Daily Meditations

Human Beings and the Cosmos (Part X): The Great Divorce

By the Middle Ages, however, with the rise of humanism and rationalism, there were already the beginnings of a breach between Christianity and a self-sufficient humanity. In Byzantium, and spreading into Franciscan Italy, there was an attempt, supported by a theology of the transfiguration of the body and the earth, to transfigure the renaissance, to divinize humanism. But this last phase of Byzantine culture, which seemed so promising, was swamped by Asian influence, while Western Christianity had other interests than the fertilizing of scientific and technical progress with divine energy. The cosmic awareness of the Renaissance was then abandoned by a Christianity – whether of the Reformation or Counter-Reformation – which had become a religion of the individual soul and morality, with no power to effect real transformation in divine-humanity. Modern rationalism has therefore developed without the guidance of the Spirit.

At the end of this process all that is left is a conventional Old Testament belief threatened by Prometheanism. Science, following in the line of the great prophets of Israel, has dealt a fatal blow to all mysticism about the impersonal universe. It achieves, and renders irreversible: the birth of the human person away from the womb of Mother Earth. The experience of interplanetary flight, although vicarious for all except a few, has succeeded in breaking the umbilical cord which attached the human race to the earth.

Today, technology has rescued human beings from the old forms of poverty but has inevitably brought about the demand for justice, for the fair distribution of its products. This desire for justice here and now is the age-old claim of Israel, the one who wrestles with God. And the Churches can do nothing other than repeat it, to ‘render habitable’ a planet where technical progress multiplies goods and services, but only for the privileged few, while the distress of the rest of the world increases.

On top of this, there is the increasing problem of where we ought to be going. For Christians, the desacralization of nature by the biblical revelation can only be a stage on the way towards transfiguration.

If we are not careful, the technical universe, left to its own devices, will damage human nature in its very depths. The abnormal growth of purely cerebral calculation; the sensual refusal, in our leisure time, to do any real thinking; the increased difficulty, while working, of ‘thinking with one’s hands’; the coldness of metal, the abstractness of synthetic materials, the constant noise, the invasion of images that appeal to our sniggering instincts; all conduce to a weakening of the unifying powers of the ‘heart-spirit’. Today these powers must be renewed, if humanity and its cosmic environment are not to be destroyed.

~Olivier Clement, On Human Being:  A Spiritual Anthropology