Vocatio Episode 1 Dante Presentation Notes

Vocatio Episode 1 Dante Presentation Notes

As promised, I wanted to upload the presentation notes that I read during the first Episode of Vocatio. Most of these notes are meant for voice formatting so a lot of my references are not included. If anyone wishes to know where certain things are cited from feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer individual questions.


 

Notes for Dante and the Path of Initiation Presentation (Voice Format)

These are mostly excerpts from a series of essays I’ve been writing and compiling on the Comedy

PART I: Fourfold Reading of the Comedy

The venerable poet T. S. Eliot once said, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third.” He wasn’t alone in praise for “il Sommo Poeta” nor are his accomplishments merely the object of adoration amongst artists. This is just some of what Pope Benedict XV, for example, wrote of Dante in his encyclical IN PRAECLARA SUMMORUM :

Among the many celebrated geniuses of whom the Catholic faith can boast who have left undying fruits in literature and art especially, besides other fields of learning, and to whom civilization and religion are ever in debt, highest stands the name of Dante Alighieri

Dante ranged himself as disciple of that Prince of the school so distinguished for angelic temper of intellect, Saint Thomas Aquinas. From him he gained nearly all his philosophical and theological knowledge, and while he did not neglect any branch of human learning, at the same time he drank deeply at the founts of Sacred Scripture and the Fathers. Thus he learned almost all that could be known in his time, and nourished specially by Christian knowledge, it was on that field of religion he drew when he set himself to treat in verse of things so vast and deep.

So why is it that we do not hear much of Dante at all especially in the English speaking world? The problem one encounters is in treating the Comedy as just another piece of literature. Indeed, Guido di Giorgio said this of trying to read the Comedy:

The purely exterior literary merits that common men, the profanum vulgus [unholy rabble], admire in Dante have no importance and would nullify the value of the Comedy in the very eyes of Dante and of those who can and know how to understand the purpose for which the poem was composed.

It would be necessary to feel ashamed to still speak of, and only of, “art”, “poetry”, “brilliant construction”, in the modern sense of the word when one alludes to Dante’s work which is only and eminently sacred in spirit and structure,

This description can be most easily intuited when one watches tourists who visit the ancient churches in their denim shorts and smart phones. They feel themselves to have been edified by the immensity and grandness of the architecture, craftsmanship, and time it took to build the construction but they, ultimately, are unchanged by the experience. For them, there is no sacred element living in the rock, only the genius of men. Even academics who merely admire these churches for these same reasons albeit at a higher and more technically superiour level, are guilty of the same. There is no transformation of consciousness but merely an expansion of their horizontal sensibilities. Similarly, with the Comedy, it is not understood, for the most part, as a sacred exercise but as merely, at best, the highest expression of Western poetry.

The process of reading Dante can be a daunting enterprise and is certainly something which I profess little real mastery over. However, in good faith, I’d like to present a small sample of what little findings I have. I have chosen to attempt to follow Rene Guenon’s advice when he pointed to the 9th Canto of the Inferno where Dante says—and you’ll excuse me if I butcher the Old Italian: “O voi che’avete gl’intelleti sani, Mirate la dottrina che s’asconde Sotto il velame delli versi strani!” or to put it in John Ciardi’s translation: “Men of sound intellect and probity, weigh with good understanding what lies hidden behind the veil of my strange allegory!” Guenon goes on to say:

With these words, Dante points in a most explicit way to the hidden (or doctrinal, properly speaking) significance of his work, a work whose external and apparent meaning is only a veil; a significance that must be sought for those who would fathom it. Elsewhere the poet goes still further, stating that all writings, not only sacred ones, can be understood—and must be explicated—principally according to four levels of meaning. It is evidence, moreover that these diverse meanings cannot in any way contradict or oppose each other, but must on the contrary complete each other, harmonizing the parts within the whole as constituent elements of a unique synthesis. The difficulty begins only when it comes to determining these different meanings, especially the highest or the most profound, and it is here that different points of view naturally arise among commentators. They all agree on a literal sense in poetic narrative, and generally agree in recognizing a philosophical (or, rather, philosophical-theological) meaning, as well as a political and social one; however, counting the literal sense, this makes only three, and Dante advises us to look for a fourth meaning. For us, it can only be a strictly initiatic sense, metaphysical in its essence, though not of a purely metaphysical order, are nonetheless esoteric in character. It is precisely owing to its esoteric character that this profounder level of meaning has escaped most commentators. Yet if one ignores it (or perhaps fails to recognize it) the other levels of meaning can only be partially understood; for this esoteric or intrinsic sense stands to the others as their principle—within which their multiplicity is coordinated and unified. (Esoterism of Dante)

In short, what we are dealing with when looking at the Divine Comedy is not simply a literary masterpiece, but a very window to the depths of the worlds beyond in all of the meanings of that phrase. This level of consciousness towards what literature and even reading can be is rarely practiced nor do I present today to show anyone “the way” but recognizing our own insufficiency and inadequacy in the task, should we accept it, is the first step in raising our awareness in total; for it is this awakening into the dangers of our automatic and overgrown world that Dante begins his poem.

PART II: The Beginnings of the Spiritual Journey

Let us examine some ways in which initiation becomes a theme in Dante. I have chosen to focus on the theme of initiation as the journey of the soul to salvation and the increasing and spiraling degrees of consciousness that this journey brings. Obviously, this tiny, amateur presentation could not hope to exhaust even a small fraction of how this plays out in the Comedy, so it will be fruitful to simply focus on Dante’s journey ab initio. Dante begins his journey waking up in a Dark Wood where he had lost, through inebriation or sleep, the straight path. Interestingly, he says that it is midway through the journey of “our” lives; a key so vital to understanding the whole of his poem.

In this statement, Dante advances the claim that the universe deals in the mode of macrocosm and microcosm: that reality is a series of concentric circles. Dante, therefore, begins his poem with one of the most ancient and primary of insights which makes an appearance in the second item of the Emerald Tablet which states: “quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius,”1 or, as Isaac Newton translated it: “that which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below.” His drama, therefore, is all of man’s. The drama of one man is a miniature of the drama of all of reality and an ability to understand our journey is also an expansion of consciousness to be able to understand all life just as Dante’s concentric rings of his landscape will demonstrate the same shape but in different sizes. This connection of macrocosm and microcosm is immediately apparent in the fact that while Dante uses “nostra,” he immediately follows it up with “mi ritrovai per una selva oscura.”; he follows it with “mi”. He shows that his poetic consciousness flows from the communal and superindividual to the individual; from the universe to his person; from the universal to the particular. Thus, he incarnates the universal into himself like the LOGOS in His universality incarnates into the particular of the Christ. Appropriately, after the first two lines establish the “above” and the “below,” the third line establishes the “left” and the “right” for “the straight way” that had been lost is a horizontal dimension. It denotes the spiritual movement attested to in salvation history by the era of the Holy Spirit. After the concentration of the universal into the particular, this particular spreads out once again to the universal on the horizontal plane. In other words, from LOGOS to the Incarnation and then through the subsequent Evangelization inspired by the Holy Spirit of the Universe; the universal Church. Thus, in the very first three lines of his poem, Dante begins as all prayers do: from the top, to the bottom, and then from left to right: “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”

Thus, the first three lines of the poem already initiate us: already baptize us into a new level of literary consciousness. Some of you here may already know in greater depth the possible meanings of the Dark Wood so you will forgive me if I simply gloss over most of it for the sake of the brevity of this presentation. We must suffer through saying that the dark wood is symbolic of the stifling overgrowth of undisciplined life. The memory of this wood gives Dante great pain to remember as he writes in lines 7-9. Just as Guenon said, the various layers find harmony and do not contradict each other. This principle is also present in how the theme of initiation and macrocosm/microcosm is not confined to the content of the poetry but can be found in the architecture of the poem itself so one must ask themselves why Dante decides at this point to “break the fourth wall” to tell us of the pains to write of the journey.

He is now speaking as Dante-Author. He mentions how despite how unpleasant it is to walk the path of writing the poem, he will do so “to give account of the good which I found there.” In other words, Dante the Author creates this tale—this reality and it is a bitter one due to the foolishness of his main character who is made in his image and yet he does not abandon the narrative. The bitterness of entering into the narrative does not deter him, for the sake of the good that will come. He could have chosen to forego the painful moments or to wipe away the sting of sin that weighs him down, but he chose, instead, to include everything from start to finish, one might even say, out of compassion for all humanity who may benefit from reading his poem.

This glimpse at the author is not coincidental or superfluous. Instead, Dante the Author demonstrates that even he is not outside the principles of macrocosm/microcosm. For Dante is pointing that every author is also a microcosm of the Divine Author for he has placed himself into the very heart of the drama that he created! And how much more appropriate that Dante proceeds, out of love, to complete the regeneration of the broken and bitter beginning! Thus, even Dante’s “meta-narrative” does not fall outside the laws of order and reality. His very existence as a writer rhymes with the existence of the Supreme Author who, in the fullness of the poetry of time, re-enters his creation in order to bring his image and likeness to salvation.

Escaping the woods, Dante finds himself upon a glorious little hill that points towards the sun, but only after having passed through a “valley” which could be just as easily be a “vale of tears.” However, the significance of such a small detail as the insertion of a valley should not be overlooked. Dante contains in microcosm even in these first lines the macrocosm of his entire work. After all, where else is the image of a negative space—a valley—is then proceeded by a positive, upward space and then the eye following that upward orientation towards the circular divine source above? Indeed, the whole poem in its three spatial dimensions of negative, positive, and superpositive are encapsulated in kernel by the first Canto showing again that each tiny step circulates and expands. In other words, the same pattern is repeated but the degree “increases” creating the infinite grandeur of a spiral—a spatial movement which Dante the pilgrim follows as he spirals downwards towards the center of Hell and spirals upwards towards the top of Purgatory. Thus, in the beginning, he shows the smallest of these cycles of valley, hill, and star before proceeding to the larger cycle of the pit of Hell, the mountain of Purgatory, and the Astral plane and beyond of Paradise. This law of the spiral is sabbatical. It is the repetition of a pattern but with degrees increasing in size reaching out towards infinity and the significance of this principle will be clear as it continues to be revisited throughout the poem. This is also the natural point at which one can see the spiral of Dante’s rhyming pattern of terza rima. This pattern which is ABA, BCB, CDC, DED etc is the linguistic practice of “spiraling” outward as it encapsulates within repeating movements the form of the next cycle. Dante’s poem, therefore, is essentially the song of the freedom of the soul as the spiral indicates a direction which is unbounded by a closed formation; it represents gradual and continual growth outward.

In his terza rima it is like each rhyme gives birth to the next rhyme. In ABA BCB CDC DED etc, one can see the succeeding generations as if the next rhyme is in gestation within the protective womb of the preceding rhyme. Thus, Dante’s poem is a living organism and points always to personhood and the development and growth of the self which is part of the reason why the Commedia can be seen as a series of spiritual exercises meant to gradually awaken the human being. This spiraling or infinite fecundity is also part of his initial prayer: for what else could be more fecund and generative than the creative power of the Trinity?

But what of Dante’s choice to use his native Italian? Does this, too, like his choice of rhyme, have a purpose? How can one understand the usage of such a local language for something as universal as the salvation of man’s soul? The birthing imagery is perhaps instructive here along with the already established movement of Dante entering his own work. Indeed, why would Dante choose to write in any other language than the local one for is this not the mode that God chose himself? God descended from the Eternal and Universal and decided to be born as a particular: a particular man in a particular time in a particular nation—the nation of Israel. He spoke a particular language and from that particularity he reached out to the infinite once again. God concentrated from eternity to particular in order to spread his love gradually—person to person—spiraling outward from himself. So, too, does Dante concentrate the Eternal truths of religion and the Christian faith into the particularity of his own journey and his own language; he is merely following God’s example. He is following the example of the cross which descends from the unitive universality of the Father to the particularity in love of the Son and spreads out from that point from man to man by the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles. His poetry both in its language and rhyme follow the path of salvation history just as much as the content of his lines.

After all, what is the geometry of the hill? Is it not also the marriage of the point of verticality and horizontality? Is it not just another image of the cross? For look at the hill and one finds that the top descends to the bottom and then the bottom spreads outward like the universality of Catholicity on the horizontal or mundane level. Then, it is the task of the Church to raise all of these horizontal elements upward to converge back to the starting point. Following these dimensions of line and circle and then back to the point where the line originated forms a cone—the very sign of the hill! The very sign of the mountain!

Unfortunately for Dante at the foot of this hill, however, his rapid and frantic climb leads him to face a Leopard, Lion, and She-wolf which bar his path and force him to run back down the hill. I will beg the indulgence of the Audience if we skip any reading of what these rich symbols of the hill and animals represent as we focus more on another initiative step for the Pilgrim as he descends into a place where “the sun is silent” and encounters Virgil whom he can see is “hoarse from being silent for so long.” The pilgrim soul is now able to see the dead and hear in silence.

First, it is necessary to look upon the figure of Virgil as essential in beginning to understand these strange lines. Again, to commit the crime of vulgar reduction, we shall for now accept the uncouth summary that Virgil is representative of human intellect. He guides Dante expertly through Hell, then participates in the climb of Purgatory, before leaving him to be guided by Beatrice, the very embodiment Revelation and spirituality in Dante’s cosmos. This pattern has been observed as a universal law of spiritual growth by a wise man when he wrote:

the individual soul begins initially with the experience of the separation and opposition of the spiritual and intellectual elements within it, then advances to—or resigns itself to—parallelism, i.e. a kind of “peaceful coexistence” of those two elements with in it. Subsequently, it arrives at cooperation between spirituality and intellectuality which, proving to be frutiful, eventually becomes the complete fusion of these two elements in a third element […] The beginning of this final stage is announced by the fact that logic becomes transformed from formal logic (i.e. general and abstract logic)–passing through the intermediary stage of “organic logic”–into moral logic (i.e. material and essential logic) […] Moral logic, in contrast to formal logic and organic logic, operates with values instead of notions of grammar, mathematics, or biological functions. (Meditations on the Tarot)

Interestingly, just as he will be growing in his journey beyond the opposition of intellect and spirit towards cooperation and then union, so was Dante’s state before starting this process the inverse. On the climb up the hill and meeting the beasts, he was demonstrating the opposition of ignorance and death for it is ignorance which is the inverse of the intellect and death as the opposite of spirituality. Death struggles against ignorance in striking fear into Dante which stops him from rising higher whereas ignorance of the dangers of the beasts may have kept him moving forward. Death and ignorance cooperated in parallel in the desert as it set his entire spiritual life empty and barren such as in moralism. Lastly, death and ignorance were in complete synthesis in “sleep” which is the opposite of the philosopher’s stone. It is the point at which all intellect and all spirituality are suspended. Thus, following Dante’s journey from negative to positive, the introduction of Virgil is also a carefully coordinated step from the inversion of spiritual growth to the beginning of something authentic.

With this in mind, we can return to viewing the encounter with Virgil. It is here that one could say that Dante truly has his first “supernatural” experience. For while big cats and she-wolves truly exist as natural phenomenon (though I was told that the “leopard” Dante had in mind is now extinct), Virgil is long dead by Dante’s time. Thus, Dante is signaling that we have truly entered into the Eternal world; into the world of idea-beings. This is the world of ideals translated into poetic form. This is why Dante takes such great pains to signal to the reader to pay attention to the “silent” senses for it is no longer in the bodily senses that we shall be making this journey, but in the spiritual senses. Just as how Dante signals that the “sun” can “speak,” so, too, can Virgil’s “hoarseness” be “seen.” We can be assured that this is indeed the world of values—the morally logical world for, as was pointed out before, it is values that “moral logic” is concerned with. It is the method of discernment that is beyond the quantitative—it now becomes qualitative sensing. Thus, it is the qualities of Virgil that Dante is first able to see. It cannot be understated how this basic understanding of sense-phenomena in the Eternal World is essential for understanding all of Dante’s journey for every creature from here on will always display in bodily form their interior value. Dante’s great genius, then, is to “translate” the language of the invisible into the visible. It is to “incarnate” the idea-beings of the superworld so that we may touch, hear, smell, see, and even taste them! Indeed, even the word translated as the “weak voice” is “fioco which in itself is used both to mean something insubstantial in sound as well as in vision such as in the case of a ghost approaching. Thus, the word itself is a complete melding of Dante’s theme—it is the synthesis and union of the two. While different critics are content to remain in the formal debate of whether it is a visual or auditory expression, Dante’s purpose is to demonstrate the viability—nay the necessity—of paradox. He synthesizes the two in hypostasis like the paradox of the invisible God made visible in the flesh. It is Dante who is proclaiming so comprehensively: VERBUM CARO FACTUM EST.

Dante’s artistic genius is in the way he can make such horizontally constricted elements—such as words—invoke the fullness of verticality. Just as Bernini centuries later mastered the art of transforming marble into the supple delicacy of skin, Dante transmutes an entire cosmos out of basic words. Just as Dante’s hill reminds the reader of the union of the opposite dimensions in the cross, so, too, does Dante’s “translational” and “transmutive” art extol the symbols of uniting the horizontal with the vertical. For it is even in the cross that formal logic might see the death and weakness of God, but moral logic sees the victory of love. So, too, is Dante’s gaze upon Virgil steeped in the request by the Author to view the entirety of the work with the eyes of value and to thus practice the union of intellectuality and spirituality.

1 Tabula Smaragdina

“Alternative Right” Viewed from the Right

“Alternative Right” Viewed from the Right

Instead of couching the subject, I’ll be very direct. I have yet to see anything redeeming about the so called “Altright.” At best, it is a general milieu where some, though quite rare, individuals exist which have a certain predisposition to look with a transcendent eye at political events and systems. Rarer still are finding individuals who live out such ideals with any degree of élan awesome enough to be compelling. Perhaps it’s not surprising, since if such individuals still existed, they would not dare to be involved in such an amorphous and disorganized phantom.

However, most people see it as the only viable ark left. In a modern world which has no will to escape from its bourgeois or collectivist solidity, alternatives are a must—an escape is a must. The world offers, for the most part, two options of centrist or leftist policies—there is no third. To many people, a more reactionary mindset becomes the only breathing room left. But is this choice truly a different one?

The insidious nature of modernity, is that it often sets up two false poles; opposites by which it generates shocking electricity with the underlying and unconsciously cynical reality that the two opposites are not so different at all. Instead, the shock paralyzes those caught between the poles. This is most obviously seen between the choices of liberals and conservatives in most modern states which, if they are not already colluding, represent only stone-throw distances from each other. Furthermore, while the spectator is busy in the circus of right and left, he is never left to ask whether or not the contest is necessary or just at all.

Does the “Altright” fall into this same category? If it was something truly “alternative” wouldn’t it present a fundamentally different essence than its liberal or centrist counterparts? I can already hear the various objections if one were to make any sort of challenge to what the “Altright” is. “These are strawman arguments,” some might say simply because the “Altright” has no defined orthodoxy. It makes itself invincible to criticism because it shrugs off any attack on its various members as not the true essence of what the “Altright” represents. Ironically, it is this amorphous defense that is indicative of its shared pedigree with its other modern counterparts.

Any true recall to order requires organization. Organization does not simply mean the efficient rearranging of materials and elements in order to properly “function”–no, this would be “mechanization.” This kind of “mechanization” is what plenty of people see in the leftist ideologies of today. The true essence of “organization” is found in the word itself—in organs—in something living. If we projected the “Altright” phenomenon into a living thing, what would it be? It has no true head—but rather several heads talking and vying for influence with each other. It promiscuously allows any form of rebellion into itself in an attempt to destroy the present, corrupt system. In essence, a vast swell of people who are tired of the slavery of the bourgeois machine have summoned a monster to fight it. It has even come to the point where the inane, puerile, and destructive use of memes is not only defended, but celebrated as “chaos magic.”i

This point vis-à-vis the methods the movement employs is key. I have spoken before about the difference between learning how to use a gun and learning how to use a sword, but I bring it up again because the willingness of the “Altright” to use the same destructive disrespect that its counterparts employ is a sign that, in essence, it holds no interior superiority. It only simulates superiority rather than being actually superior. The movement’s use of “dank memes” is as vulgar as an adult responding to a child’s profanity with more profanity. The celebration of “chaos magic” as effective is the same revelry behind the utility of the nuclear bomb. It is ignoble and betrays just how low class the movement is if it encourages the cunning of “efficient” methods of destruction rather than the nobility of respectable warfare. It is the same mistake ISIS fighters make when they blow up churches and temples.

Because in the end, what is the underlying fundamental principle of memes? “Nothing is sacred.” This attack on sanctity, this attack on the soul for the purpose of deconstruction and laughter is the grandfather of memetic attacks. Whether or not the targets of these attacks are deserving of them or not is not the point; the point is that the man degrades himself by resorting to or defending such actions. It is not whether or not one’s enemies deserve death, but to employ cowardly and childish methods to achieve that kill is to make one’s self as dishonourable as any barbarian. It is not a question of whether or not one should fight, but the method of one’s fighting is just as important to a differentiated man. For the efficiency by which one’s fight is the trap of the machine as I’ve pointed out before; while the ferocity of hatred is the trap of the monster.

These two poles of machine and monster are just two sides of the same coin of the crisis of masculinity. In fact, these two sides are present even in individual male psyches. Jungian psychology interpreted by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette pointed this out exactly when they mapped out the four masculine archetypes: King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover complete with their polar dysfunctions.

archetypes

While the “Altright” accuses the left of being “weaklings,” they tend towards being the “tyrant.” While the “Altright” accuses western civilization of destroying itself masochistically, it sadistically points out groups or individuals to be “hated.” In fact, it is indeed in the warrior/hero dynamic that the “Altright” has its immaturity hand in hand with its cowardly liberal counterparts.

Here is the sad truth about the “Altright:” the “rediscovered” chauvinism it has adopted is simply walking the psychological line from one immature state to another. It has yet to grow up. It is only truly the individuated man that finds an exit from the closed loop of left and right. It is only the individuated man that can find the “fullness” of a political pole beyond left and right.

But doesn’t the “Altright” have at least some of the proper ideas? Does it not hold the advantage? Isn’t it better to be a sadist than a masochist? Shouldn’t we prefer the Tyrant to the weakling? Couldn’t the “Altright” be pardoned as being the lesser of two evils? Look at yourself, you are speaking like moderns do. “The lesser of two evils”? Is this not what modernity has been teaching you to do? To compromise on your ideals? This kind of lukewarm state should be spat out immediately. Unfortunately, the “Altright” movement is a bastard movement. It is what happens when the pure is intermixed with the modern milieu. It takes some of the vocabulary and temperaments of the west’s traditional past and projects it through the pollution of modernity.

“I’d rather fight with something than be inactive,” someone might object. Seeing the potential end of one’s race, for example, could mean a reaction towards nationalism. It’s an understandable reaction. After all, any animal who gets hit wishes to recoil and hit back. Unfortunately, for many individuals brought up in modernity, the “hitting back” is informed only by the methods they see in the modern world—no matter how self-destructive it is. This is what could be called a “Shadow” where a defense mechanism from one’s early development is carried on into biological adulthood. A boy, for example, who was constantly hit as a child, might flinch from an embrace or find it easier to be a bully first in order to prevent any abuse onto himself. Even if this might protect him throughout his young adult life, it no longer becomes necessary as it prevents full integration of his self as he gets older. In other words, he remains a child.

The problem with the nature of the internet and modernity is that with no proper examples of mature masculinity entering into the arena of popularity (because it would shun such a thing as childish), most man-children mistake themselves to be fully developed. They abandon any spiral upwards to engorge themselves in the ouroboros of communal euphoria. Conversely, the man who seeks the truth of the matter of political systems or societies is not swayed by the modern preference to the excitement of mass action. He is not carried away by the waves and fads of dishonourable conduct.

He will never be given the joy of plunging himself in national, social or political collectivity. He will never have the blissful experience of having shared out the weight of responsibility with the multitude, and he can never fit in at festivals—or orgies—in the sense implied in the words “we French,” “we Germans,” “we Jews,” “we Republicans,” “we Royalists,” or “we communists.” The intoxication of plunging into collectivity is not given to him. He must be sober, i.e. alone. Because the pursuit of truth through synthesis—which is peace—implies prudence, and prudence is solitude.ii

The “Altright” is just another collectivist orgy similar in pedigree to the liberal social justice hordes except it has committed the double sin of being a bastard—of polluting what would be noble and traditional values with the efficiency and utilitarianism of modern weaponry. It holds itself as the vanguard of “proper” political systems but promiscuously mixes with the demagoguery of the lower classes. It extols the virtues of courage and masculinity, but lacks the courage of training itself to live well and die well hoping, instead, for material victory.

And, ultimately, this is the promise of the “Altright”–that it can provide some kind of material victory. It is willing to achieve this at whatever moral cost. “Material Victory” – the security of “life” and “liberty” and the “pursuit of happiness” at whatever cost. This is just the same clash of the titans that has been repeated throughout the modern age. For, indeed, the “Altright” is no Olympian who has found the pure and elegant kingship of the what made civilizations of old “great.” Instead, it has as many heads and arms as Geryon—it is a Titan that people worship and hope in to destroy the machine of modernity.

Despite all of its failings, it can serve as a starting point. This amorphous cloud can serve, at least for the immature, as their first forays into a world that goes beyond the bourgeois concepts of politics so long as they avoid the trap of idolizing the titanic monster. Just as the “Shadow” might have protected the young man as he developed, but must be resolved, assimilated, and affirmed to make way for the “Golden Self,” so, too, must the true elite eventually break out of the closed circle of the Alternative Right and explore new domains. This is not an easy task and it is certainly reserved only for those individuals who are courageous enough to resist the temptation of “easy” weaponry; it is only reserved for the Warrior in his fullness and the King in his fullness.


ii Meditations on the Tarot, pp. 225.

Christianity is Dead

Christianity is Dead

I had a little conversation with Adam once and I had mentioned the following:

You know, over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the role of Christianity in the world and how to resolve it with my intrinsic understanding of eternal truths. I find that the figure is hidden in the mystery of the Crucifixion itself — and I’ve spoken about this to various friends of mine in my circle.

The way in which the Church degenerates and decays over the ages should not be surprising to Christians, but it is. That is because the body of Christ was always destined to die and decayi. The crucifixion is a microcosmii of the era in which “God is dead” because for three days, He was indeed dead; and the decay the Church is undergoing is the same as that of the body of Christ when it was nailed and entombed.

That is the secret and hidden meaning of the crucifixion: that it is happening in macrocosm today in the modern age. The modern age is the first act of the Easter Triduum and this is also why many of the apostles — being unable to understand this mystical death of the Catholic Church — have gone astray denying Christ thrice (as Saint Peter did; the first Pope). Only Saint John, the mystical apostle, the one whom Jesus loved, stayed to the end at the cross, loyal to the body that was dying.

This is the position I wish to emulate; to be the apostle who sees the decay of the Church but does not waver from the decay, because the rest of the exoteric religion still believes like Saint Peter does; e.g. “God forbid, Lord that you should go to Jerusalem and die.” Right now, the Church must go to Jerusalem and die because she is the body of Christ. And since the body of Christ underwent torture and crucifixion so must the Church. So when I see people jeer at the Church and tell her “Stop being so weak; change the world!” I also hear those words from the gospels, “If He is the chosen one, let Him come down from the cross.”

People do not understand that something utterly mystical is happening in the modern age. Just as the modern age is the darkest of all times, so was the crucifixion the darkest time. It is the time when God is dead.

I find this to be a great consolation when most Catholics around me are in a state of frenzied panic about the future of the Church. Like I mentioned, there are those who are presently disillusioned with how the Church is conducting herself in the modern age. Many have turned to schismatic sects in order to “restore” or “preserve” the Church from decay. If only they could recognize Christ who is asking them “quo vadis?” Many see such things as Vatican II as catastrophic wounds on the Church and abandon her as she is weakened by it. But did not Christ even showcase His wounds after His resurrection? Indeed, I find it interesting that many Catholics are so deathly afraid of death and its effects on the body. They often misunderstand “and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail” (Matthew 16:18) as some mortal invincibility. However, Christ showed the world that invincibility from death does not mean avoiding it. “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33). The Church’s immunity to the gates of Hades does not mean she will not suffer decay.

So does this mean we should abandon the Church to her fate? No. Not at all, but who is truly abandoning the Church? Surely it is not I who remains loyal to the unbroken succession despite all the moral decay in her ranks. Surely it is not I who adheres to all the councils even if they seem anti-traditional. Surely it was not Saint John who stood at the cross even while that beautiful body was nailed and became ugly. Yes, beauty became ugly on the cross. That same paradox is present in an infallible deposit of faith experiencing the decay of modernity. Yet so few can see this and so few saw this during Good Friday. It is no wonder that many so called “traditional” or “conservative” or “faithful” Catholics scoff at the ugliness of the modern Church and go so far as to disobey her. I am reminded of my one friend who ignores bishops’ decrees to stand during the Agnus Dei. Perhaps they had forgotten that “obedience is better than sacrifices” (1 Samuel 15:22). Sure, I am with them in decrying the ugliness of modern church buildings, lax practices, and appalling seminaries etc., but, like Saint John, I hope to endure that ugliness by looking at it rather than running. After all, it was to the Apostle who could endure such ugliness in the body of Christ that the guardianship of Mary was awarded. What greater honour could a Catholic receive?

Therefore, it is not the Church that must be saved, but ourselves. It is not that Christ should have remained eternally beautiful to us, but we who must see with the eyes of faith to accept the ugliness of Christ dying. It was not Christ who needed to come down from the cross, but we who, like the good thief, should have accepted ours.

In order to head off misunderstanding (as many heresy-sniffing, ossified “traditionalists” are wont to do), I must be clear that inaction is not the solution to the Church’s woes. My comments are merely to make the faithful aware that abandoning the Church in her modern death throes by arrogantly secluding themselves in “traditionalist” societies is an act similar to the apostles fleeing from Calvary. Even then, I don’t blame them since the gospels already made it clear that the apostles were rehabilitated later. Indeed, many moderns are not in the proper spiritual caste in order to endure the rigours of bearing witness to the ugliness of the Novus Ordo and participating in it. Either they blindly accept it as conforming to their bourgeois or prole tastes or, otherwise, they decry it and avoid it without accepting the opportunity to be ad calvariam. Indeed, to “ride the tiger” of modern Catholicism is very much the opposite of inactivity. For those who are unable to do such a thing, striving and working for the return of a more traditional society so that the Church may flourish is a noble and necessary task. This post was merely to point out that one should not place their faith in accomplishing that task, but in the majesty of Christ surviving even failure.

Thus, whether one fights or contemplates the ugliness, the path is to await the Resurrection and have absolute faith that just as Christ’s body was raised from the dead, so, too, will The Body of Christ being the Church (1 Corinthians 12:27) be raised.


i The idea of the body “decaying” is actually a mistake on my part as my good friend Lawrence points out in the comments. Though it does not change the overall message of the post considering it deals with the physical trauma afflicted unto the body, the distinction here is still important. I have kept the original text instead of editing it in order to maintain the integrity of my initial musings in conversation form despite refining it ex post facto.

ii It must be said that my usage of microcosm and macrocosm both here and in the following lines is meant only to be understood as temporal magnitude where the time of Christ is “smaller” than the eras of the Church. However, it is, upon retrospect, probably more appropriate to say that the crucifixion is the macrocosm and the history of the Church the microcosm in spiritual terms. Either way, the reader ought to be cautious with my wording here and understand my nuance lest more reductive elements misread my intentions.

Regnum and Imperium With Thoughts from Guénon

Regnum and Imperium With Thoughts from Guénon

 

Relatively recently, I had posted a rather heat-of-the-moment comment response to Mark Citadel’s “An Open Letter to Pope Francis” where I laid out my amateur understanding of the feminine nature of the Church and why it should be protected rather than complained about. I had the distinct privilege of seeing that analogy critiqued by Testis Gratus in his “Ecclesia et Imperium.” While I had a short window of jovial conversation with him during a livestream, I also told him that I would affirm his critique with my thoughts on the problems he might have had with my analogy.

The first response I would like to make on his article is the question of superiority vs. inferiority. It might have been misconstrued that I was espousing the idea that the Church was the inferior organism to the Empire. However, this begs the question of what inferiority and superiority actually mean. Let me make myself clear first: the sacerdotal authority is always superior to the temporal power. This has been the supernatural truth for most traditional civilizations. Anything that upsets this order is to be considered anathema. Indeed, Guénon writes: “it is not that anyone has contested […] the fact that each of these two powers […] had its own purpose and its own domain; in the final analysis, the dispute usually bears only on the question of hierarchical relationships that should exist between them.”i The key idea here is, as Guénon points out, that each “had its own purpose and its own domain.”

Now, if we look back to Mark Citadel’s article which precipitated my response, one can clearly see in his list of “suggestions” to Pope Francis such items as: “demand that the United States and its allies cease the armament of Syrian rebels and bombardment of the Syrian government.” This is one example where I would say that domain and boundary between Regnum (The Kingdom of God) and Imperium (The Empire) might be violated with the Pope exercising temporal power (which it had in the past in the scandalous and modern idea of the Papal States). Clearly, this is not a question of superiority or inferiority, but a question of domain.ii To say that the Church is inferior because she should remain in her domain is to imply, by analogy, that the Kshatriya is inferior because he doesn’t micromanage corporations that the Vaishya take care of.

Again, Mark Citadel, in his article, spoke of various historical examples of invasions from Muslim nations such as the Turks in Constantinople with clear indications that the Popes of those days endorsed such defenses of Christendom. He calls for a more “masculine” Roman Catholicism to return with the implication in his letter that it should start with the Papacy. However, this “active,” and militant charism is a prerogative, traditionally, of the warrior caste and the aristocratic estate of the Middle Ages—not of the clergy. Indeed, this is true of most traditional civilizations. Again, going back to Guénon he writes:

The word ‘power’ can then be reserved for the temporal order to which it is better suited when taken in its strictest sense. In fact, the word ‘power’ almost inevitably evokes the idea of strength or force, and above all the idea of a material force, a force which manifests itself visibly and outwardly and affirms itself by use of external means, for such means indeed characterize the temporal power by definition. On the contrary, spiritual authority, interior in essence, is affirmed only by itself, independently of any sensible support, and operates as it were invisibly.iii

This distinction between “active” and “passive” in the material sphere is also what governs my view of the Church as feminine (notwithstanding the preponderance of literature that call to her as “Holy Mother” etc). Again, this demonstrates that it is not a matter of superiority or inferiority, but a matter of domain. The material world was the domain in which Mark Citadel was asking for action and was calling upon the Papacy to lead the way. Thus, if it is the material domain, we must admit that the active role should be taken up not by the priests, but by the warriors. Not by Holy Mother, but by the Emperor.

Let us address now the notion of Papal Supremacy and the letters of Innocent III. Testis cites the “sun and moon allegory” which I shall reproduce from Innocent III’s letter:

Just as the founder of the universe established two great lights in the firmament of heaven, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, so too He set two great dignities in the firmament of the universal church…, the greater one to rule the day, that is, souls, and the lesser to rule the night, that is, bodies. These dignities are the papal authority and the royal power…iv

One will notice immediately that this conflicts not a bit with my previous notes to Mark. Innocent here makes the distinction between the rulership of each domain being one of the soul and the other of the body. Thus, since my contention was Mark’s push for a more corporal militancy in the Papacy, it is clear to see that this is the “moon’s” domain in Innocent’s wording. The question of whether or not Popes can depose and excommunicate Emperors is not even a counterexample since such matters are strictly in the domain of the spirit where the Pope is supreme. Indeed, any talk of Papal Supremacy is to be taken in this light and provides no impediment for an understanding of the Empire being the masculine, material, and active form of Christianity in the material ecumene. Even the strongest words of Unam Sanctam cannot escape from this. Boniface VIII’s words read: “whence, if the earthly power go astray, it must be judged by the spiritual power.”v Thus, it says nothing about the “management” on a corporal plane by the spiritual authority, but speaks of the legitimacy to judge—and, naturally, the higher authority has the legitimacy to judge the lower. Papal Supremacy does not entail making the Pope CEO of every company and, as such, also does not make the Pope Emperor. Therefore, Supremacy is in no means an impediment to differentiation of domains. Guénon also makes this distinction clear when he notes how traditional civilizations have understood that, “spiritual power belongs ‘formally’ to the sacerdotal caste, whereas the temporal power belongs ’eminently’ to this same sacerdotal caste and ‘formally’ to the royal caste, just as according to Aristotle the superior ‘forms’ contains ’eminently’ the inferior ‘forms.’”vi Thus, there is no contradiction with understanding that the Superior contains the Inferior while still allowing the Inferior to maintain its dominion of its sphere.

It might be worth pointing out the paradoxical idea of a feminine figure being superior and yet wielding no power over the masculine inferior. Catholics such as Testis should have seen the example par excellence before his very eyes: the Virgin Mary. Testis would be the first to affirm Peter as the first Pope and yet, up until her dormition, the Virgin Mary was also present with the Apostles and authored no “teaching.” Testis would probably also acknowledge the superiority of Mary and our subjection to her as Queen of Heaven and yet recognize that she is not the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church. Thus, having a feminine superior has no contradiction in Catholic thought since there are no boundaries transgressed.

Back to the main points, however. Testis points out that many of my political ideas stem from Dante’s De Monarchia which is fair enough. He cites how the book itself was banned in the Council of Trent. Excellent, it should have been. Its presumption of initiatory rites being independent from the ecclesial authority was off the mark, but where the initiatory rite flows from was never the point of my response to the article nor is it a part of my political thoughts. In fact, in my initial response, while I make note of Dante’s stance on the matter of the proper domains of authority, I make no presumption to take all of De Monarchia as tenable (nor do I even mention it). While Testis makes it a point to mention that the Church and State were never so separated, I never made such a testament in my initial response either. Even in the analogy, separation was not “complete” as he puts it. When Testis says “A ruler is not a good ruler unless he acts according to Divine Law, which is given to man through God’s Church,” there is no contradiction with my statements at all. Again, it returns to the idea that it is legitimate for the superior to judge the inferior, but that this has no bearing on the domain of each. Regardless of all of this, De Monarchia still represents a pivotal and important work in understanding how politics should be. Guénon sings its praises when he says of its closing remarks that explain how the Emperor is charged with the guidance of souls to the “Terrestrial Paradise” while the Pontiff is charged with the guidance to the “Celestial Paradise”: “in its deliberate conciseness this passage from De Monarchia represents, as far as we know, the clearest and the most complete exposition of the constitution of Christendom and of the way in which the relationships between the two powers were to be envisioned therein.”vii Indeed, study of Dante receives even Papal endorsement when Pope Benedict XV wrote in his Encyclical In Praeclara Summorum:

Among the many celebrated geniuses of whom the Catholic faith can boast who have left undying fruits in literature and art especially, besides other fields of learning, and to whom civilization and religion are ever in debt, highest stands the name of Dante Alighieri […] And you, beloved children, whose lot it is to promote learning under the magisterium of the Church, continue as you are doing to love and tend the noble poet whom We do not hesitate to call the most eloquent singer of the Christian idea. The more profit you draw from study of him the higher will be your culture, irradiated by the splendours of truth, and the stronger and more spontaneous your devotion to the Catholic Faith.viii

His next paragraph deals with the passivity of Church in the model of husband and wife. My first point is that I make no narrow interpretation when making my analogy. Rather, the point was that of the Church being “feminine” hence why I also included the figure of Mother. I bring in the concept of “wife” as an analogy in how the Empire loves the Church to protect her. I would like to ask Testis if he, from now on, will refer to the Church as “Holy Father Church” if he is so adverse to the idea of calling her by her feminine nature. Or, worse yet, give her a neutral pronoun like most moderns are fond of doing to God. Furthermore, the idea of “complete subservience” to the point of “not pointing out sins” is a very specific example of the marriage relationship and too artificial to be normative. Such problems aside, let us not shy away from the concept of the Church being inferior to the Empire. The key here is to view the analogy in the context of the article: the material, temporal sphere of action. As stated already above, such an inferiority through gender role should not be seen as compromising the Church’s essential inner superiority in the same way that Stephen Hawking’s theoretical acumen is not tarnished in his inferiority to run a marathon. Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI’s theological superiority is not tarnished by his inability to decode quantum physics like Hawking. Guénon puts it nicely once again when he says, “the relationship between these two powers may be expressed by saying that the pope must keep for himself the golden key to the ‘Celestial Paradise’ and entrust to the emperor the silver key to the ‘Terrestrial Paradise.’”ix In fact, Guénon himself explicates that the masculine guide Virgil is the “temporal power” while the feminine guide Beatrice is the “spiritual authority” in Dante’s Commedia.x

As a side note, if one raises the objection that it is strange to have a “change of gender” depending on domain, this is actually not without precedent. Humanity, for example, regardless of the gender of the individual, takes on the role of “feminine” in relation to God since it is God who inseminates reality and quickens us with essence. A masculine man also takes on a “feminine” quality when in contemplation as he accepts the spiritual seed and allows it to grow into a new life within him. Thus, different domains may reorient the perspective one takes and the predominance of one aspect of a being. To say that there is no such thing as being able to carry both “masculine” and “feminine” in one’s self, that is also untrue as any understanding of the dot of yin in the yang and vice versa and its western equivalents will yield.

Next is Testis’s image of body and soul which is all well and good since it serves a complementary rather than contradictory image to what I was discussing. Thus, I find that there is nothing but accord here as I quote Testis himself: “In this sense, I agree with James. We cannot have a thriving Church without a State for it to flourish in. We much first solve our civil crisis or else the Church will continue to endure in its current form.” As for the masculine/feminine analogy being insufficient without nuance, this is true. Nuance is always necessary because that is the very nature of the richness of the interaction between masculinity and femininity. The call for a simplistic understanding of the masculine and feminine is, ultimately, a modern, and lazy idea. If one cannot suffer the crucible of wielding and understanding nuanced ideas, one can stay in the comfort of modern reductionism or religious, bourgeois moralism which seeks to reduce the complexity of faith to fundamental dogma. Testis’s fear that this will breed scandal and error is a fairly normal heresy-fearing Catholic response and I share it. Which is why my comment was directed not at the hoi polloi but those who have ears for nuance. The world misconstrues the worship of Mary as idolatry, yet we promulgate that doctrine anyway. I will not be afraid to promulgate the feminine Church and our duty as masculine men to protect her just because some proles might consider that carte blanche to subjugate the Church on matters of faith and morals. They can try and I will die fighting them.

iSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 7

iiThere is also a rather interesting meditation on the idea of Janus—which is often associated with the dual charge of Ecclesial and Civil authority –as also being the god of boundaries and hence why violation of boundaries would also be an offense against him.

iiiSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 16-17

viSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 23

viiSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 77

ixSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 73

xIbid.

The Traditional Universe of Nolan’s “Interstellar”

Trying to find a spiritual or transcendent experience at the movies can be an exercise of “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Even so called “religious” films are many times insufferable, sentimental bludgeons used to confirm the moralistic approach of many Christians. While this may seem to encourage so called “Christian values,” it commits the egregious sin of reducing film to a “media of the obvious” and religion to just another morality tale. After all, people of true good will would agree that there is a whole world of difference if one replaced Mantegna’s Crucifixion with a textbook on Salvation History or substituted the soulful cries of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with an audio book by Scott Hahn.

The question, then, is whether or not there are films that carry a “density of spirit”—an understanding of spirituality that rises higher than the merely didactic. Certainly, many Catholics are familiar with some of the classics such as the incisive wit of A Man for All Seasons or the sublime masterpiece of The Mission. Some might even be familiar with the Heroic Virtue of 2014’s Calvary or cite the deeply Catholic world carried over into the film adaptations of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Yet if the same people were asked about such a kind of film existing in the genre of science fiction, some might strain, with limp shrugs, to name even one. Some might even try to stretch the dualism of Star Wars into a religious message, but as healthy as the hero’s journey is as a narrative device, I find Star Wars‘s lack of real faith “disturbing.”

Interestingly, there does exist at least one science fiction film that fulfills a spiritual vocation. In Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the World of Spirituality “does not go gentle into that good night.” It is in this film that, in the slow decline of civilization, we see an analogy to the call to “rage against the dying of the light” in the West. Whether Nolan intended it or not, Interstellar derives its power and efficacy from an understanding of man and society rooted in the world of Spirit—in the world of Tradition. This is a World that stands opposed to the “World of Modernity.” While Modernity is the realm of fundamentalism, reductionism, dichotomy, and materialism, Tradition has always understood the synthesis of matter and spirit and has always been aware of a higher, spiritual plane that transcends the material world of phenomenon. For his film, Nolan has tapped into this world that still remembers how spirit exists with matter and that humanity’s origin and destiny go beyond space and time.

The Traditional phenotype of Interstellar is best understood when compared to its Modern counterpart: the science fiction film The Martian. While both films revolve around a near future setting beyond earth where the protagonists must solve nearly impossible technical problems, the disposition of their protagonists demonstrates the underlying currents of each film. Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, who is stuck on Mars, is an eminent scientist. It is his intelligence alone that he uses to extricate himself out of his situation often punctuated by his unwavering and vulgar worship of his own acumen. Meanwhile, Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper in Interstellar is also a very intelligent astronaut and engineer, yet he has no trappings of hubris that Damon’s character rejoices in. Cooper is humble even in the face of difficulty. Conversely, Damon’s character throws tantrums whenever he is unable to complete his tasks. These external signs merely point to the deeper, essential difference between the two men. It is not the false, artificial dichotomy of science versus spirit that so preoccupies the modern world, for Cooper himself is also a scientist. Rather, Cooper also understands that there are things greater than the merely physical. He is honest and is motivated by love for his daughter. Meanwhile, the audience of The Martian is asked to idolize Damon’s intellectual prowess alone and impersonally. Damon’s character is the modern man who seeks nothing but his own survival and convenience.

The fact that Cooper was also a farmer further differentiates him from Damon’s character. The farmer of Tradition understood that his vocation was like an art. The feeding of people came through dealing with extreme toil and manure. The ancient farmers noticed how their fields yielded much fruit when they found a purpose for the manure their animals (nature) gave to their fields. In the same way, Cooper understands that it is the acceptance of something painful that can bring about a good. It is easy to notice that Damon’s character is the Modern inversion of the noble farmer. He is the “botanist”—the kind of person who treats plants as merely a scientific endeavor rather than an art. He derives no spiritual experience from the process of farming and it is fitting that the fertilizer he uses is from his own teammates. The selfishness of his own endeavors is demonstrated by the fact that he goes on to claim all of Mars for himself now that he has tilled its soil. This highlights a fundamental difference between the Worlds of Tradition and Modernity: the former is the outward flow towards an “Other” while the latter is the internal idolization of the “Self.” The former, just like Cooper, has a view of the universe that accepts and integrates suffering. The latter, like Damon’s character, rejects suffering as useless. After all, Modernity’s obsession with anesthetics to numb pain and hedonism to accentuate pleasure is the natural outcome of a culture based on idolizing the individual. The childish, vulgar petulance of Damon’s character is the poster child for Modern Man’s comfortable, technological anesthesia. It is also no wonder that the extreme starvation Damon’s character experiences has no emotional currency in the film. His physical status does not provoke any emotional or internal change in him. He remains “grounded” once again demonstrating the infertility of his outlook on his experience. He is the parched earth that does not accept the stink of the fertilizer in order to become fruitful—in order to transform into something that rises to the light. Damon’s character is the quintessential example of killing rather than riding the tiger.

Meanwhile, Cooper culminates his “outward” vocation with an act of self sacrifice. His heroism to save Anne Hathaway’s character results in what would seem like his death. His descent into the Black Hole “Gargantua” is the crystallization of his transcendent path. The humanity of the future—the ones they call “the others”—grants him access to the multidimensional tesseract. He literally goes beyond the physical laws of the observable universe much like heroes of legend that undergo a journey through infernal regions. This is in sharp contrast to the end of Damon’s character who only seeks to return, unchanged, to the mundane existence on Earth. While Damon’s character taps into the vast ocean of earthly existence as the end of his struggle, Cooper offers up everything for the ability to transcend time and space. He exits the realm of physics and enters into the realm of the metaphysical—from the natural to the supernatural as represented by the superdimensionality of future humanity’s tesseract. In the Interstellar universe, the solution to the conflict is resolved by Cooper’s love for his daughter transcending the physical laws of the visible universe while The Martian relies only on the cold sterility of pride. One final note on the comparison comes from the original novel of The Martian: Mark Watney—Damon’s character in the film—is one of only seven to witness Mars up close as he exits the atmosphere. Mars is described beautifully, but instead of responding in awe and silence, Watney shouts an expletive at the planet. Compare this with Cooper who walks through the museum that was his farm as it was preserved. Although the farm symbolizes the decades of suffering and toil that Cooper had to endure, he does not reject it. He accepts it as part of his journey much like the resilience of Christ’s wounds on His resurrected body. Tradition organically holds together the narrative of history as meaningful and sacred while Modernity throws away history like upgrading to the latest version of an iPhone every year.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that this juxtaposition between the man of Material Modernity and the man of Material-Spiritual Tradition is already self contained in Interstellar. Amazingly, Cooper’s counterpart, Dr. Mann, is once again played by Matt Damon. Dr. Mann, according to Michael Cane’s character, was one of the “bravest humans ever to live.” Anne Hathaway’s character says that he was “the best of us.” Cooper and the team race to Dr. Mann’s planet since the beacon showed that it was habitable only to find that they have been given a false signal set up by Mann knowing that lying would be the only way he could receive a rescue party. Mann ends up betraying Cooper by trying to kill him as they descend into the valleys of the ice planet, but dies while trying to commandeer the Starship “Endurance.” It is a stunning indictment of the folly of Modernity which seeks to equate proficiency in knowledge with bravery and integrity. But this is not so surprising. After all, in the World of Modernity, only the material exists. Therefore, a man who gains mastery over the material must somehow be “the best of us.” Even Mann’s method of trying to kill Cooper is steeped in his role as the villain of Modernity for he rams his helmet against Cooper while Cooper protests that he has a 50/50 chance of breaking his own helmet. Mann’s insistence that it is better odds than what he’s had betrays the fundamental reliance of Modernity on numeration, efficiency, and calculating human life as a commodity rather than a sacred journey.

What is interesting is that it is not through physical prowess that Cooper survives his encounter. To win through brute force would simply be a vulgar condescension to the level of the Materialist. Instead, Cooper’s physical abilities reach their limit. As Mann himself points out, Cooper should begin seeing images of his children before he dies. It is this spiritual thumos that Cooper taps into to make it out alive. By demonstrating his victory in spiritual terms, the universe of Interstellar showcases the triumph of transcendental values as the true source of human endurance. It is no wonder, therefore, that Mann could not gain access to the Starship Endurance since he did not possess such an internal quality. It is, in fact, his hastiness that brings about an explosive decompression that spins the Endurance out of control. Only through skilled piloting, at great risk to himself, could Cooper re-attach to the central axis of Endurance and re-establish safe rotation. In essence, Cooper is the transcendental, centered man who brings stability back to a system out of control by ceasing chaotic movement. This motif reaches far back in the World of Tradition as early as Dante’s journey to Purgatorio as Earth’s polar Axis to the theories of Kingship in Confucius’s Analects that understood regality as the Stabilizing and unmoving Center.

Whether or not Nolan intended these traditional elements to be in the film through his own research is questionable. However, it is perhaps not surprising that a film meant to be taken seriously will inevitably tap into themes that have served humanity so well for millennia. While most films reach into the world of Modernity which forsakes anything eternal as “outdated” or “backward” and revel in the fads and jokes of the present day, Interstellar‘s power—albeit perhaps subconsciously—derives from the deep foundation of the World of Tradition and elevates it to a height affirmed appropriately by the resonance of Hans Zimmer’s organs—that liturgical instrument designed to emulate heavenly choirs.