Lichen on stone, Argyll
(Photo: Scott Murray) 

The Sacred and the secular

The theme of this blog is the Sacred. I’ve used the word in previous blogs. It’s a key concept, butmuch more than a concept, it’s the royal road to what is most real. In this secular age the Sacred is rubbished, and yet it persists and will always exist because, despite appearances, it is the origin of all temporal reality. It has to be contrasted strongly with the secular. The secular view of reality wants to ignore, deny and denigrate the Sacred as if it didn’t exist. And of course that’s easy to do, because the Sacred is the still small voice, it’s receptive centre is what Dooyeweerd calls the heart. It’s reference point is the – usually – invisible world of the trans-physical.

The imperium and the Sacred

The Sacred has nothing to do with the imperium, with which it is often confused. Imperium is a Latin word which is defined as ‘an order, command; power, mastery; the government or supreme authority in a state.’ The Roman imperium, like contemporary governments,  wished nothing more than to have imperial authority and to maintain that authority by force of arms. At the trial of Jesus it is represented by Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea. Jesus makes clear that he has nothing to do with the imperium. His kingdom ‘is not of this world,’ if it was his servants would fight, but they don’t. His kingdom is the kingdom of the Sacred.

A leaf collects autumn leaves

(Photo: Scott Murray)

The Sacred erupts

If the secular imperium – and it is an imperium – works through the authority of the state, the Sacred works through the relationship of the Sacred to the individual. It is the individual to which the Sacred speaks, not to the collective or corporate entity. The Sacred erupts and effloresces, i.e. bursts out like a flower, breaks the time barrier! when the conditions are right. In that way, it can affect the collective consciousness. The Jews were a special receptacle for the Sacred. Why do we call the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament Sacred? Because the Sacred – the presence of God – broke through into temporal reality on numerous occasions to individual Jews, Abraham, Moses, Samuel and the prophets.

The imperium, the opposite of the Sacred

For Christians, the final revelation of the Sacred was and is Jesus Christ. It was Jews, the apostles, and especially Paul, who revealed and expounded that this revelation of the Sacred was not for Jews only but for the whole world. The other orthodox Jews expected the Messiah to be part of the imperium, that he would be the ruler of the world! How wrong can you be. The world of which the Messiah is king turns out to have nothing to do with the imperium. His kingdom, as he said, is not of this world but a spiritual kingdom which changes the world sacred heart by sacred heart. It is a risk the Sacred must take, for the alternative is the imperium, the rule by force. And the imperium is diametrically opposed to the Sacred, whose centre is love and freedom.

Cecil Collins (1908-1989) and the Sacred

A friend gave me a loan of a book last night. It was a catalogue of a Retrospective Exhibition (1989) in the Tate of the artist Cecil Collins. I had never heard of Cecil Collins but having looked at his work and read his opinions, I can safely say that he is an artist of the Sacred. Some quotations from his artistic manifesto will make clear where he was coming from. He thought there was a crisis looming for modern culture and that there would have to be a ‘ruthless revaluation.’ This will lead to ‘… the necessity to focus man’s consciousness upon the creative centre of Life, which the great cultures of the world have named the Sacred.’ He talks of ‘the living river of human consciousness’ and he says that ‘The artist is a vehicle of the continuity of that life and his instrument is the myth and the archetypal image.’ His paintings certainly have strong spiritual presence and archetypal feel to them.

The Sacred as pure act

Certainly, the feeling for the Sacred can be communicated through paintings like Collins’, and the artist can evoke ‘the inner life of the soul.’ But I would claim we have to go much futher; that the Sacred is not merely myth and archetypal image, important as these might be. The Sacred is also act in its purest form. That is, the act is outside of cause and effect; it just happens; it erupts. God acts in history. Rudolph Otto in his The Idea of the Holy speaks of the great dread and awe – the mysterium tremendum – and the feeling of the uncanny  which accompanies an experience of the numinous. It’s a feeling of the mere creature before the creator.

Scotland's pride

(Photo: Scott Murray)

Cutting the comet’s tail

The current liberal secular consensus in the West is like a comet with a long tail – a tail which takes in modernism and postmodernism, however defined. Part of this consensus is that the Sacred cannot act, or, to put it another way, that there is no God in any real sense. The Sacred is a myth and a function of the human imagination. Of course, this liberal consensus comes with a lot of unproven presuppositions, which I’ve spoken about in other blog entries.

What one thing would cut off the comet’s tail? The answer is, in a word, a manifestation of the Sacred. I’m convinced that the Sacred is real, most importantly, that the Resurrection of Jesus happened. And if it did, the paradox is that such a one-off event, which is in time and yet outside of temporal cause and effect, has universal implications. It implies there is a dimension outside time and yet which potentially affects everyone.