Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Perspectives on the Trinity

The comparison of Christianity to the Vedanta was accomplished through recourse to the concepts of Vertical and Horizontal Trinities. Although clear to me when writing this, it nevertheless seems necessary to explain that these two approaches, or as I referred to them, “different but related perspectives, ” are not in any way representative of Orthodox Christian Doctrine as is evidenced by the mere fact that Christian Doctrine as a whole, that is to say, of any denomination, does not take the Vedanta into consideration in any explicit way as it is necessarily excluded from the Christian worldview. The two formulations in question are, rather, comparative conceptual dimensions vis-à-vis the Vedanta. In Schuon’s words, the simplest expression of these consists in stating that “the ‘vertical’ trinity corresponds to Brahman, Ishvara, Buddhi, and the ‘horizontal’ Trinity – which is found in each of these terms – corresponds to Sat, Chit, Ananda.” In this context, to draw a distinction between these two perspectives is not to somehow limit the operation of the Christian Trinity in opposition to the understanding of Orthodox Mystical Theology, but rather to assert the lack of direct equivalence between the two Vedantic ternaries that are being used as the framework of comparison.

It is important to realize that these two approaches to the Trinity do not in any way exhaust Schuon’s multifaceted perspective or his profound reflections on the subject. Rather, his perspective encompasses them without being limited to them. That, as you state, Schuon’s understanding of the Christian Trinity is limited to the notion that God is simply a Trinity, without taking into consideration, as Christians do, the realization of his unity, is incomprehensible, especially in light of his explicit comments on the subject. He wrote, for example, that “in order to give Trinitarian Metaphysics a dogmatic face, one is obliged, on pain of being able to say nothing about it, to make explicit the modes of its differentiation, but one is then obliged to interrupt the sequence of ideas at the decisive moment and return without transition to the initial affirmation that the Essence is One.”

You also attribute to Schuon the contention that it is wrong to ascribe relativity to God in opposition to Christians who believe that it is ultimately inevitable. I have difficulty understanding what led you to this idea unless you confused his perspective with the quote which describes how Islam has difficulty applying relativity to God in an Absolute way. This idea is of utmost significance to the traditionalist school as a whole due to the pivotal importance placed upon the Transcendent Unity of Religions. According to this view, God has revealed himself not only as a Trinity, but in an indefinite number of ways. From the perspective of the total Reality, each Revelation constitutes a relativity and manifests a unique archetype but from the perspective of man, they appear absolute, hence the designation “relatively absolute”.

Concerning the implications of God as Beyond-Being, I cannot recall a more succinct or eloquent expression of this metaphysical reality than Zachary has provided for us, so I will limit myself to re-iterating it once again. He wrote, “Beyond Being or God as the Essence is unconditioned and without restrictions or limitations, including the condition, restriction, or limitation of being without conditions, restrictions of limitations.”

Finally, the exclusive identification of the vertical Trinity with metaphysics as distinct from the horizontal perspective was my own association which seemed convenient at the time, but which in retrospect appears to limit the full consideration of the metaphysical perspective which necessarily embraces the total Reality and not one dimension only. Even given this error, however, the dichotomies that you proposed between the vertical and horizontal dimensions were unwarranted because to assert multiple perspectives does not of necessity place them in opposition to each other. The distinction of the strictly Vedantic Trinities bears this out, for they unfold upon different planes altogether, a difference that does not make them contradictory. According to the Vedanta God is Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahman, but also Ishvara, and even Buddhi.

Aside from these clarifications and objections, there is a significant idea that that you expressed which I would like to draw attention to. It is implicit in this sentence: “Again, as I think I’ve said before, the two approaches that Schuon takes toward Christianity (the vertical and the horizontal) does violence to the metaphysical truth apprehended by the Christian Perspective.” Aside from the very harsh tone, I am inclined to interpret the implications of this statement as an acknowledgement of the tension that may be experienced occasionally between the metaphysical perspective of the Traditionalist School and the vantage point of a particular religion. This is a complicated subject, but the most important idea as I see it is to annunciate the prerogatives of the Traditionalists. These are aptly summarized in a letter by Frithjof Schuon contained in the latest addition of his book Gnosis. He wrote that

“The great evil is not that men of different religions do not understand each other, but that too many men – due to the influence of the modern spirit – are no longer believers … It is therefore high time that: 1. men return to faith, whatever their religion may be, on condition that it is intrinsically orthodox and in spite of dogmatic ostracisms; 2. that those who are capable of understanding pure metaphysics, esoterism, and the inward unity of religions discover these truths and draw the necessary inward and outward conclusions. And this is why I write books.”

I wish to thank you and the other contributors for your very stimulating responses. We may disagree at times, but if we “Do not contend with the People of the Book except in the fairest possible way” we may grow in mutual respect and acknowledge a variety of possible perspectives thereby coming closer to each other in a shared Faith in God.

No comments:

Post a Comment