To understand the hidden nondual theology-spirituality of the Western Catholic tradition, we have to return to Augustine.
Augustine, recall, more or less shifted all the power and efficacy of spiritual practice to grace, thereby reducing the bi-polarity of the Orthodox tradition (grace and free will) into more of a unipolar vision.
Also, Augustine read Plotinus (in translation) and undertook his injunction and had a brief (or possible several) altered nondual state of consciousness. There is only Christ, loving himself in all members.
Lastly, Augustine in his theological debate with the Donatists, came to a new understanding of the sacraments and the priesthood that would be definitive for the Catholic tradition.
In the North African Church of Augustine, the cult of martrydom and veneration of the martyrs and witnesses (those who survived torture/persecution without renouncing the faith) was strong.
After a wave of persecution was over (e.g. the persecution of 250s C.E.), the question of what do with those who “lapsed” under torture or threat of death but were sorry and wanted to return to the Church became very important.
Christian charity and the Gospels seemed to dictate pardon and re-admittance to the Church, but on the other hand, these were individuals who in some cases had turned in other Christians (or others who perahps weren’t even Christian) and were complicit in their execution.
The North African Church at first seemed to have let the witnesses (confessors) to decide the fate of the lapsed (lapsi in Latin). They perhaps instituted a penace and a period of re-formation before readmitting the lapsed back into the Church. Eventually the power to decide who should be re-allowed and who not came to be controlled by the Bishops.
At this, certain more rigorist members felt the Church had betrayed the memories of the matrys/confessors. The formal penance and public display of forgiveness became less and less demanding in their eyes and bishops were re-admitting not only laity who had fallen but even bishops, deacons, and priests.
This group eventually split and started its own line of authority (technically a schism versus heresy which is holding different doctrine). They proclaimed their own bishops, clergy, performed their own sacramental rites and so forth. They also proclaimed that only a sinless clergyman could properly perform the Sacramental Rites.
This last proposition drove Augustine to attack their ideology. For Augustine, remember, sin is the prideful closing in on oneself, denying communion (with God, multiple parts of oneself, and neighbor). The idea that any person could be sinless was insane for Augustine. To attempt to be perfect was itself the height of spiritual arrogance, trying thereby to create a clique of sinless, elite, saints.
Since the Donatists tried to make the efficacy of the Sacraments subservient to the spiritual state of the clergy, Augustine argued that the Sacraments, in essence, performed themselves. The term in Latin is ex operare operatum–by the work of their work, technically. By itself in other words. The sacraments, the rituals of the Church were in no way connected to the inner state of the priest performing them.
So just as with Pelagius, the debate was between the extremes.
Because the spiritual power of the sacraments was disconnected from the priest, the emphasis shifted totally to proper recitation of the formula and making sure one had proper lines of spiritual authority–this explains in part the movement in the Vatican to attempt to garner power for itself over choices of bishops, priests, and rules over clerical celibacy, etc. But that is another debate.
Anyway, the point for Nonduality is that when seen in a different light, ex operare operatum is itself a Nondual Vision.
The Sacraments happen by themselves. The Sacraments then–and Creation is considered a Revelation in Christianity, so Nature as well–happen by themselves. The forms and the change and the salvation of all beings happens spontaneously. And here is where, flipping our lens, away from a strict literalist view (as with Augustine), we see the hidden Nonduality.
Both his views on the Sacraments and on Grace Alone, could be best summarized as: There is Nothing but Grace. Grace ALONE IS.
It is both an eye-opening and yet viscious vision–which is exactly what the Nondual state is like.
Everything as Meister Eckhart said, works unto the good. This does not mean that everything has been the best way of working unto the good possible, but that everything works unto the good nonetheless. Everything is spontaneously saved. Creation, we might say, is itself redemption.
And if there is but Christ, Christ was without Sin. If Grace is All and All, then from the Nondual State, there is no separation, hence no Sin. Only one Traveler (Christ), through all forms and times–Cosmic Christ–sinless, without consciousness of separation. The Mind of Christ alone IS.
But only from a Nondual Space. Just as in Tibetan Buddhism, in the Absolute there is no Karma, no beginning and no end, in the Relative all of these things still ex-ist.
Augustine came to this vision but couldn’t take its beautiful horror.
There is a Sacramental Law to this Universe–everything eats everything else.
Every moment consists of life feeding off death. Life feeding off of life. For us to live, other beings must die–proto-conscious beings. And ultimately, no amount of ethical action will ever save us from that…no vegetarianism, no socially conscious clothing, no save the whales, nothing.
Nothing will save us. Salvation, grace happens by itself. As long as there is a conscious mind, there will always be an unconscious mind. As long as there is a part of us that seeks the good, there will be a part that seeks destruction and injects its drama and agenda into every action, no matter how “good”, “well-intentioned” or “holy”, even among the greatest of the saints. That is the truth of Original Sin.
I’m not advocating being un-ethical, for that is just to still be caught in the poles of Relativity. Do what you think is right, meditate long and hard on how best to tread as lightly as possible in this world, to increase life, heal broken-ness, and decrease (unjust, unmerciful, unloving forms of) death.
But know that none of it will ever make you worthy of Love. None of it is ever a perfect action. None of it gives you any Ultimate Reference point on which to stand as Righteous, Religiously Upright. That was the mistake of the Pharisees.
Live in a manner at peace with the imperfect nature of your being.
But sadly for Augustine, it lead to contraction. He felt there was no hope except the Church, literally believed in–hence the paradox of the Catholic Church. It what Vivekananda called Western Vedanta, and yet it is also the source of so much unnecessary pain and destruction of human souls. For taking the story too literally.
For Jesus the truth that everything eats everything else meant to simple love in the face of this mania.
The great symbol of Christian Nonduality is the Eucharist. As Christ knows the end is near, as he knows his body is be tortured and eaten–he freely gives it away, joyfully in order to join, to commune.
This is my Body, This is my Blood. Take eat and drink this, all of you. Whenever you do this, Re-member me.
Remember that every moment is this Eucharist. Every moment we are living this dying, we are the spontaneous express of this play of life/death. In the face of that, simply Love, LOVE ALONE, beyond all boundaries, affiliations, and even at moments, ethical constraints.
Sacrifice your very being to Kali. Give her your bloody heart to feast upon. Release purely into the immolation.
As St. Paul said, I am being poured out as a libation on the altar of the universe.
You are the very cup of Christ, the very blood of his body, his blood only salvific as it is given away, as it ex-ists for others. So to your life, as you have only ever truly lived to the degree that you have died. Only received to the degree that you give away. Only powerful to the degree that you have surrendered everything.
The Western (Catholic) Church has all sorts of deep pathologies for the mistake of reaching the Nondual and then (mis)interpreting it, too closely aligning it with the mythic meme. But for its unhealthy manifestations, it is also the strongest source in Christianity of the Nondual.
The Orthodox Church maintained the balance and kept a healthy dualistic approach–grace/free will, divinization, and the restortation of all things in Christ. But never allowed that which is beyond the Dual.
The two strains need to re-unite to allow the healthy relative (Orthodox) and the Absolute (Catholic) to manifest simultaneously. Otherwise the choice between the unhealthy relative and healthy Absolute (Catholic) or the healthy relative and absent Absolute (Orthodox).
Protestantism, as I will argue in the next segment, unfortunately got just about neither relative nor Absolute right (from the perspective of states)–but was the lead movement in stages of Christianity.