Miscellany: Mary and “the Gardener”, naming as invocation and not as labelling, and other topics


Why does Mary fail to recognize the risen Jesus on Easter morning and instead mistake him for “the gardener”?

I was reflecting on this question a little bit yesterday and the more I think about it, the more interesting it becomes. Does it really seem plausible that a person would go to the tomb of someone, discover it empty, and then inquire after the same someone, whom she is evidently seeking, and yet not recognize him as the very one to whom she is speaking? If “yes”—as you seemed to suggest—wouldn’t we have to expect the same oblivion when Jesus spoke Mary’s name? Why does she not still mistake him for the gardener if she is really so distraught beyond herself as to be rendered incapable of recognizing what is right before her? Also, why “the gardener,” of all things? Why not a random person, or a centurion, or a vagrant? If “no,” then there must be more to the story than “meets the eye,” as it were.

I have a proposal and I would like to hear what you make of it. First, I think it is important to acknowledge the real phenomenon of “confirmation bias” that is more-or-less inherent in all perception. What I have in mind is simply the fact that we can never perceive anything we are incapable of conceiving. If I don’t know what a “lynx” is, I won’t see a lynx even if it walks or stalks right past me. Instead I will see a “cat or dog of strange proportions” or something. That is a trivial example of a phenomenon that is essential to our process of making sense of the world. We do not see with our eyes, per se. Rather, we see through our eyes with our ideas. Mary was in some manner bereft of hope and therefore not disposed to see the thing that she seemed to be seeking. But I think there is more to it than this, as my questions above likely indicated. I wonder if the fact that the risen Christ is invisible to Mary until he reveals himself to her actually demonstrates the fact that, in our authentic and inmost selves and essences, we too are hidden from everyone except those to whom we wish to show ourselves. I can, for instance, communicate with you via one or another interface including correspondence or personal interaction, but fundamentally, though I will discover how you appear through these different interfaces, I only get to know who you are to the degree that you reveal this to me, and of course, to anyone else for that matter. Christ is “the Son of Man” and in some way to prototype of our self-of-selves so it stands to reason that he would demonstrate this phenomenon in his interactions. Aside from the episode at the tomb, it is also curious to consider why it was necessary for Judas to betray him by a kiss: after all, hadn’t he made enemies of all of virtually all of the Sanhedrin by then and wouldn’t it have been, therefore, evident to them which was the man they wished to apprehend? 

As to why Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener and not something else: on one hand, Christ is understood as a gardener of souls. In the same manner by which a gardener of flowers tends them and loves them and cares for them, Christ is also of divine essence with “the Comforter” (Paraclete), whom he sends as the Holy Ghost to carry on his ministry once he is no longer present in the flesh. But I also wonder whether “the gardener” is meant as a veiled reference to the Garden of Eden. Christ is understood to have reconciled the “Original Sin” of the Garden, which is related to the interposition of Satan, literally, “the Accuser”, between Man and God. What better symbol of this can be found than the reciprocal image of eating produce versus growing it? Incidentally, another translation of Paraclete is “Advocate.” This helps to elucidate the antithesis of these two beings by invoking the image of a court of law and the antagonism between the prosecution and the defense. Perhaps you will have further thoughts on these questions. 

“To name a thing is to begin an adventure in manifestation, not to conclude it.”

—Robert Sokolowski, Phenomenology of the Human Person

I think that Sokolowski is attempting to draw our attention to the activity of perception, which is to say, the process by which things appear to us. By “manifestation” he means “appearance” or “presencing.” The same phenomenon has come up in discussions of the Platonic eidoi or “ideas.” Remember the window? The window manifests itself to me by way of the idea of the window, which in turn manifests itself to me by way of the idea of the Good. If not for the idea of the Good, I wouldn’t be able to “see” ideas with my mind and without the idea of the window I wouldn’t be able to see windows with my eyes. An article by Ronald Brady broaches the same topic from a more “Aristotelian” approach and describes the process of perception under the rubric of “knowing as recognition” in contrast to “knowing as the possession of propositional content.” This dichotomy might roughly correspond with the conocer-saber distinction in Spanish, or the (er)kennen-wissen one of German. Naming something is more than just affixing a label to a thing. For us to “affix a label” to something, that something must have already manifest itself to us and this implies that the more essential process of naming has already taken place by the time we imagine ourselves to be engaging in the second kind of naming. Naming is not merely labeling things; it is invoking them, or calling them into manifestation. The Torah/Genesis depicts a very evocative scene in the morning hours of Creation in which God summons Adam for the sake of giving names to the animals (Genesis 2:19). If it sounds trivial, it is because we are failing to adequate ourselves to interpret the story. We must imagine that Adam is “invoking” or “discovering” the animals and not merely slapping labels on them. Scientists carry forward Adam’s project every time they discover a new species or sub-atomic particle. And each discovery invites further discovery; it begins an adventure. There is always more to learn about something or someone, but that something or someone must first have appeared to me.

Returning to the scene from Genesis, a Midrash on the text intensifies the significance of the situation by describing an encounter between God and the angels:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, was about to to create humankind, He consulted with His ministering angels, saying, “Let us make Adam.” The angels responded, “What’s so wonderful about this Adam?” So He brought each creature before the angels and asked them, “This creature, what is its name?” But they did not know. Then He brought the creatures before Adam and asked him, “This creature, what is its name?” To which Adam responded, “This is shor [Hebrew for ox], this is chamor [donkey]…”

 What can we make of this?

On the question of why we have send probes to the utmost ends of the solar system while the depths of the oceans on our own planet remain a mystery to us:

An interesting element to consider is the distinct archetypal resonances that the sky and the ocean embody, respectively. The first has traditionally been associated with order, perfection, eternity, and harmony. We can see this in the ordered procession of the stars across the sky and the sun’s annual traverse of the zodiac etc. The ocean, by contrast, has been seen as an embodiment of chaos, ominousness, and mutability. The sea is notoriously fickle and maritime weather is often impossible to predict. We can see this relationship between sky and sea expressed in the Genesis account of Creation, in which the Elohim descend, apparently from the heavens, and the “breath” or “spirit” (Hebrew ruach וְר֣וּחַ) “of God/the gods moved upon the face of the waters.” It leaves one with the image of form imprinting its logic onto formless matter. In relation to the issue you have brought before us: I wonder if this association corroborates your intimation that people may fear the darkness of the depths more than the void of the heights. 

How can we restore trust in our institutions (provided that they deserve it)?

I won’t pretend to offer any pat answers and I think that, to this question, they may not even exist. One element of this issue that does occur to me, however, is that the situation we see today is ultimately a function of the media capitalizing on our collective inclination to value sensation over understanding. Put another way, we are—mostly unconsciously—creating a “market” for hyperbolic and untruthful reporting. If each of us were to take the individual responsibility to demand better quality reporting by, for instance, refusing to engage with media that did not meet this standard, then the market would be forced to adapt. It might seem improbable that individuals would take this kind of initiative but I think it is better to hold out hope that I, and all of us will, than to defer to any approach that attempts to address this issue from the regulatory or “supply” side. The reason for this is that any approach from this angle will only compound the authoritarian tendencies that are already latent in this field. I have in mind, for instance, the scenario in which a certain class entitles itself to serve as “fact-checkers” or arbiters of reality. It almost invariably leads to an infinite regress in which the fact-checkers need to be checked by further fact-checkers. The old question of “quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” is inescapable in any situation in which we delegate our sense-making or critical thinking capacity to some external authority.

Symbolic logic and philosophy, symbolism, and logic:

Symbolic logic has almost nothing to do with philosophy, with logic, or with symbolism in any of the traditional meanings of these terms. I could explain my reasoning behind each of these claims if you wished to know more. Briefly, philosophy “begins in wonder” relates to a love of wisdom (Plato), logic is the study of the predication (Aristotle), and symbolism concerns the participation of/in cosmic archetypes or logoi (St. Maximos). Symbolic logic concerns the manipulation of so-called “symbols”—which are really signs—for the sake of studying the abstract logical entailments that follow from relations of contingency that are stipulated between these signs at the outset of any operation. Maybe you know this but I am just pointing out that modern logic is very different from Aristotelian logic because the latter concerned the predication of qualities (or accidents or attributes etc.) to “substances,” which is the Latin translation of Aristotle’s ουσία. “Being” is a better translation of the term than “substance” because certain developments in the history of philosophy and science have resulted in an equivocation of that term so that now “substance” invokes the notion of what something is made of (which lends itself to quantification and scientific measurement) rather than what it is (which does not necessarily yield to these methods). I won’t say much more except to observe that symbols are traditionally understood as “vessels,” or “occasions” of meaning. They are seen as the manner by which meanings are made manifest to the senses. Signs, by contrast, are understood to be abstract placeholders for something other than themselves and this is clearly what is at stake in “symbolic logic.” Maybe you could ponder this and review the link above and then let me know what you are thinking.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Wayne Fair says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Max – everything you say here “rings true” – resonates with my own intuitions. There were several observations that had some seed that speaks to things I have been in wonderment about of late… (“logoi spermatikoi”?)

    Liked by 1 person

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