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The Imaginal Within The Cosmos: Commentaries on the Cosmic Christ (1)

This is the beginning of a long series of on-going commentaries that will address especially Teilhard de Chardin's sense of the "Cosmic Christ" via my own imaginal perspective.

To quote Teilhard:
"Is the Christ of the Gospels, imagined and loved within the dimensions of a Mediterranean world, capable of still embracing and still forming the centre of our prodigiously expanded universe?"
[Teilhard de Chardin, THE DIVINE MILIEU, Harper & Row, 1960, p. 46.]

I believe before we can answer this question specifically we need to understand what maybe Teilhard means when he notes Christ as "imagined and loved."

I believe historically that there is a Continuum of religious imagery upon imagery coming down through the millennia. Most religious scholars are quite aware of this varied imagery, as surely Teilhard must have been as well. We needn't feel threatened by this human propensity regarding religious imagery or god-imaging. What we seem to be doing throughout is trying to get a better grip on what it is we perceive as "God," perceive as the Ground and Power of the universe. This imagining, this imagery is a natural and reasonable course to take.

With that in mind, returning to Teilhard's above question, he is right to mention the "imagined and loved" Christ rooted in the Mediterranean world, moving onto Northern Europe, into the West, and now outward into the world as a whole. There's one particular book (I have in mind) that covers this perception about Christ. Written by the great church historian and professor emeritus at Yale, Jaroslav Pelikan, this book is entitled JESUS THROUGH THE CENTURIES: HIS PLACE IN THE HISTORY OF CULTURE. It was published by the Yale University Press in 1985.

Now I cannot go into this book verbatim. Rather I would hope some of you might find it for yourself. It's a good and fascinating "read." What I will do is list some of the Table of Contents, which in itself illustrates the changing imagery of the "imagined and loved" Christ. To proceed, here are some of the varied images Pelikan considers:

*The Rabbi--Jesus as teacher and prophet in the setting of first- century Judaism.

*The Turning Point of History--The significance of Christ for human history * apocalypse, prophecy, and ethics in the first and second centuries.

*The Light of the Gentiles--Pagan "anticipations" of Christ, especially Socrates and Virgil * the message of Christian missionaries and apologists to the Greco-Roman world of the second and third centuries.

*The King of Kings--The lordship of Caesar versus the lordship of Christ in the Roman Empire of the second and third centuries.

*The Cosmic Christ--Christ the Logos as the mind, reason, and word of God and as the meaning of the universe in the Christianized Platonic philosophy of the third and fourth centuries.

*The Son of Man--The incarnate Son of God as the revelation both of the promise of human life and of the power of evil, according to the Christian psychology and anthropology worked out above all by Augustine in the fifth century.

*The True Image--Christ as the inspiration for a new art and architecture in Byzantine culture * the artistic and metaphysical meaning of the icons in the eighth and ninth centuries.

*Christ Crucified--The cross in literature and art * the crucified Christ as "the power of God and the wisdom of God" in the Middle Ages.

*The Monk Who Rules the World--The Benedictine definition of "love for Christ" as denial of the world--in eleventh/twelfth centuries.

*The Bridegroom of the Soul--Christian and non-Christian sources of Christian mysticism.

*The Divine and Human Model--The rediscovery of the full humanity of Jesus through Francis of Assisi--in thirteenth/fourteenth centuries.

*The Universal Man--The Renaissance of the fifteenth/sixteenth centuries, with its image of Jesus, as the rebirth of the Christian gospel * "sacred philology" and "the philosophy of Christ" in Erasmus and other humanists.

*The Mirror of the Eternal--Reformation images of Christ * in Reformation art, in the literature of the Catholic Reformation in Spain, as the Mirror of the Good in the Christian politics of Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

*The Prince of Peace--The Reformation and the Wars of Religion * the resurgence of pacifism in the spirit of Christ.

*The Teacher of Common Sense--The quest of the historical Jesus in the scholarship and philosophy of eighteenth century Enlightenment.

*The Poet of the Spirit--Idealism in the philosophy of the nineteenth century and Romanticism; their protest against both orthodox rigidity and rationalist banality, and their portrayal of the beauty and sublimity of Jesus as the "bard of the Holy Ghost" (Emerson).

*The Liberator--Throughout the nineteenth/twentieth centuries, from Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, the use of Jesus' prophetic opposition to economic and social injustice of his time as the dynamic for revolutionary change.

*The Man Who Belongs to the World--The unprecedented circulation of Jesus, during the nineteenth/twentieth centuries, into Asia and Africa * the relation between Jesus and other "Teachers of the Way." Jesus as a world figure, also beyond the borders of Christendom.

Pelikan's book is a shorthand excursion through the shifting imagery of Jesus the Christ through the last two millennia. And what is interesting is that this great Christ Imago seemingly has not diminished, but rather molds itself into new forms for shifting circumstances as it comes down through History.

Now, considering this background of Christ imagery, where can we head with Teilhard and his own vision of the Cosmic Christ? Well, as one can see, just from Pelikan's Table of Contents, there's a historical foundation for this special image of the Cosmic Christ. There's much more, too! But how to approach?

First, somewhere along the line I decided that getting boxed into archaic interpretations about the "Christ," about literalist interpretations of Scripture, no longer made much sense to me. To be honest I hold no simple faith in such--and as a scholar I try to understand "why" we have put ourselves and our perceptions about the Mystery of the universe into these various boxes.

Overall we spend a lot of energy not only remaining in these boxes, but trying to reconfigure them so as to somehow make them relevant to the world always encountering us--whether that world is other religious viewpoints, whether that world is one that scientific discovery makes less corresponding to our long-held archaic views.

Over the years I've worked hard to remove myself from the boxes I have found myself in. And looking at issues such as the Christ, Resurrection, Sacred Messages, etc., I cannot help think of the scientific field of Memetics. It would seem over the millennia we have been bombarded by a very persistent Great Meme. And through these millennia, we can trace the Continuum of this Great Meme-- even as we try to box Such into various religious systems and ever smaller denominational systems.

If one probes deeply into mythology and depth psychology, one can discover this Great Meme in its early configurations in the Greek and Roman Pantheon(s), one can spot it in the god images of the ancient Near East, and eventually link it up to this very day with our very own Western interpretations. And there's another great stream also propelling this Great Meme into our minds, Hellenic and Hellenistic Philosophy. Historically it's easy to see how this Philosophy of the Logos has entered into early Christian interpretations long ago. So it goes, and is going!

I believe there's something very, very REAL involved here. So I'm not knocking our varied interpretations. I'm just knocking our propensity to try to box this REAL in order to make it small--and then waste a lot of energy (and sometimes lives) fighting over whose box is right. On the other hand I sadly realize that for most of humanity such box-ing is probably necessary because of our overall evolutionary development. But for some of us, I think we need to begin to climb out of these boxes and look at their CONTENT from a more universal perspective--as a Continuum of our evolving god-imagery of something we intuit as being very, very REAL.

So, the above is my approach to THAT which some label as the Cosmic Christ. And slowly I hope to glean--and gain from--Teilhard's great interpretations of the REAL via this perspective which is mine alone. Beyond this, operating outside of any box, I hope to re-discover Christ with no intent to offend. .


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