Friday, September 23, 2011

Transcendentals 2, ExCathedra 1

In philosophy, the triad of  The True, The Beautiful and The Good are known as "The Transcendentals". Sounds like a singing group. And, I suppose they are. It means that each of these is a mode of unitary and harmonic Being: truth as Being rightly known, beauty as Being rightly admired, and good as Being rightly desired. Nice, huh?

Whether I have ever done them "rightly" or not, The True and the Beautiful have always drawn me. The Good...not so much. There was a line in the hymn for Confessor Saints in the old breviary which, when I was a novice, we used to twist around, with much hilarity. "He could have sinned but would not" became "He would have sinned but could not". Describes a good chunk of my life. Had I been braver and more energetic, I would have been badder and sooner.

When I was living in a very low-rent studio apartment in the 80's, slogging out my doctoral dissertation on my very advanced typewriter, with a correcting tape function (!), I remember one day finally understanding, really "getting", part of something Aquinas wrote. It was a kind of ecstasy for me. It was not just grasping that one idea, but almost being grasped by it; it seemed to portend entry into a larger realm of Truth. And to me, it was Beautiful. Such are the pleasures of the Intuitive Thinking Type! (My Sensate & Feeling functions were later to combine to take their revenge).

That is why I say that the strictly dogmatic and even (especially) the arcane and complex sacramental elements of Catholicism cause me little hesitation. The True and the Beautiful. It's the Good where I get stuck. (Hesitate is from the Latin to adhere to or to stick). Or do I drop to the ground in non-violent protest and refuse to move...?

Anyhow, in my cyberwanderings, I found this image from the contemporary English Dominicans, an update of a medieval tympanum, with the addition of the Order's "totem animal", the dog (black or black/white) with the torch in its mouth. Although the style is a bit on the Eric Gill sweet side, I found myself drawn to The True (which does not exclude The Clever) and The Beautiful in it.

Yesterday, while dusting off a bookcase, I found an old book I used to love: Myth and Ritual in Christianity by self-professed "genuine fake and philosophical entertainer" Alan Watts, from 1953. It is a mythological, Jung-influenced, sorta Sophia Perennis a la Watts style reading of the Christian "myth". I loved it. And it ever after influenced how I read The Faith. (For an incident of Jungian synchronicity, see this posting.)

In this image above, the True and the Beautiful. The Christ as Archetypal Man: his wounded hands and feet emblematic of human suffering, the cruciform halo the sign of divinity; his clothing is that of a priest, his position royal, with arms outstretched in a gesture both of power and invitation, and his face clearly masculine but benign (part of the playfulness of the whole image). The Christ figure sits in or emanates out of an oval-shaped light, the indefinite wholeness of the Divine as background to the definiteness of the Incarnation. The masculine Lord with the feminine oval/ovary. Or the prima materia out of which perhaps both God and Man were born.

Around him, the Four Living Creatures of Revelation 4. They stand for the Four Gospels: the Angel of Matthew, the Lion of Mark, the Bull of Luke and the Eagle of John. But also the Four Four-Faced Cherubim of Ezekiel 1's and the four fixed signs of the Zodiac*: Aquarius, Leo, Taurus and Scorpio. I loved layered stuff like this.

And, cleverly, the addition of the torch-bearing dogs, nicely placed to match the tympanum. Dominicans' Latin nickname (both pro and con) is Domini canes, the Lord's dogs. A legend says that St Dominic's mother, Juana de Aza, in good archetypal fashion, had a dream while she was pregnant with him that she would give birth to a dog who would set the world on fire. One Dominican website with hiphop orthography is called Godzdogz; another has this. The black and white of the whole ink drawing reflects the Dominican colors.

I love this kind of thing. The layering of information and poetic image is for me the draw of the true and beautiful. But also for me, as for Alan Watts, the good is not my natural home.

*If you can't read the capital letter "zee" , I did type it in, but somehow my computer, and maybe yours, has trouble showing Z's...

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