Sunday, December 24, 2006
Strengthen The Things That Remain
"Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God." Rev. 3:2
The Apocalypse speaks the language of paradox, and never more than in the quote above. In this, the consciousness of mortality which is original philosophy has acquired a deeper shading, a religious tone as a symphonic accompaniment. Religion in this sense perhaps can be understood as something that happens to a philosophical mind when it undertakes to wrestle with history in its essence. For history is about the loss of God. This is why atheism is so profoundly irrelevant. It imagines its enemy is God, whereas the real problem is history. And concerning history, it has nothing of any value to say, for atheism, like most commemorative practices of religion, means that one is merely being swept along with the current of choice. It is only when there is a real possibility of drowning that the mystery of the will is revealed - that about which I can have no choice. When we finally arrive at the point of asking if, or to what extent, history is actually shaped by man's will - that is when we begin to ask a religious question.
I think it is highly likely that the writer of the Apocalypse already realized that history had become, was to become, the field upon which man's atheism was to be sown. He loads up his paradoxes one after another in any case - "strengthen the things that remain," even though they are "about to die" and your works are not "perfect before God." Why should we strengthen things that are about to die? Would "perfect works" be immune from such a stricture, or is there anything like "perfect works" in the first place? Perhaps the "perfect works" are a last echo of the philosophical achievement of the seer's previous age - the Platonic Good. In this new world of dynamic action which is the Apocalypse, the Platonic Good has long since been superseded. In this new world, nothing is stable and certain long enough to determine a "perfect work," much less the "Platonic Good." There is only the need to be watchful, ever on the ready for the dynamic upheaval which is Christ Himself.
Emil Bock writes - "Among the tempests released by His presence in the arena of human destiny, souls are losing their merely inherited forces far more rapidly than they would in non-apocalyptic times. However paradoxical it may sound, it is a sign of the new nearness of Christ that so many people feel today as if they had become inwardly poor overnight." (Emil Bock, The Apocalypse of Saint John, Floris Books, 1951)
There is another particular passage in this astonishing book of commentary on the Apocalypse that might be worth recalling today. He is discussing the section of the Apocalypse of the outpouring of the Vials of Wrath. The contents of the Third Vial (Rev. 16:4-6) -- "And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood...For they have shed the blood of the saints and prophets, and thou has given them blood to drink..." Bock comments that "the rivers and fountains of waters" refer to the individualization of the life-forces which become, in the course of human development, part of the personal inner life. Ideally the "blood" should, in the course of individual development, cease to be the carrier of purely egotistical desires. "In his efforts to attain to this discipline, the disciple can see a link between the purification of his own blood and the blood of the saints and prophets, the great spiritual messengers of human history whom he chooses as models. The symbol of the Holy Grail stands for those inward efforts through which ultimately the blood of Man receives into itself the power of the blood of Christ, an experience to which saints and prophets bear witness."
But, he continues,
"The mechanization of modern life runs counter to the development of a personal inward life. Figures like the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist, Bernard of Clairvaux or Francis of Assisi have ceased to be the ideals which we endeavor to emulate. We are fascinated by the successful business men, the practical men of affairs, who dominate every sphere of life. They are the cause of countless martyrs, even without actually shedding blood. The great martyrs of the past die again, and with them all those who have ever walked the Earth as torchbearers of the spirit. Their blood is shed again spiritually because it is made to appear that they have lived in vain."
We see this ceaseless trivialization of human life everywhere today - indeed the "media" seems to be nothing more than a mechanism to "liquidate" human civilization in this sense. Further, the shunting-aside of the "prophetic calling" of the blood has the result of turning the impulse of individualization back into the carnal and sensual channel. Sexuality itself becomes a "right," a kind of anti-sacral initiation called freedom. But in this way "freedom" is wholly unable to transcend the sphere of egotism, and non-sexual penetrations, so to speak, which have to do with the dissemination of ideas, the challenge of contrary views, the assertion of the reality of better and worse, right and wrong, become literally abhorrent, for they trespass the sphere which modern man has deemed to be his "sacrosexual" right to live his life without inward fertilization - that is, without being penetrated by anyone else.
This sexualization of man thus leads to spiritual fruitlessness and stagnation - that is, to the ultimate irrelevance of ideas and of the effort to think.The Apocalypse is packed with the themes and tendencies of human history, which is why it is futile or silly to suppose that we are living in merely one epoch or another - say, the epoch of the Third Vial of Wrath. All of the tendencies in human character and history, good and bad, are simultaneously present in any moment.
As Bock rightly points out, the imaginative or visionary piece in the Old Testament is the book at the beginning - that is, the Creation story in Genesis. The New Testament, on the other hand, begins with the "historical" books of the Gospels and culminates with the visionary Book of Revelation at the end. The Apocalypse opens up both tendency and simultaneity in history, and shows us both that we live and how, while living, we must "be watchful." Thus it is the book that" saves," i.e., preserves, the essence of philosophy while sowing it as the seed for awareness of living in history.