Stephen J. Costello, PhD
Philosopher and Existential Analyst/Logotherapist
Director, Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland (www.logotherapyireland.com)
Most recent publications: The Ethics of Happiness (www.wyndhamhallpress.com) and What are Friends For?: Insights from the Great Philosophers (Raider Publishing International).
Socrates (469-399 BC): ‘The only thing I know is that I know nothing’. He put maieutic questions to his fellow Athenians. He questioned them about the nature of goodness and justice and virtue and happiness.
Plato (428-427 BC): founded philosophical therapeia. Hugely influenced by Socrates. Gave us the first picture of mental health in the Western intellectual tradition in the Republic.
Philosophical therapy re-emerged in 1982 when Gerd Achenbach opened the first philosophical practice in Cologne. Continued by Lou Marinoff in US; author of Plato not Prozac! They established philosophy as counselling and consultancy.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) retrieved this Platonic practical philosophy in his logotherapy and existential analysis. Use made of ‘Socratic dialogue’.
Pierre Hadot (1922-2010) charts the view of philosophy as a therapy of the soul, and as a spiritual exercise (though without mentioning logotherapy) in his classic work, Philosophy as a Way of Life.
Lecture I: Overview: happiness and meaning; Frankl and others.
Lecture II: Eric Voegelin’s (1901-1985) Platonic philosophy; the ‘Flow of Presence’.
Lecture III: Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556): discerning divine desire.
Lecture IV: Etty Hillesum (1914-1943): a concrete case-history.
Happiness and the Spiritual Search for Meaning
Lecture 1: Overview
Robert Nozick, the famous American philosopher, set out a thought-experiment for us; he called it the ‘experience machine’. He writes: ‘Suppose there was an experience machine that could give you any experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or meeting a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, pre-programming your life’s experiences?’
The question is: is there more to life than feeling happy? Will we accept his offer, to be connected to a machine in which we could feel continuously happy, not only enjoying highly pleasurable sensations but also being profoundly satisfied? – we would be able to live in complete but deluded happiness. Should we plug into this machine for life? Hands up who would! Well, Nozick answers ‘No’ for himself. Why? Because we want to do certain things, we seek meaning and not just happiness; the Experience Machine eliminates all choice, all capacity for genuine empathy, all reciprocity and concern for a meaningful life. When presented to students approximately 5% say they are willing to take a chance on the machine. So 95% think there is more to happiness than feeling happy and more to life than happiness. We want reality, it would seem, with all its shades.
In relation to the differences between men and women on the subject of happiness, I am not aware of any scientific studies on this subject, which doesn’t mean they’re not out there but Aristotle and Schopenhauer thought that women have less capacity for happiness than men. Anyone agree? These two philosophers weren’t though exactly known for their phylogyny (fondness for women).
Has science anything to say here? Is there such a thing as a happiness gene? Is it myth or reality? Some scientists say that positive people owe their optimism to a gene that helps them dwell on the good and ignore the bad. It is a long variant of 5-HTTLPR, a gene that controls transport of the mood-affecting neurotransmitter serotonin, according to behavioural geneticists. It is estimated that 50% of happiness is genetically determined. You can control 40% of your happiness quotient, the remaining 10% comes from outside circumstances such as accidents, illness, the economy, job losses and stock markets plummeting etc. The so-called happiness gene or the ‘LL’ carrier, as it is called, suggests that people are drawn to positive images in life such as cuddly puppies and those without this gene are more prone to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
One other experiment is worth noting: since 1992 a group of Buddhist monks have visited the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience in the University of Madison, in the US, to take part in electroemcephalographic studies by psychologists there: in these studies monks who had undergone training in meditation are asked to meditate in the laboratory, their heads wired with EEG electrodes – the brain patterns of these monks were found to differ sharply from those of the control subjects – the monks managed to bring about and maintain levels of activity in the left prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain associated with positive feeling) far above anything achieved by anyone else. One of the monks – a Matthieu Ricard, who is the Dalai Lama’s personal interpreter, has been hailed as one of the happiest persons ever. A case of meditation being better than medication or, as the title of one pop philosophy bestseller has it: Plato is better than Prozac!
In terms of available psychological studies and the data accrued happiness would seem to be a matter not of events but on tides of the mind. Epictetus said it isn’t the event that hurts or harms us or gives us happiness, it is the interpretation the mind puts on the event. Psychologists try to measure it with various instruments, giving various names to their studies: one name they came up with is SWB, meaning ‘subjective well-being’. 20% of people find that social isolation is a major cause of unhappiness. Social contact is the one factor without which happiness is not possible – this has come to the fore in every study. As Aristotle opined: solitude befits only beasts and gods. We men are made for social intercourse and friendship, singled out by Aristotle to be essential to the good, therefore, the happy life. And generally speaking, extraverts are more likely to be happy than introverts. Incidentally, lottery winners are not significantly happier after the initial thrill wears off, than they had been before (though I find that hard to believe!). That’s because happiness is a mental state. We may name such happiness markers and makers, happiness set-points as: mental health, physical health, life satisfaction, meaning in life, positive attitude, social relationships, engaging activities, material sufficiency. Happiness thieves are depression, anger, envy, resentment, anxiety.
Aristotle’s word for happiness in Greek was eudaimonia. Eu means good or well and daimon means spirit or fortune, as in having a good guardian spirit, a good divine power. So, thus understood, perhaps the path to happiness is obeying your conscience, your inner daimon or spirit, or desire. Thomas Merton, the well-known Trappist monk, said that happiness consisted in finding out precisely what the ‘one thing necessary’ may be in your life, what it is you really desire.
Happiness is episodic; it means ‘to happen’ so it is not a constant contentment. The Old English usage of ‘happenstance’ reflects this etymology well, which means a lucky break. (Unhappiness is kakodaimonia). Kant, the German philosopher, wrote this: ‘a rational being’s consciousness of the pleasantness of life uninterruptedly accompanying his whole existence is happiness’ but few of us are fortunate to be happy all the time except perhaps the addict.
Studies have shown some correlation between altruism and Subjective Well-Being (thus further confirming Aristotle’s view that the good man is the happy man – virtue is the path to happiness in the Aristotelian perspective); there are scientific experiments that show that kindness is good for the doer. So to give is really to receive, scientifically and not just ethically speaking.
Iris Murdoch, the Irish philosopher and novelist: ‘Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness, being busy and lively and unconcerned with self’. Self-transcendence, so, rather than self-actualisation. And Senecca: ‘the more eagerly a man strives to reach it [happiness], the farther he recedes from it’. So happiness consists in forgetting the self, or, what Murdoch calls: the fat, lying, illusion-making, deceitful ego. And the very pursuit of happiness is what thwarts it. Viktor Frankl makes this point: that happiness must not be pursued, that instead it must ensue. Life, he says, does not owe us happiness, rather, it offers us meaning.
Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, in his book, The Conquest of Happiness, argues that the following factors are the causes of unhappiness: competition, boredom (defined as ‘the desire for desires’) (the cure for boredom is curiosity, though there is no cure for curiosity), fatigue, envy and fear of public opinion. For Russell, true happiness consists in the ‘freedom of the spirit’. The causes of happiness, by contrast, are zest for life (interest in things and people), affection, family ties, work and impersonal interests (where the direction of interest is outward). He writes: ‘The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile’. Happiness depends partly upon external circumstances and partly upon oneself while all the while trying to forget the self. It’s about delighting in the world around us, finding significance in the small things, keeping things simple, as Marcus Aurelius advises, and to give up the hysterical hunt for happiness. We can see this hyper-intention and fixation on being happy at Christmas time, especially Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and that’s why these occasions are more anxiety-producing and miserable than any other ones during the year. It’s about one’s attitude to the things of the world: as Groucho Marx said: ‘I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today’. When we’re pissed off at life we normally get pissed but there are other things we can do to minimise our unhappiness: for example, to see that sufferings and sorrows are part and parcel of life, that they are not the whole of one’s life, that disappointments and depressions, fears and frustrations coexist with joy and jubilation. We can use our talents. Russell gives this advice to would-be writers: ‘Give up trying to write and instead try not to write. Go out into the world and become a pirate, a King in Borneo, a labourer in Soviet Russia’ then you will have something to write about.
Humour is essential, the art of communication (DMC’s – deep, meaningful conversations), leisure time, aliveness, interactions and distractions, and time to think. As one philosopher said: ‘don’t just do something, stand there’! and sheer luck is important (though I wonder whether luck is not another name for tenacity of purpose). It seems to be true that too much of a good thing is not particularly conducive to our happiness: it would seem economically and health-wise we should avoid compulsive consumption (Aristotle advised moderation in all things including moderation!). And at all times, what cuts grief in half is intimate friendship, a real friendship based on a friend giving you criticisms as well as compliments. Also, the ability to learn from suffering, for example, parents can learn many things from their children especially how much patience they have! Marx stressed the importance of meaningful labour; work is so often the only real antidote to worry Confucius put it well: ‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’. Be constructive (constructive purpose promotes happiness), create a monument to your existence, serve a cause, do a deed, love someone in their uniqueness and singularity, and focus on the future, on practical preparations and plans – these are all ways to be happy.
12% of people experience depression and it would seem that the best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up, as Mark Twain suggested which would seem to be in complete agreement with the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, who remarked that the door to happiness opens outwards.
When one psychoanalyst heard that I had written a book on happiness, he said to me ‘happiness is a symptom that has to be cured’! ‘Happiness happens’. That is the etymology of the word. Happiness means ‘to happen’. It is an encounter so, an episode, a happen-ing. Happiness comes and goes – it’s like a ghost. The spirit of happiness, so.
In the film ‘Annie Hall’, Woody Allen approaches an apparently happy couple and asks them whether they are happy, to which they respond in the affirmative. Allen asks: ‘How do you account for it?’ She replies: ‘I’m very shallow and empty and have no ideas and nothing interesting to say’ and he says: ‘And I’m exactly the same way’! They managed to work out something so, observes Allen.
Woody Allen’s character, who believes that life can be divided into the horrible (which includes cripples, etc.) and the miserable (the rest of us, who should be thankful we are only miserable) also says: ‘That’s the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing’. Allen is Freudian through and through.
One of Freud’s expressed aims for psychoanalysis was to replace neurotic suffering with ‘common human unhappiness’. For Freud, we are psychically constituted so as not to be completely happy. The psychoanalytic and religious registers of human experience have much in common here.
Augustinian Christianity insists that ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in thee O Lord’. The psalm chosen by the Church for Compline every Saturday runs:
‘“What can bring us happiness?” many say.
Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord.
You have put into my heart a greater joy
than they have from abundance of corn and new wine’ (Psalm 4).
The question is answered in psalm 15:
‘Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: “You are my God.
My happiness lies in you alone”’.
The psalm concludes:
‘You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever’.
Christianity talks a lot about joy– Easter joy not happiness; they are different things. It recognises that ultimate and utter happiness eludes us in this life because of the gulf between my desire and the only entity capable of fulfilling that desire in its entirety – Divinity Itself.
In terms of statistics and the GSS (General Social Survey), 32% of Americans describe themselves as very happy, 56% as pretty happy and 12% as not too happy. So the vast majority (88%) are happy. However, one must bear in mind that there are different meanings attached to the signifier /happiness/. There is, for example, Aristotelian happiness, Buddhist happiness, hedonistic happiness, the Marquis de Sade’s view on happiness and the ‘joy-joy-click-your-heels’ type of happiness.
For Aristotle, who was the first thinker in the Western intellectual tradition to write on happiness, happiness is ‘an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue’. Aristotle’s theory of happiness requires a theory of virtue. Virtue is an acquired disposition to do what is good. Virtue is the path to happiness. For both Aristotle and Aquinas, the happiness of human beings is twofold:
1) There is an imperfect happiness in this life that consists in the contemplation of immaterial substances.
2) The other happiness is the perfect happiness of the ‘next life’, when we will see the substance of God himself and other immaterial substances, such as angels.
For vulgar people, the Sovereign or Supreme Good or happiness is pleasure and the life of enjoyment (this is Eodoxus’ and Epicurus’s view which re-emerges later in Freud). Aristotle dismisses this way of life as being mere ‘bovine’ existence. It is only one possible life. According to Aristotle, there are three main types of life:
1) the life of pleasure
2) the political life
3) the contemplative life
Happiness is something we always choose for itself ‘and never for any other reason’. Aristotle notes: ‘Happiness, then, is found to be something perfect and self-sufficient, being the end to which our actions are directed’. Activities are either necessary and to be chosen for the sake of something else or to be chosen for themselves. Happiness is to be chosen for itself. It is self-sufficient.
Aristotle in his Ethics writes:
‘We are now in a position to define the happy man as “one who is active in accordance with complete virtue, and who is adequately furnished with external goods, and that not for some unspecified period but throughout a complete life”. And “destined both to live in this way and to die accordingly”’.
St. Thomas Aquinas, who gives us a Christianised Aristotelianism, held that the ultimate of human happiness is to be found in contemplation. ‘Contemplation does not rest until it has found the object which dazzles it’, as the German poet Konrad Weiss put it.
For Aquinas, all gratifications point to the ultimate one – all happiness has some connection with eternal beatitude. All satisfactions this side of Heaven fail to satiate completely – they are not what we seek. As André Gide remarked in his Journals: ‘The terrible thing is that we can never make ourselves drunk enough’. Nothing is enough, sufficient, adequate. The happiness that is contemplation is not just the happiness of the philosopher. All satisfactions remain directed toward one ultimate and final end: partial happiness in this life, perfect happiness in the ‘next life’. Virgil says in Dante’s poem: ‘Amid a thousand twigs, one sweet fruit is sought’.
So we want to be happy and we can’t not want it. The will is incapable of not willing happiness. It is as natural as the falling stone that ‘seeks’ the depths, as the flower that turns to the light, as the beast that hunts its prey. The very desire for happiness is inherent in man’s composition/constitution.
A few centuries later, Blaise Pascal’s would similarly maintain: ‘Wretchedness of man without God / Happiness of man with God’. Defining the human condition as one of ‘inconstancy, boredom, anxiety’, Pascal devotes the whole section on ‘Diversion’ in his Pensées to showing how man tries to keep boredom at bay. Realising the wretchedness of human existence, man has taken to diversions. For Pascal, ‘nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion’. Diversion is the key to happiness, which Pascal says is the ‘world’s supreme good’ – diversions such as gambling and hunting (we prefer the hunt to the capture, says Pascal). ‘I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room’.
‘The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion. That is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such a fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible…. [man] becomes unhappy as soon as he thinks about himself’.
Roger Scruton, the British philosopher, penned a passionate and beautiful apologia for hunting, named as far back as Plato as a noble pursuit, entitled: On Hunting (1998). On a Pascalian note he admitted that he was wretched until he discovered the diversion of hunting, which changed his life: ‘My life divides into three parts. In the first I was wretched; in the second ill at ease; in the third hunting’. Like dancing, hunting is done for no other purpose than itself. It is for nothing. One could say that hunting or any diversion exhibits ‘a purposiveness without purpose’. It is auto-telic, having its end in itself. Scruton feels that ‘since discovering hunting, my priorities have changed’. Hunting obviously gives him freedom and a meaning to life or, at least, distracts him a while from life, making sense even of German philosophy! He writes: ‘Hunting gives sense to everything – even to Heidegger’.
And speaking of German philosophy, For Arthur Schopenhauer, the 19th century dark philosopher, happiness is the absence of suffering. ‘Work, worry, toil and trouble are indeed the lot of almost all men their whole life long’. Happiness is the abolition of desire and the extinction of pain.
‘We begin in the madness of carnal desire and the transport of voluptuousness, we end in the dissolution of all our parts and the musty stench of corpses. And the road from the one to the other goes, in regard to our well-being and enjoyment of life, steadily downhill: happily dreaming childhood, exultant youth, toil-filled years of mankind, infirm and often wretched old age, the torment of the last illness and finally the throes of death’.
Though Schopenhauer loved a nineteen-year-old singer, a relationship that lasted intermittently for ten years, he redirected his attention to a succession of poodles, which provided him with huge happiness. Some philosophically minded Frankfurters bought poodles in homage to the great philosopher. He had a rigorous daily routine: he wrote for three hours every morning, played the flute for an hour, dressed in white tie for lunch (he had an enormous appetite), visited his club where he read The Times, took a two-hour walk with his dog, attended the opera or the theatre in the evening, where he usually became enraged by late-comers and those who coughed and generally made noise. But increasingly he isolated himself from human company, for which his mother rebuked him in a letter. Above all, he longed for recognition, the recognition the nearby Hegel was achieving, whose philosophy he describes as ‘repulsive and nonsensical gibberish, recalling the rantings of a bedlamite’. Fame would come posthumously, though, to this good-natured gruff. According to Schopenhauer, if only we did not strive after happiness we would be less unhappy. ‘What disturbs and renders unhappy … the age of youth … is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. Chess, skittles, hunting, painting, horse-racing, music, cards, poetry and philosophy can all help in keeping boredom at bay, he maintains. Very like Pascal.
Despite his odd moments of hope, Schopenhauer found enough to be depressed about. He says that ‘happiness is not even conceivable’. But some modicum of love and hope do manage to break in to Schopenhauer’s pessimistic picture of the world. Life is a dance into the arms of death. ‘No rose without a thorn. But many a thorn without a rose’. Together with Nietzsche, he influenced Freud.
For Freud we commonly seek three things: power, success and wealth. ‘Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks’. There are three measures we utilise so as to avoid these hardships:
1) Powerful deflections, ‘which cause us to make light of our miseries’,
2) Substitute satisfactions, ‘which diminish it’, and
3) Intoxicating substances, ‘which make us insensitive to it’.
What decides the purpose of life, for Freud, is the programme of the ‘pleasure principle’. This principle dominates the mind from the beginning but it puts us at loggerheads with ‘reality’. There is no chance of it being carried through; the entire universe runs counter to it, according to Freud. Freud observes: ‘One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be “happy” is not included in the plan of “Creation”. What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs that have been damned up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. According to Freud, there are three sources of our suffering:
1) From our body, ‘which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain’,
2) From the external world, ‘which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction’;
3) And finally from our relations with others, which ‘is perhaps more painful to us than any other’.
Due to all these factors, Freud surmises that we are accustomed to moderate our claims to happiness. Sometimes, Freud suggests, we think ourselves happy merely because we have escaped unhappiness. ‘Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience’. Freud will be suspicious of happy people, maintaining that he can offer no consolation for those of us who suffer so grievously from life, maintaining that the aim of psychoanalysis is ‘to replace neurotic suffering with common human unhappiness’.
Happiness is elusive; it will always escape us. It elides the grasp – it may be approached but never appropriated. To paraphrase a passage from the Song of Songs, we sought happiness but found it not.
But let’s not totally despair: the human subject is always getting off on something even if it is dissatisfaction. We are happy in our unhappiness. We are content in our misery and suffering. We are happier, so, than we think, according to the Freudian view. Our symptoms afford us with endless pleasure. As Beckett said: ‘You’re on earth; you’re on earth. There’s no cure for that’. The notion that the goal of life is to be happy is pure paganism. The idea of living ‘happily ever after’ is the Christianised version of a pagan concept.
It is tempting to see happiness as an American construct, the febrile search for which may become destructive or futile or both, as it so easily slips away – the American, anarcho-capitalist dream dispensed with. After all, Thomas Jefferson held that the pursuit of happiness was an inalienable right. It is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. America: ‘the USA, the ultimate empire of the pursuit of happiness’ Maybe we need to go to America in order to be happy! In analytic terms, happiness is the betrayal of desire.
Turning to the twentieth-century, Miguel de Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher, writes:
‘At our coming into the world it is given to us to choose between love and happiness, and we wish – poor fools! – for both: the happiness of loving and the love of happiness. But we ought to ask for the gift of love and not of happiness, and to be preserved from dozing away into habit, lest we should fall into a fast sleep, a sleep without waking, and so lose our consciousness beyond power of recovery …. Love dies as soon as it touches the happiness towards which it reaches out, and true happiness dies with it’.
There you have it. The choice is stark but simple: happiness or love, for Unamuno. Your happiness or your desire, for Jacques Lacan.
In ‘Love and Death’. Woody Allen would seem to endorse this Unamunian and Lacanian sentiment thus:
‘To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting all this down’.
Iris Murdoch, for her part, has this to say about our search for happiness here below: ‘Happy love can be an ingenious moral cheat. ‘Happiness ‘in spite of the misery of the world’. A brave young man might well believe that it could be achieved’. Well he might.
In That They May Face the Rising Sun, another Irish writer, John McGahern observes intelligently, with a soft wisdom:
‘They were discussing the sale and transfer of the business. As he listened to the two voices he was so attached to and thought back to the afternoon, the striking of the clocks, the easy, pleasant company, the walk round the shore, with a rush of feeling he felt that this must be happiness. As soon as the thought came to him, he fought it back, blaming the whiskey. The very idea was as dangerous as presumptive speech: happiness could not be sought or worried into being, or even fully grasped; it should be allowed its own slow pace so that it passes unnoticed, if it ever comes at all’.
Paul Ricoeur, the French philosopher whom I had the privilege of meeting and who I did my doctorate on (he died in 2005), felt happiness could come in three main ways. He writes:
‘I like the word happiness a lot. For a long time I thought that it was either too easy or too difficult to talk about happiness, and then I got beyond my scruples, or rather I deepened those scruples with respect to the word happiness. I take it in all its various meanings, including that of the beatitudes. The formula of happiness is “Happy the one who…” I greet happiness as a “re-cognition” in the three meanings of the word. I recognise it as mine; I approve of it in others, and I am grateful for the happiness that I have known, the small experiences of happiness, which include the small experiences of memory, in order to heal me of the great unhappiness of forgetting. And there I function both as a philosopher, rooted in the Greeks, and as a reader of the Bible and the Gospel where you can follow the trajectory of the word happiness. I think of the beginning of Psalm 4: “Ah, who will teach us happiness?” It’s a rhetorical question, but it finds its answer in the beatitudes. And the beatitudes are the horizon of happiness of an existence placed under the sign of kind-heartedness, because happiness is not simply what I do not have and what I hope to have, but also what I have tasted’.
We can’t absolutely know happiness or be absolutely happy but we can hope. ‘Il n’y a pas une vie heureuse. Il n’y a que des heures heureuses’. As Hopkins puts it: ‘There is a happiness, hope, the anticipation of happiness hereafter: it is better than happiness, but it is not happiness now’. But ultimately, from within a Christian register, it is an uncertain promise not a presence or a possession, one that involves hope rather than having, and aspiration rather than accomplishment and appropriation. It involves signs, signals, signposts, sentinels, cyphers, tracks, traces.
G. K. Chesterton, the English Catholic writer, suggests that we let the melancholy of acedia be an innocent interlude and that we let praise rather than pessimism be the permanent pulsation of the soul, what Ricoeur calls ‘hope’ and ‘love of Creation’. As Chesterton observes: ‘joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live’ even if this ‘laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear’. Chesterton mentions a figure who fills the Gospels, as an example:
‘His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet, He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth’.
For the psychoanalyst, the question of earthly happiness is closed. There is no Sovereign Good. That is to say, in this life. But the question of eternal happiness is an open question. Both are open questions – the ‘next life’ and the notion of complete happiness. The question is: should we be concerned about this? Perhaps. Perhaps not. That is God’s business (should He exist), not ours. Maybe we should think little of it. The question of happiness in ‘Heaven’ is suspended.
Our aspiration to happiness implies ‘a place where miracles happen’. A miracle or a mirage? For the theist, happiness involves living the beatitudinal life. The Sermon on the Mount taught eight beatitudes.
For his part, Ricoeur hopes and wagers on happiness happening, both in this and the next life. ‘I do not aim at “my” personal idea of happiness but happiness and per se’. I should only really be interested in the happiness of the Other.
Charles Taylor, the twentieth-century Canadian philosopher, whom I had the privilege of meeting recently and one-time presidential hopeful, feels that there is something beyond happiness; he calls it ‘fullness’; it takes us beyond mere human flourishing and relates us to the realm of the transcendent. He observes:
‘The individual pursuit of happiness as defined by consumer culture still absorbs much of our time and energy, or else the threat of being shut out of this pursuit through poverty, unemployment, incapacity galvanizes all our efforts. All this is true, and yet the sense that there is something more presses in. Great numbers of people feel it: in moments of reflection about their life; in moments of relaxation in nature; in moments of bereavement and loss; and quite wildly and unpredictably.’
Writing about such fulfilment, Viktor Frankl, who managed to find meaning in a concentration camp, in Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote that a thought transfixed him and it was this: that for the first time in his life he saw the truth that had been expounded by the poets and philosophers of all times, that love is the ultimate goal to which the human spirit can aspire, that life is about meaning and not happiness, that man’s salvation is in and through love.
‘I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory”’.
For Frankl, happiness is a by-product, a side-effect of man’s search for meaning as the primary motivating factor. To Freud’s ‘cheerful pessimism’, we may oppose Frankl’s ‘tragic optimism’. The glass, to take the clichéd example, is always half full and half empty at the same time. To put it another way, when the glass is half full it is also half empty. By focusing on the part that is full alone or empty alone one is incorporating a limited understanding of reality. Isn’t wisdom the cognitive ability to discern both realities simultaneously and not one at the expense of the other, to have, as James Joyce put it, two thinks at a time? So to the question: ‘would you like a cup of coffee or tea?’ the only dialectical answer is ‘yes please’!
We should, therefore, not be in too much of a rush to leave the tragic in favour of the triumphant but to retain both perspectives in a delicate dialectical and dynamic tension; in Hegel’s memorable phrase, we need to spend some time ‘looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative…’ is one side of the dialectic and an important one lest we become humanistic hopefuls who toe the Dalai Lama line: ‘The purpose of life is to be happy’ as he puts it. The other extreme is Schopenhauerian pessimism. Frankl’s shorthand is ‘D = S-M’: ‘despair is suffering without meaning’. In such a situation we are prone to experience with Shakespeare’s Hamlet the feelings he describes thus: ‘How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of the world. Fie on it!’ (Act I, Scene II). But suffering need not be an obstacle to happiness – often it is a means to it, less a pathology than a path. The modern-day moral injunction is: ‘happiness as the supreme duty’.
Frankl sets out three ways as to how we can find meaning instead of happiness: 1) by being creative, 2) by experiencing something (especially experiencing the True, the Good and the Beautiful) or encountering someone, and 3) by changing one’s attitude to unavoidable suffering or unchangeable situations. The last one – attitudinal values – entails facing one’s fate without flinching; the ancient Stoics gave prominence to this the last of human freedoms in their philosophical therapeia. It testifies to the enduring and ‘defiant power of the human spirit’. As Plutarch puts it: ‘The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune’. We don’t know what magnificent hour may still await us.
Lack of meaning or the impossibility to fulfil meaning potential is the main reason for the ‘existential vacuum’ of ennui and apathy, of doubt, despair, hopelessness and spiritual acedia. Such is the taedium vitae. Yes, Frankl says, ‘things are bad’ but unless we seek to ameliorate them, everything will become worse! To live is to suffer but to survive is to find some meaning in suffering. Frankl often asked his patients why they didn’t commit suicide, thus recognising with Camus, that the only philosophical question is whether we should commit suicide out of disgust with life. If there is meaning, it is unconditional and neither suffering nor dying can detract from it. To trust there is is transcendental.
Logotherapy teaches that life does not owe us happiness, it offers us meaning. Happiness, like success and satisfaction, are by-products of our pursuit of meaning. And all meaning converges in the highest meaning, that is to say, in transcendent reality. Ultimate meaning may be approached, it is never appropriated; by contrast, the meaning of the moment can be found and fulfilled. This involves being mindful of the moment as we tend and attend to, as well as profit from, the present instant and the call of the hour.
The surest way to be unhappy is to fixate on happiness, to demand or desire it, to hyper-reflect on it. Seeking happiness is like chasing a rainbow – the faster one runs, the further it recedes. We need to surrender to it happening, to let go and forget about it. Self-transcendence is the ultimate ethical and spiritual ‘beyond’ of self-actualisation. Hyper-intention is the excessive striving for a goal such as happiness or pleasure. Frankl encourages us to de-reflect from this egotistical pursuit of happiness. As such, we need to find meaning and forget about happiness. In the Preface to the 1992 edition of Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl tells us that the following was the advice he gave to his students:
‘Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it’.
For Frankl, there can be as much meaning in suffering as in success. As he states: ‘Lack of success does not signify lack of meaning’ in which case, we may speak, as Frankl does, of despair despite success. On the other hand, there is a phenomenon which can be described as fulfilment despite failure.
Frankl cites a study conducted in Harvard University where among 100 subjects who had graduated 20 years before, there was a huge percentage of whom who complained of a crisis and felt that their personal lives were pointless even though they had been very successful in their professional lives – they included lawyers, doctors and analysts.
For Frankl, our whole therapeutic culture stresses the idea that we ought to be happy, that we have a right to be happy, ‘that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment’. Frankl continues: ‘One must have a reason “to be happy”. Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically’.
One contemporary American philosopher opines: ‘Self-forgetfulness is the secret of joy. Pleasure is agitated aliveness, happiness ‘has peace in place of agitation, but sleepy satisfaction in place of aliveness. Only joy has both peace and aliveness, aliveness without agitation and peace without sleepiness’. He continues:
‘Pleasure is the restless mind moving along a line, never reaching the end. Happiness is the mind resting at the end. Joy is the mind eternally moving at the end, motion at a point …. Pleasure is moving; happiness is still; joy is moving while still. Pleasure is like work, happiness is like sleep, joy is like play. Pleasure is like action, happiness is like rest, joy is like contemplation’.
From Aristotle to Jefferson, happiness has been regarded as the principal goal of life but Frankl sides with Kant and Max Scheler who view it as a side-effect. What about inducing happiness through drugs, through ‘happiness pills’? Frankl responded to this once in Berkeley; it was raised by a student. Frankl answered that these can never be a reason for our happiness, though they may be a cause for it. Reason implies a psychological relationship just as cause implies physiological-biochemical one. Joseph Fabry, in his The Pursuit of Meaning, gives an example that delineates the differences between reasons and causes for happiness, thus: ‘When someone is weeping because she lost a friend, she has a reason; but when someone is weeping while cutting an onion, the onion is not a reason for his tears – it is a cause’.
We may liken it to insomnia. Sleep is a dove that flies away as soon as you make a grab for it. Or, to take another example: Happiness is like a cat, if you try to coax or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come. But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping into your lap. The striving and straining after happiness is, for Frankl, ‘misguided’ and ‘neurotic’. As Frankl puts it: ‘Once one has served a cause or is involved in loving another human being, happiness occurs by itself’
American cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker in How the Mind Works, drawing on the work of the evolutionary psychologist, Donald Campbell, who described humans as beings on a ‘hedonistic treadmill’, notes that, ‘the study of happiness often sounds like a sermon for traditional values. The numbers show that it is not the rich, privileged, robust, or good-looking who are happy, it is those who have spouses, friends, religion, and challenging, meaningful work’. ‘The direct pursuit of happiness is a recipe for an unhappy life’.
Happiness cannot and should not be a matter of intention; it must remain a matter of effect. Happiness ensues as an unintended (side) effect of one’s dedication and devotion to a cause (to serve) or person (to love). Frankl is explicit: the focus instead should be directed outward away from the pleasure-ego. ‘In the final analysis, dereflection means ignoring one’s self’. It is the logotherapeutic technique of dereflection that promotes such self-forgetfulness. A story is told about a man who was promised a hundred dollars if he would not think about a chameleon and although he had not, before that, thought about the lizard, now he couldn’t stop thinking about it! But as soon as he was told to think about an elephant he stopped thinking about the chameleon! Iris Murdoch, gives an example in her The Sovereignty of Good. Murdoch relates:
‘I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important. And of course this is something which we may also do deliberately: give attention to nature in order to clear our minds of selfish care’.
In this example, dereflection ushered in self-transcendence and an alteration, therefore, in moral vision. Frankl likes the line from Bernano’s Diary of a Country Priest: ‘It is easier than one believes to hate oneself; grace consists in forgetting the self’. Frankl expounds: ‘Persons do not exist for the sake of observing themselves and contemplating their own egos, rather, they exist in order to give themselves up, to give themselves away, to knowingly and lovingly devote themselves’.
The meaning of life is a life of meaning. Frankl notes: ‘To look for the general meaning of man’s life would be comparable to asking a chess player: “What is the best move?” There is no such thing as “the best move” apart from the one that is best within the context of a particular situation of a particular game’.
For Frankl, either life has meaning and if so it retains it or life has no meaning. He quotes Albert Einstein: ‘The man who regards his life as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life’.
In terms of the relationship between pleasure, happiness and joy and relating them to Frankl’s tri-dimensional ontology, that we move in three modalities, body, mind, spirit, I would like to advance the notion that pleasure pertains to the somatic, happiness to the psychical and joy to the noetic. Somatic ‘happiness’ is pleasure, psychic ‘happiness’ is happiness, while noetic ‘happiness’ is joy. Hence, my schema (which gives the impression of being static and rigid, almost reified but there are, of course, interpenetrations and cross-currents present):
Physical happiness (somatic): Pleasure
Psychological happiness (psychical): Happiness
Spiritual happiness (noetic): Joy
The higher includes the lower and transcends them (give example). Joy, in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is the ultimate gift from God. It resides in the spirit, the noetic core or realm. And conscience is the voice of spirit. Joy has an air of eternity about it and opens us up to the Other. ‘Enter into the joy of the Lord’ (Matt. 25: 21), we are told. But recalling Frankl’s ‘tragic optimism’ let us say: we can be fairly happy, reasonably happy here!
Henri de Lubac, S.J., the French Catholic theologian, has some interesting and similar observations to Frankl in his small book of aphorisms entitled Paradoxes of Faith. He, too, is of the opinion that suffering is part and parcel of the fabric of life and doesn’t preclude joy. ‘Suffering is the thread from which the stuff of joy is woven. Never will the optimist know joy’. No, but the tragic optimist might! Suffering can be redemptive; it can bring blessings. Prayer, love and suffering are three ways which free us from sentimentality. ‘Under the species of pain, the substance of joy is there, already …. There is only one way of being happy: not to be ignorant of suffering, and not to run away from it; but to accept the transfiguration it brings’. Many promises of happiness, he contends, are ‘swindles or childish dreams’. So there it is: real joy is faith and found in the Father. Joy is the very life of Heaven. Joy is self-transcendence: joy points to its ultimate beyond, to God. Joy is not a feeling; it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. The road to joy: ‘Thy will be done’. De Lubac summarises the relationship the Christian has to happiness, thus:
‘The Christian does not ask for happiness. Jesus teaches him to ask for the Father’s Name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, for his Will to be done. The Christian does not expect happiness. He expects the new heavens and the new earth, “which Justice inhabits”. The Christian does not desire happiness. He hungers and thirsts after Justice. He is athirst for eternal life. The Christian does not hope for happiness. He hopes to see the glory of God. Happiness is all that and can be but that’.
Frankl’s own experiences of spiritual self-transcendence are described in Man’s Search for Meaning. He was in the concentration camp communing in his mind with his wife and struggling to find a reason for his sufferings, for his slow dying. I conclude this overview of my thoughts on the subject of happiness and meaning with his words:
‘In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. “Et lux in tenebris lucet” – and the light shineth in the darkness’.
Lecture 2: Voegelin
Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
with time, is an occupation of the saint –
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses, and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled…
T. S. Eliot, ‘The Dry Savages IV’, Four Quartets
The German philosopher Eric Voegelin’s (1901-1985) work was oriented towards diagnosing the causes of the wars and various crises of the twentieth-century, as well as recalling for human consciousness the divine Ground of reality within which the search for order is undertaken. He is a philosopher of history, a political philosopher and mystic-philosopher all at once.
Voegelin’s conviction is that the philosophical and Christian life is ordered through an Anselmian faith in search of understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). Voegelin completes Aristotle’s opening sentence in the Metaphysics ‘all men by nature desire to know’ by the words ‘the divine Ground of being’. But there is also a response from the divine Reality. Desire is, thus, twofold. Both Plato and Aristotle recognised this desirous dimension of reality, with their conceptualisation of an Unmoved Mover who attracts men to himself. ‘Plato and Aristotle recognised these [moving] forces in the experiences of a human questioning (aporein) and seeking (zetein) in response to a mysterious drawing (helkein) and moving (kinein) from the divine side’2. In the Laws X, Plato symbolised the emergence of the pull (helkein) of the Word/God and the counter-pull (anthelkein) of the world/man – man is the ‘puppet of the gods’. Whether man responds to the drawing/pull of the golden cord or surrenders to the pull of the steely cord marks the dividing line between openness of soul and closure3. In the second part of St. Anselm’s Proslogion, Anselm prays thus: ‘Speak to my desirous soul what you are, other than what it has seen, that it may clearly see what it desires’4. Desire, as St. Augustine noted, does not rest until it discovers the object that dazzles it. This is the Logos about which Heraclitus speaks (‘The Logos holds sway always’) and St. John: ‘In the beginning was the Logos’. The Logos has been operative in the world from its creation but comes to its fulfilment in the Incarnation of the Word in Christ.
Plato has given us the famous Parable of the Cave in the Republic to denote this drawing of desire. In this allegory, ‘prisoners’ are depicted as men fettered with their faces to the wall and who are then dragged up by force to the light. Plato depicts a pilgrimage, an ascent from the sensual to the spiritual. This involves a re-orientation of desire, a conversion of consciousness, a (Platonic) periagoge or turning around, a metanoia or (Christian) conversion to the divine Ground of being. We experience the sacred pull of reason (logos) that lifts us up to the Beyond (epekeina). Existence is thus seen as a field of pulls and counter-pulls, of ascent to the light and descent to the depths. The Gospel of St. John (12: 32) is in full accord with classic philosophy but He is now named as the Christ who, when He is lifted up, will draw all men to Himself. He is the magnetic pneumatic centre of attraction who exerts this pull of love and is the source of all our eschatological expectations. John 6: 44: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’. John thus symbolises, in an avowedly Christian context, the pull of Plato’s ‘golden cord’.
We are not apes but nor are we angels. For Voegelin, existence has the structure of the Platonic metaxy, of the In-Between – the In-Between of immanence and transcendence, mortality and immortality, nature and the divine. Existence has a noetic structure and so, for Voegelin, madness (in the Aeschylean sense) is the refusal of reason, is the loss of personal and social order through loss of contact with divine reality. Voegelin aims to return to immediate experience, to the reality engendering and the symbols engendered. The aim, therefore, of philosophy is to recapture reality, to return to the engendering experiences to which symbols give rise. According to Voegelin, reason (nous), which he describes as ‘the cognitively luminous force’5, is the force and source of order in the soul/psyche of man and in the cosmos. Order pertains, thus, to the structure of reality as experienced and the attunement of man to such an order results in joy. If soul connotes man’s depths, spirit denotes man’s openness to this divine Logos. ‘By spirit we understand the openness of man to the divine ground of his existence: by estrangement from the spirit, the closure and the revolt against the ground’6. For Aristotle, this yearning, desiring, longing, quest(ion)ing after the Ground is the beginning of all philosophy. Plato’s philosophy sounds a more erotic note and envisages a turning, in loving search, to the Ground, from spiritual desolation to the spiritual consolation of the sun, which is his metaphor for the Good. The choice: turning toward the Ground or a turning away from the Ground. In so far as man participates in the divine drama of being, in the dialectic of desire, truth (aletheia) becomes luminous and existence too.
It is my Christian contention that the divine reality desires to communicate with the creature and that it is possible, with the help of St. Ignatius of Loyola, to discover and discern this divine desire.
The human being is viatoric – on the way, a pilgrim questing and questioning and wondering, restless and desirous. Our desires are always deferred, distant, directed to the One who alone can fulfil them. As Voegelin describes it: man
‘is moved by God to ask the questions that will lead him toward the cause (arche) of being. The search itself is the evidence of existential unrest; in the act of questioning, man’s experience of his tension (tasis) toward the divine ground breaks forth in the word of inquiry as a prayer for the Word of the answer. Question and answer are intimately related one toward the other; the search moves in the metaxy, as Plato has called it, in the In-Between of poverty and wealth, of human and divine; the question is knowing, but its knowledge is yet the trembling of a question that may reach the true answer or miss it. This luminous search in which the finding of the true answer depends on asking the true question, and the asking of the true question on the spiritual apprehension of the true answer, is the life of reason’13.
To put it in Pascalian terms, we can say that we search for what we have already found. By contrast, the derailment or disease of the spirit is a closure to this divine Ground; it is, in short, what Voegelin calls the ‘decapitation of God’, the rejection of the transcendental realissimum, as the source of order in self, society and history. What has marked and marred modernity, in the main, according to a Voegelinian analysis, is the immanentisation of the eschaton, to use Voeglelin’s felicitous and famous phrase from his The New Science of Politics, i.e., the desire to reduce the transcendent reality to a mere psychic phenomenon. This is an egophanic revolt, one that is Gnostic through and through. For Voegelin, the psyche is the sensorium of transcendence just as man is a participant in the drama of being, in the lasting and passing of existence. Attunement to the flow of (divine) presence occurs when man hearkens to that which is lasting in being and listens attentively to the still, small, silent voice of conscience and grace in human existence. This leads to a radical reorientation in man; it may be symbolised as the Platonic periagoge or as Christian conversion. And the mundane becomes mystical. Man then lives in partnership with God, who is the true source of his order. It is a passionate response to revelation, to an act of gratuitous grace. Participation becomes heightened into attunement to the divine order of being, to what is enduring, and the soul is thus ‘open’. Man is in search of this Ground, of this God in Hellas (classic philosophy) just as God goes in search of man in Israel.
This search for the Ground is conducted in the depths and heights of consciousness; it seeks to uncover the ultimate reality of being. For both Aristotle and Aquinas (albeit differently) we naturally desire the Ground. And it is philosophy which illuminates with intelligence the loving search of the divine Ground. In Order and History, Voegelin speaks of philosophy as ‘the love of being through love of the divine Being as the source of its order’16. The core and constitutive aspect of man’s existence is his immortalising participation through reason in the divine Nous. For Aristotle, the Nous is the divine element shared by both God and man. And we have had thousands of years of the codification of man’s experiences of this divine Being. History is a trail of His absent presence; everywhere there are traces of transcendence. Noetically, we experience this as the actualising Nous, pneumatically we experience this as the attracting/drawing Divinity. We remain in the flow, in the ‘in between’ of the luminosity of existence, in which eternity is, nonetheless, present. In the flow the trans-temporal eternal Being is felt – what Voegelin calls, in Anamnesis, the ‘flowing present’ of the Eternal. As Anaximander put it: ‘The origin of things (arche) is the Aperion (the depth)’17.
There is no final or ultimate Answer to the Question other than the Mystery – all answers confront their limit in the Mystery of Reality whose meaning becomes more luminous in the very act and art of questioning itself. Voegelin’s main principles come from the inquiry itself and may be summarised as follows18:
1: Participation: the principle of participation is central to noetic existence. We participate in the reality of which we are but a part, ontologically symbolised by man, God, world and society, which together form a quarternarian structure of being. Participation is our perspective on reality. This participation tends in the direction, in the pull of super-eminent reality – God (or any other names that symbolically designate divinity, or the Ground of being). They have been experienced and expressed in various modes or modalities: the Platonic vision of the Good and the love of wisdom; the Heraclitean Logos; Pauline faith, hope and love; the Aristotelian immortalising quest; the Augustinian amor Dei; the Anselmian faith in search of understanding. There is, thus, a fundamental tension – such is the nature of the In-Between, in which we participate. Reality is metaxological; it is also hierarchical; participation is layered upon ascending grades of greater reality and greater participation, from the physical to the spiritual, rational and divine. This is mirrored in the hierarchical structure/order of man’s psyche/consciousness, whose highest nature is nous. The Question is constant in the experience of reality: one formulation of it is Leibniz’s, re-asked by Heidegger: ‘why are there things at all rather than no things?’ The Question gives rise to the quest, and the quest seeks the Ground of things (the depth), the God who is the Beginning and the Beyond (the end), the Alpha and the Omega; our pilgrim’s progress points toward eschatological fulfilment and finality in the Parousia19.
2: Differentiation: Answers to the Question are not all the same; some possess more force, are superior in their perception and penetration, in their luminosity, completeness and compactness. This is achieved through the principle of differentiation, which designates a developmental process in the structures of consciousness/reality experienced/symbolised. For example, myth is less differentiated than philosophy and revelation, the latter symbolic forms articulating greater profundity of the Whole. This process of differentiation is the exclusive source of knowledge of reality/consciousness (the knowledge attained through noetic science). Man is a participant in the process; he is not a stoical spectator, rather, he is a passionate participator in the personal, social and historical dimensions of human experience/existence. If ‘differentiation’ is attained through openness to the Ground, ‘contraction’, by contrast, connotes closure to the Ground. There are counter-movements within consciousness; these may be described as revolt, rebellion, reduction, bad faith, metastatic faith, magic, deformation, derailment, defection from reality, alienation, egophany, refusal to apperceive, contempt for reality. Any of these occur when the insights as symbolised are perverted, dogmatised, doctrinalised, obscured through systems or torn from their experiential contexts for obfuscatory purposes.
3: Experience-symbolisation: For Voegelin, experience is not primarily the perception of external objects but the apperception of the processes of the participatory reality of consciousness in tension to the Ground. Experience engenders symbolisms. Experience-symbolism forms a unit. The search for the Ground and its symbolisation of experience stresses the ontic perspective of luminous participation. The principle of equivalence arises from the fact that the same reality is intended by varied symbolisms as the trail of history from Stone Age petroglyphs to Platonic dialogues to the philosophising of a Bergson. Aristotle recognised the equivalence of the insights symbolised in myth to those symbolised in philosophy. So that for Aristotle, the lover of myth, the philomythos is at the same time a lover of wisdom, a philosophos.
4: Reason: For Voegelin, it is reason that is the core constituent of man. Man is a rational animal – a zoon noetikon or homo sapiens, as a being who possesses nous, to give it an Aristotelian flavour. Reason is at the heart of noetic science and is the principle of science. It is the highest principle shared by both man and the divine Being. Reason is both a structure (of man’s participation in the metaxy and the tension toward the divine Ground of being) and a process.
We are restless wanderers pulled toward the super-eminent reality that stirs man to wondering; it is experienced as an attraction to higher reality. Man’s nous responds to the divine Nous or Ground. The classical experiences are the theophanies of Moses and Paul and their decisive responses to the divine disclosure. This unrest is joyful; it is the beginning of the theophanic event as noetic consciousness (the sensorium of transcendence) opens to the Ground. We may tentatively venture a Voegelinian definition of happiness here: it would be man’s participation in the theophany, his attunement to the flowing presence of the Divine Ground of Being, and the corresponding ordering of his life in its personal, social and historical dimensions, accordingly. Man’s happiness is not ‘this-worldly’21; its ultimate source is other-worldly, trans-mundane. Man’s desire seeks its fulfilment in absolute Love. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, to list the three transcendental properties of being, are three names for God, and three paths that lead to Him. Their presence is an indicator that the flow of divine presence is at work in the world and in ourselves. One of Karl Rahner, S.J’s major works in theology deals precisely with this theme – Geist in Welt (Spirit in the World). For this German Jesuit, grace is God’s self-disclosure, His self-communication to His creatures. Similarly, for Bernard Lonergan, S.J., the transcendental precepts of being attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible, and loving are ways by which we seek God and ways that God is present to us too. I attend to myself, the other and God in that I try to sense the Spirit at work. My faith searches to understand; it is intelligible, like the universe. We seek the Truth with our intellects. Faith is reasonable and rational; we are responsible in that we respond to the Divine call or promptings (or choose not to), to everyday epiphanies, seeking God in all things and all things in God, as St. Ignatius would have it. We search for God as Cause and Call. And we love; we commit, we endure all things in the light of the divine Ground of being. In so doing, we partake in the Divine Love/Life that characterises God as triune, as a communion of Love.
For Voegelin, the source of order in human existence is rooted in experiences of transcendence, in the attunement to divine Reality; this involves getting ‘in tune’ with God. ‘Song is existence’, as Rilke said. It is a uni-verse. Religious experience is the ground of order. And self and society are inter-related, as they were for Plato. Psyche is the substance of society and social or societal order depends on the order of the individual soul. Political order is achieved by the attunement of the citizen’s soul to the divine Ground of existence. This is the cardinal insight of Voegelin, an insight that has been expressed by prophets, mystics, saints and sages of all times and by the philosophers of the past. To be created in the image and likeness of God is to be ordered to the divine Ground; it involves an amor Dei rather than an amor sui, an openness rather than closure to the Ground of all. We participate in the divine Logos by way of the divine Nous that dwells in all of us – such is the life of self-transcending reason. What is of primary importance are experiences of the Transcendent; doctrines and dogmas are secondary; they are hypostasised ideas. According to Voegelin, we have lost the immediate encounter with the transcendent, what Voegelin calls the ‘truth of existence’22. The task is to make radiant once again the symbols of the divine-human relation/encounter/meeting (not merging). Such is the ‘order of love’, of which Voegelin speaks. And what love desires is immortality23. When we partake of the divine being/substance we become theomorphic. And the theomorphism of the soul is the principle of all order originating in the cosmos. The experience of divine Reality occurs in the psyche of man, the psyche that exists in the metaxy, in tension toward the Ground. The psyche is the sensorium for divine Reality and the site of its luminous presence.
Voegelin’s whole aim is to return to the experiences and symbols which give rise to second-order constructions, the mediaeval paradigm of which is St. Thomas Aquinas’ scholastic metaphysics, but which is erected on the basis of an animating mysticism24.
I began this second lecture by citing some lines from the Christian poet, T. S. Eliot. Voegelin’s philosophical symbol of ‘the flow of presence’ is precisely the divine Presence of which Eliot writes symbolised in his immortal words: ‘the point of intersection of the timeless with time’. Man is the meeting place of both body and soul, of the visible and the invisible, of time and timelessness. ‘The visible reminder of Invisible Light’, as Eliot puts it. His Four Quartets is the spiritual autobiography of a Christian soul, a metaphysical poem which is, at once, a meditation and incantation, as Voegelin describes it25. If we are open to divine reality,
‘every point of presence is as T. S. Eliot formulated it, a point of intersection of time with the timeless. This is the point of presence. Thus, the whole series of time would not be a series on a line at all but a series of present points in which none is ever past, but only past in relation to their present, not really past. Ontologically, really, it is always in relation to the presence, which is the same presence that constitutes my present here and now. On this conception of a divine presence, which is the presence in every present point on the line…’26.
The Presence is the presence of the divine Ground. The transcendent being is the cause of all the beings in the world, the ground of all other being. ‘There is one real being, the eminent being that is divine being in the Beyond’27. There is no immanent being without transcendent being. Voegelin calls this ground of being ‘a nonexistent reality’28. It is real yet nonexistent. By nonexistent Voegelin means that the divine being does not have the mode of existence in time and space. To speak of this being, one has to draw on a different logic, for example, on the Thomistic analogy of being (analogia entis). Aristotle had developed terms to describe the searching part, the zetesis, that is, searching and being moved toward the search and kinesis, coming from the divine side (in Christianity it is called grace). And when consciousness is the site where transcendence and immanence meet we speak of the metaxy, or the In-Between. We live in this In-Between, and if we are open, we live in the flow of presence, ‘which is neither time nor the timeless, but the flow in which time and the timeless meet. That is the time in which we exist. In this flow of presence, in-between, that is where all the [concerns] of man are transacted’29. Reason attracts man (this is Aristotelian kinesis, without which nobody would search for anything). We exist in a state of existential tension and unrest, in the flux and flow of presence, from which springs the desire to know or, what Voegelin simply calls ‘the attraction’30. The ‘indelible presence’ of the divine31 is the moving factor in the soul and world at large, which Plato calls the parousia (which is Greek for ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’ of a person and is employed in theology to refer to the second coming of Christ).
Lecture 3: Ignatius of Loyola
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., God’s Grandeur
According to the Christian tradition, we have a desire for God yes, but more, God desires to reveal His desire to man too. The question is: how are we to discern or discover this divine desire? Ignatius of Loyola can help us here.
In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus) gives us criteria to discover precisely this and so it is to this classic spiritual text that we now turn our attention. This little book consists of contemplations and meditations on Christ’s life, death and resurrection, organised around four ‘weeks’, corresponding to the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. At the heart of the Exercises is the question of desire. The five themes that structure the Exercises are: Creation, Mankind, The Kingdom of God, Christ, and The Trinity. Ignatius makes two claims: firstly, that we can discover God’s desire for us, and secondly, that God will communicate His desire for us, as contingent creature deals directly with his Creator, all for the greater glory of God (ad majorem Dei gloriam).
The aim of the Exercises is to discover and discern the divine Will (or desire), regarding the disposition of one’s life, thus insuring the salvation of one’s soul. This is Ignatius’ intent. At the outset, he distinguishes between the intellect (reasoning) and the will (rational desire), which expresses the affections. Prayer must involve both2. The one giving the Exercises ‘should allow the Creator to work directly with the creature, and the creature with its creator and God’3. The objective is to free the soul from any inordinate inclinations or attachments, from any disordered desire, to create indifference to all created or indifferent things. We need not go into the Daily Examen of Conscience, the Meditations, the Two Standards, the Three Classes of Men, the Three Modes of Humility, etc. Suffice to say that running through the entire Exercises is the question of desire, and this desire is twofold; it is a dialectic involving the desire of the creature and the desire of the Creator. The person doing the Exercises must be ‘always intent on seeking what I desire’4, ‘that I may desire and know what is most pleasing to His Divine Goodness’5, and again: ‘to ask for what I desire’6. This is the constant refrain from within the context of Christian, more specifically, Catholic spirituality.
In order to make a choice of a way of life we need to be able to discern, what Ignatius calls, the discernment of diverse spirits – i.e., the various movements of the spirit in me through the experiences of what he calls ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’. The aim here is to ask that God may deign to move my will and to reveal to my spirit what I should do to better promote His praise. Ultimately, this involves disregarding riches, honour and pride and preferring, instead, poverty, scorn (or contempt for worldly things) and humility. The Exercises culminate in the ‘Contemplation to Attain Divine Love’. For Ignatius, love is made manifest more in deeds than words and it consists in a mutual interchange by the two parties involved (the lover and the beloved). And the ultimate lover is Christ, indeed, the Logos is Love Itself, as St. John tells us. A similar maxim to Ignatius’ idea above in relation to love as a deed more than a word, is Hevenesi’s, a Hungarian Jesuit, who formulated the following idea in 1705: ‘Here, then, is the first value of acting: assume/believe that the successes of your undertakings depends entirely on you, and in no way on God; but, nonetheless, set to work as if God alone will be everything, and you yourself nothing’. So, we must experience ourselves as fully responsible. The trust in God must be in our acts, not in our beliefs.
According to Ignatius, there are two movements that are produced in the soul: spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation. Anxiety and sadness or melancholy come from the evil spirit or enemy, while courage, strength and peace come from the good spirit or angel. This is how he defines spiritual consolation:
‘I call it consolation when the soul is aroused by an interior movement which causes it to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and consequently can love no created thing on the face of earth for its own sake, but only in the creator of all things’7.
By contrast, desolation is the opposite. Ignatius:
‘I call desolation … darkness of the soul, turmoil of the mind, inclination to low and earthly things, restlessness resulting from many disturbances and temptations which lead to loss of faith, loss of hope and loss of love. It is also desolation when a soul finds itself completely apathetic, tepid, sad, and separated as it were, from its Creator and Lord. For just as consolation is contrary to desolation, so the thoughts that spring from consolation are the opposite of those that spring from desolation’8.
There may be three reasons for our desolation: because we are slothful in our spiritual exercises, so spiritual consolation is withdrawn from us; God may be testing us; or God may desire to give us a true knowledge and understanding, to reveal to us that everything is a gift and grace from Him. ‘It belongs to God and His angels to bring true happiness and spiritual joy to the soul and to free it from the sadness and disturbance which the enemy causes’9. Ignatius summarises his central claim thus: ‘… the action of the good angel is gentle, light, sweet, as a drop of water entering a sponge. The action of the evil spirit is sharp, noisy, and disturbing, like a drop of water falling upon a rock’10.
Ignatius also instructs us to make a daily ‘Examen of conscience’, what is now called an ‘Examen (examination) of consciousness’. It involves reviewing one’s day (a similar exercise is employed in logotherapy), resolving to amend one’s life, requesting forgiveness and graces from God. According to Ignatius, we have three types of thoughts: a thought that is my own and comes from my own liberty and will, with the other two kinds stemming from the good spirit and the evil one and we need to be able to distinguish between them. We need, also, to guard against idle words, defaming or slandering an other and thoughts that prompt us to sin. Ignatius’ method involves rendering gratitude to God for graces received, asking for graces to know my sin and to free myself from it, demanding an account of my soul from the moment of rising until the Examen is performed, examining and exploring my thoughts, my words, then my actions, and asking pardon for my faults and failings, and finally, resolving to amend my life and concluding with an Our Father. The aim of the Examen is to aid the prayerful person to grow in spiritual sensitivity and to help us to look at our life through the lens of love, mindful that the Spirit is at work and attempting to live in accordance with His will. The key to the Examen is to examine how conscious we are of the ‘flow of divine presence’ in our lives, as we are aware of each and every moment (the present instant). This is the ultimate relevance of Ignatius to the disciple of Voegelin or Frankl.
These, then, are Ignatius’ guidelines, both for the Examen (which can be carried out on a daily basis) and for the full Spiritual Exercises (which can be carried out either over the course of a 30-day silent Ignatian retreat or in its 19th Annotation version in daily life) to help to discern God’s desire for us: Ignatius’ is a psychological-spiritual approach, grounded in the soil of Christology.
If we are being ‘consoled’, in Ignatius’ meaning of that term, then the spirit of God is at work in our soul. For God wishes to make Himself known to us. This is the divine desire – so that we may come to know and love Him and live and die accordingly, enflamed with this divine desire, enraptured, enveloped, suffused, permeated by the absolute love of the Three Persons of the Trinity. Spiritual discernment is needed in order to chart these movements of the spirit within our souls in our ongoing attempt to discover the divine desire for us.
Voegelin: The Flowing Presence as Equivalent to Ignatian Consolation
A comparable idea and insight to Ignatius’ notion of ‘consolation’, I would contend, is Voegelin’s philosophical equivalent symbol of the ‘flowing presence’, which is likewise designed to catch changes and shifts in consciousness in the mode of human responsiveness to the divine presence. For Voegelin, we remain in the ‘in between’, in the metaxy – ‘in a temporal flow of experience in which eternity is present. This flow cannot be dissected into the past, present, or future of the world’s time, for at every part of the flow there is the tension toward the transcending eternal being. This characteristic of the presence of eternal being in temporal flow may best be represented by the term flowing presence’11. This flow of divine presence in our lives requires a response from the creature in his existential and dramatic encounter with his Creator. It is a moment of the eternal present, where happiness resides.
The divine Ground of being is not an existent thing like the things of the world12. Human nature, however, in its openness to the Ground, responds to the call that comes from on High. Voegelin puts it thus: ‘Through this openness, beyond all contents, images, and models, order flows from the ground of being into man’s being’12. This is the theophany – the appearance of God to man and the transformation it elicits in man as we touch the tensional poles of metaleptic reality – the apeiron (depth) and nous (reason). For Voegelin, as we have said, the eternal being is not an external object that can be studied but rather a compelling experience that irrupts into time – it is a theophanic moment when timelessness intersects with time. The place where this realisation occurs is the soul of the philosopher, ‘the lover of wisdom, who desires eternal being and, in love, opens his soul to its irruption. There is no philosophy without philosophers, namely, without men whose soul responds to eternal being’13. Elsewhere Voegelin continues: ‘When man by virtue of his soul experiences his participation in eternal being, he is more than merely ‘man in temporal existence’’14. Temporal being becomes illuminated by eternal Being and participates in divine life. The tension is that man experiences within himself his temporality but also his eternity; one pole lies within himself, the other lies outside himself, is experienced as being beyond all temporal being. Voegelin observes: ‘From the temporal pole the tension is experienced as a loving and hopeful urge toward the divine eternity, from the eternal being as a call and irruption of grace’15. It is a moment that is not momentary but momentous. Moments of hope, love and grace. The tension must be experienced personally and presents itself in a manifold of experiential modes ‘of anxiety and faith, … of despair and hope, of acquiescence and rebellion, humility and defiance, opening and closing oneself, apostasy and return, promethean revolt and fear of God, joy of life and contemptus mundi’16. In this experience of the divine flow of presence, of flowing presence in the metaxy, there is a meeting, not a merging, of man and God, of time and eternity. The metaxy is the place of their interplay – a Winnicottian ‘transitional space’. Both poles need to be stressed: on the one side, there is man’s seeking-and-receiving. On the other side, there is God’s or the divine Ground’s giving-and-commanding. When the former is emphasised we speak of philosophy (symbolised by Hellas), when the divine irruption is emphasised we speak of revelation (symbolised by Israel).
In this search for the divine Ground of being we need to emphasise the fact that this desire is not blind. ‘Since the search is not a blind desire but rather contains the component of insight, we may characterize it as knowing questioning and questioning knowledge’17. Still, we may miss the goal or be satisfied instead by a shadow of divinity. ‘That which gives direction to the desire and thus imparts content to it is the ground itself, insofar as it moves man by attraction’18. Without this kinesis, this attraction to the Ground, ‘there would be no desire for it; without the desire, no questioning in confusion; without questioning in confusion, no awareness of ignorance. There could be no ignorant anxiety, from which rises the question about the ground, if the anxiety itself were not already man’s knowledge of his existence from a ground of being that is not man himself’19. There is, thus, a mutual participation (metalepsis) of two nous entities. Nous is what is divine in man and we attain to divinity, to eternity, in rare moments – moments of ‘the highest bliss’20, which ‘is a perpetual happiness in God’s reality’21. But we mortals suffer a shadowy life. We sit down beside the light of the fire in Plato’s cave because it is comfortable and we don’t have to really see, to take a look, to attend to what is really real. But outside there is the light of the sun, by whose rays we are warmed and exalted. Love calls and our life becomes transformed, transmogrified and we begin to live the resurrected life; the self dies or is denied, dissolves or is dismembered in the radiant light of divinity.
‘Out of a comprehensive complex of knowledge, the classical noesis differentiates the consciousness of the ground by way of love of God, of being moved by grace of the ground to the point of feeling compelled to “turn around”, from being lost in the world toward inclination to the ground, of experiences of the shadow-like character of worldly existence, of the world as a prison and foreign land, of experiences of light shining in darkness, of being-led on the right way’22.
These are the signals, signposts, ciphers, suggestions, as outlined by both Voegelin and Ignatius. There is the loving search or quest for the divine Ground of being; there is the right order of life and death in which the art of measure weighs the rightness of action. The Platonic periagoge symbolises the turn to the Ground, and finding a way from rebellion to reality.
The light attracts. And from our dogmatic slumbers we awake to attend. Beauty is the visible apprehension of the Good, for Plato. By a differentiation of consciousness, we devote ourselves to, as Bernard Lonergan, S.J., puts it: ‘a moral pursuit of goodness, a philosophic pursuit of truth, a scientific pursuit of understanding, an artistic pursuit of beauty’23. And in all our questioning and questing and pursuing, God is implicitly present. This spiritual son of Saint Ignatius, whose thought echoes some central concerns of Frankl’s and Voegelin’s, observes:
‘God is implicit in all our questioning, so being in love with God is the basic fulfilment of our conscious intentionality. That fulfilment brings a deep-set joy that can remain despite humiliation, failure, privation, pain, betrayal, desertion. That fulfilment brings a radiant peace, the peace that the world cannot give. That fulfilment bears fruit in a love of one’s neighbour that strives mightily to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth. On the other hand, the absence of that fulfilment opens the way to the trivialization of human life in the pursuit of fun, to the harshness of human life arising from the ruthless exercise of power, to despair about human welfare springing from the conviction that the universe is absurd’24.
The right response to transcendent mystery is reverence, adoration and awe. One becomes possessed by this mystery of unmeasured love. ‘All love is self-surrender, but being in love with God is being in love without limits or qualification or conditions or reservations’25. Religious experience is an experience of the Holy, of Rudolf Otto’s mysteriun fascinans et tremendum; it corresponds to Ignatius’s ‘consolation without cause’. Loving God means transcending myself. Lonergan puts it thus: ‘Since loving him [God] means loving attention to him, it is prayer, meditation, contemplation’26. If consciousness is experience, knowledge is a compound of experience, understanding and judging, for Lonergan. What of faith? Lonergan defines it thus: ‘Faith is the knowledge born of religious love’27. He continues: ‘Without faith, without the eye of love, the world is too evil for God to be good, for a good God to exist’28. In Insight, Lonergan had cited the ‘evil that tortures too many human bodies, darkens too many human minds, hardens too many human hearts’29. So, faith in spite of evil, and love in spite of sin.
When the soul is open to the Ground of being and mystically attuned to the flow of divine presence, insights arrive, clarity of vision is attained, contemplative action, gained. Lonergan defines insight as an act of attention, with the supervening act of understanding. Insight into insight ‘includes the apprehension of the meaning of meaning’30. Insight ‘comes as a release to the tension of inquiry’31. Aristotle had first noted that we desire to know. It is both a desire and a drive. Lonergan notes: ‘Deep within us all, emergent when the noise of other appetites is stilled, there is a drive to know, to understand, to see why, to discover the reason, to find the cause, to explain’32. Insight comes suddenly and unexpectedly; it ‘depends upon a habitual orientation, upon a perpetual alertness ever asking the little question, Why?’33 Insight breaks through the darkness ‘in which one gropes about insecurely’34; it yields to increasing light and ultimate absorption. Lonergan describes the process of wonder and questioning thus: the first moment is awakening to one’s intelligence. It is ‘the effective emergence of wonder, of the desire to understand’35. The second moment is ‘the hint, the suggestion, the clue’36; it involves a sense that we may be on the right track or that something important has taken hold of us. The third moment is the process whereby we frame and test suppositions; we see. The fourth moment is the achievement. ‘By their cooperation, by successive adjustments questions and insight, image and concept present a solid point. The answer is a patterned set of concepts’37. The dynamism of intelligence is set in motion. We finite, contingent beings possess ‘a pure, detached, disinterested desire simply to know. For there is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder’38. Lonergan continues, and it is worth quoting him in full:
‘The objective of an unrestricted desire to understand correctly lies beyond the reach of empirical science, of common sense, of their unification in metaphysics, of the transcendent knowledge by which we know that God exists and that he is the unrestricted act of understanding. That objective is some attainment by knowledge of God who is the unrestricted act. The fulfilment of the conditions for that attainment lie not with man but with God, whose wisdom designed the order of the universe and whose goodness brings a solution to man’s problem of evil. Now a desire that excludes both despair and presumption is a confident hope, and so the conjugate form of willingness that aids and supports and reinforces the pure desire is a confident hope that God will bring man’s intellect to a knowledge, participation, possession of the unrestricted act of understanding’39.
By way of a concrete example of such a transcendent desire, of such openness of soul to the divine Ground of being, of such experiences of consolation and of subtle shifts in an attending consciousness, I will turn, in the next session, to a case history of a young Dutch woman who couldn’t kneel, but who learnt to pray. It is a life that powerfully and poignantly demonstrates the ‘flow of presence’, as articulated by Voegelin which is nothing other than, as Karl Rahner, S.J., puts it, the ‘flow of love’40. (Mention could also be made of Ignatius’ own spiritual journey as revealed and recorded by him in his Reminiscences).
Lecture 4: Etty Hillesum
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye;
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ’mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration – feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened – that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on –
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the emotion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul;
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey
The life I will discuss/dissect/diagnose is that of a young Dutch Jewish woman by the name of Esther (‘Etty’) Hillesum, who lived the flow of presence in remarkable circumstances.
Hillesum was born in 1914 in Holland, grew up in Deventer, had two gifted brothers and teacher-parents. One brother, Jaap, became a medical doctor, while the other, Mischa, was a musical talent. But both were mentally unstable and committed to institutions, with Mischa being treated for schizophrenia. As for Etty herself, she suffered from depression, read law and psychology, became involved with a man, Julius Spier, who had been analysed by Jung, gave lessons in Russian and kept a ‘spiritual’ diary between 1941 and 1943 that described life under Nazi rule in Amsterdam during the German occupation of World War II. Her diaries and letters were published posthumously in 1981 and translated into English in 1983.
Spier had a significant impact on her spiritual development, introducing her to the Bible and to Augustine; she had already been reading Rilke and Dostoyevsky. In July 1942, the same month as Anne Frank began her famous diary Etty Hillesum started typing for the Jewish Council, before departing for Westerbork, the camp where Dutch Jews were sent to. In September, 1943, she was sent to Auschwitz and died there two months later in November. Her brother Jaap was deported to Bergen-Belsen; when the camp was evacuated he was put on a train with other prisoners, which was liberated by Russian soldiers in April, 1945 but he did not survive the train journey. Mischa died on 31 March, 1944, also at Auschwitz. As for Etty’s parents, they both died during transport to Auschwitz or were gassed immediately upon their arrival. The date of their death is given as September 10th, 1943.
The trajectory of her spiritual journey and transformation as told by her in her diaries and letters echoes classical accounts of spiritual change and conversion. We have only to think of Augustine’s famous Confessions, Ignatius of Loyola’s Autobiography and letters, Anne Frank’s own famous diary, and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, to name but a few. Etty Hillesum’s diaries and letters detail a very personal pilgrimage, an anamnetic exploration and experiment, to put in Voegelinian terms1. They both grew out of an immediate personal and religious experience. We see in them her swings and moods, moving from melancholic sadness to joy and elation, from tormenting self-doubt and despair to exalted flights of fantasy. Of course, we could expose them to psychological analysis and Etty herself thought in such terms but primarily these notebooks tell of an intense introverted spiritual struggle that had external consequences, one ‘that converts symptoms into significance, and joins self-examination to philosophical investigation’, as Eva Hoffman writes in her preface to the English edition of the diaries2.
The diary is a dialogue with herself, charting subtle but significant changes in her consciousness and movements of her soul, akin to Ignatius’ discernment of spirits. She would learn of an agapeic love, one that combines ‘deep sympathy with calm detachment’3. The process of change in this moving story is mysterious and becomes increasingly more palpable in the middle stages of her diary; a seriousness is adopted and a serenity, as attentiveness embraces contemplation and prayer, and ‘emotional intuition converges with moral thought’4, and she seems, in the end, to attain that peace that passeth comprehension. She plumbs the depths of pain as well as joy, suffering as well as happiness and understands these are myriad movements of the soul, multiple moods that shift and morphe. Always engaged, Etty Hillesum also let go of her many attachments in true Ignatian manner; she let herself be carried by the flow of presence in whose stream she learned to swim. She had become ‘attuned to the currents of moral beauty’5 and to the order of the universe without shedding a single aspect of her personality; indeed, it deepened it. By accepting her death, she saved herself.
Her story ignites imagination and arouses hope and moral and spiritual sentiment as the horrors of the Holocaust spin all around her. Though she was imprisoned, her tale tells of a personal liberation, all the details commended from memory to eight exercise books that were saved, preserved and eventually published for the world, as testament to her truth and treasure-trove for analysis and investigation. Her religious sensibility comes more into the foreground as her other mundane, but nonetheless important preoccupations recede into the background. Though the word ‘God’ features from her earliest entries, it becomes more pronounced as she begins to pray on bended but stiff knees. Her diary is a dialogue with the Divine. ‘I repose in myself. And that part of myself, that deepest and richest part in which I repose, is what I call “God”’6.
Hers was not a solitary contemplation though her journey was inward. In true Augustinian fashion, the way within led to the way above and out again to her fellowman: From contemplation to action, or better, a contemplative in action. She perceived reality and she did so clearly and came to be consoled. Written in the darkest days of modern history, this twenty-seven year-old woman gives hope to the world and in the mud and misery of the concentration camp, where so many philosophers of the twentieth-century would spend some time – Sartre, Ricoeur, Levinas, Frankl – she wrote her truth. Among the wire and wildflowers of Westerbork she wove a wonderful tapestry of thought – simultaneously singular, striking, and serendipitous.
Let us now turn to her diary. The question which she poses to herself in the early diary entries is: ‘why aren’t you happy?’ She describes her condition as one of ‘spiritual constipation’7; she mentions her depression and dark moods, her anxiety and shifting movements of the soul as she learns to live more calmly ‘more freely, more flowingly’8. Things change the more she bathes in the luminous flow of divine presence. The moods alternate between rage and calm, depression and serenity, perturbation and peace, confusion and clarity. Gloomy thoughts preoccupy her and behind that a sense of the ‘emptiness of my quest’9 beholds and baffles her. But there were hints of something other trying to pierce her psyche. ‘I too wanted to roll melodiously out of God’s hand’10. She speaks of her ‘soulful’, ecstatic moments that raise her up then jolt her back to earth again. She pours her compassion out to German soldiers; ‘indiscriminate hatred … is a sickness of the soul’11. God’s world is beautiful and it fills her with joy despite the atmosphere surrounding her. Her ‘inner riches’ are immeasurable and she begins to breathe through her soul. She becomes ‘more composed’ and more ‘concentrated’12 and employs adjectives such as ‘light’, ‘radiance’ and ‘inner joy’ to describe her feelings of the soul, as she continues ‘working on myself’13. She reads Rilke (a lot) and Jung (a bit), some Shakespeare, much Dostoyevsky, and the Bible too, both the Old and New Testaments.
In June of 1941, she decides on a plan of inner action: ‘I’ll “turn inward” for half an hour each morning before work, and listen to my inner voice. Lose myself. You could also call it meditation’14. She informs us that we need to turn our innermost being into a vast empty plain so that something of God can enter, something of love. ‘Yet what really matters is man’s soul or his essence or whatever else you care to call what shines through from within’15. Her happiness was due to an inner freedom, to ‘that lack of attachment’16. In her sacred unease, she begins to pray. ‘Sometimes I long for a convent cell’17. She struggles hard to try to not possess her lovers and friends, to allow them space to breathe in their separate reality and identities and she keeps a careful record of her moods, committing to paper all her innermost thoughts and changing perceptions, though unacquainted with Ignatian spirituality. ‘There is a deep well inside me. And in it dwells God’18. Even in her melancholic moods and in her melancholic music, the important thing is to sit still and hearken: ‘You have to make yourself passive then, and just listen. Re-establish contact with a slice of eternity’19. She psychoanalyses herself and discovers an unresolved mother-complex: ‘I have an unresolved antipathy for my mother’20 but it is a spiritual analysis that becomes more predominant (one could call it a logotherapy). And an intense feeling that God exists that comes to her in sudden flashes of insight and illumination. Hers is the ‘story of a girl who gradually learnt to kneel’, to put it in her own memorable words21. ‘Something has happened to me’22 and she begins to pray more urgently, more forcefully; ‘God, take me by Your hand, I shall follow You dutifully’23. Inwardly, she begins to feel less bound to her lovers and the sentences she reads in the Bible have an ‘experiential significance’24. On her knees she experiences some ‘immortal deserts’25, but she can never entirely relieve herself of ‘that utter blackness of mood, that unrelieved gloom’26. However, from time to time ‘a small piece of eternity descends on me’27 and then, she suddenly falls to her knees, forced ‘to the ground [Ground] by something stronger than myself’28. This girl who could not kneel desires to do nothing less, nothing more. Self-will is surrendered and the ego sundered, as she allows herself to be led ‘by what wells up from deep within’29. It is supernatural bread. Soon her dark moods dissipate: ‘I no longer plumb the depths of despair. My sadness has become a springboard’30, and she realises that if you have faith there is little difference between the inside and the outside of a concentration camp.
What she is charting in her diary is a shift in her inner geography, a gradual change from the physical to the spiritual and ‘sometimes the most important thing in the whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inward in prayer for five short minutes’31. She searches for simplicity in her inner life and in her surroundings and wonders if there is indeed ‘anything more intimate as man’s relationship with God?’32. ‘Like a wave, the urge to kneel down sometimes floods through me’33. This extravert and now twenty-eight year-old woman delves deep into herself and locates her truth there and her dependency on others diminishes: ‘One should really be less and less concerned with the love object and more and more with love itself’34. Despite the terror, threats and tension all around her,
‘I draw prayer round me like a dark protective wall, withdraw inside it as one might into a convent cell and then step outside again, calmer and stronger and more collected again. I can imagine times to come when I shall stay on my knees for days on end waiting until the protective walls are strong enough to prevent my going to pieces altogether; my being lost and utterly devastated’35.
Life ‘flows in a continuous and unbroken stream’36 – she is surely experiencing the ‘flow of presence’ and her days are passed praying, making love, conversing, and reading Rilke, Augustine and the Apostles. ‘God is not accountable to us, but we are to Him’37 and she begins to admit death into her life and in so doing she enriches her life. She encounters God in everyday epiphanies: ‘a hint of eternity steals through my smallest daily activities and perceptions’38. The Psalms become part of the daily rhythm of her life and every minute of every day ‘seems one great gift and consolation’39. ‘My whole being has become one great prayer’40; she thus learns to let go of those objects of her desire: ‘I must let him go… out of my love for him’41. ‘You must learn to forgo all personal desires’42. She describes moments in her life when she sees right through the human heart, when she understands herself more calmly and clearly than before ‘and am filled with a faith in God that has grown so quickly inside me that it frightened me at first but has now become inseparable from me’43. Her desire for the Divine is so deep. ‘I keep finding myself in prayer’44.
In July of 1942, in a passage that has received much philosophical commentary, she observes: ‘And if God does not help me to go on, then I shall have to help God’45; ‘I shall merely try to help God as best I can’46. A little later she writes, remarkably: ‘I shall try to help You, God… You cannot help us, … we must help You to help ourselves …. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last’47. It would seem she is addressing a helpless God who couldn’t intervene to save the Jews from the Holocaust, an impotent rather than omnipotent God48. She seems prepared to die; even in the camps ‘there will always be enough space to fold two hands in prayer’49. Tears of compunction pour down her face when she prays: ‘I need to talk to You so much, O God’50. She becomes filled with equanimity and endurance and begins to have an inkling and intimation of how everything fits together in a providential plan of grace. ‘There is a vast silence in me that continues to grow’51. The mystic in her continues to flourish and be fed as her former life flounders: ‘I feel a growing need to speak to You alone. I love people so terribly, because in every human being I love something of You. And I seek You everywhere in them’52. This God-seeker is also a God-finder, a theophile. The divine venture and the human adventure are admixed. Even when she is behind barbed wire she prays: ‘God to God’. In the dark and droughty barracks she expands still further. And to Klaas Smelik, Sr. (1897-1986), a Communist friend and author who tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Hillesum to go into hiding, she says: ‘each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others’53. When he retorts that that is nothing but Christianity, Etty responds, coolly: ‘Yes, Christianity, and why ever not?’54. She now begins to cite the New Testament especially the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Mark and feels that in the camp only one gesture suffices: to drop to one’s knees in peaceful prayer. She wishes that her life would ‘turn into one great prayer. One great peace’55. God’s will be done, she prays. ‘One ought not to be without prayer for even a single minute’56. Even though she writes some love letters home, she feels that the only love letters one ought to write should be to God, the author of all. ‘Will people never learn that love brings so much more happiness and reward than sex?’57. This remarkable testimony of the girl who could not kneel but who learnt to pray concludes with the beautiful words: ‘We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds’58, and she did just that – for all the wounds of the world.
Etty Hillesum retained her radiant good-humour amid the grit and grime of the German camp where she penned some letters and in which we again catch a glimpse of her indomitable and indefatigable spirit. She writes of the ‘elementary force’59 running through her, of this flow of divine presence. ‘The realm of the soul and spirit are so spacious and unending that this little bit of physical discomfort and suffering really doesn’t matter all that much. I do not feel I have been robbed of my freedom’60. She lives with ‘mournful contentment’61 in ‘this utter hell’62, with her eyes firmly fixed on the Father. She looks up to the Heavens for holy comfort and consolation – ‘my third-storey heaven’63, to the gulls flying in free air. ‘In their movements through the great cloudy skies one suspects laws, eternal laws of another order than the laws we humans make’64. Such law is the order of being. She still suffers but she endures. ‘We may suffer, but we must not succumb’65. For her life in that camp was rooted in transcendent reality. She describes this employing a lovely image: ‘When a spider spins its web, does it not cast the main threads ahead of itself, and then follow along them from behind? The main path of my life stretches like a long journey before me and already reaches into another world’66. Just before she was put to death by the Nazis, she wrote this – it could be her epitaph: ‘My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, O God, one great dialogue’67.
Interestingly, in her diary and in one of her letters dated December 18th, 1942, Etty records a day in Westerbork where she remembers when a group of Jewish Catholics – or Catholic Jews – arrived, both nuns and priests, wearing the yellow star on their habits. This occurred after a protest against the persecution of the Jews made by Archbishop Johannes de Jong on August 1st, 1942, after which the Nazis rounded up cloistered Jewish Catholics capturing around 300 nuns and priests. On August 2nd, 63 of them came to Westerbork – one of the nuns, in the group described by Etty Hillesum, was none other than Saint Edith Stein, with whom Etty has often been compared. Indeed, there are some striking similarities between three amazing women – Hillesum, Simone Weil and Edith Stein. Edith Stein was a mystic, martyr, philosopher and Carmelite nun, who, with her sister, Rosa, was gassed in Auschwitz on August 9th, 1942. She is known now in history as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross; she had her conversion experience in 1921.
Simone Weil was likewise a mystic-philosopher writing in the war years and leaving us with her letters and notebooks and spiritual writings. What all three women have in common is an intense desire to plumb the spiritual depths and uncover for all time the divine Ground of being, the radiance of the eternal and life-giving Logos. By a close and careful analysis, Stein, for her part, shows how the being of all finite existence finds its ultimate Ground and destiny in the Eternal Being. In her work, Finite and Eternal Being, she writes: ‘Since the ultimate ground of all existence is unfathomable, everything which is seen in this ultimate perspective moves into that “dark light” of faith’68. In relation to the Thomistic proofs, and on an Augustinian note, she observes: ‘If the five ways of his proofs of God’s existence, Thomas starting out from God’s effects, leads up to that idea, and once we have grasped the idea, the necessity of the divine being follows inevitably. But the question is: Can we really comprehend the idea, he who is? Si comprehendis, non est Deus. (‘If you comprehend it, it is not God’), says St. Augustine’69. Later on in the same work, she observes: ‘God is perfect being without any want, fault, or flaw. Even if for us he remains indefinable and immeasurable – because his infinity transcends all human measure and determinations – he is nevertheless his own measure, in “duly proportioned” accord with himself, and wholly luminous in and for himself: that eternal light “in whom there is no shadow of darkness”’70, citing 1 John 1: 5.
For Simone Weil, too, the ‘love of God for us is a passion’71. Weil explores the relationship of man to transcendent reality. For Weil, God is present in His absence. ‘He who has not God within himself cannot feel his absence’72. And again: ‘The divine emptiness, fuller than fullness, has come to inhabit us’73. Weil prays to God but with the thought that He does not exist74. Weil waits on God; she attends to Him with love. Weil had her spiritual epiphany in 1937 and in 1938 (in Assisi) but even as she philosophises she also paints a vivid picture of her personal experiences, perhaps influenced by the Kantian maxim that ideas disconnected from experience are empty. Kant said somewhere in the Critique of Pure Reason that ‘thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind’. To put it in Kantian terms, God is not a phenomenon among phenomena but the transcendental Ground of being. He is, thus, a Deus absconditus. Isaiah 45: 15: ‘Verily thou art a God that hides thyself’. This idea of a hidden or absent God is given powerful poetic utterance by R. S. Thomas in his poem entitled ‘The Absence’:
‘It is the great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter
from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism
of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews
at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?’75.
The paradox here is that God’s ‘great absence’ is ‘like a presence’ – like the flow of divine presence that one finds in the lives of Etty Hillesum, Edith Stein and Simone Weil, amongst countless others who have been touched by grace. It is as if the translucent Splendour touched these women’s souls and they received into them the eternal spirit of God Himself.
When one is in a state of alienation or anxiety one is not living in the flux – life is not flowing – and we experience meaninglessness, which is the great malady of modernity. This is ‘non-existence’ whereby we are no longer in relatedness to the divine reality. The point is to draw strength and spiritual solace from the Source. I ‘flow’ in the great stream of being. I participate in the flux and flow of divine Presence, which is existence in the eternal Now. The present, as the luminous process of consciousness, possesses within itself both past and future.
G. K. Chesterton insists that our lives become ‘steeped in philosophy and soaked in religion’1 as we attend, contemplate, try to be good, and seek holiness rather than happiness. As Josef Pieper, the German philosopher, puts it: ‘Happiness … even the smallest happiness, is like a step out of Time, and the greatest happiness is sharing in Eternity’2. Happiness is intimate presence3. Pieper defines contemplation as a loving attainment of awareness, as intuition of the beloved object, as the silent perception of reality4; it is, in short, the attunement to the divine presence. Felicitas (human happiness) is the result, meaning man’s eternal bliss; there is also beatitudo, meaning divine happiness. And our contemplation here on earth does not rest until it encounters the object which dazzles it5.
In our restless lives here on earth we participate in the divine life. In relation to such ‘participation’, Voegelin writes: ‘With Plato the word is methexis, with Aristotle it is metalepsis, and then in Latin with Thomas it becomes participatio: the participation of the human in the divine and vice versa’6. This designates the drama of our lives, rooted as they are in divinity. We are magnetically attracted to the Good/God; we naturally desire beatitude. Our human nature hungers for happiness; our happiness, however, is founded on sorrow; there is the ‘dark night’. There is the darkness of melancholy and the awful uncertainty of anxiety. But as Voegelin argues: ‘In classic philosophy and Christianity, the solution to the sorrows of man – death, life and so on – are answered through turning toward God, the periagoge in the Platonic sense, the turning around’7. Voegelin sums it all up, thus:
‘The Parousia of the Beyond, experienced in the present of the quest, thus, imposes on the dimension of external time, with its past, present, and future, the dimension of divine presence. The past is not simply the past, nor the future simply in the future, for both past and future participate in the presence of the same divine-immortal Beyond that is experienced in the present of the questioner’s participatory meditation. We have to speak, therefore, of a flux of presence endowing all the phases – past, present, and future – of external time with the structural dimension of an indelible present’8.
To the question, ‘where is this divine presence?’, Voegelin would respond that it is in the kinesis that moves us to be interested, to inquire, without which nobody would search for anything. And anxiety occurs in the turn from existence to non-existence. One is in existence if one is attuned to reality, which is God’s reality and one falls out of it if one is in revolt against it9. Meaninglessness would be the same, in this sense, as non-existence. Voegelin describes it as a ‘blackness that pervades the soul, the emptiness that results in boredom and ultimately in despair’10, from which we attempt to escape through the divertissements of drink and drugs, to name but two of the more common ones. So we are subject to pulls and counter-pulls. Voegelin notes:
‘We have a tension in human existence: the possibility of positively searching for the ground of one’s existence, accepting the Divine ground, understanding it – with the accompanying joy, the eudaimonia – while if we reject it we fall into the state of anxiety. It is very characteristic of the classic philosophy of Plato and Aristotle that there is no Greek word for anxiety. “Anxiety” is introduced after Alexander’s conquest (when it becomes a mass phenomenon!) and then by the Stoics: the agnoia ptoiodes – instead of the positive formulation. “Scary ignorance” is what anxiety would have been called’11.
What is essential in a life that is properly human, but that contains within it the seed of something superhuman, is an orientation to the True (the intellectual dimension: verum), the Beautiful (the aesthetic dimension: pulchrum), the Good (the moral dimension: bonum) and the One (Christ prayed that all may be one; the spiritual dimension of unity: unum). There are these different levels of human consciousness, these basic elements in a person’s orientations and activities that are rooted in an embodied consciousness. We have our perceptive-imaginative-affective orientation towards beauty, our intellectual orientation towards the truth of things, our moral orientation towards the good and our spiritual orientation to the divine Ground of being12. Each of these realities is interdependent and intersects with the others. Of course, equally, there are disorientations, aversions, derailments – in such cases we can speak of ugliness instead of beauty, falsehood instead of truth, and evil instead of goodness, which are syndromes of personal deformation13. At the end of Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) Freud had expressed the hope that Eros would win out in the battle with his equally immortal adversary, Thanatos. But Freud couldn’t, with any confidence, forsee the result. Our sure and certain hope, by contrast, is that the Good will ultimately prevail in the drama of life; even the gates of Hell will not avail against it.
To conclude: we may summarise our philosophic-Christian findings, thus:
1) We are guarded by mystery14; enlightened by the truth. (‘Et lux in tenebris lucet’).
2) We must reject a Gnostic apostatic revolt, which is a rejection of the spiritual order of being.
3) We need to orient ourselves to the Good and to the Ground; the Platonic periagoge entails, at its core, an ethical dimension.
4) What is required is theophany, rather than an egophany.
5) Attunement to the flow of presence is the ordering of the soul to the Agathon – the summum Bonum or highest good. Such is the attitude of the open soul, as it responds to the ‘voices of conscience and grace in human existence itself’15.
6) The restoration required is a transformation of consciousness and desire as the soul becomes attuned/oriented to the divine Ground.
7) Being mindful of the moment.
8) To rediscover and reconstitute, in each historical epoch, the true, the good and the beautiful.
9) To practise an amor Dei rather than an amor sui (the latter characterising the closed soul).
10) To retrieve the enduring insights of the Mediterranean tradition, which is one of classical and Judaic-Christian philosophy represented, in the main, by Plato, Aristotle. Augustine, and Aquinas, while realising that there exist, too, modern and contemporary accounts which retrieve this tradition for our time; we may here cite the enduring examples of Eric Voegelin, Viktor Frankl, Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Bernard Lonergan, Etienne Gilson, and Josef Pieper, to name but a few.
Insights. Intimations of immortality. Instants of infinity. Detached desire. Discernment of spirits. Shafts of light. Traces of transcendence. Moments of grace. Ciphers. Consolations. And the luminous flow of presence in an open soul in the metaxy turned toward the divine Ground in faith, hope, and love, responding, not rebelling. Attending and attuning to the order of God in the milieu of everyday life. Seeing the face of the Father in dappled things, where life ‘pours ordinary plenty’ (Patrick Kavanagh) and the world becomes ‘charged with the grandeur of God’ (Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.).
At the core of human nature, which desires God naturally, for St. Thomas, is, for Voegelin, ‘the openness of the questioning knowledge and the knowing question about the ground. Through this openness, beyond all contents, images, and models, order flows from the ground of being into man’s being’16, and we become uplifted, exalted, edified, altered and begin to live the resurrected life, like Etty Hillesum and Edith Stein, and others like them and, thus, partake and participate in Divinity Itself. All things in God and God in all things. Eternity everywhere.
2 Eric Voegelin, ‘Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme’, Published Essays 1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 326.
3 See Plato, Laws, 644-45.
4 Cited by Voegelin, ‘Quod Deus Dicitur’, Published Essays 1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 383.
5 Eric Voegelin, ‘Reason: The Classic Experience’, Published Essays1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 265.
6 Eric Voegelin, ‘The German University and German Society’, ibid., p. 7; see also ibid., p. 21.
13 Eric Voegelin, ‘The Gospel and Culture’, Published Essays1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 175.
16 Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. I, p. xiv.
17 Ellis Sandoz, The Voegelinian Revolution, p. 193.
18 See ibid., pp. 204-16.
19 See E. F. Schumacher’s classic, A Guide for the Perplexed.
21 Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 84.
22 Michael Morissey, ‘Voegelin, Religious Experience, and Immortality’, The Politics of the Soul, p. 14.
23 See Miguel de Unamuno’s passionate poetic philosophy as summarising this desire for personal immortality in his The Tragic Sense of Life.
24 See Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol. 2, Spiritual Master and Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master. Both book attempt to engage with Thomas’ spirituality.
25 Eric Voegelin, ‘Notes on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets’, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, vol. 33, p. 34.
26 Eric Voegelin, ‘The Drama of Humanity’, ibid., p. 181.
30 Eric Voegelin, ‘Conversations with Eric Voegelin’, ibid., p. 264.
31 Eric Voegelin, ‘Structures of Consciousness’, ibid., p. 367.
2 For an introduction to Ignatian spirituality see Stephen J. Costello (ed.), ‘Introduction: Catholic Spirituality’, The Search for Spirituality: Seven Paths Within the Catholic Tradition, pp. 26-32 and Joseph Veale, S. J., ‘Ignatian Spirituality’, ibid., pp. 191-212.
3 St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, pp. 40-1.
11 Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 133.
23 Bernard Lonergan, S.J., Method in Theology, p. 13.
29 Bernard Lonergan, S.J., Insight, p. 23.
40 Karl Rahner, S.J., On Prayer, p. 70.
1 For Voegelin’s own attempts at anamnesis, see his book of the same title, pp. 36-51.
2 See Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum: 1941-43, pp. viii-ix. See Meins Coetsier, Etty Hillesum and the Flow of Presence: A Voegelinian Analysis. In 2006, the Etty Hillesum Centre (EHOC) was opened in GhentUniversity, the director of which is Prof. Klas Smelik. Before Etty’s departure she gave her diaries to Maria Tuinzing with the request that she pass them on to the writer Klass Smelik to publish them if she did not return; he later edited and published the complete edition of her letters and diaries and is presently Professor of Hebrew and Judaism at GhentUniversity, assisted there by Meins Coetsier,
3 Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life, p. x.
48 On this question of God’s powerless power, see Hans Jonas, whose writings influenced Voegelin, especially his ‘The Concept of God after Auschwitz: A Jewish Voice’, Mortality and Morality: A Search for the God after Auschwitz, pp. 138-42.
68 Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 25.
71 Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, p. 81.
75 R. S. Thomas, ‘The Absence’, Collected Poems 1945-1990, p. 361.
1 G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, p. 186.
2 Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation, p. 37.
5 See ibid., p. 109 (the quotation is taken from Konrad Weiss).
6 Eric Voegelin, ‘Conversations with Voegelin’, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, vol. 33, p. 251.
8 Eric Voegelin, In Search of Order, p. 30.
9 See Eric Voegelin, ‘Conversations with Voegelin’, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, vol. 33, p. 341.
10 Eric Voegelin, ‘On Debate and Existence’, Published Essays 1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 50.
11 Eric Voegelin, ‘Conversations with Voegelin’, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, vol. 33, pp. 318-9.
12 See Brendan Purcell, The Drama of Humanity, p. 216.
14 See David Walsh, Guarded by Mystery: Meaning in a Postmodern Age.
15 Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 1, pp. 42-3.
16 Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 86.