The Transcendent Unity of Religions and the Orthodoxy of the Revelations
By Charles Upton
According to my understanding of Traditionalist doctrine, the Revelations must be understood in their own terms because each is “quasi-absolute”; Traditionalism in and of itself is not at meta-doctrine standing above and outside the Revelations by which they can be criticized and evaluated, since such a doctrine could only be based on a new Revelation, and Traditionalism does not claim to be such a Revelation. Certainly the Traditionalist approach will be profoundly esoteric, informed by the doctrines of the most esoteric exemplars of a given Revelation, confirmed and deepened by direct Intellection—but this sort of esoteric understanding cannot deny any orthodox dogma, whether esoteric or exoteric, though it may provide an exegesis of such a dogma that will not satisfy those whose mentality is basically exoteric and literalistic, and will consequently often be considered heterodox by such people. This is due to the fact that both the exoterism and the esoterism of a particular revelation—given that the revelation in question is polarized in this manner, which not every one is—are equally integral aspects of the Revelation in question.
Consequently the out-and-out denial of an orthodox dogma in the name of esoterism indicates not only a departure from religious piety but a failure of Intellection itself. Esoterism is not heterodoxy, but too often heterodoxy uses esoterism as an excuse for its unorthodox speculations, thus producing a pseudo-esoterism which in the last analysis is nothing but an alternative, and therefore heterodox, “exoterism”. A so-called esoterism is valid only when it deepens our understanding of the orthodox dogmas while leaving their “outer” sense entirely intact and authoritative. Esoterism is not doctrinal “wiggle-room” but an ever-deepening insight into the orthodox doctrinal formulations which, whatever religious literalists may believe, does not deny orthodoxy but rather confirms and defends it. It does so by showing how orthodox dogma is not simply extrinsically commanded, but also intrinsically necessary: “I come not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.” As for the doctrine of the Transcendent Unity of Religions, the only point at which it denies the exoteric sense of the Revelations—or appears to—is where a given Revelation claims absolute exclusivity, and consequently denies the God-given nature and the spiritual efficacy of other Revelations. It does so by providing an esoteric exegesis of the scriptures and/or the traditions that are drawn upon to assert this kind of absolute exclusivity. Thus the Christian dogma “none come to the Father but through Me”, drawn from the words of Christ in scripture, may be esoterically understood as referring to the Logos which is the operative Source of every Revelation, though necessarily in differing modes, and exoterically as the truth that, for baptized Christians, Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
My authority for this position is drawn from the following pronouncements by Frithjof Schuon:
….orthodoxy is the principle of formal homogeneity proper to any authentically spiritual perspective; it is therefore an indispensable aspect of all genuine intellectuality….To be orthodox means to participate by way of a doctrine that can properly be called “traditional,” in the immutability of the principles which govern the Universe and fashion our intelligence [from “Orthodoxy and Intellectuality” appearing in Stations of Wisdom: World Wisdom Books, 1995; p. 1].
….religious oppositions cannot but be, not only because forms exclude one another….but because, in the case of religions, each form vehicles an element of absoluteness that constitutes the justification for its existence; now the absolute does not tolerate otherness nor, with all the more reason, plurality….To say form is to say exclusion of possibilities, whence the necessity for those excluded to become realized in other forms…. [Frithjof Schuon, from Christianity/Islam: Essays in Esoteric Ecumenism:World Wisdom Books, 1985; p. 151]
If every man possessed intellect, not merely in a fragmentary or virtual state, but as a fully developed faculty, there would be no Revelations, since total intellection would be a natural thing; but as it has not been like this since the end of the Golden Age. Revelation is not only necessary but even normative in respect to individual intellection, or rather in respect to its formal expression. No intellectuality is possible outside the language of Revelation, a scriptural or oral tradition, although intellection can occur, as an isolated miracle, wherever the intellective faculty exists; but an intellection outside tradition will have neither authority nor efficacy [from “The Nature and Arguments of Faith”, ibid., p. 48].
Agreements? Disagreements? Comments?
Appendix: An Open Letter to Patrick Laude
Dear Prof. Laude:
In your article “The Metaphysics of the Feminine and its Indian Roots” in Crossing Religious Frontiers (where an article of mine also appeared) you present a metaphysics of the feminine based on the writings of both Bede Griffiths and Frithjof Schuon, emphasizing the consonance of their ideas. However, as you undoubtedly know, they were as opposed as they could possibly be in their basic outlook on the nature of religion and revelation. Rama Coomaraswamy in his article “The Desacralization of Hinduism for Western Consumption” points to Sri Aurobindo as the primary source of Bede Griffiths’ ideas. He summarizes Aurobindo’s evolutionary doctrines as follows:
“Man has come to the present stage of evolution through a process of evolutionary growth which is as yet incomplete. Man has to grow in consciousness until he reaches complete and perfect consciousness, not only in his individual, but in his collective and social life. There is at the heart of things a conscious force that is evolving to ever higher forms of being, and indeed, there is also evolution of the Divine. In fact, growth of consciousness is the supreme secret of life and the master key to earthly evolution.”
In the same piece Rama has this to say about Bede Griffiths:
“Father Bede Griffiths, the Benedictine Monk…lived near Auroville in South India. He lived like a Hindu sadhu, supposedly achieving a blend of Eastern and Catholic mysticism. His guru and source of inspiration was….Aurobindo. In his book, A New Vision of Reality, he informs us that the world “is on the verge of a new age and a new culture.” The advertisement tells us he is a “spokesman of the New Age, speaking for it from his Christian-Hindu Ashram … He concludes [with] his radical vision of a new society and a universal religion [sic!] in which the essential values of Christianity will be preserved in living relationship with the other religious traditions of the world.” Here….we have the export of evolutionary and Marxist thought to India, its adoption by a supposed Swami, and its reintroduction to the West…. by Father Griffiths within the Catholic Church.”
Frithjof Schuon, however, in his paper “No Activity without Truth” which was published in The Sword of Gnosis, asserted that
“No new religion can see the light of day in our time….the ideas of “evolution” and “progress” and of a single “civilization” are in effect the most pernicious pseudodogmas the world has ever produced….”
Any uninformed reader of your article, however, will necessarily come away with the idea that Schuon’s and Griffiths’ worldviews are fundamentally similar. Was it your intent to conceal Schuon’s basic disagreement with Griffiths, or was that merely an oversight? Do you still accept Schuon’s rejection of evolution, a single world civilization, and the possibility of a new religious revelation in our time, or have your views on these matters changed? And do you still hold to the principle (presuming you once did) that no one can validly practice two different revealed religions at the same time, as Bede Griffiths apparently did, because (in Schuon’s words) “forms exclude one another”?
There is no question in my mind but that radical changes have taken place in the doctrines of the Traditionalist School in recent years, or at least in the worldviews of a number of writers associated with that School. Everyone has the human right to change his or her ideas; there is no “magisterium” in the Traditionalist School. All that I ask is that we honestly point out the great lack of unanimity in what passes for the Traditionalist School these days, and do our best to clearly articulate the differences, so that our readers can just as clearly choose the path they wish to take.
Patrick Laude Replies:
Although Prof. Laude asked me not to pose his email, I feel comfortable about simply saying that he remains flatly opposed both to the idea of a single universal religion and to the spiritual evolutionism of Bede Griffiths.