Thursday, July 17, 2008

#41. Four-fold Wisdom

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This post is the latest in my attempts to share thoughts about the Judeo-Christian tradition in the context of cosmic, biological and cultural evolution. It's the first of five (hopefully short) posts offering an introduction to the four-fold aspects of Divine Wisdom, with a separate post on each.

In posts #38 (Exodus) and #39 (Hebrew Thought) I made the point that the Exodus event, the Great Escape from Egypt, marked the beginning of the western world's evolutionary worldview and that we owe our modern dynamic-evolutionary perspective to Hebrew thought. As the French philosopher Claude Tresmontant whom I mentioned in several recent posts observed, the realization of the Hebrew sages that it is the nature of whatever exists to be continually evolving was as significant in human history as the discovery of fire.

Post #40 (Wisdom/Sophia) deals with an additional aspect of Hebrew thought especially important to the Immense Transition humanity is currently undergoing: our movement away from the patriarchal worldview which we inherited from ancient classical culture. The Bible's wisdom literature offers help in moving our understanding of God beyond the older image of a harsh patriarchal divinity.

The accumulated insights of the Hebrew scriptures with regard to Divine Wisdom are especially important at this time in history because they are at the core of the Judeo-Christian tradition and thus of western society. While the wisdom perspective was lost after the Dark Ages, and so seems unfamiliar to us in our still-rationalist and patriarchal situation, it is in fact nothing less than the religious source of the western evolutionary view of cosmos and life on Earth, and so is of tremendous relevance to our continued cultural development at this crisis time in our history.

So far, Western culture has shied away from dealing with the meaning and purpose of our existence in a non-static and non-patriarchal context. But the wisdom literature provides us with just what we need: an in-depth understanding of the significance of our lives in an evolutionary perspective.


While many religious traditions have a feminine divinity dating back to Neolithic times, in the Judeo-Christian tradition the image of Divine Wisdom seems to have emerged first among the Diaspora Jews living in Alexandria, Egypt, several centuries before the Common Era. It apparently emerged as a way of tempering the more rigid and harsh aspects of the distant and transcendent-only divinity of earlier Judaism. It is an important part of the evolution of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and more generally of western culture's understanding of God.

Jesus and the early Christians understood themselves in the wisdom context, but patriarchal perspectives within Christianity have kept it submerged for many centuries. It has appeared spontaneously, however, many times throughout Christian history. Byzantine art and architecture in the earlier Christian centuries are good examples. Other examples include the famous Lutheran shoemaker Jacob Boehm, the French Catholic saint Louis de Montfort, and the early 19th-century German Romanticist philosopher Frederick von Schelling.

An especially significant example of the spontaneous appearance of Divine Wisdom is the 20th-century religious thought of Russian Orthodoxy. Russian Orthodox thinkers led the way from the mid-1800s right up until the end of World War II. Some of their names may be familiar: Feodor Bukharev, Vladimir Soloviev and, especially, Sergius Bulgakov.


The wisdom perspective is emerging once again in our day, as we move-- ever so slowly-- beyond the values and attitudes of patriarchy. It is especially relevant to the insights and perspectives of the New Cosmology because this dynamic religious understanding converges with the scientific-evolutionary view. It allows us to bring together our contemporary concerns for peace, social justice and environmental integrity into a non-static, non-dualistic, and non-patriarchal perspective.

As Tresmontant observed, violence and war are a distortion of the cosmic process. A recovery of the wisdom perspective which lies at the heart of our western culture can bring us back to valuing human life, individual persons and our relatedness to the Earth. In the wisdom literature, Divine Wisdom not only helps to fashion the world but also delights in it. "How happy I was with God's earth and its people," says Sophia in The Book of Proverbs.


The loss of the wisdom perspective is especially clear in the variety of names and words we need to express these ideas. We're not yet comfortable with either the words or the insights presently available to us. Wisdom is called hochma in Hebrew, sophia in Greek, for example, but referred to as logos by the gospel writers.

In the old-fashioned language of the King James Bible, The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon says: "Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily: and sweetly doth she order all things." ("Sweetly" here has the old meaning of "skillfully" or "proficiently." We still have this meaning today, although it sounds to us like slang, as in "He has a sweet golf swing.")

When Wisdom herself speaks in Ecclesiasticus (also called The Book of Sirach), she says: "Then the creator of all things commanded [and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle. And he said to me]: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect."

It's not easy to connect that sentence with the words from the Prologue of the Gospel of John which say: "The logos pitched its tent (his tabernacle) among us." (That's the literal translation of the familiar words, "the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.")

So the archaic words and the old languages don't help as much as they might. One thing that can help us a lot, as I see it, is our contemporary quaternary understanding of human consciousness which I wrote about in post #29 (The Four-fold Mind). The quaternary perspective can help us to a far richer understanding of that Divine Wisdom which pitched its tent among us.


Because of my long-time interest in the fact that our minds function in four different ways, I was delighted to find references to it in the work of Brad Blanton which I described in post #27 (Radical Honesty: The "How-to" of Ontogenesis). I found Blanton's work a help in understanding the Biogenetic Structuralist view of the stages of human development which I described in three earlier posts on ontogenesis, #23, #24 & #25.

As I said in post #29, "We may not know exactly what the mind is, but we do know that it's not something static: it's not so much a thing as a dynamic process. We also know-- although it's less commonly understood-- that it operates in four distinct ways."

As I also said in that post, "The basic idea of the four-fold mind comes from the human sciences, specifically psychology and cultural anthropology." In the Immense Transition we are undergoing-- from the static worldviews of rationalist science and dualistic religion to the dynamic, evolutionary and unitive perspectives of the New Cosmology-- the quaternary perspective is invaluable for our self-understanding.


Both the Jungian view of the four-fold mind and the teachings connected with the Native American Medicine Wheel insist that, if we are to be complete persons with an integrated rather than lopsided consciousness, all four functions are needed. It is the lopsidedness of western culture which accounts for the great damage that patriarchal attitudes inflict on women, children and the environment, and is the cause of much of our racial and religious conflict.

So what I'm hoping to do in the next four posts is to bring together the various quaternary perspectives of Jung and the four directions of the Native American tradition with the wisdom of the wisdom literature of the Hebrews. I also want to link those views with the four traditional ways of being religious that I described in post #30 (Ways of Being Religious) and with German theologian Karl Rahner's existential analysis of human experience as self-presence, freedom, transcendence and grace that I described in post #34 (Talking About Us).

In Rahner's language we experience ourselves as aware, open, free and given; but those four words can only hint at the depth of Rahner's understanding, just as C. G. Jung's names-- Thinking, Feeling, Intuition and Sensation-- for the four functions of consciousness can only give us tags for the concepts and insights Jung provides. In contrast to these ideas and concepts, the Bible's wisdom literature provides us with images of Divine Wisdom, just as the Medicine Wheel teachings provide us with images of ways of being human.

And images touch us at a very deep level.


As I mentioned above, I described the Biogenetic Structuralist understanding of the ontogenetic process in posts #23-25. It is a scientific understanding of the growth and development of human consciousness as it takes place in the context of a culture's cosmology; it happens via the three stages of belief, experience and participation. That participatory phase of conscious development is also referred to by the term "contemplation" and, perhaps surprisingly, it has the same meaning there that it does in a religious context.

In post #26 (Help from Uncle Louie), I described some of Thomas Merton's especially helpful ideas about religious experience available to us via images. He says, among other things, that it is "the result of personal experience at a deeper than rational level" and he calls it "the highest form of cognition." It brings us, he says, "into living participation with an experience of basic and universal human values."

While ideas provide us with understanding, something else results from images: communion. Images, says Merton, "put us in communion with our deepest selves." They "deepen our communion with the concrete" and they put us in communion with the real world: images "bring us to an awareness of our place in the scheme of things."

And they empower us to participate in the cosmic process: "images bring us into harmony with world and its energies," says Uncle Louie. In contrast to concepts, images give "a privileged status as a conscious participant in communion with the energies of the cosmos."

That's what the biblical images of Divine Wisdom can do for us. And they are especially valuable because they come from the same Hebrew source that provides us with humanity's initial insights about evolutionary development and creative newness.


Back in post #34 (Talking About Us), I mentioned the work of a contemporary pioneer in matter-mind studies in the realm of the psychotherapy, Jungian analyst Michael Conforti. He observes in his book Field, Form, and Fate: Patterns in Mind, Nature, & Psyche that "The patterns of reality are continually being incarnate in space and time." I noted there that this insight sounds a lot like Karl Rahner's analysis that we experience ourselves as the "embodiment" of an "incomprehensible source." And it sounds a lot like the Russian theologian Sergius Bulgakov's phrase that we are "actualizations of the divine potentialities."

In chapter 9 of Conforti's book he notes that "every nation and culture has recognized the presence" of the archetypal energies of the cosmos (in the form of gods, spirits, powers) and that "we too need to find some way for including again in our notions of consciousness the relationship between the personal and the non-personally acquired transpersonal."

As he says, "In this way, we create the opportunity to reconnect to the generative matrix of human and global experience" and this "capacity to recognize and understand the meaning of archetypal fields offers important opportunities for resolving conflicts on the personal and collective, or global, levels."

"Clearly," says Conforti, "the time is ripe to apply our understanding of archetypal dynamics to global concerns." As I see it, the biblical images of wisdom at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition provide western culture the opportunity to do just that.


The Bible's images of Divine Wisdom fall into four main groupings. They correspond, as I've said, with Jung's four-fold functions of consciousness, with the four traditional ways of being religious, with Rahner's analysis of human experience, and with the images of the Native American Medicine Wheel. My plan is to spell out one of these four groups of correspondences in each of the next four posts. (I'm well-aware that this is an ambitious project!)

If you're also feeling ambitious, there are innumerable web sites dealing with Sophia from every imaginable slant-- New Age, Feminist, Christian, Gnostic, Sophiological-- except, as far as I know, the quaternary perspective. Meanwhile, I want to mention three especially good books about Wisdom which you might like to know about.

For a strong academic perspective on the history of wisdom, there's Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza's In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (Herder & Herder, 1994). Fiorenza is a feminist Catholic theologian and Professor at Harvard Divinity School.

In terms of depth, breadth and vision, the best book I know of is The Future of Wisdom: Toward a Rebirth of Sapiential Christianity (Continuum, 2007) by Bruno Barnhart. Bruno is a monk at the Camaldolese Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur, California. I visited him there in the spring of 2002. [Bruno and his fellow monks were evacuated from their monastery during the recent fires in June-July 2008. So were the monks of the near-by Buddhist monastery at Tassajara. Both sets of buildings were still standing, last I heard. (Update: As of 22 July, the evacuations were lifted for both monasteries.)]

And for a wonderful collection of texts from the Bible's wisdom literature, with lots of practical down-to-earth ideas for making use of them, see Hal Taussig's Wisdom's Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration (Harpercollins, 1989). It's coauthored with Susan Cole, Marian Ronan and Susan Cady. Taussig is a New Testament scholar, Near East historian and Methodist pastor. I heard him speak at few years ago at a Jungian gathering in Media, Pennsylvania. It's a sign of the times that he's been interviewed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

In the Byzantine churches, before the scriptures are read aloud the deacon cries out, "Wisdom! Let us attend!" Bruno notes in The Future of Wisdom that it's as if the Earth itself is ripening in our time. "The time is ripe," Michael Conforti says. Indeed! Let us attend!

1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.