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The Greatest Spiritual Masterpiece of the Twentieth Century?
on 11 October 2011
At the very beginning of this book, the anonymous author, who left this book behind with strict instructions that it not be published till after his death, addresses the reader: `Your friend greets you, dear Unknown Friend, from beyond the grave.' He means it literally, absolutely literally.
That is to say, in my experience, to engage sincerely with this book is to engage with more than a book. It is to engage with a living spiritual master and genius of the highest order. A very human being, with the warmest of hearts, the most lucid of minds. A profound, profound thinker whose heart, burning with compassion for the world, gave us a manual of practical Christian alchemy - an alchemy that has undone my neuroses, strengthened my sanity, vastly enlarged my scope of feeling, vitalised my mind, melted my anger, fired my compassion, deepened my calmness - and more - so, so much, much more besides.
But not only this, he has given us a compendium of psychology, sociology, politics, theology, philosophy and hermeticism that could offer the new millennium - in all its potential horror - the wisest of guides.
Some may find this hard to read. Try it in the mornings, or whenever you feel freshest and most alert. Any difficulty will not be because it is dry or abstract. No, this is the most human book I have ever read. Human, human, human - kind and warm, profoundly kind and warm - calling us to heal our lives, heal our culture, not with destruction and polemic, but with peace and alchemy, with the most rigorous clarity of thought and the most tender of feelings.
For those suspicious of the author's orthodoxy, I suggest they note its foreword by no less than Hans Urs von Balthasar. And for those suspicious of the author's Catholicism, I would say the author is arguably more holistic than anyone. He deeply recognises the evil in the Church - but refuses a path of polemic. The way to heal any tradition is through loving, gentle alchemy and not revolution, not violence - psychological or otherwise.
In this sense, this is a book of profound holistic peace. He repeatedly affirms all the world's traditions, and those called to participate in them. And yes, in the West he affirms the traditional church (Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), whose sacramental life, he considers as having the greatest healing value for our troubled culture. The sacraments can heal our ever more stressed, nervous, fractured psyches in a profound way. And he regrets the destruction to the traditional church by any who have taken up violence - psychological or otherwise. There is a deep affirmation of sacramental Catholicism here - but not, if you read it carefully, of a Catholicism that destroys, condemns, imposes, or frightens. The author's heart weeps for a Catholicism of non-freedom.
Such vast realms of insight are here. Single paragraphs can furnish years of meditation. Or a sentence might be read ten, twenty times, before one realises it contains a universe of meaning not glimpsed before one is ready. The thought of such thinkers as Aquinas and Kant, Rudolf Steiner and St Francis of Assisi, Eliphas Levi and Carl Gustav Jung and many more is probed, extended, amplified, regenerated. And still so much more. More upon more. World upon world upon world ... There is supernatural and superhuman inspiration and genius at work in these pages. Those who think me excessive, are urged to look at other reviews on this page - which testify, I think, to the immense detonation in consciousness this book can effect ... after which nothing is ever the same again.
Oh, what more can I say to you, dear Unknown Friend who left us this book? You have immeasurably enriched my life beyond compare - far, far beyond compare. You have healed and strengthened and succoured me. You have opened my heart and mind to the Christian Mystery. You have taught me about sincerity, about rigour, about non-violence, about tragedy, about courage, about tears, about philosophy and poetry, and about profound, profound human-ness. I can never thank you enough. I believe your masterpiece may be the most important of the twentieth century and is my greatest source of hope for the twenty- first.