Free Will and Predestination
This lecture was given at the 4th Real Astrology Conference, in June, 2010.
It follows from the Carter Memorial lecture, posted on this site, which should be read first.
In this lecture I discuss certain points in the history of philosophy and of theology: two subjects about which I know nothing. My only qualification for addressing them is that I am a human being, and as human beings it behoves us all to have an interest in philosophy and theology. So this is personal opinion; it is not the undying gospel, nor, most certainly, is it any kind of astrological party-line.
If you should start to wonder what all this has to do with astrology – ‘Where are all the charts?’– stick with it and the purpose will, I hope, become clear in the end. One reason these points matter is because in the history of philosophy over the past several hundred years, they have been very important in the battle to establish that the universe is intelligible, that it makes sense, that it can be understood. Which is something that the philosophy of modernity does not accept: the vernacular philosophy with which you may have been inculcated at school, or through popular writers such as Mr Dawkins, or by whatever wildlife programmes you watch on your television. The idea that the world cannot make sense, because there is no source from which this sense can derive, once God has been removed from the equation. ‘Oh, it came from the Big Bang.’ ‘OK, but where did the Big Bang come from?’ ‘Oh, that just was.’ ‘Ah, that’ll be it, then.’
If the universe doesn’t make sense, if we cannot possibly understand it, if we do not have a process by which we may understand it, why ever are we wasting our time with astrology? Because if the universe does not make sense, what we are doing with astrology is nonsense. I did once meet someone who claimed to be an atheist astrologer, but the making of such a claim does seem to require a certain lack of reflection. So far as I can see, it is an impossibility, because if we admit no basis of intelligibility in the universe there is no way in which astrology can make sense. We would be tracking random and meaningless motions: a totally pointless exercise.
These ideas are also important in the long debate on scepticism. I use the word here in its philosophical sense, not in the sense used by the self-proclaimed debunkers of whatever they don’t understand. Scepticism is doubting, doubting what we think, doubting what we perceive. I’ve just been in a car crash; my head has fallen off; it hurts. ‘How do you know it hurts? Maybe it’s a false sensory perception.’ ‘No, really, I know it hurts.’ And important not only in the debate with scepticism but in the debate with relativism, with the ‘It’s true for me’, those words which so colour modern attitudes, and which we bump into so often in dialogue with those many astrologers who buy into those attitudes. Relativism is really just one particularly fashionable variant of scepticism: there is no objective truth, therefore ‘what’s true for me’ is what goes.
If we are to describe ourselves as traditional astrologers, knowing where we stand relative to scepticism, relativism, the thought of the modern world, is very important. The astrology we are doing is traditional. OK, over and against what, exactly? How do we define ourselves relative to what is not traditional?
And because the idea that the world, the universe, is intelligible, that it makes sense, that it can be understood, depends upon there being a concept of God, what this concept is also becomes extremely important. This has varied considerably, as I discuss here, over the past few hundred years.
Finally, this discussion inevitably involves matters of time. What is time and what is our relationship to it? And of prediction: what are we doing when we predict, and how is it possible to predict? I don’t mean that here in the sense of which techniques we should use for accurate prediction, but in the more basic sense: how is it possible that anyone can predict anything? And from there, of course, we reach the debate between what is free will and what is fated; are these things irreconcilable or are they not?
So now the lecture:
I want now to go further into the ideas behind what it is that we’re doing when we practice astrology, beyond the usual answer of ‘God knows!’ I’ll start with where we stand relative to scepticism, which is the idea of doubt. How can we say anything positively? How can we truly know something?
When you were at primary school, you probably did that same experiment in science class, where the teacher blindfolds some kid and puts an apple in the child’s mouth while holding an onion under the nose. The child thinks it’s eating an onion. Knowledge and our thoughts are ultimately traceable back to sense perceptions, by some route or other. How do we know that these sense perceptions are correct? And how do we know that our concept of what we’re talking about has any resemblance at all to what’s going through the head of the person we’re talking to?
Scepticism doubts we have any solid ground for communication with each other, or even communication within ourselves, to reliably explain and to reliably recognise what we’re perceiving. For instance, do I think I feel pain from this broken leg only because I expect it to hurt? Is it because of false created impressions, false perceptions, in a similar way to the false memories that we can easily create? How do we know for sure?
Then, as astrologers, where are we with reference to modernity? Is the universe intelligible or isn’t it? Is there a God and, if there is, what is this God? How can we possibly describe it? How does it behave towards us?
And then, what are we doing with astrology? The relativist idea of ‘it’s true for me’ that is dogma to the moderns would seem to make astrology in any real terms impossible. Consider: I’m the wise astrologer and you’re my client. I’m saying, ‘Saturn here means xyz. That’s what’s true for me.’ You’re thinking, ‘Yeah, but what about what’s true for me?’ Which is a very important part of the equation, especially as you’re the one who’s paying the bill! What’s true for me is not necessarily relevant to you and to your perception of things. But if we’re working within this relativist framework, that’s what you, as my client, are stuck with.
In western culture, over the past couple of thousand years, this debate has, until recent times, for obvious historical reasons, been conducted primarily by Christians within Christian circles. There have been important contributions by Muslim and Jewish sages, but the main line of the argument has taken place within Christianity. Yet if we review this argument about what God is and what He is not - which is immensely important, because this determines our perception of reality - the God in question has been taken very much as the God of the Old Testament. The debate makes little mention of the central fact of Christianity, which is that God became incarnate for us: God comes down into creation to take us back again. So even though the debate has taken place within Christianity, it’s largely been conducted in non-Christian terms: at the heart of the scholastic argument is the God of the Old Testament rather than the God of the New. The great watershed between ancient thought and modernity is often perceived as being around the end of the 18th century, with what is now called the Enlightenment. ‘The Enlightenment’, like ‘the Renaissance’ is a 19th century term: no one at the time considered themselves as being part of the Enlightenment, any more than Raphael or Leonardo regarded himself as a Renaissance man. But the roots of modern thought stretch back way before the Enlightenment. A convenient place at which to start is with William of Ockham. But there is no distinct point at which we can say, ‘modern thought started here’. There is always something earlier, and long before Ockham there were arguments about scepticism, about what came to be called nominalism, even about atomism. Atomism is the idea that the world is created anew at every instant. This is a difficult one to argue against, because if the world is created anew at every instant, all our memories are created anew at every instant, which makes it very hard to disprove. Why God would bother is, I think, a sufficiently compelling argument against it. ‘OK, you’ve created it all once; why should you destroy it and create it again at every instant?’ But is it for us to say?
Back to Ockham. He was an English philosopher, famous, of course, for his razor. This is usually understood as something loosely equivalent to ‘cut to the chase’, which is an excellent motto for any horary astrologer or, indeed, astrologer of any form. But it’s not, strictly speaking, what he said. His point was, ‘Don’t unnecessarily multiply universals’.
What is a universal? If I say, ‘think of a black dog’, each of you will have a different mental picture of a black dog. The concept of a black dog relates to two universals. One is the universal of doggishness: the dog you have in your head conforms in some way or another to an abstract idea of ‘dog’. But how your picture conforms to that abstract idea and how my picture conforms to it are most unlikely to be the same. Your picture and my picture also both conform in some way or another to the abstract idea of blackness, whichis the second universal here. Our idea of what dog might be probably varies wildly; you might think our idea of what black might be would be more or less the same - but how do we know? Latin, for instance, has two words, each describing a different kind of blackness, while English has only the one. Even with an apparently simple concept such as ‘black dog’, then, the universals make my perception and your perception of that concept rather different.
Ockham’s point is that we should limit these universals in argument as much as we possibly can. This becomes particularly important when we start talking about God. For instance, if we ask if God is male or female, we are importing universals to God. Does God have a pink toothbrush or a blue toothbrush? It confines the idea of God within the terms of the description, which we must strive not to do. Ockham asks that we liberate the idea from the constraints of the terms of description. If we cast out universals, ultimately the description comes down to just ‘that’, ‘that thing there’. This is just the thing in itself, so it’s not ‘the black dog’ anymore, it’s simply Fido over there in the corner.
The problem is, if we throw out all the universals, it becomes impossible to argue with syllogistic logic, which is a mainstay of the history of thought. We can no longer say, ‘this is black and that is black, therefore they share in the concept of blackness’, because without the universal we don’t know what black is. With no universals, we cannot argue or prove anything from first principles, and doing that is implicit in what we’re doing as astrologers. With traditional astrology we’re endlessly arguing from first principles, because, otherwise, all we have is empirical events, and arguing from empirical events is very, very problematic. ‘I’ve got Sedna on my Midheaven: I must be an Eskimo goddess!’ No, you’re not.
The path from Ockham, by way of Francis Bacon, leads us to the scientists of today, who have subverted the poets’ role as the unacknowledged legislators of our time. To speak in very broad terms, one can claim with a good measure of reason that the science of today no longer argues, or is capable of arguing, from first principles, but only from phenomena. Take a few convergent phenomena and try to massage them into an agreeable hypothesis, which means that in its claims to be scientific modernity has abandoned science in the true sense of that word. It no longer strives to understand things, but has become purely technological, or, in a word that scientists would not care to use of themselves, magical. By going for the phenomenon without the understanding, modern scientists place themselves in the position of the magicians of Egypt against whom Moses was pitched. Yes, they can do some marvellous tricks, for which we are all extremely grateful: I would far rather be writing this lecture on a computer than with a quill pen. But something important at the heart of the matter has been lost.
The popular end of scientific writing, which is what determines what is taught in schools and so plays so large a part in shaping the intellectual vernacular of the age, tells how the rise of modern science put paid to superstitions, ritual magic, witchcraft, things like that. Galileo opened his mouth and everyone suddenly realised how silly they had been to believe such nonsense. This is not true! The great age of witchcraft and ceremonial magic was the age in which modern science was born, and science did not wave its magic wand and make that world disappear. On the one hand, people were founding the Royal Society, regarded as such a milestone in scientific history; on the other hand, at much the same time, Matthew Hopkins was busy discovering witches by sticking pins into peoples’ warts. The more scientific the world got, the more witchy it got.
For our particular purposes, as astrologers, though, this idea of the universals is less significant than some of the things that Ockham and the nominalists, for whom he was something of a figurehead, were saying about God. They were concerned to preserve God’s omnipotence and God’s freedom: God must be omnipotent; He must be totally free. One of their principles, therefore, was that God can be no man’s debtor. God cannot be beholden to us. I cannot think, for example, ‘I’m going to help an old lady across the street every day, so God will have to let me into Heaven’, because that gives me power over God, and this is not possible. This makes God indebted to me. It constrains His freedom, because I might be very virtuous, helping an old lady across the street every day, but maybe God just doesn’t like me. He’s free to do that, because He’s perfectly free. Or, it could well be that God decides that today it’s not the ones who help old ladies across the road who are good, it’s the ones who push the granny in front of the bus who are good. They’re the ones He’s going to let into Heaven today – and He can, because He’s free to do that. Or, He can think, ‘forget this idea of being good! Forget even the idea that pushing Granny under the bus is a good thing! I’m going to let all the bad guys in today. Because that’s what I feel like, and I’m free’. Or, He can think, ‘oh what the hell! I’m going to let all the Manchester United supporters in today, whether they’re good, bad or indifferent’. Because He’s completely free and cannot be bound.
And God’s omnipotence cannot be limited. Therefore, for example, God can create a rock that’s so heavy that He can’t lift it. Because He’s omnipotent. I’m not exaggerating here: implausible though it may sound, this argument was put forward in all seriousness by the nominalists. And was, for some reason, taken seriously.
Now, there are two arguments against this. One is the obvious one: ‘Go to your room and don’t come down until you’ve stopped being silly!’ This was the Church’s immediate response to the thought of the nominalists. This has a lot to do with why St. Francis had such problems with the Church. St Francis wasn’t just the guy who ran the animal shelter: he was a card-carrying nominalist, and so was well into these ideas. Hence the poverty, hence the begging, because if you don’t know what God is going to do next, because God is utterly free, all you can do is throw yourself on His mercy, not trying to force any issues, but leaving yourself open to what He chooses to provide.
Eventually, the Church found that the ‘go to your room and don’t come down’ argument didn’t work all that well, so then it did what the Church has usually done, by embracing St Francis, taking him into the fold and finding him something useful to do. Which is exactly what we do in natal astrology. I’m not suggesting that the Church’s treatment of St Francis had an astrological basis, but it does show a sound astrological principle. If you have a troublesome planet in your birthchart, it’s no good shouting at it, saying, ‘oh go away, you nasty Mercury! I don’t like you!’ That won’t work at all. The planet is in your birthchart and it’s not possible to throw it out. But you can find it a job, and the more you find for it to do, the less time it will have to make a nuisance of itself. It’s the same principle: bring it into the fold.
There is another argument against these points about freedom and omnipotence, dealing with them at a rather deeper level. I’ll come back to that later.
These nominalist ideas, limited though they might sound, became hugely important and brought an end to scholasticism, with its careful, even laborious, arguments based on authorities. But this was not purely because somebody had some bright ideas. Europe was in a state of disarray at the time. The last of the Crusades had just ended in complete shambles, with Christians slaughtering Christians, which was not in the brochure at all. This gave people serious doubts. ‘What’s happened? Oh no, maybe God’s on their side, not ours!’ Then there was the Black Death, killing about a third of the population of Europe. But this third of the population was not evenly spread. Many places were almost untouched, while others were virtually depopulated, particularly in Italy, which, of course, was one of the centres of theological argument. See this through the eyes of nominalism, with its emphasis on the absolute freedom of God: ‘What ever is God going to do next?’ The chaos going on at the time left very fertile soil on which these ideas would fall. It wasn’t easy to accept that God was presiding over an orderly, mechanically-driven universe.
Erasmus, sometime later, described the debates between the nominalists and the scholastics as ‘higher lunacy’. Erasmus was not one to mince his words! But higher lunacy or not, we’re still stuck with the consequences of these debates today, because, in exactly the same way as when you’re having a squabble with somebody, words come out of your mouth and you can’t unsay them, once these ideas had been let out of the pen, they couldn’t be pushed back again. They had an immense influence, which grew, and grew, and grew. They were an important cause of the Reformation: by the time Luther was growing up, the universities were controlled by the nominalists and the teaching of Aristotle had been banned. So anyone growing up at that time grew up in a milieu dominated by these ideas.
Petrarch - July 28th 1304, 04:33 am LMT, Arezzo, Italy
Let’s take a look at the chart of somebody else who was hugely important in the history of the West. Remember how important Mercury is in showing motivation. What does this person want to do? What does this person think is really, really important?
Audience: The Sun.
Exactly. What does Mercury really, really like? It’s in the sign of the Sun, it’s in the triplicity of the Sun, and it’s cazimi - ‘in the bosom of the Sun’. And what is the Sun in this chart? It’s Lord of the Ascendant. So what does our native think is really, really important? ‘Me!’ And what a Sun this is: lots of essential dignity, by being in its own sign and its own triplicity, and right on the Ascendant, giving lots of accidental strength. So this guy looks in his mirror, ‘My God, I’m really great, aren’t I? Ah, so I am!’ Which he did: he was convinced that ‘Me’ was utterly wonderful.
This might not seem remarkable to us today, because we take it for granted that Me is the most wonderful thing in the world. What should I be doing with my life? I should be fulfilling Me, this wonderful thing that I am. I should be studying NLP and t’ai chi and chanting for abundance and… you know the script, I’m sure.
The fact that we do take this for granted, however, is largely because of this guy, because this attitude was his invention. Nobody thought like that before. Even the biggest tyrant, who you might suppose thought that Me, Me, Me is special, didn’t perceive it in these terms, as a kind of philosophical grounding of the whole of life in terms of how valuable and wonderful I am. This man invented the cult of the individual, which is to us so obviously how things should be that we don’t give it a second thought.
This is Petrarch, Francesco Petrarca. He wrote a book called ‘My Secret’, which is all about Me. Such a clear picture of this is in the chart. There is this cazimi Mercury, thinking Me is so fascinating, and it’s just inside the first house: ‘I’m holding onto that. You can look if you want to, but the important thing is for Me’. This was an intensely introspective work. It was loosely modelled on St Augustine’s ‘Confessions’, but the ‘Confessions’ was not available at the time, so all Petrarch had seen of it was a few sentences quoted in other works. His own book was far more searching and introspective than Augustine ever was. There had been no book like this before, devoted to exploring all the nooks and crannies of Me and what’s important for Me.
He was immensely irritated by the attitudes of the Britons – a point of view that I fully understand! But his particular grouse was with Ockham and his followers, the nominalists. He thought their arguments were nothing but pointless hair-splitting. We find a similar attitude later, with Pascal, but unfortunately Petrarch never formulated it in the direct way that Pascal did, which might have saved us several hundred years of fairly bloody hair-splitting, and much barking up wrong philosophical trees. Petrarch also believed that the love for earthly things can be overcome, and he illustrated this from the example of someone’s life. Yes, of course: his own. ‘I’ve overcome the love of earthly things!’ He himself, it seems, wasn’t that earthly.
To him, the only earthly thing of value is virtue, doing the good thing, and the only spur to being virtuous is fame. People will appreciate how wonderful you are. Before Petrarch, we contented ourselves playing out our role in the Church, or the state, or in the family, or on the farm, or whatever our given role was. You didn’t devote much time while you were ploughing the fields and scattering to thinking how you might develop yourself.
Petrarch withdrew from all that. He withdrew from a role in the Church; he withdrew from and refused roles in politics; he turned his back on those hair-splitting philosophical arguments, and took himself off to a country villa with a bunch of like-minded friends, who all agreed with the obvious fact that he was wonderful, to cultivate himself. This cultivation of self, he was saying, is not a matter of just following your every whim, but of understanding the depths of your own nature and following the call of what is truly you. We might hope that when we understand our own nature we find it’s more or less nice, because, obviously, following the call of it if it’s not nice gets us into trouble.
First of all, we must examine our self, scrupulously, which of course Petrarch wants to do. What could be more interesting for his Mercury than that? For doing that, astrology is a marvellous tool. I don’t know if Petrarch had any interest in astrology, but if he had turned a serious glance to it, I’m sure he would have been fascinated. He’d have been reading Linda Goodman from cover to cover! Or maybe just the one chapter, over and over again.
Petrarch’s little known today. Few people read him, largely because the battle’s been won. His idea is that we should all be following this cult of the individual, and who is there left today who still needs persuading of that?
As we might expect, 1st house/7th house relationships are not well-starred. He sees the beautiful Laura, gets absolutely nowhere with her, writes some tearful poems about her, and earns immortality. Look at the Lord of the 1st house, ‘Me’: how fussed is he about the other person anyway? Maybe if the other were in a votive position, bowing down before him with a large amount of incense, but not otherwise. And look what’s happening: the Lord of the 1st is just separating from aspect to the Lord of the 7th. As we’ve seen, Mr Petrarch likes himself lots. The Lord of the 7th is in its own exaltation: she likes herself lots, too. But it’s also in the fall of Lord 1, so she doesn’t see him as coming up to scratch at all. He may think he’s made out of chocolate, but she really doesn’t agree.
Let’s go back to his Mercury. Mercury cazimi: in the bosom of the Sun. The idea with cazimi is not only that the cazimi planet - in this case, Mercury - has the power of the Sun flowing through it, but because it’s like a filter over the Sun, all the power of the Sun must flow through it. The Sun has no other outlet of expression. So Petrarch’s Mercury is an extreme case of the extreme case that is Mercury cazimi, because this Sun is so strong, both essentially and accidentally, and every bit of that power is coming through this Mercury. He did write a bit, of course. But every time on your computer that you click the little button to change the script to italic, you’re celebrating Petrarch. The italic script, which was created in Venice, was based on Petrarch’s handwriting. Legendary Mercury status!
Audience: Would this make him extremely intelligent?
No. We must always remember that there are a lot of birthcharts out there, not only the one we happen to be looking at. Mercury direct spends about half a day cazimi, so there would have been a lot of people born within a few hours of Petrarch, sharing his cazimi Mercury. They weren’t all intelligent. And what is intelligence? The best efforts at quantifying it seem so often wide of the mark. However we might choose to define it, there is certainly far more to it than merely Mercury-stuff. People with Mercury in Gemini or Virgo, for instance, are no more intelligent than anybody else, which would not be the case if intelligence did come down simply to Mercury-stuff.
What the cazimi shows is that the power of the Sun is flowing through the Mercury – whatever the nature of this Mercury is. Think of what it says in St John’s gospel: Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. This is the usual translation, but more accurate is in the bosom of the Father. God the Father is the Sun, so being in His bosom means Jesus is cazimi. Therefore God’s power can flow only through Jesus, which is why through Him all things are made. God’s not delegating just some of the jobs to Jesus. And the whole of God’s power flows through Jesus, the logos, the Word: Mercury cazimi on the cosmic scale.
So with Petrarch: the whole power of the Sun can flow only through the cazimi planet, so the Sun, which is Lord 1, ‘Me’, can find its expression only through the Mercury. So when Petrarch decides to cultivate ‘Me’, he can do this only through his Mercury. He didn’t sign on at the gym to build up his abs.
Now back to the chain of thought coming from the nominalists, which, as we’ve seen, left Petrarch unimpressed. Luther, educated by nominalists, believed, in much the same way as St Francis, there’s absolutely nothing we can do to obtain our own salvation. Everything depends on God alone. It’s up to Him. Erasmus was a great adversary of Luther, albeit rather by accident: he didn’t mean things to end up like that, but he was so outspoken in his expression that they got on the wrong side of each other. Erasmus thought this attitude of Luther’s undermined morality, because if I’m destined to be saved, there’s no reason not to follow my every whim. This is, of course, a circular argument because if I’m destined to be saved, my every whim probably does not involve pushing Granny under the bus. It’s because of this idea that there’s nothing I can do to bring my own salvation that Luther made his famous statement, ‘Sin boldly!’ Don’t mess about: if you’re going to sin, do a proper sin. Drinking the de-alcoholised wine doesn’t count. Indeed, far from being the grumpy old so & so of common perception, Luther loved the beauty of life. At one of his famous series of debates, he carried a rose with him at all times, so he could smell the rose to remind himself how beautiful Creation is, to prevent his mind dragging him into some arid desert of reason in the heat of argument. Keeping it real.
So, skipping lightly over a century or so of intellectual history, we come to Descartes. We don’t know the date of Descartes’s birth. This is most unfortunate, because what we do know is the date of a night of revelation that transformed his thinking. It would be fascinating to be able to see what was going on his birthchart when that happened, but, alas, not.
Descartes was a somewhat unconventional philosopher in that the fields he ploughed for the study of his philosophy were rather wider than usual. He devoted a lot of study to what might now be called ‘occult’ knowledge: the Hermeticists, the Rosicrucians, Albertus Magnus, and all the usual suspects. So he was much influenced by ideas from outside the philosophical mainstream - which was no bad thing, as by his time that philosophical mainstream was running rather dry. On November 11, 1619, he had his night of revelation. He’d spent the whole day wrapped in fervid thought, and went to bed expecting to have a dream to confirm his conclusions. Guess what: yes, he had such a dream. At least, he said he did, though we might take that with a pinch of salt.
His answer to the problem of scepticism, this endless doubt, the ‘how can I be sure about anything?’ was ‘I think therefore I am’. This is often understood as ‘thinking’s good for you! Have a good think every day and you’ll be fine’. This is not what he meant. He’s faced with the problem of doubt. I can’t even be sure that what I’m thinking is really what I’m thinking. Maybe it’s a trick of sensibility, my thought patterns going astray. But there’s the one thing I do know, even when I’m doubting, which is that I’m thinking, because if I weren’t thinking, I wouldn’t be doubting. So even the doubting proves that I’m thinking. Therefore there is at last some solid ground, unshakable by doubt. I know I’m thinking, even when I’m doubting, so I can build everything from there. He thought he could build a whole science of knowledge, reliable and provable, from this sure foundation. Wiser heads than mine have decided that this can’t be done, and even though Descartes became one of the larger fish in the philosophical mainstream, nothing much of product resulted from this revelation. It was a good starting point, from which to build … what?
More interesting from our point of view is Pascal, who came a little later. He too had a great experience. We do have a birthchart for Pascal, but unfortunately it’s been rectified, and by God knows whom. It would be nice to have a more reliable time for it. His great experience was on the night of November 23, 1654. He wrote the results of that on a piece of paper which he had sewn into his coat and carried with him for the rest of his life. It was found after his death. Nowadays, he’d probably have had it tattooed on his chest - this sewing it into his coat for permanent safe-keeping was a similar idea to that. This was his answer to the problem of doubt, the problem of scepticism, the problem of ‘what’s true for me’. What he wrote was, ‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars’. The point being that if the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob drops in on you, you are not thinking, ‘Oh, is this really happening? Is this true?’ You are pinned to the wall in awe and wonder. You know it, without any trace of doubt. Once reality arrives, you know what’s true!
Pascal dismissed the whole problem of scepticism very simply, and in a way which is extremely important to us in our relation with modernity and with so many of the denizens of astro-world. What Pascal said was, ‘I maintain that a perfectly genuine sceptic has never existed’. Scepticism is a little intellectual game which people play in the privacy of their drawing-rooms when they think they are thinking about things. Nobody ever really doubts in the way scepticism claims. As Aristotle said, anyone who truly held the sceptical point of view could never lift even his little finger.
Scepticism doesn’t really exist. The same is true of the relativism of today, the ‘what’s true for me’, the ‘it’s my version of truth that matters’. No it isn’t! And we all know this. If you take your car to the garage, your opinion on whether you put petrol or diesel into it is really not relevant. If you put the wrong one in, the car won’t go. Why isn’t my television working? Just as it says in the manual, first check that it’s plugged in. What’s true for you is not important; it’s the basic reality of things that’s important. What is, is what is true; the relativist argument is nothing but a self-indulgence. Nobody really thinks like that. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.
Back now to Ockham and those issues about not limiting God’s freedom or limiting God’s omnipotence. Which, of course, we can’t do. We can’t possibly limit it: we can only describe it. The problem is, that in seeking not to squeeze God into human terms, not to explain God in terms which belong to us, with limited freedom, limited power, the nominalists made Him not only human, but human at something a long way below what human is at best. In their determination to keep God firmly above the world, in no way beholden to anything that we might do, they brought God firmly down into the world. By making Him this whimsical creature who can decide that today the ones who push Granny under the bus get saved, they were not preserving Him as something far above humankind, but transforming Him into something resembling a tired and fractious child.
The problem of His freedom was discussed in terms of what He might choose to do at any moment. ‘Can I let the bad guys into heaven today?’ But His freedom is not the freedom to do this or that, but the freedom to be what He truly is. It’s this that cannot be constrained: the freedom to be what He is, which is infinitely good. Hence the importance of the debate not underplaying His putting Himself into the world for our sake.
He is free according to His own nature. In the same way, within our limits, we’re free according to our own nature. Anyone of us listening to this lecture now is free to stand up and pee on the floor, but none of us is going to do so, because it’s not in line with our nature. To the extent that we have freedom, we have the freedom to be what we are, and that is more important than the freedom to do any particular thing just for the sake of demonstrating that freedom. God’s freedom cannot be limited by the fact that He chooses not to do this or that, because He has total freedom to act according to what He is - insofar as the concept of action is relevant to God at all.
Now for the idea of omnipotence. We talk about time and eternity, and it’s something of a commonplace that eternity is not lots and lots of time. You’re no closer to experiencing eternity when you’re sitting on a long haul plane flight than you are when you’re waiting for a kettle to boil, and passing another hour or so, or living to be 100 in contrast to living to be 20, does not bring you any nearer to experiencing eternity. There is a qualitative difference between time and eternity: the difference is not a matter of quantity. Time and eternity are utterly exclusive of each other. Eternity is a state without time, not a large amount of time.
Exactly the same is true of omnipotence. Omnipotence is not the same as lots and lots of powers. You are no nearer to being omnipotent if you learn to speak a foreign language or if you manage to lift a heavier weight in the gym. Omnipotence is not being able to do lots and lots of stuff. Omnipotence is the ‘everything’, the irrelevance of doing – in the same way that eternity is the irrelevance of time - because, in a certain sense, it’s already done simply because, if you are omnipotent, you just are.
Compare this with the experience of love. Love is not lots and lots of liking. You don’t like somebody more and more and more until eventually this reaches a certain weight of liking and transforms itself to love. A great example of the truth of this is with the love of a child. You can deeply, passionately, and powerfully dislike the little brat, and yet the love you have for it remains unaltered. Not one jot is taken away from that. In fact, it is at the moment when you do most powerfully and passionately dislike it that the love you have for it shines through more obviously than ever, by the very fact you don’t take your child and sell it to the gypsies in that moment. You stick with it. The failure of liking does not in any way diminish the love. Loving and liking exist, as it were, on different planes.
As Jesus points out, you don’t give your child a snake or a stone when it asks for bread – because you look on your child with love. How is God going to look upon us? In the same way. So the whole attitude of ‘I’m going to be good today, so God will like me’ must be irrelevant, because it isn’t a question of Him liking me: He loves me. This distinction between liking and loving destroys that whole argument about limiting God. Your child can never irritate you so much that the love stops. That is your freedom towards the child, the freedom to be the loving creature you are, despite the child’s best efforts to make this impossible. So it is with God: He isn’t scratching His head and wondering, ‘Do I really like John or not?’ Love and liking; omnipotence and doing: these are qualitatively distinct things, existing on different planes.
Am I going to get into Heaven if I help Granny cross the road? God has no before and after, because God does not exist in time. Before and after can exist only in time. God exists in eternity, where there is no time, so there can be no before or after. Therefore, God cannot change His mind about us. He can’t say, ‘I saw you being naughty: I don’t like you anymore’, or ‘I saw you help her cross the road: come up to Heaven!’ Nor does the ‘He can’t say’ in any way limit His omnipotence.
Returning to the idea that God can create a stone so big that He can’t lift it: to regard omnipotence as the ability to do stuff makes God subject to time. It brings God down into creation, where He is not, because doing something necessarily involves time, a before and an after: the thing was not done, now it is done. There wasn’t a rock, now there is a rock. This dragging of God into time, which is what the nominalists were doing, limits Him far more than the limitations they were trying to get away from.
Prediction and predestination, of course, are relevant to concepts of time. What will happen? What relationship do we, existing within time, have to the absence of time that is eternity? Closely related to questions of what can we predict, what is predestined and how, is the question of prayer. Prediction and prayer are closely related: a different spin on the same idea.
God does not exist within time, He has no before or after, so the idea that we pray, ‘Please, God, can you do such and such’, then God has a little think about this and decides whether or not to grant the prayer cannot be true, because this implies a before and an after for God. Yet it cannot be that the prayer is irrelevant. This too is a debate that has been going on for thousands of years: ‘I’m Mr Super-Holy, but when I prayed God didn’t listen. Why?’
I’m no great fan of Gurdjieff, but he did have a way with words. He said we must work as if work is the only thing, and pray as if prayer is the only thing. The two things are equally vital, but exist on different levels. Prayer is not about dragging God down into time, having Him decide whether to do this or that; prayer is about us rising out of this world of time and partaking in eternity. It is not a matter of God doing but of us being. Us joining God in the world of pure being that is eternity.
Much the same can be said of prediction. When we predict we are in a sense looking into the little book that is eternity, because we’re not looking at life as a straight line of which we know only the particular point where we are right now. When we predict, we’re looking at the life as something the whole of which exists now. Else we wouldn’t be able to see it. The whole movie is in the can. Hence the fact we can look anywhere we want in that life. It’s a bit like a photo album. You have a photo album covering 20 years of your life, and you can open that album wherever you like. Those 20 years in a sense exist now, completely. Both prediction and prayer assume that the whole of our life exists in much the same way as those 20 years in the photo album, the only difference being that the photo album exists only after we apparently perceive the life, whereas the prayer and prediction seem to us to exist only before we experience it. But because before and after are things we perceive only because of our position within the constraints of time, they are not necessarily to be taken too seriously. Before and after are not necessarily the determining words on the subject.
Aquinas defined time as the measure of before and after in change. We all know that our own perception of time is directly related to how much change is going on. You’re sitting in an office watching the clock go round, waiting for 5 o’clock, when you can go home. Nothing is changing. There is very little ‘before and after in change’. So time goes very, very slowly. You go on holiday for a week, with things changing all the time, and, well, ‘doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun!’
Our real perception of time is contained within that definition. Aquinas also says that eternity exists as a simultaneous whole and time does not. That is, eternity is there as one thing, all the time as it is, unchanging, and therefore is totally different to time. In my youth there was the popular idea that eternity is the instantaneous present, the ‘now’. But eternity is not the same as being always in the present, because that present always changes. Eternity, if it’s one and simultaneous and cannot change, well, it cannot change. As an obvious example: there is no suggestion that during the Incarnation there was an empty seat at the dinner-table in Heaven. There can be no change there. He was up there all the time that He was down here. And if there is no change in Heaven, so far as I can see we cannot accept the idea that there’s an empty seat up there with my name on it, and one day the angels will play a fanfare and, ‘Hey, everyone, John’s arrived!’ Because that would imply change in eternity.
Therefore, as far as I can see, we can conclude only that we must always be there in Heaven, all the time, now. This is not necessarily contradictory to our being down here. The great example of it not being contradictory to our being down here now is that same point: when God was present on Earth during the Incarnation, He was also up there in Heaven. He had an existence in time as well as His existence in eternity, and that is the model for our own existence.
So what is the relationship of our life as it exists in its full completion in eternity, to our life as it is on Earth, where we perceive it unfolding one step at a time? Suppose you have a child, which, of course, you love. You decide to cook your child its favourite meal. The love you have for your child rests unchanged in your heart. It doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t alter. It stays exactly where it is. That you decide to cook your child a meal doesn’t mean you suddenly love it so much more. You just love the child, so, ‘OK, I’ll cook you a meal’. But now you’ve made the decision to cook the child a meal. The love for your child rests in your heart, not moving. But now, this love also comes out of your heart, in extension in the world. You go to the shop to buy the ingredients for the meal. Then you come home and cook the meal and you serve it to your child. This is the love you have existing in extension in time, at the same time as it exists unchanging in your heart.
Now, your love for your child exists perfectly in your heart. It is as it is. But when it comes out in extension, things don’t work out quite as planned. You go to the shop for the ingredients, but they haven’t got the one vital thing that makes it taste good, so you cook something else instead. Or you get distracted while you’re cooking it. The phone rings and you pour in chilli instead of sugar, or the meal gets burned. Or your heartbroken friend arrives with a bottle of brandy, so you postpone the meal till tomorrow. And, of course, no matter how well you cook the meal, it’s never quite as good as you intended. You can never, whatever happens, stick enough fairy-dust on this meal to make it as good as you want it to be, because the love, as it exists in time, in extension, can never match the love as it exists at the same time in your heart.
I suggest this could well be similar to the relationship between our existence as it must be all the time in Heaven and our existence in extension down here. It can never quite work out as well as it should be. Somehow we keep pouring in the chilli instead of the sugar, or burning it, or the brandy gets in the way.
This does not mean that our life in Heaven is existing in the same way as our life here. You aren’t sitting in Heaven turning the pages of an astrology book, because that would give a before and an after, a change, which cannot be there. Nothing there can be changing because there is no time. But this idea, this ‘as above so below’, is entirely congruent with our model of the cosmos, because in our model of the cosmos we have the 12 signs of the zodiac, the 3 x 4, the 3 modes and the 4 elements existing altogether in all their possibilities. Then we have the spinning out in extension by the 7 planets, the 3 + 4, as the 7 planets bring this down into the life we’re familiar with, the 12 mundane houses in the birthchart. In the same way that the existence of the life in extension, the 7 planets, does not deny or diminish the signs of the zodiac (the signs of the zodiac are still there, unchanging: the 7 planets are just them existing in extension, drawing something of that potential down into the world), so our life in extension is drawing something of its eternal potential down into the world.
Audience: So the role of the planets is only for the world, not in eternity?
Yes, because the planets exist in time. That’s why the first of them is Saturn: time. They are bounded by time and exist only within time.
Our situation regarding prediction and the apparent contradiction between free will and predestination, is not the situation of the one watching the movie and wondering what’s going to happen next. Our situation is that of the person in the movie. We are Rick, wondering if it will be him or Victor Lazlo getting on the plane with Ilsa. What will I choose to do? Rick has his free will. It’s his choice whether it’s him or Lazlo who gets on the plane. But - the decision has already been made. The movie’s in the can. Yet only by exercising his own free will does the movie unfold as it must do, as it can only do, as it will inevitably do. The predestination (the movie being in the can) is obtainable only by Rick exercising his free will.
The eternity of our life as it is in Heaven, existing all the time right now, can be obtainable only by us exercising our free will. It’s just that the free will exists in extension, the predestination exists in eternity. One is the 3 x 4, the other the 3 + 4. One can exist only in time, the other only in eternity. So why can’t we see this? Why don’t I know if it will be me or Victor Lazlo on the plane with Ilsa? Because life would be utter hell if we did know! Can you imagine if you knew everything in advance of what was going to happen? This would really not be pleasant. Look at the great example of this, the One who did know in advance what was going to happen. He was not happy about it, sweating blood in Gethsemane. ‘Can you let this cup pass me by? I don’t want to play this game. I want to do something else.’
An example of the relationship between the free will and predestination is again with Jesus, who, we are repeatedly told, acts quite deliberately and of His own free will, ‘in fulfilment of the scriptures’. Because, more than anyone, He knows what is up there while He is down here, living the life in extension. He knows what’s in the script. Therefore, he deliberately chooses to act in the only way He can possibly act. Which is exactly what we do, in fulfilment of our own personal scriptures, because we have no alternative. There is no other script; yet we live that script out by our own free will.
The suggestion that the movie is already in the can often brings the question of whether we need to take action in order to create the events of the life. Surely they will happen anyway. Of course they won’t! Unless our movie is of someone spending the whole of life sitting on the sofa. If Rick didn’t take action, nobody would be getting on the plane.
Not acting is not an option, unless our life is one of total inaction. We are in the movie, not in the audience. Nor can we step outside the movie to decide what we shall do. This is a common illusion about the nature of astrological consultation, as if the consultation takes place outside the life. ‘I’m going to step outside my life, have the consultation, then step back into a different life.’ As if Rick were to step out of Casablanca and decide to insert himself into Singing in the Rain, because that is what his astrologer suggests. The consultation is as much a part of the life – part of the movie – as is anything else in that life.
If I didn’t at the very least fill the minutes between action A and action B by having the astrological consultation, however valid or invalid that consultation might have been, and whatever notice I may or may not have taken of it, I’d have been doing something else in those minutes between A and B, even if only scratching my nose. Action B would therefore have been impossible, because my situation would have been different. The action C that I might then have taken could resemble action B very closely, but it could not be action B. If B is what is in my movie, B is the action I will take.
The apparent paradox of free will and predestination is that these two things are existing – well, one would say ‘at the same time’; but they are existing at the same time only for us in this world of extension, because only in extension is there a same time for them to exist at, because there is no time in eternity. The difficulty in understanding this is because of our viewpoint. Because we are here, in this world of extension, we are not capable of thinking in terms that do not involve time, a before and an after. As is demonstrated by the very fact of our thinking at all: there was a moment before I had this thought; there’s a moment after I had this thought. Thinking is possible only within time.
This is the meaning behind the myth of the Twins, Castor and Pollux. There’s Castor, the life in extension, which must come to grief, because what exists in time must die. And there’s Pollux, who is immortal – because he exists up there in eternity. In the language of myth, brothers are always the same person, seen in different ways. These twins are born in an egg, the image of the soul, our soul. But they are not each 50% of our soul: a mortal half and an immortal half. They are each 100% of our soul, because brothers are the same person, seen in different ways. They exist 100% in extension, in this world; they exist 100% in eternity, just as 3 and 4 exist in the 3 + 4 of extension and the 3 x 4 of eternity. Which is our situation: we are 100% down here and 100% up there. The problem is, we are mostly aware only of the 100% that is down here.
Which no doubt sounds very abstract and theoretical. But we all know this in a real and non-abstract way, because we have all experienced it for ourselves when stepping through the doorway into eternity that is opened by love. When we love, the one that is completely Me, the whole of Me, loves the one that is completely You, the whole of You. OK, we fall away from that perception, through the wear and tear of time, but it is the love that is the true thing, not the falling away. And in love we know so well that feeling of stepping beyond time: ‘Oh Darling, I feel I’ve known you forever’. Which feeling is no romantic illusion, but is entirely real: an insight into our life that exists, right now, fully formed, in eternity.
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