In his book, “Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe”, George Santayana envisioned a future day when the ancient, medieval and modern wisdom traditions of Lucretius the Naturalistic poet, Dante the Spiritual poet, and Goethe the Romantic poet might be reconciled and integrated into an encompassing vision of reality. In his book, “The Cosmotheandric Experience,” Raimon Panikkar attempts to do just that, to reconcile and integrate the cosmological, anthropological, and theological dimensions that constitute the encompassing reality. It is, of course, the theological dimension that will be most problematic for modern secular people for whom any traditional theistic conception of “theos” has become archaic and incredible.
In “The Experience of God,” Panikkar understands and anticipates this problem by defining the word “God” as a symbol, not a concept. For Panikkar, “God” is a symbol “to designate the ultimate, the infinite, the mysterious, the unknown, the unseizable.” Karl Jasper sets forth a similar notion with his idea of “The Comprehensive.” Of course this concept of God as “Ultimate Mystery” will not be acceptable to those who conceive of “God” in traditional theistic terms as a transcendent, sovereign, benevolent Divine Person (or a Communion of Persons) who possess conscious, creative and purposeful agency.
In the unfolding history of the world’s religions, it may be helpful to speak of four cultural primary forms that that the “divine milieu” has taken to express itself. These are the forms identified with the figures of the Shaman, Sage, Prophet and Mystic. The Shaman engages in a vision quest and brings back gifts of healing and insight to his people. The Sage seeks to perceive the underlying principles of life that constitute the way of harmony and balance. The Prophet seeks to speak truth to power, to challenge cruelty, oppression, tyranny and injustice, and to envision the future consummation of all things in a realm of peace and freedom, harmony and joy. The Mystic seeks to envision the unity and oneness of all things.
It is, of course, possible to pit these four spiritual wisdom traditions against each other, to create a culture war between them, as has been all to common in the history of man’s various quests to capture the Ultimate Mystery of the nets of his own language, stories, concepts and traditions. But it is also possible to see these attempts to name the ineffable as complementary symbol systems that can learn from each other, realizing that none of them and even all of them together can capture the Infinite Horizon in the nets of finite human comprehension. That seems to be the point of Panakkar’s vision of the emerging global religious consciousness.
In my next blog I’ll have some things to say about the Natural and Human Dimensions, and about how we might envision an interdependent and symbiotic relationship between the Natural, Human and Transcendent dimensions of the Encompassing Mystery of Reality.