Part II. Chapter 2
Dogmatism, Politics and Inner Experiexce in
the First Centuries of the Church
Two points of view on the evolution of the dogma
The official explanation for the increasingly precise dogmatic definitions in Church history is that the Spirit is at work, gradually taking human knowledge towards the divine. This vision corresponds to the positivism according to which science leads man towards perfect happiness, generation after generation.
A more critical vision of the history of the Church, sees in these two milleniums of definitions, which necessarily involve condemnations and exclusions at every step, a kind of shrinking skin. Just as an old person with rheumatism keeps more and more to his room, and then is restricted to his bed, so too is the Christian mystic restricted by two thousand years of history. In order to express himself in an orthodox manner, he had to zig-zag between the various traps laid by the specialists of dogma; he moves in mined territory. He expresses himself less for transmitting an experience than for proving that he is a good student and that he has learnt and can quote all that he has no right to inadvertently assert. The Christian mystics within the institution say that their inner search consists of meditating the multiple facets of dogmatic truth within them, As for me, I am wary of this kind of a well marked search whether in Christianity or in other religions, where in one knows too well in advance all the details of what he is going to find.
It would, of course, be unfair to paint all the Christian mystics and theologians with the same brush, but I cannot rid myself of the impression that for some of them, mysticism consists of some sort of intellectual gymnastics in which the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are to be mentioned at all costs to show that they are not Muslim, and the word real Presence is to be invoked to prove that they are not Protestant, or not mentioned it they want to claim they are.... If the ready-made intellectual schema are too obvious, they are covered with emotion by mentioning Love in every other line, but this comes to a core of intellectual material coated with a layer of the emotion, which is not equivalent to the spiritual. Each one of course, does what he can at the level where he is. It is certainly better to have the intellectual coated with the emotional rather than to have nothing at all. From this critical point of view the Church is a kind of enormous vehicle which has been advancing straight forward for two thousand years and it has only one problem : it can hardly go back ......The will for unity in the Church was reinforced by the imperialistic vision of power during the Roman era. At the beginning of the 2nd century, Hadrian describes to us his mistrust of the multiplicity of cults in Alexandria:
'Hadrian Augustus to the consul Servanius, greetings ! All that I found in this Egypt which you praised so highly to me was a completely frivolous and fickle nation, at the mercy of the first scandal. The worshippers of Serapis are Christians here and the self styled Christian bishops worship Serapis..............They have only one God who is worshipped by Christians, Jews and all the other people 22.
The Emperor Hadrian was angered by this system which is the one prevalent in India : a multiplicity of cults acknowledging that they all worship the same supreme God who is called Brahman in Hinduism. If this plurality of cults continues in India, one reason is that it corresponds to the firmly established plurality of castes. To return to the West, the official Church seemed to fear competition from other Christian groups more than the imperial persecutions themselves. Epiphanius mentions sixty heresies in the earlier centuries Understandably the market was over crowded. If a heretic is defined as he who has chosen, it may give rise to the following paradox: the orthodoxy which has been defined since the beginning by successive choices and exclusions, represents the most heretic of Christian beliefs... . This is obviously an uncommon view, but is the multiplicity of points of view not a wealth in itself?
Let us now return to the beginning of the propagation of Christianity by Saint Paul. He wrote to the Corinthians : Ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (I Cor. II,). Reading this sentence a Hindu would very naturally ask how Saint Paul could pretend to be Christ's imitator when the never lived close to him. Is this excessive zeal not an attempt to compensate for not having been among the blessed chosen ones who shared Jesus's life on this earth? From the very beginning of Christianity is it not a striking paradox that this greatest of Apostles was not a disciple? It could also be asked, if, following Saint Paul, the Christian were not too easily satisfied with the absence of a living spiritual master. They made up for it through a communication with Christ whose inner voice they were the only ones to hear, through a more or less conflicting rapport with the community and its internal political problems, and through proselytism, all somewhat in the manner of Saint Paul At the beginning, the latter had tried to discuss philosophy with the sages of Athens, but he seems to have been disappointed when they refused to circumscribe and limit the unknown god whom they traditionally honoured within the person of Jesus of Nazareth. For this reason, St. Paul's teachings became less flexible, with everything being represented in black or white, and he preached among the poor and uneducated people of Corinthe with a greater degree of success : For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. (I Cor. 1-18). This insistence on not reducing Christ's Cross to naught had psychological importance : it gave meaning to the suffering of the first converts, suffering which must have been intense considering that these converts belonged to the poor classes; but this insistence also had a political significance : It encouraged them not to shrink from martyrdom, so that they would become good soldiers for it.
This is contrary to the point of view expressed in the æTreatise on the Resurrection', an apocryphal text discovered at Nag-Hammadi. In a letter to one of his disciples, Rheginos, the anonymous master, explains resurrection in a way which would be totally acceptable to a Hindu : Do not think that the resurrection is an apparition ('phantasia'). It is not an apparition, it is real. It is the world which should be considered an apparition rather than the resurrection..... The latter is a revelation of what exists..... .Are you, the real you only perishable, and nothing more?.. Why donÆt you examine your own self and see that it is resuscitated?
This importance given to the Cross and to voluntary death, which characterized the official Church from the beginning, was not shared in general by other Christian groups. We will return to this point later in a discussion on the psychology of martyrdom. Vivekananda who, as we have seen, was influenced by Christ's example expressed an interesting Hindu point of view : he could not help but find something theatrical in the Christian concentration on the crucifixion. It is true that the birth of Christianity was traumatic, but it is also true that some conscious Christians should try to liberate themselves from this birth trauma which still handicaps their psycho-spiritual life. The history of the Church at the beginning was that of a successful sect. The challenge for a sect or a religious group is to be able to awaken an intensity of inner experience, without awakening a corresponding intolerance towards other groups. It is a matter of encouraging spiritual maturity which, unfortunately, the communities that want to expand rapidly do not take much into account.
The Hindu teaching on the Unity is developed, but to their mind wishing to translate this supreme unity into a centralized institution like the Church at all costs, and wishing to establish the latter though the belief in the only Son, represents a kind of spiritual materialism. The dogma of the uniqueness of Christ has been retained even by the small Protestant groups who have rid themselves, either partially or completely, of a centralized hierarchy. This notion indeed forms a quasi- indispensable part of the missionary argument, to the point that it has rapidly been promoted to the rank of a dogma But a Hindu would say that wishing to base ones entire mystical life on this dogma would represent an impoverishment. The freedom which is indispensable for the mystic would only be curtailed by the weight of the institution upon individual consciousness, if this institution is presented as Christ's only bride .
Towards a Hindu understanding of the Trinity
In Hindu terminology, the functions of the Father and the Son would be equivalent to the ænirguna (without qualities, non-manifest) Brahman and the saguna (with qualities, manifest) Brahman respectively. The two have a distinctive-unitive relationship (bhedabhedha): they are united because they are constituted of the same essence, and distinct from each other because one is non-manifest while the other is manifest. This distinction allows the opposition between Christianity and Gnosis to be attenuated, the latter speaking of a superior God and an inferior God. Meanwhile, another distinction could be made regarding the Father : the really unmanifested Father on one hand and the Father manifested as Creator, on the other, the two obviously being consubstantial; the creative aspect would then correspond approximately to the creator (demiurgos) of the Gnostics and the Ishvara of the Hindus. In this context it can be noted that accusing Gnostics in general of being dualists was due to the disinformation on the part of the apologists. In fact Valentinian, disciple of Theudas who was himself Saint Paul's disciple, proclaims the divine unity without hesitation : He is the Root of All, the inexpressible who lives in silence in the Monad, because he had been a Monad after all and there was no one before Him 24. Official Christianity, with its bi-polar vision of God and Satan, of light and darkness, will seem dualist to a Hindu. Some missionaries see a sign of Christ in the mention of a personal God who is the object of devotion in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, a later Upanishad; according to the entire school of Hindu non dualism. However, this seems to be more a concession by the sages to the wishes of the people and their priests who could not figure out how to worship an impersonal Absolute. Perhaps, in reality, true wisdom consists in being as much at ease in the contemplation of a personal God, with a form, as in the contemplation of an impersonal God, without form.
During the Last Supper Jesus said; It is expedient for you that I go away; for it I go not away, the counselor will not come unto you (Jn 16, 7). In terms of Hindu transmission, these words may be compared to the awakening of the inner guru after the death of the guru in his physical form. As for Jesus; his inner guru, according to this comparison was the Father. Jesus presents himself as being distinct from him, out of respect for the strict monotheist conceptions of his disciples; Besides, Jesus could not say : I am the Father (which would have been the real non-dualistic way of speaking), because the latter was not manifest, while the son was Christ's mind and body were limited, his soul was not. In Hindu terminology, his individual soul (æjivatmaÆ) was united with the universal soul (æparamatmaÆ); although this is true of every person, it is only the liberated being who is fully conscious of it. Between the jivatma and the paramatma there is a difference of degree, not of nature, just as sea-water put in a glass is no different from the water of the ocean, except in quantity.
In India, guru and disciple are in a paradoxical relationship of unity-distinction which has its analogy in the persons of the Trinity in Christianity. They are already one within the other, completely present in one another (circuminsession) and yet they go one towards the other (circumincession). It is like the tide flowing into itself, to take the simile given by Master Eckhart. The Son, disciple of the Father, and a model for other disciples, can be meditated upon with the help of the songs of Christmas liturgy which are inspired from a Psalm of David (109) saying 'Tu es Filius meus, hodie genui te' (you are my son, today I begot you) and 'Ante luciferum genui te' (before the light I begot you): the Son is begotten by the Father in the eternal present, beyond time. In the same way for Hindus, especially those following the path of Advaita, the begetting of the disciple by the guru, the play of both within the One, is beyond time. The identity of nature of, and the essential unity between the guru and the disciple is for them a general law of relationship, while for the Christians, it is unique to the relationship between the Father and the Son.
The main piece of the Gregorian Christmas liturgy is the gradual : 'Verbum caro factus est, et habitavit in nobis, et vidimus gloriam suam'. Christ took form and lived amongst us and we saw his glory. To a disciple in India, the guru represents the word incarnate. There is an expression which says: 'Mantra mulam guru vakyam', that is, the root of the mantra (a sacred formula - or even the word incarnated in the guru-which leads to liberation if it is repeated intensely in the course of a long sadhana) is the word of the guru. Years of spiritual work lie between the moment when the master lived amongst us (eskenosen, literally meaning pitched his tent) and the moment when we saw his glory which corresponds to salvation or liberation which was heralded by the Transfiguration in Christ's case.
When Christ says that he will return, it is generally understood that he will return either as a Messiah, or in the form of the Holy Spirit; but it could also mean that he will return in the form of a spiritual master, and this is the meaning which could be given to these verses of John (14, 3-4) : And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. This place to which the spiritual master inspired by the Holy Spirit can lead us could be the state of resurrection in this life itself.
In so far as the disciples have studied under the Master they know the path to be taken to become masters themselves. Christ, for his part, refused to be restricted to a mere reincarnation and repetition of preceding masters. He is not Moses, Elias or John the Baptist who returns; he declares: I am before Abraham was. It may be that the Christians coming after Christ were afraid of this audacity, they were afraid of crossing this limit. They say that they can only reach the Father through the Son, but if they really reach the Father will there be any difference between the Father and the Son ? All these are relative expressions, relative to the level of consciousness of the person who is speaking .
Christ said: I will return in much the same way as the Bodhisattvas did in Buddhism, and some incarnations did in Hinduism. In his impassioned style, Ramakrishhna said that he was willing to return in the form of a dog if he could again help some human beings. King Vipascit like Christ after the resurrection, refused to go alone to Heaven and descended to Hell to free the souls who were suffering there.
To use again Swami Abhishiktananda's (H. Le Saux) words the guru is the mysterium numinous (word used by R.Otto) tremendum, the essential numinous sacred, the burning Bush which Moses could only approach after having removed his sandals. He is the meeting-point of the known and the unknown, the visible and the invisible, the relative and the absolute or, in Christian language, of the creature and the Creator, the Son and the Father.
The essential function of the Master is to instill confidence in the disciple. Through his spiritual practice the disciple comes face-to-face with his own mind. It is in the nature of the mind to doubt. The Master provides the most direct method for dispelling the disciple's doubts because he is the indissoluble synthesis of the reality and the Reality. For a Hindi, the guru must be considered as God. The divine is channelled through his physical form.
It is interesting to note that the word esprit has a masculine gender in French ('esprit') as in Latin ('spiritus') ,a neuter gender in Greek ('pneuma') and a feminine gender in Hebrew ('ruah'). In Syriac rites, the Holy-Spirit is easily; associated with the Mother of God because of this feminine gender. For a Hindu, a feminine Spirit would be easier to accept than a masculine one. It could be compared to God's shakti or his energy, which is his continuous manifestation, at work in creation, and his wife at the same time - if ever we wish to go further in the anthropomorphic description of the divine family as has already been suggested through the Persons of the Father and the Son. To Hindus this notion will seem psychologically more balanced than the description of an exclusively male, jealous God, a God of vengeance and of armies, which is an aspect of God as portrayed in the Bible.
If, in comparison to Jews, the Christians are so proud of having introduced the notion of love within divinity itself, why do they not take it to its logical conclusion and introduce the notion of love between God in his masculine aspect and God in his feminine aspect? In Indian religious psychology this would be considered a balancing factor, but how will a hierarchy of single clergymen dare to imagine such an evolution?
Like Christianity, Hindu bhakti introduces love in the supreme stage of spiritual evolution. The followers of bhakti prefer to go on suffering from separation-rather than to obtain the bliss of union in order to keep the excitement of loving, In this they come close to Christian devotion, as it is beautifully expressed in the imitation of Jesus Christ : 'Sine dolore, non vivitur in amore' or, 'To love is to suffer' ....The Vedanta avoids bringing forward this quality of love in the Absolute partly for fear of falling into a facile anthropomorphism.
It is a delicate matter to establish a comparison between the three Persons of the Trinity and the Hindu description of the Absolute as Sat-chit-ananda (Being-consciousness-happiness), as Swami Abhishiktananda (H. Le. Saux), and Bede Griffith do. Sat-chit-ananda would correspond more to the divine qualities of being, truth and benevolence described by Saint Thomas of Aquinas. On the other hand in the books on Hindu - Christian dialogue one does not find any mention of what seems to be the best equivalent of the doctrine of the Trinity, at least on the psychological level the doctrine of 'triputi' : this doctrine explains that the one who knows (jnata), the known object (jneya) and the act of knowledge (jnana) which seem to be three separate elements in ordinary experience, are merged into one in mature mystical experience. Thus, this represents the very idea of the Trinity extended to the field of a theory of knowledge. It is no longer just a question of circuminsession, (of God being completely present in each of the Persons), but of omnisession, of God being completely present in each atom of Nature as well as beyond Nature. The symbol of the Quicumque Faith professes : We shall worship God in the Trinity and the Trinity in the unity, without making any distinction between the Persons, and without dividing the substances 25. This corresponds to the Hindu vision of the totality of the world, in which the unity of the substance of the universe in which the unity of the substance of the universe in no way contradicts the fact of ordinary experience which is based on the distinction between persons and individualities ('nama-rupa').
One can talk of Godly substance beyond , divine energies as the orthodox do, or again, of natural unity beyond the Trinity of Persons as Ruysbroeck does, or yet again of deity ('Gottheit') beyond God as Master Eckhart does; behind all these names is found the Hindu notion of Parambrahman (the Absolute, the impersonal God) beyond Ishwara (God the Creator, the personal God). Master Eckhart says: The intelligence can never be at rest. It does not aspire either to God in the form of the Holy Spirit or in the form of the Son. Why? Because as such he carries a name, and there would be a thousand more such gods which it could perceive : it wishes God, to be there where there is no name. It wishes for something better and more noble than God only to the extent that he has a name. (sermon 'He who hates his soul', note 50, p 136).
One last remark: in introducing a triple distinction in the divine unity,, Christianity hopes to avoid the platitude and immobility of a monolithic monotheism An analogous movement is found in India. Without directly talking of monism (which would be called ekatvavada), non-duality (advaita) is mentioned. Through this the dynamic aspect of the Absolute, which is always beyond the pairs of opposites is projected.
According to Pereira, a professor of the history of religions who has mastered fifteen Indian languages, including of course Sanskrit, it is possible to express Christian theology in terms that are familiar to Hinduism, on the following conditions: agreeing to comment on Badarayana's Brahma-sutras in a Christian sense, and also agreeing to use the Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedas as the main scriptural reference, with the Bible only as a secondary one. As he rightly observes, many more elements for supporting the idea of divine incarnation will be found in the Bhagavad-Gita, which was a text before Christ, when it is interpreted in the Vaishnavite way, than in the old Testament.... The Indian philosophical schools have been through all these prerequisites to have their theses acknowledged. Hindus would probable accept Christianity as teaching unity within distinctiveness (bhedhabhedha), which would also better express the relationship between non-manifest God (Father ) and the manifest God (Son- Holy Spirit) better; but that would not end the work of Indian Christian theologians, for there are already a dozen such schools of thought in Indian philosophy....If the Christians do not undertake this work, their theology will remain a kind of Judeo-Greek body disguised in Sanskrit words; and it will have great difficulty in striking deep roots in Indian soil.
In concluding this section on the Trinity as it could be understood by a Hindu, it seems fitting to put the metaphysical discussions in their true perspective. They are not really important in the practice of spiritual life; in the history of the Church they very often became slogans which various powerful groups used as pretexts in their struggle for power: the full battle that was fought between the Orthodox and the Catholics over the que of the Filioque introduced in the VIIth century Latin credo for example, makes one smile when it is viewed from a distance. Saint Basil of Caesarea had hardly any illusions about these polemics -in which he let himself be involved- when he wrote in the last chapter of his Treatise on the Holy Spirit26. : To what, then, can the present situation be compared ? If truth be told, it resembles a naval war which bellicose people, who are expert in sea-battles and who are full of anger at each other, have waged to settle old scores. [——] What unites us so strongly is our common hatred of the adversary. Has the enemy disappeared ? If so, we immediately begin treating each other as enemies. A little later he comes to the indiscipline his principal grievance as a bishop : Each individual, in his ignorance, believes that it is less necessary to obey someone than to command others!
Saint Augustine wrote a voluminous book, the De Trinitate; he also must have had doubts about the utility of metaphysical disputes when he admits : "'If the question who are these Three?' is asked, the extreme inadequacy of the human language will have to be acknowledged. Of course, the answer could be 'Three persons', but that would be more in order to have something to say rather than to express the reality "27.