Christianity as Transformation of Space and Time

Christianity as Transformation of Space and Time

"The Mind is its own place, and in it self can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of heav'n".
Milton, Paradise Lost 1. 254-5


As a theoretical perspective, I would like to consider on one hand the relationships between space, time, and mind: to see if a radical change in perception is possible (a paradigm shift), marked, in our case, by the development of Christianity and the emergency of the Western culture with its particular traits. On the other hand, and concomitantly, I will try to put some emphasis on the relationships between the physical, social, and cognitive spaces (here within Christianity), interconnections which, according to Soja, present "one of the most formidable challenges to contemporary social theory" (Soja, 120).We have here the physical spaces: Jerusalem, the Temple, Holy  Land, Rome; the social spaces: church, society, Roman Empire; and the cognitive (mental ) places: ideology, eschatology, salvation, Christ, Messiah, heaven. The physical spaces become imbedded into the social and cognitive spaces, interestingly enough, not when they were present there, but after they were lost (the Temple and Jerusalem destroyed, Rome conquered by the barbarians, etc.). The persistence of physical spaces (now lost) in the social and cognitive spaces becomes in this case even more remarkable.

When we deal with space - time relationships, it would be of help to keep in mind a parallel set of relationships, namely reason- imagination (or left - right brain hemisphere). The reason for doing this is because I find mind as being the common denominator for both sets, the same thing being in between the space-time set as well in between the right - left brain hemisphere (reason - imagination), or what Buber would call "avoiding the alternatives of the objective and the subjective in favor of the "narrow - ridge"- "the between" (Buber, 58). The poles, the extremities, hold (or are connected and separated by) this energy or potential that we call mind. It is the mind that recreates the relationships between time and space, as well as the brain hemispheres, intertwined in such a way that you can not separate one without affecting the other. Each one of these entities needs the other, in order for itself to exist. "Space contains compressed time" said Bachelard (Kubler,  157). Memory then is compressed space and time, just as time is compressed space.  Memory is also the imprint of the impact left at the conceptual Big Bang (explosion): "Once upon a time... in a far away place..."

We have introduced here the space - time - mind relationships, but have to elaborate a little on some details.

First of all, space and time have an indirect relationship with each other (or inverse); more space implies less time and more time implies less space. Pushed to extremes, they reverse their roles (the principle of "Coincidentia opositorum"). It is in the mind that space and time meet, separate and transform into each other. We also know that in physics "time distant from objects of mass speeds up (compresses) just as space expands (dilates). Near the mass of the earth, time dilates and space contracts" (Shlain, 330). The reason - imagination set have the same kind of relationship. There is a predisposition within a person, a particular culture, or an era, to be dominated to a certain degree by either reason (left brain hemisphere) or imagination (right brain hemisphere). We've been under the reign of reason (at least the Western culture) since the Industrial Revolution to the era of logical positivism of Whitehead and Russel. Reason is associated with science, which is empiricism and experimentalism), and in its turn, involves precision, specialization, gadgetry, technology, details. What reason does is fragmenting, taking things apart, cutting to pieces (especially by a "sharp mind") in a linear, logical, sequential, cumulative and abstract way. Except in technology, no major discovery was made in this fashion but by a spark of the imagination, which is everything that reason is not:  it is the holistic, spontaneous, poetical, intuitive, the artist within us. If reason cuts to pieces, imagination puts all the pieces together to create the big picture. When the long linear, logical and sequential method arrives at a dead end (and becomes sterile), it is imagination which comes to the rescue.  Reason seems to reside in our consciousness (the "identity" of the self), which can only actualize through its narrow frame (space-time) one thing at a time from an infinite of possibilities, in here and now. On the other hand, imagination is related to the unconscious where logic, time and space are off set and its properties (of maybe itself a property of it); intuitive, sudden, all at once (simultaneous, holistic), non- logical (like beauty). It is interesting to notice that history, biology or physics do not follow a logical order either; only our Faustian step - child does that: technology, the by -product of reason.

Traditionally, time has been associated with reason, with masculinity, with dynamism; space, on the other hand with the feminine principle, passivity, potentiality (a "pregnancy" which carries the possibilities of the future), feelings and emotions, action unleashed (in storage). As already mentioned, if we have more time there is less space, and vice versa.

An extra ingredient which emerges from the space - time relationship is speed; with the increase of speed, it means that it takes less time to cover ("eat up") more space; in minimum time (at maximum speed) it is covered (or embraced) the maximum of space. This is exactly what our mind does. In the apparently constant flow of the unfolding universe (still expanding), when mind comes in the picture, it seems that we have some great landmarks, or events, that brought some dramatic changes. The first event, the equivalent of the Big - Bang of the physical universe, is the conceptual Big -Bang: the birth of consciousness. This event is what the philosopher Martin Buber called "the primal setting at a distance" (Buber, 21), which created space between the self and the "other" (or "wholly other") the world around. It was a double birth (twins) or a double discovery; by discovering himself/herself, the human being discovered "the other" in the same time; and by discovering "the other", discovered himself/herself. There is no priority here but just a reflection of one into the other. At this particular moment, time was eternal, while space was very, very limited, since it was blown to pieces. The "personal space" maybe of the self, is more of awareness. The best example we have is in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Paradise); as soon as they ate the forbidden fruit, they found themselves "naked" had nothing at hand. The Adamic fall represents this birth of consciousness, the gap, the distance that was created in between what previously represented a unity, a whole, now blown apart. Ever since, we try to reconnect what was broken, the distances that were created and what mind remembers. This is why the past is nostalgic. Notice the Greek "nostos" (return home) and "algos" (pain); the entire human condition is, in one aspect at least, at pain of coming home (to itself). Interestingly enough, the "total man" (sic), "homo religious" of M. Eliade (Bolle, 33 ) as opposed to the secular man, is doing the same thing; bridging the gap, reconnecting. The term religion itself and what it conceptualizes (besides "obligation", "bond", "reverence"... ) comes from the Latin RELIGARE; "re"- to do again; "ligare" - to connect, to bind. What can one bind but something that was broken; notice again the original gap, mentioned by Buber. Religion, more than anything else, tries to reconnect us to the sacred, "the other" that was "distanced" (separated). Christianity, like any other religion, begs the question of origins and tries to bring us home (in Christ); "and you shall be as gods..." so runs a scripture. All literature (the story - any story) is a voyage in a sense, an Odyssey (notice the Homeric poem of the return), which brings us back home, because we need the home; we need a base anchored in reality;  for humanity, the Garden of Eden (the primordial home);a homeland for a nation (society) and of course, a personal home.  Stories then become variations to a theme of homecoming. Consider here the hero cycle in mythology and, especially, the return of the hero theme. We dealt in here with space as related to the first great event and the most difficult one. When the original brake was made and space was created, energy was also dissipated. Time was eternal (infinitely great); space was minimal (infinitely small). The primordial "edenic" unity was broken, like the pulverized matter scattered in the universe at Big Bang (Singularity Point). Gravity tries to reconnect matter (fill the gaps in space), just like we, humans, through the creative urge (like "motion" in elements) create bridges, connections, relationships, to put it all back together ever since, to see the meaning of it all.  In this sense we rather re-create the original unity: human -god, culture-nature, subject-object, a kind of history in reverse. We call this process culture. "All real living is meeting" (Buber, 20). If the first of movements was "the primal setting at a distance", the second was" entering into a relation" (ib. 21).

To recapitulate: maximum time (eternal), minimum space. By gaining "ground (building gaps), space (as ground under our feet) enlarges; this involves an increase of power (energy) and knowledge, which is cumulative. So space increases at the detriment of time. Here we have Adam (the primeval human) fallen from eternity. He renews and re-creates the time; notice here the regeneration of time (the primeval events) and the birth of the myth of eternal return (myth as a sacred story); we call it cyclical time. As part of the mythic text we find the theme of the hero's cycle; from the virgin birth, through all the troubles and tribulations (like Hercules's labors), to the return, to close the cycle and renew the time.

The hero's return was necessary for regeneration and in a certain way, it had to save the human condition. "In studying these traditional societies, one characteristic has especially struck us" writes Eliade; "it is their revolt against concrete, historical time, their nostalgia for a periodical return to the mythical time of the beginning of things, to the <> (Eliade, ix ); Bolle called this "the cosmogonic propensity of man" (Bolle, 32).

At one particular point in time, something else happened. This would be what we called the second greatest event, when it comes to modifying time, space, and mind (perception). Julian Jaynes called it "the breakdown of the bi-cameral mind and the coming of consciousness" (Jaynes, 299), but I think he is a stage behind. Nevertheless, he notices that something very different happened. He equates the Jewish prophetic era with the "birth pangs of our subjective consciousness" (ib. 312). Another author, Thomas Cahill, notices that the ancient Jews began to see time differently, not as a cyclical pattern anymore, but  "as a narrative whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future" (Cahill, 132), and that tomorrow can be better....". Asian thought also made the discovery for different reasons and by different methods (see Buddhism for example), but we are only concerned here with what happened within the frame of the Western culture. By understanding the West and Christianity implicitly, we also have to understand Judaism and Hellenism. Cahill is a sensitive observer and rightly points out to the brake of the cyclicity of time, by the Jews, into linear time. He calls this "the gift of the Jews". We affirmed that when one element of our triad is altered, so are the other components, since they are interconnected. We can call this event the Fall into History. Time is reduced even more: from eternal, to cyclical, to a line (fragment); the archaic and traditional societies "feel themselves indissolubly connected with the cosmos and the cosmic rhythms"; whereas the modern societies "insist that they are connected only with History" (Eliade, xiii - xiv).

Christianity was made possible, on one hand, by "pioneering work" done by, amongst others, a desert tribe of antiquity, the Jews. We already mentioned the mythical theme of the hero's cycle, an important part of which is the motif of the RETURN. What else is the return, but hope, since the return, like in nature and seasons, always took place within the paradigmatic, cyclical time. This return becomes very prominent in the lives and minds of the Jews, who had so much experience in it: they returned from captivity in Egypt, then from Babylon. Return is homecoming; in religious terms, by the way of the mystic, that is finding God (the sacred) and identifying with him.

Prior to this event, the ancient gods resided or dwelled in a rock, a tree, a cave, a mountain, or especially in a temple (for Moses even in a bush); so, they were territorial (or spatial). For the Australian Aboriginals, similar in this respect with the ancient and traditional cultures, "the ancestral beings (in our case, gods), fixed in the land, became a timeless reference point" (Morphy, 188).

For the Jews, Abraham is their hero and he has his own journey; and Moses is their hero also, actually the archetypal hero (conforms to the "standard"), with his journey and return. The Jews find themselves again in captivity, this time in Babylon, and the hero (a hero) did not return to save them. "Jerusalem is torched, its walls leveled, its temple pulled down, the ark lost forever...gone is everything that gave the Jews their false security. Is God gone, too, or is he in this terrible exile in pagan Babylon....?" (Cahill, 224 - 5). The physical places where God used to reside are now gone. We see here a transformation: the physical space becomes a mental space, or internalized. Since the Jews could not carry the ruins, or the Temple, the space with them, they took the most important thing: their god; and put him in their hearts. "By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat and wept, When we remember Zion'...." We can say now, like Vintilă Horia that "God was born in exile". The real "gift of the Jews", in my opinion was to create a portable and personal God. It did not have to stay in one place any more, or in a special building (the temple), it was carried in the heart; the new temple, "the kingdom of heaven" (where God resides)" is within you"; so, at home, anywhere. Only this situation can also explain the Jewish dictum "ubi bene e patria", in the Roman times; "wherever there is good, there is my country" (Fatherland).

If we equate God with space, we arrive at some important conclusions (and easier to notice); space (God) is everywhere; space (God) is very potent, full of energy, or power; in the Jewish case, space (God) was internalized. Plainly speaking, space enters mind; this situation is also important to understand, on a different level, the positional relationships of space, time, and mind. Until now, space was out, time was in. A reverse took place: time was whole, all in there, and now came out and fragmented; space was fragmented (as experience) and out there, but became a whole and got in. If the dual relationship holds (and so it should), what Christianity will achieve, compared to Judaism, is the reverse of the coin. In Judaism, space was made God (physical space becomes mental space); in Christianity, God is made space (Jesus is God made flesh, in space)... "and he dwelt amongst us". Mental space (God) becomes physical space. (Jesus through birth; the "incarnation"), to help the social space (the church, the society), but to arrive at Christianity, other things had to happen. The ancient world through the empire builders enlarged itself (the "Oikoumene", our space), reaching its apogee with Alexander the Macedonian (the Great), which also made it more homogeneous. "Alexander undeniably had a sense of the brotherhood of man.  Where he learned this has remained unexplained"; "when the Macedonians on one occasion shouted <> he shouted back, "I consider you all my kinsmen>>" (Pribichevich, 58). He put into practice the idea of racial integration, marrying a Persian woman. Some eighty officers and 10,000 soldiers followed the example. At the feast that followed "every married couple received a wedding gift from Alexander" (ib.). The major consequence of Alexander's conquest is the "spread of Hellenism, that is, of classical Greek civilization;... his attempt of racial integration - later strongly emphasized in the Christian creed of the brotherhood of men but never since practiced by an empire builder- did not succeed!! (ib. - 63). There are historians like A.A. Trevor, mentioned by Pribichevich, who say, "In his brief carrier he probably did more to shape the future course of Western civilization, up to the 19th century, than any other man except Jesus of Nazareth, and indeed, it was he who made the legacy of Jesus possible" (ib. 63).

With the Roman Empire controlling much of the ancient world, we have the stage ready for Christianity. To take a look at mind again, we'll realize that space being internalized, occupies the dominant position, time being marginalized and fragmented (cyclicity - or what time was then - being broken). By entering history, or linear time, two great things also occur: dominated by reason (linear, sequential, cumulative...), the idea of progress is born, for better or worse, and the spectrum of its interpretation ranges from real to illusory (a "myth"); the other thing associated with entering history is "the terror of history." In this case we are left waiting (in expectation) for "homecoming", for the return    (closing the cycle of the hero); this is what I call the Messianic legacy. The Jews still expect the Messiah (Jesus for them was not "Christos"), while the Christians, the second coming of Christ. It would be useful to observe the association between time and security for us humans, their degradation going hand in hand. Cyclical time - the hero returned perpetually to deliver - associated with certainty. You knew it was happening. With the "broken cycle", linear time, hope is associated (we've been "hoping" for 2000 years...). In the postmodern world, now fallen even from history (hyper reality; space - time becomes fuzzy), we are associated with uncertainty and despair. "One day the day will come when the day will not come", to quote Paul Virilio. Time went from infinite (eternal) to cyclical, to linear (broken) and, by entering spatiality, we "run out of time". Space on the other hand, keeps enlarging itself: we landed on the moon, now have satellites sent in the outskirts of the solar system... The system is ever increasing its boundaries.

The idea that germinated during the Babylonian exile, starting the Jewish "prophetic period", and have fermented during the Hellenistic times, reached its climax in the first century A.D. The central figure of Christianity, Jesus, lives now and does his mission. The Jewish Temple is destroyed again, this time by the Romans; Jerusalem and Judea captured, and inhabitants dispersed amongst the Gentiles, forming throughout the Roman Empire their diaspora. "Ubi bene ubi patria" becomes the motto again. The Temple, our physical space, shrinks into a ritual: the social and cognitive space. It would be important to notice that we have already "Christian ideas" before Christ, in the Greek tradition (Plato for once), Dacian (see in Herodotus), Persian or the Qumran manuscripts (Dead Sea Scrolls), In Orphism or in Gnostic writings. The heavenly Jerusalem starts  making its way into the contemporary literature, the most beautiful description probably being that of the apostle John, in the Apocalypse: "And I John saw the holy city new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Apocalypse, 21:2). One could easily observe some traits that define Christianity, something personal. The idea of counterbalancing wrong - doing in antiquity, or what became "sin" in Christianity, was in sacrifice. How more personal can a god get when he sacrifices, once and for all,  to give humans a break, his only son? "The discovery which Jesus made was the discovery that human life is personal" (Macmurray, 55). The great transformations mentioned in the beginning of this essay, mark a metamorphosis in perception, the mental space having analogy to speciation in biology. "When anyone discovers the truth about himself, the discovery is more than an addition to his knowledge of the world. Because it is a self realization it is necessarily a self transformation. Our knowledge of ourselves is unique in character, in the first place, as knowledge. It does not require and it does not admit of proof, for it is not knowledge of something external to ourselves and independent of us. Its truth is self-evident" (ib. 57). This is probably why the most obvious thing is the most difficult to explain.

The creation of the diaspora is also the creation of the Christian space, in all its hypostasia: physical (the building, place, etc.); social (the gatherers, the members, etc.) and cognitive (the ideas they have). The social space is anchored in the cognitive through a potent structure - "to me, myth is a structural principle" says Northrop Frye (Bachelard, vii) - and through performance - ritual and partaking of it, like the mass (Last Supper of Christ). The mental space is recharged, having reverberations in the social space, continuing the cycle. Again, bridging gaps, relationships between the Christian communities scattered throughout the Roman Empire, expending the Christian space.

Christianity, as a "New Jerusalem" within every congregation, became a challenge and a rival to Rome, or Roman cultural world in all its aspects. The ideal form of Christianity is utopic. For the apostle Paul, "the hallmark of Christian community is its freedom from bondage to rules and regulations, and the true human community is the free community" (Macmurray,73). Rome had the power and was the power in the ancient Christian world. It had the monopoly on politics, social action and control, economy. ROME. The mighty Rome, the City of cities, the eternal city, the invincible city, the center of the world, where all the roads led to Rome; "the city of Man".

The Christian "text" is not closed even with the religious Councils, where the Bible was canonized, after being made legal by the emperor Constantine the Great, Christianity becoming the official religion of the empire. It had to wait for one more event: the Fall of Rome. It was drama at the extreme. Rome falls under the barbarian Alaric. With the fall of Rome, people lost faith and hope in the immediate. The Roman world (pagan, for our purposes) collapsed. The fall of Rome did more psychological damage than anything else in antiquity, on a massive scale, affecting Romans and non-Romans alike. It is after this event that Christianity takes its final shape and gathered its strength. Christianity at this point was in a crisis of identity, according to Robert Markus, and was a very prolific period. "This was the age of Ambrose and Chrysostom, of Jerome and Augustine, as well as of Pelagius and Cassian. In the religious history of Europe, the half century from about 380 to 430 marks a watershed" (Markus, 19). It was also an age of great controversy, amongst the Christians themselves and with the pagans. It is exactly now that Rome falls (410 A.D.). "If Rome can perish, what can be safe?" lamented Jerome (Couliano, 227). It is also now, between 413-427 that Saint Augustine wrote "De Civitate Dei" (The City of God), an apology for the Christian social order. According to the Protestant reformer Calvin, Augustine was the most frequently quoted source, second to the Bible. Rome, "The City of Man" (Earth), gets fused in the conceptual space with Jerusalem, being reborn as "The City of God" (eternal). The City of Man acknowledges the City of God in order to prosper. This period marks a climax of Christianization of Roman society. The great transformation of turning inwards left traces in early Christian art and in monasticism. The physical beauty of the Greco - Roman art, belonging to the City of Man (outer forms), is purposely deformed, to put emphasis on the inner values belonging to The City of God, in Byzantine painting and iconography for example. The Christians, "who had formerly constituted a threatened and beleaguered minority, came to define their identity in a changed context of religious respectability, in which their faith had become a source of privilege, prestige and power" (Markus, 1). Municipal authority was gradually taken by the Bishops (by 460 A.D.), the new authority. The Pope was part of the embassy that goes to Attila the Hun, to save Rome from destruction in 452. Consolidating its power, from here on the history of Christianity becomes mostly a matter of details.

The idea of progress is one of the major consequences of adopting the "linear time"; that involved the primacy of reason, which in turn developed science, with its tool, technology. The progress can be measured only in technology, as it is used by science (reason) in the appropriation of nature, dividing rather than closing the gap between nature and culture. Did human condition progress? It did not! It is constant, regardless of technology. We should probably take a scripture at heart, which says that we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven without becoming like children. "The imagination of childhood does not analyze; it absorbs impressions in their entirety; and so, they last. Our matured thought can accept no later inspiration without the microscope and the dissecting knife; and the poor thing, dried, classified, and planted out in some neat plot of memory, recovers no vigorous life, and soon fades..." (Young, 23).  "For the modern mind....has yielded to the inferior magic of facts, numbers, statistics, and to that sort of empiricism which, in its passion for concreteness, paradoxically reduces experience to a purely abstract notion of measurable data. Having cast aside the immeasurable wealth of authentic experiences of the spirit and imagination" (Heller, 14), we are left here to the spirit of the ancients again; or as Heraclitus put it: "If we do not expect the unexpected, we will never find it".  



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