Sunday, April 3, 2016

Epekstasis: Seeing and the Moving Infinity of Being

One of the most revolutionary concepts within Christian theology comes, indirectly, through St. Gregory of Nyssa. He was the youngest and most "mystic" of the three Cappadoccians, theologians in the 4th century who contributed much to articulating the Trinity. They are, by and large, forgotten in the West as their teachings were ignored for the much wider influence of Augustine. If one wants to understands the roots of Latin theology on the Trinity, one needs only to look at De Trinitate.

Gregory of Nyssa had the concept of 'epekstasis' buried in his work, something some modern readers have done work to dig out and recover. The notion is taken from a Pauline expression "Brethren I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead" (Phil 3:13). Gregory utilizes this term in a way to shatter the Platonic metaphysics of his day. Gregory seeks to find creaturely perfection, understood as a kind of "becoming like God", in an ever upwards movement towards God.

The notion is to free man from the impossible: namely the philosophical crave towards motionlessness. I think Gregory tapped onto both a biblical trend and something apparent in Human psychology. Now one might chalk this up to the nature of being in a fallen world, that we can't sit still because there's something wrong. But I don't see it that way. I think this sort of fidgetiness, this need to move, is something good. Perfection is then not the cession of movement, but it's permanent fixture towards the Lord of Life.

In contrast, Death is that cessation. One might say that latent in Platonic philosophy, and other streams, is a worship of Death, a state of utter tranquility and immovability. Such is obvious if you pay attention to Socrates' last speeches in the Phaedo dialog. When confronted with the option of suicide, his defense is only not to overturn the gods' decision to place the divine-like soul inside the corrupt and weak mortal flesh. It's hardly convincing, and yet casts a shadow over the world of Forms as really a world of Death.

Christianity has done this in many regards. As stated elsewhere (it's becoming a pet project to talk about it!), Heaven and Eternity have become flashy, metaphysically charged, celebrations of Death. I'm not talking about evaluating death as a journey or, more precisely, a battle that every man and woman must make. Rather, it's a kind of fascination and lust for erasure. Perhaps, it's a reason why the Roman church has such severe penalties for suicide. Within the system of Feudal life, purgatory seems like a much safer bet than toiling in the soil. It was a preventative for those who might take the theology too far.

Rather, endless movement has been condemned as Hell, vis. Dante's Inferno. I'm not saying Dante is a part of some conspiracy, rather the widespread currency of his views. Even amongst Western Infernalists, the most activity the Blessed commit is the Gaze. Whether it is looking in ecstatic awe upon God's essence, the definition of the Beatific Vision, or it's looking upon the tortures of the damned vis. Tertullian, Minucius Felix, or Augustine, looking becomes the most significant act. It's the eye's ability to freeze motion, a "snap-shot", that gives it a place of prominence in this theology.

I'm not disparaging the eye or the ability to see, on the contrary, it's a misappropriation of the eye to freeze images. The eye must act in concert with the ear which can only hear the rush of sounds and not freeze them in one's mind's eye (as the expression, fittingly, goes).

Rather, what I'm calling into question the very equation of life everlasting with a Death. That is the great secret of the Western Latin, as opposed to more distinctly Christian, theology. I'm not condemning all theological accomplishments in the West. Don't get me wrong. But the Platonic tradition has sublimated into the Western conscience to give it a priori distinction in defining terms. Yes, Thomas brought a popularized Aristotelian thought, but it was worked within the confines of structures already created. Aristotle, obviously, would be perplexed by what came of Thomism, Manual and Neo, and be baffled by doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory. Aristotle was a court philosopher to Alexander, perhaps that explains some of the Popes over the years.

What Epekstasis does is free Man to live, a living that is in connection with what we do now, but also in a radical disconnect. The Resurrection is a restoration of the violent break of death, which, in Christ, has become a battle we are guaranteed to win. Resurrection is a promise of Life-Everlasting, a foundation to live life Abundantly, which means a movement always up and beyond. We will always be reaching ever forward. This is good news. I will continue why in my next post.

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