1. The Pauline Theophany
The potential of distortion through metastatic imagination, it should be understood, is inherent to the mystery of meaning. If the mystery were not real, the distortions would have no appeal. This tension inherent to the mystery has received its classic formulation through Paul in Romans 8:18-25. In the wake of the Fall, the whole creation has been submitted to a state of futility or senselessness (mataiotes) of existence (20). The whole creation exists in the earnest expectation (apokaradokia) of the revelation (apokalypsis) that will come to the sons of God (19). “We know that the whole creation is groaning in the one great act of giving birth; and not only creation but we ourselves, who possess the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free (apolytrosis)” (22-23). Together with creation, our bodies will be set free (or: ransomed) from bondage (douleia) to the fate of perishing (phthora) and enter into the freedom (eleutheria) and glory (doxa) of the children of God (21). In Anaximander’s language, transfigured reality will have the structure of genesis without phthora.
To exist in this tension of the truth revealed, certain virtues are required. Salvation in the sense of transposition into reality without phthora is not a matter of knowledge; it is not seen but rests on hope (elpis); if it were to be seen, hope would not be necessary (24). And if we hope for something that we do not see, we must expect it (or: wait for it) with patience (or: endurance, hypomone) (25). In Romans 5:3 ff., Paul elaborates in more detail a ladder of existential order, rising from the joyful acceptance of affliction (thlipsis) in this world, from the sufferings in time (ta pathemata tou nyn kairou, 8:18), to their endurance (hypomone), further on to the character-forming perseverance (dokime), which in its turn is the foundation of hope (elpis). Existentially this ladder will hold up, so that hope does not give way to disappointment, because it rests on the grace (charis) diffused in our hearts by the holy spirit (pneuma hagion) that has been given us (5:5-6); and even though our prayer be inarticulate, the pneuma in the heart that is divine will carry it up to be articulate before God (8:26-27).
2. Noetic and Pneumatic Theophany
The Pauline analysis of existential order closely parallels the Platonic-Aristotelian. That is to be expected, since both the saint and the philosophers articulate the order constituted by man’s response to a theophany. The accent, however, has decisively shifted from the divinely noetic order incarnate in the world to the divinely pneumatic salvation from its disorder, from the paradox of reality to the abolition of the paradox, from the experience of the directional movement to its consummation. The critical difference is the treatment of phthora, perishing. In the noetic theophany of the philosophers, the athanatizein of the psyche is kept in balance with the rhythm of genesis and phthora in the cosmos; in the pneumatic theophany of Paul, the athanasia of man is not to be separated from the abolition of phthora in the cosmos. Flesh and blood, the soma psychikon, cannot enter the kingdom of God; it must be changed into the soma pneumatikon (1 Cor. 15:44, 55); for the perishing (phthora) cannot take possession of the imperishing (aphtharsia) (50).
The change of reality to the state of aphtharsia is the Pauline exegesis of the mysterion (51-52). Plato, it is true, preserves the balance of consciousness, but he plays down the unbalancing reality of the theophanic event; his consciousness of the paradox is weighted toward the Anaximandrian mystery of Apeiron and Time, because he refrains from fully unfolding the implications of the directional movement. As a result, the status of the Third God in his conception of history is surrounded by the uncertainties analyzed.
Paul, on the contrary, is fascinated by the implications of theophany so strongly that he lets his imagery of a genesis without phthora interfere with the primary experience of the cosmos. In I Corinthians 15 he lets his exultation rise to the apocalyptic assurance that “we shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we (who have not yet died) shall be changed.” The aphtharsia is an event to be expected in the lifetime of his readers and himself. The metastatic expectation of the Second Coming has begun its long history of disappointment.
While the texts leave no doubt about the point of difference, the point is not thought through. Paul was not a philosopher; he was the missionary for the Christ who appeared to him on the road to Damascus. If the analysis were to stop at this point, we would be settled with an unresolved conflict between noetic and pneumatic theophany, and the import of the difference for the understanding of history would be lost. This import will become clear only if the difference is placed in the context of agreement between Plato and Paul on the fundamental structure of reality.
Plato and Paul agree that meaning in history is inseparable from the directional movement in reality. “History” is the area of reality where the directional movement of the cosmos achieves luminosity of consciousness. They furthermore agree that history is not an empty time-dimension in which things happen at random but rather a process whose meaning is constituted by theophanic events. And finally they agree that the reality of history is metaleptic; it is the In-Between where man responds to the divine presence and divine presence evokes the response of man.
Against this context of agreement the difference narrows to the content of Paul’s theophany, to the vision of the God who has become man, of the God who has entered the Anaximandrian Time with its genesis and phthora and, having gone through the pathemata of existence, has risen to the glory of aphtharsia . The vision of the Resurrected convinced Paul that man is destined to rise to immortality, if he opens himself to the divine pneuma as Jesus did. To the vision he responded with the proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God (Acts 9:20); and this conviction he extended to everyman: “For all who are moved by the Spirit of God, are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). “If the spirit [ pneuma ] of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give new life to mortal bodies by means of the spirit indwelling in you” (8:11). Faith in Christ means responsive participation in the same divine pneuma that was active in the Jesus who appeared in the vision as the Resurrected. “Justified through faith, we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
The problems of theophany are so badly obscured today by theological, metaphysical, and ideological overlayings that a remark to ward off conventional misunderstandings will not be superfluous. Stated flatly therefore: The present concern is not with points of christological dogma but with a vision of Paul and its exegesis by its recipient. Hence, there can arise no question of “accepting” or “rejecting” a theological doctrine.
A vision is not a dogma but an event in metaleptic reality that the philosopher can do no more than try to understand to the best of his ability. As the vision occurs in the Metaxy, it must not be split into “object” and “subject.” There is no “object” of the vision other than the vision as received; and there is no “subject” of the vision other than the response in a man’s soul to divine presence. The vision emerges as a symbol from the Metaxy, and the symbol is both divine and human. Any attempt to break up the mystery of divine-human participation, as it occurs in a theophanic event, is fatuous. On the subjective side, one cannot “explain” the divine presence in the vision by a psychology of Paul. And on the objective side, “critical doubts” about the vision of the Resurrected would mean that the critic knows how God has a right to let himself be seen. One could imagine a questionnaire:
In a flaming thornbush? Yes; at least the flame did not start a brush fire.
In a Promethean fire? No; myth is a superstition.
In the negative voice of a Daimonion? Yes; the fate of Socrates will teach you to think positive.
In the authoritative command from a fire-spouting mountain? Too spectacular; and authoritarian to boot.
As an angel of the Lord? Perhaps; but are there really any angels?
As incarnate in a man? I don’t know. But a dangerous precedent; the Hegels and Emersons are a pain in the neck.
This will make the scurrility of “critical” attempts more obvious than lengthy argument could do. But the questionnaire itself is not a scurrilous exaggeration; rather it is a meiosis compared with the debates actually conducted about Christ as a “historical figure,” or about the “historicity” of Incarnation and Resurrection. Again stated flatly: There is no history other than the history constituted in the Metaxy of differentiating consciousness, as the analysis of the noetic field has made clear; and if any event in the Metaxy has constituted meaning in history, it is Paul’s vision of the Resurrected.
To invent a “critical history” that will allow us to decide whether Incarnation and Resurrection are “historically real” turns the structure of reality upside down; it flies in the face of all our empirical knowledge about history and its constitution of meaning. The misunderstandings arise from the separation of a “content” from the reality of the experience, and from the treatment of the content as an object of propositional knowledge. In its metaleptic context, Incarnation is the reality of divine presence in Jesus as experienced by the men who were his disciples and expressed their experience by the symbol “Son of God” and its equivalents; while Resurrection refers to the Pauline vision of the Resurrected, as well as to the other visions that Paul, who knew something about visions, classified as of the same type as his own (I Cor. 15:3-8).
3. Death and Transfiguration
Such assurance met with skepticism among the recipients of the message, and Paul felt compelled to answer pertinent questions concerning the source of his assurance. In I Corinthians 15:12-19, he established the connection between his prediction (kerygma) of resurrection and his vision of the Resurrected. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is vain (mataia)” (16-17). “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is empty (kenon) and your faith is empty” (14). The argument closes with the revealing sentence: “If we have no more than hope in Christ in this life, then we are of all men the most pitiful” (19). This sentence is the key to the understanding of Paul’s experience of reality—or so at least it appears to me. Hope in this life, in our existence in the Metaxy, not only is not enough, it is worse than nothing, unless this hope is embedded in the assurance that derives from the vision.
The vision of the Resurrected is, for Paul, more than a theophanic event in the Metaxy; it is the beginning of transfiguration itself. This understanding of the vision, however, is possible only if the experience of a reality that paradoxically moves toward the divine Beyond of its structure, if the movement of the psyche toward the divine depth, is pursued to the point at which existence under the conditions of genesis and phthora is revealed as an event in the history of the divine Beyond. The Resurrection can be the beginning of transfiguration because it is revealed to Paul as an event in the tale of death he has to tell: “For as through one man came death, so now through one man comes the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all men die, so in Christ all men shall be made alive” (21-22). What I have called the “homogeneous medium of reality” in which I felt Paul moving from phthora to aphtharsia is the same medium of the myth in which the Fall of Adam occurs. When Paul goes beyond the analysis of reality in the perspective of the Metaxy, in order to interpret his vision of the Resurrected in the perspective of the divine Beyond that reaches into the Metaxy, he must, like Plato, resort to the symbolic form of the myth. Only in this medium can he tell the plot of the cosmic-divine drama that begins with death and ends with life.
Paul tells the tale of death and resurrection to its end. Having established Adam and Christ as the dramatis personae, he can pursue the phases of the transfiguration that has begun with the Resurrection in their due order (hekastos de en to idio tagmati, 23): In a first act (aparche), Christ is raised from the dead; then, when the parousia has occurred, those who belong to Christ will be raised; then comes the end (telos), with Christ handing over his kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed the principalities (arche), authorities (exousia), and powers (dynamis); “and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is Death (thanatos)” (26). All things having been subjected to Christ, then, the Son himself will be subjected to God, “so that God may be all in all” (28). The war with the rebellious cosmic forces ends with the victory of God.
This tale, placing the vision in the perspective of God’s way with the cosmos and man, dominates the imagination of Paul so strongly that the perspective of the Metaxy recedes to comparative insignificance. The domination of the tale rather than the tale itself is the cause of the ambiguities that spread from the symbols “death” and “time” to the various strata of Paul’s exegesis. For the death of the tale is not the death every man has to suffer even if he believes in Christ. The difference could become shadowy to Paul, because he was obsessed with the expectation that the men living in Christ, himself included, would not die at all but, in the wake of the Parousia, be transfigured in their lifetimes. The transfiguration, as it had begun in time through Jesus the Christ, would shortly be completed in the same time. The Pauline “time” is ambiguous inasmuch as it lets the time of existence blend into the Time of the Tale.
4. The Truth of the Pauline Myth
The mythopoetic genius of Paul is not controlled by the critical consciousness of a Plato. The uncritical encumbrances of the symbolism must be discounted if the hard structure of its truth is to be discerned clearly. Since the tale of death and resurrection is a myth, the degree of differentiation it has achieved in symbolizing the truth about God and man must be determined by relating it to the less differentiated theophanic events, as well as to the more compact types of myth developed in the course of their exegesis. Myth is a symbolism engendered by the experience of divine presence in reality. In its cosmologically compact form, it is an intracosmic story about the gods and the divine origin of things. Still within this form, but pressing toward the limit of noetic consciousness, there develop the mytho-speculative types.
When the breakthrough toward the luminosity of consciousness occurs, as in the Hellenic development of the noetic field, the myth then will lose its Cosmological compactness; it can no longer be an intracosmic story, when its symbolism becomes luminous as the exegesis of a theophanic event in the Metaxy. Hence, the Platonic myth, though it can be a myth of the cosmos and its order, is no longer a Cosmological myth, but an alethinos logos, a “true story,” of the Demiurgic presence of God in man, society, history, and the cosmos. This philosopher’s myth is carefully devised so as to make the tale of divine presence in reality compatible with the existential truth of man’s tension toward the divine ground. The compactness of the myth dissolves when the structure of reality as revealed by the noetic theophany becomes the criterion of truth for the alethinos logos. Even the Platonic myth, however, is not yet fully differentiated; for Plato, though he established the truth of existence as the criterion for the truth of the myth, refrained from developing the criterion completely. Plato was aware, as I have shown, of the divine abyss beyond the revelation of God as the Nous, but he surrounded this further movement of the psyche toward the depth of divine reality with the deliberate uncertainties. Since the truth of existence was restricted to the noetic structure of consciousness, the alethinos logos of God and man in the Timaeus did not go beyond the figure of a Demiurge whose noetic efforts remained limited by Ananke.
Compared with the more compact types, the Pauline myth is distinguished by its superior degree of differentiation. In the first place, his vision carried Paul irresistibly beyond the structure of creation to its source in the freedom and love of divine creativity. Paul differentiated the truth of existence, i.e., the experience of its ordering process through man’s orientation toward the divine ground, so far that the transcosmic God and his Agape were revealed as the mover in the theophanic events that constitute meaning in history. Since the truth of existence, however, is the criterion of truth for the myth, the Platonic type was no longer suitable as the ultimate truth about God and man, once the pneumatic depth in divine reality beyond the Nous had been articulated. While the Platonic Demiurge could remain limited by Ananke, the Pauline creator-god had to emerge victorious from his struggle with the forces of resistance in the cosmos. Paul, furthermore, differentiated fully the experience of the directional movement by articulating its goal, its teleion, as the state of aphtharsia beyond man’s involvement in the Anaximandrian mystery of Apeiron and Time.
If the movement of reality is consistently extrapolated toward its goal, again a more differentiated myth than the Platonic is required to express the experiential insight. In the perspective of the goal, the myth must become the story of the fall from and return to the imperishable state of creation intended by divine creativity. It must become the drama of creation and fall, of fall and redemption, of death and resurrection, and of the ultimate return of creation to its imperishable glory. The movement, in order to have meaning, must come to an end. In the philosophers’ noetic theophany, the problem of the end presented itself in the form of Aristotle’s aetiological argument and engendered the symbolism of the prote arche; in the pneumatic theophany of Paul, with divine creativity differentiated, an eschatology is required to complete the meaning of the movement.
The Pauline myth indeed pursues the drama of the movement to its conclusion in the eschatological events. And finally, Paul has fully differentiated the experience of man as the site where the movement of reality becomes luminous in its actual occurrence. In Paul’s myth, God emerges victorious, because his protagonist is man. He is the creature in whom God can incarnate himself with the fullness (pleroma) of his divinity, transfiguring man into the God-man (Col. 2:9). The whole creation that is groaning can be redeemed, because at one point, in man, the sonship of God is possible (Rom. 8:22-23). The movement in reality, which has become luminous to itself in noetic consciousness, has indeed unfolded its full meaning in the Pauline vision and its exegesis through the myth. The symbolism of the man who can achieve freedom from cosmic Ananke, who can enter into the freedom of God, redeemed by the loving grace of the God who is himself free of the cosmos, consistently differentiates the truth of existence that has become visible in the philosophers’ experience of athanatizein.
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.
6. The Truth of Transfiguration
In the letters of Paul, the central issue is not a doctrine but the assurance of immortalizing transfiguration through the vision of the Resurrected. Transfiguration is experienced as a “historical” event that has begun with the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. This experience must now be pursued a few steps beyond the previous analysis.
In Galatians I:11-17, Paul insists on the purely divine source of the good tidings he has to bring. The evangel he has to evangelize, he has not “received or learned from any man,” especially not from the apostolic pillars in Jerusalem, but exclusively through the “visionary appearance [apokalypsis] of Jesus Christ” (1:12), accorded to him by the grace of God who “revealed [apokalypsai] his Son in me” (I: 16). I am rendering these key passages literally, because paraphrases as one finds them in standard translations would obscure Paul’s precision in articulating his experience of the God who enters him through the vision and by this act of entering transfigures him.
The Pauline theophany is structured in depth into the vision of the Resurrected and the presence of the God beyond who, by means of the vision, calls Paul to his apostolate. Paul is, above all, a prophet who is called by God to his office like the prophets of Israel. When he expresses his experience of the call (Gal. I: 15), he uses the same formula as Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5) and Deutero-Isaiah (Isa. 49:1); and there is even some Cosmological coloring to the formula as the prophets derived it from the Near Eastern formula for the call by which the god ordains the king in his office.
Paul is, second, the apostle to the nations who has to announce the truth of the transfiguration that has begun with Resurrection. This truth he symbolizes as the Evangelium Dei (euaggelion theou), as God’s “gospel about his Son” that has been promised long ago “by his prophets in the holy scriptures” (Rom. I:1-3). The stratification into the call by God and the gospel about his Son is so important for Paul’s self-understanding that he refers to it whenever he introduces himself formally as the “apostle,” as in I Corinthians 1:1, in Galatians 1:1-5, and most elaborately in Romans 1:1-6. From this stratification he derives his style of “apostle,” thereby distinguishing himself from the earlier prophets who held out the promise that now in him is fulfilled.
The meaning of transfiguration as a historical event is set forth in the Letter to the Romans, especially in the famous self-analysis of chapter 7. Paul lives in a state of existential unrest. His anxiety is caused by the conflict between the divine law, the Torah, which demands perfect obedience, and the weakness of the flesh, which makes obedience to the letter impossible. “I delight in the law of God with my inner man, but I see another law in my members warring against the law that my reason [nous] approves, keeping me captive in the law of sin [hamartia] that is in my members” (Rom. 7:22-23). “I discover it as a law, then, that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach” (7:21). This conflict inevitably raises the question of identity: “I do not even recognize my action as my own. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I hate.” “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it” (7:15, 18). The conclusion: “Now if I do what I do not want to do, clearly it is not I who do it but sin [hamartia] that dwells within me” (7:20). Paul does not attempt to shirk responsibility; he meditates on the loss of the true self in existence when the horizon of order, the “righteousness” or “justification” of existence, is limited by a law that, though it remains holy, has become impermeable for divine presence. Paul is in search of God, like Plato and Aristotle, but he finds the movement of his soul obstructed by a law that, for him at least, has become opaque and prevents his existence in the Metaxy.
Moreover, Paul is very much aware that the obstruction to the free movement is a “historical” problem, peculiar to the Judaism of his time; the law was not always a screen that separated man from God. He knows himself as the successor to the prophets who prefigured the freedom that he has gained; and he knows about the Abraham who lived before the law and to whom his faith (pistis) rather than any deeds in fulfillment of a law was counted as righteousness (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). “The Law brings wrath, but where there is no Law there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). The deadly sense of living irreparably in sin under God’s wrath can be overcome only by opening oneself in faith to the grace and love of God. This paradigmatic type of existence Paul finds realized in Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations because of his faith, and his descendants would inherit the world (kosmos). This promise refers, not to the bodily descendants of the patriarch, but to all men who share in the faith of Abraham whether they belong to the circumcision or not. “For he is the father of us all” who live “in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who brings the dead to life again, and who calls into being what is not, as he called what is” (4:9-17).
Abraham is the prototype of man’s existence in truth. His universal humanity through faith in the universal God that made him the father of many nations was continued by Israel’s prophets to the nations and is now consummated by Paul as the apostle to the nations (4:23-25). The Pauline apostolate, finally, is the consummation of the historical promise that goes back to Abraham, because through the visions of the Resurrected, God has revealed Jesus as his Son who could do what “the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do”: Entering the form of sinful flesh, he could break the power of the flesh by the power of the divine spirit (8:3). Hence, from now on there is no judgment of condemnation for those who are united with Jesus Christ. “For the law of the spirit of life-in-Christ-Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (8:1-2).
Paul’s restlessness because of the weakness of the flesh, his finding of the pneumatic order of existence, and his consciousness of a history of faith that culminates in the vision of the Resurrected must be treated as a unit of experience, just as the Platonic-Aristotelian zetesis, the finding of the noetic order of existence, and the consciousness of the discovery as an event in the history of theophany are a unit that must not be torn asunder. The specific difference between the two units is the accent that falls, in the classic case, on the cognition of structure and, in the Pauline case, on the exodus from structure. The difference, then, expresses itself in the literary form. In classic philosophy, the reflections on history appear incidental to the analysis of structure. Aristotle wrote an Ethics and Politics; he did not write a Historics. With Paul, the history of faith dominates the Letter to the Romans, while the reflections on personal and political conduct in the short present before the Parousia are appended in chapters 12-15. The classic meaning in history can be opposed by Paul with a meaning of history, because he knows the end of the story in the transfiguration that begins with the Resurrection.
The difference between the two conceptions, however, is not contradictory; it does not compel a choice between alternatives. On the contrary, the two conceptions together act out, in the luminosity of consciousness, the paradox of a reality that moves beyond its structure. Neither does the classic concentration on structure abolish the unrest of the movement that becomes manifest in the Platonic uncertainties, nor does the Pauline relegation of ethics and politics to the fringes of a history that has been contracted into the transfiguring exodus abolish the cosmos and its structure. When the paradox of reality becomes luminous to itself in consciousness, it creates the paradox of a history in suspense between the Ananke of the cosmos and the freedom of eschatological movement. That the two branches of the paradox are distributed, in the Ecumenic Age, over the noetic theophanies of Hellenic philosophers and the pneumatic theophanies of Israelite-Jewish prophets must be acknowledged, but cannot be explained. The process of history is a mystery as much as the reality that becomes luminous in it.
To the symbol “history,” it appears, there must be accorded an amplitude wide enough to accommodate all the theophanic events in which the paradox of reality breaks through to consciousness. This insight should clarify at least some of the issues involved in the worrisome debate about the “historicity” of Christ. As far as Paul is concerned, there was hardly an issue, because he still moved, like Plato, in an open field of theophany. The Olympian gods were, for Plato, just as valid theophanic symbols as his Puppet Player, or the Demiurge, or the Nous, or the unknown Father-God in the Beyond of this diversified field of divinities. In the same manner, Paul moved in a world of principalities, dominations, and powers, of death and sin, among whom the ultimately victorious Son of God had his place under the unknown Father-God beyond them all. In Galatians 4:8-13 and Colossians 2:20, Christ is presented as a superior divinity in competition with the “elemental spirits [stoicheia] of the cosmos”; the recipients of Paul’s letters are reproached for backsliding to the cult of stoicheia who “by nature are not even gods” after they “have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (Gal. 4:8-9).
The openness of the theophanic field, though it came under pressure when the Church felt it necessary to distinguish its “monotheism” from the “polytheism” of the pagans, could be substantially preserved for almost three centuries. The early Patres, from Justin and Athenagoras, through Theophilus, Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, and Origen, to Eusebius (ob. 339) found one or the other subordinationist construction to be the most suitable symbolism for expressing the relation of the Son to the Father-God. In the language of Origen, for instance, though the Son is homoousios with the Father, only the Father is autotheos, the God himself, while the Logos is a deuteros theos, a second God. One should note, furthermore, that Origen still felt quite free to create a neologism like theanthropos, the God-man, in order to express the incarnation of the Logos in Jesus. I mention it especially, because it had a surprising career in the time of the new Christs, in the nineteenth century, when Feuerbach hauled the God whom man had projected into the Beyond back into projecting man, thereby transforming man into God-man. Up to Nicaea (325), when the Athanasian victory put an end to this generous openness, Christianity was substantially ditheistic.FN
The history of the Patres puts it beyond a doubt that the symbol “Christ” changes its meaning in the transition from the open field of theophany to the realm of dogmatic construction. If the question of the “historicity” of Christ is raised with the “Christ” of the dogma in mind, difficulties will inevitably arise. For the “Christ” of Nicaea and Chalcedon is not the reality of theophanic history that confronts us in the Pauline vision of the Resurrected; and to invent a special kind of “history,” disregarding the theophanic reality on which the dogma is based, in order to endow the Christ of the dogma with “historicity,” would make no sense. The trinitarian and christological dogma can be made intelligible only in terms of its own history, as a protective device that will shield the oneness of the Unknown God against confusion with the experiences of divine presence in the myths of the intracosmic gods, in mytho-speculation, and in the noetic and pneumatic luminosity of consciousness.
This excerpt is from Order and History (Volume IV): The Ecumenic Age (Collected Works of Eric Voegelin 17) (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2000)