FROM A MOUNTAIN STREAM
Just viewing youtubes of vacation spots can prompt unexpected trains of thought. Last week looking at videos of Norway’s fjords, I was reminded of a poem of the young Goethe called Mohomets Gesang ( Mohammed’s Song) which after years I looked up. I was aware that Goethe, Germany’s “prince of poets”, was a Free Mason. Parts of the chaotic, undramatic Part Two of the Faust drama can hardly be understood without assuming certain Masonic and alchemical interests in the author. But beyond this, was the great Goethe privately a Muslim?
Ostensibly the Gesang is about a mountain stream which becomes a river to the sea. When it was included in my degree in its German section it was not explained what the poem was about. It anyway seemed self-explanatory. It was an early Sturm und Drang phase nature poem, and so its enigmatic title could be ignored as one of the poet’s flourishes. Today I find rather more explanation including that the poem was intended to preface an abandoned play. But now with so many Muslims migrating to Europe, especially Germany, some work of Muslim reclamation of German culture is in progress and where better to start than Goethe?.
The poem, early translated into Persian in recognition of its likely meaning, is now said to be about the growth and triumph of Islam http://www.themodernreligion.com/convert/convert_goethe.htm (A translation is here shorturl.at/cKLU1) One can remain sceptical about the supposed emphasis. With the poem containing statements like, “ Behold its youth was nourished /by good spirits/ among the cliffs in the bushes” this hardly seems in symbolic harmony with the religion’s early history and Koranic claims that Islam’s founder was suddenly addressed by the angel Gabriel.
What is more certain is that almost from the outset when Goethe wanted to pursue “oriental” studies rather than the law expected of him, the poet had a serious, ongoing fascination with Islam, with translations of the Koran and Persian culture. To the extent Goethe would like to have drunk wine with the Persian poet, Hafiz, plainly he would never have made any orthodox Muslim, but he could have been one in his way. Admitting to find the Koran at first repulsive, he gradually recognized a sublimity impelling reverence.[See box quotation below]
Ideas of the faith inhabit pages of the late written East-West Divan collection which, despite touches of Zen-like emphasis on living in the present, is less about the Asian East than the Arabic Middle East. It is even rather remarkable that the bias of this and other texts has remained so little known, or if known under-emphasized, and that the same Goethe who disapproved early romantic era literature’s identification of German traditions with Christianity, would somehow finish virtually appropriated by that religion and/or Enlightenment ideals. But then, helping this situation there would be censorship of the full Romische Elegien This was chiefly for the sexual content, but the collection also included some hate Christ verses.
Goethe was himself something of a Faust with a dark, or at least very strange side. This manifested, not least towards women like his mother whom he refused to have mentioned in his presence and from whom he snatched a fur coat off her back on a snowy day!
NO RELIGIOUS VACUUM
Religious beliefs precede and determine many other beliefs. Secular Humanists keen to be rid of western Christian influence and privileges have yet to recognize quite what the results of their campaigns might be – not secularism, not atheism, but adoption of other belief systems only half understood. In this they are not unlike the radically individualistic Goethe who could employ the concept of Submission (Islam means submission) without acknowledging all that might be entailed whether for individual liberty or the treatment of “infidels”. Such would not correspond to typical Enlightenment era ideals the poet otherwise welcomed.
Douglas Murray, especially in The Strange Death of Europe, has drawn attention to the decline in the West’s “grand narratives”, but also the unexpected drift towards Islam of the long highly secular France. He also mentions the higher criticism hatchet job done to Christian belief from some theologians, not least German. I am not so surprised at this development, partly because I believe that where religion is concerned there can be no final vacuum. Something must and will eventually enter, and as an overtly political religion, Islam may now even help form the basis for a one world faith attached to a globalist, one world ideal. But I also believe that within Europe, and especially as regards Germany and France, Islam satisfies a few ideals Christianity cannot be expected to fulfil if it is to remain true to itself.
If we can ignore folklore and mystical variations like Sufism, Islam has no miracles. Mohammed declared himself and his revelation the miracle. This is agreeable to a certain western rationalism or just kneejerk scepticism, often content to ignore the miracles of Jesus (one of the earliest of which has the demons declaring Jesus “Son of God”), rather like Dickens in his The Life of our Lord. This renders Jesus a person of good works and high ideals rather than a Messianic Redeemer. The tendency also has some kinship with the Arian heresy long popular among especially the Teutonic tribes and virtually reinstated by nineteenth century rationalist German theologians like Harnack or moderns like the wildly iconoclastic Uta Ranke-Heinemann.
Arianism was a doctrine of the early centuries which has remained a general attitude and influence emerging in a variety of doctrines and sects including even Jehovah’s Witnesses. Originally and most essentially it denied the Trinity because it does not accept that Christ was fully divine, existed before time or was involved in creation as per especially John’s gospel and epistles (for example, “without him not one thing came into being” Joh 1:3). It emphasizes instead that Jesus was created, a chosen Son, at most St Paul’s “Firstborn of creation” (1 Col 15). However, this projected, first born status of Jesus as God’s icon or image of God should be seen as part of a process once the creation, in which Christ partakes, is begun. Paul agrees with John in Christ’s involvement in creation itself as in “all things have been created through him and for him” (1 Col 16). Islam by contrast, denies God could or would ever have any offspring or in any way suffer compromise to the divine unity which is an absolute rather than a composite One.
A QUASI – ARIAN WEST?
Arianism as a quasi-humanist, non-mystical attitude in which the image of a universal benign fatherhood tends to prevail, has long been unintentionally bolstered by St Augustine’s view of the Trinity – one which centuries after him would become a doctrinal position splitting West from East. The East more biblically insisted that both Spirit and Son, not just the Son, proceed from the Father, the Source, rather than the Spirit proceeding from Jesus. The East had moreover inclined towards some degree of semi-subordination within the Trinity (as in Jesus’ “the Father is greater than I” Joh 14:28) ) as opposed to the equality Augustine gave it. With a pure equality of the Three, the beginning and means of creation become a bit harder to imagine. One can’t for instance suggest, as I would (see Fragment below), that we might perceive something of a ying/yang between the aerial Spirit that broods over the cosmic waters, the divine Soul of the world, to create at the direction of a divine head.
The equal Trinity is more static and, imaginatively, it easily becomes simply the One who, being over against us, we may be more inclined to just submit to or imitate rather than, like the prophets and psalmists of old, to some degree dialogue, argue, plead and generally interact with. (I won’t rehearse the arguments Christians ancient and modern have put forth, starting from Creation’s “Let us make human kind in our image”, for belief that God, even for the Hebrew bible and the prophets could be One as a plurality; but the claims are not based on more than an isolated verse or two. Also, even elements of Jewish mysticism as in Kabbalah intuit a sort of Trinity with its Supernals and Keter (the Head) at the apex of a triangle with Hokhmah and Binah below and facing each other like the two cherubim of the Ark. In Christian terms these Two would be Spirit and Son respectively as second and third members of the Trinity.
As fate would have it, Christianity was even born under the sign of society, languages (speaking in tongues) books, argument and democracy, namely Gemini, the sign under which Paul sailed to Rome. John’s insistence that “This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” (1 Joh 22) is a theological statement; but it must be recognized that what one religiously accepts has social consequences. There have been certain effects for western society that result from the Trinitarian belief that the polymath and poet Goethe rejected. However, while I would basically agree with Murray about the loss of grand narratives, I feel that where Christianity is concerned, the narrative has been running down for quite some time and even before Goethe due to some awkward articulation and heretical distractions attaching to it. It will be apparent from the experiment below that I believe elements or emphases within such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Jewish mysticism would help straighten out what the real pattern was and is meant to be.
Critic and philosopher of all things poetic, Harold Bloom, says somewhere that Christian Trinitarian doctrine “all poetry” in the sense of only poetry. While I wouldn’t agree with that, it must be admitted that the poetic input is partly, even necessarily, true for some doctrines. As in the case of prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, society and belief were reborn and redirected under the influence of new poetic, i.e exalted and visionary communications.
This question of the role of poetry again had me thinking, How would one speak cosmic and divine matters today poetically? Is it even thinkable today? Would it even have been thinkable a few centuries back if you were, say, a tribal bard on the fringes of Christendom? The following which imagines a bard speaking of cosmic matters makes no special claims for itself religiously or aesthetically. It is the merest fragment which allows me to make a few points about what we never quite saw or ought to see and for which I make a few notes. (I don’t incidentally consider this a “published” poem as work on the Net can be considered. I might change it, add to it, I have no idea. It is no more or less than an experiment, a fragment).
POETIC FRAGMENT ON THE TRINITY AND CREATION
Hard is and always was to sing
Eternal mysteries and the purpose of this world
Beginningless and boundless too was God
Whose fullness and deep consciousness as One
Was all supreme, though One as Three.
Not even outside these was there Nothing
Which – could such exist – might stand
As rival or as enemy against the còmplete
Whole of all that in themselves just were before
Space, time and this wide universe arose. (1)
Light of itself, like love, would move between
And through the Three who were themselves those
Energies in which the blissful wholeness dwelt.
Within that union One there was that
Could contain and represent all Three,
In function most like Source and Active Will.
Another was their Spiritual Mind,
A Third their feeling Soul responsive to
Each slightest motion of the other Two.
And Know that this exalted Three were like to fire,
And air and water of a spiritual kind. (2)
And air with water are what chiefly formed
The earth when sudden change unknown before
Caused Three to labour at creating worlds. (3)
No more the Three once needed than themselves
Save that, as life itself, they always
In their closeness caused or shed
Some surplus of their energies
Like streams outpoured from mountain tops, or
Echoed song, or stars adrift within a galaxy:
Such were angelic beings arisen
With some awareness of God’s mind and will. (4)
Amid perfection’s circle, who with certainty
Will tell how, uncreated, evil came about?
What force could shape it? None. Yet by
The motions of freewill, imagine that it was implied.
Pure love, perfection’s self, knows only how to love
And give and share in freedom of the open mind.
But always possible, though never thought, was love refused,
A love not shared but turned instead within towards the self in vanity
and from its self – regard could rise ambition,
Jealousy with full desire to be a one in power not shared.
And through love’s compromise once made the limit came. (5)
No person nor one thing exists that does not live through God
But no imperfect soul or thing can with divinity reside.
Creation could alone resolve what was new conflict for the Whole. (6)
Within the One much like a womb God made
From out Supernal being, and his imaging Third
A space of world and time which then his Second
Breathed upon and organized. In this arena
Wholly new, a choice, especially to love in truth
Could be decided for eternity. And caught in time
Until time ends, angels of wrong choice
And souls at variance with God would be
Confined in Hades’ darkness from the light.
And since it cannot be that souls may die,
Nor live at all unless through God
Already some exist in fire that’s all
They can know of the God denied. (7)
The One had willed creation to resolve discord
Perfection of the Second could scarce forgive
While nearer to a mother’s heart, the Third
Was more disposed in love to pardon. With this (8)
Began the agony of God and suffering world
Till Judgement Day resolves the fate.
1) The doctrine of an ex nihilo creation is irrational, unbiblical and the result of some early Christian arguments with Gnostics who regarded matter as evil. Obviously and as Jewish mysticism has speculated, the creation was made possible when God created a womb-like space within himself. Biblically we are told that everything was created through and by Christ who, being divine, exists at some level throughout creation, not just in one place (a reason I suggest the sun dims at Christ’s death and there are issues involved which I touch in the poem The Hidden Deity https://wp.me/p2v96G-wZ ) Also we are told the world was not from nothing but “formed out of and by means of water” (2 Pet 3:5) which, esoterically at very least (but I suggest there is more), makes for a wonderful symbolic fit with perennial ideas that the Messiah is somehow water-related whether like showers come down or all that astrologers perceive as represented celestially by Neptune.
2) Given the semi-subordinationist statements of Jesus even in John’s gospel most devoted to the divinity theme, it is helpful to imagine the Trinity as akin to the Kabbalistic apex of the Supernals with God the Father being Keter (the Head) , the Spirit/Mind that organizes at Hokhmah and the Soul/body that feels and carries at Geburah these two both facing one another to form the triangle beneath Keter. While many Christians would dismiss much or all of Jewish mysticism which can exceed itself in speculation, a few basic principles are noteworthy. This is especially the case as there looks to be some connection between Kaballah and Essene thought and some connection of Jesus’ thought with the Essenes, the only Jewish sect we know of which entertained messianic ideas of a divinising kind.
3) In Kabbalah there are only three elements, fire, air and water with earth being derivative from them. The Genesis creation story is begun by God assisted by the Spirit which like a bird broods over the waters fecundating them – esoterically air is male and water female and we perhaps have here an implicit ying yang. It could be deemed problematic that Christ is male but as the Sophia which even St Paul calls him, he represents the female principle.
4) I can be wrong about the origin of the angels. It is not clear when and why they are created (deliberately or more automatically?) but they possess a will and choice and thus some rebel with the Satan.
5) According to St Augustine the devil fell through pride, but within the context of the heavenly, the withdrawal inwards of self-love or vanity seems more feasible as the first step within a place of only mutual love and perfection. Also vanity is implicit in the Ezekiel’s vision of Tyre as a Satan who becomes proud because of his beauty (Ez 27:18) which seems indicative of vanity before pride.
6) Creation, the dimension of the material and time help establish a measure of distance from imperfection for God while for creatures it allows a space to exercise a degree of free choice for or against God
7) The Eastern Orthodox view of hell regards the damned as living through the same light/fire that illuminates the redeemed. God is primarily and ultimately spiritual fire (See the vision of Ezekiel for example). A soul can’t die like a body, it must live forever, it cannot be annihilated otherwise God is not “Lord of Life”. The damned would appear to be those who continue to exist through God as fire but without the benefits of the other elements. Thus like the rich man in the parable of Lazarus in Luk 16, this soul is tormented by thirst because spiritually or materially, the water element is absent.
8) The mental and abstract, organizational perfections of the Second (akin to Hokhmah) and the understanding and feeling of the Third (akin to Geburah) create a tension between them and the One will of the Head. There are various symbolic grammars and archetypal motifs to evoke this. I like best as easiest to demonstrate in even everyday psychology, the will to exclude among perfectionist Uranian individuals and the will to include of pardoning Neptunian ones but I realize this is a bit Jungian and not an acceptable comparison for many. But the main point is that until the final decisions of Judgement Day, there is a tension and conflict within God seen at its most extreme at the crucifixion where Jesus, become sin and sacrifice, is or feels temporarily abandoned by God like the damned to Hades (hell). No Arian type doctrines denying the Trinity fit the spiritual and psychological dynamics of the Passion story and one might as well say that Jesus never died on the cross or did so without much purpose – the iconoclastic Uta Ranke Heinemann dismisses the whole atonement doctrine as “theology for butchers”. I suggest this kind of thing is an example of the German theological messing about on which the West is choking.