Friday, October 20, 2023

Restoring Meaning


My overall argument thus far has been that the West is entrenched in a ‘meaning crisis’ and that the institutional Church is in an ‘authority crisis’ which has altogether moved it into what I’ve called its ‘post-authority epoch.’ Consequently, the only institution that I believe can adequately respond to the meaning crisis is in no condition to do so.

Can Hermetic Magic Rescue the Church? Part III: The Magi Return, by Sebastian Morello

My interest in this three-part series by Morello is summarized in this paragraph from his part three.  I didn’t come at it because he was writing about hermeticism.  I came at it because Western man has lost meaning, and having lost meaning, he has lost everything; I came at it because I also concluded that it could only be through the Church that meaning (and liberty) can be restored.

I’ve suggested that this double crisis also represents two sides of the same problem: the slow bewitchment of the Western mind by the spell of the Enlightenment.

We are nothing but the result of randoms atoms smashing together randomly.  A few generations of such a belief and here we are.  If it is all random, it is all meaningless. 

Having divorced God from the individual and from reason, we thought we would find liberty – the liberty to pursue our purpose, a purpose as each individual defined it.  But a self-defined purpose is man created in his own image. 

There is no liberty or meaning in this – to live in a manner other than that for which man was created.  One would not describe a lion “a lion” if it acted in ways other than how a lion was purposed to act; one would not consider that such a lion was living in liberty.

In this part three, Morello will expand on what he means by hermeticism a bit more:

Typically, Christians are uneasy at any mention of Hermeticism or esotericism. This is understandable, for such terms have come to mean anything that is not modern mainstream Christian spirituality.

Instead of defining it by what it is not, Morello offers a simple definition of what it is – at least in his framework:

What I mean by ‘Hermetic’ is a set of practices and disciplines of mind, will, and imagination, that habituate in the practitioner a vision of the world that acknowledges it as God’s Icon.

When considered this way, I find many individuals and traditions that are circling the same field – offering proposed solutions to the same problem.  For example, there is a newfound embrace of more liturgical Christian worship – in the Eastern Orthodox Church and in the Latin Mass, both signs that a strictly and singularly propositional (rational) faith does not incorporate all of man and all of God.

There are discussions by individuals ranging as far and wide as Jonathan Pageau and John Vervaeke – one an Eastern Orthodox Christian and the other a cognitive scientist – both offering a path for the search of meaning.

I have written about the idea that living in accord with the natural law ethic will move man toward restored meaning (and, by the way, liberty).  All of these discussions are after the same thing – restoring meaning to lives that are devoid of meaning.

…it is the vision we likely have to recover if we’re to break the spell that established modern man, who is a disintegrated, centaurial creature due to his acceptance of the rationalist paradigm and his retreat from grace.


Morello then expands on his view of hermeticism – it isn’t gnostic as Gnosticism is traditionally understood; however, it is after deeper meaning and understanding.  I will just get to the punch-line:

Let us come, then, to the question in this three-part essay’s title: Can Hermetic Magic Rescue the Church? I must conclude with a qualified no. Hermeticism cannot rescue the Church. The Church has a Saviour, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone can rescue the Church, and so He will, for the Church must continue until the conclusion of the world.

The rescue, through Christ, is sacramental transformation, and breaking away from the spell of the Enlightened man.   For this, Morello offers Hermes Trismegistus as a possible path. 


I am working on another path; I want to go to the source.  I have mentioned before that I have decided to spend some focused time on the Sermon on the Mount.  The Church does have a savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ gave us an extended Sermon regarding how we should live.

I remember once Paul VanderKlay, when commenting on the Sermon on the Mount, said something like “there is nothing about natural law here.”  And I commented: “Wrong, wrong, wrong.”  The starting point for deriving natural law ethics is to understand man’s purpose, his telos.  Is there a better way to understand this, is there a better teacher to explain this, than through Jesus Christ and this sermon?

It seems to me a good place to focus.  I will write more on this soon.


  1. Coincidentally I will preach on Matthew 5:17-26 the Sunday after Thanksgiving which happens to be right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.

    I have just started to study and I have found 3 connections back to natural law. Jesus mentions that He fulfills the Law and the Prophets. He mentions a person's righteousness must exceed the Pharisees. And He mentions the "kingdom of heaven" 3 times. Matthew writes the "kingdom of heaven" 31 times in his gospel. Study more deeply into any of those terms or phrases will involve developing a concept of natural law. I'm looking forward to my future study.

  2. I clicked on the link at the top and skimmed through all three of Morello's articles. Pretty heavy stuff and I confess that I don't understand much of it.

    Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that modern man and his church has lost any sense of "meaning", as traditionally understood. It may be that the only way forward to reclaim that understanding is to return to the past by abandoning the religions of Materialism and Rationalism. In doing so, we must accept that there is something of the Spirit which we have so cavalierly thrown out and which is to be recovered. In other words, the focus of Man must be turned from the physical worship of the here and now and pointed once again at the spiritual connection between God and ourselves.

    I do not argue with this. However, without more knowledge of the concept of Hermeticism, I am quite reluctant to embrace it as a cure-all, or even a cure-some. Obviously, this will require concerted thought and work.

    Beyond that, I am not prepared to comment. Instead, I will rely on Bionic Mosquito to make some sense of it which is readily understood.

    Thank you, sir!

    1. "I do not argue with this. However, without more knowledge of the concept of Hermeticism, I am quite reluctant to embrace it as a cure-all, or even a cure-some. Obviously, this will require concerted thought and work."

      And this is a powerful observation. If we look at the broadest history of metaphysics, hermeticism and occultism we have no shortage of people that wanted to know the divine in a personal way, and it's most notorious characters had a long hard fall - Crowley comes to mind: He started as a degenerate and died the same, his alleged final words were "Sometimes I hate myself." If the big tent of metaphysics were enough to redeem the human condition, then much of the human race would "rapture out" before dawn. I say this by observing the youth - they've come to indulge these things but take them to dark corners of self indulgence and egoism (which they allege, these are the things they rebel against - beware becoming what you say you aren't)

      The one thing I will say - all of these things come back to Jesus, "The Logos", under the most sincere, humbling, and studious application. Absent this acknowledgement all of the esoteric practices in the world won't help anyone - just the condemned arguing over the best way to indulge their own damnation.

      But where I would begin to study is the source of hermeticism: Alchemy - and look at it through the Christian lens and how Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury apply to Christ's redemption of Man.

  3. "I also concluded that it could only be through the Church that meaning (and liberty) can be restored."

    I saw Riley Gaines interviewed on cable news a while back. Discussing her plight as a young woman swimming against biological men, she mentioned that every leading institution in society had abandoned her--even the church.

    I blame the obsession with "tolerance." If you want meaning, you have to take a stand. That means intolerance.

    1. That is a woke temple not a church. She can find a real church if she is interested.

  4. "[The Hermetic texts] proposed a mystical/philosophical framework that seemed entirely compatible with the Christian revelation. Moreover, their practical focus on techniques of astrology, alchemy, and magic was instrumental in developing the modern scientific mindset." - New World Encyclopedia, Hermeticism

    Alchemy became science. Astrology became astronomy. Magic became the machine. The impulse to rationally figure out the inner workings of the world in order to bend it to your will is the same. Perhaps a necessary task but also very dangerous.

    Regarding all of creation as God's Icon (or Artifact), and further recognizing that we each are microcosm to the macrocosm of Creation, as a miraculous melding of spiritual and material reality, is perhaps exactly what (or at least a component of what) we need to fight the forces of this upside down world. But honestly I think this can be attained by simply looking back to the Medieval Christendom mindset (including natural law), prior to the re-emergence of Hermeticism in the Renaissance.

    But regardless only a strong and wide-ranging Church can suppress the demonic potentials of either science or magic and then only with the Providential guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    A Hermetic would see this and perhaps think, "how then do we invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit?" In other words, "how can we get Him to do as we wish to accomplish our goals?" A Christian should think, "how can I get in the good graces of the Holy Spirit, so that He might guide me, that I may be a part of His plan of bringing about justice and peace on the earth?" One is trying to use God. One is volunteering to be used by God.

    'As above, so below'. 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven'. There are parallels, but I think there is a profound difference, one that I don't fully understand. Hermeticism could have been one of the major spells that unwound the magic of the Middle Ages (the stateless polycentric order of Christendom).