VIII. Justice

Quis custodiat custodes? (Who will guard the guards?. . . The fundamental problem of jurisprudence)

is the key to the eighth Major Arcanum of Tarot:

“the totality of the Card evokes the idea of law interposed between the free action of the individual will and the essence of being. [174]

  • Man can act from his own free will… (law reacts to his action, visibly and invisibly…)
  • Behind this reaction is the essential ground of the ulimate reality or “most real being” (ens realissimum) which confers regularity on the process….
  • Law is interposed between the freedom of man and the freedom of God…

“She is seated between two pillars: that of will (Jachin) and that of providence (Boaz). She does not act; she can only react. This is why she is represented as a woman and not as a man. The crown which she wears indicates that she derives her dignity and mission from above — from the supreme Being, from providence. The balance and the sword that she holds in her hands indicate what she guards (equilibrium) and how she guards it (the sanction of equilibrium) in the domain of the free will of individuals. Thus she says: “I am seated on the seat which is between the individual will of beings and the universal will of the supreme Being. I am the guardian of equilibrium between the individual and the universal. I have the power to re-establish it each time that it is violated. I am order, health, harmony, justice’.’ It is the balance which indicates equilibrium— or order, health, harmony and justice —and it is the sword which signifies the power to re-establish it each time that the individual will sins against the universal will. This is the general meaning of the Card which, so to say, captures our attention from the very beginning of our meditation on the eighth Arcanum.”

As we will see, below, this principle of cosmic equilibrium applies both vertically and horizontally–with reference to both law and grace.  But along the way, a more general principle is emphasized:

  • General meaning is the abstract antechamber to the hermetic meaning…
  • The hermetic meaning entails depth though penetration…
  • [For example] the living God is not the abstract “Absolute” of Hegel,
    but the prototype of prototypes–the living Father of Jesus, et al.

Thus, our anonymous author contrasts the “fiery, luminous and vibrant Being” (i.e. God) to  the “first cause” or “idea” and observes that to substitute the latter for the former is a sin:

“One of the meanings of the first commandment—”Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus xx, 3) —is that one should not substitute an intellectual abstraction of God for the spiritual reality of God” (175).

Similarly, it is said that

An icon is the beginning of the way to spiritual reality; it does not replace it— as in idolatry —but gives an impulse and direction towards it. Similarly, a concept or abstract idea does not replace spiritual reality, but rather gives an impulse and direction towards it. . . . Let us therefore not commit the error of wanting to “explain” a symbol by reducing it to a few general abstract ideas. . . . Rather, let us seek practical spiritual experience of reality and the truth by means of concrete images as well as abstract ideas. For the Tarot is a system or organism of spiritual exercises; in the first place it is practical’.  If this were not so, it would be hardly worthwhile to occupy oneself with it.”

He goes on to say that the reality and truth of Justice manifests itself in the domain of judgement and then draws an important distinction between judging apparent actions– i.e. phenomena —and judging beings, as such, which is beyond our kin:

…it is one thing to judge and another thing to condemn. One judges phenomena and actions, but one cannot judge beings as such.  Because to do so would exceed the competence of the judgement of thought.  Therefore one should not judge beings, because they are inaccessible to the judgement of thought which is founded only on phenomenal experience. Thus, negative judgement concerning beings, or their condemnation, is in reality impossible.  And it is in this sense that there is a ground for understanding the Christian commandment: “Thou shalt not judge”—i.e. do not judge beings, do not condemn.” 176

“one has to know the extent of one’s knowledge and ignorance when one makes a judgement.  And one is always ignorant of the noumenal being (or the soul) of another.”

The example is given of Jesus’ treatment of those who were crucifying him.  Ordinary human understanding renders one verdict, but Jesus hands over judgement to the Father and prays for their forgiveness:

1. what they are doing, from a phenomenal point of view, is criminal;

2 . judgement is handed over to the Father;

3. this is accompanied by the plea “forgive them”, based on the certainty due to intuitive perception that “they know not what they do” (176).

This pattern goes beyond ordinary understanding (which merely accuses any and all appearances of criminal behavior).  In contrast to ordinary understanding, the aforementioned pattern entails “intuition in intelligence” with sympathy and love:

“Intuition being perception due to sympathy and love . . . always plays the role of the defense, the advocate.  As it perceives the soul of beings, it sees only the image of God in them.  Seeing and knowing that the soul of the offender is always the first victim of all sin or crime that he could commit, intuition can play no other role than that of the advocate” (176).

The recognition of the role of intuition as it operates in the jury system of Anglo-Saxon law represents an advance in the justice system inasmuch as it rises above the bare facts of the case and the letter of the law and takes into to consideration extenuating circumstances in such a way as to give equity the last word (177).  This process reflects all three levels of human knowledge as follows:

One can say, therefore, that the process of the exercise of human justice consists in the total exertion of all three cognitive faculties of the human being: the faculty of forming hypotheses on the basis of data supplied by the senses (doxa), the faculty of logical discursion or intellectual weighing for and against these hypotheses (dianoia) and, lastly, the faculty of intuition (episteme).” (177)

By means of dianoia (conclusion based on argument), both the prosecution and the defense reach more refined understandings regarding the guilt or innocence of the defendant as they attempt to move beyond opinions based on the apparent (doxa) facts of the case (supplied by the senses).  Finally– and ideally –the jury applies the elements of intution and sympathy to in a way that tends toward true equity:

“The decision taken by the jury is understood in principle as the result of an effort of consciousness to rise above the appearance of facts and the formalism of logical arguments with a view to an intuirive perception of the matter from a human point of view. It is therefore equity which has the last word” (177).

However, the exercise of human justice is, at best, an image of Divine or cosmic justice.  The latter is aptly illustrated by The Tree of Life in Jewish Cabbala:

Our anonymous author stresses the following points on page 178:

  • The right pillar is often designated as the “pillar of Grace (Mercy)” whilst the left pillar bears the name the “pillar of Severity”.
  • These two pillars . . . correspond, from the point of view of justice, to defense and prosecution, whilst the middle pillar corresponds to equity.
  • The system of the ten Sephiroth is based on mobile equilibrium with the tendency to re-establish it in an instance where a momentary dissymmetry is produced.  It is a system of balance.

He goes on say that there is a horizontal equilibrium– a “right-left” balance — between individual freedom and universal order AND a vertical balance between heaven and earth.  He designates the latter as “the justice of grace” which surpasses the horizontal justice which he associates with karma (178).  The Old Testament, he continues, stands in the same relation to The New Testament as karma does to grace.  And the grace of The New Testament is gratia gratis data (freely given).

Grace freely given, indeed, but not at all forced on the recipient.  If we want forgiveness, we must forgive…  The sun shines on the good and the wicked alike, but it is necessary, he says, “to open our windows in order for it to enter our abode.  Thus,

 The practical meaning of the “heaven-earth” balance is that of cooperation with grace. Human effort is therefore not for nothing in the domain of the working of grace. Neither election alone from above (Calvinism) nor faith alone below (Lutheranism) suffice for the requirements of the “heaven-earth” balance. Chosen or not chosen, having faith or not, it is necessary for us, for example, to “forgive those who trespass against us” here below in order for our trespasses to be forgiven above. There is a correlation —not in measure, but rather in nature— between the scale below, “effort”, and the scale above, “gift”, of the “heaven-earth” balance. The correlation between effort below and gift from above is not, I repeat, one of measure or quantity, but rather one of substance or quality. It can be that the forgiveness on my part of one single offence by another can produce the forgiveness of a thousand or so offences of the same nature by me. The “heaven-earth” balance does not weigh quantity; its working belongs entirely to the domain of quality. This is why there is no quantitative justice in the relationship between efforts below and gifts from above. The latter always surpass the measure of quantitative justice” (179).

Some protestants, especially, will object to this, but such objections may be answered with reference to the necessity of repentance.  There must be an attitude adjustmenta turning of the heart away from the world back toward God.  We are not robots.  If repentance, too, is a gift, it is nonetheless genuine and would often seem to be fostered by the suffering we encounter in our unrepentant state.  Once again, human freedom looms large…

In any event, building on the quantitative-qualitative distinction, our anonymous author at this point offers a brilliant account of hell as being qualitatively eternal (since it cannot be considered quantitatively eternal inasmuch as time does not exist in eternity).  Thus, we can experience eternal punishment in hell– as did Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane –while at the same time remaining free, like the prodigal son, to repent.  Hell, as Origin saw, will, in the end be empty.  And our notions of “spending eternity” in heaven or hell come from translating qualitative truths in quantitative language:

“This subjective state of soul is neither long nor short—it is as intense as eternity is.  Similarly, the blessedness that a saint experiences in the vision of God is as intense as eternity—although it could not so last, since someone present at the ecstasy of a saint would time it as a few minutes. The “region” of eternity is that of intensity, which surpasses the measures of quantity that we employ in time and space. “Eternity” is not a duration of infinite length; it is the “intensity of quality” which, if compared with time and thus ttanslated into the language of quantity, is comparable with an infinite duration” (180).

At this point, he elaborates on St. Paul’s contrast between the Greek, Jewish, and Christian viewpoints in I Corinthians, applying it to the story of the prodigal son:

. . . the “Greeks” would say that the father knew in advance that the son would come back, since the son had, in fact, no other choice, and everything is only a drama in appearance.  The father’s way of acting was only a “clever ruse” (Hegel’s “List der Vernunft”). And the “Jews” would say that it was the power of the father which acted within the soul of the prodigal son and commanded him to return to his father’s home, which irresistible power he could only obey.

Thus the joy and the feast of welcome from the father remain incomprehensible both to the worshippers of God’s wisdom (“Greeks”) and the worshippers of God’s power (“Jews”). The meaning of both is understandable only to the worshippers of the love of God (“Christians”). They understand that the story of the prodigal son is a real drama of real love and real freedom, and that the joy and celebration of the father are genuine, just as the suffering of the father and also that of the son, which preceded their reunion, was genuine. Moreover, they understand that the story of the prodigal son is the history of the whole human race, and that the history of the human race is a real drama of real divine love and real human freedom” (182).

He goes on to apply this distinction, metaphorically, to anyone who deviates from the balance of love toward the extremes of power or worldly wisdom.  Discussing several heresies that have plagued the church over the years, he attributes them to just such deviation (182-183).   Similarly, the debates between the extremes of realism and nominalism is, likewise, illuminated by this metaphor–the former overemphasizing the general at the expense of the individual while the latter, overemphasizing the particular, leads to a proliferation of opinions and sects (183).  The love of God, he concludes– which is central to Christianity –is prerequisite to balance:

“And the ‘love’ of God? It is this third, essentially Christian, principle which has held the ‘balance’ through the course of the centuries, and holds it still in preventing the complete scission and disintegration of Christianity. In so far as there is peace at the heart of Christianity, it is due only to the principle of the supremacy of love” (183).

“…in so far as there is unity in space (the Church) and in time (tradition) for Christianity, this is due neither to “realist” severity nor to “nominalist” indulgence, but rather to the peace of equilibrium between the “Greek” and “Jewish” tendencies that the “Christian” tendency of love has succeeded in establishing and maintaining” (184).

A very similar dynamic is operative in the Hermetic tradition and various “occult movements” where “the Jews” (metaphorically speaking) seek for  miracles and “the Greeks” aspire to absolute theory.  Martinez de Pasqually and Eliphas Levi are noted as examples of the former, and Hoene-Wronski and Fabre d’Olivet the latter.  In contrast to these extremes, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin is discussed in some detail as someone who discovered balance:

“[Louis Claude de Saint-Martin] found the “true theurgy” in the domain of the inner spiritual life and consequently abandoned outer or ceremonial theurgy. On the other hand, Saint-Martin did not take up the “Greek” way: the grandiose intellectual adventure of creating an absolute philosophical system. He remained ‘practical’; he only changed the form of the practice, namely the practice of ceremonial magic for that of sacred or divine magic, which is founded on mystical experience and gnostic revelation. Thus Saint-Martin represents the third tendency in the occidental Hermetic movement— the Christian tendency” (185).

Likewise, he argues, the real life and viability of the Hermetic tradition is found neither in intellectual theory nor in magical practice, but (as stated by the pre-Christian sage in the Asclepius) in

“striving through constant contemplatiton and saintly piety to attain to knowledge of God” . . . For to worship God in thought and spirit with singleness of heart, to rever God in all his works and to give thanks to God, whose will, and his alone, is wholly filled with goodness–this is philosophy unsullied by intrusive cravings for unprofitable knowledge” (185).

This text sets up a discussion of the three basic impulses underlying our desire for knowledge:

  1. Curiosity, where one wants to know for the sake of knowledge (cf. art for art’s sake)
  2. Usefulness, where one is led to the work of research, experimentation and invention through the needs of human life…
  3. The glory of God, where there is neither curiosity nor practical utility but (quoting de Chardin) “the tremendous power of the divine attraction . . . the specific effect of which is . . . to make man’s endeavour holy” (186).

Once again illustrating these ideas with reference to the Corpus Hermeticum, he presents an accusation (prosecution) and defense of our right to pursue knowledge, concluding that

“the defence advanced by Hermes Trismegistus, in so far as it is applied to the use of the cognitive faculty either for the glory of God or for the service of one’s neighbour, is well-founded and just. There is, therefore, a legitimate— even glorious — knowledge, and an illegitimate, vain, indiscreet and foolhardy knowledge. Now, Hermeticism — in its life and soul — is the millennial-old current in human history of knowledge for the sake of the glory of God, whilst the corpus of today’s official sciences is due either to utility or to the desire for knowledge for the sake of knowledge (curiosity).” (188)

Continuing, then, with the theme of balance, he advocates that Hermeticists make peace with the Church and with theologians, on the one hand, and with the Academy and with scientists, on the other.  The proper domain of theologians is “the revealed and absolute truths of salvation (189).  The proper domain of science is empirically objective truths that are of “general validity” (191).   The work of Hermeticists overlaps, somewhat, with both while, at the same time, being in many respects esoteric and personal:

“We Hermeticists are theologians of that Holy Scripture revealing God which is named “the world”; similarly, theologians of the Holy Scriptures revealing God  are Hermeticists in so far as they dedicate their effort to the glory of God” (188).

“The revealed, and therefore absolute, truths of salvation—yes, these are entrusted to the magisterium of the Church, and therefore to the work of interpretation, explanation and presentation of competent theologians. But the immense domain where salvation operates — the physical, vital, psychic and spiritual worlds: their structure, forces, beings, their reciprocal relationships, their transformations and the history of these transformations — aren’t all these aspects of the macrocosm and microcosm, and many others, the field of work to be accomplished for the glory of God and for the benefit of one’s neighbour, for all those who want to do so and who do not want to bury in the earth the talents given to them by the Master (cf. Matthew xxv, 14-30) and thus to be unprofitable servants?” (189).

Likewise, we ought not try to compete with science, whose hereditary domain we share:

“All depends on our decision, we Hermeticists of today, to take either the part of service towards science in its endeavour to explore the realm of depth or that of rivalry with it. The decision to serve implies and entails renunciation of the role of representing an esoteric and sacred science different from exoteric and profane science. It is a matter of renouncing the desire to set up “chair against chair”,  just as with respect to the Church it is a matter of renouncing the desire to erect “altar against altar”.  Hermeticism, in pretending to be science— i.e. a body of doctrines of general validity, and generally demonstrable —can only cut a poor shape. For, being essentially ‘esoteric’, i.e. intimate and personal, it cannot with any appreciable success play the role of a science of general validity demonstrable to everyone.  The ‘esoteric’ character of Hermeticism and the general validity of science are mutually exclusive.  One cannot —and must not —present what is intimate and personal, that is to say esoteric, as having a general validity, that is to say ‘scientific’ (191).

Hermeticism, he concludes is neither a science nor a religion, but a synthesis:

Hermeticism is not a science which differs from other sciences or which even opposes itself to them.  No more is it a religion.  It is a uniting— in the inner forum of personal and intimate consciousness —of revealed truth with truth acquired through human endeavour.  Being a synthesis— intimate and personal for each person — of religion and science, it cannot rival either the one or the other.  A hyphen does not have the function of replacing the two terms that it unites. The true Hermeticist is therefore one who applies to himself a ‘double discipline’ — that of the Church and that of Academia. He prays and he thinks” (191).

In this way, the Hermetic tradition can apply the balance of Justice to both the Church and the Academy, living in service of both rather than setting up Chair against Chair or Alter against Alter (191).  One of the readjustments that would follow from this, he argues, is a restoration of the pre-eminence of the mission and person of Jesus Christ in the spiritual history of mankind which Christian Hermeticists understand to be unique.  Likewise, the Christian Hermitist, he argues, does not let an inordinate emphasis on the Logos or the Cosmic Christ eclipse the importance of the earthly life and ministry of “the Son of man”, Jesus of Nazareth:

It must be pointed out, in the first place, that it was not the revelation or knowledge of the cosmic Logos which gave rise to the new spiritual impulse that manifested itself in the apostles, martyrs and saints—which we call “Christianity”— but rather the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It was not through the name of the Logos that demons were exorcised, the sick were healed, and the dead were brought back to life, but rather through the name of Jesus (cf. Acts iv, 12; Ephesians i, 21). (192)

While affirming the pre-eminence of Jesus, our anonymous author does not denigrate the founders and teachers of other faiths.  With explicit regard to Moses and the prophets, Orpheus, Zarathustra, Krishna, and the ancient Rishis (but by implication, other traditions, schools, and teachers, as well–see page 192), he writes:

“All these souls of mankind’s spiritual history will be resuscitated, i.e. will be called to join the work of the Word that became flesh, that died and rose again from the dead— so that the truth of the promise—”I have come so that nothing should be lost but that all should have eternal life” (John vi, 38-40) –will be accomplished.

Hermeticism also is called to live—not only as a reminiscence, but also as a resuscitation. This will take place when those who are faithful to it— i.e. in whom reminiscences of its past are living —comprehend the truth that man is the key to the world, and that Jesus Christ is the key to man, and that Jesus Christ is the key to the world, and that the world— such as it was before the Fall and such as it will be after its Reintegration —is the Word, and that the Word is Jesus Christ, and that, lastly. Jesus Christ reveals God the Father who transcends both the world and man (195).

In this way, he arrives at the conclusion that

Through Jesus Christ one arrives at the Word or Logos; through the Word or Logos one understands the world; and through the Word and the world, whose unity is the Holy Spirit, one arrives at an eternally-increasing knowledge of the Father (195).

We can link the quotation above to our anonymous author’s emphasis on freedom in this letter (cf. 174, 182) –and to his transitional remarks in anticipation of the ninth letter — by thinking of the role that conscience and freedom play in such a life and how that relates to the balance of Justice:

“. . . free will is the indeterminable factor which docs not allow the part that a man with a well-determined character will take in some circumstances or other to be predicted with certainty. For it is not character which is the source of judgement and conscious choice, but rather this force in us which weighs and judges by means of the balance of Justice.  Freedom is a fact which one experiences when someone judges not by his temperament (“etheric body”) or by his character (“astral body”), but rather by the balance of Justice — or by his own conscience.  The word conscience (“con-science”) contains the idea of balance, for it implies “simultaneous knowing”, i.e. knowledge of the facts of the two scales suspended at the extremities of the beam of the balance. Conscience is neither a product nor a function of character. It is above it. And it is here — and only here — that there begins and there is found the domain of freedom. One is not at all free when one judges or acts according to character or temperament; but one certainly is when one judges and acts according to the balance of Justice, or conscience. But Justice, the practice of the balance, is only the beginning of a long path of the development of conscience —and therefore of the growth of freedom. The following Arcanum, the Hermit, invites us to a meditative endeavour dedicated to the path of conscience.”

MOTT Study Guides –> The Hermit