Dr Eugene Stockton...

"The Search for a Theology that speaks to Today's People" by Eugene Stockton

This is the third in a series of commentaries preparing the ground for a series of videotaped conversations between four writers, Peter Todd, Eugene Stockton, David Tacey and Kevin Treston, facilitated by Stephen Crittenden which we'll be recording in November. These writers have been exploring fresh ways of thinking and talking about the Numinous and Theology/Spirituality today that might help redress the enormous slide in disbelief and non-participation. The reality today is that the religious paradigms that have played such a huge part in the evolution of civilised life and the creation of human culture are all under pressure. The pressure comes from the neo-atheists on the one side who want to write God and the Numinous totally out of the picture; from the fundamentalists at the other extreme of the spectrum who want to frog-march humanity back to some kind of theological and liturgical dark cave; and somewhere in the middle are a plethora of ideas that challenge our traditional theologies because of what is being "revealed" to humankind of the "Mind of God" through our discoveries in the hard and soft sciences, and even about how our own brains and emotions work. What is under discussion in today's commentary by Fr Eugene Stockton are two different theological pictures of the relationship of Wisdom or Sophia to the Godhead and, in turn how this Mystery we condense into the word "God" relates to little old you and me. Get the metanarrative correct and you're likely to end up at the right destination. Screw it up and goodness knows where you might end up. In this relatively short commentary, which in fact is taken from Appendix II of his book The Deep Within: Towards and Archetypal Theology, Eugene delineates what the two competing visions are and in his conclusion argues his case in favour of the view he prefers. ...Brian Coyne

Wisdom

Appendix II to Eugene Stockton's book, "The Deep Within: Towards an Archetypal Theology"

Intuitions of Universal Mind...

While the idea of a collective consciousness, outside and independent of that of individuals, cannot be demonstrated the widespread intuitions favouring this view cannot be ignored. A summary of such testimonies appeared in Wonder: A Way to God[1] and is extended here.

19th Century Romanticism...

The idea of the unconscious mind, as most notably exemplified in the psychology of Freud and Jung, was common among philosophers, scientists and poets, beginning in the seventeenth century, culminating in the nineteenth (Whyte[2]). The romantic movement of the nineteenth century believed that the unconscious mind was the underground source through which the individual was able to access the universal forces of nature. More recent extensions of this viewpoint include that of a supreme, transpersonal consciousness (Wilber[3]) and an anima mundi, a world soul (Hillman).

Scientific Speculation...

Advances in the physics have awakened an awareness of the universe as a web of interdependent relationships in which no one component has reality independent of the entirety and this in turn has elicited renewed comparisons between modern science and Eastern mysticism. Descartes' distinction between mind and matter no longer holds sway as matter is increasingly being attributed with mind-like qualities. Exponents of this panpsychism include Charles Birch[4], Paul Davies, D. Reanney[5], W. Pannenberg[6], F. Capra[7], D. Zohar[8]. Tending in this direction are Roger Sheldrake[9] with his "morphic fields" and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin with his "noosphere".

Perennial Philosophy...

This term, "Perennial Philosophy", coined by Leibniz, was popularised in the book of this title by Aldous Huxley (1946[10]). It embraces the core of spiritual wisdom common to many schools of philosophy and religion (Coleman 1994[11]). This wisdom sees the material world pervaded by a transcendental reality.

This transcendental reality was known in China as the Tao, in Mahayana Buddhism as the Void, the Sunyata, in Hinduism as the Brahman, and in Islam as al Haqq, the Reality. In Christian doctrine it was known as the Godhead (as in Dionysius and Eckhart) or simply as the Supreme Being. In this there is to be found a universal philosophy which is the inheritance of all mankind. (Griffiths 1989[12]).

Greek Philosophers...

Parallel to the development of mysticism in the East was that of Greek thought in the West, seeking to grasp the intelligibility of all things. Such were Plato's Universal Ideas, the prototypes of all that exist, originating in the mind of God and knowable by human minds. Heraclitus and the Stoics put forward the Logos (the Word) as the eternal reason ordering the universe, in which human reasoning participates. In Alexandria at the time of Christ, the Jewish philosopher Philo, drawing on his Jewish religion and Greek culture, made the Logos the intermediary between God the Creator and the created world; the Idea of ideas, the mind and spirit of the Godhead. The third century Neo-Platonist, Plotinus, spoke of the Universal Mind, the Nous, intermediary between the transcendent One and the world Soul. These ideas kept recurring in various combinations in Christian philosophy and theology.

Biblical Wisdom...

A handful of books stand out from the rest of the Hebrew Bible, with few allusions to specific institutions of Judaism (eg. Temple cult, prescriptions of Mosaic Law), but in tune with the wisdom literature of neighbouring peoples. They focus on the figure of Sophia (Wisdom) who is associated with God in the creation and ordering of all things. She is the self-expression of the Creator and the masterplan of His creation. In the canonical books of Wisdom it is not clear whether she is divine or created, distinct from God or emanation, a person or a poetic personification, the same as or different from the Spirit of God.

This vagueness allowed Sophia to be translated into other religious systems, whether it be the Torah of Israel (Sirach), the Logos of the Alexandrian philosophers (Philo, the Wisdom of Solomon), the image of God enfleshed in Jesus (New Testament). The Christological hymns of the New Testament [Jn.1:1-18; Phil.2:6-11; Col.1:15-20; Eph.2:14-16], possibly among the earliest compositions of the infant Church, clearly depict Christ in sophianic terms. Paul readily speaks of the cosmic, risen Christ as the "Wisdom of God" [1Cor.1-2], and in similar strains evokes "the mystery of Christ" and "the mind of Christ", nearly equivalent to "the reign of God" in the Gospels (Hill 1984[13]; Stockton 1998[14]).

Further Reflections...

There is no view without a viewpoint, no thought without a thinker. Likewise a universal consciousness is inconceivable without a personal subject, a transcendental "I". Hence theories of universal mind, apart from religion, are simply romantic fantasy. Alternatively, opinions which see universal consciousness as the confluence of many mortal minds, such that many subjects participate holographically as parts in the whole (Stockton 1998[15]), are worthy of more serious consideration. However such a zeitgeist, flowing heedlessly from the many, would be a mixture of values high and low and incapable of leading to personal transformation. Far different is the wisdom espoused by primal traditions and mainstream religions, in which humans participate by deliberate reflection and contemplation on the way to transcending themselves in the Transcendent "I".

Today as we face the breakdown of economic, social and political structures of the present civilisation, Bede Griffith's vision of recovery is a deep interfaith engagement by all stakeholders to rediscover the perennial philosophy, the traditional wisdom, which is found in all ancient religions and especially in the great religions of the world (Griffiths 1989[16]).

Eugene Stockton. Submitted to Catholica 09 Oct 2013.

“There is no view without a viewpoint, no thought without a thinker. Likewise a universal consciousness is inconceivable without a personal subject, a transcendental "I". Hence theories of universal mind, apart from religion, are simply romantic fantasy. Alternatively, opinions which see universal consciousness as the confluence of many mortal minds, such that many subjects participate holographically as parts in the whole, are worthy of more serious consideration.” ...Eugene Stockton

FOOTNOTES:
[1] Stockton, E. 1998 "Wonder: A Way to God. St Pauls Publications, Strathfield. pp 85-102
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[2] Whyte, L. 1962 The Unconscious before Freud. Lavistock Books, Alameda, California.
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[3] Wilber, K. 1983 Up from Eden: A Transpersonal New of the Human Evolution. Shambala, Boulder.
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[4] Birch, C. 1990 On Purpose. UNSW Press, Kensington.
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[5] Reanney, D. 1994 Music of the Mind: An Adventure into Consciousness. Hill of Content, Melbourne.
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[6] Pannenberg, W. 1989 Theology and Science Today. (in T. Peters ed.) Cosmos as Creation: Theology and Science in Consonance. Abingdon Press, Nashville.
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[7] Capra, F. 1991 The Tao of Physics: Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, 3rd edition. Shambala, Boston.
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[8] Zohar, D. 1991 The Quantum Self, Flamingo. London.
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[9] Sheldrake, R. 1990 Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God. Century, London.
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[10] Huxley, A. 1946 The Perennial Philosophy. Chatto and Windus, London.
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[11] Coleman, N. 1994 Five Lectures on Perennial Philosophy Today. Leftbank Portfolios, Melbourne. p 5
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[12] Griffiths, B. 1989 A New Vision of Reality: Western Science, Eastern Mysticism and Christian Faith. Font, London. p 30
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[13] Hill, R. 1984 The Mystery of Christ: Clue to St Paul's Thinking on Wisdom. Heythrop Journal 25, pp.475-83.
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[14]Stockton, E. 1998 "Wonder: A Way to God. St Pauls Publications, Strathfield. pp 94-5
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[15]Stockton, E. 1998 "Wonder: A Way to God. St Pauls Publications, Strathfield. pp 88,145
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[16] Griffiths, B. 1989 A New Vision of Reality: Western Science, Eastern Mysticism and Christian Faith. Font, London. p 286,296

Eugene StocktonFather Eugene Stockton has served as a parish priest and priest assistant to the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (Parramatta Diocese). He has gained doctorates in theology and philosophy (Sydney) and a licentiate in sacred scripture (Rome). Lecturing for many years in the Catholic seminaries at Springwood and Manly, he has written widely on theology, spirituality, scripture, archaeology, anthropology and social issues.

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©2013Eugene Stockton

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