Friday, 18 May 2012

Come back Von Hügel

Dismissing Von Hügel' with fond contempt, holding instead to a sterner Homeric code and an admixture of instrumental explanation of incorruptibility, as though the embalmers of the Pharaoh's should take on a little nixer in the spirit world to make St. Catherine of Genoa look good; Yeats shows himself to be an unreliable assessor of the true stature of others. With the surprising strength of my skinny arm let me stay you with a warning. Beware of the judgements of our culture heroes such as Hemingway on Ford; and Yeats, on Von Hügel and Moore. They have a long memory of slights that must be avenged.

The curious thing is that Yeats in his 'Vacillation' describes an experience of blessedness which Von Hügel would have said was the natural mystical experience of Eternal Life. There are several works of Von Hügel available on Internet Archive
I have been perusing the book of readings gathered by Algar Thorold. The Baron was a devout and scholarly individual who published his first book at the age of 57. He was one of the Modernist school within Catholicism that came under the scrutiny and dissaproval of the Papacy. A lifelong priest friend of his Dr.Tyrell was excommunicated and denied a Catholic burial. Odd that now this strand of thought has become commonplace and those that opposed it megatheriums snuffed out by the impact of the asteroid of Evolution amongst other things.

'Eternal Life' was his second book published in 1913:

ETERNAL Life, in its pregnant, concrete, ontological sense, —the operative conviction of its reality,—is not, primarily, a matter of Speculation and Philosophy, but reveals itself clearly only in the course of ages, and even then only to riper, deeper souls, as having been all along (in some manner and degree) experienced and postulated in all that men feel, will, do, and are of a characteristically human kind. It is only Religion that, in this matter, has furnished man with a vivid and concrete experience and conviction of permanent ethical and spiritual value. Philosophy, as such, has not been able to do more than analyse and clarify this religious conviction, and find, within its own domain and level, certain intimations and requirements converging towards such a conviction. It has not itself been able vividly to experience, or unshakably to affirm, a corresponding Reality as actually present and ever operative in the production of these very intimations and requirements.

He appears to be challenging the standard scholastic idea that the existence of God can be proved. The use of converging here is akin to the use in the Catholic Catechism of 'converging and convincing' proofs rather than the knock-down proofs of science.

There is a reference to Bergson's concept of duration.

Eternal Life, in this sense, precludes not only space, not only clock-time —that artificial chain of mutually exclusive, ever equal moments,—but even duration, time as actually experienced by man, with its overlapping, interpenetrating successive stages.

He makes a specific reference to Bergson whose ideas he finds stimulating :

Indeed, I shall attempt to show more fully in the next chapter, with the aid of M. Henri Bergson, that mathematical, uniform clock-time is indeed an artificial compound, which is made up of our profound experience of a duration in which the constituents (sensations, imaginations, thoughts, feelings, willings)
of the succession ever, in varying degrees, overlap, interpenetrate, and modify each other, and the quite automatic and necessary simplification and misrepresentation of this experience by its imaginary projection on to space,—its restatement, by our picturing faculty, as a perfectly equable succession of mutally exclusive moments. It is in that interpenetrative duration, not in this atomistic clock-time, that our deeper human experiences take place.

Duration and nunc-stans:

Eternal Life, in a real, though not in the fullest sense, is attributable to man. This lesser eternal life appears to have its range between the pure Simultaneity of God, and mere Clock-Time, and to have its true form in Duration —an ever more or less overlapping succession, capable of being concentrated into quasi-simultaneities.

But it is Augustine that best expresses the sense of the eternal in time.

But it is St. Augustine who has, so far, found the noblest expression for the deepest human experiences in this whole matter of Duration and Simultaneity, as against mere Clock-Time, although, here as with regard to Space, he is deeply indebted to Plotinus. "In thee, O my soul, I measure time,— I measure the impression which passing events make upon thee, who remainest when those events have passed: this present impression then, and not those events which had to pass in order to produce it, do I measure, when I measure time." "The three times," tenses, "past, present and future . . . are certain three affections in the soul, I find them there and nowhere else. There is the present memory of past events, the present perception of present ones, and the present expectation of future ones." God possesses "the splendour of ever-tarrying Eternity," which is "incomparable with never-tarrying times," since in it "nothing passes, but the content of everything abides simply present." And in the next life "perhaps our own thoughts also will not be flowing, going from one thing to another, but we shall see all we know simultaneously, in one intuition." St. Thomas indeed is more positive: "All things will," in Heaven, " be seen simultaneously and not successively."


elisa freschi said...

Thanks, Ombhurbhuva, I especially liked the reference to von Hügel vs. the Scholastics. It stresses the fact that the religious experience is qualitatively different than the attitude of a scientist.

ombhurbhuva said...

In a sort of way Van Hugel subverts the scholastic position by quoting the position of Aquinas in librum Boethii De Trinitate :

"Aquinas admits that " it is impossible, with regard to anything, to know whether it exists, unless we somehow know what is its nature," at least "with a confused knowledge"; whence "also with regard to God, we could not know whether He exists," which we do know, "unless we somehow knew, even though confusedly, what He is" librum Boethii De Trinitate : Thomse, Opera, ed. veneta altera, 1776, pp. 34i<5, 342^). It is indeed clear that only such positive knowledge can justify the numerous confident assertions as to God not being this or that." (Von Hugel - Eternal Life)

In other words, in order to say anything about anything there must be an apprehension of that thing, however bare and confused.

Shankara is a rigourist on this point - only the Vedas and the Puranas offer the assurance of the existence of God. And the Vedas are apoureshya so the circle is neatly closed.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks Ombhurbhuva, but I am still not understanding. I guess that the passage you quote from von Hügel goes on explaining that he disagrees, isnt't it?

As for Śaṅkara, he is borrowing a Mīmāṃsā stance, namely, that the Vedas are the only source of knowledge for what goes beyond the precinct of sense-perception. I know about Australia only because I read about it, having never been there, but Australia lies not in itself beyond the realm of sense perception. By contrast, religious truths do. According to Mīmāṃsakas, because they are sādhya and not siddha (to be realised vs. established). Does Śaṅkara justify the distinction in any other way?

ombhurbhuva said...

He is showing the tension in the position of Aquinas which his scholastic followers do not address. If I am able to demonstrate that something exists by reasoning (5 Ways) then this knowledge carried by the proposition 'God exists' might have an existential immediacy to it. Von H. is arguing for an immediate if cloudy knowledge of God the portal of which is the intuition of Eternal Life. So he is agreeing with Aquinas on the Librum Boethii point.

Shankara stays close to the Mimamsa on this point B.S.B. II.i.7:

There is also the smrti text:
"Entities that are beyond thought are not to be approached through logic. The definition of the unthinkable is that which is beyond nature. &c

He also says that the Vedas do not overrule perceptual evidence.