The Created Universe Understood by Analogy

Hierarchies in Analogy

The Political Bias of the Traditional Christian World-View

This crude diagram illustrates the idealist, analogical world-view of the official Christian ideology of the Middle Ages.

The Official Ideology: The whole created universe follows the plan of God. In the diagram "The Created Universe" in the top row, God is at the apex of the universal hierarchy.

"Hierarchy" < Greek hieré, "holy, conforming to the will of God,", and arkhé, "order". Originally this meant "troops drawn up in battle formation" and, later, any organized arrangement. Cicero translated the Greek germ by the Latin word ordo, ordinis, hence our word "order." Therefore, this is the relationship that is "virtuous", because "pleasing to God," "divinely instituted."

Because God is a "king", an autocrat -- "King of Kings and Lord of Lords," or the overlord of the aristocracy (like 'The Godfather', capo di tutti capi) -- there's no democracy in Heaven -- authoritarian relationships modeled on God's rule of the universe are divinely sanctioned throughout the universe, and particularly in human society.

To put it another way: by analogy, all virtuous relationships should reflect the hierarchical relationship of God to His created universe. Specifically,

Man the Microcosm

Notice that "Man" -- and it is "Man" or "Mankind," not "humankind" -- is written right on the line that divides the Intelligible (sometimes called the "intellectual", because perceptible only to the "intellect") part of the Created Universe from the Sensual (also called the material, because made of matter) part. The Sensual is so called because this is the part of the Created Universe perceptible to the five senses; angels, demons, spirits, and The Trinity are not perceptible to the senses.

The hierarchy of the Created Universe, and all the hierarchies, are "scales of perfection" [Latin scala = "ladder"], with the higher "grades" [Latin gradus = "rung of a ladder, step"] being inherently "nobler", "more worthy" -- that is, better -- than the lower ones. God is highest/noblest/best, of course. Then come the "angels" [Greek angeleuo, "to announce" or "to be a messenger"] and, usually, any other "spiritual" beings. God has no beginning and no end. Angels and other spiritual beings have no end -- they are immortal -- but, created by God, they do have a beginning.

"Man", being mortal because of Original Sin, has both a beginning and an end -- death. But this applies only to his sensual or material existence, his body. "Man's" intelligible or intellectual or -- a vitally important concept -- rational existence, his soul, has a beginning (a creation) but no end; it too is immortal, like all beings of the Intelligible universe.

Only Mankind partakes of both the intellectual/ intelligible and the sensual/material worlds. Only "Man" has an immortal soul. In fact, it is in that sense that "God created Man after His own image" (Genesis) -- not that God is a "man", or has arms and legs, but that "Man" has a rational soul that is clouded by Original Sin but can still act, though imperfectly, according to the will of God.

The Creation Story

The political nature of this World-View is evident at every turn, and nowhere more apparent than in the subjection of women to men.  "Man" was said to be superior to Woman for a number of reasons, all of which stem from the fact that,  in Genesis, Eve was created from Adam's rib and is therefore a secondary and inferior creation.

In reality there are two accounts of the Creation of man and woman in Genesis. In the first account (Gen. 1), God simply creates man and woman together. There is no talk of creating woman from the rib of man, which doesn't come until the second account of Creation. Traditional Christianity overlooked this first, "egalitarian" Creation story and still does. To Biblical scholars, the first, or "egalitarian" Creation story is the Priestly, or "Elohist" account   The second, "Adam's rib" account of Creation, in which woman is God's afterthought, and inferior because secondary to man, is known as the Jahwist, or "J" account.

[NOTE: God is referred to by the plural noun elohim -- the same word as a later word for God, el, and also the same as the Arabic word Allah, a contraction of the Arabic 'al Ilah', 'Ilah' meaning 'El' or God. Elohim is a plural noun, showing that Genesis reflects a yet earlier period in which there were many "gods". There are other reflections of this original polytheism in Genesis as well.]

Why did the ancients -- or, for that matter, the contemporary -- Christians not accept the first, egalitarian story of Creation and reject the first? Because that would give no sanction to authoritarian relations in the social and political world! So it was the second story, the  "Adam's rib" Creation myth, that almost all Christians and Jews have always thought was the only one.

Not surprisingly, it's the second Creation myth that continues with the story of the "Garden of Eden" and the "Fall of Man" (and woman -- in fact, because of woman, Eve's successful temptation of Adam). The Fall of Man and the resulting divine curse on the human race, "Original Sin," is essential to an authoritarian society whether medieval or modern.

Anyway, the Creation and Fall of Man/ Original Sin stories provided strong arguments for the inferiority of woman.

The System of Analogies -- the Basis of Allegory

All the hierarchies outlined in the diagram and discussed above, and an unlimited number of other such hierarchies, were related to one another by analogy. "Man is the King in the family", for example: the husband occupies the position in the "hierarchy of the family" analogous to that of the King in the hierarchy of the State. The King's authoritarian power was said to derive from the fact that the King occupied the place in the hierarchy of the State analogous to that of God in the hierarchy of the Created Universe. This is the basis of "the divine right of kings."

The Lion is the "King of Beasts" because he lives by preying upon the rest of the animal "kingdom", like the King and nobility live upon the labor of the common people, whereas none prey upon him. Note that there was little or no squeamishness among elite medieval writers about the essentially exploitative relationships in society, because they were believed to be divinely sanctioned, and therefore unquestionably proper. That is why the Lion figures in the Coat of Arms of the royal family of England (and others). For the same reason, the Eagle is the "King of birds," and the Eagle was the symbol of the Roman Emperor and the Russian Tsar.

Interestingly, the eldest son of the King of France was called the "dauphin", which means "dolphin." Shakespeare calls him the Dolphin outright. Why? because "the Dolphin  is the King of Fish" -- because the Dolphin leaps high into the air, so seeming to yearn for the "higher element", air, and residing in the highest reaches of its own element, water (as the Eagle seems to be soaring to the highest regions of air).

There is a great deal more to be said about this system of analogies. But the main thing is this: try to get thoroughly accustomed to this way of thinking. It is prescientific -- it was eventually demolished by the Galilean, or Copernician, theory of heliocentrism. But it is also authoritarian and anti-scientific. It is not mainly a result of "primitivity" or "ignorance", but a result of the desire to justify elitist ideas of inequality -- hierarchy, authority, wealth and poverty. That is why it is still so powerful in Christianity today, though any pretense of  a scientific basis for it disappeared almost five hundred years ago.


http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/mel/univhierarchy.html | furrg@alpha.montclair.edu | created 23 Jan 99