Numerically speaking, the two major theological traditions are Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It’s striking that, in their different ways, both traditions have a deep commitment to theological illusionism.
In Catholicism, you can see this in the dogma of transubstantiation. Here the illusion operates at two levels. To begin with, the consecrated bread and wine retain the sensible properties of bread and wine, but that’s illusory because, in essence, the communion elements have been changed into the true body and blood of Christ. So there’s no connection between the substance and the sensible properties. The Mass is like the Matrix: virtual reality.
But the illusion runs even deeper. According to Catholic dogma, the communion elements become the “true body and blood of Christ.”
But what is a true body? What makes a body a human body? All of us have an intimate experience with human bodies.
Yet, when you consume the Host, does that mean you consume a miniature version of Jesus’ body? Are you, say, eating Jesus from the top down, starting with the hair, brains, ears, eyeballs, and teeth, and working your way down through the fingers, genitalia, and lower intestine until you swallow his toenails? Or is this a “processed body,” like processed meat?
Whatever else Catholicism means by the “true body,” I don’t think that’s what it means. And yet that’s our only point of reference. A true human body has all those constituents. Has that structure. Limbs, bones, organs, urine, &c.
So transubstantiation is illusory at two levels. The secondary qualities of the bread and wine don’t signify or identify the primary qualities. Indeed, the secondary qualities are systematically deceptive. For they naturally belong to a very different substance.
And the substance doesn’t correspond to what we naturally mean by a human body. The substance is alien to human experience. So the Host is an illusion encasing an enigma.
Orthodoxy also has a deep commitment to theological illusionism. We can see this in its dichotomy between the divine essence and the divine energies. God is said to be absolutely unknowable in his essence, yet he reveals himself in his energies.
But if that’s the case, then what do his energies reveal? Not his essence. Hence, God is essentially unlike his energies.
Orthodoxy prides itself on its Trinitarian theology. But is God really three persons? He may reveal himself as three persons, but that’s a manifestation of his energies, not his essence. Maybe he’s one person rather than three. Or maybe the Son is the fons deitas. For the energies are dissimilar to the essence.
We’re not just talking about the possibility that God’s energies may not correspond to his essence. Rather, if God is unknowable in his essence, then his energies don’t correspond to his essence.
His energies present an illusory revelation of God. Illusory persons. Illusory attributes. Virtual reality. What lies behind the mask?