“The long eyelids beat and lift a burning needleprick stings and quivers in the velvet iris.”
Called Giacomo like Casanova, Joyce has won a small acknowledgment from his prey. Amalia sparks. SHE believes that Joyce transcends religious bigotry among the subtle and overt hostilities against a Jewess in the Hapsburg Empire. She observes HER religious rites, so he connives. He cannot claim to be without a spiritual ethos. Instead, he argues for a pan-theology that joins Judaism and Christianity. The Maestro accomplishes this by introducing HER to mystical thinkers who extended the boundaries of Christian thinking. He cites four.
Emanual Swedenborg: Swedenborg, scientist and mystic, was most prominent during the mid 18th Century. His scientific work was mostly theoretical but proved intuitive as new knowledge and technology confirmed some of his proposals. However, his mental health declined over time, and his positions became increasingly radical until 1757 when he announced that the Last Judgement had already taken place. Swedenborg believed he had attended the assignment of all souls to Heaven or Hell. He also thought that he had been elected by Christ to reform religion, that humans lived one life on earth, several in spiritual dimensions (much like reincarnation), and that spirits and angels roamed among us. He believed that Christ visited him once while he dined, telling him: “Don’t eat too much.” His brand of theology is incorporated even today in the precepts of several Christian sects (The Swedenborg Foundation, swedenborg.com).
Swedenborg was an intuitive thinker. He concluded vibrations were occurring in the brain’s cortex, influencing thought and memory. He also wrote with surprising accuracy about the pituitary gland, spinal fluid, and brain’s motor cortex. His science blended new information with traditional religious thought, bridging the gap with mysticism.
Here we find a historical personage with a mystical belief in the transmigration of souls. He is intuitive, theoretical, somewhat lacking in mathematics, and prone to hallucinations. Although Swedenborg avoided being charged with heresy in Sweden, two of his followers were indicted. This figure becomes one vehicle for Joyce’s attempt to impress the young Jewess. Swedenborg was also one inspiration for Mr. Leopold Bloom, who mixed science with mysticism.
Pseudo-Dionysius: In Trieste, Joyce continued to examine Platonic abstractions and the transformation of character over time. This 5th-century thinker provided intellectual tinder for the Joycean fire. Christianity was transforming at the time, and part of that was the acceptance of Platonism into thinking that had been intellectually simplistic. The name Pseudo-Dionysius reflects a connection (and creates confusion with) St. Dionysius Areopagite, a First Century Christian, converted by Paul. Pseudo- Dionysius sometimes wrote under his predecessor’s name to connect with the earliest Christian thought. The later Dionysius gets credit for making Platonic ideas palatable to Christian thinking but not without objection. Even a millennium later, Luther accused Dionysius of being more Platonist than Christian.
Pseudo-Dionysius wrote four important works, at least two of these wormed into Joyce’s thinking in ways that reflect in Ulysses. In one, Dionysius wrote about the names of the Judeo-Christian God as descriptions of the divinity’s roles. Eastern religions espoused this idea. One example is that Shiva is the Destroyer, the Creator, and the Lord of the Dance. Bloom will take on identities too as he changes role from Husband Poldy, to Outcast Bloom, to Seducer Henry. Murphy Pseudoangelos is also an identity shifter. The name Dionysius recommends the separate functions for a deity too. The Greek god Dionysius was god and cult hero, a joyous lord of dance (like Shiva), and a sacrificial lamb. Joyce employs Eastern religious thought in Portrait, in Ulysses, and The Wake.
Pseudo-Dionysius incorporated mystical thought into Christianity, concepts more familiar to Jews perhaps than to the more literal Gentiles. The Hebrew God was inscrutable and more appropriately identified by negation according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:”…when we say that the Godhead is not ‘living,’ we do not mean that it is ‘lifeless.’ The Godhead is beyond the lifeless as well as beyond the living.” Pagan deities are also action-centric, defined by what they do. Bloom is Jew, Catholic, Protestant, and spiritualist Rosicrucian, but the reader can’t wholly understand him by any of those labels. He is better understood as unreligious but ethical, though without a coda. Joyce’s plan is to make his Christianity more palatable to his Jewess Love.
Miguel de Molinos: Like Swedenborg and Pseudo-Dionysius, Molina might be called a pan-religious theologist. Like Dionysius and Swedenborg, he nudged his creed to expand with greater acceptance of new and alien practices and ideas. Catholic thinking was and probably continues to be an action-centered rather than thought-centered practice. This is not a concept that is exclusive to the Roman Church. A Catholic may settle into a mindful meditation, reciting prayers while fingering a rosary. The Buddhist may experience something similar while turning a prayer-wheel. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, incorporated an active type of meditation into his order’s discipline. His meditation mandates the contemplation of religious mysteries. Molina came under fire from the Jesuits for suggesting prayer should be more “passive.” One might think of the difference between modern yoga and meditation that uses “mindful mindlessness” to connect the mind with something greater than itself. Molina’s goal was direct spiritual contact with God through a practice called Quietism. It’s an eastern idea and brought Molina before the Inquisition. He recanted his writings but died in prison (The New Advent).
Joachim Abbas: Abbas means abbot, but “father” is its Semitic root. From the time of Stephen Hero, Joachim was wandering around the environs of Joyce’s mind. Properly called de Flora or Fiore sometimes Floris any of these names is as appropriate for Bloom-shaping as is Abbas.
Abbas was out of favor even early in his career after he failed to gain sainthood for a member of his religious order. He further alienated himself by suggesting that Catholicism adopt a new, more embracing attitude toward mysticism. He claimed the Old Testament belonged to the Father, The New Testament to the Son, and that a new age was yet to blossom. The new era would be the Holy Spirit’s vehicle, an age of “universal love” (Farnoli and Gilespie. James Joyce A-Z: The Essential Reflections to His Life and Writings). The ideas of Joachim Abbas are used in Ulysses in “Scylla and Charybdis” where Stephen’s uses the phrase “mystical estate,” but also less directly in “Proteus” and “Wandering Rocks.”
An age of universal love might be useful to the Casanova, who hopes to confuse the boundaries of religious mores and the ethical bonds too.
don ward June 18, 2020