The Scale of Perfection, Book 2, Part 1 – Chapter 1

dohpeterchina's picture

SECTION I: That a Man is the Image of God after the Soul and not after the Body; and how he is restored and reformed thereto that was misshapen by Sin
SECTION II: That Jews and Pagans and also false Christians are not reformed effectually through the virtue of the Passion through their own Faults

These are chapters 1 to 3 of The Scale of Perfection – Book 2 in Middle English:
This chapitle scheweth that a man is seid the image of God aftir the soule and not aftir the bodi.
Hou it nedide to mankynde that oonli thorugh the passioun of oure Lord it schulde be restorid and reformed that was forsaken bi the first synne.
That Jewes and paynymes and also fals Cristene men are not reformed effectuali thorugh vertu of this passioun for here owen defaute.

jnwarren's picture


I think the idea of a clear division between a "world above" and a "world below" is the result of many centuries of influence upon philosophy and theology of hermetic and gnostic thought, which you can trace roughly from Plato to Hegel (and within Christianity, from Boethius to the latter). The idea--the central tenet of this school of thought--, the abstract particular or "Universal" pemeated the material sphere, and was, in fact, "higher than" brute fact. Indeed, you see this is the creation story:

    "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.... And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God called the firmament Heaven.... And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so...." [Genesis Chapter One, verses 2-11.]

The central tenet of this type of thinking--which was indeed to guide most disciplines--rationalist, "Idealist", scientific (which were all more or less idealistic, in that they professed a committment to these abstract particulars, or Universals, e.g., "the Kingdom of Heaven", Bhodi, Moksha, Plato's Forms, and so on down the line)--was the predominance of the idea over and above the (subordinate) material reality which was, to all concerned, "mere appearance" (see Kant's discussion of phenomena vs. noumena in the Critique of Pure Reason, a most important text for the project of "philosophy" and arguably the "Last Stand" of this type of thinking [idealism]). Even Aristotle disputed the logical efficacy of this belief, though his symbolic logic was arguably not yet at an advanced enough stage to clearly articulate the errors in reasoning responsible for commitment to it.

Again, this line of thinking finds its crux in the likes of Hegel, who proposed a universal "Mind", an Absolute which was (opposed to Kant's synthetic a priori) realizing itself through the "Laws of History" (capital "H"), unbeknownst to the "measly" human race, which were merely its articulators, "cogs in the machine", so to speak.

Needless to say, Hegel's "Tower of Babel" has since long collapsed and there ae and have been massive criticisms (see here for a list of references) against its validity, not least from a young German law student at Jena by the name of Karl Marx, who was not alone in dismissing Hegel's attempts at formulating a "Theory of the Absolute" as arrogant and "contradictory" (to use Hegel's own term). Other notable critics of Hegelian systems include Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard, whose work The Sickness unto Death was a direct rebuttal to the Phenomenology of the Spirit, one of the most outrageous and reactionary works of all time.

Marx moreso than Kierkegaard (who was really more concerned with the spiritual, "existential" elements that contribute to a person's identity and sense of self, regardless of any historical context, and such, take as their basis certain a priori "beliefs" or "principles") critiqued the idea of a division between the "pie in the sky" world of Heaven, The Absolute, Spirit, "Mind", etc. as being essentially crystallizations of millenia of reified thinking the nature of which reinforced and, furthermore, justified the present state of affairs. Marx tied his historically critical analysis of progressive stages of "material" evolution (.g, the transformation from slavery to feudalism, and, likewise, the elimination of this for modern bourgeoisie capitalism) to the co-mingled evolutionary changes in thought which could be found to pop up (strangely enough) around the time of these massive shifts in the "base" structure of societies (his examples are the peasant riots of the 16th century that led to the, and spawned out of the Protestant Reformation as well as the imperialist "projects" of populist figures like Louis Napoleon and Julius Caesar), all of which could be clearly tied to the same material/ideal substratum. Argues Marx in The German Ideology

    "History is nothing but the succession of the separate generations, each of which exploits the materials, the capital funds, the productive forces handed down to it by all preceding generations, and thus, on the one hand, continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances and, on the other, modifies the old circumstances with a completely changed activity. This can be speculatively distorted so that later history is made the goal of earlier history, e.g. the goal ascribed to the discovery of America is to further the eruption of the French Revolution. Thereby history receives its own special aims and becomes “a person rating with other persons” (to wit: “Self-Consciousness, Criticism, the Unique,” etc.), while what is designated with the words “destiny,” “goal,” “germ,” or “idea” of earlier history is nothing more than an abstraction formed from later history, from the active influence which earlier history exercises on later history"

, and later

    "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance."

As far as my own biography goes, though I have never been historically "close" to the Christian way of life--I was always skeptical, even as a child, of the preachings of pastors and of much of what I read in the scriptures-- having gone to high school in a non-traditional atmosphere (I attended the Alabama School of Math & Science in Mobile), I further distanced myself form the traditional "nomos" of Christian orthodoxy, under whose dominion I had never previously fallen snare, arguably. I took many courses in science, literature, and in philosophy, and was arguably exposed to arenas of thinking I had never before imagined: I, however, remained the skeptic--I remember many heated debates at the time where I articulated opinions I would later read more fully elucidated in Friedrich Nietzsche, once I began attending university in Tuscaloosa. At that point, however, I was comfortable reproducing Plato's argument for the Ideal and for Forms ad hoc, without really understanding what logic they entailed personally. ANd I suppose, to a certain extent, it worked for me, at least for the moment.

When I started taking classes at the University of Alabama, I was wrangled with "anomy", a loss of center: whereas ASMS had been a closely woven group of about 300 students who were all in roughly the same boat and shared an interest for intellectual pursuits, UA was the mirror image of this: a highly "corporate", anonymous consortium of dozens of schools and disciplines (with roughly 25,000 students a significant proportion of which were conservative, reactionary rich, white kids who had never known poverty or what it means to be oppressed and exploited. Needless to say, I was disheartened and lost "grip" on reality. I found neither purpose nor place, and many of my friends, I realized, were merely "sunshine friends", who dropped like flies when the music died. ALbeit, I had some rough times and travelled and got arrested multiple times, dropped out and came back to school--having finally found out about a program that catered to students of my caliber--people seeking a broad knowledge base and who were learning "merely for its own sake". I joined the program and met osme wonderful people in so doing, who were very helpful and understanding and who are still an major asset in my life. I went to church occasionally--mostly to the Episcopal church on campus-- and I found what I saw there beautiful on occasions and tragic and simplistic at other times. I was reading individuals like Kierkegaard and Tillich, who offered ideas and solutions to these great crises that my life was undergoing. And I took it all in stride, I guess you could say. I still read Kierkegaard, and one of my favorite works of his was Fear and Trembling which was a very powerful work for me at the time.

Additionally, I read the works of Thomas Merton, who my roommate at this time was reading, from time to time, and found his style quite provocative. It made me want to sing the Rosary! For the first time in my life, I seriously began entertaining the thought of conversion--first as an Episcopalian, then, after I moved again, as a Catholic. I got in touch with the Deacon of a local parish, St. Mary's of the Visitation, and we engaged in a private dialogue on religion and the church. He recommended some readings, many of which I again took in stride.

On the other hand, I had, through my meanderings through the tomes and facilities of the modern university as well as conversations with professors and teachers, stumbled across several powerful ideas that began to shift the way I thought about myself in relation to the world. Among these were the writings of Marx and his disciples (Georg Lukacs, Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin were early favorites), which I had first encountered in a history class my freshman year at UA when we read the Communist Manifesto, which led me to--timidly, as though it were "sinful" to do so!--look him (Marx) up in the university library catalog: I found many, many hits, and I, as someone who never asked for help out of ignorance (I always liked Kierkegaard's interpretation of Revelation and "sin as ignorance"--very Platonic!), didn't know where to turn! I pulled out the first book I found on the list (which just so happened to be the third volume of Capital, and carried it home for Christmas, where it mostly sat on my shelf for three weeks, me barely getting through the three or four prefaces before giving up and going outside or playing with the cat instead, out of sheer frustration.

Later the following year, I got an impulse to go back to Marx and emailed my history professor (isn't technology wonderful?). He gave me a thorough list of books to look up and suggested we do a directed reading on the books, which I think were Lukacs' History & Class Consciousness, which I finally broke down and bought, and some essays by Walter Benjamin on modern art. Over the next few months I read between Lukacs, Benjamin, Bloch and finally even Marx, who, after reading some contextual background out of L. Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxism, a beuatiful and lucid three volume history of the rise, development and dissolution of Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, I finally went back to Capital beginning this time with the first volume, starting with the first chapter and working my way through each of them individually, first in the original German (which I found a copy of at the local library here in Huntsville), and then in English. I got through roughly the first eight chapters over Christmas last year and I can honestly say, all medicine doesn't have to hurt! Jesus said "my yoke is light", but Marx turns that on its head and says (not "there is no yoke"--this isn't the Matrix!), but "why do you carry this yoke?", _What_ is this yoke?", "how did it arise?", etc. etc., and a very humorous, revealing exposiiton of the predominant mode of exchange, arguably, in human society (that of commodities) is presented within the pages of the book. I realized what the _source_ was of all my alienation and disgruntlement and resort to drug use and depression and all the rest of it: not _myself_ or my "faults", but the _systematically inbuilt structure of the predominant system of production_, which certainly has no small influence on our everyday experiences [I can go into detail about what those influences are, if you like]! Needless to say, I was relieved and liberated! I felt that, for the first time in my life, I wasn't getting a distorted and backwards story about "storks" or "Loch Ness Monsters" or "birds and bees" or anything of the sort--no "beating around the bush"-- no "salving"--but, the plain, hard, unadulterated truth. And that felt good, like I wasn't being _lied_ to all the time (like your point about Fox News, et al:) Whatever can be said, the ideas (and realities) entailed by "surplus value", "commodity fetishism", "reification" and exploitation all rang true as a bell to me: I gobbled it right up.

Instead of providing me with consolation for a world I could never alter, I was being presented the tools to ​criticize and fix the problems in the system, not to mention seeing what those problems _were_ in the first place (or at least learning to articulate them in a certain language that makes sense and is useful)! Very revolutionary! There is a reason we are not taught this stuff in school! It gives the power to the people (who are not seen as corrupt or "natural"/"spiritual", etc. etc., but merely as members of a social whole, individuals with particular as well as general needs. This is important!

Now, this brings me back to the other issue: religion. Again (and I have thought about this some after reading some of the responses posted here), I do not mean to be dogmatic or dismissive of others whose views might be different than my own (and perhaps, even, not so different: on this see the works of Ernesto Cardenal, Paulo Freire, Juergen Moltmann, Bishop Romero and others). However, I _am_ of the belief that, when pressing social, economic and political crises (which we see all around us today, in the Gulf, in racist immigration laws, in our defense of a militant state that refuses to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [Israel], in the global financial meltdown that has led countless individuals to lose their homes, their livelihoods and their sense of direction), it is time to lay down our ideological differences and work to fight for a common cause! This is something I have been thinking _alot_ about lately, and that I think is _absolutely central_ to the efficacy of any radical critique of the existing system: we are not going to be featured on Fox News, so we have to revolutionize the means of communication (_hello_!! you're sitting right in front of it!!!) and subvert--that's right--take back the power, and give it to those who deserve just as much a right to equality as all those greedy, fat cats who fly to their Senate hearings in private jets edited by moderator with Congress!!!

What I mean to point out (and sorry for getting so worked up--that's just who I am) is that we shouldn't shroud ourselves in "mystery" and divine "grace" and so forth, when the answers are right in front of our nose!!! Use simple language that people understand to articulate the pains that are ailing people, not some esoteric dogmatism! That's what I mean to point out! I think we're not so far apart, but it's just the _language_: I'm not telling you to become an Ivy League professor with a turtleneck and a pocket protector(!), but you've got to expand your vocabulary to accommodate the _tremendous shifts_ in cultural capital that have arisen in the last hundred years! Do you think Jesus knew how to battle corporate greed and corruption and the like!? he turned over the tables of money changers, true, but, _but_, there's a difference between a Carney looking to make a buck on the church grounds and a _huge_ multinational corporation with an industrial army and nearly limitless supplies of capital!! We've got to _do_ something about this, not just resign ourselves to the idea that "nothin's gonna change"!! That's ridiculous! Look at MLK and the Civil Rights movement (btw, did you know King was a socialist? ;), they achieved things _no one_ thought would come to pass, and arguably advanced this country _into_ the twentieth century! Good for him! Now we can't let this fire, this spirit die in him--we need to carry on that power and fight against oppression of all people, no matter what color, creed, nationality, sexual orientation, gender or age! Equality is just as far as we allow it to be! _We_ are the majority, not the suits in Washington-- "government _by_ and _for_ the people!"

What we need today is alot more pragmatism: common sense initiatives to critique the idiocy of the bureaucracy--outsourcing the construction of high speed trains to a Spanish company when American workers in Ohio are being laid off every day-- that's _stupid_! That's _stupid_! We need to fight this sort of alienating and inconsiderate tendencies by systems that have grown too large for their own britches. Even Jefferson saw the need for occasional revolution and rebellion (not Tea Party rebellion, but the _real_ wham, bam, thank you ma'am sort!) But the powers that be don't want you to know that! They're happy when we come out of our "holes" every four years and cast a ballot, then return to pulling our cranks and working at the Springfield Nuclear plant and eating donuts and saying "d'oh!" all the time. But this does not have to be! And the information is out there: you just have to know what you're looking for!

Anyway, thank you for provoking a rant. I hope you're happy.

" alterius non sit qui suus esse potest "