The Coming of the Cosmic Christ
The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance
“Bringing Back the Ecstasy” – review by Carol Zaleski in the New York Times
Creation Spirituality Magazine reviews The Coming of the Cosmic Christ – review by M.C. Richards
Review © Steven B. Herrmann, Ph.D. MFT,
In a previous review of Matthew Fox’s autobiographical book Confessions, I illuminated—shone a light—on the origin, foundation, and source for Fox’s discovery of Creation Spirituality, earth wisdom, the Mother Goddess, and his revival of the Cosmic Spirit as bring essentially shamanistic. In my present review of Fox’s 1988 book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, I follow the same basic thread: I will be looking at his attempts to recover our culture’s religious “roots” in the indigenous traditions of the primal peoples of the earth by connecting readers, you and me, with the shamanic symbol of the Divine Selfhood that is the most primal archetype of the Self in all people. Over two decades ago, Fox wrote tellingly: “The power of native religions to regenerate Christianity and to reconnect the old religion with the prophetic Good News of the Gospels has yet to be tapped” (TCCC 240); indeed that regenerative power is being tapped today by many poets, artists, theologians, and depth-psychologists, and Fox and I had the good fortune of both having known the post-Dominican and post-Jungian poet-shaman, William Everson, who traced this power to “taproot” on the West Coast of California.
As early as March 29, 1992, I had suggested during a conversation with Everson that when I had experienced Meister Eckhart talking about the infra-rational part of Christ in a sermon in Fox’s 1980 book Breakthrough (now called Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart)—it seemed to me then that he was speaking about work that connects us to the instincts and the inferior function; not a split-off spirituality, one out of touch with sensation and the earth, but connected to the deepest regions of the soul and body that Eckhart calls the “Godhead.” I told Everson: “It’s really a mysticism that is grounded in the inferior function, and in that sense it has the shaman at its center.” I told Everson further that his mentioning the metaphor of Christ carrying his cross as a Sun Dance suggested to me that the archetype of the shaman was all there, in the movement back to our origins. And I mentioned, too, that I felt Matthew Fox had done a fine job bringing out the earthiness of Eckhart’s spirituality into his translations and commentaries. But, I added, I didn’t think Fox could have achieved what he did without his deep feeling for the shamanic influences in indigenous America. (This is something I analyzed in my review of Confessions where I looked at Fox’s influences in nature as a child in Wisconsin). I thought then (in 1992) that there is something in the beginning of Breakthrough that speaks directly and powerfully to the correlation I was drawing in my conversations with Everson: when I read of the panentheism inherent in Eckhart’s writings, I got a sense of the presence of Thoreau, Whitman, Jeffers, or Muir, in that kind of mysticism; truly, something of the shaman’s presence shines through, I said. I concluded by saying to Everson: “Christianity appears to be undergoing a transformation… The shaman appears to be there, at the center now where Christ stood, at the beginning of our colonization. It seems that the shaman is somehow invading the space; the sacred space formerly occupied by Christ¾so that a marriage, or a fertilization seems to be taking place, between these two symbols of the Self: Christ and the Shaman, as symbols of the Self.”
In the millennial year, 2000, Fox attempted to do just this (arrive at what Everson called “taproot”) in his seminal book One River, Many Wells. By weaving together in integrated picture of the interconnectedness of all the world’s religions (wells) in One great underground River (Eckhart’s notion of the Godhead) Fox opened the way to envision diversity within unity and unity in diversity throughout many cultures; but the seeds for this stunning breakthrough in One River (which I have not reviewed as of yet) may be found in his earlier advance in Cosmic Christ.
In Cosmic Christ, Fox looks to the Christ story for the deep and nourishing roots of all religions, and the big metaphor he finds in his exegesis of the Christ archetype is large enough, he thinks, to create a revolution in Christian theology. This might even become, in time, an advance towards a new Reformation through the Council of the world’s Churches (yet, as I have hypothesized above: in so far as the shamanic traditions of the globe see themselves as equals to Christ, as instanced by the revelations of the great Oglala Sioux shaman, Black Elk, in The Sacred Pipe, the whole movement within Christianity is forced to bow its head towards a more democratic way of viewing its dispensation of Love). Take for example this passage from Black Elk:
We have been told by the white men, or at least by those who are Christian, that God sent men His son, who would restore order and peace upon the earth; and we have been told that Jesus the Christ was crucified, but that he shall come again at the last Judgment, the end of this world or cycle. This I understand and know that it is true, but the white men should know that for the red people too, it was the will of Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit, that an animal turn itself into a two-legged person in order to bring the most holy pipe to His people; and we too were taught that this White Buffalo Cow Woman who brought our sacred pipe will appear again at the end of this “world,” a coming which we Indians know is now not very far off… There is much talk of peace amongst the Christians, yet this is just talk. Perhaps it may be, and this is my prayer that, through our sacred pipe, and through this book in which I shall explain what our pipe really is, peace may come to those peoples who can understand, an understanding which must be of the heart and not of the head alone. (Brown, J., 1971, xix, xx)
And psychologically speaking, when Christ is seen as a symbol for the Self, as indicated by C. G. Jung in his book Aion, and of the medicine man-woman, or shamanic archetype, which is far older in the collective deposits of the human psyche than the myth of Jesus, the reader might then be moved to look for complementary notions, such as Fox’s vision of the Cosmic Christ for a deeper understating of the true meaning of Christian theology. In Aion C. G. Jung had called Christ an archetype of the Self, not that his psychology suggests that the Self is as an archetype of Christ; so, it must be born in mind in this review that the way of approach for an ecumenical theologian such as Fox and a post-Jungian psychotherapist such as myself may at times follow parallel but not identical tracks as a matter of a difference in training in perspective. Yet, it is equally possible that the two paths that have traditionally separated the two fields may come together, as they have indeed for Matthew Fox, and for myself when I first wrote my thesis under Everson’s tutelage on Meister Eckhart and Carl Jung in 1980-1982. It was in 1981 that I first read Fox’s book Breakthrough.
If a new birth of Spirit that sees the shamanic traditions of the globe as equals with Christ and if such teaching of equality is really to come to age for a one-world human species, the world will need to let go of the fundamentalism and literalism that is threatening the global village and creating what Fox’s opening dream in Cosmic Christ calls “matricide.” Fox discusses this subject masterfully in amplification of the meaning of a dream that told him, tragically, of the “killing” of our mother earth (TCCC 2). This dream presented in his “Prologue” to the book and its shock value, through the evidence he provides from environmental research, is not only effective and intense but therapeutic and awakening.
New images of God that are emergent during this tragic moment of matricide of the earth Mother are presented throughout the book, along with a truly amazing amount of mystical literature from Judaism and its major prophets, Christ’s teachings and the Christian mystics, Kabir and Sufi teachers, feminist writers on the religion of the Great Goddess, and much, much more; really a tremendous effort is exerted in this book to give us information we need to enlighten us about the Cosmic Christ tradition, while giving us the horrible facts about the shadow of Christianity that has occurred across the last 500 years as well, as instanced for example in the gut-wrenching genocide of Native Americans in all three continents (South, Central, and North America) amounting to more deaths than in WWII. A sad and staggering history of Indigenous Americans is told in Chapter 1 that will bring tears to any reader’s eyes and open them to the terrible tragedy that can occur when a major religion such as Christianity looses its connection to its cosmology.
The reader will be challenged to make room for an emergent spiritual democracy, too, such as we find, for instance in quotes from Eckhart, Sufism, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Aquinas, Rabbi Hershel, Albert Einstein, Black Elk and Matthew Fox himself. And that is not all: Fox manages to subsume some of the best depth-psychological writings in support of his thesis of the Cosmic Christ from Otto Rank, Rollo May, James Hillmann, Eugene Monick, and Carl Jung. No easy feat for a theologian who is trained to split Christian theology and depth-psychology by recourse to a lacuna in the Christ image! By beginning his book in “A Dream” with the horrendous legacy of the genocide of Native Americans by European Christians and revealing a “holocaust of ineffable proportions” and asserting that “What happened in Auschwitz was heralded, and indeed surpassed, on American soil four centuries earlier,” (TCCC 25) Fox shows what happens when a religion feels it has earned its right to outgrow cosmology and assume the illusion of Godlikeness, which is really greed: the shadow of Christ. The crisis in deep-ecology highlighted by Fox’s dream of “matricide” and his powerful fulcrum of facts provided in the Prologue and in Part 1 of the book, is Fox’s way to re-connect the reader, by way of his spiritual vocation, with the archetypes of mystic, prophet, and the earth-based wisdoms of medicine peoples, who we must (if we are to survive as a species) listen to if we are to become truly attuned to the message of Christ.
In 1988 Fox was at the cutting edge of a major breakthrough of a new image of a Cosmic Deity for the Christian West that he hoped was ecumenical enough to subsume the world in the Cosmic Christ. His question of whether his own thesis is truly ecumenically sufficient is considered with foresight, when he asks: “Is the ‘Cosmic Christ’ Anti-Ecumenical?” (TCCC 241). He proposes substituting the term “Cosmic Wisdom” if the “Christ” word carries too much baggage with it. Sad as it may sound to evangelical ears, Fox sounds the leitmotif of his book when he says: “The church as we have known it is dying” (TCCC 31).
It needs to be indicated that the former question and the latter statement of fact was asked and asserted while Fox was still operating under the mantle of an ordained Dominican priest, prior to his being silenced by Cardinal Ratzinger, the Catholic Church’s current Pope, in 1992, the same year Everson and I had been musing aloud about Christ and the Shaman as symbols of the Self.
While some may feel that in writing the Cosmic Christ, Fox was not broad-thinking enough in his thinking to include the spiritualities of the earth, Fox sensed even then that the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s impersonal nature are large enough to contain us all if we could become open and ecumenical enough to allow for a further expansion of the Holy Spirit in our lives as a human collectivity. It is clear that the institution of the Catholic Church closed its doors on the Spirit of the continuing incarnation that was operating through Fox’s teachings, when the Inquisition turned on one of its best priests. But perhaps the Catholic teachings were too limited to make room for the Cosmic Christ to enter in via its mystics—as the long shadow of the inquisition can attest to—and as Fox experienced as a living reality when Ratzinger expelled him from his Dominican Order three years later.
But that did not stop Fox, who became ordained as an Anglican minister and continues to preach and lecture internationally today. It is perhaps Fox’s message of the Cosmic Christ’s coming into our personal lives and the cosmic dimensions of the archetype of Divinity that offers the brightest hope in the future direction of Christian religion at a time when the Catholic Church is in serious jeopardy as an institution and is, in fact, dying. Perhaps, what is needed today is not a rebirth of institutional Christianity at all, but a new resurgence of the spiritualities of earth-based peoples of the world, including the teachings of shamans that can help the Churches supersede the teachings of what has been taught as correct Christian theology and begin to take heed to the mystical and prophetic teachings that can lead to its transformation. This is what C. G. Jung attempted to achieve through his voluminous writings, and perhaps especially his books Aion and Answer to Job, and Fox appears to be working on the same cornerstone, the stone that the Church fathers rejected when the inquisition closed the doors on its best mystic, Meister Eckhart. Henceforth, the call for depth-psychology and theology to join hands in an effort to make the Churches more truly ecumenical is Fox’s call in Cosmic Christ: He calls to each of us with a vocation to participate in global transformation to get the message out that it is high time for the world’s religions to become unified.
Indeed, it is remarkable how Hebrew The Coming of the Cosmic Christ is! In the “Prologue” Fox speaks of the coming of the Cosmic Christ as a “new birth that will cut through all cultures and all religions and indeed will draw from the wisdom common to all vital mystical traditions in a global and religious awakening I call ‘deep ecumenism’” (TCCC 5). From 1988 until the present, this has been Fox’s essential teaching, his vocation, and the highest principle he summons forth inside each of us is to give birth to the creative. This became the subject of his 1994 book The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for our Time, where he speaks of work as a sacrament of the universe.
The central aim of Cosmic Christ is essentially healing: the coming together of the historical Jesus with Cosmic Christ will make Christianity whole, at long last. Now here is the crux of the matter, the cross posed by Jung to theologians and by Fox to depth-psychologists, as I am formulating it here: “Is it possible to make Christianity whole, when Jung could find no evidence for wholeness in the image of Christ in the writings of the Church fathers and the Gospels?” To answer this question Fox might reply: “Yes, by reviving what is dying and is dead in the Church through the regeneration of Christ by the cosmology of Jesus and Christian mystics.” These are questions posed to theology by the greatest depth-psychologist of the last century and by Fox as the greatest theologian of Christianity, and their way of seeking a solution to the problem of Christ and the Self is answered in a similar way: if the Christ image in fact lacks wholeness, and the Word was in the beginning with God, then the Self (a Hindu concept) might help the two fields work together towards the construction of a more complete image of Divinity that includes the entire Cosmos, including the human shadow, the body, and the reality of Evil, which Fox illuminates so well in his opening Chapter of Cosmic Christ. Fox is also bent on integrating today’s cosmology from science in a manner that psyche and cosmos are one again.
One might think that a priest would falter in the thorny thicket of theological contradictions, such as befell Fox’s predecessors, who failed in their efforts to refute Jung on the point about the shadow side of God. Victor White was the most obvious example amongst the Dominicans, but Fox had the added benefit of some of the later post-Jungians to aid him in his thinking, such as Eugene Monick, for instance. His book Phallos was for many men and women alike of the last two decades an eye-opener and a God-send. Fox also calls on Otto Rank, and others and thereby avoids, by uniting Christian theology and depth-psychology, the splitting tendency in metaphysical views by agreeing with the psychologists about the need for the birthing of new God images that are integrative or whole-making.
Fox’s reading is so wide that his thesis is hard to assail on either theological or psychological grounds, and an informed reader might be moved to celebrate his efforts as truly democratic, as he goes much further than the Church-wide movement in the twentieth century to unify Christians, East and West. Fox’s vocation goes deeper down into the domain of human suffering, by sharing with us the terrible news of the Evil that has been done in the name of Christ and the Cross. He embraces the crucified ones of the earth not only to unite the Christian Churches by teaching the true universality of the Spirit of Christ; but he goes further to unite the Mosques, Temples, and Ashrams of the world as well, in a global healing of the human heart.
Fox’s thesis in Cosmic Christ is transgressive (that is, it transgresses the bounds of theology); it touches “taproot” in the shamanic archetype, which is at the foundation of Shivaism, Judaism, Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Christianity, and this is what makes his teaching more than ecumenical. In Part II in the chapter called “Mysticism” Fox has a section 21 called “GLOBALLY ECUMENICAL,” where the cosmology of his vision is clearly far-reaching. The “ecumenism” is broad enough to connect Christ to much more than a Church movement, which the word connotes, but to the Cosmos that all religions of the earth celebrate.
In Part III “From the Quest for the Historical Jesus to the Quest for the Cosmic Christ” Fox traces the sources for his notion of the Cosmic Christ in the writings of the French Jesuit geologist-theologian Teilhard de Chardin, who once complained that he could not find theologians, nor lay people, who were interested in the Cosmic Christ, and in the writings of Yale University Lutheran scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan, who wrote: “Enlightenment philosophy deposed the cosmic Christ” (TCCC 77).
To anyone who closely reads the book, the real ur-text for the notion he is presenting is not contemporary, however, nor may it be traced exclusively to the Gospels, but rather, it is pre-Christian, such as in the pre-existent Hebrew Wisdom literature, such as in the “I AM” statements in the Old Testament. Yet many traditions of the world contain the “I AM” teachings and that confirms in Fox’s mind that the Cosmic Christ is “no particular traditions private legacy” (TCCC 241).
From the book’s beginning, Fox’s teaching is feminist, as his lament is for Mother Earth, God’s Shekinah, and Mother Church (Chapter 1, section 7 reads: “Mother Church is Dying”); the cosmological dimension of Christianity he brings in through the voices of Hildegard of Bingen, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich, Joanna Macy, and many other female voices that sing the divine “I AM” eloquently and equally with male mystics and prophets, and these female voices feature prominently throughout the book, perhaps especially Hildegard.
One of the most original parts of the book is Fox’s thesis about the universality of the Cosmic Christ, contained in Part V: “A Vision of the Second Coming.” Here, the real source of his dialogue between theology and psychology is engaged. Again, the transgressiveness of his colloquy between psychology and religion reaches down to the shamanic archetype, where Fox finds a way to unite apparent contraries between the two fields. The transgressivity of his visioning is made possible by the logical inconsistencies inherent in the two fields as separate on the issue of whether the Christ image has a dark side. As we have seen, the book opens with a startling look at the long shadow of European Christians in the Americas. The other criticism that is often leveled against Christian theology by psychology is aimed at its repressive views towards the human body and its appetites. Fox’s theology takes a positive view towards sex. Take for example the following line: “The Cosmic Christ celebrates sexual diversity” (TCCC 164).
This is American Christianity Whitmanesque style! Fox is tapping into a tradition with a long and rich history of diversity in America. The fleshly appetites are made conscious as an “original blessing,” not sin and thus the whole Augustinian argument in favor of sexual repression and splitting between body, soul, and spirit is turned on its head, and the focus of his teaching is upon celebration. Fox is writing out of an old tradition in American art-speech and its origins are in evidence in shamanism.
In “The Cosmic Christ and a Renaissance of Sexual Mysticism” Fox writes of “male liberation” and here he is obviously speaking about gay liberation too; this is really new wine in new wine shins, as the erotic mysticism he gives repeated evidence for in the “Song of Songs” lacks a counterpart in the writings of the prophets and mystics of the Hebrew and Christian dispensations.
Paradoxically the priest’s prescriptions of a return to shamanism for a rebirth or renaissance of Spirit to reform Christianity are made visible by way of his meditations on the cosmic meaning of Phallos via Shivaism, a religion, Monick tells us that is perhaps 10,000 years old and which Fox also celebrates. Here too we find the “I AM” statements that are repeated in the Abrahamic religions in worship of Shiva: “I am not distinct from the phallus. The phallus is identical with me,” etc. (TCCC 176). Fox is clearly catching the rhythms that are present in the American earth and sky, as well as in Greece and India, and although he cites only one passage from Walt Whitman, he gets at the central meaning of Shiva’s drum: “Male liberation groups are learning to help one another get their stories out—preferably not only by verbal means, but by drumming and dancing and using mystical teachings from ancient peoples” (TCCC 175). Fox is “getting down” to the source of the shamanic archetype by stressing the need for drumming. The embrace of Shivaism reveals the Shivaistic nature of Fox’s mind; his ability to penetrate deeper into the roots of the shamanic archetype, to its basic musical patterns, shows that his notion of a global ecumenism is truly transgressive. “How does one recover the sense of sacred phallus? One way is to return to the chthonic by way of drumming, dancing, and entering into irrational processes that have been native ways of ritual and wisdom for tens of thousands of years” (TCCC 177). Fox shows in this Chapter that for the Churches to be reborn from the dead, a renaissance in sexual mysticism, not only filled with heterosexual metaphors, such as in the beautiful Celebrations of the Cosmic Christ in Hebrew and Christian scriptures, is sorely needed. And thus his turn to Shivaism for an answer contains a partial answer, where Christ and Shiva are united, again through the sacred “I AM.” Stretching the metaphor a bit, he turns again to Eckhart for a solution.
In section 26 of the same Chapter we read that the Cosmic Christ is novissimus, or what Eckhart calls the “newest thing that is.” The Cosmic Christ is constantly being born. This is basic Christian teaching, even if there is no evidence that we can find in Scripture for the homosexual side of Christ; yet the divine phallus, as Shiva, that is mostly missing in the Gospels, at least in its transgressive, psychoid aspect, as penis, makes such newness possible. Thus, shamanism becomes the link through which Christ and Shiva can be united as images of the Self, and Fox does not hesitate to make this connection.
In section 28 Part 2 of this Chapter, “Bringing the Body Back,” Fox leads the reader to see that his effort to unite the Hebrew-Christian dispensation with Shivaism is really an attempt at a marriage between East (Shiva=Phallus) and West (Christ=Logos, Word, Spirit) into a more full embodiment of a spirituality that perhaps never existed before in Scripture because the erotic mysticism of the Church is essentially heterosexual.
The linkage of East and West through the shamanic archetype might still provide a new revelation of the Spirit, a novissumus of incarnation, as an indwelling of the fleshly body with the Whole Self, however, that makes room for sexual diversity in all people, and this synthesis operating between the lines in “A Vision of The Second Coming” suddenly reveals a way in, a middle ground between East (Shiva) and West (Christ) made possible via the Middle East, namely Sufism!
Fox drops a hint as to where his intuitions are leading him in section 29 “Mysticism—A Universal Experience” when he quotes a Sufi master as saying “A river passes through many countries and each claims it for its own. But there is only one river” (TCCC 230). Here we find the leitmotif for his book One River, Many Wells. For the breakthrough towards a world-wide spirituality that Fox is proposing in Cosmic Christ to be ushered in, poet-shamans such as Saadi, Hafiz, and Rumi, are all needed to carry the Christ myth forward into a novissimus that will include a sexual mysticism that is equivalent to the Song of Songs. Such a religion was already propounded here on American soil by Melville and Whitman, as I have shown in my numerous essays and my book on Whitman. Fox is of course on top of these developments and has made significant headway towards a contemporary vision of vast unity in diversity in his great book The Hidden Spirituality of Men, which I have reviewed elsewhere.
I cannot recommend The Coming of the Cosmic Christ more highly to readers! For anyone who has been taught by theology to read the teachings of the Bible as lessons in sexual repression and splitting and the denial of tactical ecstasies, Fox’s teachings are truly inspiriting and liberating. By giving us the best of the prophets and mystics he enlarges our vision of Christ to include the entire Cosmos. The link he brings forth between Christ and Shiva opens the door to a true marriage between East and West, and the assertion, by the Sufi mystic that there is only one River (echoing Meister Eckhart’s meditations on the great underground River of the Godhead) opens the way for Fox towards a further exploration in 2000 of the great metaphor he gives birth to in his teaching: namely, that the same universal Wisdom springs forth from the same fountain in all global faiths as One River, Many Wells.