1.30.2009

Very absorbed of late in a book about the theology of 7th-cent. Byzantine monk, Maximus the Confessor, by Urs von Balthasar (I love that name). Title translated as Cosmic Liturgy. This reading has a lot to do, actually, with the confidence with which I proclaim the theoretical foundations of AIEE! Poetry.

Balthasar explains how Maximus synthesized Western, philosophical, proto-scientific thought, rooted in Aristotle and the Stoics, with Biblical & Christian theology - which was in the slow process of being formulated at the time, & which reflected some Eastern, Platonic, Gnostic elements which he (Maximus) tried to correct or oppose. (He ended up a martyr in the cause of "Chalcedonian orthodoxy", against a Byzantine theocratic government which was attempting at the time to shore up its military-political defenses by making dubious theological compromises.)

What the heck does this have to do with AIEE!, you ask?

The early & mid-Byzantine/Hellenistic intellectual era was primarily focused on formulating theological explanations & demonstrations - developing a shared understanding - of the mysteries of Christian faith, in particular the conundrum or paradox of the Incarnation - the "God-man". I don't have the capability right now to go into further detail on this, except to say that I find Maximus via Balthasar very, very illuminating. He seems to display a kind of "grounded" thinking - a supreme reasonableness - which helps him, as I say, synthesize the philosophical investigation of "nature" in general, with the logical organization of metaphysical concepts. He's a kind of Thomas Aquinas, yet perhaps with a more-heightened kind of visionary eloquence. A sort of Aquinas-Cusanus, 500 years beforehand.

The universe and history, in Maximus, hinge on the paradox, the conjunction-of-opposites, of the Incarnation. The Aristotelian, necessarily-symbiotic union of body & soul, in the human being, shows a kind of analogy to the unique union of divine & human in Christ. Moreover, the synthesis which we observe throughout nature, between the individual thing and its species, its kind - a synthesis which retains (beautifully) the logical substance, the integrity, of both aspects (individual & species) - "without confusion" - this synthesis is understood, again, as a sign or metaphor for the pivotal God/Man union.

All this is combined with Maximus's Aristotelian-Stoic understanding of the status of the "person". The individual person realizes the general potential of the unique union of body & soul. Generally, there is an emphasis in Maximus on the wholeness & integrity of created Nature - combined with an awareness of its absolute contingency with respect to an absolutely autonomous, incomprehensible Creator. It's the union of absolute otherness with complete humanity - "without confusion" - in the person of Christ (the "orthodox" witness of Maximus) - which is the pivot of history and the Redemption of humankind.

All this sounds like gobbledy-gook & blather, I'm sure - and in no way am I capable of even approaching an adequate precis of Maximus's very scintillating thought... but notions of subjectivity & personhood and individual realization - the uniqueness, the quiddity of individual things within an "organic" whole - have implications for a way of approaching - of writing & understanding - poetry, I think. James Joyce does some very interesting things along a parallel Aquinian-Aristotelian worldview (the extreme & elaborate quidditas of a fictional Bloom in a real Dublin, for example...). Joyce understood this as a kind of "medieval" poetics : but it goes back to Byzantium.

& some of this, I hope, can be seen as a consistent focus in all my henotic Henryesque Henrification projects (Stubborn Grew, for ex., is very Joycean in inspiration.)

1 comment:

Meg said...

Ah well.....

We muslims might have something to say to this.

But would a devout and studious..? Christian listen?