Monday, September 25, 2023

Playing by the Enemy’s Rules


As Christians have accepted that they must treat the Church’s authoritative offices with evermore suspicion, they’ve asked themselves—tacitly or otherwise—what it means to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” in an institution that is largely repudiating His mission (Apocalypse 14:4).

Can Hermetic Magic Rescue the Church? Part II: Behold, The Kingdom of God is Within You, by Sebastian Morello

My review of Part I is here.  In his Part I, Morello laid blame on the failings of the Church that have contributed to the mess in which we find ourselves today – lack of meaning, lack of worship. Lack of valuing life.

What is this “Hermetic Magic”?  It is a combination of the Corpus Hermeticum of Hermes Trismegistus—the central mystery text of esoteric transformation with the traditions of Platonism and Neoplatonism, resulting in “a metaphysical language expressive of the vertical vision of the cosmos common to all religious traditions.”

It is just this that I have explored in, for a layman, significant depth.  It has struck me that the answer both to moving toward liberty and toward recovering from the meaning crisis are to be found here (although I have never previously done any work regarding the Corpus Hermeticum that I recall).

Morello focusses on Aquinas as the one individual in the West who brought all of this together best.  Yes, we are individuals, but we are also tied together by our participation in species with other human beings.  We share an essence with other human beings.  This is so because we participate in a logical likeness in the divine mind.

Put simply: I exist because God thinks of me. But I also exist because God, having created an essence of me from the exemplar idea of me in His mind, has held that created essence together with an ‘act of existence’ in a single substance (that I call myself). In sum: I exist because God thinks of me and wills that I exist.

Which comes to the idea that the world is not only created by the Word, but it is held together and continues to exist due to the Word.

…according to Aquinas were God to stop thinking of the universe for one instant, the whole thing would vanish. Thus, the relation of creation to the Creator is perhaps more like the relation of song to singer.

I have heard this idea quite a bit from Eastern Christian sources, even today.  I don’t recall ever hearing of it from Western sources at any time in recent history.  There is a reason for this:

The Neoplatonic ontology of Aquinas was generally neglected by the Catholic seminary manualists of the last few centuries, bewitched as so many were with the assumptions of rationalism.

It isn’t that Thomas was completely ignored:

For natural theology, they preferred to focus on the famous Five Ways, to which Aquinas devoted one article of the Summa Theologica, and largely ignored the deeper ontology that undergirded the other 2,668 articles of that work.

His “rational,” “logical” proofs, but not anything deeper.  And this is why, in Morello’s view, the Church is failing – not even merely stuck, as the failures grow deeper through time.  The Church (and he is writing of the Catholic Church, but it is true much more broadly) is unable to respond – both to its own crisis of authority and to the loss of meaning in the West.

Morello then goes on to describe the many ways we (Christians) waste time on irrelevant arguments and false divisions.  It strikes me as the same issue plaguing society overall: while our “betters” take over more and more control, we allow ourselves to focus on each other as the enemy instead of on the “betters.”

We waste time on “useless disputes,” to pick up Fabro’s words, rather than breaking out of the paradigm that has entrenched us in this double crisis in the first place.

Instead, the entire fight is really about this metaphysical insight, lost since the Renaissance and buried with the Enlightenment.  From Valentin Tomberg:

The Hermetic-philosophical sense (or initiate sense) is that of concrete spiritual realities. The Hermeticist explains facts not by laws obtained by abstraction nor, much less still, by principles obtained by active abstraction, but rather by proceeding from abstract facts to more concrete beings in order to arrive at that which is the most concrete, that alone in existence which is absolute concrete, i.e., God. Because for the initiate sense God is that which is most real, and therefore most concrete. In fact, amongst all that exists, God is that alone which is absolutely real and concrete, whilst created beings are only relatively real and concrete; and what we designate as ‘concrete fact’ is in reality only an abstraction from divine reality.

I know he came at it a different way, but is this why Rothbard saw the need for natural law as the foundation for liberty, and not the non-aggression principle (NAP) – because the abstract NAP wasn’t able to carry the load?  From Rothbard:

What I have been trying to say is that Mises's utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic—an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual—grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man's nature. Failure to recognize this is the greatest flaw in Mises's philosophical worldview.

Returning to Morello:

Enlightenment Rationalism reduced reason to the possession of abstract principles that were judged to be more real than the chaotic concrete realities from which such principles became progressively unanchored.

An abstract principle like the non-aggression principle or the will of the people or a social contract.

Of course, such a truncated conception of reason couldn’t account for a vast range of human experience. 

The earliest years of this blog were used to explore where and when the NAP could, and more importantly, could not be a useful adjudicator.  It often couldn’t, and it certainly couldn’t objectively define many of the necessities required to make it a functional principle. 

By the time this process of dismantling the once integrated Western mind was complete, it was held that if God did exist, he was probably a neurochemical in the prefrontal cortex.

And the fundamental issue is that the Church accepted this method and these presuppositions.  Morello calls for a re-enchantment of the cosmos as the necessary antidote.  But not by superimposing meaning on it.  Instead, it must…

…recover the vision of the cosmos as God’s Icon by which God conveys Himself here and now.  In short, I suggest, the venture of slowly salvaging our crumbling civilisation will start with the death of the Enlightened man and the rebirth of the Hermetic man.

But this Hermetic man must be united to the Gospel, else it will result in just another “New Ageism,” only deepening the crisis.  In other words, a deepening bastardized Christianity.  From Stratford Caldecott:

[This New Ageism] seeks to submit to an authority, but will no longer look in the one place where genuine authority is to be found. It seeks love, but it cannot bring itself to make a commitment. It seeks to respect and venerate nature, but at the same time it wants to escape the constraints of nature. It wants to become immortal, but at the same time to evolve into something different from itself. It wants to know everything, but not by becoming humble enough to learn. It wants to be free, but not by having to make a decision.

We want all of the blessings, but none of the accountability.  We want all of the liberty, but none of the responsibility.  We want all of the love, but none of the discipline.  We want all of the mercy, and no real justice.  We want it all, but we don’t want truth.

Each of these aspirations represents a deep and sincere pursuit of the truth, accompanied by an error that can only find its corrective in the Christian life.

I don’t know how sincere, but I understand the point.  In any case, preach the Gospel, and the Church will once again gain its authority.  The tradition of the Church: honor your father and mother.  Instead, the Western Church has killed its father and mother.  Morello see that the Eastern Church has, at least, held on to much of this tradition.  Not the West:

Latin Christians have long emphasised ‘assent,’ and hence the possession of ideas, over existential transformation through right worship (an emphasis that has only swelled due to the unexamined acceptance of the rationalist paradigm).

And in most Protestant traditions, this idea of assent has been emphasized even more.  Propositional knowledge has the premier place, while minimizing or ignoring participatory, procedural, and perspectival knowledge. 

But the Church today is persecuting those who are desiring to honor their father and mother of tradition:

And those Catholics who have retained the organic conception of the Church, as the institution that gifts to the baptised the virtues of right relationality with God—a conception of the Christian as a liturgical creature—are now being actively persecuted by the incumbents of the Church’s highest offices.

These Catholics are seen as enemies of the Church, as the Church has replaced Christ on His throne with the project of Enlightened man.


Of course, as regular readers know, I do not see this as only a Catholic Church problem.  In different ways, many Christian traditions and denominations have failed us, succumbing to playing the game only via the rules of the enemy.

It is necessary that the spell of modernity be broken that the scales may fall, and this Kingdom be seen with the eyes of the spirit. …But can the Hermetic way really be reconciled to the Church, or will it always be in tension with orthodoxy?

Stay tuned for Part III.


  1. Are you still reading the book about Luther and his agreement with some of the Scholastics.

    1. Yes. Time and life get in the way. In any case, it is a huge book, and likely will take a few years to get through. But I will come back to it shortly.

    2. Good to hear. I hear multiple people (ex. Pete Q) saying that Luther and the Reformation rejected everything about Aquinas or Medieval Christianity. I think the book you are reading is key to understanding the past and calling people out to the future.

    3. No problem and no hurry. I just think that is a very important book. I am listening to Catholics and ex-libertarians saying that the Reformation caused transgenderism. Their assumptions are addressed by what you have written so far.

    4. Anon,

      As a libertarian Catholic, let me explain my position as succinctly as possible on the Reformation.

      The Roman Catholic Church was not perfect (no human institution will ever be). The Reformers may have had some good objections to Church practices at the time, and good (God-fearing) intentions in their actions.

      But there is no escaping the fact that the Reformation led to the splintering of Christendom and the rise of the secular state - that is the state as supreme monopolistic authority over the lives of all those, including bishops and priests and all church leadership, who reside within its territory of jurisdiction. Without a unified social and religious authority, the political authority became ascendant. Every Church became subject to temporal power. The days of a Bishop of Milan bringing an emperor to his knees in contrition were over.

      With worldly authority no longer bound to God's law (however imperfectly in the centuries prior), it was free to become a legislator or creator of law. The idea of the state as fountainhead of law, rather than the protector and preserver of natural and traditional law, was born, and yes, this did lead by a very circuitous route to politically protected degeneracy (as more and more new laws came spewing forth, continually degrading culture through the generations), including transgenderism in schools, athletic events, bathrooms, and other public places.

      This process, it is true, was already happening prior to the Reformation, as Lord Acton notes in his great lecture, "The History of Freedom in Christianity," but the splintering of the Church no doubt accelerated this process.

    5. ATL, Anon was me. My only response is that church diversity is not a bad thing and in fact is how the church started in the 1st century. The top down organization of the Middle Ages wasn't the original blue print and centralization has not served it well in my opinion.

      In one since if less nations were Catholic then the Church should have been able to hold more power over them. But the Catholic church couldn't retain its power over Spain, France, or Italy any more than the Protestant States.

      Bionic has also shown that the even more centralized Orthodox churches couldn't limit the power of the Christian kings of the East. I simply don't think history shows Protestants caused the growth in governmental power.

    6. RMB, I realized it was you after I posted. But thank you for clarifying.

      The original blueprint of Christianity from Christ Himself was one Church ("upon this rock I will build my church"), even if the early Church manifested in a loosely connected underground community seeking to survive under intense political persecution, yet still generally united in the faith as one.

      As the Church matured in the centuries that followed, it was generally regarded that Rome was at least the primus inter pares or first among equals among the bishoprics and then Patriarchates of the faith.

      I think in our current situation, a diversity of the Christian faithful is unavoidable and some sort of confederacy is necessary to band together to overcome the myriad worldly and satanic forces aligned against it, but I don't think a diversity of the faith is what Christ intended. And I hope for a return of a united Christendom.

  2. This is an interesting line of thought. I have not yet read Morello's 3 part series, but I will.

    I have a strong hesitation in getting behind a restoration of Hermeticism or any other of the esoteric magic traditions, because I think there is a strong link between magic and the machine as being paths away from God and towards selfishness, degeneracy, and the pursuit of power for its own sake.

    Tolkien observed something like this in one of his letters, though I am struggling to reproduce it. I did find this essay by Dwight Longenecker on the subject (discussing both Tolkien and Lewis' thoughts on magic):

    "Magic is always a prideful attempt to distort or dominate nature for the magician’s own uses...Miracles, Lewis asserts, never distort or destroy nature. Instead, they lead to a restoration, healing, or completion of the natural order. So, a healing miracle corrects what went wrong or what had become diseased. Our Lord’s nature miracles bring abundance and peace: A storm is calmed or bread and fish are multiplied." - Longenecker

    The distinction in mindsets between the Christian and the Hermeticist seems to be that the former prays for miracles supplied by God to restore what is right and just and the latter strives for magic at his fingertips to satisfy carnal desires and to gain power. I don't see how the two paths can be reconciled. But maybe we are talking about two different things.

    Perhaps there is good magic, like Tolkien's elven magic, which as the article I linked to suggests, is an artform or subcreation which honors the Creator that is opposed to bad magic, the magic of Sauron which only seeks power, subversion, and domination in spite of the Creator.

    I am certainly in favor of a re-enchantment of the cosmos.

    "Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
    of things nor found within record time.
    It is not they that have forgot the Night,
    or bid us flee to organised delight,
    in lotus-isles of economic bliss
    forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
    (and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
    bogus seduction of the twice-seduced)." - Tolkien, Mythopoeia

  3. Since I'm convinced that 'examining ourselves.....' is a continuing process, this post from last Sunday might fit right in here - - kinda long for most folks, but DaBionic crew seem to be readers!