Wednesday 21 October 2015

The Hieratic Society and Original Participation

Our little local museum has a good section on Ancient Egypt, which I have visited a few times recently. As I stood there yesterday, I suddenly felt a sense of what it was like to live in that kind of society - in which the gods were near and one was immersed in Life, with little sense of being a separate individual.

It was a Hieratic society - a life of Temples, priests, mysteries, formality, glory, ritual, worship and therefore Original Participation - as Owen Barfield termed this type of consciousness.

Then I recognized this as being very similar - in terms of consciousness - to the Eastern Roman,  Byzantine Empire - how that type of Christian society was aimed at the same immersive, absorbed un-individualized participation. Life was laid-on - and the job of each person was to accept, participate, play his assigned part with joyful obedience.

Then I realized how this form of consciousness is past, irretrievable - and not intended to be the final shape of Christianity. Any society which primarily conceptualizes life in terms of obedience and immersive participation is inevitably a society which - to some significant extent - is failing to achieve that distinct individuality of responsibility and perspective which is surely part of the Christian ideal.

Christianity is about personal relationships - not immersive loss of the self; about spiritual development in unique and unprecedented ways, about personal responsibility and choices.

God wants us as friends, not as servants - and we want friends to be individuals not versions of ourself, nor identical 'clones'. The essence of Christ is not, after all, as our King (or Pantocrator - ruler of all) - but as one whose greatest wish is to enable us to rise to his own nature and level.

I do find myself drawn, perhaps nostalgically, towards a child-like immersion in life; but that is not the situation we find ourselves in in this world.

This is not a matter of salvation (there are many, many paths to salvation - Christ made salvation as easy as possible for us) - but of theosis - and a theosis aimed at becoming Sons and Daughters of God - which means (I understand) becoming more like friends than servants; more like adults than children.

God the Father will always be God and our Father, and we will not; however, Jesus Christ is our Brother - and the difference between us is truly vast - but not qualitative. We are of the same 'natural kind' and the ultimate goal of mature spirituality (when we have 'grown-up' and are no longer spiritually child-like) is to live as family and friends - not as Emperor and subjects.

So I think ultimately, in The New Jerusalem - and despite much of the monarchical symbolism of the Bible including Revelations, suitable to early stages of theosis - life will not therefore be Hieratic; but something more and better.


Bruce B. said...

Is there any sense of union with Christ in your understanding of Christianity? That we become something different in our relationship with God when we are united with his son?

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I suppose I mean that 'united' does NOT mean in any sense 'fused with' - but rather 'on a par with' - or 'at the same level as' - and 'in perfect accord with'.

From this perspective, to want to be 'fused with' Christ is *rather like* wanting to return to the state of early childhood when a baby does not see itself as separate from his mother - whereas my understanding of the broad sweep of the Christian message and specific reading of (for example) John's Gospel, is that Christ tells his disciples that he loves them as friends (not servants) - implying at least aspiring to the degree of similarity which necessarily prevails among friends.

Friends are, of course, distinct - we can only have a loving relationship when there are distinct persons.

So a mature adult spirituality would not aspire (as a final goal) to be 'absorbed' (with loss of self) into Christ, or God the Father. It would instead be the most perfectly loving and harmonious imaginable human relationship - 'union' in that sense.

The contrast would then be between the ultimate perfection of love between mother and baby, compared with the ultimate perfection of love between older and younger adult brothers.

Bruce B. said...

I will have to reread John this time paying attention to the idea of friendship with Christ.
I think union with Christ also means Christ in us. This is the sacramental view. I am asking because I am just curious how your views compare and contrast with mine.

Robert Brockman II said...

"however, Jesus Christ is our Brother - and the difference between us is truly vast - but not qualitative."

This is the secret.

Jesus was able to take a small band of ordinary scum (his disciples) and uplift them to very close to his level. This was why the Pharisees had Jesus killed: he exposed the reality that they were all about making themselves look pious and important, rather than doing their job of attending to the spiritual advancement of the people in the region.

It was always Jesus's intention that we ultimately operate at his level. I am concerned that many Christians believe that Jesus is so far above them that they can never reach him -- but the whole point of the exercise was to demonstrate what was possible.

Luqman said...

I believe that kind of `life immersion` is a part of the outer world in such a society, whereas what you refer to with regards to individual responsibility is an internal issue. I dont think there is any contradiction here; child like immersion in life is (should be?) the natural state of man, but even as you are personally drawn towards it I dont doubt you introspect deeply as well, giving you further appreciation of that innocent surrender to existence. I dont doubt that the messianic society will be a return (albeit perfected) to a previous, functional mode of existence rather than something totally new and unprecedented. A family is a hierarchical unit as well. Love makes the difference, not lack of hierarchy.

Bruce B. said...

Mr. Brockman,

The disciples seemed pretty awful pre- resurrection. It’s only after the resurrection that they seem extraordinary.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - With the exception of John - who attended the crucifixion and was given care of Mary.

Bruce B. said...

Bruce, exception noted. I really love John. There is something very special about him.

I guess in particular I think of Peter as having underwent an extraordinary change.