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The Call of Spiritual Nobility: Yasna 30.9, the Necessary “City on a Hill”, and the Apocatastasis of Man – An American Scholar’s View.

Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.

– Byron

“May we be among those who are to bring about the transfiguration (frasho-kereti) of the world.”

– Yasna 30.9.

“The relics of my earthly sojourn are indestructible throughout the aeons of time.”

– From Goethe’s Faust (Part II, Act 5, Scene 6)

“The theory of mass production breaks down when applied to the things of the spirit.”

– James Truslow Adams. (American historian who coined the expression “American Dream.”)

As we bear down on the beginning of the Third Millennium after that ever yet mysterious life by which – in (shallow) secular agreement with mankind’s latest ruling earthly empire and culture (be that named Pax Americana, World Economic Imperialism, the Multinational Corporate State, or Global Consumer Civilization) – we have our earthly date in spiritual time, but which is now largely forgotten or pitifully understood in our mundanized cultures’ and peoples’ minds, hearts and souls, as well as greatly disputed via the modern social claims to “equal rights” as to “truth-claims” by other religions (grand and small), as well as by aggressive materialist scientists, secularists and (those sheltered and pompous enough in some parts of the West, to call themselves) “neo-pagans”; it is obviously an ongoing and vitally renewable necessity for those very few of the planets 5+ billions, who are genuinely independent minds (individual spirits, entities, entelechies), philosophers, seekers (after the truths of man, world and God), to not only continue to struggle to do their own lives’ individual inner work – in whatever fields of life and mind this may be – but also, in my distressed view, to come to a more conscious and deliberate recognition of that which Goethe, in his inspired “Fairy Tale” („Marchen“) (which he also himself experienced as an enigma) found expressed: Was ist erquicklicher als Licht?What is more enlivening than light? (That part of the natural world to which he later devoted years of research and study). The answer was Gespräch, Conversation, Beseda, Dialogue. Akin, it seems to me, to Khomyakov’s development of the idea “sobornost”, and to Emerson’s happier Massachusetts picture of “two God’s conversing” in concord; this conception seems to assume the spiritual necessity of (g)noble and ennobled human being(s) in conversant community. And it is this idea that I appropriate under the ancient and biblical idea of a “city on a hill” – an historical ideal which also helped in the establishment of the inner and outer life of New England, in Amerigo Vespucci’s novum mundi, and an idea which the late great narrative historian of American history, Page Smith (1917–1995) helped carry to and sustain on the Pacific edge of humanity’s inner and outer Westward…Course of Empire (Berkeley, George, and California): translatio imperii, -studii, -sapientia. As he often reminded the “Penny University,” that Central Californian free and open-gathering founded after the special, creative “experiment” of the University of California at Santa Cruz (1965–) (which in its prime was America’s most well-known and vital, innovative, liberal state university campus, in America’s most liberal state) began to ossify – the motto of this weekly gathering, which he helped bring into being and guide for 20 years was: The pursuit of truth, in the company of friends.

The Great Chain of Being. Illustration from Didacus Valades’ book Rhetorica Christiana (1579)
The Great Chain of Being. Illustration from Didacus Valades’ book Rhetorica Christiana (1579)

The angels – heavenly and, in our very bloody 20th century, all too obviously, infernal – we may perhaps assume have all-along above human time held their naturally – super-naturally – more enlightened councils, than we lost members of Fallen Man. Starry-eyed neo-“idealists” and bliss-seeking “New Agers” at the inner edge of the amazingly varied yet nonetheless flat and often empty California, at times look (neo-primitivistically) in their demi-literate naiveté, ahistoria and ignorance of literature, science, religion, philosophy, life, world and cosmos, to the wisdom of the more “harmonious” wise animals [or the “golden race” of “noble savages” they fantasize of the equally all-too-human native American Indians], as some sort of natural guide and pure example to that creature Man which was traditionally seen to be above them in the once Great Chain of Being – now generally broken to Dante’s divinities above, if not quite to Darwin’s animals below. We, as a creation, or species – depending on whether one looks at our gift, curse or trial (of being alleged spirit-in-flesh) predominately with a divine-spiritual or scientific-material view of man and world – are now profoundly lost between our highest human prayers for God Almighty and Ultimate Meaning (which may, like the proverbial deus ex machina, despite our learned woes and worried hopes, at the last moment, still, astoundingly save this human story – at least in the kingdom which is not of this world), and the latest deep discovery/conception of the “quark” (which, troublingly to advancing sub-nuclear science, now seems to have a somewhat similar verity as to its physical existence, as the purported crowd of dancing angels, which were sometimes thought disproved in their possible ontological status, because so many could not possibly dance together on the head of a medieval pin. Uncertainties above us, and now, amazingly-researched uncertainties below – from the invisible, missing God, to the invisible, unlocatable quarks; mankind is somehow/why/who/where/etc, become lost in material space and secularized time, in the midst of this, hopefully, somehow in spite of all appearances to the contrary, nonetheless hopefully great story – the “tragic drama”, to quote my great late friend Page Smith.

It is perhaps the missing plot, our missing collective agreement of The Plot, of this deeply troubling story – so often disputed by the doctrinal claims of the various religionists, philosophers, scientists, etc, etc. – our confusion as to this bloody story’s Ultimate Author and Script, that is so troubling to our collective humanity, as they cling (religare) fearfully to what the special voice in politics of Vaclav Havel called the beliefs of the various tribes. It is interesting how the problem of Authorship and the Script are so intertwined in their reality: Fiat Lux or the Great Big Bang – these two “prologues” infinitely determine the stage on which and The Plot in which we are supposed to be actors. (Note: Havel, in his first speech in the US Congress attempted to tell the West – fruitlessly?– that the East, even under Soviet dominion, had learned some deep truths of man, world and life (in those “dark ages”), that the much brighter life in the West could learn from the East.)

As to us human beings, down here amidst realities more readily recognizable to our “this-worldly” experiences, it is overt to anyone with the eyes to see – amidst the exaggerations and idiocies of the idea(s) of equality (Jefferson, for example, was closer to referring to the human species created by his Deist (view of) God, also to legal equality, certainly not to the leveling nonsense that screams and preens rhetorically under this slogan today) – that humanity also has a hierarchy, from (g)noble to ignoble, from beautiful to ugly, from brilliant to stupid, fine to crude, excellent to primitive, high to low, “angelic” to “bestial”, in (to use a simple traditional, now often confused division) its physical, psychological and spiritual realities. From the very earliest historical accounts, humanity was divided into three levels – as the social anthropologists not inaccurately recount them: worker, warrior, priest. From the famous (post-Indo-European) Oriental Rig-Veda’s Purusha-Sukta’s hierarchical division of Cosmic Man into incarnated men: the Macroanthopos devolved into the three main microcosmic types of men in the cosmos-mirroring, earthly social order (at this earliest beginning, the “Great Separation” of the division of Orient and Occident, as one nineteenth-century scholar called it); through St. Paul’s Occidental gnostically-tending, unpopular anthropic distinction of those of body (sarcikon), psyche (psychikon), and pneuma (pneumatikon); or Plato’s three-leveled state; or, in more recent times, in Goethe’s Fairy Tale’s three kings plus one; or perhaps Steiner’s failed attempt at a modern “three-leveled” social order; the passive majority of humanity is invariably located (and here I must use a concept culturally “un-American” today) in the lower of the two groups: the “warriors” and the much more numerous workers. Such an ancient, unmodern, social structure still – like an old, unforgettable, barely-recallable, anachronistic dream, in our nano-second, technologically globalizing society (not a “global village”, though most of the world’s people have village mentalities, but a “global city”) lingers in some places today, at least institutionally, in those remnants of the “divine” dynastic rulers still represented in some nations of Europe. Too, Japan still has its divine emperor – who is, by the way, still inaugurated in deep ancient, mysterious initiatory-cultic ceremonies we are, many of us with our modern minds, much too enlightened and intelligent to believe or understand. The Russian Czar was, in principle, a figure the spiritual and historical lineaments to which go back all the way to the very earliest, deepest spiritual legends, origins and ideas of the First Man and First King at the source of what even stupid scholars generally agree is human history. (I tend, by the way, to agree with Goethe, that those early revolutions are the fault of the rulers, who could or would not creatively molt and move in time – presumably due to a lack of sufficient and vital divine inspiration and wisdom – or Sterbe und Werde – of which their golden palaces and grand estates had become not respected signs but unpopular infuriating symbols.) I could at this point summarize, and even conclude this presentation, by saying that after the fall and decay of most of the external and internal remnants of this ancient “divine” social structure, were we to become that, in our legendary micro-cosmicity, individually, which a perfected king or czar theoretically should have incarnated socially – the crown, the shield, the orb/sword (a perfected mind, heart and will) – then we would already have the necessary (g)noble citizens of the “City on a Hill”, that (though I am probably, in Nietzsche’s sense, a madman, from America) I personally am convinced humanity can not be sane – or perhaps only ultimately justifiably saved – without; and presumably we would not all be quite so despairing, disparaging and confused as we daily are, about the profoundly-lost and troubled human condition and civilization in body, soul and spirit we daily see and lament about us.

It is to those – irrespective of whether they have some ancient, aristocratic, blue-blood running in their physical veins, or of however many titles, awards and degrees they may or may not have on their outer walls – who find themselves to be among those, to quote President Vaclav Havel again, who are people who think about the world and eternity against people who think only of themselves and the moment, that these few, long-sought, troubled words of encouragement are directed.

But there must be one more distinction made concerning the very few people – as I see it – (amongst the 5+ billion) to whom I address these my best, if inadequate, words. Hierarchies of angels traditionally, invisibly (to most of us, perhaps, agnostically) above; animals, plants and minerals (and “final quarks”) below; three levels of humanity – the highest unpopular level in principle related to mind, god, truth and human guidance, and bound to serve wisdom and truth for the other two levels. Yet here, all to obviously in our time – even amongst the few truly well-educated, broadly-learned, etc., people, there must be a further distinction recognized (one which however also often cuts across each of our own hearts, minds and souls) into what I shall agree to distinguish, somewhat arbitrarily, though usefully, as the difference between the (original Polish and Russian) meaning of “intelligentsia”, and “intellectuals” (an expression more common in the West, I believe, and one which is not fully satisfactory because it tends to denigrate the word by its adherents). So let me further define my terms a bit here; that my lamentful call will at least be clear, in its sincere if inadequate diagnosis and prescription for our globally-troubled human life. (Not forgetting, that popular (now mass) culture will live in the two other traditional levels of humanity; and that these levels have taken to cultivating and guiding themselves in recent centuries, with obvious correspondingly results – especially after the ongoing “Death of God”: Clear Meaning and Morality.)

I would distinguish “intellectual” from “intelligentsia” not only by the questions as to whether they have sufficiently noble heart, or real sympathy with the condition of humanity – whether they have a high moral feeling life; but rather by another profoundly important aspect: whether their acute intelligence, their years of necessary learning, study and scholarship, whether this all is done sub species aeternitatis, in the pursuit of truth of world and man, or whether it is used rather as a kind of clever human display, a display of cleverness, to equal or lesser intellectuals (not to consider the other two levels of humanity). (And I make this distinction, even though there is usually somewhat of holiness, Hollywood and haughtiness in us all.) In other words, whether our knowledge, our deep, great and extensive learning (which may or may not have brought to us human recognition, awards and titles); whether our life’s labors are done for and ensouled by prideful personal display before men, or is pursued as a bounden duty to man and world – on our broken level of the once Great Chain of Being – before the God we probably all, at least the agnostics amongst us in our worst despairing moments, hope IS. Whether all of one’s work is seen and felt as done by oneself as a spiritual creature (spirit-in-flesh) on the planet, as a spiritual-human labor and pursuit of knowledge, truth and understanding: an attempt to understand as deeply as possible the human condition in the greater cosmos, the conditions of mankind – lost between a missing God Almighty and the latest, discovered unlocated “quark”. Thus I am not seeking much agreement or understanding amongst the much more numerous “intellectuals”– those who see their intellectual life as mostly a “career” path, as a respected position in an all-too-often all-too-human hierarchy of human pride and profession. I am speaking these very few words to those of us here (and theoretically elsewhere) who pursue their work and lives sub species aeternitatis – as their spiritual work in our unspiritual time.

Angels (hopefully more clear and enlightened about all of this – including the details of the Lost Plot) above; animals to minerals (somewhat presumably less enlightened) below. (Is physics the mirror opposite replacement of God, as an ultimate explanation: not theology, but materiology?) If McDonald’s and Hollywood represent the trivialization, the earthification, the physicalization, the entertainment, the “bread and circus” of the lower two levels of humanity: the direction towards human nescience and ignobility; “Washington, D.C.” the “democratic” political distraction of their often plutocratically, economically-determined lives; and the world’s traditional, pre-scientific religions and churches (with their most often all-too-earthly all-too-human hierarchies, institutions and political-social positions, policies and plans) a million-fold popular “opiate” inadequate and inappropriate to the real modern and post-enlightenment mind (be that of sceptics or intellectuals, or the far fewer intelligentsia in the sense I present here) – a sort of old dreamer’s solution to the “cursed questions” of life; then the “city on a hill” would be – and there have of course been those before, lonely and gathered, known and unknown greats of human history, who I would describe as citizens of the hopefully perennial, ongoing “city on a hill” (of whom we each here have our personal heroes, exemplars and guides) – a community of those who are striving, with all of their hearts and minds, to make sense of this world of and for humanity, and God. God’s injuncted work on earth. Not obnoxious spectacular popular displays like those from Hollywood’s; nor mimicked world-wide pompous political pageantries in capitals around the world; nor quiet monastic retreats into the various religions’ claims of unique, original, holy purity from some distant prior pre-modern revelation (what, to say it one way, for example, is the doctrine on atomic physic’s plutonium in the Orthodox church’s doctrines of the “divine economy”?); the “city on a hill”, it seems to me, even if its citizens have seldom or never met, represents the free and independent human heart and mind at its best, striving in this fallen, temporary world, to do the necessary work of the (g)noble (“priestal”) level of man. This idea has relatives: in the “intelligentsia” in Russia; the American Transcendalists, with for example their Concord School of Philosophy; or Steiner’s „Freies Geistesleben“, among others. The old, dreamy religions around us, in this “post-scientific” time, at least attempt to provide ultimate answers – though it is debatable whether their million-fold adherents have maturely endured life’s cursed, ultimate questions; and as to Hollywood, it is both a symptom and a misleader into the trivial, mundanized man – a type of opiate as well. Those of the “City on the Hill” cannot rest in some religious Biblical ease; nor in gurus’ lores; nor in science’s discoveries of intermaxillary bones, missing-link skulls, mind-chromosomes, edges of the universe, or final quarks; they must try to encompass – inadequately but ineluctably – these various extremities to the human condition. They are not bound (religare) to the past by religion; but learning from them, they can neither merely accept science’s conclusions as Gospel. For there are as many living mysteries to the latter, as still reside in the former. If a new living spiritual evangel – good message of meaning, purpose and hope – cannot come from free and independent spirits of man amidst our unholy uncivilized, confused mess today, then we must be resigned and contented with science’s grand theories and tinkerings, as well as ancient pre-scientific religious lores of life and world. Somehow, impossibly spanning all, rewelding the upper link in the Great Broken Chain of Being – if only in human aspiration, and noble and sacrificial (sacri-facere: to make sacred) striving – they must try to be representatives (if only in their own individual lives and personal ways) of Man to men, between wiser angels (good and evil) and the natural world below. To work as if the God and the angels needed us incarnated; and as if the lower once-kingdoms of nature, could depend on us for their ultimate spiritual apocatastasis.

Yasna 30.9’s deepest Occidental call still hovers above us – like an invisible star, like some disputed, forgotten mission. Let us hope that the relics of our individual and “City’s” earthly sojourn, in “thought, word and deed”, are, also in eternity, our adequate necessary participation in the apocatastasis of man, and transfiguration (frasho-kereti) of the world.

First publication: Метафилософия – или философская рефлексия в пространстве традиций и новаций. Международные чтения по теории, истории и философии культуры. Выпуск четвертый. / Глав. ред. Л. Морева – СПб.: Эйдос, 1997. – С. 368-375.