Commentary: Schuon on the Divine Nature

I

Atma and Maya

“The essence of metaphysics, and therefore of integral esoterism, is the distinction (viveka) between Âtmâ and Mâyâ[1]

There is no discussion of Schuon’s understanding of the divine nature that doesn’t begin with “Atma”. To start here is to acknowledge and clarify something about Schuon’s language that is (unintentionally) misleading: Schuon is only incidentally Aristotelian. Schuon writes a lot like a Thomist or an Aristotelian. He uses “Essence”, “Substance”, and “Accident” in ways that would befit a thoroughgoing Aristotelian, even when speaking of the Divine Nature. He says things like “the Divine Substance extends itself”[2] and that all is “accidental by comparison with pure Substance”[3]. I suspect this contributes to misunderstandings of Schuon’s teaching and ideas. That is why I should repeat this: Schuon is only incidentally Aristotelian. He uses the language but often with meanings that are meant to mirror Neoplatonic and Vedantic ideas. The Cosmos of the traditionalist authors like Guenon and Schuon, in “western” terms, is very thoroughly Neoplatonic. That Cosmos is the one they breathe in. Neoplatonism uses a lot of Aristotle, but Schuon takes this language further than most, while using it in a very peculiar manner. For example, Schuon uses “formal” to refer to anything in the realm of “Soul” and below. It means “limited”, while the proper “realm of forms” for him is the realm of the “universals” or the “universal substances” or the “supraformal”[4]. For Schuon, the “formal” is seemingly tied up with the “hylomorphic”, it must be limited by a “material” principle or the “tenebrous principle”[5], while the “realm of forms” is here “supraformal”, not limited like the hylomorphic.

This is why when he says things like “Absolute Substance”, one must not picture a universal, or even the ontological principle as such (even if it is also derivately that), one must instead understand it as “Atma”, in the original Vedantic meaning. “Atma” or “Atman” has as one of its meanings as “Self”[6], and this is one of Schuon’s two main uses of the word:

“The terms substance and essence, which — rightly or wrongly — are taken in practice to be more or less synonymous, differ in that substance refers to the underlying, immanent, permanent nature of a basic reality, whereas essence refers to reality as such, that is as “being” and, in a secondary sense, as the absolutely fundamental nature of a thing. The notion of essence denotes an excellence which is, so to say, discontinuous with respect to accidents, whereas the notion of substance implies on the contrary a kind of continuity, and this is why we employ it when speaking of Âtmâ in connection with Mâyâ.”[7]

His second most used meaning, which is more interpretation than translation, is “Absolute”[8]. He even combines them at times, as “Absolute Self”[9] in order to make an emphatic point. In order to show how much this “Self” is not a proper “universal” subject to essential causation by dimunition, Schuon himself says that “from the standpoint of the Self there is no confrontation between a Principle and its manifestation, there is nothing but the Self alone, the pure and absolute Subject which is its own object”, not in the manner of Intellect knowing itself — as Schuon himself has distinguished between the Self as such and the Intellect (created or uncreated) numerous times[10] — but in the sense that all dualities, including that of subject and object, are transcended by the Self, who is at once the only “subject” manifest as Intellect, and the only “object” manifest as Being.

You might have noticed a slight contradiction. Atma is not a substance that is manifest in the manner of essential causation, like beings from Being, but Atma is still “manifest” as Being and beings, Intellect and intellects. This is where Schuon displays his understanding of the unity of the Neoplatonic and Vedantic perspectives. This is where “Maya” comes in, and it is where the inadequacies of viewing Schuon as an straightforward Aristotelian comes into focus.

“Maya” has many interconnected meanings, but I will let D.B. Hart and his sage dog explain some of them:

“well, it comes from the same Indo-European word as mageia , magia — magic — and meanssomething like the power of creation, power to produce… in a metaphysical context, it means especially God’s infinite power to create.”

“And yet,” said Roland, “most of us in the West assume it simply means ‘illusion.’ Why is that?”

“Yes, well, in a certain school of Vedānta, and then elsewhere, that became its special acceptation. Āḍi Sankara certainly used it, not to indicate that the world is unreal, but that our false understanding or ignorance — our avidyā — makes us perceive reality as separate from God…”

Avidyā !” It was an almost triumphant bark. “That’s precisely what I mean. Your Indo-European roots are showing. ‘Not seeing ,’ ‘failing to see .’”[11]

This about covers how Schuon uses the term. Here are some of his own words:

“But this projection of God — if one may put it thus — requires an element that makes it possible, an element that helps to explain why the Substance does not remain an exclusively “hidden treasure”. This diversifying, exteriorizing, or relativizing element is none other than Mâyâ: its nature could be defined with the help of various terms, such as Relativity, Contingency, Separativity, Objectification, Differentiation, Exteriorization, and others still; even the term Revelation could be appropriately applied here in an altogether fundamental and general sense.”

Between the more original connotations of “Atma” Schuon uses and the connotation we would need to pair it with Maya, there is a shift, and that shift is well explained by D.B. Hart above. From Non-Duality of the Self we have moved to the duality of the God and the God’s Power. In Neoplatonic terms, while Atma is technically “the One” — which is not really a principle[12] but a “principle of principles” in the sense of the absolute negation of all principles that is also a paradoxical affirmation[13] — it is also “Limit”, the principle of “discrete” unity when it “emerges from itself”. This is not Atma as such, but Atma as object. Here, the pairing of Atma/Maya behaves very much like the duality of Limit/Unlimited in Proclean Neoplatonism. It’s use is consistent with the pairing of Limit/Hyparxis(existence)/Name and Unlimited/Dunamis(Power)/”Breath” with a resulting Mikton (Mixture) that is simply the different levels of Being, starting with the highest, the principle of Being itself. Here is Schuon again:

“Absolute Substance extends Itself, through relativization, under the aspects of Radiance and Reverberation; that is to say, It is accompanied — at a lesser degree of reality — by two forms of emanation, one that is dynamic, continuous, and radiating, and the other static, discontinuous, and formative.”[14]

We can read this two complementary ways. The first is to understand this in the more prior Proclean sense, in that the God beyond being exhibits or reveals Limit/Unlimited. Thus this coincidence of the two modes of “relativization”, or the two modes of relative unity/existence begins with very principle of being, Schuon’s personal God (a distinction we will get to). The other manner is to read this in a straightforward ontological sense, with “absolute substance” meaning the ontological principle itself, the true singular “One” from which the many proceed. Schuon would probably grant both interpretations, and several more since that is indeed the way he thought the language of metaphysics should work:

“The aforementioned remarks are of the utmost importance in providing an entry into the epistemology that governs Schuon’s works, one that he shares with esoteric teachings from East and West. This epistemology is not analytic and a posteriori but synthetic and a priori. What is meant by these terms, echoing Kant’s terminology but lending to it a radically different meaning than the one envisaged by the “sage of Königsberg,” is a distinction between a discursive and deductive concept of knowledge and one that may be best defined as intuitive and anamnestic. The former stems from an analytical grasp of the meaning inherent in concepts and the words that convey them. To understand means to extract meaning, as it were, from terms and notions. By contrast, Schuon’s epistemology — which may be termed Platonic in a broad sense — sees the act of understanding as presupposing a prior knowledge of the object that is understood, whereby concepts and terms are only occasional means of actualization. In other words, one can know only that which one already knows, often without knowing that one knows it. It follows from the premise of this epistemology that understanding does not, and cannot, depend upon a literal grasp of conceptual terms. Meanings, of course, are immanent to a text, but they can be accessed, as the case may be, with minimal support from the text. The text is a symbol and not merely a discursive repository.”[15]

Thus, for Schuon, as mentioned earlier in connection to his “Aristotelian” language, all is not what it seems. He is not writing a technical treatise for academic publication, he is writing a mystical text for those “who can see”, and the rewards are great for those who can truly see. We will see some of this later, as we enter the implications of the Atma/Maya duality and resolve our contradiction between Atma as unmanifestable and Atma as manifested.

II

Maya and Divine Play

The resolution to our problem lies beyond ontology. Schuon considered this the West’s chief limitation. Apart from the limitations of what he considered “theology”, which is “expedient metaphysics that aims at garnering spiritual and moral resources to stimulate religious sincerity and fervor.”[16], “ontology” tends to restrict reality to the intelligible, to the universals and to the ontological principle. The problem is not that Ontology is wrong, it is that it is “relative”. It is still “Maya”, even if ultimately the divine and cosmic Maya, and not Atma as such. “Being” is already always “Being for”. In being a true “existent” One, it is already predisposed towards Many. It is a true principle with a manifestation, while Atma has no “confrontation between a Principle and its manifestation”. The problem of participation and emanation is unresolved on the level of Being, and I’d argue that Schuon himself only has the beginning of the answers. But it is a beginning, something pure ontology does not have, nor can it have, for Being is still in lîlâ, “divine play”.

This is where Atma is both unmanifested and manifested, and this is one of the best explanations of the famous Thomist understanding of “Being” as “Act”. Atma as such is ineffable. It is “the One”. However, the One is not an object. It’s entire “being” is “no being”. It is itself “nothing”. Here is Guenon, whom Schuon agreed with on these basics:

“The Infinite on the contrary, to be truly such, cannot admit of any restriction, which presupposes that it be absolutely unconditioned and undetermined, for every determination, of whatever sort, is necessarily a limitation by the very fact that it must leave something outside of itself, namely all other equally possible determinations. Besides, limitation presents the character of a veritable negation; to set a limit is to deny to that which is limited everything that this limit excludes, and consequently the negation of a limit is properly the negation of a negation, that is to say, logically, and even mathematically, an affirmation, so that in reality the negation of all limit is equivalent to total and absolute affirmation. That which has no limits is that of which nothing can be denied, and is therefore what contains everything, that outside of which there is nothing; and this idea of the Infinite, which is thus the most affirmative of all because it comprehends or embraces all particular affirmations whatsoever, can only be expressed in negative terms by reason of its absolute indetermination. In language, any direct affirmation is in fact necessarily a particular and determined affirmation-the affirmation of something particular-whereas total and absolute affirmation is no particular affirn1ation to the exclusion of others since it implies them all equally”[17]

Here is Jordan Daniel Wood:

“The First possesses nothing and therefore sources everything. This is because “to possess” is to have from another a distinctive, constituting power to be at all and to be what you are (esse and substantia/essentia) and to enact what you can (habitus). It is to have a causal principle that gifts and governs your specific instantiation of the kind of thing you are. But if you have no prior principle, then you receive nothing from another (since there is no other) and so have no specific determination — in its precise etymological sense, no species or forma — by which you’re rightly called a certain something. Absent a distinctive way of participating a principle — Proclus calls this “the whole-in-the part” — there is no particular instance of any kind, that’s to say, there is precisely no determinate thing. And of course the First itself has no causal principle, and so no distinctive participation, and so nothing at all. But, and this is crucial, it’s only because the First has nothing that it is the power to cause everything. Bound by no particular kind of thing, its power is the power of every kind of thing, of every metaphysical determination. The First is “Cause of every being, Itself not being,” as Dionysius likes to say.”[18]

Thus, because Atma is ineffable, Maya is. As Schuon credited the Vedantists with saying, “Mâyâ is without origin”, because Atma is not a discrete origin, an entity from which Maya proceeds, or again by Schuon in the same essay, “the very absoluteness of the Absolute necessitates relativity”. Thus it is that Atma as such is inaccessible. It is not on the chain of being, it is not a proper “state”, all states are ultimately “Atma”. The very unlimited kenosis of the Absolute is what makes it the absolute. It is thus that Atma is both manifested and unmanifested. There is “no thing” to manifest, and yet “nothing” is manifest in everything. This is best expressed through the doctrine of the Self. The Self is and has nothing, and hence it gives and is everything, not in any diminished way, but in the immediacy of the existence of everything, and this “immediacy” is ineffable, it is beyond intelligibility, because existence is not an intelligible, but what the intelligible is itself “contingent” on. Existence is ultimately ineffability. All of these eventually equate. Self is Ineffability is Person is Existence. They are ultimately different words for the paradoxically unspeakable, whom Christians call “Father”, only through the “fatherhood” of the Son. Through this, we see the heart of divine play, for because of the immediate “present absence” of the ineffable in all things, all things are then its “mask”. All things, by their very presence, reveal the ineffable by hiding it. Revelation is ultimate concealment. The God wears all things as a mask. The more you unmask, the more you mask. Here again the true meaning of “persona”, which is used for the Latin understanding of the Trinity, emerges, another topic for the next section. One of its meanings is “mask”.

How does this scale up to Being? Through the word “act”. Act is purposive. It has an end, even if its end is itself, and if it has an end, it has a direction, and there is no “direction” without “sight”, and no “sight” without a “face”. It “faces” an end. It is “relative”. Atma as such has no “end” because it is not a proper beginning, but Being does. All this simply shows why the word “act” is apt, because the implications of the word tie it to the very ordinary meaning of “acting” in the theatrical sense, the very same metaphor underlying “divine play”. The world is a stage where the Gods act, or where God alone acts in and as all the characters, for “inasmuch as you have done this to them, you have done it to me”.

This is the thread that ties “Being as act”, Divine Play, and Maya together. Being and beings are the “act” and “acts” of Atma, the latter reducible to the former. The unfolding of Being in a chain of being and its modalities is the “Divine Play” of Atma, and Maya is the “Power” of Atma to do this, to be the act, the character that acts the Play. In Kabbalistic terms, Atma is Ein Sof while Maya begins with the “tzim tzum”, the “contraction”, the “relativization” of Ein Sof into “Keter”, the summit and principle of Being. One might say the tzim tzum is the very power of Keter to be, and to be fecund into the whole intelligible universe of the Sephiroth. It is thus that Keter, Being, the Intelligible God, is the first and highest “mask” of Atma, and as “Mask”, “revelation”, and as revelation, “concealment”. This is the Logos, divine according to the continuity of identity, but discontinuous in being a manifestation, the first manifestation, Being itself. It is the first proper “hypostasis” that reveals the “non-hypostatic hypostasis” of Atma, “the Father”, “unbegotten and unproceeding” (Athanasian creed), all negations, all apophatic.

To end this section, the main points are that the “divine nature” is not a universal, but Atma itself, the first “non-hypostatic hypostasis” of the Father. The Father “himself” is the Divine nature, because he is not an intelligible substance, but the ineffable Self beyond substance, who’s very “Self” is the relinquishment of Self. Affirmation by Negation. This point is important, because the next section is applying this to Schuon’s first overarching understanding of the Trinity. He has several complementary explanations, some of which will be mentioned briefly, but this one is fundamental, because here is his proper Trinity of distinct (in a sense) “hypostases”[19] rather than simple triads. Because the divine nature is not a universal, or an intelligible substance, “consubstantiality” means something totally different from sharing an intelligible substance, such that when Schuon says that “Intellect is essentially identified with the Self”[20], he is not talking about Intellect participating in an intelligible form, or even Being itself. What he means instead, is simply that the Self is immediately present in and as Intellect, without being simply the substance of intellect. In order to understand this better, we have to see his Trinity.

III

Self and Trinity

“There are indeed three great theophanies, or three hypostases, which in descending order are: firstly, Beyond-Being or the Self, Absolute Reality, Âtmâ; secondly, Being or the Lord, who creates, reveals, and judges; and thirdly, the manifested Divine Spirit, which Itself possesses three modes: the Universal or Archangelic Intellect, the Man-Logos, who reveals in a human language, and the Intellect in ourselves, which is “neither created or uncreated”, and which confers upon the human species its central, axial, and “pontifical” rank, one which is virtually divine with regard to other creatures.”[21]

The perfect explanation for this is using the intelligible triads as they appear in Proclus. In descending order, they are Being, Life, and Intellect. Leaving aside the technicalities, the first triad of “intelligible being, intelligible life, intelligible intellect” constitute “Being”, “intelligible-intellective being, intelligible-intellective life, intelligible-intellective intellect” constitute “Life”, and “intellective being, intellective life, intellective intellect” constitute “Intellect”[22]. It is a fractal structure, such that, for example, “intelligible intellect” corresponds to, and is in a sense, a cause of the entire three “intellective” triads of “Intellect”[23]. Thus, there is an “identity”, and anything I say of “Intellect” can be applied on any of the levels and sublevels mentioned here, although I will focus on the “intelligible” set that constitutes “Being”.

To begin, we recall that “Atma”, the One, is simply itself by not being itself. It is perfect kenosis, the affirmation by negation, the actor that is never seen, but always wears a “mask”, the actor that “acts”, and the first and prime mask is “Being”, more specifically, “intelligible being”. Intelligible Being is the domain of the “intelligible Gods”[24], although in this case we focus on the case of one God, for simplicity sake. In fact, an intelligible God is in a “phenomenological” sense, the only God. Intelligible Being displays the God as God, as an ultimate object of devotion, the ultimate “individual” in the positive sense, as that which is the source of all. This corresponds perfectly to Schuon’s “personal God”, the God of devotion, the one that is truly “God” in the “objective sense”, as Atma is beyond the duality of Objective and Subjective and is not properly a “God”. In his words:

“Having voiced these reservations, we may call “metatheism” the Vedantic or Taoist idea of a supra-ontological Reality — the suprapersonal Ātmā — in order to indicate clearly that this idea basically transcends all theism properly so called; for a “God” creates, speaks, legislates, judges and saves, which the Divine Essence could not do, since by definition it excludes all Māyā, and consequently has no associate.”[25]

It is the “Intelligible God”, Schuon’s “Personal God” that is the highest subject of theism so called, even if one could call Atma “God” for lack of a better word in certain circumstances. Thus, “Atma” is the Father, and “Being” is “Son”. “Being” is the “relative absolute”[26], by which he means the highest “manifestation” of the absolute (“unmanifest” with respect to us, manifest to eternal intellect). It is the “absolute” we are oriented to in our being, for it is being, the ontological principle that is the “beginning” of all things, the “uncreated Logos”. This Logos is the “fullness of God”, for the Logos is not apart from Atma, it is Atma (Father) manifest, its revelation and ultimate concealment, its “mask” (in the metaphysical sense), for what is a revelation if not a “mask”. Isn’t Christ the “face of the father”? It is this continuation of Identity that is the “consubstantiality”, for Atma’s kenosis is itself its distinction from the Logos and its identity with the Logos. It is this identity that makes the Logos “uncreated” and it is its reality as a manifestation that makes it “created”. It is the first “hypostatic union”. Thus the Personal God is “Son” of Atma as “Father”.

The Spirit, in this schema, is twofold. He/She/They is both “Life”, as Schuon himself acknowledges in accordance with ancient understandings of the Trinity[27], and “Intellect” as he more commonly acknowledges[28]. This is initially puzzling, because there are certain understandings of the Trinity that equate Son with Intellect and Spirit with Life, and indeed vice versa (it’s a vexed question)[29], but I’m not here to solve that question. Instead, this is Schuon’s perspective.

To begin, keep this in mind. “Being”, “Life”, and “Intellect” correspond to the three “stages” of emanation (if we can call them “stages”), which are “remaining”, “procession”, and “reversion”, and these three are explained, for example, in Proclus’ “Elements of Theology”[30]. “Life” is the procession of Being, while “Intellect” is the reversion of Being. Being proceeds and reverses while remaining. In a manner similar to the One, Being goes out of itself without ceasing to be “where” it is. The difference is that “Being” is truly “one being”, rather than “no thing”, and so what “remains” even while proceeding is not “no thing”. It is not beyond essential kenosis of Atma as such. It is this nature of “Life” and “Intellect” as “movements” of Being that “remains” that makes it the “Spirit” in this Schema. Thus, the Spirit is the “Life” that “vivifies” all of creation, and is also the “intellect” that orients it back to God. The Spirit is that which searches the depths of God. This is not the role of “Life”, this is the role of intellect, for it is intellect that “sees” and “finds” the depths of Being. Thus, in the “discontinuous” schema of differentiated hypostases, the Trinity is Father/Atma, Son/Being, Spirit/Intellect. What effects the consubstantiality is the unity of Atma/Self that is manifest in and as the two subsequent persons, “personas”, “masks”. This is a “monarchian Trinity”. In Cutsinger’s words:

“Strange as it may sound even to some Christian ears, there is a hierarchy within the divine order itself. Even though Jesus can in one sense be rightly called “God” since He has the same essence as His Father, the “God” that He is has a God. This astonishing claim is born out, among other places, in the risen Christ’s encounters with Thomas Didymus and Mary Magdalen, as recorded in John 20. Having touched Christ’s wounded hands and side, the erstwhile “doubting Thomas” is moved to utter the most exalted profession of faith in the entire New Testament: My Lord and my God! (John 20:28), a profession Christ in no way rejects or rebukes him for. But when Mary attempts to embrace Him, Jesus stops her, saying, Do not cling to me … but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God (John 20:17).

We find this highly paradoxical point reaffirmed in the Nicene Creed, where the grammatical apposition in the opening article shows beyond doubt that the Father alone is unequivocally “God”. The Christian recites, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Once again it is evident that the unity of God is not to be understood as residing in some generic nature shared by three specific Persons. The oneness of God is the specificity of the Father; it is He who is the “one God” in whom Christians believe. As Saint Gregory the Theologian puts it, “The union is the Father, from whom and to whom the order of the Persons runs its course”. As for Jesus Christ, the second article of the Creed makes it clear that His divinity, while entirely real and efficacious, is in some sense derivative. For He, “the only-begotten Son of God”, is confessed to be “Light of Light” and “Very God of Very God”. In Orthodox liturgical texts, this subtle but extremely important distinction is often conveyed by using the word “God” on its own when speaking of the Father while adding the possessive pronoun “our” in phrases referring to the divinity of the Son, as in the frequently recited prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us”. It is as if the tradition were endeavoring to remind the Christian of the difference between Jesus’s words to Mary and Thomas’s words to Jesus. Once again it would be misleading to suggest that there is anything systematic or invariable about this usage — devotional piety is not mathematics — but it occurs frequently enough to be worthy of note.”[31]

This Trinity reveals something about Schuon’s understanding of Divine Identity, an understanding Cutsinger endeavoured to explain the in the essay that the above quote comes from. This understanding is that there is no real esoteric opposition of the “unitarian” understanding of God in Islam and Judaism with that of Christian Trinitarianism. Ofcourse, exoterically, the opposition is clear, and many Christians have indeed laboured to deepen this opposition, but Schuon always believed that such efforts lead to dead ends. The understanding he held to informed this Trinity in a way those perceptive enough should have noticed, and this is that the Trinitarian persons are not different individuals of the same type sharing an abstract essence. I have said this before but this has to be said again in light of the explanation above. The Son and Spirit are manifestations of the Father, and all three are the same God. YHWH the ineffable manifests as YHWH-Being and then YHWH-Intellect. In terms of the Identity of Self, it is one Self, One Atma. In terms of manifestation, there are two manifestations and that which is manifested. Two originated and one unoriginated, in accordance with the Athanasian creed. The deep coherence of this Trinity is especially present in the most controversial element here, which is the Spirit, for one of the translations of Intellect/Nous is “Spiritus”, and every role of the Spirit in Scripture can be applied to intellect in some way, for example the presence of the Spirit in and as the many angels, whether they are Seven as in the book of revelation or in the fact that there is no clear distinguishing between “a holy spirit” and “the holy spirit” in Christians in Paul’s writings, it’s almost like the identities are merged[32]. The “spirit of knowledge” cannot be anything but the intellect that Schuon says is “uncreated and uncreatable”, quoting Eckhart[33], meaning it is eternal and indestructible. It is in this way we can call “Son” and “Spirit” uncreated. Thus the Spirit for Schuon is also called the “Logos”, for what is the “Lord and giver of Life” but the “Logos of Life”. Since “Logos” indicates “centre” and indeed “source”. Indeed the ambiguity concerning Son and Spirit, where they share each other’s titles, that persists till now is explained here.[34]

This unity of Self translates into another feature of Schuon’s understanding of the Trinity: The relativity of the Persons. Because the names “Father, Son, Spirit” refers to “positions” in a relationship, depending on the vantage point we take as central, what is refered to as “Father, Son, Spirit” may change. Because they do not refer to individuals, but rather relationships of manifestation of ONE ATMA, the words can refer to different manifestations of the One Atma/God (or non-manifestation, in the case of our original example starting with Atma as such as “Father”). For example, If one begins their consideration from “Being”, the personal God, they end up with several different approaches. The first two concern the intelligible triad, where “Being, Life, Intellect” can refer to ‘Father, Son, Spirit” or “Father, Spirit, Son” depending on how we want to look at the roles. This is well documented on[35]. The other, Schuonian version, has to do with the incarnation. If you recall his statement on “metatheism”, he says that “a “God” creates, speaks, legislates, judges and saves”, referring to the “Personal God”, “Being”. What, in the main schema, is called Son, is in another called “Father”, and it is this perspective that explains Christ’s prayer to his Father, for one does not pray to Atma. Thus the incarnated Christ is Son of Being, and “Intellect”, again, is the “Spirit” that unites them, for just as it is intellect that spawns the world of change and matter, so it is the Spirit that births Christ. And yet, there is another perspective, based on the intelligible triad, where Intellect is the “Son” of Being, and “Life” is the “Spirit” that unites them. This is the perspective of Christ as demiurge, as “king of heaven”, because “intellect” is indeed the centre of the cosmos[36]. Where “Being” is still “precosmic”, “Intellect” is the summit of the familiar cosmos, the cosmos where the “highest” state is paradise, and the centre is the “one like the Son of man” on a Throne.

IV

CONCLUSION

This is indeed much to take in. I have been working this out for over a year now myself. I’m sure there are more questions than answers. But I’d say the reader should pause and rethink, because this is not something that usually becomes clear in one go. I will conclude with a recap and summary.

The Five Levels of Reality[37]

Atma, the “divine essence” itself, which is simply “Self” in its ineffability, is manifest first as “Being”, the personal God, “personal” because “intelligible”, “relative to us”, the “beginning” of all things, the “Logos”, not “personal” as in ineffable “selfhood” of Atma. This “Being” is further Manifest as Life and Intellect, of which Intellect is our focus of the two. Intellect is then the “centre” and “boundary” of our contingent cosmos proper. It is both the reversion of being in eternal knowledge, and the source of the world of change, which is “Soul” and the corporeal, the world of the paradises in proximity to true eternity of Intellect and Being, the paradises we “go to”, “heaven”, and the corporeal world we live in, “earth”. “Father, Son, and Spirit” can then here, refer to different points in this schema depending on your starting point. Because the divine essence is not a universal and is instead “Self”, “consubstantiality” is the continuous identity of all levels of the chain of being as “Self”, not in the manner of Being to beings, because “Being” itself is also manifestation of Self, but in the manner of ineffability, for all things are ultimately ineffable in their existence without any recourse to their intelligible structure. Their existence is beyond intelligibility. They are the masks of the unspeakable.

Combining these principles, we have the various schema of Trinity. The first is that of Atma (Father), Being (Son), Intellect (Spirit). There is also Being (Father), Life (Spirit), Intellect (Son). And yet there is also Being (Father), Intellect (Spirit), and the earthly and paradisal Christ who ascended. It is thus that the Trinitarian formula does not refer to three distinct individuals but the relationships of the manifestations of Atma (or the non-manifestation, in the case where Atma is “Father”). It is one God (YHWH, if we wish) through his several manifestations. This is the basic Schuonian “Vertical” Trinity. To end this, I want to say that “the Spirit” for Schuon does indeed precede the Son when the relationship is Atma/Father and Being/Son[38], but it is not as a distinct “hypostasis” in the sense of manifestation, but simply as the “power” of Atma to manifest Being. This is first “Unlimited” of Proclus. Thus, for Schuon, although the Spirit does, in a sense, precede the Son, it is only when it proceeds through the Son, such that it is not in the manner of the filoque, that the Spirit manifests (or is revealed) as a distinct hypostasis (Life and/or Intellect), for what is Life but the Power of Being and Intellect the Power of Life?

[1] Frithjof Schuon and James S. Cutsinger, The Fullness of God: Frithjof Schuon on Christianity, World Wisdom, 2017 <https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1rfss2f.13>.

[2] Frithjof Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[3] Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam (World Wisdom, 1998).

[4] Frithjof Schuon and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Essential Frithjof Schuon, The Library of Perennial Philosophy, 2005 <http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0513/2005014071.html>.

[5] Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[6] Frithjof Schuon, Dimensions of Islam, 1985.

[7] Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[8] Schuon and Nasr.

[9] Frithjof Schuon, To Have a Center, 2015.

[10] Schuon and Cutsinger; Frithjof Schuon, Christianity/Islam: Perspectives on Esoteric Ecumenism, ed. by James S. Cutsinger (World Wisdom, 1998); Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[11] David Bentley Hart, Roland in Moonlight (Angelico Press, 2021).

[12] Edward P Butler, ‘The Intelligible Gods in the Platonic Theology of Proclus’, Méthexis, 21, 2008, 131–43.

[13] Jordan Daniel Wood, ‘The Father’s Kenosis: A Defense of Bonaventure on Intra-Trinitarian Acts’, Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology, 30.1 (2021), 3–31 <https://doi.org/10.1177/1063851220953363>; Rene Guenon, The Multiple States of the Being (Sophia Perennis, 2004).

[14] Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[15] Patrick Laude, Keys to the Beyond: Frithjof Schuon’s Cross-Traditional Language of Transcendence (SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions) (SUNY Press, 2020).

[16] Laude.

[17] Guenon.

[18] Wood.

[19] Schuon and Nasr.

[20] Schuon, Christianity/Islam: Perspectives on Esoteric Ecumenism.

[21] Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[22] Pieter D’Hoine and Martijn Marije, All From One: A Guide to Proclus, ed. by Pieter D’Hoine and Martijn Marije, 1st Editio (Oxford University Press, 2017).

[23] Edward Butler, ‘The Metaphysics of Polytheism in Proclus’ (New School University, 2003) <https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/dissertation-copy.pdf>.

[24] Edward P Butler.

[25] Schuon, To Have a Center.

[26] Schuon and Nasr; Schuon, To Have a Center; Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[27] Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[28] Schuon and Nasr; Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions; Schuon, To Have a Center.

[29] Alexey R. Fokin, ‘The Doctrine of the “Intelligible Triad” in Neoplatonism and Patristics’, in STUDIA PATRISTICA, ed. by Markus Vinzent (Peeters Publishers, 2013), LVIII, 45–71.

[30] Proclus and E. R. Dodds, The Elements of Theology, Second Edi (Oxford University Press, 1971).

[31] James S. Cutsinger, ‘Disagreeing to Agree: A Christian Response to “A Common Word”’, Muslim and Christian Understanding: Theory and Application of ‘A Common Word’, 2.March (2010), 111–30 <https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230114401>.

[32] David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation (Yale University Press, 2017).

[33] Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

[34] Margaret Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place (Revelation 1.1) (T&T Clark, 2000); ‘CHURCH FATHERS: Dialogue with Trypho, Chapters 55–68 (Justin Martyr)’ <https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01285.htm> [accessed 28 March 2021].

[35] Fokin, LVIII.

[36] Edward Butler; Schuon, Dimensions of Islam.

[37] Harry Oldmeadow and William Stoddart, Frithjof Schuon Perennial Philosophy (World Wisdom, 2010).

[38] Schuon and Nasr.

Combining these principles, we have the various schema of Trinity. The first is that of Atma (Father), Being (Son), Intellect (Spirit). There is also Being (Father), Life (Spirit), Intellect (Son). And yet there is also Being (Father), Intellect (Spirit), and the earthly and paradisal Christ who ascended. It is thus that the Trinitarian formula does not refer to three distinct individuals but the relationships of the manifestations of Atma (or the non-manifestation, in the case where Atma is “Father”). It is one God (YHWH, if we wish) through his several manifestations. This is the basic Schuonian “Vertical” Trinity. To end this, I want to say that “the Spirit” for Schuon does indeed precede the Son when the relationship is Atma/Father and Being/Son[38], but it is not as a distinct “hypostasis” in the sense of manifestation, but simply as the “power” of Atma to manifest Being. This is first “Unlimited” of Proclus. Thus, for Schuon, although the Spirit does, in a sense, precede the Son, it is only when it proceeds through the Son, such that it is now in the manner of the filoque, that the Spirit manifests (or is revealed) as a distinct hypostasis (Life and/or Intellect), for what is Life but the Power of Being and Intellect the Power of Life?

I'm just a fiction loving theology amateur with a background in Physics, who loves to integrate the fragmented parts of his life into a Christocentric whole

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jedi Scribe

Jedi Scribe

I'm just a fiction loving theology amateur with a background in Physics, who loves to integrate the fragmented parts of his life into a Christocentric whole

More from Medium

Summary of ‘The Economics of Social Problems’

A philosophical treatise on extremism — an elaborated review of Quassim Cassim’s ‘Extremism: A…

Permanence and Impermanence

O tempora, o mores!