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Life as rite, not flight

Tuesday, 23 Sep 2014

Farmer on Staff and Scrip, Dr John Dunn In contrast to modernity, the lives of tradition were led as rite, not flight, and social institutions assumed a sacramental character, for they were the outward and imperfect expression of a supreme spiritual reality.

Society was conceived as a single social organism, a people of God, which reflected St Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ. ‘As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ’ (1 Cor 12:12). With these words St Paul explained the unity and multiplicity which is proper to the Church. ‘For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another’ (Rom 12:4-5). It may be said that, although the concept of People of God highlighted the multiplicity, that of body of Christ emphasised the unity within this multiplicity, pointing out especially the principle and source of this unity: Christ. ‘You are Christ's body, and individually parts of it’ (1Cor 12:27). ‘We, though many, are one body in Christ’ (Rom 12:5). The metaphor highlighted the unity of Christ and the Church, and the unity of the Church's many members among themselves, in virtue of the unity of the entire body with Christ.

The medieval society of western society was structured as a single organism, expressing the need for co-operation among the individual organs and parts in the unity of the whole. It was a living acknowledgement of St. Paul’s admonishment ‘that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another’ (1 Cor 12:25). ‘Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary’ (1 Cor 12:22). We are, St Paul adds, ‘individually parts of one another’ (Rom12:5) in the body of Christ, the Church. The multiplicity of the members and the variety of their functions could never damage this unity, just as, on the other hand, this unity could not cancel or destroy the multiplicity and variety of the members and their functions.

The need for biological harmony in the human organism was applied analogously in theological language to indicate the necessity of solidarity among all the members of the Church community. The Apostle wrote: "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy" (1 Cor 12:26).

Each member of the social organism had its own function: prayer, or defence, or merchandise, or tilling soil. Each received the means suited to its station, and claimed no more. Within classes there was equality; if one took into his hand the living of two, his neighbours would go short.Between classes there had to be inequality; for otherwise a class could perform its function, or - a strange thought to us - enjoy its rights. Peasants were not to encroach on those above them. Lords had not to despoil peasants. Craftsmen and merchants had to receive what would maintain them in their calling, and no more.

Regardless of its place in the hierarchy of functions, each activity was of value on its own plane, provided that it was governed, however remotely, by the end which was common to all; and that end was salvation. Like the celestial order of which it was but a dim reflection, society was stable because there was a common cause in the straining upwards.

Taking the caste system of Hindu India as his prime example of a traditional society, Evola explained how ‘every type of function and activity appeared equally as a point of departure for an elevation in a different and vertical rather than horizontal sense’.1 Emphasising the unity of the social organism, Evola described how ‘everybody perfomed their function within the overall social order, and through their own peculiar bhakti even partook of the supernatural principle of this same order’.2

There was no place either in Christian medieval life for any economic activity which was not related to a sacred end. It is important to understand the holistic nature of this worldview, for it was the totality of traditional society that distinguished it from the modern world, which would eventually fragment tradition’s authority. The material was ordained for the sake of the spiritual; economic goods were instrumental- sicut quaedam adminicula, quibus adjuvamur ad tendendum in beatitudinem. ‘It is lawful to desire temporal blessings’, said St Thomas Aquinas, ‘not putting them in the first place, as though setting up our rest in them, but regarding them as aids to blessedness, in as much as they support our corporal life and serve as instruments for acts of virtue.’3 ‘Riches, as St Antonino commented, exist for man, not man for riches.’4

All activities fell within an all-embracing system, because the members of society, regardless of hierarchy, were united by the goal of salvation and derived their authenticity from it. The Church as the body of Christ offered the doctrine through which that goal was realised. As head of the Church, Christ was the principle and source of cohesion among the members of his body (cf. Col 2:19). He was the principle and source of growth in the Spirit: from him the entire body grew and built‘itself up in love’ (Eph 4:16). This was the reason for the Apostle's exhortation to live the truth in love’ (Eph 4:15). The spiritual growth of the Church's body and its individual members was a growth ‘from Christ’ (the principle) and also ‘into Christ’ (the goal). The Church embraced the whole of life and its authority was final. This meant that there was no division between the inner and personal life, which is the sphere of religion, and the practical interests, the external order, the impersonal mechanism, to which, as modern secularists would have us believe, religion is irrelevant.’5

The absence of a division between the inner and personal life and the external order was characteristic of traditional Hindu society, ‘in the notion of dharma, or one’s peculiar nature to which one is supposed to be faithful”.6 Evola explained that dharma came from the root dr (“to sustain,” “to uphold”) and it expressed the element of order, form, or cosmos that Tradition embodied and implemented over and against chaos and becoming. Through dharma the traditional world, just like every living thing and every being, was upheld; the dams holding back the sea of pure contingency and temporality stood firm; living beings partook of stability’.7

Given the importance of dharma to social cohesiveness and hence to spiritual elevation, it is clear why not being faithful to oneself, by departing from the functions and obligations of caste, ‘was considered a sacrilege that destroys the efficacy of every rite and leads those who are guilty of it to “hell”.... The people guilty of crossing the “caste line” were considered the only impure beings in the entire hierarchy; they were pariahs, or “untouchables” because they represented centres of psychic infection in the sense of an inner dissolution’.8 Such was the opprobrium in which practical interests to the exclusion of religion were held, that the people who practised these activities were held to be social outcasts. They were isolated out of the fear that infection, in the form of purely contingent and temporal activity, entering one part of the social organism threatened deathly disease to the rest.

Any economic activity which was not related to a moral end was considered as a degrading form of escapism. It forced a wedge between the inner life and the external order, splitting the totalising social system through which men derived their authenticity and putting at threat the ultimate goal of salvation. ‘The outcast was just the vanquished - in the Aryan East he was called a fallen one, patitas.’9

Members of the social organism attempted to spiritualise the material by incorporating it in a divine universe, which should absorb and transform it. To that process of transmutation, the life of mere money-making was recalcitrant, hence the stigma attached to it. This found practical expression in Medieval Europe in the forbidding of the business of usury to Christians. For usury was considered to be a sin, on a par with adultery and fornication in its threat to social cohesiveness.

In the Christian mind, there was an opposition between the world, understood as the human sphere, the totality of man on the one hand, and the sphere of God on the other. It was conceived as under the domination of ‘the prince of the world’ or ‘the god of this world’, who was the enemy of God (John 12.31; II Cor. 4.4). The world threatened to dominate and rule over the individuals who constituted it. ‘The spirit of the world’ lay over men ( I Cor. 2.12). The relation of the Christian to the world was that while he had overcome the world and been freed from its tyranny, he remained in the world so long as he existed on earth, continually exposed to its threat (I Cor. 3.21-22: John 17.11). The usurers would typically be non-participants in the body ofthe Church, namely Jews. As outcasts and threats to society and the salvation of its members, they would be feared as associates of the prince of the world.10


1 J. Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Inner Traditions International, Vermont, 1995, p.95

2 Evola p.95


3 Quoted in R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Pelican, Harmondsworth, 1961, p.44

4 Tawney p.44

5 Tawney p.33

6 Evola p.95

7 Evola p.95

8 Evola p.96

9 Evola p.96

10 See J. Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, foreword by Marc Saperstein, The Jewish Publication Society, 1995

© John Dunn.







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