Cormac Jones: The Cosmic Chiasmus

An Orthodox Christian man in Texas with whom I correspond sent me a link to Cormac Jones’ ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus’ yesterday. His note did not include anything except the url and he really didn’t need to explain why he thought of me while reading Jones’ wonderful article. My friend has heard me speak both at his parish, St Maximos Orthodox Church in Denton (‘Everything I Need to Know I Learned from St Maximos the Confessor’) and at a Classical Christian school in Dallas about ring composition and the symbolism of the cross. Jones’ ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus‘ turns on theological points made by St Maximus and the chiastic narrative structure of Christian scripture and Orthodox liturgics and iconography.

I differ with Jones on several points, as you might expect, given my sad self-importance and preoccupation with these subjects for more than ten years. Having written my MFA thesis on the relation of ring writing and literary alchemy, a subject expanded on in my PhD thesis, I was disappointed with Jones’ choice of Maximian references (specifically, his neglect of more pertinent ones and the translation of the passage he leans on most heavily with respect to logos), his framing of the question (his focus is exclusively Christian rather than universal), his relatively pedantic and academic posture (there’s little in the piece’s presentation of the parabolic quality he celebrates), and in the experts on inclusio and symbolism he cites as authority, all of whom are excellent but which list of sources does not include Mary Douglas, John Welsh, or Rene Guenon.

Writing up a detailed review of these differences might be of some interest to Jones and satisfying to me, I suppose, but to few others. Unfortunately, such a critique would also necessarily obscure the importance of ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus‘ especially for Christian students of the Bible and iconography and the symbolism in each. Worse, my focusing on my points of difference with Jones’ approach and choices he makes would be read incorrectly as a suggestion that I am not wonderfully excited by this article and that I do not hope it receives the widest possible audience. That would be the worst possible misunderstanding and take-away. I beg readers interested in understanding Rowling better, especially why they enjoy her novels more than those of other writers, to read Jones’ piece, regardless of their religious beliefs.

As readers here know, I hope, I think the writing of J. K. Rowling is as popular as it is because of her integration of three traditional elements in her stories, from the relatively short and sweet stand-alone Christmas Pig to the epic Strike series in progress. She is writing psychomachian allegory of the soul’s journey to perfection in Spirit, exteriorized presentations of the inner spiritual transformation of every human person, allegories she suffuses with alchemical symbolism of repentance, purification, and apotheosis as resurrection, all of which she gives a signature chiastic or ring structure. How this allegory, symbolism, and narrative scaffolding work together to foster and advance the transformation of a reader’s vision through the imagination I think is best understood through the critical lens of Coleridgean and Patristic logos epistemology and soteriology.

Jones’ article, as you’d expect, makes no references to popular culture or contemporary fiction. What ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus‘ does, though, is, in the context of explaining the symbolism of the Cross in chiastic narrative as it does for a specifically Judeo-Christian audience, is attempt to explain the universal power of this kind of writing on the human soul. Though we differ on particular points that are more and less important, Jones ‘gets’ and brilliantly presents the ‘so what?’ I have tried to say for the last twenty years about why Rowling’s work affects readers the way it does.

All of which is to say I recommend ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus‘ to readers here with all enthusiasm and without reservation. The article fails to say all things to everybody as any discursive argument must, but what it does say about the centrality of understanding chiasmus and its attendant symbolism for living a proper human life is invaluable, even essential. I urge you to set aside an hour as soon as you can to dive into this piece’s depths and reflect on its applications in your inner and outer orientation with respect to God, man, and the world, your logos inner essence and its relation to the Logos fabric of reality.

Many thanks to my friend in Texas for sharing the link to this wonderful article and to Jones for writing it!


  1. Hey there, thank you for the recommendation of this great article.
    Just one question:
    Who is ‘John Welsh’?
    I never came across him and cant find anything online. Thank you.

  2. Typo! My apologies — the name is ‘Welch,’ not ‘Welsh.’

    Even so, I’m surprised that you “can’t find anything online” even with the typo! A search for “John Welsh chiasmus” yields links to Welch’s chiastic studies; he’s that well known. Entering “John Welsh” into wikipedia gets you a score of people who are not the LDS scholar, granted, but “John Welsh chiasmus” there brings up links to their “chiasmus” entry and his own page.

    Anyway, Welch‘s work is essential reading for serious readers wanting to know more about inclusio and ring writing because of his books, Chiasmus in Antiquity and Chiasmus Bibliography. He believes, as do many Mormons, that the chiastic structures in The Book of Mormon, because chiasmus is a signature style of ancient times and scriptures specifically rather than of modernity, demonstrate that it is an ancient and revealed text rather than one written by Joseph Smith, Jr., without divine inspiration. He compiled in pursuit of this argument the relevant scholarship, established criteria for judging any text’s structure as chiastic, and argued that BoMor met those criteria.

    I find his thesis unpersuasive, if his argument about the form of BoMor is compelling. The premise, though, that the only chiastic writers were from ancient times is simply false. Readers of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped or Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, near contemporaries of Smith and BoMor, will find works that meet Welch’s criteria for chiastic organization. Chiasmus needn’t mean a work is either ancient or scriptural, though its prevalence in Smith’s BoMor does require, if one does not accept the Golden Plates explanation for its composition that Smith offered and Mormons hold to be true, that the relatively unlettered ‘translator’ be acknowledged as an author of significant sophistication.

    Regardless, I mention the absence of even an aside about Welch’s scholarship as being curious in an article written by an author as conversant with the field as Jones’ obviously is; discussion of or references to Welch, Mary Douglas, and Alastair Fowler on chiasmus and Rene Guenon on The Symbolism of the Cross would have made Jones’ excellent piece that much more authoritative. For readers wanting to know more about the subject, I recommend in addition to the Welch and Guenon titles mentioned Douglas’ Thinking in Circles and Fowler’s Triumphal Forms, as well as the posts here at HogwartsProfesor on the subject. FWIW.

    Apologies again for the typo!

  3. Thank you so much for your extensive answer!

    I truly was not aware of him and apparently need a whole lot more reading.

    Kind regards

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