Hierophany and Sanctification

Otto and Eliade: explicable supernaturalism. This is what the study of religion gets you. Or, at least, the study of homo religiosus.

It's been important for me to converse with Otto and Eliade in dealing with Barth -- and it was apparently also important for Panu, my Finnish colleague, to deal with them in dealing with Sittler. Two emphatically preserved ("TÄRKEITÄ!") quotations from The Sacred and the Profane:
"It is impossible to overemphasize the paradox represented by every hierophany, even the most elementary. By manifesting the sacred, any object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself, for it continues to participate in its surrounding cosmic milieu."

"For those who have a religious experience all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality. The cosmos in its entirety can become a hierophany."
We have here the ganz andere, the totaliter aliter, the sacred as "wholly other." (Which is not, of course, to speak of the ganz Andere as a naming of God.) The hierophany others some worldly object -- even the entire world -- leaving its worldly being intact but surmounting it with a transcendent divine reality. As Eliade will explain, it adds definiteness to an indefinite world. It is not a reality of our choosing, but we know the sacred to be more real than the profane -- which is to say, more real than the world absent this divine presence. And so sanctification orients us in the midst of troubling relativity.

I gather from his notes that Panu and I share at least some basic interests in this piece of Sacred and Profane -- centered on the construction of the world. On sacred poles as cosmic axes -- and so the erection and establishment of kosmoi, with us at the center. The othering effect of the sacred, in its transcendently superior reality, is a basic source of religious identity. Which is a key insight for ecological reconstruction of the world, whether Sittler's or Barth's.

And yet Eliade's work on this point is profoundly eudaimonistic. The sacred is created and maintained for us by a very worldly supernatural, even as it serves to connect us to what transcends the world. The veer into anthropology takes its toll! As he goes on, I'm not clear just how "wholly other" Eliade's sacred is -- except as a marker of the self/other boundary and an assertion of sacred self upon profane other. The othering that the sacred performs is ironically a selfing -- because it is our wholly other doing the deed, "creating" our constitutive reality in territory that is only new-to-us.

But the notion in the quotes doesn't reach quite this far. The key is hierophany, the appearance of the sacred in our reference frame when it belongs properly outside of it. The conversion of our reference frame by the insinuation -- even the forcible entry -- of the sacred into it. And while Eliade is obsessed with the sanctification of things, and of space in a container sense, the Christian is obsessed with the sanctification of self -- and ought properly to be obsessed with the sanctification of the living community. And even the sanctification of the whole creation -- and that word, "creation," is already the othering sanctification of concepts like world and nature. It is the exclusively normative association of the total frame of existential reference with the God who appears in it, but is not of it. The God with whom, face to face, we cannot help but associate the external origin of all existence. So to speak of creation, however we do so in our stories, is already to speak of sanctification -- because creation is nothing more or less than graced nature.

But is this the same as "The cosmos in its entirety can become a hierophany"? I still have to follow Barth (following Calvin) on this point: we only see the presence of God revealed in nature and culture -- even our own -- when we know what the self-revelation of God is. That's the only way we know what we're looking for. And so perhaps, for the one who trusts in God and believes the witnesses, the world is a hierophany. But that revelation of the sacred shows us that the ways we've constructed the world are unjust. We've built a world that can only be revealed as sacred by bearing witness against itself. By bearing witness to its created nature and not our disorder. This revelation must drive us to live into our own sanctification as creatures before the Creator, as ecologically embedded and inseparable from fellow-creation.


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