From an essay by Stratford Caldecott - H/T Dale Nelson.
The admittedly heretical Blake, says Chesterton, ‘was on the side of historic Christianity on the fundamental question on which it confronts the East; the idea that personality is the glory of the universe and not its shame; that creation is higher than evolution, because it is more personal; that pardon is higher than Nemesis, because it is more personal; that the forgiveness of sins is essential to the communion of saints; and the resurrection of the body to the life everlasting’ (p. 209).
The truth at issue here is the Christian emphasis on personality, which derives ultimately from the mystery of the Incarnation and the revelation of God as Trinitarian love.
The Incarnation has always been hard to take: a ‘scandal’ to the Greeks - that is, to Gnostics and to the followers of other religions alike. The Christian emphasis on a particular man of flesh and blood, his gruesome death and empty tomb - unless interpreted as a purely symbolic narrative - strikes them as absurd or even unwholesome.
Yet it is this emphasis on the physical Incarnation that is the foundation of all Christian mysticism. I am convinced that the non-Christian Traditionalists, even despite their sensitivity to the different ‘languages’ of grace, do not take this all-important fact sufficiently seriously.
The precise Christian claim is easy to state, but difficult to grasp: that Jesus, who was the long-awaited Messiah, was a human being, a man, but also God: a divine Person, the Second Person of the Trinity. In him, the Creator of the cosmos became (and will eternally remain) a man of flesh and blood like us.
The paradox is scandalous because it means that Jesus is more than any Jewish prophet; more than (to use the Indian term) an ‘Avatar’ or Manifestation of God. The Supreme Reality has not merely revealed itself on earth as though in a mirror, but has stepped, like Alice through the Looking Glass, inside the very world of the mirror.
This simple fact changes our destiny. Our highest aspiration is no longer to be liberated from the body in order to merge our particular spirit with the universal Spirit. There is now a higher destiny than nirvana: it is ‘salvation’, the Beatific Vision, the marriage of heaven and earth.
When the Church Fathers wrote that ‘God became man so that man might become God’, they did not mean that we will one day awaken to the fact that we were God all along. They meant that we are not God, but may become so: God by grace not by nature.
Once divinized through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the divine nature in which we share remains undivided, and yet we remain eternally distinct from every other person, whether human or divine. Losing ourselves in the contemplation of the Beloved, we receive an eternal identity in the Communion of Saints.
Notice in particular how, if the cosmic relationship of Self and Other, of Subject and Object, is to be transcended, as Asian religions and the New Age believe, ‘eternal life’ must consist of extinction - the extinction of a raindrop in the ocean.
This is a unity of absorption: the Lover is absorbed into the Beloved.
But at that point love itself comes to an end: loves turns out to have been merely a longing for unity with God, which is now satisfied. There is no Lover any more: only the Beloved, who contains everything that was of any value in the Lover.
But while a Christian may agree that duality - the separation of Self and Other - is not the end of the story, he knows a happier ending than the one proposed by Asia. The Incarnation has revealed a distinction within the Godhead between Father, Son and Spirit. The message is that Lover and Beloved can ‘live happily ever after’.
Love does not merge with the Self into the Other, but preserves them in relationship. In place of the unity of absorption, Christianity places a mystery of unity without confusion, and proclaims that love need never come to an end (1 Cor.13:8).
Our relationships are the most important things about us; love is the way, the only way, to enter into eternal life.
Christian mysticism differs as much from Buddhism, or Hinduism, or similar religions as a space rocket differs from a submarine.
Between both a rocket and a sub there are superficial similarities - they are both metal tubes, both have engines and cockpits filled with dials.
But the one aims to escape earth while the other aims to descends to the depths of the ocean.
It is the aim which utterly distinguishes Christian mysticism from all other mysticisms.