From Isaac of Stella

"So, brother, make for yourself a hidden place within yourself, in which you can flee away from yourself and pray in secret to the Father." Isaac of Stella

Passing From Self to God: A Cistercian Retreat, Robert Thomas, OCSO Cistercian Press, 2006, p. 4

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Perceptional Cognition and Abstract Cognition and Holiness

As I read Schopenhauer's second volume of "The World as Will and Representation" I note in his description of the difference between animal and human cognition that the lack of abstract cognition in animals leads them to live peacefully in the present, unoppressed by the past and unconcerned about the horrors that the future may bring.  The misery of men is therefore the greater because we remember and abstract the past pain and suffering and contemplate the sufferings to come, and these remembering and anticipating are far worse sufferings than those of the present.  It seems to me that the description he gives of animal cognition is very like the goal of the spiritual man- to live in the present, being unconcerned about the future needs (the illustration of the flowers and the birds from Jesus) and letting go of the past (forgiveness, offering sufferings up).  Is the higher cognition of the Christ filled man, the saved man, the same as the lower cognition of the animal?

I think not, because giving away or renouncing use of something you have is quite different from never having it in the first place.  For example, it has long been thought to be good to be voluntarily poor, like St. Francis.  However, to be poor out of circumstance rather than by choice is not seen as being a good thing, although not necessarily a culpable evil either.  So using this analogy, a man who lays down his abstracting cognitive powers in order to live in the present is like the man who is voluntarily poor, and his reward is similar- the peace of God.  The man who is poor but not by choice is analogous to the animal with pre-abstracting (perceptional) cognition.  He does not reap the full benefits of separation from the world although he does perhaps escape the slavery to possessions.  The poor are said to be much more generous than the rich, perhaps because they have less to lose.

In the end the man who seeks to follow Christ will indeed lay down his very life, giving all that he has.  The Stoics see life as an indifferent as it is not something in our control.  The Christian must see it similarly.  Our life is not our own, we must die like the seed buried in the ground in order to live.  If you grab onto your life, like the abstracting cognitive mind does with the past suffering remembered and the future anticipated, then you will lose your life.  By giving it up you gain life.  By giving up worry for the unreal future and the no longer real past you gain joyful or at least peaceful possession of the only time that is actually real- the present.  What a glorious achievement!

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