Monday, February 16, 2009

Contemplations in Theology: #8

First, let me acknowledge my friends who have helped me through the last few chaotic weeks. To them, and to all who have consoled their friends, I send peace in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Before launching into my argument directly, I must mention the high degree of symbolism in medieval cosmology, particularly in the order of the planets.

Mercury is the nearest planet to Earth, meaning that the characteristics of Mercury are the divine personalities we can most easily grasp, and most easily recognize in Jesus Christ (God become Man). This is why John spoke of "In the beginning was the Word," for that was the characteristic of Mercury.

As we move outward--from Venus to Mars, to Jupiter and Saturn--we move away from the Earth, but closer towards the Divine Empyreum. This was the infinite heaven, beyond the sphere of the stars or even the Primum Mobile (the demarcation line of Nature, through which God directed all things to move). The Divine Empyreum signified the "third heaven" of 2 Cor. 2:12, the immediate Presence of God Himself. Thus, we should expect those more distant planets to be further removed from our reason--they will be more difficult to comprehend--yet at the same time contain greater and deeper mysteries.

The two planets furthest from us--closest to God--are Jupiter and Saturn.

Of the two, we instinctively identify God with Jupiter, the persona of King. We acknowledge Jesus ben-Joseph as Christ, Savior, Messiah; we worship God the Father, Author of Creation. Within the personality of Jupiter are found the Majesty, Omnipotence, Benevolence, and everlasting Glory of God. The redemptive power of God, too, arises from his kingship, for as Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings: "The hands of a king are the hands of a healer." The medievals recognized Jupiter as Fortuna Major--the Greater Fortune--for blessings were the province of Christ the King.

Almost immediately after reading "The Discarded Image" (C.S. Lewis's detailed summary of medieval cosmology, where I first encountered the complete model), I was struck by a paradox, a thorn in my intellectual flesh. For Jupiter is not the closest planet to the Empyreum. It is placed beneath Saturn.

And who is Saturn? Saturn is the Latin name of the Greek god Kronos: Father Time. In art, he is depicted with an hourglass and a scythe--symbolizing the finiteness of life and the necessity of death. Consider the adjective "saturnine": Saturn is the god of melancholy and morbidity, despair and depression, torpidity and tragedy. Is there any wonder why the medievals call Saturn "the Greater Misfortune"--Infortuna Major? Yet this is the planet they placed closest to the Divine Empyreum.

What heresy is this? The medievals based their cosmology on astronomical observation and classical polytheism. But how could they accept a model in which the planet astronomically closest to God was also the god theologically furthest from Him? In this model, the planet most reflective of God's personality is the planet we least wish to associate with Him. Can we really worship a God of tragedy?

This problem gnawed at me for several weeks. There are greater and deeper mysteries here; I can only hint at one.

At only one point in history has God entered the Creation; at only one moment did He chose to limit Himself to space and time. That moment was the Annunciation of Mary, the conception of Jesus Christ. And what was the Christ's experience while here on Earth? A promising youth, a growing ministry, the promise of greater acceptance by His chosen people... followed by utter disappointment. "He was despised and rejected by Men" (Isa. 53:3); He was subjected to humiliation, torture, and an excruciating death by asphyxiation. His life on earth epitomized the essential qualities of tragedy.

But His suffering was far greater, for he bore the full weight of sin upon Himself. Why do we rationalize His cry, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me"? The Father had turned His eyes away from the Son, that He might endure the full wrath of judgment. The moment of crucifixion was a moment in which in which God was utterly divorced from Himself.

If we believe in God's foreknowledge, then we must accept that the experiences of the crucifixion were known from the instant of Creation, when God first created the framework of space and time. Likewise, if we recognize the timelessness of God--the doctrine that He experiences all things in a perpetual present (reflected in His Name: "I AM")--then we must accept that if Christ was allowed to feel isolated from the Father while on the cross, God experiences that same feeling perpetually.

The Intelligence moving the planet Saturn is the highest servant of Christ, the greatest "steward of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1). It is the personality of God that exists in time, and the same that reflects the suffering of Christ, in the qualities of tragedy. How fitting that the Greek god Kronos--the polytheistic source of Saturn--is known from mythology as the firstborn of Gaia and Uranus (Mother Earth and Father Sky), just as Christ is known from Scripture as the firstborn of Creation.

Saturn is the planet most removed from our intellects and therefore the most difficult to understand. "We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:23). Yet it is also the planet closest to the Presence of God, and the source of the greatest mysteries and Truths.

But let us shed light on another mystery. Christ did not expire with the cry "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" No, it was succeeded by the triumphant call: "It is finished!" The spirit of tragedy was defeated by the spirit of divine comedy.

Do we need any more proof of that we may discern God's handwriting even among the Pagans? For the polytheists' account contains a type for Christ, and for the story of the crucifixion. Saturn, the suffering Son and firstborn of Nature, begot Jupiter, the everlasting King; and Jupiter overthrew Saturn.

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