Chapter 4 of A New Vision of Reality by Fr Bede Griffiths.
For the first time in his book, Fr Bede turns to his own religious and spiritual tradition in pursuing A New Vision of Reality, while not hesitating to show how this tradition in fact connects with other traditions. The primary focus is the New Testament idea of the New Creation. The point and purpose of this creation is to lead us into a new creation; ‘the ultimate goal of humanity is a communion of persons in love’.
In the beginning the universe was undifferentiated. The original cosmos was an undifferentiated unity; the earliest human consciousness was an undifferentiated consciousness. We emerge through all the levels of consciousness, the physical, the vital, the emotional, the imaginative, the rational and the transrational until we reach a fully differentiated unity. The ultimate reality is a differentiated unity which transcends all categories of human thought, but in which all forms of being are integrated in a transcendent unity, which as far as it can be described in human terms is a communion of love, that is, of interpersonal relationship, which recalls the description of the universe in modern physics as ‘a complicated web of independent relationships’.
In Bede’s mind the experience of Jesus is central to this process.
In the resurrection Jesus passed from our present state of material being and consciousness into the final state when matter itself, and with it the human body, passes into the state of the divine being and consciousness, which is the destiny of all humanity.
But we don’t lose our differentiation in this process; we don’t lose our centre and just be absorbed into the One.
The human person does not disintegrate as we pass into the unifying consciousness of the transcendent, but on the contrary becomes more fully personal. The human person is a centre of consciousness which is capable of infinite extension and as it grows it becomes more and more integrated with the whole complex of persons who make up humanity.
As does Teilhard de Chardin, Bede sees that the whole process of evolution is a process of personalisation. But ‘there is no final liberation in this world’.
Every serious religious tradition has recognised the need to transcend the present condition of this world, if humanity is to attain fulfilment….. Myth or symbolic language is the only way in which the ultimate truth can be presented….. The final statement of the myth of the new creation is to be found in the last book of the Bible,…‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth’.…. Our present world is conditioned by our present mode of consciousness; only when that consciousness passes from its present dualistic mode conditioned by time and space will the new creation appear, which is the eternal reality of which our world is a mirror…..
We are destined to pass beyond our present level of consciousness, where we see everything in terms of dualities, of subject and object, time and space, heaven and earth, and to enter into the unifying consciousness beyond the dualities of the mind. Then alone will humanity find its fulfilment.
Bede sees the Spirit as central to this fulfilment. In discussing a famous prophecy of Isaiah in which the prophet has a vision of Paradise when ‘the whole creation will pass from its present state of extension in time and space with all the divisions and conflicts that mark this state, and the animal world will be reconciled with itself and with the human world’ he writes:
This state of Paradise comes when humanity emerges into a new state of consciousness, a state described as the ‘knowledge of the Lord’, that is a higher knowledge or gnosis, known in India as jnana, the direct experience of the indwelling Spirit of God.
Bede links this fulfilment of all being back to the experience of Moses in the wilderness when at the burning bush he heard for the first time the personal name of God. Up until this time the Hebrews had referred to the god of Abraham, their god, by the Canaanite name El, often written in the plural, Elohim. But at the burning bush Moses heard his personal name, Yahweh. The simplest translation is ‘I Am’. The name of the god of Jews and Jesus, believed to be God the creator, is ‘Being’. The implication is All Being. There is no moment more fundamentally important in our own lives than when we say truly from our heart ‘I am’. It already links us with All Being. We are consciously, even if only hesitatingly, part of the Whole, which will one day be fulfilled, as Bede has discussed.
I think it is worth noting that the focus of Bede is very different from much of popular Christianity. There often the primary focus is in being saved, of going to heaven or of receiving the true sacraments and so on. For Bede it is all about interpersonal unity and communion and a New Creation. It is an entirely inclusive process that touches all of life and history. And he wants so much for science and technology to be part of this:
It is only the elevation of science and technology to a place of supreme importance, instead of making them subordinate to the real needs of humanity and the life of the Spirit, that makes them evil and oppressive.
On the other hand his focus is also very different from much ‘progressive’ Christianity which eschews popular concerns with salvation and heaven, and wants to focus on this world and helping to make it work better.
Some possible Discussion Starters:
1. It would seem Bede puts the primary focus not in this creation but in a new creation. How do you feel about this?
2. The idea of different levels of consciousness is very important in Bede’s understanding. Do you have a response to this? How do you understand different levels of consciousness? How might they relate to the unconscious?
3. If Bede is right in what he says about Jesus in his resurrection, what are some possible implications of this for us?
4. Since Bede’s time of writing the idea of scientism has become a lot more popular. What do you think about the tension Bede feels in wanting science to be a servant of humanity and not a master, to be science and not scientism?