Cassiodorus asked me to take a look at an essay by Perennialist scholar James Cutsinger and provide my reactions. The essay – The Mystery of the Two Natures – argues that Perennialist archon Frithjof Schuon was entirely orthodox, from a Patristic (and ergo Nicene) point of view, in his insistence that the divine pole of the Incarnation, entailing as it does the ubiquity of Christ’s saving power, means that there is a transcendent unity of all religions.
I have long admired both Cutsinger and Schuon. They are both formidable scholars, both write (so think) like angels, and both have penetrated deeply and sympathetically into many of the great religions. Both are sane, irenic, and wise, and seem holy (sanctity being a dissemblance difficult to carry off). Like all thoroughgoing exponents of the Perennialist proposal, they reject modernity root and branch. I agree with them, I have always found, in almost everything.
I enjoyed the article a great deal, learned much from it, and recommend it as a wonderfully clear discussion of the Incarnation, and for its original and penetrating analyses of some of the major Christological heresies. But I disagree with it in two respects, one minor, one crucial.
My minor disagreement is with Schuon’s doctrine of the Trinity as Cutsinger has explained it. Schuon identifies the Father with the Absolute, whereas (with the Areopagite and the Russian Orthodox Trinitarian tradition that derives from him and his ilk) I would identify the Absolute with what Dionysius calls the Supra-Personal Godhead. In the Dionysian schema, the Godhead is prior to the actuality of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – all Three – in rather the way that the paper is prior to the sphere scribed upon it, of which they are each one an orthogonal diameter and circumference.
The metaphor is not quite apt. The scription presupposes the paper, but not vice versa: whereas the Godhead and the Trinity presuppose each other, and this is enough to show that the Godhead and the Trinity are one integral thing, the paper as it were appearing together with all Three of the Persons in the scription of the sphere.
The paper is like the possibility of God; but the possibility of a thing involves its definition as just that specific thing which is possible, and by the definition of God, the possibility of God just is God: by definition God is necessary, so that his actual existence necessarily follows from the mere possibility of his existence. Furthermore, the possibility of God can subsist at all only in virtue of the actuality of God, there being no other way for anything whatsoever to subsist.
This seems to me an altogether cleaner parsing than treating one leg of the Trinity as altogether outside actuality, as prior thereto; as, i.e., inactual.
Despite all that, I may of course have misunderstood Schuon or Cutsinger.
So much for the minor disagreement.
My more important disagreement cuts at the very heart of Cutsinger’s argument. He writes:
Consider what the Christian exclusivist says. Salvation is impossible, he asserts, apart from a conscious, explicit, and active faith in Jesus Christ, for Jesus is the only man in history who at the same time was God, and it therefore follows that He alone can rescue men from sin and death. This reasoning can be expressed in the form of a syllogism: God alone can save; Jesus is God alone can save; Jesus is God; therefore, only Jesus can save. Now certainly the Schuonian will not object to the first proposition, for it is undeniably true that there is no possibility of salvation apart from Divine grace and the initiative of Heaven. The problem arises with the exclusivist’s understanding of the second claim, the minor premise of the syllogism. Jesus Christ is certainly God, but the exclusivist takes the further step of supposing that the verbal copula functions like the sign of identity in a mathematical equation, and hence that the nouns in the minor premise can be reversed: not only is Jesus God, but God is also Jesus. As a result, the unique and eternal nature of the Son’s Divinity is transposed onto the plane of history; the one-and-only quality of Him who was incarnate, “the only begotten Son of God”, is confused with the temporal and spatial particularity of His incarnation in Jesus, and His singularity in divinis is conflated with an event of a strictly factual or historical order. Now of course, to affirm that God is fully present in Christ is by no means false, and there is no question as to the formula’s great rhetorical power. But the homiletic or kerygmatic value of this expression should not blind us to its dialectical weakness, for as an ellipsis it risks identifying the Beyond-Being of the pure Absolute with the individuality of a particular human being.
Well and good. But the problem of the non-Christian religions lies not in their arguments that there is more to God than Jesus – as any Trinitarian would certainly agree – but in that they insist that Jesus is not God. Christianity is the only religion that asserts that Jesus is God. The other religions all say that he is not; if they didn’t, they’d be Christian.
If Jesus is in fact God, as both Schuon and Cutsinger (on Cutsinger’s account) agree, then to the extent that other religions do insist to the contrary, and no matter how many truths they do indeed express, they are false. This is not to say that a Buddhist or a Platonist cannot enjoy salvation – they can – but it is to say that there cannot be such a thing as Schuon’s transcendent unity of religions when one of them asserts p, and the rest assert –p.
The Law of Noncontradiction brooks no exceptions. Either Jesus is God, or not. However great and wonderful their congruity in other respects, religions that disagree about the Incarnation contradict each other fundamentally and irreconcilably.