The Symbolism of the Cross

René Guénon

Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2002.
168 pages
ISBN: 0-900588-65-9
Price: $17.95 US
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ISBN: 0-900588-66-7
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The Symbolism of the Cross is a major doctrinal study of the central symbol of Christianity from the standpoint of the universal metaphysical tradition, the ‘perennial philosophy’ as it is called in the West. As Guenon points out, the cross is one of the most universal of all symbols and is far from belonging to Christianity alone. Indeed, Christians have sometimes tended to lose sight of its symbolical significance and to regard it as no more than the sign of a historical event. By restoring to the cross its full spiritual value as a symbol, but without in any way detracting from its historical importance for Christianity, Guenon has performed a task of inestimable importance which perhaps only he, with his unrivalled knowledge of the symbolic languages of both East and West, was qualified to perform.

The Cross is a symbol met with almost everywhere, and from the remotest times; it is therefore far from belonging exclusively to the Christian tradition which, at any rate in its outward and generally known aspect, seems to have lost sight of its symbolical character and to regard it as but the sign of an historical event. Actually, these viewpoints are in no wise mutually exclusive, for the cross, like any other symbol, can be regarded according to manifold senses. The object before us, however, is the metaphysical sense; all other applications are secondary and contingent. If we do consider some of these it will be to attach them to the metaphysical order, for this is what gives them their value.
Rene Guenon, condensed from the Preface

Table of Contents

Multiplicity of States of the Being—Universal Man—Metaphysical Symbolism of the Cross—The Directions of Space—Hindu Theory of the Three Gunas—The Union of Complements—The Resolution of Opposites—War and Peace—The Tree in the Midst—The Swastika—Geometrical Representation of the Degrees of Existence—Geometrical Representation of the States of the Being—Relationship between the Two Foregoing Representations—The Symbolism of Weaving—Representation of the Continuity of the Modalities of One and the Same State of the Being—Relationship between the Point and Space—Ontology of the Burning Bush—Passage from the Rectilinear to Polar Coordinates: Continuity by Rotation—Representation of the Continuity between the different States of the Being—The Universal Spherical Vortex—Determination of Elements in the Representation of the Being—The Far-Eastern Symbol of Yin-Yang: Metaphysical Equivalence of Birth and Death—Significance of the Vertical Axis: Influence of the Will of Heaven—The Celestial Ray and its Plane of Reflection—The Tree and the Serpent—Incommensurability between the Total Being and the Individuality—Place of the Individual Human State in the Being as a Whole—The Great Triad—Center and Circumference—Some Final Remarks on Spatial Symbolism

About the Author

René Guénon (1886–1951) was one of the great luminaries of the twentieth century, whose critique of the modern world has stood fast against the shifting sands of intellectual fashion. His extensive writings, now finally available in English, are a providential treasure-trove for the modern seeker: while pointing ceaselessly to the perennial wisdom found in past cultures ranging from the Shamanistic to the Indian and Chinese, the Hellenic and Judaic, the Christian and Islamic, and including also Alchemy, Hermeticism, and other esoteric currents, they direct the reader also to the deepest level of religious praxis, emphasizing the need for affiliation with a revealed tradition even while acknowledging the final identity of all spiritual paths as they approach the summit of spiritual realization. His greatest contributions are a blindingly lucid exposition of the principles of orthodoxy and traditional metaphysics, an uncompromising critique of the deviation of modernism, and a breath-taking view of the polyvalence of traditional symbols. Implicit in these three genres, as in all Guénon's writing, is the need for personal affiliation with an orthodox tradition as a precondition for a bona fide spiritual practice that might lead, at least in principle, to the intellectual intuition of which he speaks. Little known in the English-speaking world till the recent appearance of his Collected Works in translation, Guénon has nevertheless long been recognized as a veritable criterion of truth by a vanguard of remarkable writers who evince that rare combination: intellectuality and spirituality. Regarded by leading scholars as the first truly authentic interpreter of many Eastern doctrines in the West, Guénon never tired, in face of the seemingly inexorable process of dissolution in the twentieth century, of pointing to the transcendent unity of all religious faiths and the abiding Truth that contains them all.