Sophia in Exile: An Introduction
My latest book, Sophia in Exile, appeared in print last week courtesy of Angelico Press. Below is the introduction as found in the text.~ mm
INTRODUCTION: NOTES FROM EXILE
After Francis of Assisi and his companions walked the hundred and ten or so miles from Assisi to Rome, a trek that took days, in order to petition approval for founding the Order of Friars Minor, the cardinals interviewing them asked what their rule would be. Pretty straightforward question. Francis, a pretty straightforward man, held up the book of the Gospels. The cardinalate thought he must be either mistaken or a fool, since such a rule “seemed a thing untried, and too hard for human strength.”  That says pretty much all we need to know about ecclesial governance. Very few princes of the Church take out their own garbage or dirty their hands with manual labor. Living the Gospel, for all their preaching, is ultimately impractical: at worst a nuisance, at best an ideal. Even the order Francis founded couldn’t live up to its own principles and strayed from them during Francis’s lifetime. It brought him great sorrow.
When it happened, I had no idea how prophetic an event the tragic fire at Notre-Dame de Paris on 15 April 2019 would prove to be. It’s a fitting icon for a Church in distress, the weight of its own corruption, not least the ongoing sex scandals that fill us with shame and anger, evidence as they are of an ecclesial structure inured to the sufferings of its victims and further complicated by the manner in which some of its most powerful leaders have continued to shield their own from scrutiny. These are symptoms of a deeper pathology. The hierarchy’s inept and milquetoasty response to the global pandemic that began in early 2020 only further betrays how indifference has become a cardinal virtue. How many millions died without receiving the last sacraments? How many more left the Church permanently because it was too hard for the hierarchy to live out the Gospel and too easy to play the political sycophant? Did Christ wait until lepers were no longer contagious to heal them?
It was under these conditions and in this frame of mind that I wrote this book.
This book, however, is not a jerimiad on the sins and ineptitude of the hierarchy, or even about living through the madness of the pandemic. These things, I think, are only tangential, though nonetheless symptomatic, of a deeper estrangement from the Real that is the true source of our cosmological dissociation, and which has its roots deep in the historical Christian imaginary. This dissociation did not begin with the conflagration of Notre-Dame, nor with the complicity of bishops in the abuses among their ranks. When Christ told Francis “Rebuild my Church,” he was not speaking of San Damiano, though that was what Francis thought at the time. Perhaps he was telling us the same thing with the burning of Notre-Dame, for “every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire” (1 Cor 3:13).
I wrote the first chapter, after which the book is named, in 2019. I did not return to the project until fall of 2020, the confusion of the pandemic and work on my farm taking all of my attention in the interim. Looking at it now, the book can be called the third in a trilogy that started with The Submerged Reality (2015) and continued with Transfiguration (2018), though writing a trilogy was at no point my intention. But here we are. I felt the need to write this book because I came to realize that I had left some things, such as the Gnostic mythos of Sophia and the sophiological structure of marriage, undeveloped in those previous books, and I wanted to provide insight into the poetic metaphysics of Sophiology by deeper examinations of Eleanor Farjeon, Thomas Traherne, the legend of the Holy Grail, the Rosary, and the radical Christian philosophy of Nikolai Berdyaev (the chapter on whom was originally published in the Russian journal Тетради по консерватизму [Essays on Conservatism]). In addition, I felt a call to write on the Creation and our relationship to it—as a biodynamic farmer, this is an environment in which I live and move and have my being—as well as to contribute something on the role of human creativity. These areas of contemplation organically brought me to a consideration of the Realm of Faerie, which has thankfully been getting more serious attention from John Milbank and David Bentley Hart, among others.
As a result of all these commitments and interests, what you have in your hands here is (with the exception of my poetry) the most personal of all of my books to this point. Sophiology, it is my contention, is above all something one does, a way of being. It is not a grand theory, a beautiful intellectual construction. No. Sophiology is an entrance into life.
In the Gnostic mythos, Sophia lives in exile, trapped in a kind of spiritual prison. We, too, live in exile, which is also a spiritual prison. Most of all, we live in exile from the Divine and the Creation. As the pandemic and the ever-increasing totalization of the technocracy have shown, we are also in exile from each other, and, ultimately, from ourselves. This is an untenable situation and one which, if left unchecked, will have disastrous repercussions, many of which are deep into their implementation stages. The antidote to such a situation, as I argue in these pages, lies in reorienting ourselves to the Real, to the sophianic structure of the world. Like St. Francis’s project, this is one of simplicity and not applicable to the needs of hierarchies of power and influence. In essence, what Sophiology offers is a regeneration of life by an engagement with what is Real. And this regeneration is conditioned by learning how to see.
Love is integral to this seeing, as both agapeic opening and as erotic longing. This integral seeing is in not characterized by a spiritual acquisitiveness or desire to possess, so much as it is a product of the subject’s entrance into a loving disposition to that which shines through the world. St. Paul describes such a condition in 1 Corinthians: “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (8:2–3). Those who try to turn Sophiology (or any theological or philosophical gesture) into a method for comprehending or containing the world are barking up the wrong sacred tree. The first movement is in love, and the response to love is not “to know” but to be known.
And in that spirit, I welcome you to these pages.
1. Bonaventura, The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi (London: J. M. Dent, 1904), 30.