from The Collected Works
The Pauline Vision of the Resurrected
— Part 3
§5. Truth and History
The truth of existence emerges from the theophanic events in history. Paul’s exegesis of his vision, with its concentration on the dynamics of the theophany, brings the historicity of existential truth into sharper focus than did the philosopher’s exegesis of the noetic theophany. Regarding the relation of truth and history, a new accent falls on the area of “history” and its rank in the whole of reality. The account of the hard structure of truth, as I have called it, in the Pauline myth would be incomplete if this issue, with its rich potential for misunderstandings, and deformations, were not clarified.
In classic philosophy, the discovery of noetic consciousness is inseparable from the consciousness of the discovery as an event that constitutes meaning in history. The statement summarily refers to a field of relations in reality that now must be detailed. The discovery has “meaning,” because it advances man’s insight into the order of his existence. The meaning of the advance, therefore, derives from the “meaning” of existential order in the sense of man’s openness toward the divine ground, as well as from man’s desire to know about the right order of existence and its realization. This derivation of historical meaning from the meaning of personal existence should be noted as peculiar to the noetic experience of reality; in the Pauline context we shall find the relation inverted. The advance of insight, furthermore, is an “advance” indeed. For the discovery is not dumped as a block of meaning into a “history” in which previously nobody had ever been concerned with such problems of meaning.
The discovery of noetic consciousness is intelligible as an “advance” in relation to the more compact experiences and symbolizations of existential order preceding it. In Aristotle’s language, the philomythos and the philosophos experience and symbolize the same structure of reality at different levels of differentiation. The “advance” of meaning implies the “equivalence” of symbolisms, in this case of myth and philosophy. What becomes visible in the new luminosity, therefore, is not only the structure of consciousness itself (in classical language: the nature of man), but also the structure of an “advance” in the process of reality. Moreover, the site of the advance is not a mysterious entity called “history” that would exist independent of such advances; the site rather is the very consciousness that, in its state of noetic luminosity, makes these discoveries.
The theophanic events do not occur in history; they constitute history together with its meaning. The noetic theophany, finally, reveals consciousness as having the structure of metaleptic reality, of the divine-human Metaxy. As a consequence, “history” in the sense of an area in reality in which the insight into the meaning of existence advances is the history of theophany. This is the state of insight achieved by Plato in his symbolization of meaning in history through the three stages of theophany.
This complex of insights has a considerable number of implications. Not all of them were unfolded in the philosophers’ exegesis of noetic theophany; and some of them have indeed not been fully articulated to this day. For the present, however, the analysis must restrict itself to the specific problem that can compel, if differentiated under the impact of further theophanies, the transition from the Platonic to the Pauline understanding of history. This subcomplex to which I am referring is the peculiar tension in noetic consciousness between the truth of existence as it has become articulate in the set of classical symbols — i.e., zetesis and kinesis; eros, thanatos, and dike; elpis, pistis, and philia; and so forth — and the truth of existence as a state of existential order that emerges in a man when he goes through a theophanic event. This tension between the exegetic surface and the experiential depth of the theophanic event lies at the core of the vast controversies about the topical issue “truth and history.” The peculiar achievement of the Pauline differentiation will not be fully intelligible unless it is set off against the potential of misconstruction inherent to the tension.
In its experiential depth, a theophanic event is a turbulence in reality. The thinker who has become engulfed by it must try to rise, like the Aeschylean diver, from the depth to the surface of exegesis. When he has come up, he may wonder whether the tale he tells is indeed the story of the turbulence, or whether he has not slanted his account toward one or the other aspect of the complex event; and he will wonder rightly, because the outcome depends on the interaction of divine presence and human response in the depth, as well as on the cultural context of the surface that will bias his exegesis toward what appears at the time the most important part of the truth newly discovered. If the account is slanted toward structure in reality, the structure of the “man” who can rise from the turbulence with noetic insight will be of absorbing interest.
Even though the philosopher does not lose sight of the process in Metaleptic reality at all, the “structural” bias still can, on occasion, induce a symbol like the Aristotelian “definition” of man as the zoon noun echon, as the living being that has reason. If such a “definition” is, then, torn out of its analytical context, it can degenerate into a definition in the nominalist sense; and a “nature of man,” which by definition does not change, will become a fixture in the “history of philosophy,” as in fact it has become in Western “culture.” If, on the other hand, the account is slanted toward the process in reality, a quite remarkable change is to be observed, inasmuch as “man” emerges from the turbulence with an articulate consciousness of existence in the Metaxy that he formerly did not have. The change is so remarkable indeed that it motivates the Platonic-Aristotelian preoccupation with a “history” in which such things can happen. Like the structurally fixed “nature of man,” the “change” in his nature can, and does, degenerate into a definitional fixture in the “culture” of society, so that the paradox of a reality that moves beyond its own structure dissociates into the ideological controversy whether the “nature of man” does, or does not, change.
Moreover, the dissociation of the paradox into a quarrel about definitional fixtures that have cut loose from their experiential basis cannot be brushed aside as a harmless entertainment for mediocre thinkers. On the contrary, the dynamics of the tension in which the definitionally derailed symbols originate is still fully effective; the paradox in reality has not disappeared, and under its pressure the polarized definitions develop a life of their own. The definitions, one may say, are in search of a “turbulence” that will supply them with the meaning they lost when they cut loose from the theophanic event; and they find this source of meaning in the man-made turbulence of a “revolution.” The revolution in “history” is made to substitute for the theophanic event in reality. The turbulence of the encounter between God and man is transformed into the violence of an encounter between man and man. In the imaginary reality of the ideologists, this killing of men in revolutionary action is supposed to produce the much desired transfigurative, or metastatic, change of the nature of Man as an event in “history.” Marx has been quite explicit on this point: Revolutionary killing will induce a Blutrausch, a “blood intoxication”; and from this Blutrausch “man” will emerge as “superman” into the “realm of freedom.” The magic of the Blutrausch is the ideological equivalent to the promise of the Pauline vision of the Resurrected.
In the preceding paragraphs I have made considerable use of quotation marks. They indicate that the respective terms have moved from their original state of bona fide mythical, philosophical, or revelatory symbols to the state of degraded symbols, as Mircea Eliade calls them. In the course of Western deculturation, acutely since the middle of the eighteenth century, the symbols have become transformed into figures in the alienation games played by ideologists. As these games have no philosophical intention, it would be a misunderstanding to treat them as philosophical aberrations. They deliberately transpose reality and the paradox of its structure into the medium of an imaginary “Second Reality” in which the mystery of cosmic-divine reality that must be lived through, and died through, can be speculatively solved and actively abolished by men whose existence has been disordered by their libido dominandi.
The enterprise is, of course, grotesque; and this strand of the grotesque in Western deculturation cannot be stressed strongly enough. There is the Comte who replaces the Era of Christ by the Era of Comte, and who writes letters to the Russian czar, to the grand vizier of the sultan, and to the general of the Jesuit Order with the purpose of bringing the Orthodox Church, Islam, and the Catholic Church home into the fold of positivism. And there is the Hegel who presents himself to the world as the ultimate Incarnation of the Logos, in the sense of the Gospel of John. Consistently, this generation of the new Christs is followed, at the distance of a century, by the practitioners of transfiguration into the millennium by mass murder and concentration camps, by the Hitlers and Stalins. To this grotesquerie of libidinous obsession belongs the conception of “history” as an area in reality in which aphtharsia for mankind can be achieved, if not in the twinkling of an eye, at least by the judicious acceleration of phthora for a sufficient number of human beings over a reasonable number of generations.
The philosophical and revelatory symbols engendered by the theophanic events, and the degraded symbols as they are used in alienation games, illuminate each other as well as the common structure they express equivalently. The new Christs who appear in the first half of the nineteenth century and compete with the Resurrected of the Pauline vision are the best proof, if proof were needed, for the constancy of the problem of transfiguration in historical consciousness. The paradox of a reality that moves toward its transfiguration is the structure equivalently expressed. Since the comparative empirical study of the relations between symbols and experiences has barely begun in our time, this may sound odd at first hearing.
What has a theophanic event in the Metaxy in common with the libidinous obsession of an alienation game? I should like to stress, therefore, the identity of structure in both the consciousness of the Metaxy and the consciousness of the alienated Messianic speculator. In the experience of existential tension toward the divine ground, the poles of the tension are symbolized as “God” and “man,” while the In-Between of existence is expressed by such symbols as methexis, metalepsis, or metaxy. In the closed existence of the alienated speculator, the structure of the Metaxy remains the same, but the thinker must now, in Nietzsche’s phrase, extend grace to himself. He must develop a “divided self,” with one self acting the role of “man” who suffers the human condition and the other self acting the role of “God” who brings salvation from it.
The Metaxy becomes, in Hegel’s language, the state of Zerrissenheit (diremption) or Entfremdung (alienation); the elaboration of the speculative system becomes the act of salvational Versoehnung (reconciliation); and the man who performs the feat combines in his person the two natures of God and man in the sense of the Definition of Chalcedon; he is the new God-man, the new Messiah. The structure of reality does not disappear, however, because somebody engages in libidinous revolt against it. While the structure remains the same, the revolt results, personally, in the destruction of existential order and, socially, in mass murder. I do not care to go beyond this point. It would be tempting to characterize the “divided self” of the alienated thinker as “schizoid,” but the relation of this type of pneumopathological deformation to the phenomena that in psychopathology are treated under the general head of “schizophrenia” is not yet sufficiently explored. Certainly, however, the comparison casts some light on the phenomenon that is conventionally called “immanentism.”
In the modern state of alienation, the enterprise of self-salvation dominates the concern with history and meaning. Theophanic events are no longer permitted to constitute meaning in history through an advance of insight into the truth of existence. The “meaning of history” itself has now been discovered by the new Messiahs; and the meaning of existence derives from participation in the libidinous speculation and action of the self-saviors. In its modern degradation, thus, “history” symbolizes the opus of revolutionary transfiguration. This extreme contraction of “history” to the meaning of an alchemistic, or magic, opus of transfiguring reality through revolution will, in its turn, illuminate the shift of accent in the transition from the classic to the Pauline conception of history.
The Ecumenic Age, (Order and History, Vol IV) CW Vol 17
This quote is taken from a collection of brief Voegelin quotes which can be found HERE