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The Heresy of Self-Love: A Study
of Subversive Individualism
Paul Zweig 1968 Princeton University Press, Princeton
These extracts are included for research purposes as they are deemed essential to the transformation. Please purchase the book.
From the Preface (1980)
During the dozen years since The Heresy of Self-Love was first published, cultural debate in America has teetered between extremes. In the late 1960s, an appetite for communal experiences of every sort gripped the country with millennial fervor. New ways of being together were offered as solations to every kind of discontent, as if man could be made anew by some new configuration of sociability. There were communes to replace the liarrowing strictures of personal intimacy; block associations and cooperative schools to dissolve the separateness of urban living, which had come to seem a special claustrophobia of our time. Political marches and meetings-rock concerts, too-became forms of exalting secular communion. These were years when merely private experience tended to be thought of as an embarrassment, a form of personal failure keyed to judgmental words like "repression," and "alienation." At the same time as if by paradox, a spirit of exuberant experiment with the limits of privacy became popular. "Liberation" through drugs, sex, and modes of dress; a growing fascination with experiential religion represented an a empt to transform the very nature of privacy. "Self," hypostasized into an oddly precise, delimited entity, entered the cultural vocabulary, either as a term of invective or as the watchword of a new form of freedom. Yet again, it seemed, a legend of ancient Greece, one of the less dramatic of Ovid's little stories, had become an intimidating paradigm of the moral life: the story of Narcissus, who refused to love anyone but himself, and thereby loved liiniself to death. ...
My Subject in The Heresy of Self-Love is the West's millennia long fascination with Narcissus: deploring his inhuman solitude, admiring him as a figure of fulfillment and transcendence. In the speculative fantasies of the Gnostics, in the programmatic self-indulgence of the Medieval Brethren of the Free Spirit, in the almost objectless love poems of Provence, in Adam Smith's theory of self-interest, in the radical social criticism of the nineteenth century, we find the same cult of self-love, along with the same foreboding that self-love will undermine the teetering fabric of sociability. The recent invective against "narcissism" is finally an old story retold: not the final illness of "late capitalism," but an episode in the sinuous conflict between the individual and society which has been the signature of Western cultural history. ...
THE GNOSTIC MIRROR
History, it is said, is like the river in which we can never bathe twice. The waters change, the events replace one another. In naming it, already we are mistaken, for we are naming yesterday's river. Yet the changes of history often assume pattems which seem familiar, as if the repertory of human forms were limited. The historian then discovers similarities from one age to another, only partly concealed beneath the surface of the events themselves. Such a resemblance has often been felt between the modem period and the late Roman Empire.
During the centuries after Augustus, a curious double language became current among the citizens of Rome. The res publica continued to command a range of ceremonies and allegiances whose performance was scrupulously observed; but increasingly the citizens acted out his "duty" in a spirit of passiveness and perfunctory obedience. Rome, with its military conception of government, demanded no more than this language of conformity. And this, as Burckhardt has pointed out, allowed a zone of private values to appear, entirely divorced from the res publica.
Here a second language came to be spoken, a language parallel to the public one and unperturbed by it. It was, on the whole, a religious language, charged with emotion, one whose intimate concerns were not only anti-authoritarian but, ultimately, antisocial. The spiritual allegiance which their emperor no longer demanded of them the Romans gave to Oriental deities whose cults became universal. As the Roman's public language became one of empty obedience, this private language expressed need for emotional communion. As publicly he was victimized by the law, and by sweeping economic forces, privately he searched for some form of personal salvation. It is notorious that official culture deteriorated under the Empire, but this private, religious culture continued to flourish, until forced by its very triumph to betray its origin and become public, in officialized Christianity.
This double language of orthodoxy and subversion, which so well characterizes our own society, was unprecedented before the years of the late Empire. For the first time, a citizen could organize his sensibility around a system of antisocial, and even antiworldly, values. It is not surprising, therefore, that our modern distrust of society," and our own "romantic" traditions of revolt against conformity, should lead us to find a congenial spirit in the society of the corrupt Empire. In the second and third centuries, as in the nineteenth century, a new kind of "individualism" came to be valued, all of whose energy was devoted to subverting the powers of worldly authority, in the name of some entirely private range of emotions.
The Pax Romana had made the Empire into what Gibbon described as a vast prison, with no escape for those who resisted its authority. It was a prison as vast as the world; and this is recognized in the religious terminology of the Neoplatonists, the Christians, and especially the Gnostics, for whom "this world" was literally a prison, enclosing each citizen in his own isolated predicament. But if the world was a prison, then the only appeal could be "out of this world," away from its authority and toward some new authority whose main evidence lay not in laws, no matter how brilliantly codified, but in a certain quality of experience.
Such was the atmosphere in which Christianity first gained its strength, rejecting the legalistic aspect of Judaism, along with the authority of the Empire, while it appealed, in the writings of St. Paul, to spiritual conviction as individual as that of "grace." Yet from the very first the Christians moderated this Pauline "individualism," limiting its mystical bias with a shrewd sense of organization and earthly responsibility. Already during the first and second centuries the new Church showed signs of an absolutist tendency. In each city of the Empire, the Christians assembled under the authority of a bishop, whose word was spiritual law. Their religion made them citizens in the City of God, but it also made them members of a strict, increasingly organized community. The Christians owed their success as much to this organizational shrewdness as to the richness of their doctrine.
But the double allegiance which characterized the spirit of the Empire soon became a problem for the Church as well. By the fourth century, the success of Christianity was so widespread that Constantine could appeal to its organizational genius in order to consolidate his own power. As the Church allowed itself to become a political instrument, identified now with the maintenance of law and order, it had to confront its own radical message in the doctrines of various heretical movements, and even more spectacularly in the spiritual anarchism of Egypt, where the desert saints had begun to perform their feats of extreme asceticism, often in defiance of the Church itself. Of the sects and heresies which competed with Christianity during the first centuries, the most dangerous, if we are to judge from the polemics of the early fathers, were the numerous, highly individualized sects which we characterize commonly as "Gnostic."*
* This term is used to designate a highly fragmented religious movement of late antiquity with which the early Church came in contact. Gnosticism seems to have flourished most vigorously during the second century, though the first Gnostics may well have been contemporaries of Christ or St. Paul; the Manicheans of the fourth and fifth centuries are also thought of as belonginiz to the Gnostic movement. The mystical preoccupations of the Gnostic sects formed a kind of bridge between pagan and Christian spirituality. Gnostic influence was felt throughout large portions of the late Roman Empire: from Rome to Egypt, Syria, and Greece. The development of Christian doctrine was, to a large extent, a reaction against the competing doctrines of the Gnostics.
They were dangerous because their ethical and soteriological concerns were so close to those of Christianity; but especially also because they embodied the uncompromising individualism wbicb the Christians themselves bad been led to modify, in the interests of Church discipline. R. M. Grant has indeed wondered whether certain early Gnostic sects, like that of Simon Magus for example, were not simply radical Paulinians, and therefore all the more troubling for the Church.
The Gnostics-like the Christians and the Neoplatonists described life on earth, and the earth itself, as a tragic corruption of the Spirit. Mankind, indeed the entire cosmos, lived under the stigma of original sin. The spiritual duty of each individual became to undo this sin in himself by undoing all bis ties with worldly experience. The Gnostic sects, 'despite vast differences among them, were uncompromising on this point. Unlike the Christians, who believed that even the fallen earth had been divinely created, the Gnostics condemned the world entirely. God was absent from it, they felt; its laws and conditions were entirely perverse. Even the stars were signs of worldly oppression, and therefore hateful. The only trace of the bidden God that men could discover lay buried in their souls, "sleeping" or "drunk" with earthly poison. By awakening this "spark," the Gnostic escaped from his earthly prison.
The Gnostic imagination is powerfully subversive. Nothing in the world claimed their allegiance if not that concealed fragment of their being which they were taught to cultivate. This extreme "individualism" is reflected in the chaotic organization of the sects, but also in the freedom with which Gnostic doctrines were continually changing in the hands of imaginative individuals with a gift for poetry or speculation. The sects attacked by Hippolytus,* in the Philosophumena, belong to a single milieu, that of third-century Rome.
*An important theologian and martyr (165-235), who lived in Rome during the bulk of his ecclesiastical career. The Philosophumena is his most important work. In it he seeks to show that the various Christian heresies are traceable to false pagan philosophies.
But the innumerable variations among them, the shifts in doctrine from sect to sect, show the small value these Gnostics placed on orthodoxy, and the great individual freedom their vision necessarily allowed. The Gnostic treatment of Biblical and Greek themes shows how conscious they were of the subversive energy released by their theology. They reversed traditional values, turning the Old Testament God into an inferior Demiurge (Marcion); the serpent into a "pneumatic" agent whose role was to induce men to eat of the Tree of Knowledge (the Ophites). Cain, the rebel and wanderer, became a hero (the Cainites); while Prometheus was invested with the glory of having transgressed Zeus's law, in favor of mankind. Long before they were rediscovered by nineteenth-century romanticism, Satan and Prometheus were admired and praised by the Gnostics. At the center of Gnostic speculation is bewilderment at the overwhelming presence of evil in the world, and a need to account for this evil while preserving the absolute goodness of God. Their most extravagant fantasies are meant to answer this need for "understanding" which is expressed in the famous Valentinian* formula: "What liberates is knowledge of wbo we were, what we became; where we were, whereinto we bave been thrown; whereto we speed, wherefrom we are redeemed; what birth is, and what rebirth. . . ."
*Valentinus founded the most profound and influential Gnostic school of the second century. He was bom in the Nile delta, and received a Greek education in the schools of Alexandria, where he became a religious teacher and a Christian. According to Tertullian, Valentinus was at first a member of the orthodox Christian community in Rome where he was highly regarded "because he was brilliant and most eloquent." Little is known of the rest of his life. After he broke with the local Church, he is thought to have retumed to Egypt where he was probably accepted as a loyal member of the Egyptian Church.
To the Christian emphasis on love and faith the Gnostics add a desire for knowledge, though by this they mean not only rational but also mystical knowledge; the speculative gnosis imparted by their treatises is meant only as preparation for that moment of illumination when the "sleeping" spark in the soul will be reawakened. Their speculative gift led many Gnostic sects to elaborate long, sometimes impressive, metaphysical poems in order to answer the questions asked in the Valentinian formula. The most extravagant fantasies were proposed to explain God's original act of creation, the fall from Light into Darkness, man's painful fate as an "alien" in the world of matter, and the "way" he must follow back into the world of Light. When the inspiration of such great second-century Gnostics as Basilides, Valentinus, and Marcion deteriorated in the hands of later followers, the cosmological fantasies tended to become excessive, filled with repetition and mediocre allegory. Texts like the Books of PistisSophia or the Book of jgou are characterized by this speculative extravagance which has led all but the most recent religious historians to accept more or less at face value the accusations made by Irenaeus, Tertullian,* Hippolytus and other Church Fathers, who brushed aside the whole mood of Gnosticism as a kind of religious madness.
* Tertullian is one of the greatest early Christian writers (b. 155). He was a stern polemicist and is credited with having formulated a central paradox of Christian faith: "I believe because it is absurd." Bom of pagan parents in Carthage, he was converted to Christianity relatively late in life, before gradually drifting into violent disagreement with the Church. Irenaeus (130-200) was presumably bom in Asia Minor. His life was largely devoted to formulating and defining the Christian canon of Biblical texts, setting firm limits to orthodox doctrine, in opposition to the syncretic tendency of the Gnostics.
Yet the Gnostic poems, at their best, reveal a moral awareness far more sensitive than any to be found in second or thirdcentury Christian writings. Valentinus, from what little we know of him, was surely one of the great religious minds of his century. The subversive energy of the Gnostics gave sbape and insight to their fantasy, leading them often to discover themes of religious psychology that are of the greatest interest
to us, for these themes will be rediscovered by a wbole tradition of subversive individualism in the West.
Although the first Hermetic book,* entitled Poimandres, belongs to a Pagan strain of Gnosticism, it elaborates material common to the entire mood of Gnostic speculation, including typical references to the Old Testament story of Genesis. It is particularly interesting because the author is concerned, at crucial moments, with providing a motive for the cosmic events he describes. In doing so, be treats openly themes which remain implicit or are merely alluded to in other Gnostic writings. The treatise takes the form of a vision that has possessed the author in a moment of meditation, "his mind mightily lifted up ... his bodily senses curbed." In this state of heightened awareness, he "sees" an answer to those questions of whence, why, and wherefore which obsessed the Gnostic mind:
Suddenly everything was opened before me in a flash, and I be held a boundless view, everything became Light, serene and joyful. And I became enamored with the sight. And after a while there was a Darkness borne downward ... appalling and bateful, tortuously coiled, resembling a serpent. Then I saw this Darkness change into some humid nature, indescribably agitated and giving off smoke as from a fire and uttering a kind of sound unspeakable, mournful.
The body of the theological writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum probably dates from the first three centuries A.D. They were popularly attributed, as their name indicates, to the god Hermes Trismegistos, as he was called in Greek, or Thoth, as he was called in Egyptian. The Hermetic Corpus as a whole is not particularly Gnostic, though it contains elements related to Gnosticism, as in the Poimandres. The books of the Corpus are marked by a turgid mystical piety. On the whole it seems unlikely that there was any well defined Hermetic community or "Church." The Hermetics were more concerned with magic, alchemy, and occult medicine, and it is this connection which accounts for the frequent references to Hermes Trismegistos in Medieval and Renaissance literature.
The boundless Light preceding all creation allows "after a while" a contrary force of Darkness to arise within it. This, in turn, becomes the "humid nature," or alternatively the "Boule" or Will of God: a female principle, cut off from the Light which gave birth to it. From here on, the treatise describes the various confrontations and complicities that arise between the Light and its own emanation, the Darkness, leading to the formation of the Cosmos, the imprisonment of humanity within the Cosmos, and finally the ascent of man back into the Light. To this extent, the Poimandres is typical of most Gnostic writings. After its creation, the feminine "humid nature" "receives" into it the Logos, or Word of God-the sexual connotations here are obvious-which then contributes to fashioning order out of chaos. It rises above the water and earth and becomes the highest portion of the Cosmos, the element of air and fire, alin to the Demiurge who then completes the work of ordering the Darkness into a world. It is at this point that the tragedy of man's fall begins. God, once the Cosmos bas been created, allows the energy of His divine Love to operate once again. Now that the spheres have been set whirling "with thundrous speed," a new desire moves inside the Light:
Now the Nous, Father of all, being Life and Light, brought forth Man like to Himself, of whom he became enamored as bis own child, for he was very beautiful, since he bore the Father's image; for indeed even God became enamored of His own form, and He delivered over to him all His works.
The Primal Man described in this passage will, through his own fall, give birth to fallen humanity, playing the same role for the Hermetics as does Adam in the Genesis story, which is probably alluded to here. The figure of Primal Man has its equivalent in other Gnostic texts, but the Poimandres treats him differently, for it makes his creation appear gratuitous. Elsewhere Man, Adam, Primal Man, Anthropos play a definite role in the creation of the cosmos; they complete some part of the work which bere is entirely attributed to the Logos and the Demiurge. Apparently for this Hermetic author, God created Primal Man simply for the delight He then felt in loving His own image. Echoes of this theme can be found elsewhere among the Gnostics, especially among the Valentinians, who avoid, as the Poimandres also does, the extremes of Persian dualism.
In the Philosophumena, Hippolytus reports the speculations of a third-century Valentianian sect. God, they said, is love. But love cannot exist without an object; therefore it is in God's nature to create something separate from Himself, so that He may exist fully by loving it. What He creates, however, must be worthy of His love; He therefore allows to emanate from Himself the ('Pleroma,)' a presence which is and yet is not Him. By creating the Pleroma, and subsequently the entire cosmos, God remains both the object and subject of His owri love. This theme of divine self-multiplication also appears among the Simonians, for whom "there is one power, divided into upper and lower, begetting itself, increasing itself, seeking itself, finding itself, being its own mother, its own father ... its own daughter, its own son. . ." At some point, God is moved to an act of pure self-delight; and this, in turn, gives rise to a series of cosmic intrigues which transform the original creation, luring it down to its final degraded kingdom: mankind and his earth. For man's tragedy, in the Hermetic account, has only just begun. The "humid nature," fashioned into a cosmos, with ascending spheres and hierarchies, is ruled over at God's behest by the Demiurge. Meanwhile, beyond the outer limit of the cosmos, Primal Man lives on, a pure duplicate of the Light, until, weary of his idleness, he asks God for the power to rule and create in his own right. God grants the request; He associates Primal Man with the hierarchies of the Demiurge, until one day, out of restlessness, pride, or curiosity, Man violates the limit of his power:
He [Primal Man] who had full power over the world of things mortal and over the irrational animals bent down through the Harmony and having broken through the vault showed to lower Nature the beautiful form of God. When she beheld him who had in himself inexhaustible beauty and all the forces of the Govemors combined with the form of God, she smiled in love; for she bad seen the reflection of this most beautiful form of Man in the water and its sbadow upon the earth. He too, see ing his likeness present in her, reflected in the water, loved it and desired to dwell in it. At once with the wish, it became reality, and he came to inhabit the form devoid of reason. And Nature, baving received into herself the beloved, embraced him wholly, and they mingled: for they were inflamed with love.
Primal Man has broken through the ordered circuit of the spheres; like Narcissus, he bas fallen in love with his image reflected in the water, and this inordinate love makes him a captive of the dark world he was meant to rule over. Once again the downward progress of God's creation tums upon an act of selfdelight: Narcissus loves his image; watery Nature, spying this emanation of God's splendor, becomes infatuated with it. Her chaotic waters draw down the straying self-lover, until they bave imprisoned bis beauty in "the form devoid of reason." Because of Primal Man's uncontrollable love, death and suffering are introduced into the world. A portion of the Light worldi.e., God's image-has been forceably mingled with the Darkness, where it will be imprisoned until some future time. Meanwhile, these "sparks" of light, fragments of the Primal Man, wander in exile through the world, "asleep" in the "souls" of mankind.
Thus man's fate of exile in the world originates with this wrong imitation of God's self-delight. Just as the cosmos itself is a deformed image of the archetypal Light world, so the fall of Primal Man is a replica of God's original self-mirroring through which Primal Man himself was created. But while God's self-love was creative and pure, Man, through his "error," "has become a slave . . . though he was androgynous, baving issued from the androgynous Father . . . he is conquered by
love . . ." These two acts of self-love lie at the heart of the Hermetic vision, in the Poimandres. They help us to understand certain obscurities in the text, such as the seemingly redundant role of Primal Man. As we now see it, Man's presence contains the key to the poem, for he embodies the original self-delight which first impelled God to create. The Darkness was "home downward" through the Light because of this impulse to love Himself which is part of God's nature. There remains, however, another question to which the text yields no immediate answer. Why must the androgynous purity of God's self-delight be reversed by Man's self-delusion, which, instead of joy, brought guilt and pain into the world? The Gnostics' mythical turn of mind led them to project their speculative insights onto heroic figures, who then reveal themselves to us by acting out their part in the tale. Their metaphysical poems are allegories of religious psychology. In this case, the Poimandres projects onto its allegorical bermes an insight into the nature of pride: that its self-delighting purity implies as well a painful loneliness. This mythical division into purity and guilt dramatizes the hidden complexity of self-love. It is the technique of storytellers, who make the opposite sides of a dilemma come alive in the characters of the hero and the villain. Hero and villain belong to one another, and therefore must choose a common ground on which to meet. Yet one acts out his fate and is wrong; the other, for deeds not unlike those of his enemy, is glorified.
In the same way, the Poimandres dramatizes the two inextricable passions of self-love. God's act is all Light; it is generous, self-contained, and free. Man's act is all Darkness; it is rooted in arrogance, delusion, and loneliness. When Man and Nature embrace each other, they abandon themselves to a false love; for Man has seen only his image, while Nature,has seen only a reflection of God's beauty. Their sexual union is based on blindness to each other, and humanity is born out of their deluded egotism. Variations of this theme are found often in Gnostic writings. The potency of the mirror and its image, recognized in magicoreligious practices throughout the world, was of great service to the Gnostic poets as a narrative device for conveying the transmission of being from one level of creation to another. With the Gnostics, however, it is a story of degradation, a fall from the creator into His image; as in this Mandaean poem:
Abathur [one of the Uthras, plotting the creation of a world] goes into that world [of darkness] ... He sees bis face in the black water, and his likeness and son is fanned unto him out of the black water.
In a text closer to the atmosphere of Christian Gnosticism - the recently published Hypostasis of the Archons - the figure is employed in a way not unlike that used in the Poimandres, as an instrument of self-delusion by which the Higher is lured down into the Lower:
The Incorruptibility looked down upon the regions of the wa ter. Its image revealed itself in the water and the powers of darkness fell in love with it. The archons took counsel and said, "Come, let us make a man from dust . . ." they formed [this man] after their own body and after the image of God which had revealed itself in the water . . . 'We will equal the image in our formation, so that it [the image] shall see this likeness of itself, [be attracted to it] and we may trap it in our formation.
Self-reflection, the fashioning of an alter-ego, plays an important part in the Gnostic myths of creation. In each case, self-love is portrayed as a gateway to man's fall. But the Poimandres, the Hypostasis of the Archons, and indeed all the major Gnostic works, are concerned with the fall only as a necessary prelude to their doctrine of man's redemption. They are, in the main, treatises of salvation. Their speculative poetry is no idle fantasy; it is an initiation into the gnosis which will enable straying souls to discover the true "way." They go on, therefore, to describe how that spark of divinity in man, through which he may climb back into the lost Heaven of Light, is also impelled by the energy of self-love. Because God loves Himself, He will overcome the barriers of material corruption, in order to draw back into His original Light the fragments of His image in men. This is the second half of the Gnostic story: the painful climb of the soul back to God.
According to the Gnostics, therefore, man's fate is circular. But the mounting of the arc is not simply a reversed image of its descent. Between the two movements, a change has occurred. The story of man's fall is exactly that of the world's creation: God, the Demiurge, and Primal Man engage in a series of cosmic events through which God's image is lured down to imprisonment in the world. Only at the nadir of the fall is the human race born out of the strayed pieces of the Light. From now on, each exiled individual carries a fragment of God within him, at the "apex" of his soul. It is by looking inward, by awakening this divine spark, that one can eventually free it from its earthly prison, allowing it-and oneself-to rise up through the material spheres to Heaven. If the fall of man takes on the aspect of myth and allegory, his ascent back to God becomes an affair of individual psychology. Each of us carries God back to Himself, when we accept the revelation of inward knowledgegnosis-and free ourselves from bondage to the laws of the world. This is the meaning of the advice attributed by the Philosophumena, to a certain Monoimus:
Do not look for God and the creation and other like things, look for Him -by starting in yourself and leam who it is in you, that possesses all things without question, and says, "My God, my spirit, my thought, my soul, my body." Leam where sorrow, joy, love, and hate come from; why we come without wishing it, and love without wanting to. If you look for these things correctly, you will find it in yourself.
By sinking passionately into oneself, the individual restores the spark of God-his own true self-to its divine origin. The Gnostic thus finds himself engaged personally in the adventure of the universe. He struggles up out of the world's impurity by turning inward and fanning the divine spark in the soul. In so doing, he neutralizes the self-infatuation of Primal Man and soothes that other, better love of the Light for its luminous self. His arm in this struggle of Light against Darkness is still another nuance of self-delight: the mystical inward turning counseled by Monoimus.
If there are any doubts about the meaning of this psycbological-mystical ascension, they will be resolved, I think, by one of the loveliest Gnostic texts, The Hymn of the Pearl, located in the apocrypbal Acts of the Apostle Thomas. The hymn tells the story of a boy, raised in "tbe kingdom of (his) father's house," who is sent one day by his family on a journey to the East, in search of a certain pearl. Once arrived in the Eastern land, be loses his way and forgets his original mission. This is a symbolic narrative of the soul's descent into bondage and its ic sleep" in the world of Darkness. But one day the lost boy receives a message from above, which awakens him from his forgetfulness. He remembers now who he is, and where he comes from-those very things which Valentinus' formula counsels the Gnostic to seek for in himself. In this state of awakened knowledge he seizes the pearl and starts bis upward journey. As he approaches the confines of his true home, the poem continues:
I went forth ... My robe of glory which I had put off and my mantle which went over it, my parents ... sent to meet me by their treasurers wbo were entrusted therewith. Its splendor I bad forgotten, baving left it as a child in my father's house. As I now beheld the robe, it seemed to me suddenly to become a mirror-image of myself: myself entire I saw in it, and it entire I saw in myself, that we were two in separateness and yet again one in the sameness of our forms.
The boy of the hymn represents the archetypal savior, the messenger from above, the alien wandering in the desert of the world who is conunon to most of the Gnostic poems. But the gentle humanity of the text adds another dimension to its meaning. The archetype melts into the human, the cosmological actor becomes also the humble Gnostic awakening to knowledge of his divine origin. The boy who has put off his soiled earthly garment-his body-in exchange for his "robe of glory" is the it awakened" individual who has discovered, at the heart of knowledge, the ob'ect he has been seeking: the "mirror-image" of his true self. In the Gnostic imagination, the seeker is identical with what he seeks. Looking for God, he is looking for himself; while God, who draws man up out of bondage, seeks nothing less than His own image.
What the Gnostics give us, finally, is a universe of passional laws, where half-mythical, 'half-abstract figures project their desires into space and bring about, almost as a by-product, the material Darkness of creation. But when we inspect these passions and their aborted results, we find that we are dealing at every level with interlocking circles of Narcissi, each desiring only himself-God, Primal Man, earthly humanity: three great actors on the stage of the world, each seeking blindly, or lucidly, for his own image. Of the three, the part of earthly humanity is the most difficult, because in it good and cvil are equally present. To the extent that man shares the fault-the illusory self-delight -of bis ancestor, he is confined to his prison and must suffer death. To the extent that he can accept the divine self-seeking of the Light, he is freed and puts on the "robe of glory": the mirror-image" which he had forgotten in his father's bouse. According to this view, good and evil are not two opposing forces ranged against each other in the battle for man's soul. Instead they are like strange twins, so much alike that one can single Passionate involvement with self. What emerges, finally, is one wbo loves God and who, because of this, is God. Here too the seeker bas become identical with what he seeks; and Simon is perfectly within the logic of his vision when he declares that he is none other than the divinity Himself. Although the Gnostic cosmology erects a staunch barrier between the Creator and His fallen creatures, with cons and imprisoning spheres between, it allows a paradoxical intimacy between the illuminated individual and his God. For the spark in the soul which marks each of us as an alien in this world is not merely a reflected light, or a mirror, or a divine signal, as it was most often for Christian theologians; it was thought to be a fragment of God Himself. By awakening it, one in fact became God. Most Gnostic sects allowed for a simple hierarchy among their initiates, the highest rank being that of Perfecti: those whose spiritual gift was so apparent that they were considered to be already "perfect," more God than man. This trait also characterized the neognostical Cathars a thousand years later; though the "confusion" it implies between God and man gave rise, among the Cathars, to the strictest asceticism.
Simon Magus dramatizes still another paradox of the Gnostic imagination which was inherited, in one form or another, by the traditions of Christian heresy. The condemnation of bodily existence becomes, with the Gnostic, a masterful defense of interior freedom. 'the profane world is described as an aborted unreality; yet each individual harbors within him a pure road starting in bis soul-in his imagination-and ending in God. By giving free rein to his religious fantasy, the Gnostic poet created a world with his words. His imagination itself became godly as he promulgated Light and Darkness, Pleroma, Demiurge, and Cosmic tragedies. This poetic self-transformation takes on another more radical form with Simon, who turns not only his words but bis gestures and his very being into a god.
This "excess" of spiritual pride crops up in the Christian world with fascinating regularity during the next nineteen hundred years. For example, the resemblance, between the Simonians and those later, eschatological sects of Eudes de l'Etoile and of Tanchelm in the twelfth century is striking. We are told that Simon was known in Latin surroundings by the name of Faustus, the favored one. And it has been argued that the European legend of Faust descends ultimately from this (i arch-heretic" of the first centuries. Faust's lust for power represcats one of the constant passions of the European psyche: the longing for a final, all-powerful solitude to which the world itself must submit. Faust, like Simon the Gnostic, wanted to become the god of a universe which mirrored his most hidden potentialities.
THE MYSTIC SELF
The Chandogya Upanishad tells how Virochana and Indra came one day to Prajapati in order to question him about the true nature of the Brahma. Prajapati welcomed his divine disciples; but instead of answering their demand, he gave them a set of false instructions. He told them to put on their finest robes and then to look at themselves in a mirror: the image they saw there, be said, would represent the highest Brahma. Satisfied with their new knowledge, the two gods left Prajapati, though later Indra returned, unable to believe that nothing higher could be found than the pleasures of earthly self-delight. The success of Prajapati's ruse depends on a distinction which not even the gods, it appears, could always make. The truth of mystical union, we learn, is revealed only to one who has undone bis ties with the world of experience, having gathered to a single point the scattered parcels of bis selfhood. This is a theme of mystical theology common to East and West alike. In the words of an Arab mystic, "To mount to God is to enter into oneself. For he who inwardly entereth and intimately penetrateth into himself, gets above and beyond himself and truly mounts up to God." Yet as the mystic gathers himself into that circle of "inwardness" which he calls the "apex" or "spark" of his soul, he encounters an obstacle, the last and subtlest of all: the strands of his passion become confused, he cannot be sure to choose rightly between the "true self" at the apex of his soul and the "false self" of earthly experience.
The Hindu parable is meant as a warning to those who have undertaken the mystical journey into themselves; for when they arrive at this difficult fork in the "way," they must learn to continue inward to the spark beyond their selfhood, and not downward into the self-deluding pleasures of the ego. Between the true "way" and the false, the resemblance is bewildering to any but the wisest disciple. The Gnostics also knew this strange difficulty of "knowledge," projecting their insight onto the figures of the good and bad Narcissus, God and man, who work out the psychology of their self-delight in a fresco of cosmological events. And indeed the mystical traditions of the West, from Plotinus onward, have at their disposal an image which they will use again and again to express the dilemma of the spiritual journey. In a text which had a forming influence on much of Christian mysticism, Plotinus describes the distracting "beauty" that can lead men astray:
Let him wbo can arise withdraw into himself, forgo all that is known by the eyes.... For if one pursue what is like a beau tiful shape moving over water-is there not a myth about such a dupe, how he sank into the depths of the current and was swept away to nothingness? Well, so too one that is caught by material beauty and will not cut himself free will be precipi tated . . . down into the dark depths . . . where . . . he will traffic only with shadows, there as he did here.
The worldly soul is compared to Narcissus, whose life and love is wasted in the pursuit of shadows. For all earthly experience is bathed in the false glitter of the senses; our changing passions dissolve at the touch like an image on water, clouding the true permanence of the self, of wbicb Buddhist scripture writes, "Have Self as a lamp, Self as a refuge, and no other refuge." Also "Through Self one should urge on the self, one should restrain the self by Self-for Self is the lord of the self." The mystic "way" contains at the outset this subtle danger which will haunt the ethics of Christianity, shaping its doctrines, feeding from within its ever-renewed insistence on orthodoxy and spiritual obedience.
In the Ninth Book of his Confessions, Augustine echoes Plotinus, as he describes the experience revealed to him in the garden:
The good which I now sought was not outside myself. I did not look for it in things which are seen with the eyes of the flesh by the light of the sun. For those who try to find joy in things outside themselves easily vanish away into emptiness. They waste themselves on the temporal pleasures of the visible world. Their minds are starved and they nibble at empty shadows.
The resemblance between the two texts is not surprising, for we know that Augustine practiced the Enneads diligently, and was in fact largely responsible for bringing the speculative genius of the Neoplatonists into accord with the more properly religious vision of Christianity. Yet something bas become blurred in the passage from Plotinus to Augustine. The image of Narcissus has disappeared, and with it the troubling awareness that Self and self are brothers to the unpracticed eye. The worldly passions of the ego speak a language strangely similar to that of this high Ego, concealed by the changing surfaces of sense and illusion. Plotinus, like Prajapati in the Hindu parable, and like the Hermetic poet of the Poimandres, understood this deceptive danger of the "way," and the need to preserve, within the renunciatory discipline of the senses, the goal of a purer, more permanent Self. With Augustine, however, all this has become less clear; perhaps because the task be set himself was more difficult. Augustine, with his Christian sensibility, is less interested in the frescoes of cosmology and speculative metaphysics than in the elusive psychology of revelation. He needed to "reduce" the mythical insight of the Gnostic, and the vast speculative vision of Neoplatonism, to the experience of the Christian mind, with its spiritual energies and worldly obstacles. For this reason, undoubtedly, he has remained the most "modern" of his contemporaries. But in the transposition, the psychology of Narcissus has gone underground.
Augustine seems not to bave trusted that fine difference between Self and self which Prajapati tricked his divine disciples into understanding. In his treatise De Musica, Augustine analyzes the psychology of transgression. Things of the body, he writes, are dangerous because they ((strongly fix in the memory what they bring from the slippery senses." Later, these traces of past experience-Augustine calls them "Phantasms"-float dangerously in the mind; they have become images of potential delight, drawing the consciousness of the individual away from the naked otherness of God, into this circle of self-delighting fantasies. A man sins, according to Augustine, because he has lived too often and too intensely among the images of his mind. All such indulgence of the self is dangerous, for it leads one never closer, always further from God. To preserve himself from sin, the Christian must terrorize his inward life; he must flagellate his spiritual energies and extinguish the "pride" of the self. We must not forget, however, that Augustine wrote in an atmosphere of polemics and religious contention. His goal was to defend the Church, and the "dangers" he warned against were palpable in the rival doctrines of pagan and heretic alike. Elsewhere in the Confessions, we read: ,
There are many abroad who talk of their own fantasies and lead men's minds astray ... These people want to be light, not in the Lord but in themselves, because they think that the na ture of the soul is the same as God. In this way their darkness becomes denser still, because in their abominable arrogance they bave separated themselves from you.
Augustine speaks here to defend Christian orthodoxy against the anarchic vision of the Gnostics and Manichaeans, both of whom accorded a powerful freedom to those idiosyncrasies of the individual spirit which the Church so mistrusted. By castigating the "pride" of self, and emphasizing the terrible abyss which separates God from man, Augustine strengthens a traditional bulwark of the Church that will continue to serve throughout its history, setting definite limits to the spiritual autonomy of the individual. The Christian lesson of humility will have as its counterpart, from the very first, an exhortation to obey the doctrines and dogma of the Church. The mystical purgation of the self is reshaped by official Christianity into a moral bomily; the first article of Christian virtue becomes abdication of the individual will which humbles itself before the authority of God's representative on earth. The flight from self to Self, which is at the heart of Gnostic speculation, has become a flight from self to the infallible authority of the Church. It is no wonder, then, that the greatest of the Church Fathers should have allowed certain distinctions to become blurred. In doing so, he sets the tone of Christian morality, and defends the authoritarian order of the Church which was to become so overpowering during the Middle Ages.
This vision of humility conceals within it, however, a power of imagination that will never cease to strain at the limits of Christian dogma. The themes of Gnostic speculation, in particular, will continue to erupt, inherited or reinvented in the heat of mystical adventure by many illustrious, if marginal, Christians. Like the Gnostics before them, the Christian mystics and theologians used the dialogue between the image and its object to characterize the mysterious transfer of divinity from God to His creation: the divine gift which alienates nothing from the giver, for what He has given He still retains. As early as St. Paul, we read, "We all with unveiled face reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory." In later centuries, the sense of the spiritual journey is revealed in this description of man as a mirror for the divine light. Scotus Erigena calls man's soul "the purest mirror in the world," while Bonaventure's Itinerarium Mentis in Deum is described as an upward joumey of the soul, which learns first to discover God "mirrored in the external world!'; but then we move beyond this, to encounter, there "in the sanctuary of our souls . . . God reflected in His image." At this inmost point of the spiritual journey, the Christian rejoices to "behold the reflection of God as in the light of some candelabrum."
Although Christian philosophers have rarely been interested in cosmology, when the Cambridge Platonist, John Smith, turns to speculations it is in terms that are now familiar to us. The entire creation, according to Sn-iith, can be tbougbt of as a mirror; for "God made the universe and all the creatures contained therein as so many glasses wherein he might reflect His own glory. He bath copied forth Himself in the creation. The examples could be multiplied, from sources as mild as Smith, the Anglican Brahmin, to the heretical German cobbler, Jacob Bohme,* who wrote in his Six Theosophic Points:
Seeing then the first will is an ungroundedness, to be regarded as an eternal nothing, we recognize it to be like a mirror wherein one sees bis own image . . . Thus we recognize the eternal Unground out of Nature to be like a mirror . . . The etemal Ungro und etemally takes rise in itself, enters into itself, grasps itself in itself, and makes the center in itself ...
*Bohme was an idiosyncratic German theologian and mystic (15751624) who lived an obscure life as a shoemaker. He wrote numerous books and tracts wherein he sought to reconcile the speculative thought of his century with a more traditional mysticism. His writings, couched in strange visionary language, had a great influence on the Romantics, as well as on later philosophers such as Schelling, Hegel, and Nietzsche.
Bohme, in his eccentric language, goes on to elaborate this image of God's self-creation with all the freedom of a Gnostic poet. The intertwining energies of Will, Fire, and Erotic Passion
which animate his vision articulate the original act of self-delight by which God gave Himself to man and to the world. But Bohme did not stop here. Like the Gnostics, he sought to embrace in a single sweep the violence of the Cosmic struggle and the spiritual psychology of man. Between one and the other he found occult resemblances which he was careful to point out. In doing so, he warned against a temptation which lay beneath the surface of Christian morality, ready to draw even the most devout believer into its "error." The vast mirror of the Unground, Bobme wrote, is closer to man than be may realize; for the "fire" that surges within him, disturbing his serenity, propelling him toward the most unreasonable ambitions, has its source in a similar mirror: the "fiery mirror" of his pride. Pride causes man, in love with his own "great glory and beauty," to reach out after the properties of the unsurpassable "center." In Bohme's language, this meant that man, because of his pride, has sought to equal God: he bas forged, within his own imperfect experience, a mirror in which be means to take pleasures like those taken by God in the great mirror of the universe. Such is the meaning of this lovely passage from Bbhme's early work, Aurora, in which he warns man against the bewildering mirror he carries in his soul:
Now being that he was so beauteously and gloriously Imagined or formed as a King in Nature, his beauteous form and feature tickled him, and so he thought with himself, I amnow God... I will prepare and erect for myself a new kingdom; for the whole Circumference, Extent, or Region is mine, I am God alone, and none else... And in his pride he struck and smote himself with darkness and blindness, and made himself a Devil... He wrestled with the Salliter of God in the flash of fire and anxiety.
The danger for man, according to Bohme, lies in his very nobility. Because he has been endowed with a shadow of spiritual greatness and is capable, therefore, of great things, he may climb to that dangerous height from which his all-toohuman frailty will betray him into pride. His fall is a dark measure of the height to which he had risen. We find echoed here, in Christian language, the tragedy of human greatness that so tormented the Greeks, finding its most powerful expression in the anguished choruses of the Agamemnon. Although the language of Christian piety since Augustine bad concealed those uneasy brothers-the light and dark Narcissi of the Poimandres, or the self and Self of Buddhist scripturebeneath the surface of the language they continued nonetbeless to shape our response to the dilemma of personality and spiritual ambition. The mirror as it was used by Saint Paul, Scotus Erigena, Saint Bonaventure, and others, describes the danger, but also the ecstatic cballenge concealed in the Christian vision, despite its authoritarian bias. In every case, the miracle of God's intimacy with man-the miracle of His immanence-is described as an act of self-delight. The image of the mirror enabled theologians to solve a paradox which troubled their understanding of God and His creation. How could God be present in the world of matter, even if it was only at the apex of man's soul? How could He be mingled with imperfection, though remaining flawless? How, above all, could He love what was less perfect than Himself, giving and yet somehow retaining what He gave? The image of the mirror, and the corresponding vision of God's generosity as an act of self-delight, allowed these questions to be answered. God came down into the world as into a mirror. He came down in order to possess an image of His own divinity. And He will allow man to be "saved," in order to save that fragment of His image captured in the human soul. Man is at best an invisible partner in this exchange between God and Himself.
This feeling of man's nothingness in the face of the Divinity, what Rudolph Otto has called the overpowering sense of his "creatureliness," is undoubtedly an element in all religious experience. The Christian must acknowledge his infinite dependence in the face of God's self-delight. He is exhorted to efface the movements of his will, in order to reflect more perfectly the image of his Master. For the only virtue the good Christian must traditionally seek is to become less and less himself, so that God, through this act of personal self-effacement, may delight more purely in His own reflected image. It is this complicity in God's pleasure which lies behind passages like this one, by that somber moralist, Thomas a Kempis: "The highest and most profitable learning is this: that a man have a truthful Inowledge and a full despairing of himself." Or this one, by the German mystic Meister Eckhart: "It is always you yourself that hinders yourself. . . . Therefore begin first with yourself and forsake yourself. Truly you will then flee first from yourself, whatever else you may flee."
Because God seeks Himself, man must flee bimself. Such is the moral dilemma of Christianity. Yet, as Prajapati sought to teach his disciples, the mirror can "betray" those who cultivate it. This is what B6hme clearly saw when he warned man against the mirror in bis soul which was also his greatest glory. When man looked inward, past the deforming veils of his ego, he might discover in the soul's mirror another image: not God's but his own. Indeed, in the pure heat of the mystical experience, the distinction between the two, so important to Christian morality, becomes secondary. Instead there is a powerful sense of God's nearness to the soul, a glory at the "presence" which has drawn one so completely into its Light that such distinctions need no longer be made. The distance between God and self bas become so diminished that the very words, in mystical language, are interchangeable. At the end of the Poimandres, we see the purified souls "rise up toward the Father, and give themselves up to the Powers, and having become Powers themselves, enter the godhead. This is the 'good end of those who have attained gnosis: to become God." Such is also the language of the great German mystics Eckhart, Suso, Tauler, Ruysbroeck, and others who will repeat, with Eckhares Sermon on the just Man, that "if a man is in justice, he is in God and he is God." Pursuing the logic of their experience, the mystics restore to Christianity the suppressed Self inside the ego whose virtue is to be both human and more-than-human, both man and God. The very warmth of the Christian vision, the growing experience of personality that begins to animate its doctrine following the example of Augustine himself-charges this moral dilemma with all the bewildering attraction of a loving, highly personalized God. When Dante, in the Paradise (Canto xxxiii), renews the traditional image of the mirror, his language radiates a mood of sensuous delight that was unknown to the Gnostics:
Eternal light, that in Thyself alone Dwelling, alone dost know Thyself, and smile On Thy self-love, so knowing and so known!
The sphering thus begot, perceptible In Thee like mirrored light, now to my view When I had looked on it a little wbile-
Seemed in itself, and in its own self-hue, Li=ed with our image.
This self-loving, self-delighting Cod is not only a term in the speculative logic of theologians. He is sensuous and attractive; He draws the imagination to Him, and troubles the all-toohuman emotions of the believer. The explosiveness, the tension of Christian morality can be traced, surely, to this image of a God wbo exalts those very qualities of emotion which are forbidden to man. The ever-repeated injunctions against pride, the authoritarian rigor of the Church, the terrible lesson of humility repeated century after century, point to a living presence always ready to surge into the light and claim its own: the repressed, tantalizing Self which Christianity has alternately fed and starved with an ever-renewed energy of contradiction. Given this confusion in the Christian experience of grace, one can hardly blame the Italian mystic Angela of Foligno for the cruel story she tells of her progress toward God:
In that time and by God's will, there died my mother, wbo was a great hindrance to me in following the way of God; my hus band died likewise; and in a short time there died all my chil dren. And because I bad begun to follow the aforesaid way, and prayed God to rid me of them, I had great consolation of their deaths, although I also felt some grief; wherefore, because God had shown me this grace, I imagined that my heart was in the heart of God and His Will and His Heart in my heart.
Angela is a ruthless penitent. Because "God bad shown her this grace," she will allow no earthly attachment to stand between her self and that high ground in the soul toward which she travels. She bad "great consolation," and also "some grief;" yet it is clear that the consolation far outweighed the grief. Surely there is something inhuman in Angela's passion for grace. The death-wish become reality which she evokes with such serenity of conscience recalls the extreme individualism of certain heretics, of whom we will speak in their turn. Indeed, to be fair, Angela's zeal has often been blamed by "wiser" doctors of the Church. Yet the way she has taken is the high road to Heaven, the goal she sets is the noblest that Christianity can offer. And the infantile selfishness of her experience is as deeply embedded in the spiritual vision of Christianity as is its exhortation to humility. Of all the great mystics, Eckhart* is perhaps closest to under-
Meister Eckhart: probably the greatest German speculative mystic, bom at Hochheim, near Gotha (c1260-1328). His voluminous writings helped to form the tradition of medieval German prose. He taught and preached actively in Strasbourg and later in Cologne, where he became the most popular preacher in Germany, though his mystical doctrines standing not only the danger of this egotistical backsliding, but how closely it is bound to the nature of the mystical experience itself. Like all mystics, Eckhart knew that the only way to meet with God was to dissolve the boundaries of the self. The mystic was precisely a man who had learned to reach beyond the frailty of his ego. Yet, in a famous parable of the mystic way, Eckhart begins, "A nobleman went out into a far country to obtain for himself a kingdom, and retumed." As Bohme was later to point out, the man who sets out on the journey must already be noble; for he who abandons the self must already be self-possessed; in giving up his selfhood, he must have something to lose. But then, when at last he does rise beyond the ego, it is to obtain an even greater wealth: the title to a kingdom. The seeds of his humility are endowed with a powerful grace. Eckhart quotes St. Matthew, who says, "He who forsakes anything for My sake shall receive a hundredfold as much again." The mystic abandons the self, because he knows he will receive it back a hundredfold. His humility is an adventure, and a harsh constraint, but it is also a delight; the "nobleman," after his long journey, returns loaded with "riches." Eckhart, it is true, argues that the noblest Union, at the far end of the journey, can never again be contained in the compressed circle of the self. But such stability, he adds, will be possible only "in eternity." We, who are still anchored in the flesh, are condemned to backslide from the joy and terror of Illumination, into the old self. Yet what a strangely exalted ego Eckhart proposes to us! After having journeyed to the end of the way, Eckhart writes:
I can do all things by my will. I can bear all the hardships of all men, and feed all the poor and do the work of all men, or whatever else you can imagine. If you do not lack the will, but only the power, you have really done it in the sight of God ...
were at times suspect to the Church and accused of heretical tendencies. Eckhart was the shaping influence on fourteenth-century German mysticism.
If I wanted to have as much will as all the world has then I have it, for what I want I have.
Simon's vision was not bolder than this. Eckhart unleashes the power of his imagination. He expresses the thirst for solitary greatness that will be echoed in Goethe's Faust, in Hegel's image of the history-devouring sage, in H61derlin's Empedokles, in Lautre'amont's Maldoror, in Nietzsche's character of Zarathustra. When, centuries later, the German mystic Angelus Silesius attempted to capture in verse the loving exaltation he felt during such moments of grace, he wrote:
I am rich as God. Dear friend, believe me: No particle of dust that is not His and mine. I know God cannot live a moment without me: If I should come to nothing, God shall cease to be.
The "way up" leads past this country of the emotions, where the strands of self and Self are woven into a single fabric. The final glory of the way, all seem to agree, lies beyond such pleasureful exaltation, in a coincidentum oppositorium of plenitude and emptiness, Light and Darkness, Height and Depth. Yet something in the Western sensibility is irrevocably pleased by the transvalued selfhood which.it encounters on the way. The yogi, in his mystical wisdom, was familiar with this dilemma. As he mastered, step by step, the complexities of his body, be was said to reach a degree of discipline so extreme that be acquired unequaled magic powers. Nothing on earth could resist his will. At this stage, the yogi was said to have ended his climb from the world of change into the world of eternity. He had risen above imperfect experience by mastering it entirely. But the yogi understood at this point the futility of such magical powers. The same movement of wisdom which had led him so far, now led him still further. He renounced the magic and the will, moving beyond them into the pure impersonality of Union. But we in the West have been fascinated by the magic, we bave been fascinated by the rich possibilities of character and individuality. The delight of God's mirror has tempted us to apply it to the dilemma of our earthly frailty and to the "unreasonable" humanity of our ambitions.
THE HERESY OF THE FREE SPIRIT
The Wheel of Fortune is a favorite image in medieval iconography. It is an emblem of earthly insecurity, and it corresponds to a permanent anxiety in the medieval mind: a fear of unforeseeable change, of the disasters, famines, and wars which cast a shadow of apprehension over the medieval world. The Wheel of Fortune was a reminder that the greatest success, poised at the summit of the ascending arc, would be shattered tomorrow as the wheel spun full circle. Thus the legend inscribed on one anonymous image of fortune: "I have no kingdom; I will reign, I reign, I have reigned." Success was already an omen of disaster; a good year, by the logic of inconstancy, was the harbinger of a bad one. Huizinga, in his history of the declining Middle Ages, speaks of "wars and brigandage, scarcity, misery and pestilence." This mood of insecurity, symbolized by the Wheel of Fortune, lies behind the medieval dream of a divinely inspired social order. It explains the eagerness with which the Pseudo-Dionysian vision of spheres, hierarchies, and angels was adopted in the thirteenth century. "This world," condemned to perpetual change, was the realm of unreality. Misfortune and change were the work of the devil. Anything, therefore, which violated the harmony, any initiative contrary to the spoken Authorities of order, was sinful. The whole notion of sin became highly "legalistic": a question of broken rules, while "virtue," divorced from any practical experience of "grace," became an act of conformity, a "spontaneous" agreement with the framework of the official reality. The cult of Authority, during the Middle Ages, is undoubtedly rooted in this feeling of worldly insecurity. Obedience to the traditional models absolved men from responsibility for their own fates. It is a reaction described by Mircea Eliade in The Myth of the Eternal Return: the heroic model stands at the entrance to culture, an "archetype" whose authority comes from an absolute fullness of being. In "primitive" cultures, all life is regulated on the model of this mythical hero; the society is ruled by repetition. By repeating the original gestures of the hero, man neutralized time and leapt outside of change; he returned to the harmony of the "former times," by abdicating everything that was "merely" personal.
During the Middle Ages, Boethius, Augustine, the Bible, and later Aristotle, became heroic Authorities: bulwarks against new thought and against the harsh insecurity that men continued to feel. This meant, in effect, a culture based on suppressed individuality. The Church, whose obsession with orthodoxy became exacerbated at this time, gained a repressive energy unequaled before. Its antiworldly morality taught that the body was a prison, the passions a highroad to hell. Without strict obedience to Church ritual and dogma, the spirit was doomed to follow the way of its flesh into perdition. It was a simple morality, fitted to the tendency of the medieval mind to see violent contrasts in the world: Light and Darkness, Summer and Winter, Heaven and Hell, Good and Evil, Matter and Spirit.
The ground was well prepared for the dualist heresies of the thirteenth century, for there was an implicit Manichaeism in the way people grasped their experience of the world. The thirteenth century was a time of awakening energies. The repressive medieval vision, rooted in the cult of authority, gathered momentum now, at first condemning even the new Aristotelian spirit. It was this "police force" mentality, as Burckhardt put it, that would eventually animate the Inquisition' and witch hunts of later centuries. But this strengthening of authority drew its new harshness from a more general awakening that stirred all of European [email protected] and led, in particular, to a revival of heretical movements unprecedented since the days of the early Church. For centuries, it would seem, the peoples of Europe had ceased to respond to their own experience. Instead they had been content to transcribe the wisdom surviving from a time when everything human and divine bad been decided once and for all. In those former days-the half-mythical memories of Rome-the world had been younger and therefore richer in signs for man.
By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, the rootless society of the early Middle Ages bad acquired a measure of stability; the feudal order had gathered riches and momentum; the Authorities of the religious and secular branches had ramified with renewed vigor. First, pioneers like Abelard, and then the Schools themselves, fortified by a new familiarity with the Aristotelian corpus, began to extend the scholastic method, to interrogate, and to follow their personal dialectics to conclusions that were often of doubtful orthodoxy. A whole tradition of vernacular literature, owing little or nothing to classical models, began to gain an audience, outside of the increasingly specialized circles of Latin culture.
The resurgence of heresy belongs to this atmosphere of renewed energies. These defections from the orthodox vision of the Schoolmen challenged the discrepancy between the dream and the reality; between the Pseudo-Dionysian hierarchies and the repressive world they were meant to justify. In this unstable atmosphere of resistances, defections, and mystical enthusiasm, the undermining spirit of the individual-that creature suspect above all to the medieval mind-began to exercise itself and transmit its new experience to the modern world.
Little evidence remains of the heresies which spread through Europe for more than two centuries. The Church was a thorough-going persecutor, manipulating its secular arms with skill and consummate brutality. It dismantled the heretical sects, brought them to trial, refuted their arguments in due scholastic style, and then left behind pyres of their burned books, and more pyres for the unrepentant heretics themselves, who often leapt joyfully into the flames, like the martyrs of the early Church itself. What we know of the heresies comes, most often, from copious papers of accusation compiled by the Inquisitors, whose method of question, argument, and refutation led them to give more or less honest accounts of the doctrines they accused. This is supplemented by occasional surviving documents, which more often than not verify the accuracy of the Church records. Of all the Neognostic heresies which agitated Europe during these centuries, surely the most curious is that sect of wandering spiritual anarchists, the Heretics or Brethren of the Free Spirit.
In their lives as well as in their doctrine the Brethren expressed a spirit of subversive egotism which has rarely been surpassed; its effect was to undermine completely the medieval vision of a divinely inspired uniiversal order. Not until the far more literary visionaries of the nineteenth century-Emerson, Stirner, Nietzsche, et al.- had begun to write, bave such antisocial doctrines been expressed and widely adhered to. The Brethren of the Free Spirit offered their initiates nothing less than a prospect of self-deification, accompanied by an extreme spiritual libertinism, which, for centuries, scandalized more timid believers. From the ninety-seven counts of accusation against the Brethren made by Albertas Magnus* during the late thirteenth century-one of the first traces we have of the heresy to the outraged texts of Richard Baxter, the English puritan, who accused them of every "abominable filthiness of life," the Brethren of the Free Spirit willfully shocked the religious and moral sensibilities of their contemporaries.
* Albertus Magnus was also known as Albert of Cologne (1206 -1280). He was one of the widest-read and most learned men of his time. As a member of the Dominican order, he publicly defended the Dominicans against their many detractors. He engaged in extensive preaching toward the end of his life, mostly in and around Bavaria. It was in his Inquisitorial capacity as a Dominican that he confronted the Heretics of the Free Spirit.
The movement itself is difficult to trace and has, on the whole, been neglected by historians. During the repeated waves of repression that harassed the heretics during the fourteenth century, they disguised themselves so well that it became hard to distinguish them from many other groups practicing voluntary poverty. The Church was puzzled by the spread of the movement but also by its elusiveness. Papal delegates were often warned against bringing innocent victims to the stake in their zeal to stamp out the offenders. Unlike the Cathars in Southern France,* who founded a secular power and provoked a political response from the Church, the Brethren of the Free Spirit were able to disappear in the confusion of minor orders that prevailed during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. They preserved their antinomian doctrine by infiltrating groups of wandering beggars known as Beghards and Beguines, who traveled throughout medieval Germany crying Brot durch Gott ("Bread for the love of God").
* The Cathars were a heretical Christian sect that flourished in many parts of westem Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Their stronghold was southem France where, for one hundred years, they managed to supplant the orthodox Church almost entirely. The Cathars inherited the radical dualism of the early Gnostics, probably through a chain of obscure historical influences-neognostical sects are known to have survived for one thousand years in parts of eastem Europe. The Church of the Cathars declined in the thirteenth century, after Simon de Monfort led a crusade against them (the Albigensian Crusade), buming and destroying all of their strongholds in southem France. Tle Dominicans were first formed by the Catholic Church in order to combat the influence of the Cathars, using methods of Inquisition conceived for that purpose. The Dominicans also imitated the piety and poverty for which the Cathars were known.
Their elusiveness, bowever, was not only a response to the persecuting monolith of the Church. The very nature of their doctrine led the heretics to live outside of society, for that doctrine embodied, essentially, a flight from social order and responsibility. The Brother of the Free Spirit was taught to assume, in and through bis own exalted sensuality, a lasting communion with the highest of all Authorities: God Himself. Their doctrine of an emotionally charged divine knowledge belongs to the same current of Neoplatonic thought which, from Scotus Erigena on, had inspired more orthodox mystics such as Eckbart, Ruysbroeck, and Suso.
But the antiworldly bias of the heretics led them to blur the distinctions between God and man, as the early Gnostics had also done; they preached instead a more radical form of illumination in which the divine source and its earthly receptacle became one. The heretic underwent a permanent transfiguration of his very flesh, such as no mystic, in the usual sense, had ever aspired to. Illumination is usually described as overpowering but brief. For a moment, the self is dissolved into the sea of its God. Later the mystic recalls this flash of erotic harmony, as it continues to shed its Light over his stay in the body.
In the Christian as in the Buddhist traditions, the mystic reconciles his intense solitude with a life of good works, within the framework of the Church and of the existing society. Like St. Theresa and St. Francis, he founds monasteries; like Eckhart, he preaches. He may bring new insights and fresh attitudes to his work; he may give free reign to a spirit of criticism and innovation; but he makes terms with the world and in particular with his Church, however imperfect they may be.
The heretic of the Free Spirit accepted no compromise with the world. When, after long discipline and fasting, he had achieved unity with God, he believed his illumination was anchored permanently in the flesh, elevating his entire life onto a plane of mystical transparency. The experience of mystical knowledge was entirely renewed for the Brethren of the Free Spirit. Instead of succumbing to the weight of his "creatureliness"-a sense of the infinite nothingness of self-the heretic never ceased to exalt his transfigured individuality. With God's help, the self was transformed into a durable focus of the divine light which then could be, as Christ bad been, a kind of God on earth.
In the Liber Manualis Albertus Magnus accuses the heretics of rejecting "Christ's divinity, the authority of Scripture and Church, the value of the sacraments," because they claimed to have become more divine than Christ Himself. According to their doctrine, Albertus continues, "Man must abstain from exterior things, and follow only the signs of the spirit within." By peeling away the constraint of earthly law and necessity, the soul "can become God; the soul is eternal and can, through selfexaltation, become the principle of universal life." They believed, therefore, that "it was enough to act like Christ in order to equal Him, and to outdo in saintliness all those revered by the Church."
One result of this strange doctrine was a theory of mystical libertinism, in which self-indulgence and erotic freedom become signs of godliness. According to the indictment of Albertus Magnus, the heretic claims that "we become God in all the powers of our being, down to the last elements of our body; we must give to the body everything it violently desires." It becomes an act of cosmic piety to satisfy one's needs, a mystical joy to obey the wildest caprice of the emotions. Like the Gnostics before them, the heretics invoked St. Paul's doctrine of grace: "To the pure all is pure." But they interpreted it in keeping with their system of mystical license. Adultery, blasphemy, lying, and even murder were no longer considered to be sins. On the contrary, if they were done freely, in a state of illumination, they were so many signs that God was acting inside the ego.
During the fourteenth century, after cruel repression had forced the movement underground, a certain Johann of Brunn recanted after having lived for twenty-eight years among the heretical Beghards in Cologne. He entered the Dominican order, where he was asked, as penitence, to write a complete confession of his errors. Johann had been living with his wife in the town of Brunn, when he felt called to lead "the perfect life." He took the advice of a friend and went to live in Cologne with a community of Beghards who were widely known for their piety and observance of the Christian life. Before he was accepted in the group, however, he had to sell all his belongings and take a vow of voluntary poverty. He was then given a ragged tunic and told to beg bis livelihood in the streets of Cologne, crying the watchword of the heretical Beghards, Brot durch Gott. The discipline at first was hard. He was taught to stifle every movement of the will; to spend his days in continual prayer and meditation; to engage only in acts which were distasteful to him.
But when he finally crossed the threshold of initiation, all constraint was lifted. "The free man had the right to give in to all his desires, to satisfy all his caprices: his own nature blossomed in all the works of nature. God was in him totally and corporally; all his movements were divine." Once this inner freedom was achieved, Johann continues, all humanity was thought of as a servile mass to be manipulated at will. The Brethren could steal from the weak and crippled, or "kill whoever bothered them." They lied to priests, gaining thereby a great reputation for piety. The hospices of these mendicant brothers were used for secret orgiastic ceremonies, in which God was said to descend into the very heat of the erotic excitement. The anti-worldly vision of the heretics differed from that of other medieval dualists in another important detail. Though the material world was considered to be evil, the Brethren of the Free Spirit felt that they were endowed with a mission of rehabilitation. Since their own wills were godly, they could lead worldly things back toward the light, by desiring them and using them. By indulging their desires, they not only demonstrated the presence of God in their ego, they also did a work of redemption, spreading God into the world which He had abandoned.
Johann's confession resembles the outcries that were raised in England three centuries later against the doctrines of the Ranters, who were probably the last resurgence of the medieval heresy. The Episcopalian, Edward Hyde, makes his Ranter opponent claim "that.they are very God, infinite and Almighty as the very God is . . . That the acts of adultery, drunkenness, swearing, and the like open wickedness, are in their own nature as holy and righteous as the duties of prayer and giving of thanks ... That all the women of the world are but one woman's husband in unity; so that one man may be wi,th all the women in the world for they are her husband in unity . . ." Other texts by and against the Ranters give a picture of the movement consistent with Hyde's accusations. Surprisingly enough, the Ranters were often linked with another, more respectable group, the Quakers. The two sects seem to have been rivals for the same clientele; indeed, the Quakers have been credited with outbidding the libertarians and drawing off many of their adepts. The "inner light" of the Quakers, their experience of violent possession, is not unlike the gnosis of the Free Spirit; though the Quakers, of course, rejected any hint of the antinomian conclusions drawn by the heretics.
We come now to the final audacity of the heretical vision. The Brethren of the Free Spirit did not hesitate to pursue the logic of their gnosis to its furthest extreme. Once the self had become a permanent vessel for the divine energy, it was only a step to believing that the energy originated there where it seemed to appear. Once more the self was transfigured. It had been a lens through which God expressed His light, or a receptacle harboring the divinity on earth; now it became the very light itself, the original source of all godliness. To the more exalted heretics, God Himself was an appendage to the divine will of the ego: "When God created all things, I created all things with redemption, spreading God into the world which He had abandoned. Johann's confession resembles the outcries that were raised in England three centuries later against the doctrines of the Ranters, who were probably the last resurgence of the medieval beresy. The Episcopalian, Edward Hyde, makes his Ranter opponent claim "that.they are very God, infinite and Almighty as the very God is . . . That the acts of adultery, drunkenness, swearing, and the like open wickedness, are in their own nature as holy and righteous as the duties of prayer and giving of thanks ... That all the women of the world are but one woman's husband in unity; so that one man may be wi,th all the women in the world for they are her husband in unity . . ."
Other texts by and against the Ranters give a picture of the movement consistent with Hyde's accusations. Surprisingly enough, the Ranters were often linked with another, more respectable group, the Quakers. The two sects seem to have been rivals for the same clientele; indeed, the Quakers have been credited with outbidding the libertarians and drawing off many of their adepts. The "inner light" of the Quakers, their experience of violent possession, is not unlike the gnosis of the Free Spirit; though the Quakers, of course, rejected any hint of the antinomian conclusions drawn by the heretics. We come now to the final audacity of the heretical vision. The Brethren of the Free Spirit did not hesitate to pursue the logic of their gnosis to its furthest extreme. Once the self had become a permanent vessel for the divine energy, it was only a step to believing that the energy originated there where it seemed to appear. Once more the self was transfigured. It had been a lens through which God expressed His light, or a receptacle harboring the divinity on earth; now it became the very light itself, the original source of all godliness. To the more exalted heretics, God Himself was an appendage to the divine will of the ego: "When God created all things, I created all things with Him ... I am more than God." The mystic Ruysbroeck puts the following words into the mouth of his heretical opponent:
When I dwelt in my original being and in my etemal essence, there was no God for me. What I was I wished to be, and what I wished to be I was. It is by my own free w' ill that I have emerged and become what I am . . . God can know, wish, do nothing without me. With God I have created myself and I have created all things, and it is my band that supports heaven and earth and all creatures ... Without me nothing exists.
There is undoubtedly a kind of madness in the libertarian attitudes of the Brethren. Modern psychology has given clinical names to such "delusions of grandeur" which seem to cross the line into psychosis and give rise to entirely unsocial modes of behavior. We remember that Schreber, in Freud's case history, believed that his body had become the focus of divine rays; and the crank libertarian mystic Jean Antoine Boullan, whose cult swept through eastern Europe during the nineteenth century, was found to be "a typical paranoiac, obsessed by delusions of grandeur and persecution."
The extreme unsocial behavior of the Brethren draws on energies that are normally repressed by civilized morality. It expresses a refusal of society which we associate with extreme neurosis or psychosis. Yet to call the permanent illumination of the Brethren madness is to blur several important distinctions. For one thing, the heretics organized their lives according to doctrines which were taught, either orally or by means of special documents, from generation to generation. They "learned" their mad response to the world, and shared it with other Brethren toward whom their behavior remained perfectly "normal." The utter solitude and the ego disintegration which characterize psychotics were in no way part of their experience. The English psychoanalyst, R. D. Laing, points out that a number of extreme schizoid personalities preserve their "contact" with reality by adhering to some sect, or esoteric group, whose bizarre doctrines they appropriate for themselves.
By "sharing" their system of experience they remain whole, and live their lives this side of complete isolation. Strindberg is a literary example of one who was able to make such a choice: during his entire life his strange delusions and obsessive psychological insecurity brought him close to the limits of sanity, until he found a "system" of metaphysical doctrines in the work of Swedenborg (and later the Cabalists) which allowed him to organize bis madness by expressing and communicating it. Similarly, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, living in a world whose obsession with insecurity we have already described, fortified themselves by their doctrine of mystical exaltation.
A more important distinction, however, bas to do with the attitude of medieval society toward the beretics. The failure of historians to trace definite limits to their influence is instructive here, for it emphasizes not only the elusiveness of the movement but the widespread attraction it exercised over large numbers of people. The heresy is hard to pin down because it expressed an omnipresent mood, apt to crystallize almost anywhere.
Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim, still found traces of the Brethren in Germany toward the end of the fifteenth century, a hundred years after the fanatical policing of Charles IV had sent hundreds of heretics to the stake. Trithemius was convinced that the founder and first adept of the heresy was a certain Tanchelm, a wild "messiah" who appeared near Antwerp during the twelfth century at the head of a ragged horde and claimed to be a reincarnation of Christ. The relation between Tanchelm and the sect of the Almoricians, who were brought to justice in Paris some sixty or seventy years later, remains a mystery. Yet the doctrines of the Almoricians leave no doubt as to their heretical allegiance. Again no link has been detected between the Parisian sect and the dominant form of the movement in Germany during the next two centuries. Nor can any be found between the German movement and the Ranters, in seventeenth-century England.
Apparently something in this strangely subversive doctrine was so attractive to medieval society that the heresy was able to flourish throughout a large portion of Europe, despite the greatest of difficulties. If the Brethren of the Free Spirit were mad, the madness was closely linked to the nature of medieval society and religion, for it awakened a new and vigorous response in those who needed to resist the oppressive authority of the feudal order. Here is where the distinction between "mental illness" and the self-exalted mood of the heretics becomes interesting. Distinctions of this kind have been made before.
The connection between neurosis and history was brilliantly analyzed by the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in Young Man Luther; while, as long as a century ago, the French historian Jules Michelet described the psychic and social energies released by those medieval madwomen, les sorcieres. But it is modern anthropology that has done most to broaden our understanding of the dialogue between madness and society. Claude Levi-Strauss points out that the shaman, who is a source of sacred power in certain societies, must by all Western standards be described at best as an unstable character and at worst as a psychotic delusive. Yet such a description, though true enough, entirely misses the point, he says. The shaman's folly is alive with meaning for his fellow tribesmen; it is a powerful madness, feeding its energy into precise rituals and thereby helping to preserve the spiritual health of the community. The shaman, because he is "mad," cannot live in normal society; but his madness traces a limit within which others can lead their lives, assured of that mysterious energy which the shaman has guaranteed them.
Between the shaman and the Brother of the Free Spirit there is this common genius: each enabled society to recognize a meaning in his madness; to discover its meaning and madness in his own. The idea of the exemplary neurosis or psychosishas been largely discussed in recent years. Luther's neurotic crises, and the language he found to resolve them, stirred a similar impulse in the men of bis time. His religious genius enabled him to broaden the terms of his anxiety, making his problem theirs, and his solution theirs as well. The same can be said for the Heretics of the Free Spirit. Their doctrine of permanent illumination expressed a need that was everywhere on the point of being recognized; a need that had been held in suspension in the work of men like Scotus Erigena and Amaury de B6ne, awaiting a voice that could dramatize it for the popular imagination. With Tanchelm, and so many anonymous heretics, that voice was found.
We find that we have qualified our initial verdict of psychosis and accepted a more puzzled sense of the relationship between certain kinds of behavior and the society in which they appear. It is useful to make such distinctions now, for the charge of insanity has often been brought against the men who will be considered in these pages. The "madness" of Whitman, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Baudelaire, even Pascal, has caused a great deal of ink to flow. And the diagnoses which have been made are probably correct, as far as they go. The problem is that they do not go far enough. The conversation of psychotics is, according to popular opinion, meaningless. This has not always been the case. The shaman's madness was charged with meaning for his people. During the Middle Ages, the Inquisitors did not mistake the importance of the antinomian heretics. The heretical doctrine was considered aberrant and excessive, but its meaning was not underestimated; it bad to be stamped out but also refuted. Important theologians like Albert the Great countered the heretics' arguments point by point. Even the great Duns Scotus was tempted to enter the lists against them, not to accuse them of incoherence but of grave error. It is possible, in fact, to make a different "diagnosis" of the Free Spirit, one having nothing to do with mental illness.
The heresy can also be understood as an extreme resistance to every principle of order in medieval society. Against the mediation of the Church and the scholastic obsession with dogma, the Brethren offered an emotionally charged communion with God and the Gnostic experience of divine knowledge. Against a secular community in which every soul was completely identified with its place and social function, the Brethren offered the siibversion of all social functions without exception. Against a Cosmos of interlocking hierarchies, rising in orderly fashion toward God, the Brethren offered a world of chaos in which the only traces of Light and order were found in their own wills and passions. Against the vision of man as the smallest unit-the microcosm-in a vast macrocosm which was the source of his humanity, the Brethren offered a self-generated, self-exalted individual wbo was the source of all Light in a darkened world. Between the Pseudo-Dionysian dream and the quicksand on which, for centuries, daily experience had been raised and demolished, there had opened a gap wide enough for desperation to enter, provoking new thoughts in the minds of those who had begun to doubt. A popular belief, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, held that no soul had entered Paradise since the splitting of the Churches. It is from this mood of desperation, in a world abandoned by grace, that the antiworldly, antiauthoritarian dualism of the heresies drew its strength. In the light of medieval experience, it could be argued that the heretics were far closer to the reality than were the Schoolmen with all their pomp and magnificence.
THE MIRRORS OF COURTLY LOVE
Even in Gottfried's hands, the matie're de Bretagne remained close to its pagan sources, darkened by the Northern forest and the passions of the Night which were to inspire Wagner seven hundred years later. But in twelfth-century Provence, the spirit of love moved far from the mystical violence of Tristan and Isolde. On the contrary, the Provenqal canzon expressed a world of mesura and grace. Lums, clartatz, joi are at the heart of its conventional language. The power of love-the fin'amor of which the troubadours would sing untiringly for a hundred years would have no better prelude than the harmonious praise of spring, the conventional d6but printanier, which introduces the subject matter of the poem, as in this canzon by Guillaume de Poitiers:
In the sweetness of the early year, leaves grow in the woods and the birds sing, each in its own Latin, to the rhythm of a new song. It is therefore good that each give his heart to what be most desires.
Even the pain of love, the obsessive rhythms of complaint which surround and modulate the praise, has an almost healing gentleness to it: "For it is more touching than a thorn, the pain that cures the joy of love" (jaufre' Rudel). But the love poetry of Provence contains a mystery of another sort. For one bundred years this tradition of vernacular poetry flourished, expressing a new style of life: a refined attentiveness to the grace of the emotions and to the virtues of individual merit.
The values of fin'amor, whatever precise bistorical origin one assigns to them, were perfectly at bome in the easygoing civilization of Provence. Although it is surely far too simple to describe Provencal love as a parody of orthodox ceremony and morality, it is clear that liberties were taken, resistances declared. The religious fervor apparent in the worship of the lady was highly serious and in no way a parody; yet it was a daring inversion of the religious spirit of the age, and of the idea of service, so dear to the feudal mentality. In place of marriage without pleasure, motivated as a rule by political considerations, there was the praise of adultery, as in the famous decree of Andreas Capellanus: "We say, in effect, and declare with great firmness, that love cannot develop its power between two persons united by the yoke of marriage." For love obeys the invisible law of grace, and not the law of society.
The Viclas, those legendary "lives" of the troubadours, usually end with a terse sentence describing how the poet married, settled down, and died to poetry. Service to the lord (the eternal father and husband) is thus replaced by service to the lady, usually at the lord's expense; the repressive morality of the "fathers" is replaced by a new, "feminine" concern with the grace of the senses. In the world of fin'amor, the seigneur, the source of male authority, no longer leads the dance. Instead he wanders at the edge of the scene, half concealed, a bit ridiculous, though still to be feared. In the role of gilos-the jealous husband-he will dramatize the lover's ingenuity in avoiding him. His presence will also justify the clever indirections of the love poetry: the obscurity of the trobar clus, the high value placed on secrecy and discretion, the conventional pseudonym - the Senhal - given by the poet to his lady. But the Tristan legend has given us a further insight into the role of the gilos. King Mark and the evil-sayers - the loseigniers of the Provencal convention - represent more than authority made laughable or hateful. They crystallize an inner necessity of Tristan's love: a need for distance in love, and love at a distance. The purest emotion requires the discipline of solitude, the tantalizing difficulty of obstacles to overcome. The sensual grace of the joi d'amor depends on this turmoil of desires partially frustrated, as Arnaut Daniel reminds us in the passage quoted above. The gilos is the conventional instrument of this solitude.
He is the obstacle to which the lovers must yield, when their love is burdened with too much presence. This brings us to another aspect of the Provengal tradition. We have seen that the love praised in the canzone is far from a wild display of passion and erotic impulse. Its sensuality depends closely on the decorum which the lovers must observe: on those leys d'amor which govem their love as strictly as feudal custom governed the ceremonies and the hierarchical dependencies of the nobility. Indeed, the language of fin'amor, as has often been observed, is very much that of the feudal order it tended to subvert: the laws of the Father transposed en masse into the service of love.
The inaccessible lady is compared to a lord, and her lover to a vassal; the "service" of love, with its oaths of loyalty, faithfulness, and obedience, is clearly modeled on the feudal service; while the merci accorded by the lady to her lover is the fief granted by the lord to his dependent, in return for the service rendered. The troubadour, in his poem, went so far as to address his lady as midons, my lord, rather than midonna, my lady, recalling the "master-mistress" of whom Shakespeare was to write in his sonnets four hundred years later. This exchange of master for mistress is undoubtedly a trick of language; yet it betrays a strange current of emotion flowing beneath the surface of fin'amor: a languorous feminine sensuality not unlike the emotions of homoeroticism. The Arabic poets of the ninth to eleventh centuries, who describe a love experience similar in many ways to that of the troubadours, often addressed their poems to young men. And it is not impossible that this older tradition was familiar to some, at least, of the troubadours. Fin'amor, it would seem, aspires to a sensuality which blurs the ordinary distinctions of masculine and feminine, invoking to this purpose the constraining values of the leys d'amor. This legalistic spirit, which envelops the passion of the troubadours, transforms and spiritualizes the love experience. Yet we cannot belp wondering if it does not perform another, equally important function.
Much has been written about the resurgence, in Europe, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, of permissive energies which had long threaded their way among the traditions of European culture, from the Orphic religions of Greece and Rome to the Gnostic cults of the Mother; finding an indirect language in the mystical strain of Christianity but also in the pagan traditions which continued to ferment under the cover of Christian Europe, preserved in legends, folk tales, and obscure customs. In the twelfth century, a new mood is voiced simultaneously in many parts of Europe: a need to reaffirm qualities of experience that had long been neglected. The resurgence of mysticism, the rediscovery of the old Gnostic heresies, the polite rebellion of fin'amor in Provence are cited as examples of a new breakthrough of the Great Mother into the mind of authoritarian Europe. As the patristic order weakened in the twelfth century, and the social unbalance of feudalism caused a disruptive mood to prevail on all levels of the society, desires that had been half repressed and half forgotten began to find conscious expression. In keeping with the new spirit, men used and altered the old Celtic forms, as in the case of Tristan and the tales of chivalry; they discovered a favorable ground in the forgotten dualist heresies; they used, and abused, whatever gave them a foothold in Christianity itself.
The result in the lower classes was a growing turbulence, a desire for apocalyptic disorder. It was through these "messianic pains" that the masses hoped to solve the despair of their worldly insecurity. We think, inevitably, of Dionysius and his cult of inspired revelers. But the case of the Brethren of the Free Spirit has shown us that there is a difference between the spiritual anarchy of inedieval Europe and that of the Dionysian hordes. The European dissolved the limits of his humanity only to find them agalln; he was transformed by this chaotic energy which he sought to unleash in himself, only to appropriate it and make it part of bis single human willfulness. The heretic aimed beyond anarchy, to a vast projection of self-indulgence made holy, the image of a glorious solitude in which the lineaments of his ego would be transfigured, becoming those of God Himself.
The picture that emerges of the Provencal courts is quite different. Here the only disorder is confined to the beart of the troubadour. There is no question of violence and disruptive anarchy, since the audience as well as the actors in Love were aristocratic and bourgeois. Their interests, but also their deepest sensibility, led them to resist both the violence of the chiliasts and the provoking bebavior of the antinomians. They too needed to indulge the energies of the Mother, but they limited the disorder to a sort of game called damnei: the joi or jeu d'amor.
... It is clear, then, that the twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed the breakthrough into our culture of powerful desires, once repressed, which now sought an outlet in the available forms of religion, art, and literature. The permissive profile of the Mother rose from its place in the unconscious to invade the central portions of our minds. From now on, the spirit of Europe will be divided between allegiance to the male hierarchies of the Father and a thirst for the obscure pleasures of the Mother.
The imagery of our passions will record this split: the heroic strength of the will, enthroned in a clear cold light, will be answered by a fascination with darkness and indolence. The way up into official culture will be echoed, and often challenged, by a way ,down into the erotic depths. We must be careful, however, not to systematize too quickly. This division of passions between the eternal Father and the eternal Mother, between authority and permissiveness, is useful. But if we proceed too rapidly, we lose the balf-tints of the picture, the details and shifts of color which are not mere accessories to the fact but, on the contrary, are what enable this fact to be grasped as a part of history not a dull battle of the archetypal family, but a fleshed and changing scenein which the differences are as important as the sameness. In the period which concerns us, the differences are especially meaningful.
We have already touched on the most important of these differences: the Heresy of the Free Spirit and Tristan are not only examples of permissive behavior, both the heresy and the poem are centered around an experience of solitude and self-transfiguration. The permissive energies of the Mother are present in both, but there is also a powerful strain of self-delight and erotic individualism-so much so that Ovid's figure of Narcissus seems at least as accurate a symbol for their deepest experience as the White Goddess herself. Against the patristic order of feudalism stands this strange figure of sensuality and self-indulgence: a mother who is also a lovesick boy, a master who is his own mistress, recalling the hermaphrodite, Narcissus, whose fertility transforms the world itself into a compendium of his emotions. The courtly lyric confirms this sense of a confusion between the White Goddess and the Self. ...
III Paradise Lost
There is another episode in the progress of courtly love which will alter it once again and offer new ramifications of its psychology. Drawing on the allegorical mood of Spenser's Faerie Queene, renewing the speculative freedom of the Gnostics, Milton, in Paradise Lost, invented images to embody his vision of the Christian fate. In order to justify the ways of God to man, he projected into his poetic space an understanding of man's fallen humanity which echoes curiously the insights of the courtly tradition.
The world we encounter in Paradise Lost has been flawed by the adventures of pride. God's angels have divided themselves into opposing armies, and between them, at the very edge of chaos, a new creature, man, dangles precariously. For Milton's Adam is born into a world which has already fallen. His Paradise is an island surrounded by armed legions. Its unconstrained barmony is so remarkable that angels, we are told, fly down from Heaven to admire this museum piece of the order which once prevailed. Meanwhile the world is policed with increasing subtlety. When Eden falls, harmony will be replaced by statutes; the reign of love will become a reign of power: self against self, Abel against Cain. It is a world in which order and constraint have become synonymous. Milton makes his meaning clear in a passage toward the end of Book Two in which Satan encounters Sin and Death, the allegorical guardians of Hellgate. He is about to engage in combat with Death, who has tried to bar bis way, when Sin "O father, what intends thy hand . . . against thy
cries out, only son?" Satan is amazed to discover that these hideous monsters are his own daughter and his own incestuous son. Sin reminds him bow, in the midst of the conspiracy, he had become strangely dizzy. To the general amazement, flames had leapt out of his head as it gaped open on the left side, revealing a goddess, "Likest to thee in shape and countenance bright." It was she herself, Sin:
I pleased, and with attractive graces won The most averse-thee chiefly, who full oft Thyself in me thy perfect image viewing, Becamest enamoured; and such joy thou tookest With me in secret, that my womb conceived A growing burden....
Sin's burden becomes, in turn, a son, Death, whose first impulse is to do what Satan his father had already done. He leaps on his mother, causing her to give birth to a series of monsters who rush in and out of her womb, devouring her entrails. Satan's unholy family is clearly a deformed reflection of the Divine Family. His revolt was first occasioned by news that God had created a Son; a son who, furthen-nore, is made in his Father's image, just as Sin is an "image" of Satan. Milton has hit upon a very ancient theme here. The fascination with the mirror, the grotesque figures of incest, the parallel between the upper and the lower creations, the "explanation" of evil with its root in self-love and pride: these are all favorite Gnostic themes. But for Milton the center of gravity is no longer the same. He is far more interested in Eve's frailty and Adam's dilemma than in the difficult matter of cosmology. It is clear from Milton's account that Adam is destined from the very first to fall from innocence. Even before he sins he has, in a sense, already fallen: his character, his emotions, the quality of his intelligence are only half paradisiac. What is more, he has been born into a fallen universe where any spiritual weakness will be tumed against him. From this point of view, Adam's original fall is undoubtedly his inability to remain alone with himself. In the midst of plenitude, he gently complains to God:
... In solitude What happiness? who can enjoy alone, Or, all enjoying, what contentment find?
Milton echoes, ever so faintly here, the tradition of an androgynous Paradise, a prelapsarian solitude where Adam, like God, had once lived in pure self-communion. The seventeenth century was fascinated by images of Paradise, and the myth of the androgynous Adam had been used before: by Sir Thomas Browne with his nostalgia for an Eden where man reproduced like trees; above all, by Andrew Marvell's stanzas in "The Garden":
Such was that happy Garden-state, While Man there walk'd without a Mate: After a place so pure, and sweet, What other help could yet be meet! But 'twas beyond a Mortal's share To wander solitary there: Two Paradises 'twere in one To live in Paradise alone.
Milton's Adam, however, is destined to flee himself; his loneliness is only a tarnished replica of God's solitude, of which he says, admiringly,
Thou, in thy secrecy, although alone, [are] Best with Thyself accompanied.
Unlike God, Adam requires a companion, "another self," to complete his happiness. In order to make Paradise better, Adam needs to make it worse. From here on every step will lead Adam and Eve farther from the world of harmony and nearer to the constraints of law. Eve describes to Adam her first awakening in Paradise. Upon coming to herself, she lay down on the bank of a nearby pond:
As I bent down to look, just opposite A shape within the watery gleam appeared Bending to look on me. I started back: It started back; but pleased I soon retumed: Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks Of sympathy and love ...
Eve's first encounter with error duplicates that of Narcissus, and reveals the special frailty that will make her an easy prey for Satan. Apt to be tricked by an illusion, Eve, like Satan, is inclined to admire her own image. 'nat is why they will come to understand each other so well. On this occasion, however, Adam is still watchful enough to correct his companion:
... There had I fixed Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire, Had not a voice thus wamed me: "What thou seest What there thou seest-fair creature, is thyself: With thee it came and goes; but follow me, And I will bring thee where no shadow stays Thy coming and thy soft embraces-he Whose image thou art; him thou shalt enjoy Inseparably thine; to him sbalt bear Multitudes like thyself . . ."
The passage reveals Adam as clearly as it does Eve. To wean her away from her own image, Adam offers Eve something more substantial: a living body, his own, which somehow still preserves the intimate likeness of the illusion. Eve, though only half convinced, lets herself be persuaded. She exchanges one image for the other; but her love remains the same. Eve, we discover, leams to love Adam in the same way that Narcissus learned to love his own illusory face. Adam, on the other hand, seems to be satisfied with this arrangement. He too has sought from the first, in Eve, his "best image" and "other self," and is, we suppose, delighted when God tells what is in store for him:
What next I bring sball please thee, be assured, Thy likeness, thy fit help, tby other self, Thy wish exactly to thy heart's desire.
Eve's creation allows Adam to satisfy a difficult desire: he can now be both divinely alone and bumanly accompanied. With Eve he is still with his "other self," and therefore, though human and imperfect, he can in some measure approach God who is also, we are told, "best with [himself] accompanied." Milton strengthens his meaning at this point with an adroit use of the Genesis story. In order to further convince Eve that she has more to gain with him than with her image in the pond, Adam cries out:
... Return, fair Eve; Whom Hiest thou? Whom thou fliest, of him thou art, His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart, Substantial life, to have thee by my side Henceforth, an individual solace dear; Part of my soul I seek thee, and thee claim My other half ...
Milton here gives substance to the rhetoric of courtly love. When Adam calls Eve his "other self," he is not using a figure of speech: she is indeed fashioned from his own body, sculpted from his own flesh, blood, and bone. Their love will have a continuity, unlike the poet's troubled infatuation in Shakespeare's sonnets, or the love-ordeal of Tristan and Isolde. Adam and Eve live like happy Narcissi, because each is quite literally an image of the other. Two allusions seem to be intended here which help to define the emotion of love in Milton's poems. The reference to Ovid in Eve's self-mirroring needs no elaboration. There is, however, a second reference which bas not often been noticed. When Adam tells how Eve was fashioned, like a living statue, from his own body, he is surely echoing Ovid's story of Pygmalion: the legendary sculptor who fell in love with his own statue and then persuaded the gods to transform it into a real woman. Milton was surely right in sensing the family resemblance between Narcissus and Pygmalion. Nor was he the only one to do so.
A hundred years later Rousseau was to write not only his Narcisse, but also a one-act dialogue entitled Pygmalion et Galatie, where he expresses for the first time the romantic theory of art as self-expression. Both Adam and Eve are built in part upon classical models. Of the two, Adam is the stronger and the more practical: he will not be tempted, as Eve was, by a mere illusion; instead, like Pygmalion, he asks his God for a living statue and gets one. In calling Eve, on several occasions, his "dearer half," or, as above, his "other half," he brings to mind still another classical theme: Plato's theory of the egg in the Symposium. The pbilosopher imagines a time when man and woman were yoked together into a single androgynous being which then was split in two like an egg. Since then, man and woman pursue, and love, each other because their souls are incomplete: they conserve, in their emotions, a nostalgia for their ancient unity. According to Plato's theory, love is, paradoxically, a desire for solitude: a need to cure man's all-too-human loneliness by reviving the perfect self-communion of some prelapsaridn experience before time had begun.
The moral drama of Paradise Lost turns upon a symmetry in which Adam and Eve occupy the most difficult position. The staging of the poem depends upon this symmetry, with Heaven on the one hand, Hell on the other, and between them the Earth linked upward by a golden chain and downward by a broad highway over chaos. Each of the three worlds springs from an act of creation which, at the same time, is a failure in harmony. God begets his Son, thereby upsetting the balance of order in Heaven; Satan gives birth to Sin and Death, thereby creating the infemal kingdom of Hell. Adam draws Eve from his side, thereby setting in motion the long upward toil of history. God in Heaven embodies the pure pleasure of self-communion, the essential solitude of Godhead which Adam so much admires. Satan, in turn, represents a perversion of God's autonomy: pride, symbolized by the allegorical incest with his own "image." Between these pure limits lies the middle ground: Eden, where Adam and Eve unravel the strands of their humanity and try to make a life for themselves. Their fate is the bardest because they belong, from the first, to both worlds. By their marriage they reunite, to a degree, the separate balves of the egg, transcending the frailty of their human nature. Yet their love, pure as it is, bears an occult resemblance to that of Satan's unholy family. Both Satan and Adam bring about grave changes in the universe by loving-each in his own way-a woman drawn, by an act of God, from bis own body. Knowledge of this parallel between Adam and Satan prepares us for the outcome of the battle. Man, we learn, contains side by side the upward aspiration toward God and the deflected energy of self-love which turns him back into bimself. The couple in Paradise has already slipped a goodly distance toward their fall. True, their felicity remains uppermost until the fatal episode, and Milton must be recognized as the first, and best, poet of the happy marriage. But the balance of their harmony is precarious. Once the heavenly solitude has been dissolved, Adam and Eve move in a delightful but dangerous circle around their inner flaw: the bottomless well of Narcissus concealed in each of them. Paradise offers them a symbol of their danger in the form of the forbidden tree: the constraint impressed by this one law corresponds to an unspoken self-constraint which they have not yet learned to practice; and that, precisely, is their innocence. Eve falls victim to the serpent, not because she has forgotten the interdiction, but because sbe cannot recognize and act against the flaw in her character to which it corresponds. Satan, however, will make no mistake about it. The dream be whispers into Eve's ear is troubling indeed, for it plays skilfully on that mixture of innocence, credulity, and self-infatuation which life in Paradise has fostered. Eve dreams of an angel, "shaped and winged like one of those from Heaven," who tastes a fruit from the forbidden tree and then cries out:
... 0 fruit divine, Sweet of thyself, but much more sweet thus cropped, Forbidden here, it seems, as only fit For gods, yet able to make gods of men! And why not gods of men, since good, the more Communicated, the more abundant grows, The author not impaired, but honoured more?
Satan shrewdly mingles the pleasure of self-glorification (hubris) with the desire to praise and imitate the Divine model, confusing, in Eve's mind, the part of Hell and the part of Heaven. In the dream, Eve gets a preview of her fall; she too tastes the fruit:
... Forthwith up to the clouds With bim I flew, and undemeath beheld The Earth stretched out immense ...
Good and Evil are indeed close neighbors; falling, at first glance, can strangely resemble flying. When Satan next returns be will strengthen his argument and Eve again will succumb, this time without recourse. When the serpent tells her that she and Adam, by eating the fruit, ( shall be as Gods ) ; that to die means "by putting off human, to put on Gods," the terhptation is too great. Eve, inclined already, as we have seen, to take illusion for reality, eats the fruit. The case with Adam, however, is not the same. In a sense, he is the greater sinner, for he knows perfectly what he is about when he accepts Eve's offer:
... He scrupled not to eat Against his better knowledge, not deceived, But fondly, overcome with female charm.
The usual commentary on this scene tells how Eve fell through her own weak-mindedness; but Adam, generous to the last, fell through love of Eve. We are prepared now to see this in another light. Adam, having once tasted the ennui of loneliness, prefers even death. His first failing remains with him, and now he chooses again to flee into his "other self":
. . . If death Consort with thee, death is to me as life; So forcible within my heart I feel The bond of Nature draw me to my own My own in thee, for what thou art is mine. Our state cannot be severed; we are one, One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself.
The act is done; man has traded the order of consent, the transparency of hearts, for the order of the law. Like Satan before him, Adam bas withdrawn from the harmony and fallen into the world of force, statutes, and interdictions. His unruly egotism has destroyed the world in which laws were invisible and lives mutually open. The first thing Adam and Eve will now do is to cover their bodies, hiding first from God and then from each other. Love is replaced by violation; transparency freely consented by a clumsy secret. And God's answer must now be translated into the only language egotists acknowledge: the language of constraint. In a world where each wants to be God, the only true God is the strongest. The chain of being has become an order of military precedence, founded on power.