Commentary: Schuon on the Logos as One, Whole, and All
One of the things that I have come to realize over the past few years is that “Logos” refers to nature, not person. So, when Christ, for example, is called the Logos, we do not mean his person is literally reducible to the word “Logos”. It means that he has the nature of the Logos, and “Logos” is defined by its position in a metaphysical system. The “Logos” of any system is that which occupies the “central” or “prime” position, usually the “top” or the “centre”. In terms of Proclean Neoplatonism, it is a “monad” of a manifold. This is why the Logos is considered on the “created” side of the spectrum in many metaphysical systems like those in Islam, Judaism, and Pagan Neoplatonism, even if, as Logos, it is fully “divinized”. In Christian terms, “Logos” names the created nature of Christ, not the uncreated. Because it is determined, it cannot correspond to the divine nature directly, even if it does correspond to the divine hypostasis that is fully consubstantial via the ineffable divine nature. The subject of what the divine nature is (and more importantly, is not) is a subject for another post. Here, I want to comment on how Schuon understood Logos and how it is both in line with the non-trinitarian religions and Christianity, and also reveal a key component to his understanding of Perennialism, one that has resonances and perhaps identity with a key Christian doctrine: The Sinlessness of Christ. The quote to see is this, from his essay Insights into the Muhammadan Phenomenon:
“every Avatâra is “the Logos” in the cosmic sector allocated to him. Thus to see in a given Founder of religion the sole personification of the Word is a question, not only of perspective, but also of objective reality for those who find themselves enclosed in the corresponding spiritual sector; and this is independent from the question of knowing whether the Prophet concerned possesses — or should possess in function of the nature of his mission or the structure of his message — the same avataric breadth as another Founder of religion; for what matters to God is not the personality of the spokesman alone; it is the totality of his personality and mission taken together. This totality, whatever the forms involved, is always fully the Word of God; it thus constitutes an element of absoluteness and infinitude, of integral and saving Truth.”
Here, we see Schuon’s use of this insight of Logos as “prime” and “centre”. But, we see something else closely related. This is the “Logos” as the “Whole”, and Logos as the “All”. In Neoplatonic terms, these three correspond to “Being, Life, Intellect”. According to Proclus Being is the essential cause of beings as “one”, Life is the cause of beings as “Whole”, Intellect is the cause of beings as “All”. They represent the movement of ontic unity to ontic multiplicity, and they are in a hierarchy, starting with being and ending with intellect. The life of a Prophet, or the Logos for a particular “cosmic sector” — which will be explained — is explained in these three terms.
Firstly, there is the singularity of the Prophet. It is initially strange to talk about the uniqueness of the Prophet and the multiplicity of Prophets to a Christian who considers Christ as the Logos. But the Christian, if he wants to be faithful to his creeds and scripture in theological speculation, has to know that the roots of his theology lies in older Jewish mystical Logos theology, where the Logos is not exclusively one human individual, and is more akin to a “position”, which grants a “nature”, in a sense. It is not that there is a “universal” named Logos. It is that Logos is the “position” of a universal with respect to its particulars, it is the statement of essential unity. The Logos of a multiplicity unifies all that it is a Logos of within itself. It is the unity of natures under its purview. In as much as unity, in the “Platonic” sense — using “platonic” to refer to a particular type of metaphysics that includes philosophies like Advaita — is itself “divinization”, “to make divine”, the Logos is divine in the superlative, to the point that an absolute Logos is the “boundary” between the created and uncreated, “embodying” the uncreated God in its created unity of natures. But, mind you, not simply the God as such. The One and the Monad of being — which is being itself — are distinct. Instead, the “name” of the God, the “idiotes”, to borrow from Proclus, of the God is “in” the Logos, thereby identifying the Logos with the God. In Butler’s words:
“the primary mixture is the ontic double, so to speak, of each deity, which is at once capable of decomposition into its elements in a way that deities are not, and yet has the fixity granted by its causal relationship to the deity, which does not make of Being an unintelligible a posteriori composite because the deities do not produce something fundamentally other than themselves. Each deity produces itself within and as Being in their procession. But each deity is still also and always, inalienably, a henad and supra-essential.”
The “first mixture” is “Being” or the monad of being, being itself, the Logos of all that comes after it. The God is now both beyond being, absolutely prior, and posterior, “caused”. What is “given” to the Monad of being in order to effect this unity of Godhood is the “idiotes”, the “peculiarity” of the God, that makes the God unique, often understood as this God’s “name”. Butler’s system is very strange to many monotheists. I admit it has taken some getting used to. Every God or Goddess here is ineffably prior in this metaphysics. All are “the One”, “The Unit”. But, here, let us take a look at simply one God, since this is the same for all others, and since this is the perspective of most neoplatonic monotheists anyway. This God gives his “name” to Being, and thus Being is God. The Name effects the “consubstantiality” of the God and Being.
For those with eyes for Trinitarian analogies, this is a perfect description of the relationship of Father and Son. It is also a perfect metaphysical description the Logos theology in antique Judaism, Kabbalistic Judaism, and streams of Esoteric Islam. In certain streams of Esoteric Islam, where Neoplatonism was the philosophy of reference, it is the divine Intellect that has the “names” of God. “Intellect” is “Being” turned on itself. All that Intellect “knows” is Being, and so God’s names are simply Being. When united, they are Being itself. When divided, they are beings, emanations of Being. Because of the “consubstantiality” of the name and the God, the God is still One. At the same time, the God has a “double” in and as Being. This talk of the “name” of God is everywhere in antique Jewish and Kabbalist theology. The “angel of the Lord”, the High Priest, Melchizedek, Metatron, all bear “the name”. It is not just words. It is the “seal” of creation, that which holds it together. In short, it is the Logos of creation, and to “bear” the name is not simply to have a title, it is to “embody” it, it is to be the name you bear. The bearer of the name is the Lord. Thus, from the beginning, the human identity of “Logos” is fluid. It is at once “one” name, and yet many (and indeed all) men. The “name” is the divine hypostasis in and as Being, the hypostasis of “Son”, who is also “Father” to all those under “Him” while having a “Father” that is the hyperessential divinity that is his “cause”. Thus, Being is divinized.
This “One Being” is not, and cannot be reducible to one individual human exclusively, since the individuated human and eternal being are of totally different orders, but the divine “person” can be both at once. The “name”, which by now should be clear as not being as such but the Divine hypostasis that causes Being in identifying with it¸ is not “diminished” in the emanation of beings from Being. However the inferiority of the being, if it bears the name, it bears the name completely, without diminishment, such that, for every being on the lower planes, the higher planes are one intelligible order wherein the one name of the God is revealed and “embodied”. Thus, Butler and Logres, the first a polytheist and the other a monotheist, agree on this point:
“…we read that for tertiary beings, “the beings prior to themselves become for them one intelligible order,” appearing as a unity “owing to their benevolent purpose.” And we read at 1048 about “men of old” (Pythagoreans) who “decided to term incorporeal essence as a whole ‘One,’ and the corporeal and in general the divisible ‘Others’; so that in whatever sense you took the One, you would not deviate from the contemplation of incorporeal substances and the ruling henads.””
“If we take our hint from the Orthodox, we might try thinking of the Logos as all higher states of being whatsoever (the lower ones being created by natural deprivation or distortion of the collateral states associated with Logos). The Logos is “Light” or “Life” — the “Kingdom of God”.”
It is because of this principle that Logres says that “Jesus was Himself the embodiment in full of the reign of God: He did not exhaust, but rather, fully expressed, the Logos”. Note the words, “…did not exhaust, but rather, fully expressed”. Christ did not “hoard” all the Logos. Such is impossible, the Logos is not a finite commodity. Being, even if contingent, is limitless. It is the centre of all things and its manifestations express this absolute, that’s why Schuon can say, concerning a Prophet as Logos “it thus constitutes an element of absoluteness and infinitude” and yet, concerning any particular prophet, including Muhammad (PBUH) that they “can be considered as the “best of created beings” and as the Logos without any qualification” because (using Islam as an example) “there is a cosmic sector extending from earth up to the loftiest of the celestial spheres, or up to the “Divine Throne” where Muhammad alone may truly be identified with the Logos”.
A “cosmic sector” can best be described in the words of DB Hart, as “religious symbolic economies”, and as “specific congelations and contractions of consciousness, local dreamscapes or… “mythotopoi,”… where the mystery truly shows itself”. Since, for this kind of worldview “it was assumed that the structure of the world was analogous to the structure of rational thought.”, these symbolic economies are themselves, the chain of being for its inhabitants, through which they are to ascend to divinity. Thus, there is a literal “Islamic” universe, with its heavens and hells. There is similar for others. I take the leap that although there are indeed many “sectors” for one God who has inspired different traditions, there are many other Gods with analogous “sectors”, even if every God is present in each. But, this is not Schuon’s system, only my own appropriation of it. Schuon considered it under the aegis of One God, the God common to the monotheist religions. For Schuon, through and as a Prophet, the Logos shines the fullness of light, and shines in the “triadic” manner mentioned earlier.
It shines as the One Prophet of the Sector, who, through the name, is indeed this one Logos, and not simply a man “adopted” by the Logos. The adoptionist perspective is in a sense valid, if we consider the “ascension” of a Prophet after death, whether considered in the usual sense or in the sense of the “ascension of Christ”, the end is the same, since “ascension” is the original meaning of “resurrection”. Christ ascended from hades back to earth and up to heaven, his body transfigured into the same kind of “celestial body” that pagans attributed to the spirit of demigods. He ascended back to himself, the man who is both on earth and in heaven simultaneously (John 3:13). This is “adoption”, and yet not adoption, because it is the same Son on earth as in heaven. This is the unitive perspective, that of the uniting “name”, that makes this or that prophet “the One Logos”, considered from the point of nature alone (Islamic; and Judaic to a lesser extent) or privileging and separating the name and divinity from the nature (Christian, and in another sense, with another language for these things: the Hindu). The prophet as Logos, as “One” is the principle that guides how we are to understand him and through Him (and for the Christian, as Him), the God.
This eternal singularity of the Logos present in and as the Prophet, the “centre” of the cosmic centre, the religious universe, is eternal. Since eternity is often called “the eternal present”, where all time is concentrated in its being and from which all time unfolds, this means that the perfection of the Prophet is infact suffused throughout the Prophet’s life, being transcendent of it in the Prophets eternal heavenly person and not reducible to any isolated tale of their life. This is because there is no way to “perceive” the eternal object as a category beside temporal. To “perceive” an eternal object is to simply be that eternal object, and here we have in principle the entire thrust of this post and Schuon’s point, the point that informs his perennialism, as I will now explain, using the vestiges Proclean Neoplatonic system.
The basic vestiges useful for me here are depicted as thus:
The definitions to keep in mind are that, for our purposes here:
- Being corresponds to the individuality and singularity of the expression of the Logos in question, the Prophet.
- Life corresponds to the “whole” of the Prophet’s time on the earth, the “architecture” of his time, all the events taken together. In short, the Prophet’s story qua story.
- Intellect corresponds to the individual events of the Prophet’s life taken in isolation, although never disconnected from the whole.
- Soul corresponds to the community where these stories form a central pillar, the “space” where this “intelligible world” of Being, Life and intellect, iconized in the Prophet, are experienced as a community and in person (often simulatenously)
- The visible world then corresponds to the “external” and “physical” manifestations of Soul as “space”, like churches, mosques, cities, and even the entire geography of where people live.
What Schuon says in that one paragraph, in light of this diagram is that the One prophet, utterly singular in and as the Logos (Being) is only known a such through the story of his whole life (Life), not told exhaustively as some sort of diary about every minute of their life, but in segments of utterly meaningful tales, themselves parts of a whole life. Every story told about a prophet is an Icon. In many traditions, seemingly mundane statements in scriptures and biographies are revealed and expounded as icons of divine realities. In Christendom, an entire story can be told in the literal image on one Icon, and this — because it is an “icon”, whether visual or written, through which we see, in the life of the prophet, the Prophet themself — is why these discrete stories correspond to “Intellect”, for Intellect is the reversion of Being, and through Icons, we, through the Prophet in the story, revert on the prophet themself.
In other words, there is the eternal Prophet, the Logos, divinized, who has one seamless life on earth, through which we see the Logos itself as the Prophet, in as much the discrete episodes as in the entire story. For it is the same prophet throughout. It is the one prophet in singularity, it is the One prophet as a “whole life”, and it is the One prophet in the “particular” episodes of life. The prophet is this Being, Life, and most especially the Intellect through which we participate the other two. Thus, the followers are themselves assimilated to the prophet as his “body” as they ascend the chain of being.
This is why, for Schuon, the perfection of a Prophet is in a sense, prior to the Prophet’s manifestation on earth, and can sometimes only be known in hindsight, when the Prophet’s “iconizing life” on earth is complete. This is why, despite the ambiguous nature of every Prophet that is expressed in this or that story does not affect the Prophet’s perfection, for even in those religions that admit faults of prophets, the faults are themselves part of the icon, integrated into perfection. Thus, for the Christian, Christ is perfect, for Christ is the “icon of the Father”. Whatever ambiguous story Christ is involved in, whether violence at the temple or his cursing of the tree or his remarks on the Samaritan woman, is integrated into perfection, not because of dissonance, but because of the person who is vindicated in his ascension. Ascension makes whole, and makes one.