The next day, Shmuel had his mandatory meeting with Padre Gilberto. It was the one aspect of his “education” on which his father insisted, as it provided valuable cover should the sincerity of his family’s conversion be called into question. Shmuel had protested at first, but he found Gilberto as stimulating intellectually as his other teachers, and probably more honest in expressing his opinion of Shmuel’s philosophical and theological positions. —something which made for a combat which Shmuel relished.
Gilberto was a Dominican friar and was as learned in falasafa as Hakim, with whom he occasionally met quietly for wine in the priory garden in the evening. He was also a senior official with the Inquisition, and its principal representative in Palermo, though that had not really meant very much until recently. Gilberto, like the rabbi, had recognized Shmuel’s brilliance early on and hoped he might nurture a vocation for religious life and perhaps even recruit the young man into the service of the Holy Office of the Inquisition which he now served. He now realized that this was not going to happen. The boy was as mad as he was brilliant. Their conversation last week had sealed this judgment.
–The “theosis” you offer is for slaves, Shmuel said in a rage.
Gilberto looked at him with confusion and concern.
–There is no joy except in Being itself.
–That is right, said Gilberto, unclear as to the boy’s difficulty.
–And we are not, and can never be Being. We are always dependent on others –and ultimately on God.
–That is true, said Gilberto, impressed with the boy’s metaphysical acuity but still unclear as to the nature of his quandary.
Shmuel knew what Gilberto would say next. Humanity had been put here to cultivate this earth like a garden and had been given reason in order to help it do so. But our destiny was not mere unity with the Agent Intellect, the least of the planetary intelligences. It was much higher: to know and love God in essence. And, as Aristotle had demonstrated, when we know something, we take on its form or essence, not substantially, to be sure, but as an accident, as an added perfection like any other virtue. So in this sense, at least, we could become God.
The problem, of course, was how we could know and love God in essence. Loving God in essence meant loving God for God’s own sake, not because of what God does for us. And this transcends our natural human capacities. We cannot know God in essence except by loving God in essence with God’s own love, as it is that love which we know, experientially and nonconceptually, when we know and thus become God. But we cannot love something we do not yet know. And so the Christians taught that we achieve knowledge of God and theosis only through mystical incorporation into Jesus, who they claimed was not only Mosiach but the very Son of God, True God and truly human, who had fulfilled the Law in its totality and been crucified by the Romans as a Jewish royal pretender only to be vindicated by his Father who raised him from the dead. By participating the Christian sacraments we shared in his life and death and resurrection, and thus in his divine nature …
For Shmuel, however, this made no sense. Nothing in the stories about Jesus suggested that he was the moshiach so long awaited by the Jews. He had not liberated the people of Israel, much less mended the torn fabric of the universe. He was just another teacher who had been tortured to death by the oppressors whose injustice he denounced. While some of his people were willing to call Jesus a prophet, he really did not see why. His teachings were no different from the rest of the Bet Hillel. And the idea that someone could be both human and divine made no sense at all philosophically. How can someone be both finite and infinite, contingent and necessary at the same time? Padre Gilberto assured him that nothing the church taught was contrary to reason. But then he taught this nonsense. Relying on the merits of another, finally, was simply an excuse for not even trying to act justly. In reality, Christianity was just a religion of submission which used Jewish language about love and justice and Greek language about wisdom and reason to conceal its rotten imperial soul.
Shmuel summarized these thoughts for Gilberto for what must have been the third or fourth time. But there was more. Shmuel was not clear in the least how accidental theosis —which he allowed was possible— could satisfy the human desire to be God. Humanity, he insisted, yearned for substantive deification: he yearned to be free from the finitude and contingency which defined the human condition, binding us in a hell from which no redeemer could save us.
–We are, in other words, trapped in a contingency hell from which no one, not even God, can release us!
Gilberto was stunned. He had never even imagined that someone could look at things this way. It was, in a certain sense, obvious. Human beings –and everything else in creation– were contingent and would always remain so. Only God was necessary, having the power of Being in Himself. And this He could not share, for the very act of sharing his Being –the act of creation itself– implied a certain dependence on the part of the creature. But to think of the gift of Being, even if only of a created, contingent share, as Hell, and of actual divinity as the only worthy redemption? It was madness –or worse.
–That is why, ultimately, said Shmuel, Christendom, which understands itself as a civilization of love, can only always be a civilization of slaves.
Once again Gilberto was confused.
–But it is the Muslims, he said, who put submission and the very core of their religion.
That was true. And it was why he continued to believe that Judaism, in spite of its political weakness, was superior to Islam.
–We teach that God invites us into friendship and sonship, not slavery and submission, Father Gilberto said. Judaism and Islam deny the very possibility of theosis, which we offer as a free gift …
–If it is a free gift, said Shmuel, then why are Fernando and Isabella at this very moment marching on Qarnata? I know the face of injustice in our time, and it is Christian. I will cut my own path –and it will be a path towards equality with God.
Gilberto felt sad for the boy. He hoped that it was just a symptom of his age: that deep, usually unfocused rage of adolescence given strange form by the boy’s outstanding brilliance. But he feared that it was not. These were dangerous ideas, ideas that could define an entire civilization –and not a civilization of which Gilberto wanted to be a part. Thank God, he thought, for Fernando and Isabella. Uncouth ruffians, to be sure. But they would save Christendom from ideas like this.