A friend and seriously good Catholic scholar, whose name I would otherwise publish, has suggested, as I myself do in my Hamlet essay, that my work is gnostic and that inquiry of this sort into the higher mysteries is dangerous. My first response was to say that Nietzsche is indeed like Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias or like Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic, and I have not done much work on Nietzsche since college. Nietzsche is of course much deeper than the ancient Greek sophists, and much more harmful. We implicate these turns of modern thought in the origin of ideological tyranny, though it is a bit of an argument to demonstrate this. Nietzsche is generally well received due to reputation, and people like to repeat thoughts of his like “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” But these thinkers, like the ancient sophists, hold that tyranny is the good for man, power the important goal of human endeavor. My work, in its explicitness, is a theoretical response to Machiavelli and Nietzsche, and my suggestion is that without some such basis, Catholic and Platonic thought in modernity does not have a response, nor any way to stop diabolism from taking over politics.
Gnostic is of course a word based upon the ancient Greek word Nous, translated variously, but we use the word intellect. It is different from the faculty commonly known as reason, and the two are gradually distinguished in Plato’s Republic. Logistike or calculation is used by us as an instrument when the soul is ordered to seek other goals, but for the intellect, the first principles both theoretical and practical are its proper objects. It is called the eye of the soul. The heretical gnostics considered for example by St. Ireneus spun imaginative cosmologies, going along with the two-thousand year post platonic effort to know being directly, the way we know the outside world. Following Leo Strauss, we keep much of the Platonic replacement for materialist cosmology, the theory of the ideas, and talk of light and word from the sixth book of Plato’s Republic, but we think that Leo Strauss has opened the way to a new effort, an attempt to know being by reflection in the human things and in the soul as an image of God, so we pursue this indirect effort, called political philosophy.
St. John is also called a “gnostic,” and we adhere to this Johannine gnosticism. In the first and third chapters of the gospel of John, the word that was in the beginning was made flesh and dwelt among us. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John writes that although he came to his own home, his people did not receive him…
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power (or liberty, exousian)to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Hence we say that Nous is a thing begotten, and that this is different from the created reason. We think that Plato knew and taught this very thing, when he writes that intelligence and truth are begotten in the soul (Republic 490b, etc). Since this is in each, but is nascent or not yet awakened, we say with Jung that it is “in” the “unconscious.” Nietzsche’s “In the body is the great reason” is a perversion of nous. Hence, the ability to receive the faculty is in the soul, and can be inverted. But in its proper or natural form, it is the soul reborn, the very myster:y referred to by John in chapter 3:,
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit…Are you a teacher of all Israel, and yet you do not understand this?
Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
So our “gnosticism” is like that of the reborn Christians, though we teach that this is not something one does by going through the ritual of baptism on the Church calendar, nor by receiving the Lord as your personal savior, nor indeed by anything that can be done by the will of man. It is not by convention, but by nature, and occurs through penance and a natural process, which opens the eye of the soul to the things of heaven. We say it is a natural process because Socrates and Plato were reborn in this sense, though of course they did not have access to the Christ made flesh or the Biblical teachings. And I suppose this is what the Catholics and Baptists will find objectionable and call heretical gnosticism. So let it be, as long as we are clear. We say that the sacraments are a “copy and a shadow” of the true things that do indeed happen to the soul, and that is our Christian-Platonic psychology.
Second, we refer to Ephesians 5, where Paul says of marriage:
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church…
The profound mystery indicates that the fundamental things of metaphysics are accessible for us through the image of God in man, or that, as Leo Strauss says, “the human things are the key to understanding all things.” We oppose this metaphysics to that of the Johnnies, who talk with great mystery and secrecy of the “Diad” or the fundamental two of the cosmos, heaven and earth or the inside and outside of the Cave in Plato’s allegory. We think the wedding of the Bride and Lamb, alluded to in the 19th chapter of the Revelation, is superior metaphysics, though the supposed opposition between “faith” and “reason” prevents the philosophers from considering such things, which they know ahead of time to be merely parts of our civil religion. We can give some answer to the question of why marriage is sacred or why murder is wrong (Genesis 1:26; 9:6), whereas they, from their metaphysics must simply let humanity descend into lawlessness.
So my critics, if they can stand these dangerous heights, when they look up from their Nietzsche and Machiavelli, might give an account of just why such “gnosticism” is heretical or harmful to the soul. Indeed, as Plato’s Socrates too teaches, anyone for whom the eye of the soul is opened and he begins to see the things of heaven will be considered mad by those around him, and our psychology will surely get out their DSM and seek to drug this thing, the very health of the soul that is the first principle of psychology. We seek a psychology that will teach them to be more moderate, and stop doing this, “Stop drugging my people.”