which goes beyond the mere immanentist intuitions to apprehend the utterly transcendent. Prior to that consideration, she discuses the different conceptions of being --- naturalism, idealism, skepticism, and the religious notion that the suprasensible is important and real.
Underhill says that the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks, tastes and sees. All mystics are mystical philosophers but not all mystical philosophers are mystics. So, Underhill's "Point of departure" chapter seems metaphysical. The chapter on vitalism seems geared toward a contemplative stance toward nature that goes through a sort of evolution of mystic consciousness, from a mere vitalist philosophy to a more robust immanentism to the apprehension of the transcendent.
In her consideration of the theology of mysticism, she affirms the inchoate religious forms and intuitions of other traditions even as she exults our incarnational understanding: "It is true that the differentia which mark off Christianity from all other religions are strange and poignant: but these very differentia make of it the most perfect of settings for the mystic life. Its note of close intimacy, of direct and personal contact with a spiritual reality given here and now�its astonishing combination of splendour and simplicity, of the sacramental and transcendent�all these things minister to the needs of the mystical type. Hence the Christian system, or some colourable imitation of it, has been found essential by almost all the great mystics of the West."
So, as I read it, Tolle does address what Underhill considers the metaphysical departure point. He also could be addressing nature as a departure point as it culminates in the immanentist intuitions. Others could address even the more theological departure point, at least to the extent there is a devotional component as in Bhakti, but might only be addressing what are inchoate formulations and imitations that only hint at our more robustly incarnational understandings. I haven't picked up Tolle in awhile and so don't know if he goes there, but I don't see why he would not, in principle. As I observed before, he seems mostly focused on fostering affective, moral and social conversions while being a tad cavalier about doctrinal differences. I'm not saying he doesn't foster crtitical thinking and intellectual conversion, necessarily, but that he glosses over, too easily, our differentia. Oh well, I get just as easily dismayed by folks on the opposite extreme who bog down in mythic membership mindsets.
So, when I ascribed Rahnerian lenses (glossary) to such as Rohr and Larkin, I was not so very narrowly conceiving such lenses in terms of awareness of some isolated dictionary entry as it might elucidate who employs idiosyncratic vs conventional usages, but was thinking, instead, of the familiarity that comes from a much more depthful critical scholarship, which is to say, one that has engaged transcendental Thomism, in general, and Rahner�s entire life�s work, in particular, as it might shed light on comparative religion and foster interreligious dialogue.
Whether she is talking about metaphysical mysticism or contemplation of the natural world or even theological contemplation, all distinguished by their departure points (or what I would call objects), Underhill seems to speak in terms of an evolution of mystical consciousness, recognizing in other traditions inchoate forms and imitations of what we most fully experience in the Western Christian tradition with our incarnational stance. All of those departure points seem to be, in principle, accessible to all. They can all lead to very full experiences of the divine indwelling, even if unconsciously so. Our Christian formation, it would seem, would help us move more swiftly and with less hindrance on this race set before us and, so, it is out of compassion for all and in solidarity with all that we share this Good News. Even as Right Speech may compel us to speak the truth as we best know it and so bring others to a more conscious competence, still, there is something poignantly beautiful in unconscious competence whenever we see it in play in our humanity, n'est pas?
BTW, I continue to pursue this because I feel it makes for a rich reflection, deepening our self-understanding as well as our appreciation for other hermeneutics.
Johnboy, thanks for hanging in with the discussion. I agree that the exchange makes for a rich reflection, deepening our self-understanding as well as our appreciation for other hermeneutics.
I just have a little time, as there are more appointments today, but I'd like to reply to your post where you enumerate something of a glossary. A few brief comments:
2) Everything is supernatural and at God's disposal. Natural and supernatural comprise a distinction without a difference (Rahner).
Did Rahner really say that anywhere? What would this mean? Traditionally (as you know) the term "supernatural" has been applied to God and the divine attributes, so there's a sense in which it sounds like this is saying that everything is God. At God's disposal, yes, of course, but that's not the same thing at all. Saying that everything is "supernatural" suggests an ontological perspective, especially when qualified with Natural and supernatural comprise a distinction without a difference. The difference between natural and supernatural is quantum, to my thinking. Maybe I'm not using the terminology the way you intend, however.
3) The Holy Spirit dwells in all (infused) and is experienced by all (naturally), not necessarily consciously but certainly efficaciously, if we don't oppose or resist it (Rahner). It's cultivated through contemplative practices or natural mysticism.
I don't know; does the Holy Spirit dwell in all? I believe She is present-to all, but the divine indwelling is another matter. And even if one grants this universal indwelling, it doesn't follow that Her growth within is developed through natural mysticism, especially of the sort recommended by Tolle. We see nothing of the sort in the early Christian communities, where the life of the Spirit propspered; same in present-day communities, and in the lives of Christians today.
The way this point is being made, one could easily conclude that Buddhist practices foster growth in the Spirit just as much or moreso as the Sacraments, Christian prayer, life in community, etc. -- even, that Christian faith itself makes no difference. Do we really want to say that? Maybe your point #4 qualifies this in some manner (e.g., the difference Christian practices, disciplines, etc. make).
(4) Asceticisms, teachings, disciplines, practices, exercises and such can build on this divine indwelling bringing it to new levels of freedom and praise and conscious choice, hence acquired and theological.
Do we really want to go down that "acquired contemplation" road again? What you're saying, here, suggests that it is our practices and disciplines which are the telling factor in whether one experiences theological contemplation, but that's just not so. John of the Cross wondered about this, and concluded that only God knew why some experienced what he called "infused contemplation" while others did not. And the whole "quietest backlash" happened because many undertook disciplines and practices with the hope of realizing infused contemplation. Some did, and some didn't. Some also activated psycho-metaphysical processes (perhaps even kundalini) leading to painful and confusing states of consciousness, and there were many other problems as well, which is why the hierarchy came down hard on the movement.
Where is "grace" in this perspective? It seems that it's all about our practices and asceticism, the only grace being the "givenness" of the Spirit.
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Unless I'm misunderstanding some of what you wrote or mean to be conveying, it seems that some of my disagreements with Rohr re. his Tolle reflections go much deeper than I had imagined they did.
Let's start here, since this is at the heart of all the other issues. And it is a sticky widget for me in that I am more deeply sympathetic with a Peircean philosophical approach than to Thomism, in general, or transcendental Thomism, in particular. Earlier on this thread, I wrote:
To flesh this out, let me quote from a post from a year ago:
As far as the natural and supernatural distinction is concerned, for these purposes we are not talking ontologically. The distinction is being erased only in terms of grace and its communication. And the only thing they likely mean by this is that grace is not only communicated to us from without but also from within. A human is a being-involved in grace and constituted by the divine self-communication.
The phrase supernatural existential, which has an oxymoronic ring to it, refers to a mode by which grace makes itself present, which is precisely through a permanent modification of human nature. Grace is the seed-form of the beatific vision and is realized in varying degrees, the reception of God only full or complete eschatologically.
Nothing in this account of grace contradicts the other modes of grace of our sacramental economy or dispensation. Still, the question arises, of course, about what difference explicit faith and formation make vis a vis special revelation. And we are talking, then, in terms of degrees of fullness in the human reception of the divine communication, beginning with the unthematic, latent awareness of God experienced by all of us in our radical finitude, sometimes extraordinarily fully, such as we refer to in classical sanjuanist contemplation, and culminating, eschatologically, in the beatific vision.
How to accurately describe all of the degrees of fullness in between and the manner in which they are impacted by various formative processes lends itself to extensive debate, I'd reckon. Central to any such consideration, it would seem, is the question of our starting point with respect to a theological anthropology.
Now, insofar as Rohr is employing the term infused contemplation idiosyncratically, both broadly conceiving the word contemplation, itself, and not referring specifically to the experience designated by the conventional sanjuanist usage, the classical conundrum presented by the distinction of acquired contemplation would not seem to be at play. This is especially true once considering that the teachings, disciplines, practices and such of explicit faith, which he is idiosyncratically labeling acquired contemplation, are not ordered to the sanjuanist reality (contemplation narrowly and conventionally conceived). Even his use of nonduality is broadly conceived and epistemic and not ontological. When he is talking about nondual thinking, it is counterposed to oppositional thinking, either-or, all or nothing, dualistic mindsets, though would not exclude apophatic modes from that category.
Rohr is very eclectic in his recommendation of "practices" and affirms classical kataphatic devotions, liturgical forms and lectio right alongside CP, for example. By broadly conceiving the contemplative stance, I do not see Rohr or Tolle, as interpreted by Rohr, urging quietist tendencies and any such concern I would view as overwrought. Like Merton noted, in my words, good luck, nowadays, going quietistic in our culture. This is not to downplay suitable caveats that apply to the spiritual direction scene, only to say that's not really the act or scene on stage here, for the most part. I do see some good guidance that can foster affective, moral and social conversions, mindfulness, awareness and loosen the grip of some addictive processes.
Well, I don't know if I touched all the bases, but this is quite enough for now.
Point #4 does qualify this. But even more directly to this point, consult my Underwood discussion above.
I already addressed this, but another observation. Are you conflating theological contemplation a la Underwood with contemplation a la juandelacruz? As I read Underwood, I interpret theological contemplation broadly and recognize that it has its forms in other traditions, including kataphatic and doctrinal modalities as well as apophatic approaches, these other traditions being inchoate and pale imitations of our own, and, in different ways, in error. By theological, she indicates a general departure point, it seems, and not so much a specific destination, although she affirms the best way to apprehend the utterly transcendent is going to be through the incarnational lens of Western Christianity.
I guess mapping the terminology is just too ambitious a task and that I am not the best person to clarify another's inartful expressions. If misunderstandings persist, now, as they did earlier on this thread, then I doubt I am edifying anyone else, if even you don't know what I mean. And since this is very time consuming, I have little interest, then, in pursuing this further. It is probably best not to get into conversation and critique mode until you complete some sort of terminology mapping exercise. I understand and agree with Rohr's overall thrust and Rahner with qualifications. I appreciate and understand that practical concerns arise with regard to how people pray, but I am not disposed to employ that as my departure point for critiquing everyone who comes along with anything to say regarding the contemplative life, especially once considering that so many of them are not really focused on sanjuanist contemplation per se but, rather, on contemplative practices, broadly conceived, as providentially given by the Holy Spirit, to both believers and people of implicit faith. As I mentioned, back in 2005, regarding all of these practical concerns, I am still waiting for good sociologic analysis and ecclesiastical guidance, or even good contemplative literature peer review consensus, which will weigh far more in my prudential judgment balance than anecdotal evidence.
From JB: I guess mapping the terminology is just too ambitious a task and that I am not the best person to clarify another's inartful expressions. If misunderstandings persist, now, as they did earlier on this thread, then I doubt I am edifying anyone else, if even you don't know what I mean.
Your explanations are very good and make sense to me. Thank you for taking the time to share them. The "natural" vs. "supernatural" point, in particular, was helpful, where you wrote:
I follow, only I'm not sure I completely agree. The traditional understanding of natural vs. supernatural grace wasn't a contrast between without and within so much as a recognition of different sources and effects of grace. So, for example, one could speak of the soul's innate longing for wholeness and happiness (individuation) and the created resources brought to bear on these yearnings in terms of natural grace. Supernatural grace was said to work concurrently with natural grace (Thomas' grace building on nature) but surpassed it in its communication of God's very life, which cannot be known via natural grace (e.g., the exercising of the faculties). This distinction and understanding still makes sense to me, and I think it helps to explain, in part, the differences between a wide variety of spiritual experiences. Some, like enlightenment, seem to be more the fruit of natural grace, while others, like infused contemplation or extraordinary charisms, seem the working of supernatural grace. (Maybe my theological formation has taken me too far down the Thomistic river . . . )
I think what explicit faith does is properly orients our consciousness unto its true goal, which is to become likenesses of Christ. Explicit faith sees, understands, and thus cooperates with the Holy Spirit in this theotic process, which is ongoing in all people to the extent that they, too, cooperate with inspirations and nudgings of the Spirit. As the Spirit has an orientation unto Christ, it makes sense that the Spirit will be more fruitful when, through availing oneself of the means of grace (especially the Sacraments, where Christ becomes tangibly present), one is consciously committed to following Christ. So it's not surprising to find a correlation between revelation and the realization of fullness, which is not to deny that great mystics and saints can be found outside of Christianity.
- - -
I know I've only touched on a few of your points, but the natural/supernatural issue is the most significant to me in all that we've been discussing. To me, especially in the practice of spiritual direction, this distinction is essential. Anything else you might want to say about this to shed some light on the topic would be appreciated.
You and Rahner are both far down the Thomistic River, but it does have distributaries: existential thomism, process thomism, analytical thomism, transcendental thomism, aristotelian thomism and even schools within the schools. This makes the mapping exercise very problematical because not all will employ exactly the same categories and terminologies.
If I was a thomist, I would be an analytical thomist (and would join Elizabeth Anscombe in debating C.S. Lewis, something to which I referred Jack Haught , recently, as he urged a similar argument in his latest book), because these folks are not thoroughgoing thomists, seems to me, but analytical philosophers who sympathetically critique thomism. My Peircean outlook, as influenced by both Scotism and my own Franciscan sensibilities, leave me metaphysically agnostic, affirming no metaphysic, in particular, but believing that metaphysics, in general, is a valid and worthwhile enterprise.
I am quite open, then, to naturalistic interpretations of realities that might otherwise be traditionally considered supernatural, such as physicalist accounts of the soul, for example. I am also open to dualistic accounts, in the classical Cartesian sense. What seems kind of silly, nowadays, is that almost all metaphysical discourse nowadays seems to be an over-against dynamic between this Cartesian dualism and a Hobbesian physicalism, as if there is no tertium quid (third way), which is no less than classical hylomorphism (such as Bonaventure following Scotus, or Aquinas following Aristotle).
I think what is important is that we recognize that, from a phenomenological perspective, our tradition has conveyed to us a certain plain sense of what our essential dogma proclaims, and nothing has come along in modernity or postmodernity or post-postmodernity that need threaten these common sense understandings. There are good coherent philosophical systems and metaphysical accounts that remain live options for believers (and some that clearly do not for, while a thousand philosophical metaphysical blossoms bloom within Christianity, there are many that are wholly incompatible) and our plain sense interpretations can normatively guide us, serve as tie-breakers when all other epistemic virtues are otherwise equally attained, as we choose one or another. And this is what you are doing above, Phil, as you try to square this theoretical approach or that with different human experiences of the Spirit.
At the same time, teasing out the implications of all of these different accounts is an enterprise that does not lend itself to general Internet discussion forums because the mapping of terminologies and categories would drive us nuts as we bogged down in semantics and category errors due to the incommensurabilities that inhere between systems. For example, once we know that Rohr has adopted a broadly conceived definition of contemplation, and an idiosyncratic definition of infused contemplation, then we know that, when he uses the term "acquired contemplation," it will ipso facto not correspond to the conventional usage for that term either, because its meaning, in the conventional sense, is inextricably intertwined with the meaning of infused contemplation as it is understood in the conventional sense. The old calculus breaks down and a new dynamic is in play. In other words, once you've mapped Oz, you need to stick with that map and leave the Kansas map in the glove compartment. It is not that Rohr's conceptions will not present their own conundra, but they will be different from those that present to our classical conceptions.
This encyclopedic account better explains Rahner's Thomist perspective and what we might mean by within and without. It is not an uncontroversial account, to be sure. But disagreements between most modern competing accounts, at least within mainstream Christianity, are not going to place our common sense understandings of essential dogma in peril.
I better hit send before I lose this.
Here is something on Rahner's view of grace that can bear light on the topic of "natural vs. supernatural."
That all makes sense and it's what I believe as well. I don't know that it follows from this that the natural and supernatural orders of grace constitute a distinction without a difference. I wouldn't put it like that at all. Once can affirm a universal indwelling of Spirit and, hence, availability of supernatural grace, without denying a distinction between natural and supernatural grace.
Another way of looking at this would be to use the terms "natural life" and "supernatural life." We could say that, in the beginning, these two lives were intermingled and flowed as one, but with sin, there came to be an opposition between the two in our very nature. Hence the point: 3) The Holy Spirit dwells in all (infused) and is experienced by all (naturally), not necessarily consciously but certainly efficaciously, if we don't oppose or resist it (Rahner). makes sense, especially if we recognize that, because of Original Sin, we do oppose or resist the Spirit. Just how, precisely, the Fall affected that indwelling of the Spirit is a matter interpreted widely in the Church, with one extreme view holding that the human vessel became a thoroughly inhospitable temple for Her so much so that She can no longer find a home within us. The traditional Catholic understanding is of a wounding that sabotages our relationship with God.
I wonder about those many parts of the New Testament that speak as though the Spirit were absence among humans. Time and again we hear phrases like "for the Spirit had not yet come," or Jesus saying that it's better for Him to go so that He can send the Spirit (Jn 16, I believe). There are the followers of the John the Baptist who profess faith in Christ but who have not received the Spirit. And, of course, there is Pentecost. What is all of this saying about the Spirit's indwelling? How can one affirm a universal indwelling and also affirm what Pentecost seems to be suggesting? Is Pentecost a new, more intense indwelling?
The covenantal perspective at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition seems to presume two orders of life and grace which are practically impossible for fallen humanity to integrate until the coming of Christ. As you know, the traditional teaching is that it is through our union with Christ (especially through Baptism, faith and Eucharist) that we are incorporated into his mystical Body in such manner as to become worthy (in Christ) temples of the Holy Spirit. One can certainly affirm the reality of implicit faith/baptism of desire accomplishing the same in non-Christians, so I'm not denying the inclusivist perspective that Rahner championed with his teaching on "anonymous Christians."
If I were to do points 2 - 4 you made above, this is how I would say it:
2) Everything is at God's disposal. Human life was created to be naturally open to God's grace. (I'd drop the point about natural and supernatural being a distinction without a difference as I don't think that's true at all and it distracts from the main point.)
3) The Holy Spirit dwells in all (infused) and is experienced by all (naturally), not necessarily consciously but certainly efficaciously, if we don't oppose or resist it (Rahner). We grow in the Spirit when we turn away from sin and, via implicit or explicit faith, live a Christ-like life. (I'd drop "It's cultivated through contemplative practices or natural mysticism" as the point below covers this.)
4) Certain asceticisms, teachings, disciplines, practices and exercises can help us to become more virtuous, Christ-like, bringing us to new levels of freedom in the Spirit, and praise and conscious choice. (Again, inclusivist possibility must be affirmed, here. Specifying which practices, teachings, etc. can help to accomplish this is another matter, with many posssibilities on the table.)
This way of putting things isn't all that different, but I think it eliminates confusion and affirms the core issues more clearly.
OK, that's enough for now. Hoping this all helps someone, somewhere . . .
JB, seems we cross-posted. Oh well . . . Plenty to ponder, now.
I see the workings of supernatural grace extending far beyond the boundaries that you seem to be setting, which seem to echo some of the pneumatological exclusivity that I have declaimed throughout this thread. Maybe you do not mean this the way I am hearing it? For elsewhere you explicitly affirmed the possibility of the blossoming of an infused contemplation in other traditions? Or maybe you are just discussing the mechanics of natural vs supernatural grace, both which are operative in all people? If so, I don't gather how what you are saying is in anyway distinct from the Rahnerian language of within and without? In any case, at this stage in my life, I am not looking for anyone to completely agree with me. I get so excited when anyone tells me that they merely follow what I am saying.
In my prior post, I wanted to contextualize my response and our discussion. In this one, I want to acknowledge that it does sound like there is some fundamental disagreement between your and Rahner's perspective. My qualifications are grounded in my sympathy toward a Peircean perspective a la Gelpi's account of grace as transmuted experience. Your disagreement is an echo of some tension that existed (not resolved either) during Vatican II. See if you can spot your account in some of what Jean Dani�lou says as contrasted with Rahner in the excerpt, below, from Buddhists and Christians: Through Comparative Theology to Solidarity.
When I wrote that the distinction is being erased only in terms of grace and its communication, I was saying that the human quest for God is never completely natural. I do not view the effects of original sin dualistically, in an over-against, either-or, oppositional manner, which is to say that my understanding of the consequences of original sin, or falleness, is framed up in terms of degrees of perfection, which is to suggest that our ability to know and choose the good was wounded, or damaged, not destroyed (as you pointed out, previously). With Scotus, we can even affirm that our tendency toward loving justly was neither lost nor damaged by original sin (Mary Beth Ingham, The Harmony of Goodness, Franciscan Press 1996).
It is thus more accurate to say that, in the beginning, humanity enjoyed --- not a supernatural state but --- a preternatural state, beyond ours but not on par with God, angels, etc. Now, our desires are inordinate, our appetites disordered, our internal balance between affections imbalanced and love takes longer to establish and is harder to maintain, but our tendency toward loving justly remains intact. The Incarnation is not about redemption, then, for the Scotist, but about Divine Glory, raising human nature to its highest point of glory by uniting it to the Divine.
All of this is to say that human beings are never strangers to supernatural grace, so, while we might insist on distinctions between such as natural and supernatural religions, such distinctions must not be strict.
So, I could certainly affirm the usefulness of some distinctions between natural and supernatural grace, but the distinctions you are articulating and which many others hold, in my view, are much too strict, overworked, with the activity of the Holy Spirit much too constrained (for the Holy Breath blows where it will). Other religions are supernatural acts of God, not mere acts of human creativity. What I would say, more specifically, then, is that SO MANY natural-supernatural distinctions are overworked, are distinctions without a difference, as pertaining to grace (IF one holds to either the Rahnerian or Scotistic perspectives).
Here are some armchair considerations: What state did Mary enjoy, without original sin, prior to the Incarnation? If we uphold, with Scotus and the Franciscans, the goodness of human nature, damaged but not ruined, wounded not inherently depraved, our tendency toward loving justly neither lost nor damaged by original sin, then we are saying that even a sinless human nature would have needed salvation to reach its ultimate goal, union with the Divine. The Incarnation made it possible for human nature and the divine nature to be united, even a human nature that was otherwise in harmony with Creator and creation.
Not everyone buys into this, of course. And who knows?
These are good questions. While I do not deny an inclusivist perspective, either, I want to now turn to the issue of whether or not Rahner's supernatural existential and anonymous Christian concepts successfully refer to spiritual realities as we can observe them empirically. Methodologically, Rahner's theological anthropology does not hold water, but leaks badly.
We have relied heavily, in our discussion here at Shalomplace, on another transcendental thomist, Lonergan. To reframe this discussion on more familiar grounds, let's look at conversions, which clearly deserve the labels secular (intellectual, affective, moral, social) and religious. While I do not want to get away from the idea of the supernatural divine communication and how pervasive and ubiquitous it is, what does not hold water is any notion that this is being effected a priori and thematically on an individual level.
Ontologically speaking, the distinction between the natural and supernatural makes a great deal of sense when we try to distinguish between the secular (natural) and religious (supernatural) conversions. I think it is almost axiomatic that we invoke because we have been CONvoked. We are radically social animals and faith, hope and love, truly theological virtues, are gifted via community.
And while we do not want to deny, in any way, either the strong analogies between the experiences of God in different religions or God's self-communication through them, we have no warrant to a priori claim that they are essentially alike. With Aquinas, any good semiotic philosopher worth her salt would affirm that whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. As individuals and peoples, we grow and develop and recognize the concept of "developmentally appropriate." I think something of this dynamic is in play in the different religions and in the manner in which God used the Hebrew and then Christian traditions.
Much of what Gelpi says reaffirms the importance of explicit faith and, I guess you could say, denies that what we see in people's implicit faith is essentially the same (at least not a priori) rather than being strongly analogous.
If there is something about human nature, with Scotus, that remains intact and oriented toward the good, I have to believe that it is communicated, socially, through experience in community, and that not all communities are essentially the same, even if all are receptive in varying degrees to the divine communication according to the mode of those communities as receivers. The secular conversion experiences, not transmuted by religious conversion, do remain essentially natural. Without religious communities, the supernatural divine communication would seem to have no receptive receivers.
When Rahner speaks of graced human nature and Lonergan speaks of conversions, I think graced social nature and not individual nature; I think of initiation and formation by community and not of an individual's spontaneous longings for an infinite horizon or beatific vision apart from communal formation; I think of divine communications through supernatural religious conversion and not through natural secular conversions.
I mean this to address the covenantal aspects you well pointed out but am not really prepared to address the exegesis of individual Scriptural references. I would want to affirm, as in another post, that we would not want to get too far afield of our plain sense understandings of such things and acknowledge that Rahner and Lonergan, without these qualifications, could indeed takes us afield. So, definitely, hang on to those thoughts. I am trying to walk a fine line between saying what it is that I think all of these other voices are saying and then saying what it is I think, myself. There is stuff to affirm all over the place and stuff that'll leave one confounded, too, because it don't make sense.
I very much encourage anyone to read Two Spiritual Paths: Thematic Grace vs. Transmuting Grace (Part 1) and Thematic Grace vs. Transmuting Grace (Part II) from SPIRITUALITY TODAY, Winter 1983. by Don Gelpi. (I know I tout this several times a year, but ). It is a strong (and to me compelling) critique of Rahner's transcendental thomism (philosophically grounded in a critique of Kant).
I hope this made some sense. There are some strong recommendations for correcting some of the classical view with Rahnerian thought but Rahner needs large corrections, too, especially because of its implications for comparative spirituality and interreligious dialogue, so folks don't facilely overgeneralize experiences between traditions. That's why I am willing to recognize and affirm, when I see them, practices that foster good affective, moral and social conversion, and to even recognize theological virtues in other communities, but resist any facilely syncretistic blending of essential doctrines. Is there, then, a mystical core to all organized religion? I think we can say yes but that it is not always where even the best theologians are telling us to drill.
So, I reckon I'm saying that there is definitely something to where two or more are gathered ...
and most definitely something to in My Name.
Take your time. My son's in on military leave and I am going to make the best of it. That's why I crammed everything I could in today. I wanted to say what it is I think I hear these other folks saying but also wanted to then digress and state where I agree and disagree. Your inquiries are on the mark and served as a good foil. I have been putting off reconciling my Gelpi perspective to the insights with which I resonate in Rahner, so this somewhat forced my lazy hand. Thanks for the help.
Mostly what I was doing was reacting to the statement, 2) Everything is supernatural and at God's disposal. Natural and supernatural comprise a distinction without a difference (Rahner). I wasn't meaning to restrict "supernatural grace" to the Sacraments nor to Christianity, as I hope some of my ramblings made clear (e.g., the points about inclusivity). The way that statement is put gives the wrong impression and needs much more qualification, as there clearly are different orders of grace which do have, implicitly, a relation to orders of being. Some of your reflections above (especially the turn to Lonergan) indicate an agreement between us on this point.
Actually, as I read through all you've written and posted as quotes, it seems we are in agreement with most everything, which shouldn't be a surprise to either one of us. Without wanting to break completely from the above discussions, what I'm most interested in pursuing now is a topic closer to the thread title: namely, what Rohr means by "nonduality." I'll come back to some of the exchanges from above later and as time permits, but I'd really like more clarity on this one.
You wrote: Even his use of nonduality is broadly conceived and epistemic and not ontological. When he is talking about nondual thinking, it is counterposed to oppositional thinking, either-or, all or nothing, dualistic mindsets, though would not exclude apophatic modes from that category.
In other words, both/and thinking?
I can surely go along with the value of this in most circumstances, but would hate to categorically dismiss even black/white, either/or, all-or-nothing thinking as appropriate in certain circumstances, even regarding moral issues. For example, in dialoguing on another forum with a guy from Singapore recently, he made the point that when two people disagree, it's always the case that both are right and wrong. Forgetting for a moment the absolute claim being made, here, that's simply not true. Sometimes one person's opinion is is completely right, the other completely wrong. Same goes for moral acts. Bombing the WTC was completely wrong, and those who hold beliefs to the contrary are also wrong. The world is not both flat and round; it's round. Etc. etc.
Mostly what I've heard Rohr saying in discussions on this topic pertains to Fundamentalism, which tends to be "dualistic" in the sense I hear you saying, but which, I would also add, has some good points to make. He doesn't like them saying that these people are saved, and those aren't, for example, and surely that kind of dualism needs to be challenged. But it seems like what he's proposing, especially in his enthusiastic endorsement of Tolle, goes too far in categorically rejecting critical thinking that just might, as a result of its exercise, come to a conclusion that would be considered "dualistic."
Also, it's impossible to discuss Tolle and nonduality without considering ontological implications as so much of what Tolle teaches shakes that tree. E.g., God as the ocean, and we as drops . . . That common Tollean metaphor (actually, it's Hindu) is profoundly ontological, as are his views on consciousness. Tolle isn't just about "process" and "nonduality" means far more than both/and thinking in Tolle's world.
What say ye?
Exactly. As Rohr puts it, the dualistic mind is indispensable (necessary but not sufficient); it's how we do science, for example, as well as all sorts of other stuff required for daily living. IOW, both/and, as with other things, also applies to our dual and nondual intentional stances.
I mentioned earlier, either in private correspondence, or on the message board, my dismay with Tolle's treatment of consciousness. I also thought that he glossed over the doctrinal differences between traditions too cavalierly for my taste. I did not bring this up before, but now that you have, I'll share my reaction to his ontological insinuations and intimations.
Despite such ontological baggage, I decided that I would not hestitate in recommending his books to my children, for example, for the wisdom that can be gleaned regarding what I see as fostering affective conversion, mindfulness and such. The reason is, for all the talk about the nondual nature of reality I've encountered, there are basically only two paths to such a stance. The first is through a materialist monism in a thoroughgoing secularistic, scientistic and militant atheism, which is a much greater threat, and the other is through the idealist monism of the Eastern systems, which includes both epistemic stances and ontological positions.
In my experience, most Western readers process such stuff as Tolle's metaphorically and poetically and not literally and ontologically because a thoroughgoing nondualist stance toward reality writ large is not merely a way of thinking about reality, rather, it is a way of looking at reality. It is not just a different way of relating things but a different way of seeing things. One doesn't arrive at such a nondual stance by reading a best seller but only after a thousand sittings with three good koans, which will, in fact, literally, rewire one's brain circuitry. Most people cannot successfully pull off such a radical epistemic shift. They're going to keep indulging their kataphatic devotions and liturgies and never miss a relational beat.
None of this is to deny that there are no too few eccentric individuals who, with no little pretense, will go around posting silly nonsensical nondualistic tautologies in internet discussion forums. Neither is it to deny that some fractional minority will not go off adopting severe ascetical practices in their chasing of experiences, only to unleash some rather unpleasant psychic epiphenomena.
The Tolle books impressed me as being more closely related to pop analytical psychology (role playing and egos) than to Eastern esoterica (and his brief Christological excursus was neither extensive nor coherent enough to invite scholarly critique). It seems to be more oriented to mindfulness, relaxation, surrender, awareness, living in the now, and various practical means of dealing with emotional pain and addiction, and not much at all about the types of ascetic practices and disciplines that would lead to energy upheavals and brain rewiring.
So, I would not wholly agree that "it's impossible to discuss Tolle and nonduality without considering ontological implications as so much of what Tolle teaches shakes that tree," although I certainly see what you are saying. From a theoretical perspective, that is a genuine concern. From a practical perspective, less to worry about, seems to me, for reasons I mentioned earlier. Still, we can correct any theoretical misconceptions. We can draw a parallel to a consideration of enlightenment, as broadly conceived. The seeking of enlightenment becomes problematical - not just from the practical physiological concerns, but - from a hermeneutical perspective, because it is indeed difficult to extract the ascetical elements or practices from the interpretive elements. However, it CAN be done. We can recontextualize such an experience of God by extracting it from any philosophical, metaphysical and theological misinterpretations and placing it squarely within a pneumatological context that is fully compatible with Christianity.
I recently updated my nonduality webpage with an essay I will share below. It speaks to this dynamic. Do not get hung up on the natural-supernatural distinction, or lack thereof, for we have recognized that this remains a controverted topic in Catholic Christianity. Rather, the point I would emphasize for purposes of this discussion is that we can successfully integrate asceticisms, practices, methods, technologies, and such within a Christian framework, even if they originated within a hermeneutic that thematically misinterprets any associated God experiences or encounters. Furthermore, we shouldn't facilely equate such experiences with our own even as we might otherwise affirm the efficacies of the Holy Spirit at work in other traditions.
Thank you, JB, for those very fine reflections. I feel like I've done my spiritual reading for the day.
Re. someone like Tolle and his writings, it really is helpful to get down to the practical issues such as you mentioned: e.g., do you recommend his books to your children or not? It's good that they have you to help them process things; ideally, anyone reading his works ought to have a spiritual director or mentor with whom to share experiences or process questions raised. INTJ as I am, I cannot help but sense all sorts of metaphysical and theological "red flags" as I go through his writings, and much prefer Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean Pierre de Caussade, which has a similar message, but is much more grounded in a Christian theological worldview. I have recommended Abandonment to many people through the years; it is a staple in my own reading.
I'm going to run that one by Arraj, who has written volumes on this topic, as you know. I'll post his response, if any.
I think this needs more nuancing and qualifying. If you push that first sentence too far, you'll end up dissociating faith from the experience of God. It seems that faith itself is a kind of experience of God, or, minimally, an openness and receptivity to God that invites experience. Also, I agree that grace can be experienced and accepted unthematically, but its thematization is very important for understanding and integrating the experience.
Finally, it's true that there is an "effort" required to make our experiences of God thematic, and I don't hear you saying that that's a bad thing. Invoking Lonergan's schema, here, one could say that a purely unthematized experience of grace would belong to Level I consciousness (being attentive) while Levels 2, 3 and 4 (being intelligent, reasonable and responsible) would thematize and integrate the experience. This is why teachings, liturgies, and even "organized religions" exist in the first place -- a consequence of thematizing the experience of the founder and early followers. Even Tolle is thematizing; how could he not if he is teaching? That "effort" to thematize is a good thing, and belongs to the active/kataphatic dimension of spirituality. Ideally, it also helps to form in one a receptivity to the kind of experience that that brought about this "kataphatica" -- sort of like "fingers pointing to the moon," if you will.
Rahner does not push it too far. That's why he calls it implicit faith.
And some efforts at thematization, in terms of psychological, philosophical, metaphysical and theological interpretations, are better than others, for all sorts of reasons. For Christians, then, the Gospel is normative, along with compatible metaphysical interpretations.
Well said, Phil.
There are several things at stake here:
1) Do we consider enlightenment and sanjuanist contemplation the same thing?
No, but we don't need to claim that supernatural grace is operative in one God encounter and not the other.
2) Can we draw a distinction between natural and supernatural mysticism based on the thematic contextualization of the God encounter, the kind of faith a person brings to the experience?
Yes, but we don't need to claim that supernatural grace is operative in one God encounter and not the other.
3) Can we distinguish between human individuation processes & secular conversions, on one hand, and theosis and religious conversion, on the other hand?
Yes, but we don't need to claim that supernatural grace is operative in the latter and not the former.
4) St. John of the Cross seems to affirm the reality we call creatio continua, as God sustains our existence even when we might choose to otherwise be alienated from God, and this suggests that through self-realization of our own human potentialities we can draw closer to this Source. And while we might draw a distinction between this movement and call it a metaphysical mysticism, mysticism of the self or natural mysticism, and properly designate other movements as interpersonal mysticisms, still, we don't need to claim, a priori, that supernatural grace is operative in one of these movements toward God and not the other. At the same time, this does not require us to deny the distinction between natural grace and supernatural grace. We might simply affirm that discerning the difference, case to case, might be more problematic than some theologians let on.
5) What I am suggesting is that we may legitimately draw a distinction between the departure point of a contemplative experience or mysticism, what we might call its object, and the source of the experience, what we might call its origin. And we can further recognize distinctions in degrees of fullness of these experiences or God-encounters or divine communications, according to the mode of the receivers, without claiming that supernatural grace is operative in one of these movements toward God and not the other.
Now, I am aware that Jim does draw all of the distinctions, as well as that between natural and supernatural union, and that he has said that enlightenment is not a supernatural mysticism that comes from grace. And I think that what is at stake is not just whether or not we have a divine communication, for clearly, in both what he is calling natural and supernatural union, the divine is communicating.
The question is whether this communication involves 1) only the gratuitous gifting of creation and life 2) with only their merely natural expressions of human wisdom and aspiration, 3) only preparing human beings to hear the gospel (preparatio evangelii), or, whether other religions and their associated God encounters 4) also result from God�s special activity within history and are thus 5) also concrete expressions of God�s supernatural grace to those who follow these religious paths.
I think the answer is clear, both natural grace (#1-3) as well as supernatural grace (#4 & 5) are operative in other religions and God encounters.
Let's consider the words of JPII, as discussed in Buddhists and Christians: Through Comparative Theology to Solidarity:
In light of all this, considering that enlightenment, broadly conceived (and as a process and praxis and not merely a state), figures so prominently in these other traditions, how could we coherently deny that, at least in part, and at least in some individuals and some parts of the great traditions, it ensues from supernatural grace and attains to God experiences, even if unthematically? How can we coherently maintain an inclusivistic Christocentrism vis a vis salvation (justification and ultimate glorification) while, at the same time, holding to a pneumatological exclusivism vis a vis sanctification?
All of this is a discussion of the Theology of Religions, which can be distinguished from such a theology as might be rooted in dialogue. Again, from Buddhists and Christians:
Through Comparative Theology to Solidarity:
Interesting questions. Difficult to resolve. I take the Scotistic perspective though, which suggests, per my crude rendering, whenever questions of God's generosity are at hand, in speculating on them, err on the side of extravagance.
Now, I do not want to be too strident in setting forth a position that is still controverted by theologians more competent than I'll ever be. I do think, though, that we can say that we can see the reasonableness in their different positions. It all comes down to a theological anthropology. If Jim's existential thomist version is correct, and it is eminently reasonable, then we might say that, given the beauty and splendor of the other great traditions and the efficacies that have flown therefrom, natural grace, notwithstanding original sin, is truly superabundant and meets the Scotistic extravagance criterion in creation, itself, this notwithstanding the dialectical imaginations that see the created order as wholly depraved and human nature badly damaged. If the transcendental thomists are correct, with qualifications, then God's extravagance plays out in the superabundant and ubiquitous gifting of the Holy Spirit through supernatural grace. Out of solidarity and compassion for all, with St. Francis, we must evangelize at every opportunity (using words, even, if necessary). There is no doubt what consolations will flow to those who hear the Good News. On one hand, still, we might wonder, with Merton, how much of our institutional church is properly ordered toward False-Self maintenance and how much conversions are being successfully fostered toward the end of true transformation and theosis, for explicit faith is more than pious utterance and ostensible religiosity? On the other hand, we can affirm with Merton and Rahner the everyday mysticism of so many? At any rate, it doesn't take great numbers to make salt for the earth and light for the world. Taste and see. Look and see.
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