Return to Home

(4) Angel, Image and Symbol

Behold! The Lord is our mirror;
open your eyes and see them in him,
and learn the manner of your face.
Odes of St. Solomon, 13:1

When the ultimate level of non-reaction has been reached,
awareness can clearly see itself as independent
from the fundamental qualities of nature.
Patañjali, The Yoga Sutra, I.16

Everything has a surface, forms, sounds and colors....
How can we consider any of them to be the Primitive Being?
—The Writings of
Chuang Tsu, 19

That called Body is a portion of Soul
discerned by the five senses.
—William Blake,
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Nature is a mirror, the very clearest of mirrors; look into it and admire!
—Feodor Dostoyevsky,
Crime and Punishment

The remarkable angel/image/symbol analysis woven thru the three Coptic Gospels proposes replacing [A] the ‘worldly’ frame of reference (paradigm, protocol, model, program, vocabulary) with [B] a ‘celestial’ frame of reference (paradigm, protocol, model, program, vocabulary). According to the former, we are electronic machines in a material universe; according to the latter, we are eternal spirits in the mind of God, reflecting his imagination in our five senses.

I. (Th 5/84) Nothing is hidden; our sensory images do not disguise anything ulterior—that is, there is nothing behind or beyond or within them. In philosophical terms, there is no material substratum underlying what is perceived. So in his superlative study, Claude Tresmontant states that ‘biblical metaphysics is characterized by the absence of the negative concept of matter.... The Hebrew tradition ... uncompromisingly affirms the goodness of reality, of the sensible world, of created things.... [Thus] the Hebrew conception of the sensible insofar as it differs from the Greek, is [of] a world in which the idea of “matter” does not occur.... Hebrew is a very concrete language.... It has no word for “matter” nor for “body” [as contrasted with “soul”], because these concepts do not cover any empirical realities. Nobody ever saw any “matter” nor a “body”, such as they are defined by substantial dualism. The sensible elements—wood, iron, water—are not “matter”; they are sensible realities.... If we wish to refer to the sensible as “matter”, there can be no objection. It is just a question of words. But then we must make quite sure of our meaning and not refer to ... an inconceivable “material substance”.’ (Biblio.19; in the Middle Ages, the Jewish philosophers adopted the term mlg [golem: embryo; only in Ps 139:16] to signify matter)

II. (Th 19/22/36/50/67/80/83, Ph 24/26/81/84/95) Starting with this implicit axiom that there can be no such thing as ‘matter’ (that being, in our modern phrase, an essentially non-referential term), the texts proceed to designate our entire sensory field as an ‘image’ or ‘images’. This latter therefore serves as a collective term for what recent philosophers have called ‘phenomena’ or ‘sense-data’—including one’s interior soliloquy, memories, emotions and fantasies, as well as those perceptions which comprise one's individual incarnation together with its empirical environment.

III. (Th 37/42, Ph 9/30/47/85/112) But imagery logically presupposes a consciousness which perceives them, a witness. This correspondingly juxtaposed individual ego is then designated as an ‘angel’, a pure awareness which like a mirror ‘reflects’ (contemplates) its spacio-temporal complex of sensory images. In this way, the angel is said to be ‘mated’ with its image(s). Furthermore, as all space and time are merely relations among the images, the angel is itself non-spacio-temporal or ‘eternal’; thus Jn 3:15-16+36/5:24/6:47+54, etc.

IV. (Mt 18:10, Th 5/15/17/52/59/76/91, Ph 65/107) Therefore there is a Universal Consciousness corresponding to the meta-totality of all imagery; this superego is by definition God (Gen 1:26, ‘in our imagination).¹ Each person or angel is thus like a mirror in the mind of God, individually reflecting in his five senses the plethora of the divine imagination.. (¹Victor Hugo, Les Misérables: ‘All the aspects of things are thoughts of God’; Anton Chekhov, The Sea Gull: ‘The common soul of the world is the I.’)

V. Thus, regarding the primordial query of Thales of Miletus (625-546 BC) as to the basic substance of the perceptible Universe—from which all subsequent scientific and philosophical inquiry arose—Christ appears to have taught that it is composed of God’s imagination. It would, I think, be impossible to exaggerate the innovative brilliance of this insight.

VI. (Jn 5:19, Th 75, Ph 6/32/40/93/130/143) To know one's incarnate self as essentially a reflection of imagery in the mind of God, is then to know that one is ‘eternally born in the Bridal-Chamber’ of the mystical union of the Two into One: the Light with the Spirit, the Father with the Mother, the Bridegroom with the Bride¹, and Christ with the Totality. (¹the Song of Songs)

VII. (Th 83, Ph 78, Tr 8/17) But a mirror is itself a type of image, not somehow separate from the visual field, but rather a symmetrical spacial configuration within it—as is indeed an echo a symmetrical temporal configuration in the auditory field. In just such a symmetry are the pair, the angel and its image, united: each individual is a particular reflection within the universal divine imagery. The incarnate Christ is then the perfect mirror-image (‘face-form’) of the Father, in which God beholds himself ideally reflected. We ourselves, on the other hand, are intended by God as imperfect—though perfectible (Mt 5:48, Lk 1:6, Tr 53)mirror-images of incarnation in his imagination.

VIII. (Jn 1:1-3, Ph 10/11/13/25/72/136, Tr 43) Remaining to be considered would be the entire topic of semantics, which is to say of the logos or meaning itself; what is it precisely that characterizes those images—sounds, pictures, gestures, inscriptions, etc., or thoughts thereof—which serve as specifically ‘symbolic images’, including linguistic images? Words and sentences are, after all, themselves images (whether physical or mental) which are being put to a symbolic, communicative use. Are then propositions and their components perhaps, like the persons who use them, essentially reflectional? This would imply language consists in a poly-dimensional symbolizing of its inter-definitions. Here we would have to analyze the various interrelations of at least six parallel binaries: ego/imagery, substance/attribute, subject/object, subject/predicate, active/passive and variable/function—both among individuals and regarding the Godhead.

IX. Regarding only the syntactical structure which is required e.g. in order to format noun-phrases and verb-phrases, we might well think that a person's being essentially a subjective mirroring of objective images could in itself enable him inherently to understand the subject-predicate as well as the active-passive (Jn 5:19) grammatical forms. This would perhaps help to explain the necessarily innate linguistic capacity of children (thus Noam Chomsky) to understand, generate and transform new sentences in the language.

X. Children, however, assuredly learn single words before they learn sentences; so individual words are indeed primitive in language. Now, since a word is an image (sound, inscription, etc.), we might raise the question whether there is a significant logical parallel between such linguistic images and computer icons. For the latter—far from being mere pictures—represent programs as well as data; so we might hypothesize that a word is a type of icon which designates either data or a program. Thus men will, quite naturally, have made computers as simplified models of their own rationality. (Cf. Alan Turing, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence: ‘In the process of trying to imitate an adult human mind, we are bound to think a good deal about the process which has brought it to the state that it is in.’ NB also: ordinary language and life are generally analog, i.e. have continuous rather than digital truth-functions, whereas modern computers function in a binary calculus.)

XI. Such a unique and extraordinary metaphysic, which might be called Spiritual Idealism, has significant parallels with (1) the Neoplatonism of Plotinus in his Enneads; (2) George Berkeley's philosophy of Subjective Idealism, according to which ‘sensible things cannot exist otherwise than in a mind or spirit; whence ... there must be some other Mind wherein they exist’ [Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous]; (3) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s schema of ourselves as monads ‘mirroring’ the Universe, with God as the Supreme Monad [Monadology, 56]; (4) the ego/phenomena analysis of Immanuel Kant, where the ‘unity of consciousness preceding all empirical data,... the transcendental unity of apperception’ is in essential polarity with ‘the [sensory] manifold of all our intuitions’ [Critique of Pure Reason, A106-7]see especially his eloquent ‘transcendental hypothesis’ [A779/B807]; (5) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 5.64, Notebooks 1914-1916 [7.VIII.16, 2.IX.16], and Philosophical Investigations [#373, ‘Theology as grammar’]; (6) Martin Buber, I and Thousee also William James's prior The Will to Believe: ‘The universe is no longer a mere It to us, but a Thou, if we are religious’; (7) Hans Reichenbach, The Philosophy of Space & Time; (8) Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception; and (9) much traditional Oriental epistemology: Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist [Th 30!]thus e.g. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism [Second Series]: ‘The entire structure of [Mahayana] Buddhist philosophy is based on an idealistic monism’; compare also the polymorphic incarnationism of the Bhagavad Gita, 11:5: ‘Behold my forms in hundreds and thousands—diverse, divine, of many colors and shapes’.