One of the main points of dissension which led to the Reformation, and caused Christians to split up into Protestants and Catholics, was the contention that it should not be the exclusive privilege of the priesthood to interpret the Bible to the faithful. The Holy Book should be the common property of every son and daughter of the Church and should diligently be read by all.
This dissension must have arisen as the result of one of two assumptions. Either the Bible is plain sailing and holds a clear and simple message for everybody to understand, needing no interpretation; or, the priest is not the ideal and rightful interpreter (having failed in his task or his title thereto being denied), and it is rather the divine heritage of every individual believer to gain, through study and introspection, a measure of understanding — a greater measure, presumably, than could be his through any vicarious interpretation, and one better suited to the particular limitations of his comprehension. It must be obvious to anybody who has read the Bible and has seriously tried to understand its meaning, that the contention that the Bible contains nothing but plain narrative and a straightforward message cannot conscientiously be upheld. Whatever the merits may be of the dispute as to the means whereby textual enlightenment should be obtained, the need for enlightenment itself can scarcely be denied.
One of the most cryptic statements and one which must be meaningless to many people is to be found in the well-known opening phrases of the Gospel according to St. John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
What was this mysterious "Word" whereby "all things were made," and without which "was not any thing made that was made"?
When we think of a "beginning" we are naturally led to think of an all-embracing Omnipotence, a Cause without cause, in which all the potentialities of the manifested world are hid. We cannot think of a beginning out of nothingness. Mainly because we cannot think of nothingness. And quite rightly so. For nothingness is a meaningless word. Derived from "not something," it is extended to "not anything," but this is a logical absurdity, for the full meaning of "not something" is of course "not something, but something else." That which precedes a "beginning" can, therefore, not be "nothingness," but must hold in its womb the seeds of all things to come.
Now just when do these seeds spring to life? It is obvious that they do when it is consciously known that they do. In other words, their coming to life is in the consciousness thereof. Prior to the beginning of all things, i.e. the beginning of existence as we know it, there was no such consciousness. We cannot conceive of the great Cause of all causes being conscious of Itself. For consciousness means appreciation, appraisal, whether praise or criticism. This again postulates an intelligence outside of what is being appraised, an "observer" on a level of its own. But this would imply a duality which runs counter to our conception of a beginning. There must be "one" before there can be "two."
But if there is no consciousness at the beginning of all things of whatever there is supposed to exist, then we may reasonably assert that it does not in effect exist in the sense we apply to that word. Therefore, for there to be any effective existence something must issue out of this seeming state of nothingness, something that, because of its being part of the whole, will have a recollection of the whole.
When we think, therefore, of a "beginning," we can only think of something that we know to be a secondary phenomenon, an effect of that Cause without cause, which must needs be produced to enable that First Cause to manifest itself, in other words to "gain existence." Why it should be necessary for that First Cause to have an existence at all, is something that simply cannot be answered. Presumably the question is irrational because it is based on our conception of things in dealing with matters which are entirely beyond our limited, poor three-dimensional comprehension. We know that there are certain things of which our mind cannot conceive. Infinity, eternity . . . In mathematics we have a language which goes on from the point where our mental images fail us, and which proves to us that there must be conceptions which we cannot at present grasp. But "there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed, neither hid, that shall not be known," and it is our divine heritage to attain in due course to the knowledge of all these things.
On the basis of the duality inherent in consciousness, we must assume that the conscious part is less perfect than that of which it is conscious, because the former has issued from the latter and can, therefore, never in any sense be "more." Neither can it be perfectly equal, as in that case there would be no duality. Manifestation then becomes an aspect of loss of perfection and the essence of the Divine Origin is reflected in the Manifested World as consciousness. Consciousness may thus be seen as a yardstick: the part applied to the whole. And we are equally justified in saying that every emanation from the whole, by being of its substance, must have a consciousness of the whole, as in saying that being part of the whole is in having this consciousness.
There is nothing in the Universe which the researches of man have found to be stationary. Neither can we reasonably impute to this secondary phenomenon a state of absolute immobility. In analogy of all that nature has taught us, we can only think of the issuing of the manifested world from a state of non-manifestation as a kind of vibration. In order to manifest itself, the Divine Source must externalize itself. Looking at it as we would at a physical phenomenon we would say that this would set up a tension. The externalized part is irresistibly drawn towards its source, like a string that is pulled away from the bow. On the outward swing it loses some of its "perfection." Adhering to this scientific analogy, we might say that some of the energy of this "perfection" is converted into the power required for the outward movement. On the inward swing it gains "perfection," until it identifies itself again with its source, thus completing one pulsation. Of course, we should beware of taking this literally. It is an image which helps us visualize a difficult concept. It helps building a bridge to cross the gap between the beginning of all things, which our logic tells us can have no effective existence, and our conception of a world which surely must have had its origin in a material manifestation of some sort. The duality of an oscillatory movement — in-and-out, wave and node — makes this easier for us to understand: a going-out-of-itself for the purpose of manifestation, to "gain existence," yet a constant returning to itself so as to retain the essence of its indivisible divine being.
It may be mentioned in passing that this idea of the manifested part, i.e. the created world, being of necessity the product of a loss of perfection, may be at the bottom of the notion of "original sin."
Manifestation then means existence and a higher or lesser degree of consciousness. And existence — or consciousness — implies substance. For we cannot think of any kind of existence, without thinking at the same time of substance: something observable outside the self, be it physical or mental matter — "such things as dreams are made on." Looking at it again as we would at a physical phenomenon, it is easy to understand that the primary pulsations of manifestation will propagate themselves in this externalized substance. Just as a pebble thrown into the water will not cause an isolated ring to open and close again around the point of impact, but send ripples all over the surface of the water, so will cosmic ripples, pulsations of energy, be sent out in all directions. There is consciousness, there is matter, there is pulsation: a new world has come into being.
These "ripples," as the new world grows and unfolds itself on the breath of Brahma, may travel a long way from their source. They may, on the same principle as has been applied to the first pulsation, lose "perfection" and gain lesser manifestations of power; they may, as it were, lose spirit and gain matter, but they cannot go on in the outward direction for ever. In common parlance: in that direction there is nowhere for them to go. Their only fulfilment is in their ultimate return to their Source. This is what we all instinctively know and all we ever can know of the "purpose" of God's Creation.
Let us now go back to John, the Apostle.
In his days it was not the custom to write long and explicit philosophic dissertations. Certain records were kept in a cryptic style for those "who had ears to hear," and for those who had not, explanations were given orally by the initiated.
Now if you had to express in a short and cryptic message what we have so ponderously tried to explain, what image would you think of? How would you convey the idea of a Nothingness fraught with the potentialities of a whole new world; the throbbing pulsation of the birth of this world; its existence — separate yet inalienably related to its Source . . .? A nothingness which is the Ultimate Perfection and which is so complete, so all-encompassing, that it is beyond the sphere of conscious perception.
The Word, says the Apostle, was with God, and the Word was God.
A void, therefore, which holds in its womb everything that ever is or will be. For it holds the "Word."
Try to visualize what this means. Here we have the larynx, connected with the lungs as with a pair of bellows. Lungs and windpipe are filled with air. Can we think of anything less substantial than air? The bellows begin to work and still nothing happens. Some particles of air are displaced. For the rest: nothingness.
And again air is pressed upward through the larynx. But this time larynx, tongue and lips assume certain positions, make certain movements, and lo! . . . there is suddenly not only sound, but meaning: a word. Materially, we can hardly trace what has happened. Vibrations have been set up. But with what tremendous consequences! Just think of the prisoner in the dock; of the youth to whom Life holds out a glorious promise; of those who are laden. . . .
"To be hanged by the neck" . . . "till death do us part" . . . "I am the Resurrection and the Life" . . .
Just words. . . . Vibrations out of the nothingness of thin air. But to those who hear the words, reality is created. The reality of the ransom of a wasted life; the reality of blissful adventure; the reality of the solace of eternal life because of eternal love. . . .
Out of No-thing-ness new worlds are created. . . .
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
For those who have ears to hear, could a better image have been chosen?
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