• Michael Martin

Maybe you noticed it. In the transition from life in the world to a more-or-less (even liturgically) online existence, from a life of faces, of smiles, grimaces, and laughter to a life of masks, suspicion, and muffled speech, we ourselves have changed. Technology, as Heidegger so emphatically asserted, is never neutral. Social media, always threatening in its ability to divide and the temptation to demonize, has reached its apotheosis in this regard, even to the point of laying down the new dogmas by which we should live. And, don’t kid yourself, they are the new dogmas. Those who reject them are ostracized as heretics.

We were warned long ago about this by Goethe, by Mary Shelley and the Romantic poets, later by Rudolf Steiner and Nikolai Berdyaev, by Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul. I even tried to warn about the dangers of this technological world absorbing us in my book, Transfiguration. But all of us, in our warnings, were doomed to the fate of Cassandra. And it now it is too late. Or so it seems

Ellul, a philosopher with whom I feel equal parts attraction (due to his prescience regarding Christianity’s role in the face of the totalizing demands of the technological) and repulsion (due to his dogged iconoclasm), analyzes our predicament in terms of the rise of secular theology, which for him is characterized by two things in particular: 1) the myth of history, in which “the truth of Christianity” is taken to be “dependent upon history” (i.e., the “historical” Jesus); and 2) the myth of science, an “entire theology of the death of God...based...on the popular beliefs and passions of modern man,” which, among other things, ultimately dismisses the reality of Christ as “a human construct.” As Ellul explains, “Christian intellectuals are so imbued with the modern myths, they live so much in today’s sacred, they participate so much in all the rites, all the beliefs, especially those of political religion, that they fail to realize that, there too, it is a matter of religion. That is the fate of all those who live in myth. They are incapable of assessing it as myth” [1]. Writing in the early 1970s (before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs broke out of their parents’ respective garages), Ellul implored, “We have to come out of it.” We haven’t. On the contrary: we’ve become more deeply enmeshed in its invisible web. Somnambulistically, we have started worshiping at new shrines, with new gods, new dogmas. But dogmas create heretics, even secular dogmas. Perhaps therein lies the blessing.

The primary casualty, at least at this point, has been the virtue of charity (caritas in Latin or agape in Greek). We’ve lost the capacity for lovingkindness, or so it seems. The internet and its progeny social media have made sure of it. There is only one truth and science is its name. Unbelievers will be punished, shunned, and shamed.

The ancient hymn “Ubi Caritas” works as an instruction manual for how we should treat each other:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.

Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.

Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.

Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:

Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.

Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.

Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,

Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:

Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,

Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

(I put this in so you can sing along with the clip below).


Where charity and love are, there is God.

The love of Christ has gathered us into one.

Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.

Let us fear and let us love the living God.

And from a sincere heart let us love each other.

Where charity and love are, there is God.

The same whensoever we are gathered as one:

Lest in mind we be divided, let us beware.

Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.

And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, there is God.

Together also with the blessed may we see,

Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:

A joy which is immense, and also approved:

Through the infinity of ages. Amen.

It has been difficult for me to hold to this vision during whatever this is we are living through. But I’m still holding.

Sophiology holds to the goodness in Creation, to goodness of a loving God, and to the goodness of His Wisdom that shines through all. St. Edith Stein, one of my patrons, wrote about being under God’s protection as similar to being in the arms of our own mothers (the maternal image of God is, I think, significant). As we read in Stein’s magnum opus, Finite and Eternal Being:

In the knowledge that being holds me, I rest securely. This security, however, is not the self-assurance of one who under her own power stands on firm ground, but rather the sweet and blissful security of a child that is lifted up and carried by a strong arm…. For if a child were living in constant fear that its mother might let it fall, we should hardly call this a ‘rational’ attitude.” [2]

I don’t see how we’ll be able to regain the spirit of caritas in this simultaneously technological and technocratic coldness we have come to inhabit. I’m not sure it’s possible in such environments. But I know it can found in the Real. Let’s look there.

Connie Dover's extraordinary version of Ubi Caritas”

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

1. Jacques Ellul, The New Demons, trans. C. Edward Hopkin (The Seaberry Press, 1975), 210.

2. Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being: An Attempt at an Ascent to the Meaning of Being, trans. Kurt F. Reinhardt (ICE Publications, 2002), 58.

  • Michael Martin

I have a number of, mostly vague, memories from television in the 1960s. I remember watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, 20 July 1969. I was so tired! I remember watching funerals for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968—and Dwight Eisenhower’s in early 1969. So much darkness my young mind could not process. But there were pleasant experiences, in particular the Beatles performing “All You Need Is Love” on the Our World broadcast on 25 June 1967. Like those other events, it has haunted my life ever since.

The song was broadcast live across the entire planet—the first such technological marvel ever (which seems so unimpressive now, as almost everyone broadcasts across the planet with impunity). In Michigan where I lived (and still do) this happened at just before five o’clock in the afternoon. My mother made me watch the show. Most of it, I recall, did not interest me. Old. People. Talking. But the Beatles—they interested me. I watched on our gigantic console black and white television. It must have weighed over a hundred pounds. Images were fuzzy, the sound was definitely lo-fi. I don’t remember much else. What does stick out in my memory, though, is that afterward I went outside. It was a warm, beautiful summer afternoon. And I noticed that it was beautiful, not something typical for me at five years of age. All you need is love.

It was decades before I realized with what magic this message tinctured me. All you need is love. All of the most beautiful of religious expressions attest to it. Eros infuses Sufi poetry. In Hinduism, schools of Bhakti yoga (of which the so-called “Hare Krishnas” are probably most familiar to those in the West) center themselves on loving devotion to the deity. And, indeed, in Christianity we are told that God is love. God. Is. Love. This is all we really need.

Sophiology certainly upholds this central metaphysical insight, but while some religious iterations of love’s significance in the cosmic dance are deferred to the non-physical, Sophiology simultaneously acknowledges love’s presence in the Creation. All you need is love.

Love is often hard to see in the world right now. So many horrifying images of destruction and hatred are broadcast across the planet every day, hour by hour, minute by minute. More and more we are inured to the horror they broadcast. People think that hatred and destruction can change the world. I agree, they can. But who would want to live in such a world? Only demons. Not I.

So, right now, as rain drenches my gardens, as my coffee grows cold at my elbow, and as my wife enters the kitchen with a pale of fresh milk, I’ll hold onto that moment when a five-year-old boy discovered that all he needed was love. Because it’s really all you need.

A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

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  • Michael Martin

In the study of Sophiology, one inevitably encounters the vast, complex, often confusing mythologies of Gnosticism. Gnosticism borrows freely from Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Platonism and Neoplationism, and any number of systems available to late-classical era investigation. As a Sophiologist, however, I’ve never thought much of the Gnostic and later Manichaean and, even later, Catharist/Albigensian thought regarding Creation as the work of a deluded demiurge. If Sophiology has anything at all of worth to say, it is that Creation, as Genesis 1 tells us, is good. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

This is not to say that I dismiss the Gnostic mythos root and branch. Far from it. Indeed, I think the Gnostic mythos is the ideal diagnostic tool for deciphering the worlds we create or, better, the worlds created around us and which we then, often unconsciously and, for the most part, voluntarily, inhabit and take for the Real. The Gnostic text The Hypostasis of the Archons (also known as The Nature of the Rulers) accurately describes such a “world.” Here are its opening paragraphs:

Concerning the hypostasis of the archons, the great apostle, through the Spirit of the Father of Truth, referred to the ‘authorities [archons] of the darkness’ [Colossians 1:13] and told us ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities of the world and the spirits of wickedness‘ [Ephesians 6:12]. I have sent you this work because you inquire about the hyspostasis of the Archons.

Their leader is blind. Because of his power and ignorance, because of his arrogance, he said, with power, ‘It is I who am God; there is no other.’

When he said this, he sinned against the Realm of the All [the Pleroma]. His boast rose up to Incorruptibility, and a voice answered from Incorruptibility, saying, ‘You are wrong, Samael’ (a name that means ‘god of the blind.’)” [1]

Is this not among the temptations all leaders face, one also offered to Christ in the desert? Are we not all wandering in this desert?

Another person fascinated by Gnosticism and its societal implications (and applications, for that matter) was science-fiction novelist Philip K. Dick. Dick’s work is an extended meditation on individuals caught in a reality that isn’t real, of men and women deceived by simulacra, and of figures manipulated by brainwashing and other forms of social engineering. For Dick, the primary philosophical and spiritual problem facing humanity resides in knowing what is Real. He is likewise acutely sensitive to the possibility that we might be manipulated by maleficent powers interested in exploitation and control under the pretext of upholding the common good. He is a popular writer now (he died in 1982, basically penniless), but he has much to say to populations living under various permutations of the surveillance state. He predicted all of it.

Philip K. Dick

In 1974, Dick came to some realizations about the Constitutional crisis surrounding then President Nixon and the shenanigans at Watergate that certainly bear some relevance to our own time:

The Constitutional guarantees of our country have been suspended for some time now, and an assault has begun on the checks and balances structure of the government. The Republic is in peril; the Republic has been in peril for several years and is now cut away almost to a shadow of itself, barely functioning. I think they are carving it up in their minds, deciding who sits where forever and ever, now. In the face of this, no one notices that virtually everything we believed in is dead: mysteriously killed. It’s best not to talk about this. I’ve tried to list several things to talk about, but so far I can’t find any. I’m trying to list the safe things to talk about, but so far I can’t find any. I’m trying to learn what the Lie is or what the Lies are, but I can’t discern that anymore. Perhaps I sense the Lie is gone from the world because evil is so strong now that it can step forth as it is without deception. The masks are off.”[2]

With the exception of that last sentence (!) he could have written this yesterday.

Dick, however, was no defeatist. Inspired by some mystical experiences he had at around this time, he saw that hope yet persisted. As we writes,

But nevertheless something shines in the dark ahead that is alive and makes no sound. We saw it once before, but that was a long time ago, or maybe our first ancestors did. Or we did as small children. It spoke to us and directed and educated us then; now perhaps it does so again. It sought us out, in the climax of peril. There was no way we could find it; we had to wait for it to come to us.”

This insight is in content not all that different from those realized by Thomas Traherne or by the multifarious languages of Sophiology: The Kingdom of Heaven is within you. Unless you become as a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How like an Angel came I down!

It is important for us as we slog through the hypostasis of our current archons to hold to this fundamental human insight. The Gnostic Hypostasis of the Archons describes it in a beautiful imagination:

You, together with your offspring, are from the Primeval Father; from Above, out of the imperishable Light, their souls are come. Thus the Archons cannot approach them because of the Spirit of Truth within them; and all who have become acquainted with this Way exist deathless in the midst of dying Mankind.”

The great French poet Guillaume Apollinaire paints a similar picture toward the end of his poem “Un Fantome de Nuees”:

The little saltimbanque turned a cart-wheel

With so much harmony

That the organ stopped playing

And the organist hid his face in his hands

With fingers like the descendants of his destiny

Small foetuses which came out of his beard

New Indian cries

The angelic music of trees

The disappearance of the child

The saltimbanques lifted the great dumb-bells in their arms

And juggled with the weights

But each spectator looked in himself for the miraculous child

Century O century of clouds [3]

Look for the miraculous child.

A scene from Blade Runner 2049 (based on Philip K. Dick's work)

1. A mix of translations from two editions and my own editing. See The Nag Hammadi Library, ed. Robinson (Harper & Row, 1977) and The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, ed. Meyer (HarperOne, 2007).

2. Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis, ed. Jackson and Leithem (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 21.

3. Guillaume Apollinaire, Selected Writings, trans. Roger Shattuck (New Directions, 1971).

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

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