Passion of Christ, Passion of the World by
Leonardo Boff (Orbis) First Place Award Winner in
Spirituality, Catholic Press Association
A fine reinterpretation of atonement theory from a liberationist perspective. The central thesis holds: every understanding of Jesus death must begin with Jesus historical project embodied in his message and praxis of the kingdom of God. --Roger Haight, author Jesus Symbol of God This classic work of liberation theology explores the meaning of the Cross, both as it has been interpreted in the past and how it should be interpreted in the context of contemporary faith and circumstances. These particular circumstances include the poverty and repression, fear and violence under which so many of the world s people suffer today. In such a world, how can the Cross be understood and preached and what are the consequences of that understanding?
When Boff first wrote in the 1970s his immediate context was military dictatorship, torture, and violent repression. As he notes in his new Preface, that context must be enlarged today to include the passion of the Earth a continuation of the Passion of Christ in our time. The meaning of Christ s Cross remains the same: at once the symbol of a crime, and a sign of love and hope that violence does not have the last word.
This book, Passion of Christ, Passion of the World, is more relevant today than when it was written in the late 1970s. At that time military dictatorships prevailed in Latin America. In the name of national security they were abducting, seizing, torturing, and murdering many people suspected of being subversives or revolutionaries. Many of them were Christians, lay men and women, male and female religious, and even bishops like Enrique Angelelli in Argentina and Oscar Romero in El Salvador, murdered by the agencies of surveillance and repression.
This was the context in which the accounts of the Passion of Jesus were read. Those martyred lived a deep communion with him who suffered most and was crucified, Jesus of Nazareth. Thus some meaning was given to the absurdity of violent death by those who struggled for an end to violence and for relations of justice and life in society.
Today the situation has changed and in a way gotten worse. We now stand before the passion of the Earth, regarded as Mother and Gaia, subjected to systematic pillage of its resources and services by a mode of production and consumption aimed not at life and its quality but at sheer accumulation appropriated by extremely powerful global elites. For the sake of this project ecosystems are being devastated, ever scarcer waters are being poisoned by agricultural toxins, the air is increasingly polluted by poisonous greenhouse gases, and biodiversity is disappearing at the rate of around five thousand species per year.
The global warming of the planet, now firmly in place, is causing great chaos in the Earth-system and in the life-system due to the extreme effects that it produces, whether major droughts in one region or huge rains in another, damaging whole cities and decimating harvests of foods necessary for feeding people. The Earth is crucified and we must bring it life and resurrection. At the same time hunger and dire poverty are increasing in many places in the world to unprecedented levels. There is a suffering humanity whose way of the cross has as many stations as that of the Lord when he suffered among us in Palestine.
Faced with this perverse scene, we must say: everything is relative but God and the suffering of the Earth and of humankind. They are ultimate. Before God and suffering we must stop: be filled with reverence and compassion. That is the most worthy stance.
This contrary reality arouses three basic attitudes in Christians. The first is holy indignation: "This cannot be; this is unacceptable to us and to God." The second is: we must strive to liberate the Earth and humankind from this agonizing and unjust passion; this is the starting point for all movements of social and ecological liberation, whether within the churches or within societies. The third attitude is to see in the passion of the Earth the current manifestation and the continuation of the Passion of Christ. It is Christ who suffers along with his creation and who feels tortured and crucified along with his wronged brothers and sisters.
God does not remain indifferent to the pain of the world and humankind. God participates and journeys alongside. Without this faith the pain would be completely absurd. By faith Christians wager that our dramatic, and in many aspects tragic, situation is not final. It arouses hope in that which is still to come: a good end, where God "will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away" (Rev. 21:4). The resurrection of Jesus is an advance indication that this hope is not in vain. The passion of Christ and of the world ends in the inauguration of the new heavens and new Earth, of the new man and new woman.
This book ends with a difficult reflection on the mystery of evil and a call to a mystique of overcoming it through love, through solidarity among all who suffer, among whom is the great Suffering Servant, the crucified and risen Messiah. Without the passion of Christ and his resurrection, the passion of the world would be like an open wound bleeding until the last judgment. Now we can confidently hope that there will be a smiling future for Mother Earth, for humankind, and for each of us, a future full of life and glory because, as the ancients said, "God's glory is the life of human beings," the life of the world.
Admittedly, this book is a good deal more experimental in nature than others concerned with the christological mystery. What I am attempting here is an exploration of the meaning of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for the context of our contemporary faith and circumstances. It is of the greatest importance to be aware of the locus from which a given discourse is articulated, if we hope to be able to appraise and appreciate its conclusions. In the present case, that locus is the situation of captivity and resistance in which so many human beings live today—a locus very near that from which Jesus of Nazareth looked out upon his own historical reality.
The cross, in a very special way, attracts our attention to Jesus' humanity—which is none other than the humanity of God. One can take a number of different theological positions vis-a-vis the humanity of Jesus Christ. Tradition has crystalized in two of them, and neither has ever lost its currency or its validity. Both are based on the Gospels, as well as on christological dogma as defined at the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451. Chalcedon, infallibly and irreformably, defined for Christian faith of all time to come the true humanity and true divinity of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, in the oneness of the single divine person of the eternal Word, subsist two distinct natures, the divine and the human, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.
It is this formulation, drawn up at Chalcedon, and so
charged with dialectical tension, that renders possible
the two lines of christological thinking that have
dominated the history of Christian theology ever since.
The one approach will emphasize, in Jesus who is at once
God and a human being, his divinity. The other will
emphasize his humanity. This duality of accent
corresponds to two basically different options, giving
rise to two distinct schools of christology. In the New
Testament, Saint John's Gospel underscores Jesus'
divinity, whereas the synoptics stress his humanity. In
the ancient world, the school of Alexandria represents
the first tendency; Antioch stresses the second. Both
schools can fall into heresy. The Alexandrian school
will play host to monophysitism, which posits only one
nature in Jesus: the divine nature. The Antiochene
school will be vulnerable to Arianism, which maintains
the distinction of natures in Jesus in such wise as to
violate the oneness of his person, and the human nature
will dominate in Jesus, with his divinity extrinsic and
parallel. In the medieval world the Thomistic school
opted to reflect on Jesus from a point of departure in
his divinity; the Franciscan school, from his humanity.
modern times we hear of a "descending" christology,
or christology "from
above," that of a God who becomes incarnate, and an "ascending" christol-
ogy, one "from below," in which a human Jesus gradually reveals his divinity.
For my own part, on the strength of my spiritual formation and basic option alike, I follow the Franciscan school—the synoptic, Antiochene, and Scotist tradition. I find God precisely in Jesus' total, complete humanity. And a reflection on Jesus' death on the cross affords me an opportunity to rethink his humanity in a radical way.
Accustomed as they are to the traditional image of Jesus, so strongly marked by his divinity, Christians may have difficulty with the image I sketch here—in terms of our own so familiar humanity. And yet we want to open ourselves to the true humanity of Jesus. To the extent that we accept our own humanity, with all the tragedy that may characterize our existence, we open the way for a deep acceptance of the humanity of Jesus. And the converse is equally true: to the extent that we accept Jesus as the Gospels, especially the synoptic Gospels, depict him, living a life charged with conflict and pain—to the extent that we take the incarnation absolutely seriously, as an "emptying," as the total evacuation of divinity—to this same extent we shall accept ourselves, with all our fragility and misery, without shame or humiliation.
My basic option implies consequences of an exegetical and dogmatic order. This option will have an influence on my conception of Jesus' messianic consciousness, how he faced his own death, and how he gradually assimilated, amid trials and temptations, the will of God.
It is my expectation that this theological route will lead to an inestimably precious treasure: the discovery of how we can take up direct discipleship and following of Jesus of Nazareth, who, before us, walked our own human path, and walked it to the very end.
I have no wish to conceal the dangers that will beset
someone undertaking this study. I shall try to avoid the
pitfalls, in all honesty, keeping rigidly within the
bounds of christological dogma set by our Chalcedonian
fathers before us. The humanity of which I shall be
speaking in this experiment must always be conceived and
understood as the humanity of God. To be sure, this will
oblige us to question our basic image of God—for today.
Our common image of God owes much to pagan and Old
Testament religious experience. A reflection on the
humanity of Jesus (which is the humanity of God) reveals
to us the specifically Christian, unmistakable and
unique, face of God. Clearly, then, pagans and
Christians experience the same mystery—but in Jesus
Christ the face of God is revealed, a surprising face,
the face of a lowly sufferer, tortured, smeared with
blood, crowned with thorns, and dying after a
mysterious, piercing cry hurled at the heavens (but not
against heaven). Such a God is extremely close to the
human drama, but a strange God, too, marked by a
fascinating strangeness, like that of our own innermost
depths. Before this God we can stiffen with fear, as did
Luther; but we can also be touched with an infinite tenderness, like Saint Francis, who
meditated the passion as "com-
passion." I make no pretense of revealing the source of the light that illumines the spirit of a Francis. My own reflections will seek only to articulate that spirit itself.
I hope that my experiment will be a help to those who, in their pain, seek to confer a meaning on the painful passion of this world. And—who knows?—meditation on the passion of the suffering prophet, Jesus Christ, may awaken in us some unsuspected source of strength for resistance and resurrection. Dramatic times bring with them visions of redemption, and the suffering Christian discovers a secret identification with the prototypical Christian martyr. Then hidden forces burst forth, to transform the warp and woof of the tale of life from within that life itself, to tear away the mask from the face of oppression and look upon its fragile face—fragile because textured by death. History tells us that it is here that life triumphs, and begets a meaning stronger than anything the empire of death can achieve.
To live the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ involves a mysticism of life. This mysticism rests on a mystery—of a life generated where death appears, of love amid hatred. The cross is all this. The cross is mystery and mysticism.
On the one side, the cross is a symbol of the mystery of a human freedom in rebellion. The cross emerges from a will to rejection, a will to vengeance, to self-assertion to the point of eliminating the other. The cross is what human beings can do when they refuse themselves to God. Therefore the cross is the symbol of the fallen human being, inhuman-being. The cross is the symbol of crime.
On the other side, the cross is the symbol of the mystery of human freedom in its power. When borne by a commitment to overcome it, to make it gradually less viable in the world, the cross is the symbol of a new kind of life, a life centered outside oneself, the life of the prophet, the martyr, the man or woman of the kingdom of God. This is the life that, although doing nothing to provoke the cross, bears it—but in bearing it combats it, and in combating it becomes its victim, crucified by the fury of those who have hardened their heart to their brother and sister and God. But crucified, this life can transfigure its cross, and make it a sacrifice of love for others. Thus the cross is the symbol of the human being new and alive. The cross is the symbol of love.
Each cross, then, contains a denunciation and a call. It denounces a human closing-in upon oneself to the point of crucifying God. It appeals for a love that can bear all things, a love of the kind with which the Father delivered his own Son to death for the sake of his enemies. And so the cross is essentially ambiguous, and the maintenance of this ambiguity is the condition for the preservation of its critical character, its function as the refining fire both of the pretensions of human self-assertion, and of our image of an impassible God, a God untouched by the suffering of the crucified of history. God can suffer.
And so, we see, every cross has two sides. On the back, naked and solitary, the cross looks out upon human hatred. On the front, someone lives and suffers, facing love, human and divine.
The paradox of the cross is incomprehensible both to formal and to dialectical reason. It is beyond the abstract logos. The cross has its own logos, the logos tou staurou, the logic (word) of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18). Here is a logic assimilable only through praxis: by combating and taking up, accepting, the cross and death. Just as no starveling's hunger is appeased by discourses upon the culinary art, so neither is the problem of suffering resolved by reflection upon it. It is by eating that hunger is alleviated. It is by struggling that evil and its character of absurdity are overcome.
Paul lived what he preached:
We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; full of doubts, we never despair. We are persecuted but never abandoned; we are struck down but never destroyed. . . . Dead, yet here we are, alive; punished, but not put to death; sorrowful, though we are always rejoicing; poor, yet we enrich many. We seem to have nothing, yet everything is ours! [2 Cor. 4:8-9, 6:9-10].
This is the praxis that reveals what is concealed in the drama of the cross and death: ultimate Meaning and Life.
Nudus nudo sequi—naked in the following of the naked One. Behold the mysticism and the mystery of the cross.
What No Mind Has Conceived: On the Significance of Christological Apophaticism by Knut Alfsvag (Studies in Philosophical Theology: Peeters)Theology is, for the sake of its own clarity, dependent on a notion of God's hiddenness and unknowability. This is a position that over the years has been maintained by a number of theologians and philosophers. Even within the Christian tradition, which understands God as manifest in the person of Jesus, the perspective of negative or apophatic theology has remained important. This book is an investigation of the significance of this perspective. It presents the tradition of negative theology from Plato to the Reformation, focusing particularly on Maximus Confessor, Nicholas Cusanus and Martin Luther as Christologically informed thinkers who develop an apophatic theology that still seems to contain a potential for renewal both from an ecumenical and a philosophical perspective. The relevance of this perspective is then explored through a discussion of the continuity between these thinkers and some contemporary contributions, both from a Western and non-Western context.
On what dome="alfsvag"> believers fix their belief when they say they believe in God? "I believe in God" is a statement that adherents of most of the word's religions would, one way or another, agree on, but what is the reference of this statement?
Basically, the question seems to have at least two different sets of answers. The first set of answers maintains that God is something similar to, though greater than, what can otherwise be experienced or conceptualized. This approach is characterized by the understanding that there is a concept of being that can be meaningfully related to all possible entities including God, allowing for a rational investigation of all there is. The basic question in a philosophy of religion is then the question of whether God exists, and the answer is given in the form of rational proofs (or disproofs) of the existence of the divine. In the European history of thought, this way of thinking is founded on an interpretation of the work of Aristotle, and it materialized in a Christian context first and foremost through the Aristotelian influence on medieval Scholasticism.
The other set of answers rejects the idea of a continuity from the worlds of sensations and concepts to God. According to this way of thinking, which is called negative or apophatic theology, one can only approach God appropriately by systematically rejecting all necessary predicates of God, and then again rejecting the rejections, locating the presence of God in an area beyond all positive conceptualities including the concepts of being and not-being. This results in a skepticism toward the epistemological cogency of human language which issues in a rejection of the possibility of proving the existence of God; what can be proved to exist through an argumentative strategy manifest in human language, is certainly not God. But the limit thus placed on reason and argument does not imply either irrationality or atheism. The limit of reason in relation to what is beyond can be reasonably argued and defended, and the atheist conclusion that the rationally definable is all there is, begs the question by presupposing the idea of ultimate definability it is supposed to prove. In a European context, an apophatic philosophy of religion is due to the influence of the Bible and the work of Plato. In the Christian context, we quite early meet thinkers who consciously sought to integrate the two, and the work of the so-called Pseudo-Dionysius about year 500 could be seen as the classical expression of this integration.
One may argue that within the context of Christendom, it is Dionysian apophaticism that has given shape to the Orthodox tradition, while Aristotelian rationalism became the intellectual climate of both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, thus also informing modernity's rejection of religion as basically related to the Christian tradition of Western Europe.1 The picture is, however, more complicated, as there are thinkers working from an explicitly apophatic orientation both within Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and in contemporary philosophy. In this investigation, I will substantiate this claim by presenting influential representatives of apophaticism from each of the three main traditions of Christendom and relate their approach to examples of apophaticism in contemporary theology and philosophy. From the tradition of Orthodoxy, I will concentrate on Maximus Confessor from the 7th century, who integrated the earlier elements of apophaticism in a way that became decisive for the development of Orthodox theology and spirituality. To the Latin west, the apophaticism of Dionysius was transmitted through John Scotus Eriugena in the 9th century, and his influence is clearly felt both in monastic theology (Bernhard of Clairvaux) and in Scholasticism (certainly in Bonaventure and Eckhart, but also to a certain extent m Thomas Aquinas). Searching for a systematic and philosophically ambitious renewal of apophaticism in the context of the Latin west, it might, however, be more rewarding to concentrate on the renaissance of Platonism of the 15th century, particularly in the work of Nicholas of Cusa. In addition, Luther's theologia crucis also shows some striking similarities with apophaticism, thus making it natural to include even the church father of Protestantism in this investigation.
Christian faith is, however, not only a belief in God; it is a belief in God incarnated, in God as present in human flesh within historical time and space. This seems to place Christian theology within a conceptual and confessional framework that does not easily lend itself to the apophatic dialectic of affirmation and negation, and indeed Dionysius as the founding father of Christian apophaticism has been said to be lacking in Christological depth. It is not immediately obvious, however, whether a similar criticism could be meaningfully addressed to the three other representatives of apophaticism suggested as the main focus of the present investigation, thus making the question of the Christology of apophaticism an interesting one to be asked of precisely these authors. Does Christology in their thought in some sense qualify the dialectic of confirming and rejecting the divine predicates, or is the outcome of the apophatic approach rather a weakening of the basic Christological assumptions of Christianity, drawing also the understanding of Christ into a never ending maelstrom of rejections and counter-rejections? In trying to grasp the essentials of apophatic theology in the way here suggested, questions concerning the relation between apophaticism and Christology will therefore be crucial.
Apophaticism is not a perspective that is present only in premodern Christianity. A similar approach seems to be present in a number of contemporary contexts as well, both Christiana, non-Christian (particularly Buddhist) and more or less explicitly seculars. How far do these parallels go? Does the specific Christological bent of Christian apophaticism introduce an unbridgeable difference in relation to other variations of apophaticism, or will a closer look at the relationship open new avenues of dialogue and mutual understanding? Does the common understanding of the inaccessibility of the ultimate open new possibilities of a unifying perspective that even includes modern and postmodern plurality, and if it does, is even Christological apophaticism included? These are questions the present investigation will try to address.
A number of scholars have investigated the establishment of Christian apophaticism on the background of Neoplatonism, following its history toward the culmination in medieval theology and philosophy, but without a consistent focus on the relation to Christology. The relation between apophaticism and Christology has, however, been a point of interest in research on both Maximus Confessor9 and Nicholas of Cusa; the time should thus be right for looking at this in a broader perspective. Luther research has focussed on the significance of negation in his thought and substantiated it by focussing on his relation to mysticism,12 but there is no systematic investigation of his relation to apophaticism. Neither is there any research focussing on the relation between Maximus, Nicholas and Luther as a key to the possible ecumenical relevance of apophaticism, or any attempt at relating Christian and contemporary apophaticism on a broader basis. It thus seems meaningful to try to contribute to the ongoing research by focussing on this perspective.
The investigation will proceed by first briefly presenting the foundation of apophatic thinking in the Bible and the work of Plato and thinkers in the Platonic tradition as the background of the synthesis aimed at by the fathers of the 4th century and possibly achieved by Dionysius. The work of Maximus, Cusanus and Luther will then be investigated from within their positions in European intellectual history as three of the philosophically and theologically most important examples of Christian apophaticism and compared with contemporary examples of apophatic negativity. Hopefully, this should allow for a better understanding of three different, though closely related sets of problems: The question of the relation between apophaticism and Christology, the question of whether a discussion of apophaticism with regard to representatives of different traditions within Christendom might open new and promising perspectives for the ecumenical debate, and the question of the possible relevance of apophaticism concerning the theology of religions and the contemporary debate between religions and world views. My aim is not to write a history of apophaticism, but to investigate some of its contributions from within their historical context to gain a new perspective on problems that still confront us.
Modernity's rejection of apophaticism is dependent on an emphasis on the undialectial significance of conceptual representation founded on a strict distinction between observer and observed. The criticism of this kind of undialectial epistemological positivity within much of contemporary philosophy has led to a renewal of emphases traditionally associated with apophaticism. As found within the Japanese Kyoto school and the Western, non-incarnational philosophy of Heidegger, Derrida and Caputo, however, this renewal still seems captured by a dualism between spirit and matter that lets its understanding of the problem appear as variations of gnosticism and its attempts at, or rejections of the possibility of, a solution as captured by the aporia of a philosophy of identity. Marion and Yannaras on the other hand represent parallel attempts of a renewal of apophaticism in relation to contemporary thought shaped respectively by the context of Catholicism and Orthodoxy that are considerably closer to the basic tenets of premodern Christian apophaticism.
There is no doubt that the approaches of Marion and Yannaras differ; while Marion's is primarily determined by the category of givenness, it is the category of personal relationship that characterizes Yannaras' approach. These differing starting points are, however, developed according to trajectories that in many respects are strikingly parallel. They both depend on Heidegger and insist that one has to go beyond Heidegger, and both do it by trying to liberate the understanding of the subject from the power of the concept by focussing on the field of experience before conceptualization—in this respect, they maintain an emphasis that is also found in the Kyoto school. While the concept of givenness as the point of orientation could induce the suspicion that Marion, too, maintains what Yannaras criticises as an apophaticism of essence, this is clearly not the case, as givenness for Marion amounts to a phenomenology of the call that within a theological context opens the possibility for a relationship with G-d that clearly is qualified as personal. Marion's distinction between saturated and other phenomena also quite closely parallels Yannaras' distinction between the limited relevance of a language of positivist objectivity and the significance of the unlimited openness of the icon, and Marion's understanding of the flesh as a saturated phenomenon is not far from Yannaras' understanding of unknowability of the person as the perichoretic and unknowable unity of soul and body. The parallels between the two are therefore more extensive than what is suggested by the difference in terminology.
Admittedly, Marion does not apply the distinction between essence and energy that is so important to Yannaras; Marion's insistence, though, of distance in God as the difference between Father and Son and the corresponding emphasis on the irreducible difference between God and human fulfil the similar function of anchoring the impossibility of determining God by means of human experience—and thus idolizing him—in the essential unknowability of the divine. Even for Marion, revelation is therefore exclusively connected to the biblical stories as the performative recollection of the events that always determine the present by showing the meaning of the future, and they both emphasize the necessity of subverting an understanding of time that does not allow this possibility. Yannaras discusses contemporary philosophy of science to a greater extent than Marion, who tends to limit himself to debates internal to phenomenology and theology. There is no doubt, however, that they basically share the same position concerning the importance of the dethronement of the subject of the metaphysics of modernity in order to open a space beyond mere conceptuality where the experienced reality of divine love is allowed the prime position as what structures thought and life; in the emphasis on love as the area beyond thought, they retain one of the main characteristics of classical Christian apophaticism.
The conclusion of the investigation of Maximus, Cusanus and Luther was that they do not represent fundamental contradictions to the extent that one has to choose between them; they are parallel explorations of a common theological vision shaped by different contexts. As far as I can see, this also pertains to the positions of Marion and Yannaras; apart from the seemingly unbridgeable differences concerning the evaluation of specific figures from the history of Western thought, they complement each other to a considerably greater extent than they contradict each other. The thought of both Marion and Yannaras should therefore be considered relevant and significant contributions to the question of how one from within the tradition of Christian apophaticism in a meaningful way can enter the discussion of contemporary thought.
Christ in Postmodern Philosophy: Gianni Vattimo, Rene Girard, and Slavoj Zizek by Frederiek Depoortere (T&T Clark) (Hardcover) offers an investigation into the Christological ideas of three contemporary thinkers: Slavoj Zizek, Gianni Vattimo and Rene Girard.
The present book offers an investigation into the Christological reflections found in the work of three contemporary thinkers, namely Gianni Vattimo, Rene Girard and Slavoj Zizek. It is one of the results of my doctoral research, which began in October 2003 and which intended to compare and evaluate from a theological perspective the work of a number of contemporary continental philosophers who had recently made a so-called 'turn to religion' and to monotheism in particular. The original project text mentioned the names of John D. Caputo, Richard Kearney, Gianni Vattimo, Merold Westphal and Slavoj Zizek. My first exploratory study of these philosophers suggested to me that they can be divided into two groups. The first group consists of Caputo, Kearney and Westphal. In the wake of Heidegger's announcement of the end of onto-theology and inspired by both Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, they search for a post-metaphysical God, a God who is often indicated as tout autre (wholly other). Zizek, on the other hand, does not belong to this group. First, he clearly has another source of inspiration: not Heidegger, Levinas or Derrida, but Lacan and the great thinkers of German Idealism (Kant, Schelling and Hegel). Moreover, he does not aim at tracing a post-metaphysical God. His 'turn' to Christianity is a result of his concern to 'save' the achievements of modernity from fundamentalism as well as from postmodern relativism and religious obscurantism. Vattimo, finally, is a go-between. His sources (mainly Nietzsche and Heidegger) seem to indicate that he aligns with the first group. Like Caputo, Kearney and Westphal, Vattimo is also searching for the God who comes after metaphysics, but, as we shall see in due course, he explicitly rejects the wholly other God defended by them. With Zizek, furthermore, Vattimo shares the attention for the event of the incarnation and the conviction that the incarnation amounts to the end of God's transcendence. Both thinkers also defend the uniqueness of Christianity vis-a-vis natural religiosity. In this way, they seem to share at least some affinity with the views of Rene Girard, who has also defended the uniqueness of Christianity and claims that the latter broke away from the violent transcendence of the natural religions. In what follows, we will investigate the Christological ideas of these three contemporary thinkers, focusing on the topics of the relation between transcendence and the event of the incarnation on the one hand, and the topic of the uniqueness of Christianity on the other.
The End of God's Transcendence?a name="deportere">
In order to evaluate Zizek's claim that God's transcendence ends with the incarnation, we shall discuss the way Zizek deals with human self-transcendence and raise the question of whether his work leaves any room for some form of superior transcendence, a transcendence which cannot be reduced to human activity. Human self-transcendence refers to the fact that human beings possess the power to surpass themselves. They can overcome themselves and become what they were not yet. In this regard, Dutch theologian Tjeu van Knippenberg speaks about 'the ability to human beings to go beyond themselves, to come to the realization that they are not limited to themselves and do not belong to themselves'." This self-surpassing power can be linked with the movement of desire as we have described it above while discussing Zizek. As we have also indicated then, this movement of desire underlies the ever accelerating pace of human cultural evolution. And as has also already been seen above, Zizek claims the movement of desire to be a secondary phenomenon, considering it as a way to deal with the, much more fundamental, appearance of the drive, the stubborn attachment characterizing the human being, the excess of freedom that can never again be integrated into smooth, biological life. Desire comes into being when the invention/intervention of the Law places the impossible object of the drive into an inaccessible Beyond as a forbidden Thing. In this way, Zizek seems to suggest a kind of Feuerbachian theory of projection; his theory of desire, as we have outlined it in the previous section, seems to imply that the superior transcendence of the Divine Thing is the result of the projection of the impossibility inherent in human existence into an inaccessible Beyond. Maybe, this is what 'Zizek means when he speaks in the final paragraph of the second part of On Belief about 'projecting/displacing [the excess of Life] onto some figure of the Other'. With his plea for a transition from the Thing to the objet petit a, and from tragic desire to love/drive, Zizek seems to be placing himself in the line of the Left Hegelians; for instance, in the line of Feuerbach's critique of religion as projection and Marx's critique of religion as alienation. The main difference between Zizek and these predecessors, however, is that, for Zizek, Christianity is no longer accused, but is, on the contrary, adopted as an important tool in his critical endeavours.
As outlined by Jason Glynos in his discussion of Zizek's anti-capitalism, there is, according to Zizekk, a direct link between the subject of desire, moving from the one substitute for the impossible/forbidden Thing to the next, and the subject of capitalism, consuming one commodity after the other." Thus, as Zizek expects, breaking away from the logic of desire will enable a break with capitalism. And since Christianity offers us, at least according to Zizek, the eminent example of such a break with the logic of desire, Zizek considers it as a main source for the anti-capitalist struggle. Indeed, in order to think the revolutionary subject Zizek falls back on Christianity. Initially — for instance in The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) — Zizek merely stated that a revolutionary praxis asks for a moment of decision which can be compared with the 'leap of faith' and he used the example of the famous Pascalian wager to illustrate this point (SOI 38-40). Yet, in his more recent work (from the 1999 The Ticklish Subject onwards), the content of Christianity has increasingly become a central concern for Zizek. As pointed out by Michael Moriarty in his discussion of Zizek's use of religion, it is as if without theological notions, Zizek is not (or no longer) able to analyse the contemporary situation of the subject.' Thus, where initially Zizek only saw an analogy between the believer and the revolutionary subject, as being two species of the same genus, in his more recent work he analyses the latter in terms of the former. It may not come as a surprise then that, in the introduction to The Fragile Absolute, Zizek pleads for an alliance between Christianity and Marxism (FA 2). In the introduction to The Puppet and the Dwarf, he is even more explicit when he claims that 'the subversive kernel of Christianity ... is accessible only to a materialist approach — and vice versa: to become a true dialectical materialist, one should go through the Christian experience' (PD 6).
Thus, Christian faith seems to be used by Zizek as a tool to think the possibility of an anti-capitalist praxis. For Zizek, we will be able to break away from the logic of capitalism by giving up the logic of tragic desire and re-entering the domain of the drive and of love. It has become clear, however, that this transition from desire to drive implies a complete abandonment of any superior transcendence. Indeed, all superior transcendences — be it the superior transcendence of the Judeo-Christian tradition or its many immanent substitutes (be it an ultimate principle of reality or a utopia) — seem to be condemned as being as many appearances of the Thing preserving the logic of desire and, therefore, modern capitalism. As a result, re-entering the domain of the drive — being, to use the way Zizek had already put it in his 1997 The Plague of Fantasies, `the domain of the closed circular palpitation which finds satisfaction in endlessly repeating the same failed gesture' — cannot but imply 'a radical ontological closure'. Leaving the domain of tragic desire requires that we give up the belief 'that there is some radical Otherness which makes our universe incomplete'. Or to put it differently, entering the domain of the drive means renouncing 'every opening, every belief in the messianic Otherness'.' In this way, Zizek is indeed ending up with a complete denial of transcendence.
Zizek's claim that we have to abandon every form of superior transcendence in order to break with capitalism raises two major questions. (1) On the one hand, there is, of course, the question whether Ziiek is not merely (mis)using Christianity in function of his own critical endeavours and maybe we may even take the risk here of speaking about Zizek using Christianity, interpreted along Lacanian and Hegelian lines, as the ancilla of his Marxist aspirations. (2) On the other hand, there is also the question whether the end of superior transcendences — including utopias such as 'the Kingdom of God' or 'the classless society' — is not precisely advancing capitalism instead of combating it. Is the absence of alternatives for the current capitalist status quo not contributing to the post-revolutionary climate characterizing contemporary Western culture? Moreover, in what way can the `subject of drive' — locked up as it is in its eternal, circular movement — ever become the basic unit of a new revolutionary movement? And is, in contrast, the problem of capitalism not, instead of being a problem of desire as such, rather a problem of perverted desire, of desire disconnected from a superiorly transcendent aim? Are we, therefore, not in need of a truly superior transcendence in order to heal our desire and our world from the onslaught of capitalism?
Zizek and Vattimo: The Persistence of Hegelian Christology and the Problem of Supercessionism
Both Zizek and Vattimo identify the incarnation as the moment at which God's transcendence ends: the God of Beyond, the Eternal Father, dies and is irrevocably lost. Zizek is quite explicit about the source of this idea: he attributes it to Hegel who is, as we have seen, one of his major sources of inspiration. Vattimo, in contrast, couches this view in Heideggerian terminology, but the fact that he is, as we have outlined in Chapter 1 above, tributary to Altizer's 'God is dead'-theology, of which Hegel is one of the major sources, suggests that Vattimo is also more under the spell of Hegel than he is willing to admit. This point has recently been made by Anthony Sciglitano in a contribution to Modern Theology. In his article, Sciglitano detects seven points in which Vattimo is influenced by Hegelian Christology:
(1) the Trinity is de-personalized; (2) the divine-world relation is given a modalistic and ultimately monistic reading; (3) Passibility is radical and history becomes constitutive, or stronger, determinative, of divine being; (4) Scriptural revelation is overcome by a "spiritual sense" reading that envisions a reconciliation between divine being and the being of the world, thus asserting some form of identity; (5) Jesus' historical existence becomes religiously insignificant; (6) Resurrection does not lead to exaltation and end kenosis, and does not apply to Jesus as an individual, but rather continues kenosis as a general diffusion of divine Being into the secular or as the secular; (7) Divine will, election, missions are excised from theological reflection.
This suggests that, while Vattimo and Zizek may be very different with regard to the content of their Christological reflections (the former offering a Christology which (mis)reads Girard through Heidegger, the latter a Christology which develops a basic idea from Hegel with the help of Lacanian terminology), they are actually both continuations of Hegelian Christology. In postmodern philosophical Christological reflections, the ghost of Hegel turns out to be still alive.
In Chapter 1, we mentioned that Vattimo's Christology appears to be supercessionist. According to John Caputo, this supercessionism is a result of Vattimo's affinity with 'God is dead'-theology and its scheme, which it shares with and adopts from Hegel, of a `transition from transcendence to immanence, from alienation and estrangement to homecoming, from God as a distant and severe Father to God first as Son and sibling and then as the spirit of love'. In this master narrative, however, Caputo adds, 'Somebody has to play the bad guy' and this 'bad guy' is invariably 'the religion of the Father' or Judaism. The fact that 'Zizek also adopts the Hegelian scheme of a transition from transcendence to immanence suggests that the problem of supercessionism will also be present in his work.The relation of Zizek towards Judaism is indeed ambiguous. On the one hand, Zizek states that Godthe-Father dies on the cross and becomes the Holy Spirit as the community of believers. God as the wholly other Thing dies and becomes barely nothing. This transition is explicitly linked by Zizek with the one from Judaism to Christianity and this suggests that in Zizek's view the Jewish manner of relating to God is ruled out now that Christ has come. On the other hand, Zizek also states that Christianity needs Judaism to remind itself of the otherness of the Divine Thing (OB 142). This remark, however, is difficult to reconcile with the rest of Zizek's Christological reflections as we have outlined them in the present chapter. With regard to Islam, by the way, it has to be noticed that Islam is almost completely absent from Zizek's works on religion. His most important reference to it is in a footnote in On Belief, in which he states that Islam, in its attempt to synthesize Judaism and Christianity, 'ends up with the worst of both worlds' (OB 162 [n.401). Zizek's view of Buddhism, finally, has become more negative in the past few years. While in The Fragile Absolute, he considered also Buddhism as offering an immediate participation of each individual to the universal dimension and, therefore, as a disturbance of the hierarchical order of the pagan universe (FA 120, 123), the first chapter of The Puppet and the Dwarf offers a polemic against Buddhism, in particular against Zen (PD 26-33). In it, Zizek opposes Christian love to Buddhist and Hindu compassion, an opposition which also returns, as we have seen, in The Parallax View.
Girard vs. Zizek: Shared Intuitions, Divergent Conclusion
There are clearly important points of agreement between Girard's `violence of the sacred' and Zizek's 'excess of life':
1. Both Girard and Zizek trace the origins of human culture back to the moment when the human animal was contaminated by something, causing that animal to leave the domain of smooth, spontaneous biological life and to become truly human.
2. This something, which makes us human, is, according to both thinkers, a 'too much', an excess: an excess of violence (in the case of Girard) or an excessive — and for this reason also violent — attachment to a Thing (in the case of Zizek).
3. This excess, though it is what makes us human, is also what threatens us the most. As Girard mentions, violence can result in complete destruction of human society and, as Zizek makes clear, the stubborn attachment to a Thing can lead to an addiction at the cost of our own health, well-being or even life (which is, by the way, the reason why Freud introduced his concept of the 'death drive').
4. Furthermore, in both cases, culture (Girard's sacrificial order, Zizek's Law of culture) aims at restricting and controlling this `too much'; without, however, ever completely succeeding in that aim. A return to smooth and spontaneous, biological life is impossible. Or, to put it in the metaphor of Genesis 3, the way back to Paradise has been blocked by 'the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turns every way' (Gn. 3.24).
It is against this background that both Girard and Zizek interpret the incarnation of Christ:
5. Both authors offer an alternative interpretation of 'sin': sin is the excess by which the human being is contaminated.
6. Moreover, they both adopt the traditional view that Christ was without sin (without violence, without excess).
7. But precisely in this way, by being without excess himself, Christ was able to redeem humankind of its 'too much', either by showing it the way out of violence (as Girard states) or by showing that we should 'repeat Christ's gesture of freely assuming the excess of Life' (as Zizek puts it).
In this way, both authors reject the traditional view according to which Christ was the sacrifice needed to satisfy God's honour offended by human sin.
Moreover, as outlined by Zizek, it is not a matter of merely substituting an old, incorrect view (the sacrificial, legalistic one) for a newer, correct one (one which would no longer be sacrificial nor legalistic). The point is precisely that, within the horizon in which Christ's death on the cross took place, this event could not have been read differently than in the 'wrong' way — thus, in the legalistic way, as being a sacrifice. Christ's death can only become the access to something completely New by simultaneously being the absolute culmination point of the Old. So, it is precisely by becoming the ultimate sacrifice that Christ breaches the sacrificial order and installs 'a life which needs no sacrifice' anymore. For, after Christ's Crucifixion, every further sacrifice has become useless because, in Christ, God sacrificed Himself to Himself and, in this way, the highest sacrifice possible has already been brought.'
It is also important, however, to point to the major difference between Zizek and Girard. Zizek claims that the incarnation of Christ should be understood as the complete abolishment of God's transcendence. For, God is just the excess of Life projected `onto some figure of the Other', Christ frees us from this Divine Thing and this liberation must lead to the abolishment of all (superior) transcendences. For Girard, in contrast, Christ reveals the true character of the truly superior transcendence: the truly transcendent reality is not violent but loving. As Girard claims, Christ liberates us from our excessive violence, but he could only do so by being completely without violence himself and, thus, by truly transcending our violence. So, in contrast to Zizek, Girard seems to leave room for transcendence. Therefore, we may conclude by expressing the expectation that, both for the struggle against capitalism and for Christianity, the work of Girard seems to be, at least at first sight, more promising than that of Zizek.
The Christological Assimilation of the Apocalypse: An Essay On Fundamental
Eschatology by Paul O'Callaghan (Four Courts Press) Biblical apocalyptic texts
that make imminent predictions of the end of the world as we know it, have
fascinated Christians from the earliest times. Understandably, over the
centuries such texts have been interpreted in a variety of different, even
opposing, ways. This is particularly so in twentieth century biblical exegesis.
Many authors would hold that apocalyptic texts, far from truly predicting the
end of time, final resurrection, universal judgement and perpetual separation of
just and wicked, are to be seen as merely existential or performative
expressions of the sinner's radical dependence on a Sovereign Divinity. Any kind
of literal interpretation of apocalyptic predictions, therefore, would seem to
involve insoluble problems of a scientific, ethical and social kind that modern
society cannot envisage.
In this extensive biblical study, Prof. O'Callaghan considers in detail not only the eschatology present in apocalyptic works in general, and the complex debate on New Testament eschatology that flourished throughout the last century. He has also shown that the powerful apocalyptic message present in the New Testament is essentially an application and direct consequence of Jesus Christ's saving work among humans. Principally on the basis of a narrative analysis of Matthew's Christology (apocalyptic motifs abound in the first gospel), he shows that New Testament apocalyptic as it stands, while radical, challenging and theologically stimulating, is neither irrational nor ethically untenable. And this for the simple reason that the Judge who will come at the end of time, to save the just and condemn sinners, is one and the same Jesus of Nazareth, who has already offered the gift of salvation to the whole of humankind. (review pending)
Fr. Paul O'Callaghan, Professor of Christian Anthropology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce) Dean of the Faculty of Theology in Rome, of the same university and Fellow of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. He is the author of Fides Christi. The Justification Debate (Four Courts Press, 1997), which deals with the ecumenical dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics on the topic of Christian justification.
Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers by Christopher M. Tuckett (Westminster John Knox Press) In this volume. Tuckett allows us to overhear the earliest conversations about Jesus. Who was he? Who did he think he was? How important was he to the development of early Christianity
This textbook olfers an up‑to‑date, comprehensive, and critical survey of the Question of the Christology of the different New Testament writers. It incorporates recent research in Judaism. and it takes note of critiques of older approaches to the subject. It covers the Christological ideas explicit or implicit in each of the main New Testament writers, as well as suggesting Jesus' own self‑understanding. Finally, the volume also raises hermeneutical Questions concerning the place that any New Testament Christology might have in contemporaneous theological debate. Chapters cover the individual Epistles and Gospels, offering a historical‑critical approach that places each writer within the original context. Assuming no prior knowledge of the discipline, Christology and the New Testament is ideal reading for students in Biblical Studies courses and those who study the development of Christian thought.Christopher Tuckelt is Lecturer in New Testament Studies in the University of Oxford and author of several books, including Reading the New Testament: Methods of Interpretation. The Gospel of Luke. and Q and the History of Early Christianity.
The Poem of the Man-God by Maria Valtorta, translated by Nicandro Picozzi (Mediaspaul) Much prized by the devout and often an entrée to renewal and devotion to followers of Jesus, this massive five volume day by day diary all most of the teachings of Jesus stays close to Catholic doctrine but at the same time offers inspiring extensions of Gospel witness. Sure some of the sexism and authoritarian constructs will not please the more lax in the discipline of divine love but even given such asides this work will inspire many to reconsider and to live more fully within the fuller spirit of the teachings of Jesus.
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