Lecture IV 29th November, 1940
In the last lecture, I read you some texts, which date from the earliest days of the Christian Church, in order to give you some idea of the nature of the spirituality, which, in the course of the development of
Christianity, led to so many and various fruits.
I read you these texts in order to supplement the highly modern meditation of the Jesuit, Przywara, on the lgnatian exercises, and to show you the parallels between Przywara and the old Christian thinkers.
The example of Richard of St. Victor also showed us how similar medieval meditation and mystical visions were, and these texts gave you a further opportunity of seeing the clos e spiritual relationship which exists between them and the spiritual blossoms of the East.
The vision of the Cross, from the Acts of John, showed you a culmination of spiritual vision.
The spiritual inner or super world is strictly and inexorably divided from the outer, empirical world.
The scene of the crucifixion goes on below, as we know it from the scriptures; whereas above, in the upper, inner world, there is a totally different scene, which this vision of St. John depicts for us.
It represents a supernatural, spiritual reality of the symbol.
This vision shows us how the world was divided into three parts, a point of view which was characteristic of the age.
Below there is the Hyle (matter), above the Pneuma (spirit), and in the middle the Psyche (soul).
This division into three principles also corresponds to an anthropological or psychological division into three types of men: the pneumatiks (spiritual man), the psychikos (psychical man), and the hyliks or sarkikos (material or physical man).
This point of view is perhaps familiar to you through the writings of St. Paul.
These divergent principles became cosmic principles.
The Pneuma till then had been something almost physical, a breath of life we see this in the writings of Philo, the Jew, who lived and wrote both before and after the beginning of the Christian era; but it was now raised to a spiritual concept under the influence of Greek philosophy.
The Septuagint chose the word “Pneuma” to express the life-giving breath of God, the breath of life which is characteristic of the Old Testament. There are passages in the New Testament where the spirit is still really a wind – the miracle of Pentecost for instance – but during the first centuries of our era, the concept was raised to the heights and became the absolute opposite of the physical world.
The Hyle sank in proportion and even the Psyche gradually descended also.
This philosophy was related to mankind’s growing feeling of guilt, which naturally increased as man separated himself from nature.
I will give you some literary examples, to show you how this transition took place.
Pagan antiquity really laid the chief emphasis on the Hyle, not as matter in the Christian sense, but rather as the animated world of the senses, permeated with spirit.
This was the world that the later Christians condemned as absolutely pernicious and corrupt, ruled by devilish powers.
A psychical point of view was known to the ancients, for they granted great importance to the human soul, but this soul turned its eyes, so to speak, to the beauties and wonders of the visible, tangible world.
It was only in the centuries immediately preceding the birth of Christ, the new epoch, that these eyes began to look inwards, and the spirit gradually appeared as something different to nature, and efforts were made to influence spiritual development through exercises, so that man could participate in the spirit.
The psychical standpoint, that man is in the centre – bound to the world through his emotional and feeling contacts, and influenced by the events in his surroundings – only appeared gradually.
The psychical man of antiquity was not the centre of the world, for the centre was in the phenomenal world, the world which was animated and filled by the gods.
It was, however, realized more and more, that the psyche played no inconsiderable role, in that it was the organ by which the whole world of the senses came to consciousness.
But we naturally find a point of view which is still bound to nature, in the first Christian authors.
One does not expect this in Christians, but we must remember that the ancient point of view was still alive and surrounded the first Christians, and therefore permeated their mentality.
I will read you a passage from that time which will prove this fact to you.
It is from Minucius Felix: “Octavius”:” . . . But indeed, we do not point to the God, whom we worship, and we do not see him ! On the contrary, we believe in God just because we can feel, and not see, him. For we see his ever-present power in his works and in all the appearances of nature, in thunder, in summer and forked lightning, and when the sky is blue. Thou must not wonder that thou dost not see God:
all things are set in motion by the wind and the currents of air, they swing back and forth and eddy in circles, yet our eyes do not see the wind or the current of air. We cannot moreover behold the sun, yet it is the cause of sight for everyone; our glance is turned aside through its rays, our sight is weakened through looking towards it, and if we look too long our whole vision is destroyed. How then shouldst thou be able to b ear the creator of the sun, the source of light, when thou turnest aside from his shining flashes, and hidest thyself from his conflagrations? Thou wouldst see God with thy living eye, yet thou canst not even see nor touch thine own soul, through which thou livest and speakest. But – sayest thou – God doth not know all the acts of man, he is enthroned in heaven and cannot be aware of all and know each man.
Thou errest, 0 man, and deceivest thyself: for who is far from God, when all things in heaven and on earth, and beyond the domain of earth, are full of God? He is not only nigh unto us everywhere, but he is in us. Behold again the sun, it is in heaven and yet it is poured over all lands: in the same way it is present everywhere, unites with everything, nowhere is its brightness disturb ed. How much more is God present in the
darkness, who has created all and sees all, from whom nothing can be concealed; and he is in our thoughts (interest cogitationibus nostris) which are like unto a second darkness. We act not only under his command, in his omnipresence, but we also live – I had almost said – with him.”
“Subillo”, under his command, “cumeo”, with him: that is in innermost communion.
This text will show you clearly, that the connection with nature still played a very important role with the early Christians.
When our author contemplates the cosmos, the marvels of nature, he is in the Deity.
Nature for him is the visible and tangible body of the Divine, the epiphany of God.
In later centuries, the Christians gradually separated themselves from this living relationship to nature.
I will read you a short passage from St. Augustine in which we can observe an interesting transition:
“People go out to admire the peaks of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, the wide fall of the rivers, the immensity of the ocean, the sphere of the stars, and lose themselves (on this account); Without being surprised, that I, while I spoke of all these things, did not see them with my eyes and yet spoke only of mountains, streams, rivers, and stars (that I had seen) , and of the ocean (which I had only imagined);
I saw it in that enormous, great space of my memory as if I saw it before me; and yet as I saw, my eyes were not destroyed by seeing; also the things themselves are not in me, but only their images.”
And in a sermon Augustine said to his auditors, who still worshipped Christ as the new born or invincible sun:
“Not this sun is the Lord, but He who made the sun.”
He separates the creative God from created matter. In the previous passage he separates the psychical from the physical.
He is aware that there is an inner infinity, which stands opposed to the cosmos, to infinite nature, by means of which the cosmos can be apprehended.
That inner infinity is the enormous great space, which he calls the memory.
The world of the psyche is set up here in opposition to the physical world.
This development progressed at the same pace as the p syche approached the pneuma. Matter became de-spiritualized, and so suffered a de-valuation, which caused the psyche to move up towards the spirit.
Matter no longer acted as a magnet to counteract the attraction of the spirit.
The spirit became the opposite of matter, but, inasmuch as matter was de-valued, it was so to speak drawn into the magnetic field of the spirit, through which the latter gained a sort of concreteness,
and was hypostasized. The spirit became a substance, a world in itself, and then sucked up the psyche, just as the latter had been sucked in before by the material world.
Curiously enough it is necessary for me to tell you all this as an introduction to alchemy, for when we approach alchemy we discover something very singular.
We first learn to know alchemy through medieval texts, through the so-called Latins; and we become absolutely amazed and bewildered by the peculiar philosophical point of view which we find in these meditations or speculations, whichever we prefer to call them.
One is unable to find one’s way at all at first, one has no idea from what standpoint the author is speaking.
And, to add to the confusion, we often find at the beginning or end of the text a pure confession of faith in Christianity. The author emphasizes that he is an excellent Christian, and there is no sign that he has any idea that his work could come into conflict with the Christian mystery.
On the contrary, he claims to be bearing witness to the truth 38 of the Christian faith, or of some special dogma.
But in reality the standpoint of these natural philosophers was somewhat different to that of Christianity.
But at first one cannot see where the difference lies, or what their standpoint was.
We must go far back into the history of alchemy to understand what the alchemist meant with his speculations and philosophy.
We must go right back to the ancient feeling for nature, to the point of view where the psyche was still fascinated by the Hyle (matter), and found the Deity and the whole secret of birth and death in mysterious matter, in dead and living bodies, in nature.
It was the empirical world, which offered man in antiquity the solution of all problems and redemption.
It is from this standpoint that alchemy originates.
Fortunately there are texts which bear witness to this peculiar religious attitude, which is characteristic of the first century A. D . and continued into the second and third.
These come from pagan sources and from the near neighborhood of the alchemistic texts themselves.
They are Greek papyri, which can be roughly dated as third century, but they may be older. (It is very difficult to date such texts; supposing a book of today should be excavated in two thousand year’s time, it would not be 1000/ characteristic for 1940 but would contain material belonging to many preceding centuries.
It is the same with these old texts, they contain still older material which is almost impossible to date.)
Some old prayers have been preserved, which show the ancient feeling for nature clearly.
This feeling was not aesthetic, but definitely religious; as is obvious in these old papyri.
They were neglected by philologists for a long time, regarded as vulgar and abused in every way, for they are full of magic and superstition.
But they are very important for us, as they give a clear picture of the religion of the people who produced the first alchemists, and also contain some alchemistic recipes.
I will read you a prayer from such a magical papyrus:
Secret address: “Hail, whole structure of the spirit of air; hail, spirit, which penetrates from heaven to the earth, and from the earth, that lies in the central space of the universe, to the boundaries of the abyss; hail, Spirit, that enters into me, and seizes me, and leaves me according to the will of God in goodness; hail, beginning and end of immovable nature; hail, rotation of the elements full of unwearying service; hail, service of the sunbeam, illumination of the world; hail, changeable gleaming sphere of the moon shining by night; hail, spirits of all the daemons of the air; hail, ye, to whom greeting is brought in glorification, brethren and sisters, devout men and women! 0 great, greatest, spherical, incomprehensible image of the world ! Heavenly (spirit) which art in heaven; ethereal (spirit) which art in ether ; water-formed,
earth-formed, fire-formed, wind-formed, light-formed, darkness-formed, gleaming as a star, damp-fiery-cold spirit: I praise thee, thou God of gods, thou who hast ordered the worlds, who hast gathered the deep together on the invisible support of its firm foundation, who hast separated heaven and earth and who hast veiled heaven with golden, eternal wings but hast founded the earth on eternal supports, who hast
hung the ether high above the earth, who hast scattered the air by a self-moving wind, who hast laid the water round about, who dost lead up the flashes of lightning, who dost thunder, who dost lighten, who dost rain, who dost shake, who dost beget living beings, God of aeons, great art thou, Lord, God, ruler of the universe.”
This beautiful prayer contains ideas which we find also in the writings of St. Paul. I would draw your attention to the fact, that the whole world is understood here as the structure of the spirit of air, which penetrates everything.
That is Pneuma in the original sense, it is the all-penetrating, wind-resembling, breath resembling Pneuma, which pervades the whole prayer. It is a corpus subtile, a subtle body, and also the Hyle, finest Hyle, but substantially identical with matter.
This is no materialism, for materialism only began to exist after the beginning of the Christian era, when matter really became matter.
Originally it was a mystical conception, a spirit of the world or something of that kind.
The spirit of air, addressed in this prayer, became the devil in the earliest days of Christianity.
We read in St. Paul, for instance, of “the prince of the power of the air. ”
He is not the Pneuma here but the Archon. In another passages St. Paul says to the Christians: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the whiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”
These are the pneumatika, that is psychic or spiritual beings, regarded by St. Paul as the essence of evil, though they are in “high places”, that is, they are also in the heavenly world.
This is the spirit which was glorified in the ancient pagan world, as the sum total of the highest god.
The multitude of air demons are not devilish per se, but are nature beings.
These were condemned by Christianity, as early as St. Paul: “The prince of the power of the air that now worketh in the children of disobedience”, but this prince was not originally the spirit of evil or of sinfulness.
Yet there are some peculiar hints in this prayer, the author says of the spirit of air “that it leaves me according to the will of God in goodness”.
It is kind enough to leave me, presumably therefore if it stayed it might do me harm so it is evidently capable of evil.
This is a hint, that, even in their original form as nature beings, these demons were not always favorable, but had a somewhat ambiguous quality.
Therefore we have the wonderful description: “damp, fiery, cold spirit”. It is damp in as far as it is soul ; the soul in the ancient sense of the word, was exquisitely moist, a damp, cool breath.
It is fiery as the highest spirit in its perfect flowering; and when the soul is in its highest condition, it is hot and dry, as Heraclitus said. But this spirit is also cold, it belongs in the cool darkness as well, in the darkness of the abyss.
It is a spiritual being, which unites all opposites and encompasses the whole cosmos in its height and depth, including the moral opposites.
This is naturally a point of view which would be extremely difficult for any Christian dogmatic creed to swallow, so it was thought more prudent to throw away this spirit as scrap iron, and to declare it to be the
But the whole of the beautiful relation of man to nature in antiquity, that really valuable religious feeling for nature, was lost with this declaration.
“People go out” says St. Augustine “to admire the mountains . . . . and lose themselves (on that account].”
That is perfectly true, the man of that time was lost in the contemplation of the fascinating Hyle, and did lose himself on that account.
We must never forget, in reading such texts, the culture which surrounded the author.
It was the age of Nero, of the maddest and most foolish sensuality, the age of the complete degeneration of the pagan religions.
There was naturally nothing to be recommended or imitated in this state of things, but there were also minds (think of the author of this prayer] which had a very high conception of the underlying spirit.
Such a feeling for nature is something innate in man, absolutely natural, beautiful and good in itself.
It is not necessarily devilish or evil, it can be understood as something essentially good, and we can easily imagine that many minds hated the parting from nature, and never really renounced it.
We can see this in the Middle Ages, St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, was much nearer to nature as it was regarded in antiquity than to the papacy.
It needed the whole ingenuity of the Pope to get him within the walls of the Church.
This feeling for nature could not entirely disappear, it had to go on existing somewhere, it could not become entirely lost to human nature.
When an attitude, which is really important to the welfare of man, disappears, it never vanishes entirely but slips into the unconscious of man.
So we must reckon with the fact, that, from the time of its repression, this feeling for nature went on existing in the underworld, in the unconscious, of Christian man, and became increasingly dangerous.
This is the fascination which underlie s the whole of alchemistic speculation.
The spirit and the highest secret of the world lay for these people in the phenomena of the material world, in man, in the wonderful mysterious forms of the minerals and even in the most remote stars.
The planets were represented in the minerals, they were present in matter.
Jupiter was tin, Mercury quicksilver (quicksilver was related to the scintillating planet Mercury], the moon was silver, the sun gold. Gold was written with the sign 0 , which is also the sign of the sun;
silver was the moon ; mercury ¥ , Mercury, and so on.
This attitude of the alchemist to the wonder world of matter is a remnant of the ancient feeling for nature.
But this relationship was unconscious, consciously the alchemist was a Christian, and was therefore trying to free himself from the fascination of matter, but just because it was unconscious it was a
compulsion, a passion, which expressed itself in the fact that many alchemists believed they could transform the ignoble, corrupt, material world into pure gold.
This is how the idea of the art of making gold arose, which was regarded as the greatest nonsens eever invented by man.
In the oldest Greek alchemistic treatises, (which can be roughly dated as first century A. D,, though they show such an extraordinary development in the art that one is driven to the conclusion that it
must have existed for some time before), in Demokritos and others, there is already a peculiar mixture of chemical recipes with mystical ideas.
DEMOKRITOS is not the ancient Greek philosopher (circa 460-360 B.C.) but a pseudo Demokritos who may really have had the same name.
The title of his chief work is: “Physika kai Mystika”. (Concerning physical things and mystical (spiritual) things.)
This treatise consists mainly of alchemistic recipes, md there are a few philosophical general remarks sandwiched in; but it is difficult to understand, looking at it superficially, why it should be called “About physical things . . . . and mystical things.”
To give you a n idea of this literature I will read you a passage from this pseudo Demokritos.
“Put in a pound of purple, the weight of two farthings of scraps of iron, soaked in seven drams of urine, put it on the fire till it boils. Then, taking the decoction from the fire, put it all in a vessel. Withdrawing the purple first, p our the decoction on to the purple, and leave it to soak a day and a night. Afterwards, taking four pounds of sea lichen (orchil), p our water on it so that the water rises four fingers
above the lichen, and keep [the mixture in this state) till it thickens; filter it then, warm it and p our it on to wool prepared in advance. Press what is too loose, in such a manner that the moisture thoroughly penetrates the wool; then leave it for two nights and two days. Take it then, and dry it in the shade; pour off the liquid.”
The text continues in the same manner, and operations are undertaken which are of an impenetrable nature; one has no idea what is being described.
The ancient concepts of matter do not coincide with ours, and it would not be possible under any circumstances to follow such a recipe concretely.
Apparently Demokritos did not succeed in doing much with it either.
He had it from his teacher, the old Persian Ostanes.
When Demokritos and his friends did not achieve their object, (presumably gold making), with this recipe, they made further efforts, read old books and did everything they could think of.
Then Demokritos came on the idea of calling up the spirit of his old teacher from Hades.
After a time he succeeded in this endeavour, the ghost app eared and told him it was difficult for him to speak without the permission of the daemon, presumably the spiritual power in Hades.
He could only say: “The books are in the Temple.”
At first they could find no books in the Temple, but then to their great surprise a pillar opened and they found a precious formula, the classical passage which was valid in alchemy up till the eighteenth
century : “Nature delights in nature, nature conquers nature, and nature rules nature.”
Demokritos was delighted with his find, and says immediately afterwards, referring apparently indirectly to the main motif:
“I took this treatise with me to Egypt, in order that you might rise above your curiosity as to banal things and chaotic matter.”
This is a reference to the “mystical things”.
The whole art evidently had the purpose of raising its adepts above nature, through working on the world of nature. ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Pages 35-41.