Ep. 19 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Augustine and Aquinas

What follows here is a transcription of the above video by John Vervaeke (Sectioning added by MeaningCrisis.co)

Welcome back to Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. Last time we were talking about this interaction and confluence between nascent Christianity, the transformation that's undergoing the Platonic tradition in Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. We had ended up by talking about Plotinus and how he brings about this grand unification of the best science of the time - Aristotle - the best therapy of the time - Stoicism - and the best spirituality of the time - Platonism - and this is done all in a way that powerfully integrates mystical experience, achieving higher States of consciousness and rational argumentation. Things that we now experience as diametrically opposed: science and spiritu-ality; reason and transformation; therapy and realness.

All of these things were not [opposed then], they were instead powerfully, mutually sup-portive. Now Plotinus is around 270 or so of the common era. And after him, of course, the Roman Empire starts to go into decline and we're seeing the end of the Ancient World. And there is a figure there, a towering figure, who basically brings this configuration, this triangle that I've mentioned of (draws the triangle from the last lecture on the board again) Christianity, Neoplatonism and Gnosti-cism together. He's deeply influenced by all of them, although he will eventually give pri-ority to Christianity, and that's Augustine.

Augustine

So Augustine is a Roman and he's alive in the fourth century into the beginnings of the fifth century as the Roman empire is entering its final stages. So, as you can imagine, that impending collapse is bringing with it a very dark vision of the world. And for that reason, Augustine is attracted to Mani-chaeism. Now this is a religion that was started by Mani from Persia and many people argue that it is a Gnostic religion. Some people disagree with applying the term Gnostics to it. Again, it doesn't matter! It seems to have picked up on a lot of the same kinds of ideas about a machinery in which we are enmeshed as creatures of light, and that light has to be liberated by a special kind of Gnosis and Augustine is deeply attracted to this religion. He's attracted to this religion precisely be-cause it has Gnostic components in it and therefore promises to address his own personal loss of Agency, which I'll talk about momentarily, but also to address what is becoming more and more, sa-lient to people of Augustine's time, which is a world that is darkening around them. He's influenced by that, which means ideas of evil and evil powers and structures in the world are very salient to Augustine.

He also deeply suffers, as I mentioned, personally! He is riven with inner conflict. To put it, I think in terms that would make sense to us today, Augustine is a sex addict. He is deeply ad-dicted to sexual behavior. He described it this way and I think this is a particularly apt way of de-scribing his addiction: He said, "I was always licking the open sore of lust!" which gives you a very telling image of a compelling desire and something disgusting and degrading. And it's also exacer-bating and making worse, the very affliction that you're suffering. So he suffers tremendous self-loading because of this, tremendous loss of Agency. And he struggles to try and find a way of getting free from his own personal, inner conflict and degradation. And also providing an answer to the evil that he sees in the world. He writes the first autobiography in the history of the West, "The Confessions", and in there, he relates an experience which deeply affected him. I would say it came close to traumatising him. So when he was young, he relates this story, he and some of his friends broke into a courtyard and stole some fruit. And you're thinking... most of us would think, "yeah, you know, a young adolescent performing  a misdemeanour act of minor theft, stealing some fruit who cares...?".

But this is Augustine. He's already enmeshed in a Manichaen worldview. He's already deeply, he's becoming aware as an adolescent of how powerful his drives can be. And what affected Augustine about this, very profoundly, is he said he did not want the fruit! He did not desire the fruit. He wasn't really trying to impress his friends - he wasn't desiring that! He came away with a very strong experience - it's almost like a reverse of a higher state of consciousness - he came away with a very strong experience that he stole the fruit simply because it was the wrong thing to do! That he wanted to do this! There was something in him that was dragging him down! And this is, again, why this worldview appealed to him. There was... there's these... it's like again, Manichaeism is very much like the Star Wars mythology of the light and the dark side: there is a dark side and it's drawing people down and it's the side of desire and anger and destruction. And Augus-tine sees this alive within his own body and his sexual addiction. So he travels around the world. He teaches rhetoric and he becomes, eventually, connected and familiar with philosophy and something happens to him that's quite profound: he reads the work of Plotinus.

Augustine finds the love within reason

He reads the work of Plotinus. He has very high opinion of Plotinus. He later writes "in Plotinus, Plato lived again", and he writes very glowingly of the Platonists. And in Plato - and especially in Plotinus - Augustine sees a different way. He gets a worldview other than the Manichaen worldview, he gets the Neoplatonic worldview, and he gets it. I mean this in the Gnosis sense: HE GETS IT (Real emphasis on this) ! Augustine has a mystical experience while reading Plo-tinus. He has that ascent up to "the One". He rises through the levels of reality and levels of his self and he has this mystical experience, but he can't hold it! He can't stay there! The darkness in him has so much gravity [it] pulls him back down and pulls him back towards that world of lust and addic-tion, that reciprocal narrowing that Mark Lewis talks about so powerfully. And he won-ders, "why is the gravity pulling me? Why is the darkness that pulls me down, why is it so powerful? Is there anything that can overpower it and pull me up?". He says, "I get what Plotinus is talking about, but the evil within me, it's too strong! The darkness pulls me down too much!". He'll later come to say that this is like a whole in being, and it's just sucking the light away.

And so he hasn't - what some people have reported having after they have some mystical experiences - he has a rebound effect of despair. It's like if I was to show you a beautiful place, this beautiful beach, and when you stepped on to the beach, you finally felt at peace, like the peace you've sought all your life, and there's beauty around you and you feel alive and vital. But you can't stay! You can't... somehow you just can't hold [on], and you're drawn away and you can't stay there! Now the place you're in, the darkness and the squalor that you're in, is so much worse because you have been in the light and you know you were incapable of staying there. So he's falling into despair and he's at his mother's house and his mother is a Christian, Monica, and he's in the backyard, like the courtyard, and he's listening and he hears a child's voice say, "take it! Pick up and read", and there's a Bible there, or an early version of a Bible, and he picks it up just where it is and he happens to, of course, read the work of Paul.

And in Paul he finds an affinity, a deep affinity, that kindred spirit, because in Paul he sees that same inner conflict, that same tortured inner conflict, and he sees a Worldview that makes sense of that inner conflict. And Augustine has this insight. He says- ...Look, pay attention to Ploti-nus, pay attention to Plato. What are they saying? Plato and Plotinus are ultimately saying we're driven by two powerful loves. We're driven by the love of becoming one within and becoming one with what is most real. It is what's driving all of our reason, [all of our reason] is love. A love that... A love for what's true, a Love for what's good, a love for what is beautiful. And then he says, "at the heart of reason is love and what's damaged in me is my capacity to love, not my capacity to reason! That's why I have this sexual addiction. My capacity for love has been thwarted and twisted by my sexuality. So I need something that can heal..." remember the Gnosis, the healing, "...I need to be healed!". There's a love that is within reason that can help you grow beyond reason, to what reason always sought.

A healing synthesis to grow in love

How do we grow in love? Well, Agape! That's what the Christian message is. Agape, by participating in Agape, we grow in love. We grow in the love that is driving us to becoming persons, fully realised persons. So Augustine says Neoplatonism needs Christianity and the healing and the response to evil that Gnosticism was looking for can actually be found in Christianity. And so he synthesises them all together. Notice what we now have. Let's put this together, very care-fully, in Augustine. And notice the way he's putting it. He's not putting it out there as a theory, he's writing an autobiography, he's talking about it in a Perspectival and Participatory way. He writes the first autobiography, The Confessions. This is not a dry academic treatise, this is an existential manual [showing] how you can also go through the process that he has gone through. It is Gnosis through and through.

So from Plotinus what do we have? Well Plotinus (writes Plotinus on the board) has al-ready given us - because part of Plotinus is the Aristotelian Worldview (writes Aristotelian Worldview on the board, off of Plotinus) [and] that's the Nomological Order we talked about, right (writes Nomological Order underneath Aristotelian Worldview) ? The conformity theory, right? The Geocentric worldview; the two things in attunement. This is the best science account of the structure of reality and how reality is known. From Plotinus himself, we get now what I'm going to call the Normative Order (writes Normative Order off of Plotinus and beside Aristotelian Worldview) . Plotinus gave us an account of how we can move in a coordinated fashion up the levels of reality, up the levels of consciousness, up the levels of the self, from what is less real to what is more real (illustrated on the board again with the ladder diagram, writing less real at the bottom and more real at the top) .

What's Augustine going to do with that? Well look: what's less real, what's down here has less oneness, less integration. It makes less sense. Look, when I destroy something, what do I do? (Mimes tearing a book apart into pieces) I take away its structural functional organization. I make it more disordered. As I go downward things are fragmenting, having less and less form, less and less Idos. They're less and less intelligible. They're less and less understandable. This (bot-tom of the ladder) becomes more and more pure chaos (writes Pure Chaos at the bottom of the lad-der) . I'm losing truth. I'm losing goodness. I'm losing beauty. I'm losing what makes things to Be and what makes them to be sensible and intelligible. This is evil (Writes Evil underneath Pure Chaos) .

Down here is... that's the hole, that's the tear in being, towards which things can fall. But I can also move up to what's more true, more good, more real. And of course, what Plotinus knows is that this is driven by a love. A love of knowing what is real and simultaneously becoming what is more real. So for Augustine this, of course (writes Good at the top of the ladder) - and Plato even called it, if you remember, The Good. This is the Normative Order.

The narrative order of Christianity

The Nomological Order tells you how things are structured. The Normative Order tells you how you can become better, how you can deal with evil and how you can increase realness, meaning, in your life. Augustine takes that (Nomological Order) and, as I've shown you, he says, "wait...!" -the thing about Aristotle is, you know what? Everything was moving to get where it be-longs! But that's all it is in Aristotle! But I think Augustine is basically saying that "every-thing is moving in a way, in order to try and move us away from evil towards goodness". And so he says, "I think Christianity puts these two together!" (links the two Orders together on the board) . The world, everything, is moving on purpose, and the purpose is to try and afford realisation (ges-tures 'up' the ladder diagram) , both cognitive and in the world; things are becoming more real, we're becoming more real, we're realising that. And then he says, "and you know what? All of this is driven by love and about the transformation that happens in me, the Gnosis Agape. That's the Narrative Or-der of Christianity (Writes Narrative Order on the board beside the other two Orders) .

There's this great Narrative. There's this great story about the course of history. And the course of history is a course of moving towards a final consummation, the Promised Land. And that is the history of God's Love, of God's Agape, of God intervening and creating the open future. But that Agape isn't just a historical force. It's also a Normative force in me! It's also leading me upward towards The Good. What Augustine does is he says "Christianity can put all of these things together! The world is organised this way (Nomological Order) so that it moves through his-tory this way (Narrative Order) , so that all of us can self-transcend this way (Normative Order) . All three Orders come together in a mutually supporting fashion.

How these three orders relate to modern cognitive science

Now we know from current cognitive science that the three components of meaning that people talk about, the things that contribute to meaning in life - and this is Heintzelman's work and others - are a sense of coherence (COHERENCE written on the board) - I'll explain what this means in a minute, a sense of significance (SIGNIFICANCE written on the board) , and a sense of purpose (PURPOSE written on the board) . I got to talk to Samantha Heintzelman about this! The more coherent, the more intelligible, the more things fit together for you, the more real they are, the more meaningful you find your life. Well that's the Nomological Order: how things fit together and make sense in a Coherent fashion. What about Significance? Significance is this (draws an arrow to indicate the ladder diagram of the Normative Order) : how valuable, how deep in reality, how good are the elements of your life? That's the normative order. Purpose... (draws an arrow to the Narrative Order) ? Does your life have a direction? Is it moving in a course? That's the Narrative Order. Human beings want things to make sense. They need a Nomolog-ical Order, and Augustine says, "I have this! It's the Aristotelian World[view] and I can give a Chris-tian explanation of that". They want things to be significant. They want to satisfy the Anagogic drives of inner peace and contact with reality. And Augustine says, "I can tell you that because I can tell you how to put reason and Agape together". That's what Christianity does. And people want things to have a purpose. They want there to be a story. Christianity is offering the ultimate story. Augustine puts it all together! And he puts it all together as the Roman Empire is literally collapsing. He's in Hippo in North Africa when the barbarians are literally at the gate laying siege to the city.

Into the medieval worldview

And he's basically laying the foundations for what's going to come next. He's laying foundations for the Medieval worldview. But what do we have from this? What we have - and we'll come back to the cognitive science - what we have is a very long and powerful history that tells us how our culture has articulated the Axial Revolution. How it has given a grammar, a way of under-standing, what the axial revolution has given us. It has given us a system for interpreting and inhabiting a worldview in which meaning and wisdom, as understood by the Axial Revolution, have been developed and have been articulated in a sophisticated and compelling fashion. Meaning is to have a Nomological Order that connects us to what is real. It is to have a Normative Order that connects us, not intellectually, but existentially to what is Good so that we can become better. Mean-ing is to have a Narrative Order that tells us how we can move forward through history, both collec-tive and individual history.

Why don't we have this beautiful synthesis of meaning today?

But what I've tried to show you is that these are not three separate things. They're like the three dimensions of a space, the space of meaning! They're the three axes of the space of meaning. This is a beautiful synthesis. It's the culmination of tremendous amount[s] of historical development. It's profound and it's not just an intellectual thing. It is some, as I've tried to show you, it is simulta-neously a scientific thing, a spiritual thing, a therapeutic thing, an existential thing. This is why this is going to last a thousand years! Because it is such a powerful and enriching vision.

Imagine, if you could... what if I could offer this to you and make it deeply historically, scientifically and intellectually viable for you? What if I could offer to you a worldview that had the deepest scientific legitimacy totally integrated with their most profound spirituality - no antagonism, no irrationality in it - conjoined seamlessly with a personal project of therapy, of therapeutic change and healing and sapiential education, the cultivation of genuine wisdom and self transcendence, in community with yourself, your world, your culture, and other people. Would you not want this? So here's the question you now have to ask yourself: why don't you have it? Because we know from the science (taps Coherence, Significance and Purpose on the board) , that's what you want! We know from the history that that's what our culture has [*coughs] ...our foundational culture from the Axial Revolution built for us. Why don't we have it?

Is it irredeemably lost? When we lost the Gnostic Mythology, when we lost the Axial My-thology, the two worlds mythology, when we lost the mythology of Christian… did we, are we now bereft forever? So part of the way I can start to answer that question, the short answer for a long se-ries of arguments that are forthcoming is no! I think there is a response. That’s why this series is enti-tled “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis”, not “despairing because of the meaning crisis”! But we’re only halfway through! We’re only halfway through posing the problem! We have to, we need to un-derstand we’re getting an understanding of this meaning and this wisdom. We’re getting how it was articulated and developed and woven into our cultural framework, our cognitive machinery, the very grammar of our existential modes! But we still don’t know why does it all fall apart? How does it all come apart? And where does that leave us? We need a better understanding of the genealogy now of the crisis, now that we have a better understanding of the nature of the meaning that was lost. We nee do understand, we need to understand the process of loss.

The great schism - Christianity splits

As I said, this world is the world that Augustine bestows, and this is what you need to understand: there is tremendous loss when the Roman Empire collapses! It’s not as great as the Bronze Age col-lapse, but its major! So there’s… But it’s only in the West, by the way, not in the East! The Byzan-tine Empire survives, but nevertheless, there’s a traumatic loss - Traumatic, not dramatic - a traumatic loss of cities, literacy, trade, commerce. The standard of living that was lost in the Roman Empire is not recovered again until 1750 in London, England. It takes that long for that standard of living to be recovered again! So this is very traumatic. But the heritage given by Augustine is so powerful that it serves as - and I’m using this word very carefully now, I hope you understand - it serves as a home for people throughout all of this turbulent turmoil. But some things start to happen that start to pull that apart! This sacred canopy starts to be torn apart and can no longer shelter us from our terrors and our despair. So one of the first things is, in 1054, there’s a division - and I’m not going to go into it [all]; part of it has to do with that the Roman Empire in the West collapses, but it doesn’t collapse in the East. The East is Greek speaking; the West is Latin speaking. That in addition to Augustine, the East is deeply influenced by Dionysus, Pseudo-Dionysus. Also the case in the West! But there is a lot of cultural, historical, socioeconomic differences in how Christianity was understood and they split apart! That’s what’s called the great Schism.

So Christianity splits between an Eastern Orthodox and what’s going to be called a Catholic version of Christianity. This of course weakens Christianity. It also has an impact on it: by separating itself from the East, Christianity loses some of the connection that leads to Christianity in the West, [in] Western Europe. Christianity loses some of its deeper connections to that Neoplatonic mystical the-ology. That starts to have an impact! The West starts to become less and less Platonic and more and more Aristotelian. Now as always, this starts what a change in Psycho-Technology. So Ivan Illich has done some work looking at the work of Hugh of St Victor, who was around from 1096 to 1141, and what he points out - and Chetham (?) talks about this in his books! Chatham also refers, as Corbin does too, Corbin talks about this. Corbin does too, Corbin talks about this! Chetham talks about this, refers to the work of Krantz and others, trying to summarise a lot of this. What’s happening is there’s a shift in reading - how people read! And it’s after the schism. (*Krantz, Corbin, Chatham*)

So before that, and this is something I can speak to from first person, before that reading is done, largely aloud; people read aloud! They read the Bible, for example, because that’s mostly the only thing that can be read! And some of the church fathers, people like Augustine for example, they read aloud. Reading is often done communally. First of all, you’re embedded in a cultural context, you’re embedded in a sapiential community. You read aloud, and more than you read aloud, you’re reciting. So let's try and get something in your experience that might bring this out. Think of the difference between reading a poem and reciting a poem - and it's no coincidence, by the way, that when Gabriel spoke to Mohammad, he told him to recite not to write! What happens when you… (breaks chain of thought into an anecdote) I was - something wonderful - last Saturday was my birthday and so it was a surprise party. my partner organised a wonderful party for me, and I'd always said that, instead of gifts, I would prefer it if people brought one of their favourite pieces of poetry and read it a lot. So it was a poetry party and people read it aloud. And there's such a difference between reading a poem silently and reading it aloud because [of] the intonation and the sharing it with others makes it very different! What was a particularly beautiful [thing] is my girlfriend actually - she's a gifted sing-er - she actually sang her version of the poem by Robert Frost. It's a famous one about the two roads diverge, and I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

But when somebody is singing a song, singing a poem - and most songs are poems if you think about it - it is appealing to you! Not just propositionally - it's not just that kind of knowing; its not just try-ing to create beliefs in you! First of all, by reciting the poem, you… and trying to communicate it to others, you have to bring in all your know-how of communication, being able to share with other people. You have to… all your ways of paying attention [are] much more embodied. There's a Per-spectival stuff: What does it feel like? What is it like to be here, in this space, in this context with these people uttering these words? And with that, it has the potential to be Participatory because people are like, “these are poems that have changed [me]!”. [They] have made a difference to their identity. They know these poems, not the way you know the words on the back of your cereal box, they know these poems because of the way in which they have been changed by them; their very sense of identity has been altered by [them].

See, so when people were reading then, they're reading the Bible, they're reciting it. They're reciting it communally. They're also doing something [else] - and I do this practice now and other people do - It's called Lectio Divina (Writes this on the Board) as the book “Sacred Reading” is shown on screen). It's a way of reading a text in which you are not speak9ing]… The point is not to have the propositions and to speak. It is to let the text, as much as possible, speak to you! It is to engage with the text in a meditative, mindful fashion, opening yourself up to the possibility of it transforming you. It is much more like going to listen to a piece of music and having prepared yourself, prepared [your] receptivity to have a profound aesthetic experience. It's analogous to that. You're reading and you're reciting in such a way that you're trying to open yourself up to this text speaking to you. Peo-ple that are religious will often talk about this as if God is present in the text and speaking to them through the text.

This is how people were reading. It’s a form of reading that is ontologically remedial; it's designed to heal you transform you. It's designed to trigger, activate and educate your procedural, Perspectival and Participatory knowing, not just give you propositions. It's about helping you, in your reading, [to] remember the Being mode and not just Have beliefs and propositions. But people start to read differently, shortly thereafter! What's happening is people are shifting from… (Writes Avicenna on the board) So, Avicenna - which is an Anglicised form of Ibn Sina, who's a great Persian Philosopher - he was, up until this time, the dominant interpreter of that era, of that Augustinian worldview, that whole Augustinian way. And he gives priority to the Neoplatonic… -and Corbin is going to make a lot of the fact that Persian philosophy was always trying to keep the Neoplatonic and Gnostic ele-ments of spirituality alive. Persia has played a much greater role in World history and cultural history than we have properly given credit to in the so-called West. But he gets replaced by Averroes and Averroes is more purely, Aristotelian. And what that really means is a shift to giving exclusive priori-ty to definitions - (writes Priority of Definitions on the board), remember Aristotle tried to under-stand essences: the Idos as essences and essences as definitions. And that's very problematic as many things don't have definitions! - but definitions and propositions (writes Propositions with Priority of Definitions).

A new model for thought: the extensive self to the in-tensive self

So people now start to read silently to themselves and what they're trying [to do], what they give priority to, is coherence within a language rather than transformation within themselves in the world. So what matters is how the various symbols - and I don't mean that in a spiritual sense - the various propositional terms and logical connectives fit together coherently. So, a new model for thought emerges. See the old model was “thought is a conforming to the world”, and then we get this articu-lated and developed and expanded into this whole process of Gnosis and Anagoge and self-transformation, that model of knowing that's also a way of Being, that's also a way of Becoming. That's being taken away and it's being replaced by a different model. Thought, knowing, is to have coherent propositional language. Thinking is to have a coherent set of propositions in your head. So Kranz talks about, “we shift from the extensive self, the self that is trans-projectively connected to the world, that understands itself in terms of its conformity to the world, to an intensive self”. This is a self that's inside my head. It's inside my beliefs. My ‘self’ is primarily the way I talk to myself by affirming my beliefs through propositional language. So people start to think that the primary way in which we know things is to get as much coherence within our inner language, than instead of con-formity in our outer existential modes.

Now, why would people make this shift? People make this shift because the world is starting to open up again. People are starting to get interested in Knowing the world scientifically. We're getting it… And it's gonna… it's just slowly beginning here! But we're going to get the move towards the value of having cl[ear] - and by the way, I believe in this value! I'm a scientist, right?! - the value of logical-ly coherent, well organised propositional theories. The power of this is being discovered. So when I can read in this other way, I can empower my argumentative skills tremendously. What I'm losing is I'm losing reading as a psycho-technology of psycho-spiritual, existential transformation. Reading is now becoming the consumption of propositions and their structuring in logical coherency.

Love moves the will

Why? Well, as I said, there's the beginning of this reorientation towards the external world. And it's being driven by the fact that Aristotle is coming into prominence because he's being rediscovered. So because of the crusades there is a rediscovery of the works of Aristotle that had largely been lost to Western Europe. And in Aristotle there is a problem for Christianity, there's a problem for Christiani-ty. The problem is we have a figure that can't be ignored! Aristotle is part of that whole ancient world that Augustine gave us. He's the author of the Nomological order that Augustine has baptised with Christianity's approval. So Aristotle can't be ignored, but Aristotle describes a world that does not have a lot of the Christian mythology attached to it and offers explanations for things that Chris-tianity makes no effort to explain. So there is this tremendous attraction to the power, the new ex-planatory power provided by Aristotle and the model he gives up - getting clear definitions and clear syllogistic inferences and building up a very clear picture is enmeshed with this new way of reading and this new way of experiencing Knowing and experiencing oneself primarily inside one's head, in-side one's language.

So Aristotle can't be ignored or rejected because of his eminent authority. But neither can he simply be assimilated into the Christian worldview because he talks about and explains things and does things in a manner that you don't find in the Bible. So more and more people are reading in this new way. They're starting to emulate the new Aristotelian science. But this is starting to cause a crisis within Christianity. And so there's an individual who arises, who sees the looming threat that this poses. Who sees two things happening. There's a change in the psycho-technology of reading, and there is a change in how people are starting to look at the world. Both of these changes are associated with the difficulty of assimilating the rediscovered Aristotle into a Christian worldview, but Thomas Aquinas takes up the task of solving this problem. He's going to be a pivotal figure precisely for that reason. Now, again, Thomas Aquinas: [voluminous] writing!! And there's a whole group of people, both theologians and philosophers to mystic[s], and there's all kinds of controversy around how Aris-totelian Aquinas is, how Platonic he is. I'm going to, again, try to present the way I think he was his-torically taken up and basically understood.

So for Aquinas, how do we salvage both the Christian worldview and the new science of the redis-covered Aristotle? Well, he does something really brilliant! He goes to the fundamental grammar of all of us. What's the fundamental grammar of this? It's the mythology of the two worlds: the Axial revolution is, there's two worlds! There's the real world and the illusionary world. And that has been a constant throughout all of this. And he comes up with a way of trying to assimilate it. So we have the two worlds: here's the - in Plato, in the platonic and even in the Augustinian - here's the everyday world (draws a box), and then here is the real world (draws another box above the first). But what Aquinas does is he changes that. He says this world is real too (draws an arrow to point at The Every Day box)! There is real knowledge of this world possible (labels the above arrow with with this). This is knowledge that we can get through reason and science (writes Reason and Science below Real Knowledge from above). So reason and science study this world, This world (knocks the table and the wall), and they can discover real truths about that through reason, through science.

But, this world up here (the Real World) is still somehow more real. How do we do that? Well, he invents a distinction that we tend to an anacronysticly push back on people before - and there and definitely precursors in Pseudo-Dionysus and Augustine - but the idea is this (the Every Day world) is the natural world that can be studied by reason and by science. This (Real) is the world above the natural world. What's the word for above? Super. So this is the super-natural world, and this is not a world that can be studied by science or reason. This is a world that is only accessible by faith. So there's now... the two worlds have been made. Fundamentally two separate kinds of worlds, and there isn't a continuum between them now. There isn't a way of moving through them by love and reason united together. What now happens is the following, and what's going to happen is the notion of faith is going to be changed too. Reason it's down here and love is up here (writes both of these on the board, Reason below Love). And the idea for Aquinas, is that Love moves the Will. See in Plotinus and even in Augustine, love moves reason. But for Aquinas, love moves the will. Love moves the will to assert things that it can't know through reason. So love now becomes, sorry faith now becomes the act of wilful assertion (writes Wilful Assertion off of Faith & Love). Now to be fair to Aquinas, this is not wilful in the sense of my will. This is a will that is being driven by the Love of God.

But nevertheless, what's now happening is Love and Reason are being pulled apart. Faith is going from this participation in the flow of the course of history to the assertion of propositions, the asser-tion of statements, giving a creed. And more fundamentally, Science and Spirituality are now being divorced from each other in a profound way, such that if it's scientific, it's not spiritual.
And if it's spiritual, It's not scientific. And if you're talking… -and you can see the beginnings of ro-manticism: if it has to do with love then it has nothing to do with reason. And if it has anything to do with reason then it has nothing to do with love! …and all of these things are now being pulled apart.

Now he is, Aquinas is a wonderful man, a wonderful writer. He is trying to save the Axial Worldview by reformulating its fundamental grammar of two worlds into a formulation that is now becoming familiar to you. But here's the danger - and this is not a danger that Aquinas foresees: as this (Reason and Science of the Every Day World) becomes more and more successful and we less and less find our assertions, our will being driven by love, but just by willpower alone, this world (the Real World) becomes less and less real to us, the supernatural world. And if there is no supernatural world, If it's no longer - and listen to my language - if it's no longer viable to us, we can think about it and imagine it, but if it's no longer liveable to us, then the whole Axial World mythology, the whole Axial World grammar, that grammar that gave us the grammar of meaning and wisdom and self-transcendence, that huge heritage is now threatened to fall apart. We'll start looking at that next time together. Thank you for your time and attention.

Episode 19 notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

Manichaeism
Manichæism was a major religion founded in the 3rd century AD by the Persian prophet Mani in the Sasanian Empire. Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle be-tween a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness.

Mani
Mani, of Iranian origin, was the prophet and the founder of Manichaeism, a religion of late antiquity strongly influenced by Gnosticism which was widespread but no longer prevalent by name. Mani was born in or near Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Babylonia, at the time still part of the Parthian Empire.

Book mentioned - The ConfessionsBuy here
Author - St Augustine

Book mentioned - Memoirs of an Addicted BrainBuy here
Author - Mark Lewis

Samantha J. Heintzelman
"I am a personality and social psychologist interested in studying the experience of meaning in life and subjective well-being." - Citations

Hippo
Hippo Regius is the ancient name of the modern city of Annaba, Algeria. It historically served as an important city for the Phoenicians, Berbers, Romans, and Vandals. Hippo was the capital city of the Vandal Kingdom from 435–439 C.E. until it was shifted to Carthage following the Vandal Capture of Carthage.

Dionysus
a Greek god, son of Zeus and Semele; his worship entered Greece from Thrace c. 1000 bc. Originally a god of the fertility of nature, associated with wild and ecstatic religious rites, in later traditions he is a god of wine who loosens inhibitions and inspires creativity in music and poetry. Also called Bacchus.

Ivan Illich
Ivan Dominic Illich (/ɪˈvɑːn ˈɪlɪtʃ/; 4 September 1926 – 2 December 2002) was a Roman Catholic priest, theologian, philosopher, and social critic.

Hugh of Saint Victor
Hugh of Saint Victor, was a Saxon canon regular and a leading theologian and writer on mystical theology.

Lectio Divina - Written on the board as a book is shown on the screen
In Western Christianity (such as Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Anglicanism) Lectio Divina (Latin for "Divine Reading") is a traditional monastic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's word.
Book mentioned - Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina - Buy here

Author - Michael Casey 

Avicenna
Ibn Sina, also known as Abu Ali Sina, Pur Sina, and often known in the West as Avicenna, was a Persian polymath who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians, astronomers, thinkers and writers of the Islamic Golden Age, and the father of early modern medicine.

Averroes
Ibn Rushd, often Latinized as Averroes, was a Muslim Andalusian polymath and jurist who wrote about many subjects, including philosophy, theology, medicine, astronomy, physics, psychology, mathematics, Islamic jurisprudence and law, and linguistics.

Syllogism
A syllogism is a kind of logical argument that applies deductive reasoning to arrive at a conclusion based on two or more propositions that are asserted or assumed to be true. In a form, defined by Ar-istotle, from the combination of a general statement and a specific statement, a conclusion is deduced

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church. An immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism, he is also known within the latter as the Doctor Angelicus and the Doctor Communis.

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Summary and Transcript on awakeningfromthemeaningcrisis.com

A Kind Donation

If you like what you read and have gained value by being here, we hope you can consider making a small donation so we can keep this blog running. Even a few dollars for a cup of coffee would be awesome!

Want to know when the next one comes out?

Enter your information below and you’ll be informed right when it’s published!