Ockham comes in for a lot of criticism around these parts, the poor honest earnest man. And not unrightly, perhaps, given his (largely innocent and inadvertent) role in the incipience of the prevalent modern nominalism that has gutted the West (he was not really much of a nominalist, as we think of nominalism these days). But in most things he was on target (this is true of all heretics, scoundrels, sinners, and fools (or else they’d die before they could do much damage, understood by their contemporaries as mere silly kooks)). Most of all, he was right in respect to his famous Razor, which more than any of his other immense contributions to human thought will surely warrant his everlasting renown – his status, shared with only five or six other philosophers, as a household name (at least among those who consider themselves somewhat educated). Even men who know nothing else whatever of epistemology or philosophy of science have some notion of Ockham’s Razor. His Principle of Parsimony is perhaps the most important operational, practical principle of thought (the Principle of Sufficient Reason, e.g., is by contrast ontological; or again e.g., the Principle of Noncontradiction is logical; and so forth). It is the whole basis of American Pragmatism, which is to say, of the philosophy of science universally presupposed in the practice of professional scientists. It is followed in its pragmatic importance – opinions differ about their proper order – by the Principle of Elegance (the more beautiful theory is more likely to be true) and the Principle of Adequacy (theories must adequate to the entirety of their proper domain). I would add also the Principle of Serendipity – as I here now decide to name it, not knowing how other thinkers might have done so: the principle, i.e., that a true theory is likely to explain more things, and they unsuspected things, than we had looked for it to explain – things that, i.e., are outside its (expected) proper domain (huge swathes of mathematics, e.g., turn out to exemplify the Principle of Serendipity).
Ockham, then, God Bless him: All else equal, that theory is best which is simplest – which postulates the fewest types of concrete entities.
So then: what about the Platonic Forms? Ockham’s Razor – a native, chthonic tendency in my thinking from infancy – bugged me about them from the first moment I read of them. What the heck are they? Are they a different sort of thing than the things of this world? What’s the Platonic Realm, for Heaven’s sake? Where is it? How does it interact with our own? If it does interact with our own, then isn’t it really integral with our own? If so, then what sets the Forms apart from their contingent instantiations here below? What does eternity have to do with creaturity?
Excursus: this is a different way of asking what Athens has to do with Jerusalem. That the two cities are bound up together in a single actual world should suffice as an answer: who created one, created the other. So, naturally, Jerusalem knows of and reckons Athens, and vice versa. Each informs the other ontologically, then; so, how might it be possible that they had nothing to do with each other doctrinally? Clearly, in an integral world, wherein everything is causally connected to all other things, they cannot but have had much to do with each other, each of them expressing as they did an apogee of human thought – and, ergo, worship. According to the Principle of Adequacy, then, each must take proper account of the other; and any adequate religious theory must take account of both of them, and in so doing understand their profound basic agreements.
Ockham’s Razor is aimed squarely at Plato. Implicitly, Ockham asks Plato all the questions of the foregoing (not least, Tertullian’s query about Athens versus Jerusalem – Ockham was squarely on Tertullian’s side, and in the camp of the Jerusalemites; for, a profound mystic of the classic English sort, he was utterly besotted with Revelation above all (the Scots generally tend per contra to Reason (as do the Gaels to Poesy resonant of the Psalms)) – and in that, he was not wrong, but on the contrary exactly correct (as also were the Scots and the Irish: for, insofar as they all succeed in their divers ways of reaching toward and revealing Truth, Reason, Poesy and Revelation cannot disagree)).
It boils down to this, says Ockham: is not the Platonic Realm of the Forms quite superfluous? What purpose could it serve, in the system of the worlds, if it were not itself concrete, as those worlds all were? If it is like them concrete, then is it not somehow in some intelligible converse with our own, in rather the way that economics is intelligible under the terms of game theory, and vice versa? Or rather, in rather the way that diplomacy is intelligible under the terms of war, and vice versa? If it is thus concrete, and therefore ineluctably particular, then how is it universally and archetypally Formal? But if it is not thus concrete, then: what the heck is it, in Heaven’s Name? What can we possibly mean in saying that a Form is not concrete, as we are? What can we mean in saying that it is not real, in some way or other alike to the way that we and the objects of our experience are real?
Aristotle – that supernal Platonist – noticed that the Forms must be properties of actual concrete entities in order to be properties in the first place, of anything whatever. So far, so good. But then the Forms could not ever have been properties of anything actual at all if they had not first been properties to which things could be proper – that, i.e., things could actualize in themselves, as fitly proper to actual things. And Forms that have never been somehow or other actualized just are not out there to begin with, as pure possibilities for subsequent actualization. What is nowise a property of something actual just *is not,* at all. So in order for creatures ever to have instantiated them, the Forms had to have been in some way actual prior to any of their particular creaturely instantiations. It has to be possible to be a man before you can go ahead and be a man. So manhood must be somehow out there and standing ready to implement, in order for there to be any men at all.
This is no very taxing problem. Saint Augustine solved it, in a great leap that in retrospect (like many such saltations) seems obvious: the Platonic Forms are all eminently actual in God. He knows that it is possible that x; so, it is possible that x. He’s necessary, and omniscient, after all; so, he can’t be wrong about x.
Augustine settles the Ockhamian worry about the ontological status of the Forms.
Excursus: once you find that your explanation terminates at last upon God, one of two things has happened: either you have stumbled upon the Truth, or you have badly misunderstood things. This is why explanations that terminate upon God are in bad odor among most intellectuals. To such men they smack of intellectual sloth, or slackness, or sloppiness – of a vicious defect of rigor. This too is why theologians so often cast a jaundiced eye upon mystics (this, even though most theologians are at some level themselves profound mystics – or else, they would be studying some other subject). It is to be sure all too easy to shortchange intelligibility altogether by a too hasty abversion to the Divine mystery. But it is equally easy to err oppositely, overlook the traces of the Eternal One, and so miss him altogether.
What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Simply this: that if there were no Jerusalem, there would be nothing that Athens could talk about that would be real. There is Jerusalem, thanks be to God; so then can there be Athens, to talk of Jerusalem, and trace its byways, and parse its gates.
There is at the last nothing for Athens to talk about, but Jerusalem.
At the same time – this is a critical point, so do not skate over it blithely – the Forms had to have had always some creaturely instantiation or other, in order to be real properties of creatures in the first place, so that it could be possible for creatures to implement them in themselves. The Form of man had to be somehow real, concrete, actual, and thus out there as a possibility of repetition, imitation, participation, before men could anyhow happen.
You can’t be a man if it is not first concretely possible to be a man.
So, the Form of Man must be real – not just eminently in God, but concretely in creatura – in order for men then to eventuate.
A Form must be real and concrete, in order for it to then be the form of any real concrete.
There is a solution to this problem. It admirably meets and satisfies Ockham’s Principle of Parsimony. So also (as we ought to expect of true theories) does it satisfy the Principles of Elegance, of Adequacy, and of Serendipity.
It has two aspects: the Divine, and the creaturely.
As to the first, Augustine noticed that the Platonic Forms are all in God eternally. They are not created. They are logically implicit in Plato’s Form of the Good (which is the Formless Form of the Ultimate, the ain sof or apeiron of the Eternal One who despite that he is the Form and Bound and Limit of all things is himself Boundless and without Limit or therefore form (forms don’t *have* forms; they *are* forms)). Whatever can possibly come to pass, whatever its form, he knows about; this follows straightforwardly from his omniscience. Indeed, it is implicit in omniscience, by definition.
So, OK, so far so good. The Platonic Forms eternally and eminently exist as Ideas in the Divine mind. But, God is radically incommensurate with creaturity, in just the way that infinity is incommensurate with 5. How do the Forms work their way down to creaturity?
Notice that this is a way of asking: how do creatures (that all have some particular form) come to pass?
Well: the only possible answer is this: creatio ex nihilo. God creates actualities that exemplify the Forms eternally present to his mind.
Think now of this truth: ideas cannot have themselves. An idea *just is* a notion of some mind. You need a mind, to get an idea. So you need a mind, to get a Form; for, recall, a Platonic Form (the Latin term for Plato’s great deep apprehension) is a Platonic Idea (the Greek). Aristotle was right, then (although this did not make Plato wrong, as we shall see): Forms are real only insofar as they are the forms of actual things; of actual *minds.*
Here at last we come to the quite simple terminus ad quem of this whole essay.
The Forms are concrete eternally in the mind of God, but in him only (!) eminently. They are not actual eternally in him: God is not (among other things) eternally the carburetor of my car, nor is the carburetor of my car eternally actual in him (even though that carburetor in all the moments of its career is indeed eternally present and known to him; such is omniscience). The carburetor is not eternal. The carburetor is not God, nor is God the carburetor. Nevertheless, the carburetor could not be at all in the first place, were it not for the eternal fact of God’s knowledge of the actuality of the carburetor.
The carburetor could not be what it is if God did not know from all eternity what the carburetor is.
It gets complicated, and tricky. That’s why there is Vedanta, in all its many flavors. There is the carburetor, to be sure; but first, and in order for the carburetor to come to pass at all, there must always have been the Divine understanding of that coming to pass; so that the coming to pass of the carburetor is as it were a feature – not, NB, an irreal feature (such is the complexity of Vedanta) – of Eternity.
It’s actually very simple, nonetheless. That’s why there is Taoism. Taoism and Vedanta do not disagree.
But, anyway, and crucially, this: the carburetor could not take immediately and directly from God what it needs formally in order to take the form of a carburetor. For, God is not a carburetor! There is in God no actual carburetor that a creaturely carburetor could imitate, so as to be a carburetor.
The carburetor needs a way of imitating the Form of the carburetor, in order to go about being a carburetor. And God is not a carburetor. So, in order for any carburetors to come to pass, there must be a concrete Form of the carburetor.
And that’s why there are angels.
Angels are the primordial creaturely instantiations of the Forms. For every Form, there is an angel.
And the angels are the Jungian archetypes. Their concrete reality is the reason that the Jungian archetypes are so compelling.
Jung was hesitant to treat them as objectively real (he came *so close*!). But they are real. They could not otherwise function, in Jung’s system, or in any other. If the archetypes were not real, they would be delusory. Any behavior they informed, then, would be simply mad.
Excursus: If Ideas are not real, then they are *nothing at all.* Then all our thought (that involves them) is irreal. But this thought is not coherently thinkable, etc.
And the notion that behavior informed by archetypes is essentially mad contradicts the entirety of the Jungian paradigm. Jung then was a realist about the angels, whether he knew it or not.
My reading of Jung tells me that he did know it, but did not know how to fit that knowledge into his 19th century materialist ontology. So he reverted to an evolved and so universally given, but in the last analysis merely psychological unconscious, and pushed away recognition of the problem of how a thing might become apparent to that unconscious character of the whole human species if it were nowise real. We see light because it is real and significant; how not, likewise, angels and demons?
A compelling vision of what the angels are like to us, in their character of pure archetypal Platonic Forms, is to be found in Charles Williams’ novel The Place of the Lion. It is a hair-raising, terrifying depiction. As its story unfolds, the angels of the Forms begin to take over men and women – to possess them – with terrific, chaotic consequences for the integrity of the created order. I have not read it over again in several years, but in memory it falls somewhat short, philosophically. For, it shows the angels of the Forms as impersonal, and moreover as radically disobedient to their own Formal origin in the Logos; and, so, as destructive of the good creaturely order that, in toto, they are meant by their Master the Logos to serve.
It shows the angels of the Forms as Fallen.
I do not mean to suggest that Williams was wrong, but rather only that he was incomplete. The only angels that can be destructive are those who have Fallen. These are the angels of sins; of Falls from perfection. Logically there must be some of them, or no one of us men might ever have Fallen. But logically there must be their unfallen innocent counterparts, who as still perfect are incomparably more powerful and virtuous and good and … nice, in rather the way that we humble creatures here below would construe nicety in our incomprehensibly better and nobler betters.
Excursus: A king is not royal after all, and admirable, because he is unlike us. He is rather royal and admirable because he is more like our proper selves than we are. His unlikeness to us consists in his likeness to us as we ought most nobly to be.
Nobility is just loyalty to what is right.
So are we most heartily crestfallen at the moral failures of the King. Falling, he pulls the moral rug out from under us all, and so ruins all our own efforts to do the right thing in respect to our petty predicaments. Of such is the tragedy of all royal tragedies, from David to Clinton.
Once I realized that the Forms were primordially instantiated in angels, lots of things became clear, and simpler in a way that would have pleased Ockham (and perhaps in fact did). For every event there is an angel. For every life, every crossroad, every turn of events, there is a genius. This is what the ancients our ancestors were getting at with their notion of Fate. Everything has been anticipated; and for everything that happens, there is an angel, without whose prior actuality it could not happen. So all is anticipated, and provened.
That does not at all mean that what happens, or that what (in particular) we decide is inconsequential. That a thing is foreknown does not mean that it is not a thing, or that it does not have the causal and moral and aesthetic valences that it does have. To happen is, after all, nothing else than to mean; i.e., to have causal and moral and aesthetic valences.
Nor does it mean that what we decide is foredoomed. That a thing happens in time does not mean that it does not happen eternally. Time is a feature and process of eternity. No eternity, no time. But, also, vice versa: that a thing happens eternally does not mean that it does not happen in time; does not mean, i.e., that it does not really happen. On the contrary: what happens in and to eternity happens a fortiori.
Our acts do really happen.
So, our acts matter.
So then do the angels of acts really happen, and act. Each act is in part the act of angels. In any complex creaturely act, many angels participate. Such acts partake them, in their multitudes. Any worldly act is like that. Many angels partake it, and vice versa; for, like calls to like (of such calling is likeness in the first place).
Be careful then what angels you call upon, in and by your acts. For, they will, certainly, come; only in virtue of their coming will you be able in the first place to form your acts according to them; which is to say that, only in virtue of their coming will you be able to form your acts at all. All your acts involve the angels thereof.
This is why the demons – who are, remember, all first and primordially angels – come and infect and defect you, and pollute you henceforth, whenever you sin. You cannot sin at all without their formal participation in your sinful act. Their sin informs yours, and makes it possible. So then does yours, theirs. When you sin, you magnify them.
Take care then; take very great care. Do not let yourself be taken o’er. Do not, that is, ask them in.
Repudiate them, rather. Reject them, altogether. Such is the Baptismal Vow, in which we have repudiated Satan, and all his works. Fulfill it then. Or, having done otherwise, Fall, forever.
Excursus: returning now to the mundane political concerns of the orthosphere, how might we effect a true and righteous and good correction of the political and cultural order of the West, unless we had first repudiated Satan and all his works?
Never mind then politics or the news. Don’t ignore them, to be sure, but get to work first and foremost on your own salvation. Pluck first the beam from your own eye. That is the sine qua non.
Never doubt that the demons are real. Your sins are real, after all, no? Who then do they express? Who do they magnify? How could they have happened in the first place, did they not express and magnify something prior to themselves? You could not even begin to sin, were it not for the Forms of sin actively presented to you as lures by the demons who exemplify those sins primordially. If sin is real, then so are its demons, and their reality prior to that of any lesser creaturely instantiation, such as your own.
So when you sin do you call upon and magnify them. Aye, you embody them. That is how they come to possess your body.
Is that what you really, truly want?
Repent, then! Repent! And from old errors, turn!
Don’t kid yourself about this. There is no real confusion about it, at bottom, unless you actively want to be confused, and eventually destroyed. You know perfectly well exactly what I’m talking about.
NB: I do not exempt myself. I am first among sinners. The preacher preaches to the choir, perhaps; but only by preaching first and foremost to himself.