In a recent post, I said something about Thomas Aquinas, that he fused theology and rationalism in a fundamental way, in the Western mind. I might have been more accurate to say Theology and Logic, maybe. As with most theological expositions and exposition-ers, reading about his life, and some of his words, I feel very much like Aquinas is reported to have felt, toward the end of his life. He is said to have found himself in the presence of Jesus, who asked him, “What do you desire?” Aquinas replied, “Only you.” That might have been a mistake, because he went into a deep funk then, and never wrote again. He is reported to have said, “Mihi veditur ut paleam,” attributed, “All that I have written is like straw to me.” He died a little more than a year after, giving a commentary on the Song of Songs. It is not reported, what that commentary was.
I'm not anything like an expert on the theology of Thomas Aquinas. I'm more like an orderer of symbols, as words, and so Thomas Aquinas is more a symbol to me, just as he is to many Catholics. I know there were various setbacks in his life, various attacks against his theology and character. But I believe he was sincere, genuine. Indeed, for most of his adult life he influenced Catholic theology considerably, and by the end of his life he was revered. To this day, the Catholic Church takes the theology of Aquinas as its theology, required reading in all the apostolic schools.
When I contemplate the life of Thomas Aquinas, I'm most interested in that late insight. What did he see, that made the whole of his life-work like straw to him? Indeed, there are few in the history of humanity, who have as broad or influential a life work, influential more than seven centuries after his death. The Catholic Church ignores the consequences of this late revelation, as a kind of God-influenced discombobulation, but what could they say? That straw is a cornerstone of their institutional/intellectual foundation. He couldn't have meant it!
My idea, and it is only an idea, is that on asking Jesus, only to know Him, Aquinas saw how far his life's work had been from a recovery of the garden, and he saw how the whole of it would be taken very seriously, for a very long time. That, and there was nothing to do to prevent it, nothing he could say, nothing he could write to take it back, only cast off as the raving of an old man gone mad. Dante suggested in the Paradisio, Aquinas was poisoned. It makes sense, if he was attempting, as perhaps – conceivably - in his commentary on the Song of Songs, to take it back, to renounce, to return to the garden?
In the context of the perniciousness of institutions, and their inherent drive to control, the Catholic Church is a kind of preeminent example. In a way, the Catholic Church is like the template of the enduring institution. Even after split in half, that other half splintering into seemingly endless variety, it endures. Even after it has been revealed time and again to be inherently corrupt, incapable of not being corrupt, it endures. Now, it is one institution among many under the arc of Christianity. Perhaps the most powerful though, still.
Christianity itself may not have survived, but for the institutional structure the early Catholics built.
I look at Christianity now, in the twilight of American empire, and I am full of contempt for it's leadership, and to a lesser degree for Christians generally. The early Catholics survived and built their Religion with a capital R, in part by taking control of the Roman Empire. Christian's in America today, have not shown any less comfort with imperialist pursuits. Christian leaders have never much quibbled with their congregates conception of the American dream. It has proved very lucrative. Then there have been the calls to war. Worst of all, is a refusal to accept the full implications of science, while partaking insatiably of the fruit.
Why can Christians accept the fruit but not the full implications of science? Because faith in the institution would collapse. The Christian gnostic may not have any problem accepting the revelation of science, or the gnostic scriptures, because a gnostic doesn't depend on any institutional authority to establish his or her relationship to the divine. The typical, institutional Christian, Catholic or otherwise, would not likely be a Christian, but for the hierarchical power structure, providing strength by association, telling him what to do, how to act, justifying his willful ignorance, and so perceives any threat to the mythology that sustains that hierarchy, a threat to his soul, her salvation. In the time of Aquinas, you paid the local ecclesiastical elite to grant you indulgences, that you might be saved. These days, the institution panders to your indulgence. It's a lucrative co-dependency, and virulently defended by both dependents. Never mind what science has revealed about the depth of the cosmos; let us embrace ignorance; and we shall demand it from all! The people shall bow down before God! Tyrannical, very Islamic like mytho-fascism.
Thomas Aquinas. I wonder what his intellect would have done with a true knowledge of the working cosmos - and global resource limits? Who knows? Would he remain tied to the one God monotheism of his fathers? Could he allow that the masculine is like a divine energy embedded in universal processes, and could he see the feminine the ethos of Western Civilization is designed to dominate and subdue? I find it deeply gratifying that he died, giving a commentary on the Song of Songs, that one erotic book in the bible. I like that he took refuge there, at the end of his life, the great man who never lay with a woman. And it seems to me, if he lived a whole year after his conversation with Jesus, maybe he was headed on a whole new path. If he transformed the Catholic Church in a fundamental way, he might have turned it another. What Dante said is perfectly in keeping with institutional motive. A good Catholic can't have Thomas Aquinas advocating for a return to the garden (if you'll beg my indulgence.)
As for Christianity, I was raised Lutheran, and then evangelical. Little of the gross hypocrisy, crass materialism and willful ignorance that drove me from the faith, has abated; indeed, I see it now mixed with a belligerent quasi-nationalism, with gay-bashing, anti-female, militaristic, fascist overtones. I'm starting to sense a kind of rabidness, an urge to internal violence. With most guys, Christian and non-Christian alike, I think they're just bored, mostly, and angry, full of rage, and aiming it at what they know to aim at, what they've been told, pretty much. It's not like critical thinking is truly encouraged, by any of our institutions.
Good Christ, our soldiers are killing themselves in record numbers. Just wars, Aquinas, Augustine? If I could talk to such a soldier in such a place, I would say, offer yourself up in service to the Goddess, and see what happens.
I published the third chapter of Progress Interrupted. I apologize beforehand for the scrolling necessary to get there, if you've read the first two chapters; I'm working on making it more user-friendly with my webmaster. There's also a blog entry, recently published, about where I'm at with the garden and the house. I know I've been on a curious path lately, rather harsh, radical in the extreme. I'm reevaluating everything. Everything has changed, and I'm not sure what to do or where to go from here. No regrets, but I feel a little like the wild man howling into an echo chamber. If anybody out there has any opinion, I'd love to hear it, and if you don't want your comment published, say so and it won't be.
That last post, Dum and Dee, was my 200th on this blog. I think it would have been better served, to have been a post of gratitude. Thank you for reading. Thank you for taking a chance with me. About a hundred people a day, lately. Not so long ago, it was 35. That's a lot of responsibility, more than I've ever had. I'm honored. I'm trying to make sense of this world I inhabit. Your checking in tells me, I'm making some.