For Roman Catholics and many other Christians, the defining statement of religious doctrine is the Nicene Creed. Adopted by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. , it is still part of the Roman Catholic liturgy today. It begins: “I believe in God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”
Nothing too radical here. The image of God as paternal and omnipotent is shared by many religious traditions; likewise the notion that God is the creator of the world. The very first verse of the very first book of Judeo-Christian scripture (Genesis) attests to it: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…”
But the creed continues: “…and of all things visible and invisible.” Now we are in rougher seas. Many religious traditions (e.g. Deism) credit God with the creation of the world but place limitations on his role in the world after that. Proponents of these theologies find support in Genesis: “Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.”
Yet in Exodus God defines himself: “I am what am;” and in the Gospel of John we read: “All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be.” So what gives?
In this essay, we will first argue that Exodus and John reflect an older and broader theological tradition; then we will go on to argue that no theology, no ontology, no cosmology that does not embrace this tradition can possibly be consistent with or account for any of the phenomena of everyday experience. So hold onto your hats!
The distillation of theology, cosmology and philosophy from mythology is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the Western world, the process began little more than 2500 years ago in Palestine and in Greece. For tens of thousands of years before that, all of humanity’s reflections about the nature of existence were carefully recorded in its myths. Fortunately, these myths have been passed down to us through a variety of media: epic poems, cave paintings, sculpture, dance, drama, liturgies, festivals, astrology, place names and even children’s games and rhymes.
Sir James Frazier, Robert Graves and many others have studied the mythic corpus and discovered one very interesting thing: the message of mythology is surprisingly homogeneous from culture to culture and over great spans of time. To some extent, this may attest to the influence of migration but it also suggests that human beings will draw similar conclusions about the human condition, regardless of their geographic location or cultural identity.
Throughout mythology, we encounter various ‘two-faced’ Gods: Janus, Duir (Thor), Hercules, Llyr (Lear). Being two-faced, these Gods function as time-binders. They look back on the past and forward to the future simultaneous. Through their gaze and in their minds, past and future co-exist. They are the Present.
These two-faced Gods are also ‘doors’: Duir = ‘door’, Hercules is the doorkeeper of the gods. Two-faced, these Gods bind past and future in the Present, but as ‘doors’ they also regulate time, opening to allow the past to flow on to the future and closing to interrupt that flow.
These ‘doors’ are often associated with Goddesses who function as their ‘hinges’. Janus, for example, is associated with the Goddess Cardea, aka Eurynome, aka Rhea (in Crete). Janus is the door through which the old must pass in order to become new; Cardea is the hinge that enables Janus.
Llyr is Lear of Shakespearean fame, the father of Cordelia, a Goddess in her own right. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Llyr was buried by Cordelia at Leicester, a site sacred to Janus, after Cordelia obtained “the government of the Kingdom”.
Doors and hinges are inextricable. One cannot function without the other. Yet doors and hinges are very different from one another. The function of door is to enclose, protect, defend; the function of the hinge is to swing, to oscillate, to allow both danger and possibility to enter the world.
It is the nature of doors to move (“open, shut” as my one year old grandson never tires of saying); but it is the nature of the hinges that cause those doors to move to be themselves immobile. Hinges are the fixed points around which doors, and everything else, revolve. Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas after him, call God the “unmoved mover” (aka the ‘hinge’):
In Roman mythology, Janus (‘the door’) is married to Jana (‘the hinge’). According to Robert Graves (The White Goddess), these two rustic gods are actually countrified versions of Jupiter and Juno (Zeus and Hera). Therefore, the very essence of Godhead is to be two-faced, a door and a hinge. It is God that provides the continuity of past and future and it is God that transcends the flow of time to create the Present.
In Godhead we find both the principle of order and the principle of flux, the source of permanence and the source of change. Philosophy cannot account for the actual world without resort to these complementarities. Mythology cannot account for the world without resort to the door and the hinge. Either way, the concept of complementarity, supposedly a 20th century invention, is seen to be alive and well several millennia earlier.
Janus and other two-faced Gods are often associated with the New Year. At the turn of each year, God looks back on the past and forward to the future, all at the same time, i.e. ‘in the Present’. In reality, though, every point in time is the beginning of one year and the end of another, or more broadly, the culmination of a past and the launch of a future. Therefore, it is the function of God (as door) to bridge the ontological gap between any past and any future and it is likewise the function of God (as hinge) to constitute a single timeless, motionless moment in which the past and future can both just be. God is Presence.
Again according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Merlin prophesies to King Vortigern, “After this Janus shall never have priests again. His door will be shut and remain concealed in Ariadne’s crannies.” According to Graves, ‘this’ refers to the coming of Christianity and ‘Ariadne’s crannies’ refer to the Corona Borealis, aka the Castle of Arianrhood, a small constellation in the northern sky. Merlin saw Christianity as a threat to pagan traditions. Had he read more closely the Nicene Creed and the Gospel of John, Merlin might have understood that Christianity was really a much deeper restatement of his own core beliefs.
In recent centuries, we have made great progress in understanding the relationships that exist among seemingly disparate things and the essential unity that constitutes our ‘universe’. Nonetheless, the earth and the firmament that surrounds it remain separated by a vast topological gulf. Our moon shots and deep space probes are feeble efforts (at least so far) to bridge the gap between terra firma and the stars.
In this respect at least, earlier civilizations were way ahead of us. In Nordic mythology, for example, there is no essential discontinuity between firmament and earth. Sky begins where earth leaves off. The cosmos is radically continuous. Therefore, no special feat is required for Janus to hide himself in a constellation.
We view universe as ‘orientable’. Therefore, earth and sky are as separate and distinct as the obverse and reverse sides of a piece of paper. Ancients viewed the universe as ‘non-orientable’. Earth and sky are simply opposite orientations on a single continuous surface. This explains why celestial forms (e.g. constellations) are thought to mirror terrestrial forms and why celestial events are believed to influence terrestrial counterparts. It turns out that our piece of paper (above) has a twist in it; it’s actually a Mobius strip.
Where earth ends, sky begins. Therefore, when the cult of Janus is banished from earth it naturally reappears as a celestial phenomenon. But that does not mean it is no longer relevant to life on earth; in fact, it is essential to it. In the ‘Castle of Arianrhood’ resides the mill wheel on which the entire universe turns and at the center of that wheel is an immobile pivot, a hinge.
Does any of this have anything to do with contemporary cosmology or theology? Only everything!
According to the ‘standard cosmological model’, time is a continuous, one-directional vector that is infinitely or almost infinitely divisible. Therefore any past is separated from any future by an infinitesimal point which we mistakenly call ‘the present’. This model is sufficient to account for all (or most all) physical phenomena; but it cannot account for the phenomenon of experience, human or otherwise. While physics deals only with what is past or future, experience deals only with what is Present. In fact, from the perspective of experience, there is only Present; past and future exist only to the extent that they exist in some form in that Present.
Along the universal timeline, the Present looks back upon the past and forward to the future. But it does much more than just look: it incorporates that past and that future into itself, even though it is neither. Within the Present, time simply does not exist. The Present is an immobile pivot around which time itself revolves.
The Present is two faced: it incorporates both past and future. The Present is a ‘door’: it regulates the flow of time from past to future. The Present is a ‘hinge’: it is itself immobile, transcending time itself. All of cosmic history swings on the hinge of the Present. The Present is the mill wheel in the Castle of Arianrhood which turns the universe.
This two faced but ever constant Presence is what human beings for tens of thousands of years have called “God”. Without this God nothing exists; nothing can exist. The past does not exist; it is past. The future does not exist; it lies in the future. All that exists is the Present and according to physics the present is an infinitesimal point with zero information content. Therefore, according to this model, nothing can exist.
As ‘two-faced’, God incorporates both the past and the future in the Present. As ‘door’, God provides the continuity that connects past and future. As ‘hinge’, God makes the Present possible, lifting the Present out of the rushing river of time (lie quiet Heraclitus) and making it real.
As already noted, Aristotle (and Thomas Aquinas) called God the “unmoved mover”: “there must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for all wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world”.
Aquinas also called God “Being” itself. In that he was echoing the theme from Exodus. Being is Presence, nothing more, nothing less. Welcome to the atemporal, a-ternal, eternal world of the Gods! The Present just is and its ‘extent’ (analogous to size, duration, etc…) is a function of its information content, nothing else. According to ‘the standard cosmological model’, the present is infinitesimal, has zero information content and therefore does not exist. According to the ontology of the Present, all information resides in the Present and therefore only what is Present exists.
It is, of course, necessary to distinguish Presence from Present. God is Presence, Presence is Being, God is Being. Presence is what makes ‘the Present’ possible. There is but one Presence (God) but there are innumerably many Presents, each owing its existence to the one Presence. Therefore, God is unquestionably “maker…of all things, visible and invisible”.
Each Present is defined by its own unique information content; no two Presents contain exactly the same information. That said, however, neither do Presents follow one another like socks hung out on a clothesline to dry. Rather, they are subsumed hierarchically into ever broader Presents. No two Presents have the same content but the content of one Present may be a subset of another…and another…and another.
The relationship between one Present and another is not marked by the death of one and the birth of the other as a temporal perspective would lead us to believe. There is no birth and death in the Present. Rather two distinct Presents relate to one another through their mutual incorporation into ever broader Presents of ever expanding content.
The Present is a process. Were it not for the Present, our so-called lives would not be real. At best they could be thought of like virtual particles, never quite attaining concrete existence; at worst they could be thought of “such stuff as dreams are made on” (The Tempest).
Without the Present, that is, without God, nothing would exist, nothing would be real. Over the past hundred years, oceans of ink have been spilled on the question of whether “in the beginning…God created the heavens and the earth”. That is the wrong question! God creates the universe anew every day, every Planck moment of every day. God lends Being to every single concrete event and that Being is what makes those virtual events real. Without Presence, there is no Being and without Being there are no real events. Without God, nothing!
The Nicene Creed (maker…of all things visible and invisible) is not just a formula of faith; it is literally, ‘scientifically’ true. “Without him nothing came to be.” (John)
In general, the positivist views of creation and evolution that have dominated the intellectual history of recent centuries have failed even to ask the big questions: if time is a continuous and one-directional vector, how is it that anything at all actually exists? How is it that patterns form and perpetuate themselves, albeit constantly changing? In short, how is it that the world we experience is an inextricable blend of permanence and flux?
To his credit, Karl Marx had the intellectual integrity to confront these questions. He and others ingeniously defined the relationship among events on a timeline using a model called “Dialectics”. According to this model, the timeline is not quite as linear as it appears. Each event functions as a ‘thesis’; some subsequent event reacts to that ‘thesis’ and constitutes itself as its ‘antithesis’. The antithesis incorporates the thesis but prehends it negatively. A further subsequent event reacts to the antithesis (and the thesis negatively prehended within that antithesis) and combines the two into a ‘synthesis’, which in turn becomes the ‘thesis’ for another ‘antithesis’ and so on…
This model endeavors to explain how it is that later events do not erase earlier events, how it is that time seems to be a progression. Dialectics is the best one can do with an ontology tied to the timeline. It’s cumbersome at best and it may not be up to the task of explaining the incredible diversity that constitutes universe. More importantly though, it doesn’t answer at all the question of why there are events (‘theses’) in the first place; but at least it acknowledges the problem.
The ontology of the Present, however, resolves these dilemmas easily and cleanly. Every Present is free to constitute itself according to its own aims. Nonetheless, that process is informed by the past it incorporates (‘efficient cause’) and by the future that will incorporate it (‘final cause’).
The past reveals ‘how’ a present event comes to be; the future reveals ‘why’ that present event comes to be. How and why are two co-incident but opposite orientations on the Mobius strip that is Being.
Ultimately, every two events (Presents) are subsumed into a third, broader event (Present). That broader event must reconcile in some way the contributions it receives from its two constituent events, even if those contributions are superficially in conflict. It must turn conflicts into higher order contrasts. Thus God fulfills his role as ‘redeemer’.
The ontology of the Present incorporates the insights of Dialectics but it liberates Dialectics from slavery to the timeline.
Universe then is one all-encompassing process of unification and reconciliation. The ‘cosmic Christ’ of Revelation is the ultimate Presence unifying all other Presents. In the opening chapter we read, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come…” In the Epilogue, we read, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” The Present as process becomes the Present as Eschaton.
Interestingly, Robert Graves points out that in Ionian Greek, the Alpha and the Omega are often used interchangeably. This would suggest that Christians view the Eschaton as a new Genesis. That is consistent with the model (CCC) currently advocated by English cosmologist Roger Penrose but it would seem to be at odds with the orthodox Christian view. This apparent problem is resolved, however, if we adopt the non-orientable model of universe described above. In that case, Eschaton is Genesis but with an opposite orientation on the universal Mobius strip. The Kingdom of Heaven is the Garden of Eden, reoriented.
This conclusion is consistent with the views of another English cosmologist, Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead spoke of the Primordial Nature of God and the Consequent Nature of God. He saw these natures as two aspects, one purely conceptual, one purely physical, of a single “actual entity”, God. Adapting this theory to our Mobius model, we see the Primordial and Consequent Natures of God as opposite orientations on a non-orientable surface.
In sum, the understanding of Godhead as ‘a two-faced door and hinge’ is found in many cultures and belief systems, including Judeo-Christianity. God is Presence and without Presence there are no Presents. Therefore, God is the essential constituent of everything that is actual.