Any keen and realistic observer of our deplorable epoch will know that modern society seems to have lost its mind. In these disintegrating times it appears that anything goes because nobody knows the value of the permanent things upon which all civilized societies are built. Since this is so it might be helpful to remind ourselves of what exactly is the mind so that we can understand how we lost it and, more to the point, how we can find it again.
Before proceeding to a discussion of the mind from the perspective of an orthodox Christian understanding, we should spend a little time summarizing other definitions of it. For Plato, “mind is the attribute of the gods and of very few men;” it is that which has knowledge of the eternal verities, or the permanent things. It is also that which “sets everything in order and arranges each individual thing in the way that is best for it.” Mind is, therefore, for Plato, an omniscience, inherent to the gods, which manifests itself in the divine order of the cosmos. Insofar as any man divines this divine mind that orders the cosmos he can be said to be of one mind with Mind itself. Such unity between the mind of man and the mind of the gods is the wisdom that true philosophers possess.
Aristotle introduces an incarnational dimension to mind insofar as he links it to sense-perception. The knowledge that the mind possesses is gained through the use of the senses. It is, however, not subject to this knowledge but transcends it because it has the potential to be or become “whatever is thinkable”. He also distinguishes between the passive mind which “is what it is by virtue of becoming all things” and the active mind which “is what it is by virtue of making all things”. Whereas the passive mind is mutable and mortal, capable of being destroyed, the active mind is immortal and indeed eternal. The mortal or passive mind is an attribute of man; the immortal and active mind is an attribute of the gods. As with Plato before him, Aristotle would see the unity between the mortal mind of man and the immortal mind of the gods as the wisdom that true philosophers possess. In both cases, man is to conform his own mind to the divine mind that orders and makes the cosmos.
Moving into the Christian era, St. Augustine embraced Neo-Platonism, much as St. Thomas Aquinas would later adopt and adapt Aristotelianism, thereby connecting the Christian understanding of the mind with that of the great Greek philosophers.
The breakdown of this classical-Christian nexus was instigated by the radical subjectivism and de facto relativism of René Descartes who defined mind as being the substance in which thought resides, which would not be particularly problematic were we to understand the mind-substance as being essentially divine; yet it becomes problematic when Descartes teaches that thought is “everything that is within us in such a way that we are immediately aware of it”. Since a person can only be immediately aware of that which is in his own mind, mind itself becomes inescapably subjective or relative. Such a belief destroys the unity of mind and fragments it into that which is subjectively private to each individual. Mind is no longer universal, something outside and beyond us to which we should submit, but is within each of us in a unique and individual way, distinct from the mind of others. Thus a person’s thoughts are given a sovereignty from the objective truth to which the passive or receptive mind is meant to conform itself, thereby liberating the thoughts of the individual thinker so that he no longer needs to seek a unity with the active Mind, which is the Maker of all things. In this way, the mind of man is divorced from the Mind which has made man’s mind in its own image. Instead of the ancient wisdom which held that I am because He is, we had arrived at the Cartesian I think, therefore I am. Instead of conforming our minds to the I Am who always is, we now believe that I am because I think I am. It is a relatively short step from the reductionism of the individual mind, which is because it thinks, to the radical skepticism of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche which sees nothing at the heart of the cosmos except the individual’s will to power, a radical egotism that places the individual self-deified Self at the centre of a subjectivized cosmos.
Having discussed and discovered the way in which modernity has lost its mind by its divorcing of itself from the cosmos and the Mind of its Maker, we can begin to understand how we can begin to put this humpty-dumptydom back together again and how we can put this topsy-turvydom right. We can do so by discarding the mindless mind that man has created in his own image and by rediscovering the true mind of man made in the image of the Mind which made it.
Since the Mind that made man in its image is a Trinity we should expect to see something of this Trinitarian character in the mind of man.
The human mind is triune in its being ordered to the transcendental splendor of the good, the true and the beautiful which resides in the Mind of God. Since the metaphysical is best expressed in terms of metaphor, we can say that the head can be seen as the seat of the True (reason), the heart can be seen as the seat of the Good (love or virtue) and the loins can be seen as the seat of the Beautiful (creation, pro-creation and sub-creation). The head, as the seat of the true, is the home of consciousness which seeks clarity; the heart, as the seat of the good, is the home of conscience, which seeks charity; and the loins, as the seat of beauty, is the home of creativity, which seeks chastity.
Since the triune character of the mind is as mystical and mysterious as the Triune Mind which made it, we could spend the rest of our lives contemplating the unity between the good, the true and the beautiful to be found in the unity of the head, the heart and the loins of man. We could spend the rest of our lives considering and contemplating the connection between clarity, charity and chastity. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating on the way that the true is always good and beautiful; how the good is always true and beautiful; and how the beautiful is always good and true. To put the matter another way, we could spend a life of prayerful meditation or philosophical pondering on the way that reason is the love of creation; how love is the reason of creation; and how creation is the love of reason. We could consider how clarity is the marriage of charity and chastity; how charity is the marriage of clarity and chastity; and how chastity is the marriage of clarity and charity.
All of this is true of the ordered mind, which is to say the mind that is ordered toward the Mind that made it. The problem is of course that the mind of man is broken by the disordered desire that we call sin. When the head is divorced from the heart and the loins we get the madness of relativism; when the heart is divorced from the head and the loins we get the madness of irrational feelings and mere emotionalism; when the loins are divorced from the head and the heart, we get the madness of pornography and its idolization of the sterility of onanism and fornication.
Our minds are broken by sin and lost in the exile that our pride creates. They can be fixed by virtue and found in the home to which our humility leads. The mind is whole when it is holistic and it is holistic when it is holy. It is this understanding of the mind which we have lost and it is this understanding that we need to recover and rediscover so that the triune splendor of clarity, charity and chastity can reflect the goodness, truth and beauty of the Mind which made us.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.