Thursday, November 9, 2017

Apologia Spiritualis - An Autobiographical Sketch, by A. J. Arberry

Last night, whilst engaged in my continuing research for an upcoming post on early Mormon origins, I happened upon an autobiographical sketch, from the above pictured book, by one of the most gifted Islamic scholars of the 20th century—A. J. Arberry. The following selection caught my eye, and impressed upon me the notion that I should bring it to the attention of others:

“What is Truth?” asked jesting Pilate of the Man whom he would presently give on a like Cross, the Man who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” I have said earlier that as a young man, having abandoned formal worship, I resolved to become an academic scholar, abstract truth being the only altar before which I would kneel. In those days I supposed truth to be a thing intellectually attainable, a quest for reason, far removed from the emotions. But the mystical affinity of truth with light was evidently already apprehended by Sir William Jones, that greatest of British orientalists who died in 1794 and whose example has always been my chief inspiration. Jones

     Before thy mystic altar, heavenly Truth,
     I kneel in manhood, as I knelt in youth.
     There let me kneel, till this dull form decay,
     And life’s last shade be brightened by thy day;
     Then shall my soul, now lost in clouds below,
     Without consuming glow.

Truth, then, is Light—a light that shines into the heart. And what is light? The answer seems to be given in that sublime verse of the Koran:

     God is the light of the heavens and the earth;
     the likeness of His Light is as a niche
     wherein is a lamp
     (the lamp in a glass,
     the glass as it were a glittering star)
     kindled by a Blessed Tree,
     an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West
     whose oil well-nigh would shine, even if no fire touched it.
     Light upon Light,
     God guides to His Light whom He will.

Once this light has shone into the heart, no darkness can ever overcome it. I believe that light to be a reality, because I have myself experienced it. I believe it also to be the Truth, and I think it not inappropriate to call it God. I am an academic scholar, but I have come to realize that pure reason is unqualified to penetrate the mystery of God’s light, and may, indeed, if too fondly indulged, interpose an impenetrable veil between the heart and God. The world in which we live is certainly full of shadows. I have had my full share of personal sorrows and anxieties, and I am as acutely aware as the next man of the appalling dangers threatening mankind. But because I have experienced the Divine Light, I need not wish for any higher grace.

I have now for some years resumed my Christian worship, in which I find great comfort, being no longer troubled by the intellectual doubts generated by too great a concern for dogma. I know that Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Parsi—all sorts and conditions of men—have been, are and will always be irradiated by that Light “kindled by a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West”—the universal tree of the Truth and Goodness of God. For God, being the One Universal, has an infinite solicitude and love of each particular, and suffers His Light to shine into every human heart open to receive it. (Apologia Spiritualis - An Autobiographical Sketch, by A. J. Arberry, in Mystical Poems of Rumi, pp. 25, 26.)

Back to my research...

Grace and peace,



Rory said...

Hi Dave.

"...pure reason is unqualified to penetrate the mystery of God's light..."

I am not sure if that was Arberry or Rumi, but it doesn't matter. I concur. I am prompted to add a word about the relationship between love and knowledge as explained by St. Francis deSales. I sense that neither our mystical poet nor his biographer would deny that some knowledge is absolutely necessary:

"Knowledge, Theotimus, is required for the production of love, for we can never love what we do not know..."

While our knowledge can go only so far as what has been revealed, holy love for God can outstrip knowledge:

" happens often, that knowledge having produced holy love, love does not stay within the limits of the knowledge which is in the understanding, but goes forward and far beyond it, so that in this life we are able to have more love than knowledge of God: whence the great S. Thomas [Aquinas] assures us that oftentimes the most simple women abound in devotion, and are ordinarily more capable of heavenly love [mysticism] than clever and learned men."

The doctor of the love of God then goes on to make an analogy regarding the opposite of of knowledge of good. When we have knowledge of an injury works after the same manner, except to the destruction of the soul, which is why we are to place limits on anger, "not letting the sun go down upon our wrath":

"...the knowledge of good gives birth, but not measure to love; as we see the knowledge of an injury starts anger, which if not suppressed, almost always becomes greater than the subject deserves. The passions do not follow the knowledge which moves them, but very often, leaving this quite in the rear, they make towards their object without any measure or limit."

Of course we cannot admit that our limited knowledge of God can give birth to a love which is greater than God deserves. With regard to this tendency we have to let our passions exceed our knowledge, St. Francis reflects on how we may not be concerned about loving God too much:

"Now this [the tendency of the passions to exceed knowledge] happens still more strongly in holy love, inasmuch as our will is not applied to it by a natural knowledge, but by the light of faith, which assuring us of the infinite goodness that is in God, gives us sufficient cause to love him with all our force."

---St. Francis deSales, Treatise on the Love of God, Book 6, Ch. 4, p. 241 and 242, TAN Books and Publishers, (1997)

I think there is passage of Catholic scripture that is not as well known as it deserves to be regarding what has been revealed for our knowledge, and why we have sufficent cause to "love him with all our force:

"We shall say much, and yet shall want words, but the sum of our words is, He is all. What shall we be able to do to glorify him? for the Almighty is above all his works...Glorify the Lord as much as ever you can, for he will yet bfar exceed, and his magnificence is wonderful. Blessing the Lord, exalt him as much as you can: for he is above all praise. When you exalt him put forth all your strength, and be not weary: for you can never go far enough.

Ecclus. 43:29-34 (also known as Sirach)

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Thanks much for the quote from St. Francis de Sales. Since my first reading of his The Catholic Controversy, I have had great respect for this saintly man. He was certainly intellectually gifted, but unlike so many with that gift, he was also a deeply spiritual man.

A few weeks ago, you and I discussed the continuation of miracles as one of the signs of God's true Church; your post brought back to mind the following from de Sales:

>>THE Church then has milk and honey under her tongue and in her heart, which is interior sanctity, and which we cannot see: she is richly dight with a fair robe, beautifully bordered with varieties, which are her exterior sanctities, which can be seen. But because the sects and heresies disguise their clothing, and by false stuffs make them look like hers, she has, besides that, perfumes and odours which are her own, and these are certain signs and shinings of her sanctity, which are so peculiarly hers, that no other society can boast of having them, particularly in our age.

For, first, she shines in miracles, which are a most sweet odour and perfume, and are express signs of the presence of the immortal God with her, as S. Augustine styles them. And, indeed, when Our Lord quitted this world he promised that the Church should be filled with miracles: These signs, he said, shall follow them that believe: in my. name they shall east out devils, hgy shall speak with new tongues they shall take up serpents, poison shall not hurt them, and by the imposition of hands they shall heal the sick. (Mark ult.).

Consider, I pray you, these words closely. (1) He does not say that the Apostles only would work these miracles, but simply, those who believe: (2) he does not say that every believer in particular would work miracles, but that those who believe will be followed by these signs: (3) he does not say it was only for them—ten or twenty years—but simply that miracles will follow them that believe. Our Lord, then, speaks to the Apostles only, but not for the Apostles only; he speaks of the faithful; of the body and general congregation of the Church; he speaks absolutely, without limitation of time; let us take his holy words in the extent which Our Lord has given them. The believers are in the Church, the believers are followed by miracles, therefore in the Church there are miracles: there are believers in all times, the believers are followed by miracles, therefore in all times there are miracles.>> (The Catholic Controversy, pp. 177, 178.)

Grace and peace,