Sunday, February 9, 2020

Felix Culpa Modernitatis

Once, blind children, we trusted.

We saw God in the heavens,

Lord of the Stars and Angels.

We saw them sing the world

That Cosmos, the grand order of things,

We saw them dance the order of time.

Long lived creatures still danced in woods,

And emperors conquered by heavenly signs.

In bread and wine divinity sat, vouchsafed,

For Peter’s church stood strong.

A maiden sent from God crowned a king,

And bicolored roses mingled in chemical glory.

But then the Serpent arose, and asked:

“Did God really say that this was the world?”

We ate and saw our nakedness.

Stands made and Church rebroken.

Then the Wedding failed,

And the World was torn by war,

The last light of the old way fading.

Stove-summoned pandemonium darkened.

What claim had kings

Even to their heads?

What bigot dares claim the truth?

The jest of Pilate reverberating.

How could God seek out one lost lamb,

Leaving the ninety-nine to become lost themselves?

Better a God of Reason, we thought,

Who clock-makes and ignores.

But who could forgive God his indifference?

So overthrown were the sign-conquering lords,

For how dare they claim to act for God.

Beheaded by act of committees of

Monstrous men, torturing for pleasure,

Demon devouring demon in omni-suicidal orgy.

New emperors arose, Spirits of History,

Seen by young thinkers in flight.

And again the Serpent spoke,

“Now that your senses are lost,

Know now that your community hides

The world from you.”

New idols arose, powers of production.

What once was true no longer was.

What is true one day will not be.

The oppressed would unite, someday.

Demons ran throughout the West,

Before being cast into herds to drown.

No longer indifferent,

God was dead,

And none could forgive his nonexistence.

Dark lords by dark speeches

Did send the people of the Lord to the fire,

The ones God loved and would gather under his wing.

The sign-lords of the east met destruction,

From pigs who became men.

And the Serpent spoke again,

“Words hide the world from you.

Have you not seen that suspicion itself

Is the Power to know?”

Second Babel had come,

A tower set, like Oroboros,

To eat its own foundations.

What was grammar but oppression?

Who dares to assert the truth of the Word

Against the almighty powers of death and time?

The Serpent, coiled around us, spoke,

“You hide yourself by restraint,

Let passion run free,

And see yourselves.”

And we loved freely,

And we massacred its fruit,

An altar before Mammon,

Surpassing Moloch, child by child.

Now all the demons dance together.

What word is free from the evil of falsehood?

What law claims any but mocking dignity?

What pleasure claims selflessness?

The demons devour each other in their hunger.

Behold an image of this age:

A person stabs at herself,

Unable to bear the weight of dark words,

Curses upon her by the lords of lawlessness,

For she was not as lawless as they;

Blood from self-inflicted wound.

When we call people deceptive demons,

All charity forgotten in the glory of suspicion,

We tear at one another like ravening wolves,

And our children destroy themselves,

Those that yet live.

Truly it was said long ago,

That Child-like-faith was true faith.

Now we are blind,

For we saw through sight itself.

Where is the Felix Culpa?

What good will God bring from this darkness?

Shall we learn to receive again, as we used?

Perhaps delighting a little more than we would have

In the hiddenness of the world

And in the silence and darkness of God?

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Praise to God, the Named

Praise to God, Form of Goodness
Transcending all Being
Praise to God, Form of Goodness
Purpose ever bringing
Praise to God, Form of Goodness
Font of all Being
Praise to God, Creator
Being out of Nothing
Praise to God, Creator
Matter ever Forming
Praise to God, Creator
From earth the human breathing
Praise to God, Word
Order of all Being
Praise to God, Word
Spoken in the Darkness
Praise to God, Word
Laws of Logic holding
Praise to God, Being
Truth and Beauty shining
Praise to God, Being
Justice and Mercy dancing
Praise to God, Being
Unity the Triune
Praise to God, the Choosing
A people for your glory
Praise to God, the Choosing
A people to deliver
Praise to God, the Choosing
A king as his ancestor
Praise to God, the Human
Born to a woman
Praise to God, the Human
For our good descending
Praise to God, the Human
Two natures, unity
Praise to God, the Baptized
Son of the Father
Praise to God, the Baptized
in the Cloud revealed
Praise to God, the Baptized
For it was right.
Praise to God, the Tempted
By Satan in the Desert
Praise to God, the Tempted
Undefiled and holy,
Praise to God, the Tempted
A man yet unsinning
Praise to God, Wedding Guest
Happiness affirming
Praise to God, Wedding Guest
To his Mother Listening
Praise to God, Wedding Guest
Water to wine turning
Praise to God, Teacher
Love and Peace proclaiming
Praise to God, Teacher
A sword bringing
Praise to God, Teacher
In parables proclaiming
Praise to God, the Transformed
Showing us his glory
Praise to God, the Transformed
With Law and Prophet talking
Praise to God, the Transformed
Demon from Child casting
Praise to God, Resurrector
Arriving too late
Praise to God, Resurrector
Who is the Resurrection
Praise to God, Resurrector
Lazarus arising
Praise to God, Bread and Wine
Poured out for our living
Praise to God, Bread and Wine
Without which none is saved
Praise to God, Bread and Wine
Eaten for our rightening.
Praise to God, the Meek
In the Garden praying
Praise to God, the Meek
His passion dreading
Praise to God, the Meek
Not his will upholding
Praise to God, the Betrayed
Judas, once his friend
Praise to God, the Betrayed
Peter, afraid
Praise to God, the Betrayed
To those who would kill him
Praise to God, the Accused
Of Blasphemy
Praise to God, the Accused
Of Rebellion
Praise to God, the Accused
Goodness seeming evil
Praise to God, the Silent
At these accusations
Praise to God, the Silent
Truth affirming
Praise to God, the Silent
Though all pain observing
Praise to God, the Tortured
Lashes his flesh tearing
Praise to God, the Tortured
Mockingly crowned
Praise to God, the Tortured
All but death delivered
Praise to God, the Burdened
That road walking
Praise to God, the Burdened
Falling in his weakness
Praise to God, the Burdened
A new world bringing
Praise to God, the Dying
Opposites Uniting
Praise to God, the Dying
Enemies Forgiving
Praise to God, the Dying
Into Hell Descending
Praise to God, the Suffering
For our sins against him
Praise to God, the Suffering
For our life to bring
Praise to God, the Suffering
God forgetting God
Praise to God, Corpse
Wrapped in cloths
Praise to God, Corpse
Buried in rich man's tomb
Praise to God, Corpse
By his mother mourned
Praise to God, the Buried
Preaching to the imprisoned
Praise to God, the Buried
Abraham's Bosom emptied
Praise to God, the Buried
Saturday's darkness
Praise to God, the Risen
Death defeating
Praise to God, the Risen
First fruit from the dead
Praise to God, the Risen
The world recovering
Praise to God, the New-Bodied
Spirit not Flesh
Praise to God, the New-Bodied
Unknown until Revealed
Praise to God, the New-Bodied
Matter redeeming
Praise to God, Establisher
The Church now forming
Praise to God, Establisher
To the Apostles great power
Praise to God, Establisher
Of Peter, forgiven
Praise to God, the Ascending
Helper providing
Praise to God, the Ascending
The church age beginning
Praise to God, the Ascending
Leaving to return
Praise to God, the Enthroned
King of Heaven
Praise to God, the Enthroned
Higher than the Angels
Praise to God, the Enthroned
At the Father's right hand
Praise to God, Spirit
In tongues of fire descending
Praise to God, Spirit
The Church ever leading
Praise to God, Spirit
In Council guiding
Praise to God, Listener
To the prayers of Saints
Praise to God, Listener
To the cries of Martyrs
Praise to God, Listener
To the intercessions brought
Praise to God, Lord of Life
All in him Alive
Praise to God, Lord of Life
A cloud of Saints surrounding
Praise to God, Lord of Life
Death to him is nothing
Praise to God, the Returning
In his Glory shining,
Praise to God, the Returning
Empire overthrowing,
Praise to God, the Returning
At an hour unknown
Praise to God, the Judge
Christ in Place of Sinners
Praise to God, the Judge
Seen in the least among you
Praise to God, the Judge
From some his mercy keeping
Praise to God, the Glorious
By the Saints Adored
Praise to God, the Glorious
Beauty, Truth, and Justice
Praise to God, the Glorious
No tears in that sunlight
Praise to God, Form of Goodness
All to good bringing
Praise to God, Form of Goodness
All to him bringing
Praise to God, Form of Goodness
Beyond all Being.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Counterfactualists: A Christmas Nightmare

            The night of Christmas Eve had fallen at last, and all that remained was to sleep until Christmas morning. As I slept, I dreamt. It has haunted me since, the terrible nightmare of that night, the very image of death placed before my mind’s eye. Here is something like that vision in sleep:
            I looked before me into a dark prison cell, poorly furnished, dimly lit by a torch on the wall. Several people sat there, their clothes torn and ragged. One of them, I noticed, was a priest. He was conversing with those around him.
“Father,” said one young woman sitting on the floor, “do you think it will be long before they come for us?”
“No. They never take long. It has already been some time since they took Nicolas and the others up before that crowd,” he replied.
“Let’s hear more, then, of the good news that might have been. If we are about to die for this lie then let us listen to it, as beautiful and terrible as it is.”
“I cannot say ‘do not despair’, for that would be false hope indeed. You would have me retell our story, our fantasy. This little angelic lie of ours, upon which we have built all our false hope. Before we find ourselves helpless before the judgement seat of God, you want a rehearsal of the lie we plan to tell him. The present sent from God that was more of a bad joke, though one still surpassing all the joys of the world. Alright, one last time, I will present the story.
            God did create the world, making it beautiful and good. He then made Man, and from him Woman to dwell in Eden with him. He gave them one command, not to eat of the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. One day, the serpent came, tempting them to eat of the tree. This serpent was Satan himself, the first great rebel, who had been the highest of the angels of heaven before he, though seeing as with sight God himself, choose to try to elevate himself above even God, choose to rebel. By this choice of his, evil had entered the world. He used that freedom of will that God had given him as an instrument of Love as an instrument of destruction. And when he entered the garden he taught our first parents to do the same. And so Eve first and then Adam ate of the tree, and the whole human race descended from them has been corrupted by the corrupted will inherited from them. And yet, God promised that from the seed of Eve would arise one who would crush the serpent’s head, a savior for the world.
            Several generations later, to preserve the full humanity of the savior who was to come so that he might be human enough to provide salvation for those who were human, God sent a flood upon the earth to remove the attempt by angels to set up a false gospel in their own flesh, to stop the blood of angels from tainting mankind. God preserved the human race, renewing the promise that had been given to Eve of a descendent who would crush the serpent and save us.
            Later, to Abraham, he gave the promise that the blessing of the world would arrive through his own progeny. Such was Abraham’s faith upon mount Moriah that he was willing to sacrifice the child through whom this salvation was to be brought when it was commanded by God, knowing by faith that God would fulfill his promise and not require Isaac. God preserved Isaac. How great a trust Abraham had, that he would trust a promise so much that he would even obey the maker of that promise when he was commanded to destroy it.
            Later, a promise was made to King David that the long-promised savior would be among his descendants. Thus a line from Jesse was never destroyed, despite the centuries of rebellion against God by the kings of Israel and Judah, despite even the exile to Babylon. One of David’s descendents would be the one to crush the serpent.
            In an even later age, it was revealed to a man named Simeon that he would not see death before the long promised salvation would appear. It was the prepared time, immovable, in which God’s promise to our first parents, to Noah, to Abraham, to David, and to Simeon would be brought into the world, or else not at all.
            An angel was sent to a woman whose name is now accursed, a descendent of David, to tell her that she was to be the mother of the one who would save the people from their sins. The revelation that has since been revealed to us by the testimony of angels tells us what would have happened. She would have given birth to the child, to be named Jesus, one fully God and fully Man. He would have lived a life without sin, freely choosing by his will to obey God in all he did. The people would have taken him, brought him before the authorities with false accusations, and had him crucified. He would have risen on the third day, bringing salvation to the world, defeating sin and death. He would have given all men a new choice: an offer of salvation that could have brought men before the judgement of God freed from their sin. The Spirit of God would have been sent, to guide the followers of the God-Man into all truth, to bring a visible community through the centuries back to God, with a holy priesthood that would perform a holy meal of remembrance, in which the very Body and Blood of the savior, as present in bread and wine, was to be eaten, bringing salvation to his followers.
            This is the great might-have-been in which we place all our hope. It is what God promised from the beginning. We place our trust in the One who might have been, but for her choice.
            For the angel came to her, and announced this salvation by which she and the world might be saved. How beautiful and wonderful a thing it would have been had she said “Let these things be.” How wonderful it would have been had she freely willed to share in the divine plan of salvation, as Eve, Noah, Abraham, and David had before her. Then we might all have been happy.
            Instead, she rejected it. She cursed the angel, saying ‘May this thing never come to pass, I will do what I will rather than what is willed for me.’ The angel departed, mourning the destruction of the world. She departed from that house, prostituted herself to a Roman soldier, and shortly thereafter was stoned to death when Joseph brought this to the attention of the authorities. O unnamable one, full of damnation, you denied the Lord. Cursed are you among all women, and through you he who would have saved the world was withheld. This is the curse we pray against her constantly.
            We are left, given this second great fall, more terrible by infinite magnitudes than the fall of Eve, without the resurrection of the Savior, without which our faith is in vain. We are named the Counterfactualists, for we trust in what might have happened, in the salvation that would have been offered through the savior. Not that there is any real hope, not really. That which has not happened simply has not happened. God was so insistent upon the freedom of the will needed for Love that he has allowed the damnation of the world. We will stand before him, trusting in his promise, despite its failure. And if then we perish, we perish.”
            He, concluding his story, began to serve the mass. He took bread and wine, and blessed them. They would have been the Body and Blood of Christ, if Christ had either Body or Blood. He had heard their confessions earlier, offering what would have been a pardon for sin had any sin been pardonable. And then they sat, waiting in silence, for their death.
            The guards came, taking them from the cell up into the light of the arena above. There they were tied to crosses, in terrible imitation of what they wished would have happened. The crowd, looking on, laughed at them, shouting “Let your fairy tale save you now, which you yourselves admit to be a lie.” They, upon their crosses, dying slowly, sang a hymn cursing she who had committed the great apostasy. And then at last they gave up their spirits, descending where they must in the absence of a savior.
            At this, I awoke, trembling at the horror of the world I had just witnessed. I remembered the truth, rather than the dark nightmare. Mary had indeed said unto the angel “Let these things be.” Christ had been born, and this new day was the very celebration of that affirmation.
            For on that day, long ago, in Bethlehem, Christ had been born of the holy Virgin Mary. In fulfillment of the promises of God from the time of the fall of man, it had happened, at the time when God had orchestrated it to happen. He died and rose again, keeping our faith from being in vain. He established his Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
            But then I remembered the terrible existence of those in hell. Here are those who, despite the reality of the offer of salvation, deny it through the corrupted use of their will, doing to themselves what Mary might have done to the whole human race. Blessed are the Counterfactualists compared with them, for the Counterfactualists’ hope was still in Christ, even though there wasn’t any Christ to have hope in. How terrible is the freedom required for Love, that it can even contradict the desire of God himself that all should be saved.
            Christ was born, and all will be well: that was the simple truth of the matter. The truth of salvation, celebrated on this day, was beautiful, more beautiful than anything else in the world. I prayed and sang, celebrating the Amen that had been given to the angel’s proclamation.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Spirit of Negation

            A man walked down the street. The smell of corpses filled the air. He walked past a woman half-decomposed, almost a skeleton already. Flies swarmed in the warm air, slightly dimming the light of the sun. Some, not yet dead, lay on the sides of the street, unresponsive to the world. No one had the energy to dispose of the dead, for they themselves were dying. No command, divine or human, would move them. Thus it was, across the whole of the world, since the great fast had begun.
            Spontaneously, in the weeks prior, people from across the globe had simply stopped eating. “What was the point, anyway?” they thought to themselves, “we will all die eventually. We have such little time. And this is such a small planet, compared to the universe. Is it not apparent that none of it matters? Ozymandias has been lost to time, except for his vain boast. Shall we strive, day in and day out, to achieve pleasures that will be forgotten in a week, and forgotten totally at our death? And what pleasure doesn’t come at the cost of others? Should we be cruel to our fellow men, just for a moment’s respite from pain? For what is pleasure but a break from the pain of boredom? That is the great evil, boredom, which is merely another way of saying the pain of consciousness. We may set it to rest for a little while, but it swings back all the stronger after it has been held at bay. End pain altogether, and permanently, by the mere recognition that continuing to desire is the very root and cause of our misery. Even the pleasure of sex, unless held at bay, yields the beginning of another lifetime of suffering. For we are born in suffering, and continue in it. We must, therefore, end the pain of consciousness, end the pain of boredom and the pleasure-seeking that merely strengthens it. And yet, what a great act of desire suicide is. All the desire for the end of pain must be summoned, set at fever-pitch, and by this force of desire one plunges the knife into one’s own heart. Far better is this: just stop trying. Take no interest in doing anything. Just lie there, taking no interest in oneself or others, gradually letting the needs of the body turn on themselves, bringing death, not through strong desire, but through no desire at all. Quench the flame. We must solve all the problems of the world this way: by making ourselves less than we are.”
            This was not the thought of all of them. It was chiefly the thought of those who believed that there was no God. Another portion, those who still, in this present age, held onto belief in a God, proclaimed the following: “We affirm the infinite goodness of God. He is to be desired above all things. Nothing is of value, when compared with the goodness of God. Everything is defiled and evil in comparison with God. He is the only thing that it is worth striving after. And, if he is the only thing worth striving after, is it not most terrible sin to desire anything but God, indeed a form of idolatry. Let us, therefore, renounce utterly the world. For the world hides the face of God from us. Is not death true gain, for in it we shall see God, freed from the shell of our bodies? Are not funerals the occasions for greatest joy, knowing that the one dead has gone to God? Is this not, indeed, why we cremate the bodies of the dead, treating the now empty shell with all the respect it deserves: with all the respect given to garbage sent to the incinerator? There is still the commandment of God that forbids suicide. It is indeed the idolatry of worshiping freedom from pain. Freedom from pain is nothing compared to the absolute desirability of God. But, there is great value in the fast. In this do we not teach the body its place, subservient to the soul? Let us, therefore, join in this great fast, holding God as the only thing worthy of our desire, mortifying the flesh, denying the world, and bringing us, in death, away from these mortal shells that are our bodies and into the very presence of God.”
            And so it had begun, the Great Renunciation. Stores where food could be bought closed for lack of customers, plentiful food lining the shelves. And very soon people began dying. Communication ceased across the world, people drawing into themselves, unresponsive on account of their hunger. Thus a great quiet came upon the world. No music filled the air, for what was music but the most disembodied of desires. The lights went out, for there was nothing to power them. Wild beasts began to rove the cities, devouring those they came across with no resistance.
            The man continued down the street. He found a table at an abandoned café, and sat down. He took from his bag a small loaf of bread, and began to eat. Growing thirsty, he drew from his bag a bottle, filled with wine. Pouring it into a glass, he began to drink. Soon, a woman walked up to the table, and joined him in this small feast. This man and woman were engaged to be married. Soon another man, a priest at a nearby parish, joined them. Last of all, a young student joined the party. These four, alone among human beings, were eating. Soon they began talking, and laughter was heard among them. The student expressed great philosophies. The priest talked of God. The couple talked of their plans to be married and have a family. The man took from his bag a small instrument, and began to play a tune upon it. Its sound filled the air, a lively dance tune.
            A swarm of flies arose several feet away, and then dispersed. Where it had been a person now stood, seemingly having arisen from the swarm. He had a cheerful face. A smile stood wide on his lips. I say “smile”, though “sneer” is probably the better term.
            The priest arose from the table, and asked the smiling apparition who he was.
“I have been called by many names. Some have called me Mephistopheles. Some have called me Sloth. Others have named me “the blowing out”, as of a candle or a lamp, and have sought me under that name. I am the Spirit of Negation. I am the dominion of this age. I seek the destruction of the world. I seek the abolition of knowledge. Life is my enemy. I laugh ironically at creators, including the Creator, who only make what will fall to nothing in the end. I laugh at those who desire to know, for they can never have true knowledge. They are ever left only with their own vain imagining. I am the one who shouts an almighty ‘NO’ to the world, whistling in derision. I am the spirit of mockery, denying simple unironic pleasure to men.”
“Away from us, you spirit of evil,” said the priest, making the sign of the cross as protection against the demon before them.
“I will go, but I will tempt you first. If then you still wish me to depart, I will. When the Creator came to this earth, before he began to teach, he fasted for forty days in the desert, alone among men in keeping from bread and drink. There he was met by a dread and intelligent spirit, who tempted him with food and miracle and power. You alone among men have spent these forty days eating, while all others have fasted. Thus I, a laughing and ironic spirit, have come to tempt you with famine and disbelief and renunciation.”
“If it is God’s will, we will endure these tests. But we shall be faithful unto Christ, even to the end,” the four of them said.
            The Spirit of Negation then arose, and placed his hand upon the priest. At that moment the priest knew he had the power to transform objects into whatever form he desired, through the power of this laughing Spirit.
“You are a priest. You will have heard the arguments from those of human beings who still believe in God. How indeed can you stand there, knowing that your allegiance is to God alone, and still partake in these pleasures which you have here before you, bread and wine. How can you so value something that is not of absolute value? Take then, this bread and wine, and with the power I have given you transform them into stones and water. By this you will show the greatest love for the Creator, for indeed, man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
“I will not, for Christ’s sake. For though he was God himself, he loved the world enough to become a human being, die, and rise again for its sake. We must indeed have God as our sole object of desire. We must indeed rightly order the soul so that we desire God above all others. However, even so, God has given us the world, the goodness of matter and the body, making it truly good in his resurrection. The body shall be resurrected, as we affirm when we say the Apostle’s Creed. The body is no mere shell, as is evidenced by the reverence given to the body by the fact that God himself took on a body, and when he rose, rose in that very body. In that body, in that flesh and blood, we live. I will transform this bread and wine, but not by the power you have given me and not in the manner you desire. ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.’ I shall therefore, here and now, perform a Mass, by the power granted me by the laying on of hands from the apostles and given them by Christ, not from your subtle magic, making this bread and wine the body and blood of Christ. God has here given us back the world through our love for him, for he himself becomes the substance of bread and wine, the core of community, which ever has its root in the sharing of common meals at a common table with other people. By this means do we the Church become the Body of Christ. And water I also can transform into the very means of salvation, the very river of Death through which we walk with Christ, in Baptism.”
            Then, facing east, he took the bread and the wine, and blessed them. The engaged couple and the student knelt, facing the same direction, as the priest brought the blessed Eucharist to them, placing the bread on their tongues and guiding the cup of wine to each of their lips.
            The Spirit of Negation then brought them in an instant to the height of a tall cliff. Jutting out from the edge of the cliff was a thin sliver of rock, just wide enough to walk upon. Engraved on a stone next to this sliver of rock were these words, in a script more beautiful than any penman among humans, jinn, or angels could have written: “Submit your images here, dare to step out, and they will be made real. Thus promises the Spirit of Truth.”
            “You, Student, see the writing upon the stone. You have devoted your life to seeking after and desiring knowledge. And what do you have to show for it? You have mere images, representations, partial languages that will be ever supplanted by better ones. You have no final vocabulary to describe the world. You will never have knowledge. How could you? The purpose you have built your life around is, in the end, hopeless. You long for certainty, yet none is given. Indeed, God may, in heaven, provide you with the right answers, but for now, you are left with the imaginations of your mind. There is nothing that can bridge that gap between your mind and the world. You see this outcropping before you. It does not exist. It is too long and thin to be supportable from the side of this cliff, as you well know from your study of physics. It is an illusion, and the promise on the stone is a lie. Nothing can make mere representations real. You will be left ever with opinions.”
            “But I, as Spirit of Negation, have another conflict with you. You claim that it is worth it to continue living, and you ground this in some philosophy. You say that, deep down things, there is a purpose and final aim of all that is. One of my philosophers has pondered the question of why anything at all should exist, rather than merely nothing. You have dared to answer that there are things rather than nothing because it is Good that there should be something. How terrible an answer that is. You believe that there is some Good, even beyond Being (and thus out of any possible direct knowledge), that is the very purpose of all that is. Prove it! Show me this Goodness beyond all Being, and I shall believe. Show me that not all desire is ultimately temporary and unfulfilled, and I shall desire this Highest of all Goods. But no, you cannot. For life is merely pain, either of boredom in not having pleasures or boredom in having them. Your optimism is groundless, without root. It is the dream of a child, unwilling to face the dark face of reality face to face. So this much is said: all is purposeless, and you are left without either Knowledge or Goodness. How have you tortured others, constraining them by your dogmatism. I know the secret that you hide in yourself: all you want is power, and insist upon these delusions of ‘knowledge’ and ‘goodness’ as a mere means to control others. How base. How truly evil. And in your mind you have this great imaginary friend whom you call God, and you have made him the very font of “knowledge” and “goodness”. You have imagined an almighty tyrant in your own image, and this you call a ‘Spirit of Truth’.”
            “Cast aside this evil, cast aside yourself. Throw yourself from this cliff in recognition of the meaninglessness of the world, in repudiation of these hateful doctrines of “knowledge” and “the highest good”. You know in your heart of hearts that these words written on this stone lie, for this outcropping of stone is impossible, and there is no Spirit of Truth.”
            The student stood there, trembling at these pronouncements, fearing indeed that she had been wrong her whole life. And then she spoke:
            “I cannot contradict you. It is impossible, by all that is humanly known, that images should be made real, that knowledge should be possible, that desire should have some final resting place. You say that it is the dream of a child. So be it, then.  However, nevertheless, I will stand by the child’s dream against all the ‘adult’ realities you offer me. I will stand with the Spirit of Truth even if there is no Truth. Such a dream world would be far better than the real one you offer. I turn your own power against you, O Spirit of Negation. For you would negate the world, bring it to nothing. Well then, I shall negate your nothing-world; I shall negate the negation. I laugh at you, and pity you and the world you think you have brought the real one to. I hunger, and there is bread. I thirst, and there is drink. My soul cries for Goodness and Knowledge, the realization of images, and there is Goodness and Knowledge, and the realization of images. These desires are the very promises of the Spirit of Truth, of whom Christ promised that ‘when he, the Spirit of Truth is come, he will guide you into all truth’. This promise I trust. This stone bids me to dare to lay my images before God, and he will give to them the fire of reality. I will so dare. I will thus do what you have asked, stepping out beyond the cliff, but not in the in the manner you desired. For I will walk out on the outcropping, trusting that it exists.”
            And so the student, still trembling, still fearing lest she be wrong, stepped out onto the outcropping. Though all the thoughts of her mind pictured the outcropping breaking off, leaving her to fall to the rocks below, she continued. It was truly there, it did not break. As she reached its end, a peace filled her mind. She knew that she would not jump. She had believed, even though she had seen. She knew the very love and presence of he who is the Good himself, for the Spirit of Truth entered her, bridging her mind with the world. For the world dwelled in the Spirit of Truth, and the Spirit of Truth dwelled in her, and thus she knew the world, having given it up for the sake of Christ.
            She walked back, and was greeted by the other three. The sneer on the face of the Spirit of Negation had diminished, but he had one more temptation to offer. In an instant they stood at the top of a high mountain. From here the Spirit of Negation showed them all the kingdoms of the world. He then turned to the engaged couple, and spoke.
            “Here are all of the kingdoms of the world. These your parents Adam and Eve gave to the devil when they fell, and yet they were regained by mankind in the sacrifice of Christ. These are yours, and more besides, for you are now the very judges and kings even of angels. All of these kingdoms, at present, are populated by those under my command. Soon, therefore, there shall be no human life upon this earth, for the fast is continuing. You two alone have the ability to continue the human race. But, I will ask you as I have asked the other two, is the suffering worth it? Is life worth the suffering that it contains? Look at these kingdoms, the pain, misery, suffering, death, tyranny, torture, war, and all other evils that have arisen from the continuation of human beings. Is this a world to bring a child into? You plan to marry, and to have children. Do you really choose to continue life itself, despite all the evils that will be present in any society of human beings? And did not Saint Paul himself argue in favor of remaining unmarried, for by that means one could give one’s focus truly and properly to God, without the distractions of spouse and children. Do you really love your potential children, by condemning them to this suffering, by condemning them to existence? How tyrannical of you to wish it so. Or if you do, do you really want the inconvenience of a child to what you desire to do? Such needy creatures, infants and children. Separate, and set up lives for yourselves of devotion and prayer to God, and cast these abominable kingdoms of the world into the abyss from which they came.”
            So spoke the Spirit of Negation, tempting the couple to the destruction of all of the kingdoms of the world. Then the couple, engaged to be married, answered:
            “We will indeed, set up a life of devotion and prayer to God. As the priest and student have already done, we will submit our desires unto God, that he might give back a hundredfold. But we shall not do so in the manner you desire. Saint Paul did not condemn marriage for those who are called to it. And indeed, our Lord worked his first miracle upon this earth for the joy and celebration of a wedding. Even though it may be impossible that the continuation of life, and the continuation of will at its root, should lead to anything but suffering, we say, along with Christ, an almighty ‘YES’ to marriage and to life. For in this we form the foundational community of the world, the family. For in this we serve the God who is life. And this life is indeed one of devotion and prayer to God. And so we say this: we have seen the pain of the world, and we know our desires, and we offer them up to God, he who created the world in the overflow of his love: he knows the desire for children. God will, though it be impossible, make all of this right. We ask, therefore, for the Priest to guide us even now in joining in marriage, which is the image of Christ and his Church, in which we will have knowledge of each other as united by the power of of God, and in which we shall serve the Lord of Life by not bringing the destruction of the human race.
            And there and then the marriage ceremony took place. Crowns were brought forth, and they were made the King and Queen of this new society that was there produced, the new family, from which all humanity thereafter would continue. Though the flies still buzzed around the corpses of those who had negated the world, here there was the affirmation of God and his goodness. And after, such music was played in celebration of the new community there formed.
            At this sight, The Spirit of Negation let forth a mighty scream, knowing that his plan for the destruction of the world had truly been destroyed. He then fled, vanishing into the shadows.
            Several months later, these four alone remained alive of all human beings. They did what they could for the proper burial of those dead around them. They tended and named the animals, grew food from the earth, learned of the world that God had made for them, and continued the two great societies of the world, the Church and the Family. In this time the season of Lent arrived, and in it they fasted, not unto death and not of all food, but a partial fast unto the right ordering of the soul. And then Easter arrived, in which was celebrated the victory of life over death, and then they had a great Feast, all the more sweet for their having fasted.
The time came for the son of the new King and Queen of the world to be born, the young Prince of the human family. Here, at least, did life continue. He was baptized by the Priest with the transformed waters, bringing him into the body of the Church. Indeed, by this water, and by the bread and wine made Divine Flesh and Blood, had the Extinguisher been extinguished.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Eternity is a Child at Play #1: Varieties of Solitary Play and Atomism, Revisited

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters."-Genesis 1.1-2 (ESV)
"For your all-powerful hand, which created the world out of formless matter, did not lack the means to send upon them a multitude of bears, or bold lions,..."-Wisdom 11.17 (NRSV)

The Varieties of Solitary Play 

Imaginary Friends, LEGOs, and Teddy Bears (Oh, my!)

I will speak here from my experience of playing in childhood. My memory remains for me the best and most useful source of insights into the thoughts of children and the nature of play itself. I remember the toys I played with the most over the years. From this, permit me to attempt to group the varieties of solitary play according to the toys played with.

First and foremost is playing with stuffed animals, chiefly teddy bears (indeed, a very different sort of bear than the author of the Wisdom of Solomon believes God can set upon the wicked; however, the image of the wicked being confronted with an army of teddy bears is, I confess, one of my favorites: c.f. Ewoks). I would play with these, imagining personalities, inventing endless genealogies, and imagining grand sagas involving an intergalactic civil war fought over the ethical treatment of toy mice (long story, worth another post for itself). C.S. Lewis, in the third chapter of his work An Experiment in Criticism, describes it this way: "The Teddy-bear exists in order that the child may endow it with imaginary life and personality and enter into a quasi-social relationship with it. That is what 'playing with it' means."

A second sort I never experienced personally, namely the Imaginary Friend. These, from what I have gathered from others, were very like my stuffed animal friends, but were purely imagined without a tangible toy present to inspire the act of creation. I always needed that physical entity to attach my imagined characters to.

Third and finally there were the construction sets: LEGO, K'NEX, Thomas the Tank Engine railroad building sets, and others of the same sort. I could build towers to reach the ceiling from LEGO, wooden train tracks that ran around an entire level of the house, or a moving International Space Station from a K'NEX kit. These were of two types: those with and those without instructions. I enjoyed both equally. I got to build great things either way, be they from my imagination or from reality, stories, or movies that I liked. That said, the kits that came with instructions for a particular thing rarely stayed in one piece for very long: too many useful pieces for things I wanted to build.

I would like to suggest that these groups, considered broadly, contain most if not all of the sort of play that one could do as a child with toys by oneself. They show us three different modes of play that may be done alone and undirected: 
1. Personality production and quasi-social interaction as done by means of a physical object (the "stuffed animal" mode)
2. Personality production and quasi-social interaction without reference to physical object (the "imaginary friend" mode)
3. Production of things from generic building blocks that can only be identified as a particular sort of thing when put together in a particular order (the "construction set" mode)

Puzzles and computer games form an interesting mode that may be considered outside of these. To some degree, one may consider them a part of mode three, in being undifferentiated building blocks that must be brought together to produce meaning or success in the game.

Made in the Image of God

When God made human beings, he made them in his image and likeness. Part of this I take to mean  that we, as creatures made in the image of our Creator, possessing immense powers of creation, will create in analogous ways to God's own modes of creation. Thus, by studying how we may play without external direction, we may better understand the world around us as it has been created by God. Upon this foundation we may build an extensive understanding of the world, a metaphysics, an understanding of the fundamental nature of Being.

Let me give a broad outline of the philosophy I see as derived from this, to be later elaborated. God has, as I see it, created the world according to the three modes of play outlined above. In the first mode, the "stuffed animal" mode, he has produced Humans and any other non-human Rational Animals. In the second mode, the "imaginary friend" mode, he has produced the Angels. In the third mode, the "construction set" mode, he has structured the physical world from fundamental building blocks of particles and forces. This trifold mode of creation, once elaborated with all of its subtleties, constitutes the entirety of my philosophy.

I mentioned in my last post that part of my goal with this series was to expand the manner in which I had expressed my views up to this point. Part of that consists in this: in elaborating my philosophy thus far, I have spoken almost entirely in the language of the first mode. While I ultimately hold this to be sufficient to derive the principles of the other modes, it has led to confusion when I begin to talk of things that are not generally considered to be "persons". Consequently, I will endeavor to begin this elaboration with the focus almost entirely upon the third mode, that of the "construction set", for here, I think, I can begin to show certain aspects of my thought that have remained obscure.

Atomism, Revisited

The Desire for the Undefined

As mentioned above, there are two sorts of construction sets: those with accompanying instruction manual and those without. Both are equally desired by a child, despite the fairly recent LEGO movie which privileged the sets without instructions. This is even true of adults' relationship to such sets, though much more complicated in its expression. 

Let us consider, therefore, the experience of a person before a bin of LEGOs or other construction bricks, a set that does not come with instructions. What do they desire the bricks for? Did they invent a plan for what they would do with them long beforehand, and then proceed to go out and buy just the pieces they needed for their pre-existing plan? Probably not. It is the rare person who has that degree of forethought. And besides, that would take away a good measure of the fun. The great thing about this sort of set is the ability to begin using it with no plan in mind, to connect a couple bricks at random until you suddenly get an idea of what you want to build. The bricks themselves seem to have been desired, not for any particular attribute, but for their near infinite adaptability, the degree to which they are undefined. A child receiving a construction set for his birthday is excited, not by any particular thing he can build with the set, but by the thoughts that will spontaneously arise to construct the bricks into. The undefined and as-of-yet unthought of structure of the pieces is what makes them desirable. They are desirable precisely because they are not any particular sort of thing.

That said, there are still cases where the desired structure does, in fact, precede the desiring of the bricks. This, then, is the purpose of those sets that come with instructions. There is an idea that we want manifested in the medium of LEGO, for instance, and so we follow the instructions with meticulous detail in an effort to properly realize the image in the plastic. Here the particular sort of thing to be made is held first and foremost as desirable, and the bricks are desired as a means to the realization of that design.

There are a few things to notice here. The bricks themselves are never altered. They may change their position and degree of connection with other bricks, but always stay in exactly the form they already actually are. It is only by the aggregate, the arrangement, that they become something, from starship to car to tree. The arrangement, the interrelationship between the bricks, is what defines what has been made by the bricks, not the bricks themselves. That said, the bricks are such that they only will allow certain connections with each other, and by this limitation, this degree of definition, guide the production of the structure.

Beginning with the philosopher Democritus, it was proposed that the world consisted of tiny, indivisible, bits of stuff that floated about in empty space, in the void.  According to Democritus, they were capable of connecting, one to another (very much, in fact, in the manner of LEGOs, see Endnote 1), thus forming the content of the world. They were called "atoms" from the Greek word for "uncuttable". The "atoms" of our modern physics have been shown, in fairly dramatic fashion within the last century, to be indeed divisible. This "divisibility of the atom" merely shows that we have chosen to call the wrong things "atoms". I suggest that atoms are fundamentally a group of undefined existing beings. When we provide a thing with a definition, we divide it from all else as "this particular sort of thing". The one way to have a thing that is not divisible, not capable of being reduced to more fundamental things, is to have it be undefined. All definition is to be found in the structure, the interrelationship between these existing things, which can be broken down into their individual parts. The longer we look deeper into the fundamental building blocks of the universe, from protons to quarks to strings and so on, the less logical and definitional structure will we find, for the building blocks are themselves without definition.

From all of this, permit me to suggest an image of the world: Atoms, undefined existents, floating about in Void, and being arranged in particular structures. This is the world as it exists before the God playing in the "construction set" mode of creation. He has designs in his mind, and orders the Atoms to fit those structures. Or, he looks into the world of Atoms and is thus inspired to bring into existence structures in his mind to shape them into.

Here I would like to introduce some philosophical terminology. The pre-existing, undefined, unchanging stuff, the atoms, from which a thing is made I will call the "Matter" of a thing. By its arrangement, matter's interrelationship with other bits of matter, it comes to be a particular sort of thing. This arrangement is what is called "Form". The character of Matter is that it exists, however undefined and unlimited. The character of Form is that it is structure, the "essence" of a thing, whether it is structuring anything at all. However, both are equally real, unchanging in what they are and will continue to be. (Note: This differs significantly from an Aristotelian usage of these terms. See endnote 2).

Let me emphasize there are two sorts of equally existing things here: the bricks and their relationships to one another. These are two expressions of equally substantial reality. Sometimes one starts with the bricks first, and then this inspires the creation ex nihilo of the relationships between them. Sometimes one starts with the relationships between the bricks, as when one has an instruction manual, and then gets the bricks needed to place that set of relationships in space.

It is here I differ from Atomism as it has generally existed previously. For me it is not a materialist doctrine, not one that reduces reality to Matter, as it has been for the majority of those who have followed it. While I affirm that Matter is, in itself, complete substance, I also affirm that Form is, in itself, complete substance. There is Void, the nothing, in which Atoms and Structure float about, ready to be unified into Structured Matter, a new substance. The union of substances yields substance. Thus I object to the accusation that Atomism makes the things around us "merely" the arrangements of Atoms floating in the Void. We and the things around us are the union of Structure and Atoms within the Void. Not mere Atoms, not mere Structure, Structured Atoms.

Matter is unchanging particles, undefined at their foundation, but absolutely existent and having the character in themselves that they will always possess. Form is unchanging structure, defined, absolutely existent, and having the character in itself that it will always possess. They are both equally substantial. United as Formed Matter, they are the particulars that surround us everyday.

Formless and Void

Thus, at the beginning, there is God, having created the whole of what is. Now the universe at this time was Formless and Void. Quarks, electrons, strings, etc. floating about without defined relationship to one another, though exactly as they would always be throughout the history of the universe. These have already been created ex nihilo, the box of bricks has already been bought. The God at play has dumped the bin of celestial LEGOs on the floor. And he broods over the waters. Water, here, is a traditional image of matter. It remains ever itself, but takes on the shape of its container. What then, is the shape of water without a container? The undefined. Darkness, undefinition, was over the face of the deep. The God at play looks over the bricks strewn across the floor, and then produces ex nihilo the forms that are to be held by these bricks.

Fiat Lux! Let there be Light! Let us be able to see the interrelationships between things. And thus, with Matter as muse, Form is created. And there was Light. Form and Matter are unified, two substances become one while eternally remaining themselves.

Extension, Time, Space are added to the first Matter as its foundational structures, and it begins to change, to expand. From an undifferentiated singularity we find the origin of Time, Space, Matter, Energy. Greater specificity is added, differentiating and defining the forces and the fundamental particles of nature. Stars form, die, and thus allow the production of structures of Matter before undreamt of, heavier elements needed for life.

And thus the Spirit of God then brooded over the face of the waters of primordial earth, its matter not yet formed with the Forms of Life, and void of life. Within this he now forms the domains of the world, the sea, the sky, the ground, and then fills them with life.

He makes all things according to their kinds, multiple things having a Form in common between them. Forms have this ability to be the structure over multiple Matters. We have already seen this when we considered a LEGO set that had instructions. The structure that we are going to unite with the bricks is already present in the instruction booklet, forming the interrelationships not of plastic bricks, but of paper-and-ink printouts of computer models. The instructions and the model made according to the instructions share in precisely the same Form, though expressed in different media (see Endnote 3). Likewise with the set that came with no instructions. Here the Form came to exist in the mind of the builder before being united with the bricks. Much as the bricks were Matter without Form, in the mind we have Form without Matter. But when we unite the Form with the bricks, the Form is present both in the bricks and in the mind of the Creator. The Form as it exists in the mind is the cause and source of the Form as it exists in the bricks. The Form is in both places, but remains a particular substantial thing. The mind is not cut of from the world, nor the world from the mind, by means of the participation of Matter in Form and the instantiation of Form in Matter.

From a world that was created as a realm of pure matter, undefined, existing without essence or purpose, God has built a world of creatures with defined essences, with structures that allow them to survive, grow, multiply, and adapt in the world he has made. And the structures in his mind for these creatures are  the perfect exemplars and causes of each of these kinds of beings in the world. How naturally a Platonism is born from the doctrines of Democritus.

And, at last, The Human Being, the creature with mind united to body, is made. But that takes us from the "construction set" mode to the "stuffed animal" mode, and must therefore be the subject of another post.


1. I owe this particular explanation of Democritus's atomism via LEGOs to the chapter on Democritus in that most excellent book Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. It was this explanation of Democritus that led me from my pre-existing understanding of the Platonic Form/Matter distinction in terms of LEGOs to a greater understanding of my as-of-then unrecognized Atomism.

2. I know many who would like to object here in favor of the doctrine of Aristotle. However, to the degree that it is a digression from my main point, I have set it off as an endnote. According to his doctrine, the objects we see around us and know (e.g. cat, desk, can, book, human body, etc.) are the truly fundamental substances of the world. They show two aspects, what they are and what they are capable of being, which are called "actuality" and "potentiality", respectively. When a thing grows or is produced, it is because either nature or an artisan recognizes the potentiality of a thing and brings it to actuality. A sculptor might see bronze, and see that it might be made into a statue, and then actualize it into a statue. The bronze is potentially a statue but actually bronze. Per Aristotle, the bronze is itself changed into statue, the potentiality of "statuehood" actualized in the underlying substance.

Aristotle thus introduces four causes or "explanations" of substances. The "material cause" is the aspect of a substance that is potential, its ability to become a sort of thing (e.g. the bronze of the statue is what has the ability to become a statue). The "formal cause" is the actuality of a substance, the sort of thing it is (e.g. its actually being a statue). The "efficient cause" is what causes the becoming actual of the potential (e.g. the sculptor who makes the statue). The "final cause" is the reason or goal for the sake of which the efficient cause moved the material cause into the formal cause (e.g. the beauty for the sake of which the sculptor turned the bronze into the statue).

This picture I believe to be fundamentally flawed. First, the language of "actuality" and "potency" presumes a special point in time that we call "now", which alone is actual. I have posited in conversation, and have argued in part here, that we must, given the eternal perspective of God from outside of time and given what we have come to understand from modern physics (chiefly Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity), abandon any belief in a universally objective, "now". All things, sub specie aeternitatis, are exactly as actual as they will ultimately be. Consequently, "actuality" and "potentiality", form and matter as defined by Aristotle, are categories of thought that bear no relevance to the fundamentally static nature of reality sub specie aeternitatis. Secondly, the system insists that value is always present in "what a thing is shaped into" rather than "that from which a thing is shaped", given the potentiality-to-actuality directionality of the final cause. However, as already shown above, taking building bricks as our topic of consideration, we see that we can desire the bricks for the sake of the structure, or desire the structure for the sake of the bricks. Value is as present in the Material as in the Formal, and both are for the sake of the other.

3. Common Form in different Matter is precisely what is meant by the word Symbol, no more and no less.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Eternity is a Child at Play #0: Epigraphs and Plan

"Athenian: I maintain that serious matters deserve our serious attention, but trivialities do not: that all men of good will should put God at the center of their thoughts; that man, as we said before, has been created as a toy for God; and that this is the great point in his favor. So every man and every woman should play this part and order their whole life accordingly, engaging in the best possible pastimes--in a quite different frame of mind to their present one." -Plato, Laws (803c, translated by Trevor J. Saunders) 
"Eternity is a child at play, playing draughts: the kingdom is a child's."-Heraclitus (B52)
"Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?"- Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy
 "'I've brought you a new playfellow,' the Fairy said. 'You must be very kind to him and teach him all he needs to know in Rabbitland, for he is going to live with you forever and ever'"-Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
"So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."-A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner 

 The Guiding Principle

If you have known me for any significant amount of time, you will have heard me elaborate upon the central idea of my thought. This may have been a slight misstatement, for it is more like the idea has me than that I have the idea. It has been the guiding principle around which I have constructed my understanding of the world; my theology, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics have been shaped with it as the core. I believe it to be True. And it is this: we, as human beings, are best understood as the toy animal friends of God. And that the universe as a whole is best understood as the play of God. This is my thesis. I plan here and in following posts in this new series to continue my elaboration of this theme.

I have addressed this topic before, particularly in my Fairfield Society Lecture "A Metaphysics of Creation: The Ontology of the Velveteen Rabbit". Three-and-a-half years have passed since my presentation of that lecture. It remains the best elaboration of the core ideas of my thought. However, I have had the opportunity to expand the principles and insights from that paper within that time. Much of this expansion is in need of elaboration in written form, both for purposes of clarity of thought and for the availability of a written expression for the reference of friends and those who may happen to come across it.

As to audience, I anticipate little interest beyond those who know me. I will consequently speak as to friends, to those with whom I have thought these things through in our discussions. This, then, is what you have heard me elaborate at length in our conversations, though with the addition of thoughts that time or distance have not allowed me to express to you. I appreciate whatever time anyone chooses to give to reading this. Questions are, as always, appreciated, whether in the comments section on this blog or through some other means of communication.

Looking forward, there are a few places in particular that I would like to expand what I have said already. I have frequently elaborated upon the relationship between Child and stuffed animal, but have not done so with reference to much of the existing field of research concerning such an interaction.  Further, I have realized that a good portion of my thought, while still resting in play, may have been left without any clear justification in what I have expressed in conversation or on paper, in that it concerns those elements of the world that are not persons but mere things. While I think the same principles are at work in both the personal and impersonal, a different sort of play will help me clarify my expression. Thus I will introduce a new guiding analogue, to augment that of Child and stuffed animal: the Child and construction set, particularly LEGO.

With summer having started, I hope I can get at least a few posts out for this in the coming months.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Cave, Revisited

Imagine human beings, like us, imprisoned in an underground cave-like dwelling. There they have been imprisoned from birth. They are chained, facing the wall of the cave. Behind them there is a great fire that shines upon the wall. The jailers have set up a great platform behind the prisoners. From this platform, the jailers cast shadows upon the wall. These shadows are all the prisoners have ever experienced. The prisoners play a game, recognizing the images on the wall and naming them. By success in this are all honors, titles, and status in their society determined. They have no knowledge that they are imprisoned, for it is all they have ever known. They take the shadows before them as being the whole of the world, for indeed, it is their world. This is a tale of something that happened once in this world.

They pondered the nature and character of their world.

One went about saying that the world consisted only of tiny bits of shadow and wall, randomly assembling themselves.

Another said that everything could be divided into "what might be" and "what is". By quick observation one could tell that the shadows were "what is", and the wall was "what might be". Fundamental reality was found in shadow, and movement was the "shadowization of wall insofar as it is still wall". Shadows, he thought, emerged by nature from other shadows of the same sort, and so it had been from all eternity. A follower of his argued, therefore, for a God that was Pure Shadow, Umbra Pura, a great shadow by which all shadows came to be, simple in his great Shadowhood.

Another, of poor eyesight, said that no one could tell him plainly why we should interpret a given shadow as one sort of thing rather than another. He then screamed and yelled that the shadow-interpretation game was rigged, thinking that it was set up to benefit those who were of high status.  He wanted to be free, he said, and this consisted in being able to determine what the shadows were for himself, despite the rigged game. This caused great disorder, with even a few being tortured and killed over whether such-and-such a shadow was really such-and-such or something else, or even whether it was anything at all.

Great mystics arose, and said that the true nature of the world lay beyond what could be seen. They cried that the wall and its shadows were worthless. There were myriad ways in which this problem was resolved. Some said that they must be equal nothings with the shadows, and that thus the path to follow was to reconcile oneself to worthlessness, and never to struggle to succeed in the shadow game. Others said that there was some higher world that one would reach at death, and that this was the only release. Yet others said that the wall and shadow-shapes were produced by the mind as a means of interpreting shadows, but that people must trust in some higher world for all practical purposes, for else why should they not cheat at the shadow game.

One day, a jailer came up to one of the prisoners, and unlocked his bonds. The prisoner stood up, and looked around. Seeing the fire, he was dazzled by its brightness, and could hardly see anything on account of it. He heard the jailer next to him, and could only barely make out his outline. He was startled, for the outline did not seem to him human, but vaguely animal.

The jailer drove him forward, up a spiraling path that lead to the mouth of the cave. At the mouth of the cave, he was dazzled by the light that shone in. He yet again couldn't see. He turned to his jailer, still unable to see his face. The outline looked different up here, more birdlike.

He looked about him upon the ground, and saw all the wonders of the earth. Here were the great waterfalls, the high mountains, the sturdy trees that reached up to the sky. The deer danced upon the grass. Birds swirled in the air. Great elephants thundered across the ground. Men went about their politics, ordering all things as was fitting, bringing people to virtue and freedom. They gave him citizenship in this city, though by rights he was still a prisoner of the cave, and more than this: they gave him a princedom, that he might sit in judgment over them. He accepted. He thought to himself that he had given up the life of the cave and its meaningless games utterly. He knew nothing there, and was only beginning to know things now. He looked up, and saw the Sun, and knew it to be the source of all the life that dwelt upon the earth. At this, Apollo himself sent a messenger in the form of a beam of light to greet the man.

"Welcome, little one, to this over-world. Let my light give you knowledge, and know this also, my light descends even to those who dwell in deepest darkness. Now descend from my realm, back into the cave from which you came." Having said this, the beam of light ascended back into the Sun.

A merchant of the city, standing nearby, asked him what he thought of Apollo's message. The man replied that he was unsure, for he did not know how was it possible that the light of the Sun should reach down so far into the darkness of the cave to which he was now banished.

"Heed my advice," said the merchant, "Go back down into the cave, for that is the god's command. But trust that his light will be even there, though there are miles of earth that block his light".

With heavy heart, the man realized he must do as the god had demanded. He returned to the mouth of the cave. There, at last, with all clearness, he saw his jailer.

From the chest down he was a man, but above he had the head of an ibis. His curved beak shone menacingly in the light of the Sun. In his right hand he carried a reed pen. Silently, the ibis-headed man gestured for the prisoner to follow him down the winding path. They began their descent.

In the darkness, the prisoner could barely see anything, for his eyes had adjusted to the light of the upper world. As they descended, he looked at his jailer and saw that his appearance had changed. Now he was terrible to behold. Jackal headed, and carrying a flail. He trembled at the sight of this dog-man, who now seemed like a ravenous beast that was eager to attack.

They descended further, until they reached where the prisoners were held.

As they approached where he was to be imprisoned again, he begged his jailer thus:

"I know that I must be imprisoned, but might but a little light of the Sun be granted. My eyes are weary from the lack of light. You are a powerful god, it seems. Perhaps you may transform the light of this little fire into Sunlight?"

At this, the dog-man halted. Yet a third time he was transformed. Now he stood, a beautiful youth, holding a winged staff with serpents entwined around it, circling the staff as the paths to the upper-world had circled from the cave. Here stood Hermes.

"You have done well. You have followed the light even though it told you to go into darkness, and therefore here will you find light." At this, Hermes raised his staff towards the wall, and it transformed. The shadows of animals turned into animals. The shadows of plants turned into plants. All the shadows transformed into what they were mere shadows of, and the wall turned to a sunlit plain, rich with vegetation. The prisoners were now seen to be the men of the over-world city, having been under an enchantment that had hid the world from their eyes. The cave was no more, for it had been transformed into the over-world. The man, astonished at this, asked Hermes who he was.

"Who am I? I was the enchanter who hid the things of the over-world with this shadow-kingdom. I was the jailer who brought you all here in your very infancy, so that you might learn to trust the light despite the greatest darkness. I was the jailer who set you free, and led you, bewildered, up the spiral path. I was the beam of light that gave our command. It was a command given so that you might be tested, abandoning even the light of heaven at heaven's command. It was a command given so that you might receive back what you had renounced, the more to joy in it. I was the merchant who helped you follow the command. I was the lord of Language and Writing at the gate, for it is by dark hieroglyphics that one learns, once the wand of Meaning has brought light to previously meaningless letters. Through the dark, light arises. I was the judge of men's souls and guide of the dead, for my power is that of the god who rose from death. I was the Messenger and lord of Meaning, and with my magic I have united the worlds. These are my many masks: even this mask of Hermes is not my true face. I am the Word of he who gives light to the World, and we are one. Born in a cave, yet the one that unites the heavens and the earth. For thus it has been said: 'That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below, for the accomplishment of the miracles of the one thing.'".

And thus I finished my tale, after which I said: "You all followed me in saying 'I know nothing', for who indeed knows anything in the darkness of the cave. And yet, none of you ever asked me why I swear by the Dog, the god of the Egyptians."