Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory

According to the invaluable Online Etymology Dictionary, the English word “map” is derived from:

… Medieval Latin mappa mundi “map of the world;” first element from Latin mappa “napkin, cloth” (on which maps were drawn), “tablecloth, signal-cloth, flag,” said by Quintilian to be of Punic [i.e., Tyrian] origin (compare Talmudic Hebrew mappa, contraction of Mishnaic menaphah “a fluttering banner, streaming cloth”) + Latin mundi “of the world,” from mundus “universe, world” (see mundane).

Now this is interesting, because while the Old Testament refers to the firmament of the cosmos with the word raqiaà, meaning literally “extent” – apparently a merely abstract geometrical idea – it is described variously in scripture as like a crystalline tent or canopy (Isaiah 40:22, Ezekiel 1:22), or a scroll (Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:14). I.e., an expanse of fabric such as are used as a substrate for maps.

The Hebrews might indeed have thought of the raqiaà as a purely abstract geometrical notion, but it seems unlikely. After all, geometry began as the quite concrete science of measurement of the Earth. By an extension implicit in its methods – the fixed stars are useful to the navigator and cartographer – and indeed irresistible, the cosmos having revealed itself to be an integral and throughly rational whole, the measurement of the Earth involved inevitably also the celestial spheres mensurable thereto. “On Earth as it is in Heaven.” It was not then the first object of geometry that was abstract, but its mensurations. An actual tent is after all a concrete instance of an abstract extent; the abstraction was from tent to extent, as is plain from the relation of the two terms.

In his allegory on Genesis, Augustine suggested that the scroll of the firmament is the scripture – the writing, literally – of the Logos, or in the Aramaic the Memra,[1] or in English the Word. As the Word is written in the fabric or pellis (cf. “pelt”) of the Book (of Life, and of the Bible), so is it inscribed in the matrix of creatura; the corporeal world is as it were the pelt of her own animating Spirit. When Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, God made them leather garments to wear (Genesis 3:21). These were their mortal flesh, their Bodies of Death.

Now who but thee, our God, didst make for us that firmament of the authority of thy divine Scripture to be over us? For “the heaven shall be folded up like a scroll;” but now it is stretched over us like a skin. Thy divine Scripture is of more sublime authority now that those mortal men through whom thou didst dispense it to us have departed this life. And thou knowest, O Lord, thou knowest how thou didst clothe men with skins when they became mortal because of sin. In something of the same way, thou hast stretched out the firmament of thy Book as a skin — that is to say, thou hast spread thy harmonious words over us through the ministry of mortal men. For by their very death that solid firmament of authority in thy sayings, spoken forth by them, stretches high over all that now drift under it; whereas while they lived on earth their authority was not so widely extended. Then thou hadst not yet spread out the heaven like a skin; thou hadst not yet spread abroad everywhere the fame of their death.

– Confessions 13:15:16

When the Merkavah mystics of the Temple ascended to the courts of Heaven, they were divested of their own garments – their mortal bodies – and arrayed in the shining white raiment of the saints and angels – Resurrection Bodies.[2] This could happen in an ecstatic vision, or in the actual liturgy of the Temple, which involved bodily travel to Heaven.

The Hebrews took the Sanctuary of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, to be the earthly embassy of Heaven, literally a piece of heavenly real estate (in just the way that the US Embassy in Paris is literal American soil, and French laws have there no sway, but only the US Code). The Sanctuary was the local instance of the throne room of Heaven.

The veil of the Temple, then, was a portion of the firmament: a membrane that set the bound between Earth and Heaven. When the High Priest passed through the veil into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he returned wearing a bit of it: like the veil, his robe was woven of threads dyed in the colors of the four elements, so that like the veil it represented the whole created order. As the veil clothes, adorns and covers the Sanctuary, so creatura is Heaven’s vestment, is the skin of Heaven, and so of Heaven’s Principal and King, its Soul and Form, the Logos.

The robe of the High Priest was the creaturely vesture of his Lord’s local instantiation, his angel, ambassador, and vicar. As an ambassador speaks with the very voice of his prince, and has legal power to bind his governor to contracts with other terrestrial sovereigns, so the Angel of the Lord – called here Michael, there Melchizedek – in human vesture speaks with his very voice, and has authority to bind and loose his heavenly Prince to covenants with any earthly creature. The veil and the robe were participations of the firmament, and representations – maps – of the cosmos. The firmament, too, then, was just such a garment and representation. As the Lord wore the firmament, so his vicar and the throne room of his palace on Earth wore the veil.

Back then to maps. Maps are images of the territory they represent, and in which they live, move, and have their being.

Likewise, the creation donned by the Logos – in the Incarnation, and in the more general motion of Creation, of which that Incarnation is the culmination and completion – is his image. It is a reflection of his Logic. Plato called it the “moving image of eternity” (Timaeus 37:d). So Job calls the firmament a “molten looking glass” (Job 34:18). Perhaps we may think of the world as a projection of the Empyrean realm, and the firmament as the crystal screen of its appearance; as receiving the projection, the firmament is the counterpart of Plato’s Receptacle. From our side it appears dark (1 Corinthians 13:12), but from the other it is bathed in uncreate light. It is as if we were looking out from the inside of a spherical mirror, so that some of that light penetrates the imperfect film of obscurity that coats our side of the membrane. The light engraves upon the outer surface of the mirror an image of the Empyrean world, which then penetrates, informs and enlightens – dimly, obscurely, secretly – all that is within the sphere. Worldly things map to their heavenly archetypes. The world, then, is a map of Heaven, and so of the mind of God. It is neither comprehensive, nor exhaustive. Indeed, the darkness within the sphere cannot exhaustively comprehend the light (John 1:15), for if per impossibile it did, it would then itself be another God, and there can be only one God.[3] A map that contained all the information embodied in the territory it maps would be itself a duplicate of that territory. To be of any use at all as a map it must rather select and emphasize certain aspects of the territory that are pertinent to its purposes.

As any map needs a world to map and to inhabit – must be in a place, and about a place – so God is the place where his map subsists. The volume of this world lives in a larger world, in which there may be many others (John 14:2).

Taking this metaphor a bit further, it is as if the reflective crystalline sphere in which we live were the flexible film of a vast bubble. The film of the firmament is wholly environed by God; is as it were a subvolume of him. So he permeates it ubiquitously. Yet at certain loci within it – at the veil, the robe of the High Priest, the scriptures, and the flesh of Jesus – it is as if the Lord had pushed in on the film of the world from the outside, so that it both enclosed and disclosed (a bit of) his form. The fact that this ingression occurs in the very heart of the world system shows that the firmament is not just the outer limit of worldly actuality, but also, and first, its inmost bound, the root and navel of the cosmos as well as its outmost canopy. He is of all things both omega and alpha (Revelation 1:11), source and end. It is at the incipience of each mundane event that the forms of the Empyrean are furnished to creaturely occasions, providing them in the first instance with the ontological means of their process of becoming fully definite, and thus actual. The Presence is felt most intensely in consecrated precincts. But from each consecrated locus it radiates outward pervasively: e.g., from Torah to Ark, from Ark to Tabernacle, from Tabernacle to Temple, from Temple to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Israel, from Israel to all the Earth and all her nations, from Earth to the heavens; and then, from the heavens, back again. It feels like Glory. It is the very glow of light.

This ingression to creatures of the divine formation is how the Church, the Scripture, and the Host can be all the Body of the Lord. It is why there can be such a thing as a truly salutary nature mysticism, even where the Gospel has never been praught. It is the reason for the bit of Truth that is to be found in any religion, or in any coherent reading of things in any mind, that detects order, life and significance in the cosmos. Such minds and their maps are not contradicted by the Christian revelation, but rather by it corrected, oriented, purified, amplified, subsumed, superceded, transcended.



[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia entry on Memra has this to say:

It is difficult to say how far the rabbinical concept of the Memra, which is used now as a parallel to the divine Wisdom and again as a parallel to the Shekinah, had come under the influence of the Greek term “Logos,” which denotes both word and reason, and, perhaps owing to Egyptian mythological notions, assumed in the philosophical system of Heraclitus, of Plato, and of the Stoa the metaphysical meaning of world-constructive and world-permeating intelligence … The Memra as a cosmic power furnished Philo the corner-stone upon which he built his peculiar semi-Jewish philosophy. Philo’s “divine thought,” “the image” and “first-born son” of God, “the archpriest,” “intercessor,” and “paraclete” of humanity, the “arch type of man” …, paved the way for the Christian conceptions of the Incarnation (“the Word become flesh”) and the Trinity. The Word which “the unoriginated Father created in His own likeness as a manifestation of His own power” appears in the Gnostic system of Marcus (Irenæus, “Adversus Hæreses,” i. 14). In the ancient Church liturgy, adopted from the Synagogue, it is especially interesting to notice how often the term “Logos,” in the sense of “the Word by which God made the world, or made His Law or Himself known to man,” was changed into “Christ” (see “Apostolic Constitutions,” vii. 25-26, 34-38, et al.). Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of the Targum literature, made little use of the term “Memra.”

[2] This is why postulants to Holy Orders – infants at their baptisms, girls at their confirmations, brides and nuns at their weddings, knights at their dubbings, priests at their ordinations – wear white.

[3] The Son, who is a comprehensive and exhaustive Image of the Father, is one being with him.

3 thoughts on “Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory

    • Thanks! I’ll read the attached paper with great interest. Of course, this notion has been circulating in physics for decades: Wheeler, Fredkin, Smolin, and Stapp are all into it in different ways. “Non-locality” is just another way of saying “wholeness.” So, even Bohm is on board, in the final analysis (particularity does not contradict wholeness, but presupposes it – or as Bohm would say, implicates it).

      As a causal relation of events, a quantum of action *just is* a quantum of extension along some set of dimensions. Space and time are two (of several) measures of the causal importance of events to each other; the more important A is to B – or as we could equivalently say, the more A influences B – the closer they are in space and time (or some other dimension). So to say that there are quanta of action *just is* to say that there are quanta of space and time – and, ergo, of gravity, acceleration, mass, etc. If there are quanta anywhere, then reality is quantal, through and through.

      Which is a good thing, because as Zeno saw clearly, extensive continuity is the zero of action. Like definiteness, it obtains only for the past.

      Paraphrasing Professor Digory: “It’s all in Whitehead, all in Whitehead: Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?”

      The paraphrase is justified because, as Whitehead himself pointed out, all philosophy is footnotes to Plato.

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