Imitation and Truth: The Interdependent Nature Of Eternity and Temporality

Imitation and Truth: The Interdependent Nature Of Eternity and Temporality December 8, 2011

St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures explains how the Christian experience is one of being incorporated into Christ. We take on the name of Christ as our own, for we have put on Christ in baptism and we are anointed with the Holy Spirit in confirmation:

Having been baptized into Christ, and put on Christ, you have been made conformable to the Son of God; for God having foreordained us unto adoption as sons, made us to be conformed to the body of Christ’s glory. Having therefore become partakers of Christ, you are properly called Christs, and of you God said, Touch not My Christs , or anointed. Now you have been made Christs, by receiving the antitype of the Holy Ghost; and all things have been wrought in you by imitation, because you are images of Christ. He washed in the river Jordan, and having imparted of the fragrance of His Godhead to the waters, He came up from them; and the Holy Ghost in the fullness of His being lighted on Him, like resting upon like. And to you in like manner, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given an Unction , the anti-type of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Ghost; of whom also the blessed Esaias, in his prophecy respecting Him, said in the person of the Lord, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me: He has sent Me to preach glad tidings to the poor .[1]

Our sacramental initiation into the Church requires us to follow Christ in imitation of his own baptism. In our baptism, we receive him in us, making us one with him. This is why our baptism also connects us to his death and resurrection. His baptism foreshadowed it, and our baptism unites us to this ultimate Event in history. We become one with Christ so that we can and do rise in glory. This is why the Church is the Body of Christ, for Christ lives in us. It is because of grace, of God’s expansive love, that we can be saved. The Holy Spirit is sent out into the world to help raise us up, to unite us with Christ.

We must understand for grace to be grace, it is not something which can be demanded. It is something which comes to us, and transforms us as long as we cooperate with it. But it is only something which God freely offers to us because he loves us, not because we can demand it from him. If we are not Christian, it leads us (perhaps slowly) to the Christian life as we engage it and cooperate with its promptings. Our actions in the world, especially if they act out some transcendental aspect of the Christian life, can and do draw us in closer to God, because, by such actions, we find ourselves cooperating with grace. We learn that grace has always been there, waiting for us to draw it in to our lives. It might not be that the one who acts in such a way will know they are reenacting the Christian life (Rahner’s “anonymous Christians”), though if they are given access to Christian revelation, they will slowly see how their experience confirms the Christian truth. They will feel drawn to the faith (or redrawn to the faith if they have already been baptized), even if it is something they did not think they wanted. When one chooses to play a certain role in the drama of history, one does more than play it out, but one merges with it, becomes one with it, realizing themselves as themselves only as a result of that role.

This is what happened with Philip K. Dick. His Exegesis is, in part, his realization of the transformation which took place once he acted out a Christian role. He accepted the role, and it transformed him into a Christian. Truth was shown to him because of the role he accepted for himself, and that role became who he was, even if, something inside him struggled against it, contended against, it, and required him to intellectually explain what happened. He would look for any and every other answer he could find, because Christians had often left him a bad impression of Christianity, but he would always come out that what he experienced showed itself as a Christian experience. Thus, he would write: “It explains my twin parallel opposing views of Christianity; on the one hand I feel myself to be a Christian and on the other I view Christians and Christianity with abhorrence and contempt.”[2] He struggled against what he was becoming, and yet he saw he could be nothing but a Christian (however unorthodox his thoughts might be as he explored out the meaning of his experience).

He believed it was because of his role as an author, as one who promoted freedom against tyranny, that he believed he had imitated the work of early Christians, and this was what led him to his revelatory experience:

Thus the person who correctly performs the mythic rite – and does so with absolute faith – encounters the God whom he worships as world rather than anthropomorphic figure. In the final vision, Christianity becomes indistinguishable from Brahmanism, because in this encounter with the cosmic Christ the worship is himself a Christos, a microform of the risen Lord.[3]

What might be seen as blasphemous is verified by what we saw St. Cyril of Jerusalem proclaim – we become united with Christ through imitation of Christ, and so we become Christ – this is exactly what PKD experienced, though explaining it with such a shock because he saw how it validated ideas which he had believed lay outside the Christian faith. Yet, he should not be, because rays of truth can be found in the different faiths of the world, and the Christian has never been called to deny such truths even if they were found in a non-Christian context.

But what about that role? What exactly was it that he did that connected him to Christ? He believed he imitated what the early Christians of the time of the Acts of Apostles did. This led him to experience the freedom Christ gave to them. Christ liberates us from the threats of the powers of the world as the Acts of the Apostles shows us with Paul. Though we know, in history, Paul eventually died as a martyr, the Acts of the Apostles leaves him alive, showing the transcendental experience of the Christian in Christ. In the ultimate spiritual sense, we are freed from the bondage of the world, and the powers of the world have no power over us. Christ has taken that power away and now leaves us free.

PKD believed this truth was already being established in him as he wrote the novel, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. But what was important is not that he could imitate the Christians of the book of Acts. It was that, in a way, the Acts of the Apostles represented some meta-history, that is, in every time, we are living out the Acts of the Apostles:

The space-time world of this sacred time is found in the Bible as the book of ‘Acts.’ Thus when I wrote Tears I discerned this stratum, showing through in a ghostly fashion, as the basis of reality. ‘Acts’ describes the power of Rome as expressed in the Procurator Felix. He interrogates his prisoner Paul; Paul is under arrest and in the hands of the Roman authorities. He will eventually be released. This is the suptratemporal template: the power and presence of Rome; the Procurator; the prison who is interrogated and finally released. The Empire would like to destroy him but in the final phases of the encounter between them fails. Thus the life of the prisoner ends not in martyrdom but in freedom, in release. This is in a sense an opposite story from that of the crucifixion where the prisoner is condemned to death and dies. Here the prisoner is set free and this means that sacred time has moved forward from the time of the Gospels to a different time.[4]

He believed, he had the kernel of faith within which had him cry out for help – and help came. The world changed all around him. The dead universe becomes alive as Christ is seen in it: “I’ve got it all figured out. Now I can quit. Viz: if you believe in the Christian universe – really believe – a miracle (truly) occurs: that much vaster universe with the elements with which it is populated replaces the regular smaller universe.”[5]

What he experienced, near the point of death, was overwhelming:

Absolute space, absolute time, absolute being, absolute knowledge and absolute love: that was what I encountered. It ceaselessly generates new events, new creature and things, which are destroyed – but new ones emerge, richer and more complex and diverse: natura naturans endlessly giving birth to epiforms that perish but are effortlessly superseded: infinite creativity: the real of natura naturata: it is ephemeral but Valis is eternal.[6]

In it, he saw the world in God, he saw the reality of the world as it existed in God—he saw the flux of time overcome by eternity. But it was something more. He saw the Platonic Forms – but he saw them in a rather new way; they are real, they are true, but their relationship to the world makes not only makes the world based upon them, but also, the other way around: they exist because of the world:

Plato was right and the Medieval realists were right; the categories really do exist and they are permanent; but our world is not a reflection, a pale shadow, of them; it is the source for the ‘Form World,’ to use Plato’s term. If Plotinus had my 3-74 experience he would have decided that he saw the Form world, and the Form of Forms: God (or the Good); as the Christian Platonists taught, the Forms – the Form world – which I call Valis and Valis’ macrometasoma – draws from our world rather than casting it as its shadow.[7]

Thus the drama of history is important. It enters into eternity and becomes one with it – eternity is as it is because of what happens in time. The two relate one to another, but for time, for history, to have any meaning, it must have its impact in eternity. And it does: what we choose in time, what we become in time, is rendered eternal, and merges with the realm of the forms. This is exactly what the Form of Forms, the Good, has allowed through the creation of time (even if eternity always reflects upon that choice, it reflects upon it because God has made room for that choice in eternity). This is why the lamb of God is slain from the foundation of the world – the event of events, which took place at a point in human history, shows the relation between time and eternity: what happens in time has becomes eternal truth, but eternal truth influences and develops what happens in time. This is the great paradox. The lamb is slain from the foundation of the world (from eternity) because Christ died on the cross, but Christ died on the cross due to the eternal truth which was generated from that act so that all in time can be saved by it.

What holds this paradox together is the Trinitarian revelation in Christ, the God-man. And he does so by expressing the infinite love of God in his death and resurrection, showing us that God accepts what we make out of our acts of freedom and then transforms it into his own, glorious eternal end.

[1] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “Catechetical Lectures” in NPNF2(7):149 [Lecture XXI.1]

[2] Philip K. Dick, Exegesis. ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2011), 622.

[3] Ibid., 606.

[4] Ibid., 604-5.

[5] Ibid., 528.

[6] Ibid., 538,

[7] Ibid., 600.

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