Dr Eugene Stockton...
As editor of Catholica, I am privileged at the moment to be sitting amidst a group of gifted thinkers and writers developing this new project we will begin unveiling on Catholica next month in its full glory [See further information in our forum HERE]. We're already engaged in a pretty exciting private conversation via email and phone in the background as we develop the project and I think we're all becoming impatient to begin the fuller, public discussion. Today's commentary is a hand-written essay Eugene Stockton handed to me on the weekend in response to ideas in Peter Todd's book and other discussions we've been having with him. It also serves as something of a teaser for you, our readers, of the territory we'd like to open up for wider discussion in the final months of this year and beyond. When St John's Gospel opens talking about 'The Word' what, precisely is this expression meant to convey to us, especially given the scientific knowledge about creation, and human nature, we're becoming privy to today? ...Brian Coyne
by Dr Eugene Stockton
The following arises from reflection on Peter Todd's "The Individuation of God: Integrating Science and Religion" and his contribution to Teilhard Studies 66 (2013) ["Teilhard & Other Modern Thinkers on Evolution, Mind and Matter", LINK] and continues my own thinking in "The Deep Within: Towards an Archetypal Theology" (especially Appendix II) and articles in The Compass Review of Topical Theology: "Archetypes of Theology" [Summer 2012: LINK] and "The Miracle of Life" [Winter 2013: LINK].
Appendix II of The Deep Within noted the prevalence of the notion of a universal consciousness (or collective unconscious) in 19th Century German Romanticism and beyond, especially exemplified in the psychologists Freud and Jung, and taken up by scientists in Quantum Physics. It is conceived as something like a universal mind, outside and independent of that of individuals. Such was Teilhard de Chardin's notion of the "noosphere". David Bohm and Wolfgang Pauli spoke of a mind co-extensive with the universe in which individuals participate.
My difficulty with these attractive proposals is that none of them can be verified by human individuals. Their prominence rests on the startling empirical research of brilliant scientists (which can be verified). They are an intuitive, even mystical, outreach from solid scientific research. In view of their provenance they are received by an educated audience with a kind of reverent awe and treated as dogma. But, unlike the scientific conclusions of the proponents, they remain theories, unverifiable and unfalsifiable — beliefs to be taken on faith.
There is also an inner problem in the way they are proposed. The impression created is that you have this universal independent consciousness floating about in space without an anchor. To have a consciousness there must be a personal subject that is conscious. You cannot have a thought without a thinker, a view without a viewpoint. Consciousness as we experience it is the process by which the knowing subject relates a known object (or even one's own existence, "I am") back to itself. It is the engagement of the knower with what is known. The observer is part of the observation.
Yet — and here I am speaking not as a scientist but with a bit of competence in anthropology and theology — it is remarkable that so many brilliant thinkers and scholars have had this recurring intuition. As a churchman I marvel that scientists reaching out to the edges of their field have sensed what I call "the tug of the transcendent". So many have tended to mysticism.
This reaching out beyond the boundaries of empirical knowledge has an ancient history. Greek philosophers, in parallel to contemporary efforts to explain the world in religious myths, tried to grapple with the intelligibility of the world within human reason. They came to the notion of the "Word" (Greek: ö λόγος), a divine reason that gave order to the created universe and in which human minds might participate.
In the Wisdom Books of the Hebrew Bible something similar was expressed, the Wisdom of God, coming from God, playing her part in Creation and in the right behaviour of humans. There are signs of interaction between wisdom circles in neighbouring cultures, with considerable borrowing from one another. Intermingling of Greek philosophy and Oriental schools of wisdom was inevitable, and at the time of Jesus, in Alexandria the Jewish philosopher, Philo, explicitly drew together the two stands of thought. For him the Logos was the intermediary between God the Creator and the created world, the Idea of ideas, the mind and spirit of the Godhead.
By the time of the New Testament, the Logos has apparently come into popular parlance as a 'buzz' word, resonating in both Jewish and Hellenistic circles and drawing on their respective traditions. Hence, in St John's Gospel, it entered into inspired scripture:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in the bosom of God
To the early Christians Jesus was the Wisdom/Word of God in human flesh. The Christological hymns of the New Testament [Jn 1:1-18; Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; Eph 2:14-16] offer dense theologies of Christ in Wisdom language. He is the image of God, pre-existing all others, playing a cosmic role in creation, redemption and the new creation. Certainly, by the Resurrection Jesus became a cosmic force fully released to the world and it was the Cosmic Christ that Paul addressed in his letters. In similar vein, Paul writes of the "mystery of Christ", apparently interchangeable with the Wisdom of God. Charles Hill paraphrases the term as it occurs in Ephesians, Colossians, Romans and Corinthians:
"that immense design in the mind of God from eternity to be implemented at the end of time in Christ for the benefit of all (and the universe)"
The frequent Pauline expression "in Christ" includes "all those multiple dimensions of the great reality that is Christ for Paul — not just personal, but historical, cosmic, ecclesial and more". He is the embodiment of God's Wisdom, God's great plan of operation in person — the great idea with which God played from the beginning [Prov 8:22-31]. This universal mind is one to which believers can have access: "but we have the mind of Christ" [1 Cor 2:16].
How might this revealed notion of universal consciousness be compared with scientific intuitions over the last century? The fact that they cannot be empirically verified (or falsified) but taken on faith is also true of the Christian notion, except that the believer accepts it on faith as part of his or her overall faith in Divine revelation. As to the inner problem noted earlier, viz. that a universal consciousness must have a personal subject – the person who is conscious – the revealed notion of the Word/Wisdom of God clearly has a divine subject. The Word of God is recognised as the Second Person of the Trinity. He is the one who became incarnate as Jesus Christ.
Rather than seeing the revealed Word of God as alternatives to scientific intuitions of universal consciousness, the latter would well be seen as contributing a greater enrichment to what we already understand of the Word of God. In 'the Word' we can recognise Teilhard's encircling noosphere, Bohm's implicate order (explicated in creation), Hillman's anima mundi, Pribram's holographic expression of finite minds, and Pauli's U-field.
Peter Todd, in his "Individuation of God", argues to the continuing incarnation of God as a cosmic evolution of God, in the sense of Jung's notion of individuation (as in human individuals). This is a version of Process Theology. But is has to be contended that it is 'the Word' of God which is revealed as incarnated, not God simply. God, or the Godhead, is simply one, indivisible, immutable, beyond being. But God knew himself as Father in begetting the Son, both bonded in mutual love of the Holy Spirit. Creation is extending the Trinitarian relationships into the finitude of space and time, drawing creatures into the divine life and relationship. Creation was devised and executed by the Word, the Second Person, and has the mask of the Son. So the continuous creation is an evolution of God-becoming — Father of Creation-becoming-Son.
Incarnation was not a one-off event when 'the Word' became flesh in Jesus. Meister Eckhart held that 'the Word' is becoming flesh in individual believers. In The Deep Within [pp 83-89] I proposed that this was the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower and Seed. Cosmic evolution is proceeding as 'the Word' becomes increasingly incarnated in the world; as the world is increasingly deified. The end result is the Parousia or Second Coming as foretold in the Gospels, or the Omega-point envisaged by Teilhard de Chardin. However mysteriously an end result of evolving creation may be imagined, some glorious completion of creation seems to be the call. Such was God's Plan from the beginning — his strategy or template implicate in the Divine Word.
Eugene Stockton. Submitted to Catholica 06 Oct 2013.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
Landmarks is an exploration of an Australian spirituality. Drawing on the cultural influences now in our land, it offers a graded, comprehensive presentation of gospel teachings, with an Australian diction and imagery. The reader may find in it fresh insights into traditional spiritual themes. Each theme is introduced in terms of an 'Australian setting', focusing on one particular aspect of the Australian experience. The body of each chapter analyses that experience, exploring the parallels with its biblical counterpart. The bible is used, not as a book about God or a store of normative texts, but as the story of a people, who are our spiritual ancestors. The attempt is made to insert ourselves into that story, with all its ups and downs, to identify our own experience in its unfolding, and through it to catch the vision of God which the past projects onto our present and future.