The eternal crosses infinitely all the way over to us on the finite cross. Even against the definitional and lethal disagreements within and between the Abrahamic faiths on instantiations of eternity, or finitizations of infinity, or mortalities of the immortal, the structure of the central question, as a dichotomy to be resolved into a unity, from incarnation to crucifixion to resurrection, survives all answering exclusions. We can even begin with the atheistic or heretical counter-narratives that insist that indispensable parts of the greatest story were merely story, that the humanly fallible texts amount to a pre-capitalist commodification for “franchising” purposes. Even the falsehood of the tale would precisely on its own level magnify it, as the greatest lie ever believed, in this the only world the closest a disenchanted perspective can approach to miracle. God becoming or incarnated as (a) human being remains the indistinction of transcendence and immanence, even if seen as the disappearance of the former into the latter. In all instances, questioning whether the result is to be thought “spiritual” (transcendent and absolute as for Hegel as Christian) or “material” (immanent and absolute as for Kojève’s Hegel as atheist)1 refers us back to the solution announced in Christ, and in principle socialized in secular modernity, and whose deferred collapse as difference or dichotomy is historical time.
Voegelin was a lifelong critic of Hegel’s gnosis, as an ideologically imperialistic system in the guise and in the way of truth.2 Voegelin’s warning on the eschaton reverses Hegel’s famous statement in praise of the modern revolution as an embodiment of the divine.3 Yet Voegelin’s theological briefs in Hitler and the Germans, molded by or tailored to historical-political contingencies, effectively recapitulate Hegelian Christology, in which the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ embody, just as the historical individual Jesus Christ actually and literally embodies (i.e., corporealizes, anthropomorphizes), and as the events whether taken as myth or taken as fact symbolize, initiate, and realize, the closing or absolutized re-configuration of the gap between spiritual and material, also and in the same moment the closing of the gap between divine and human.4 Rather than being incidental to or severable from history in the full sense, Hegel’s unified comprehension of religion and science on the way to “Absolute Knowing” offers the sole vantage point from which philosophy of history does not reduce to historicism, one-sided materialism, or other versions of the Unhappy Consciousness that Hegel considered uniquely self-refuting or self-disqualifying.5 The result for both Hegel and the anti-Hegelian Voegelin is a view of belief as equally transcendent and immanent, a spiritualism not finally contradicted by, instead requiring, implying, and presuming an historical-philosophical understanding that is equally an experience of the life of Christ and of the advent of Christianity. For Voegelin and for Hegel both, the latter are in all of their forms events of one “reality,” although for Voegelin, borrowing from Heimito von Doderer under a traditional if conceptually uncertain model, the true or “first reality” points to the next of two worlds (“Christian transcendental fulfillment”).
Voegelin takes the advent of Jesus Christ to be a singular event that altered or augmented the first or true reality or what could thereafter be properly called real. Referring to an “historical process of increasing transparency for [the] central problem of order” – the ordering of human society “under God” – Voegelin describes Christianity’s “special” place as follows:
…[T]hrough the symbolism of the incarnation, the presence of God in man in society and history is thoroughly formulated… Only in terms of this problematic of incarnation… is it unequivocally said what man is. That is to say, man is man insofar as he is imago Dei, and insofar as he is imago Dei are all men equal as participating in the reality of God and thus united with God, who historically becomes flesh in the process of history. [emphasis added] This is precisely what is characteristic of Christianity, its unique achievement. Every attempt to withdraw from this achievement is a regression in differentiation and an attempt to reintroduce more compact ideas of the existence of man and of his order. To such regressions, however, also belongs, now in a sociological sense, the attempt within the church at restricting Christianity or the membership of Christ to members of a historical church.6
In this reading, independently of doctrinal and factual disputes within, between, and beyond the Abrahamic faiths, to know (of) Christ is to take on, or begin to take on, or realize, the having-become-human of the divine as the intimation and commencement of a new world-historical phase, the phase of a decisive and culminative re-connection to the divine of the human. The echo of the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and of all subsequent declarations of human rights and democratic orders, is hardly (or perhaps is exactly) co(-)incidental. For Voegelin, and according to his thought for all of us, the bases of universal-individual rights, natural rights in the 18th Century conception, in short the bases of secular liberal democracy, are already “thoroughly articulated” in Jesus Christ on Earth.7
Though Voegelin refers to “symbolism,” a “problematic,” an “articulation,” and so on, he insists that his reading is not finally “idealist” in the sense of pursuing a system or ideology or gnosis: “Christ has a place in no world of ideas, for he is no idea, but a reality.”8 From this perspective there is no decision to be made as to the “believability” or even less the “desirability” of Christian faith: The world or world-history simply has been Christianized from the singular moment forward and retroactively.9 The world can be understood only as, or simply is, a crossed and crucified world, or world in relation to the coming of Christ, under whatever names, flags, or notions, just as it simply was before and as afterward it remains a world under the question of the cause of being. As some Muslims might put it, we do not undergo conversion, but become aware of the truth and “revert” to ourselves or our true nature – coincide with our present but previously misaligned truer selves.
Even for the arch-conservative, there thus remains a double implication or at minimum a double problem of progress: a progressive conversion or reversion to, or “restoration” of, the true faith, a progress in time toward the return of Christ, a “process” of “increasing transparency.” “We must in our age restore reality again,” Voegelin writes, his language of restoration and repetition unable to conceal the “world-immanence” of this necessary agenda before us and in our age.10 In the philosophy of world history as observed by Hegel – which, though rarely discussed today, arguably remains the unconscious or soul of all modern so-called secular political concepts11, and was so already prior to Hegel’s explication – the double movement is replicated and re-doubled as a function on two axes, territorial or external and individual-spiritual or internal, neither of them complete or completable except through the other, asymptotically approaching indistinction at that prophesied end of time, the time of Christ’s return, akin to or the same as the messianic age of the Hebrew prophets, when the law is no longer needed because it dwells fully within; akin to or the same as in the Islamic eschatology, when the Qur’an is returned to Allah prior to the Day of Judgment. This dissemination spreads geographically and politically as it opens within each individual, as the discovery-creation of the inward, fully human, divinized soul. The pilgrim’s progress or believer’s jihad, a constructive exploration of an interior infinity, eternity accessible from within, would be as society, culture, and politics the identical phenomenon viewed in another dimension. Its content is likewise its purpose, originally and originarily represented in the infinitization and eternalization of the individual Jesus Christ, whose life demonstrates the capacity, whose crucifixion demonstrates the unbearability, of the infinite for the human being prior to that same event; whose resurrection and return convey it as an immaculate birth or re-birth for each individual thus brought into relation to the dispensation as fact.
The interdependency of the two forms of dissemination refers us again and again to their under- and overlying unity. Hermann Cohen’s concept of the “messianic individual” reaches toward it without direct reference to the historical individual Jesus Christ, of course, and perhaps for the same reason without a directly asserted inwardization of “the infinite”:
Immortality, too, can have only this messianic meaning for the individual. The human soul is the soul of the messianic individual. Immortality, therefore, can be thought of only in the messianic concept of the soul of man. Only in the infinite development of the human race toward the ideal spirit of holiness can the individual soul actualize its immortality. The individual soul is always only the impetus of the ascent, always the sum total of ascents, which come together in the infinite development.12
Yet the “always only” commensurates the Judaic and Christian depictions to each other, while dissolving inward and outward, and totality and infinity. In Hegel’s absolutized history, the authentic social-political realization of the infinitization of the individualized self, equally the differentiated attainment of self-consciousness of universal Spirit, requires as it is and is as it requires the transformation of all existing social and political relations, in other words of all existence and all humanity: a work of millennia.13 The comprehension of the newly “thoroughly articulated” messianic self-realization via the Christian prophetic events requires time, precisely all of time. History, when not reduced to a mere recitation of facts, of names, dates, acts, and inventories for merely provisional purposes, becomes the history of what many Christians today still call ‘”the Good News”: radiating to all. Under this conception or in relation to this reality, history “A.D.” or “C.E.”14 is the history of the period of the dissemination or dispensation of this news, of ever more people leaving the prior, falsified or incomplete reality behind, or, the same thing under terminological transpositions, reverting to an occluded truth.
The News is its own sharing as the mutually fulfilling possession of all individuals as individuals, as history itself. According to the historical-progressive concept, in the aftermath of advent and resurrection, the first Christianized territories, or the eventual entire Christianized Roman Empire and its successors, were transformed in principle, not in detail. The distance between incipient recognition of the News and the full acceptance or completed realization was at an extreme, spatially expressed and concretized during the Middle Ages as the distance between monastery and court: At the moment of the crucifixion the News was the possession in full of just one individual, an infinite, for the “mortal” Jesus Christ an impossible, solitude, but “[t]he death of the divine Man, as death, is abstract negativity, the immediate result of the movement which ends only in natural universality… [D]eath becomes transfigured from its immediate meaning, viz., the non-being of this particular individual, into the universality of the Spirit who dwells in His community, dies in it every day, and is daily resurrected” (emphases in the original).15 Voegelin’s insistence against the Nazi Era churches on a non-regressive, un-compacted Christianity ought to underline for us16 that the “community” to which Hegel refers must be understood as all-inclusive, not merely as an “historical church” or particular congregation or confessional, but humankind under Aquinas’s universal and trans-temporal corpus mysticum Christi.
In the sense of the fully human society as community of infinite or we might say infinitizing individuals, collective subject of a vast and vastly differentiated, inexorable process of collective theomorphosis, for Voegelin not an apotheosis of the merely human but as the realization of a transparently theomorphic order, there neither was nor could be anything wholly Christian about the lives of most people in the first nominally Christian nations or in modern nation-states. They or rather we had embarked upon a new stage in a co-evolutionary or world historical path ever more fully realizing the implications of the singular event, for the ancients an implication, for the moderns after Christ an experience, but there would be no historical time up to and including the present that could be said to approach its full materialization. For Hegel the advent of the modern in the form of the democratic revolution, founded on the free, equal, infinitely ensouled individual, was the arrival, at last, of a political form commensurate to the Christian demand, but, all the way up to and including Hegel’s moment, which remains our moment, which Hegel considered the end of this history in principle17, not yet in differentiated spiritual-material fact, the distance between recognition and realization remains vast, though the closing remains inexorable through all diversions, digressions, and apparent contradictions: Theodicy becomes the “cunning of history.”
(next in the Veogelin series: Part 3, Anismism)
- See especially An Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Chapter 5. [↩]
- …e.g.: “For Hegel’s history is not to be found in reality, and the reality of history is not in Hegel.” “In the three cases of More, Hobbes, and Hegel, we can establish that the thinker suppresses an essential element of reality in order to be able to construct an image of man, or society, or history to suit his desires.” Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays (Kindle Locations 1135-1136, and 1149-1150) . [↩]
- “The two worlds are reconciled; heaven comes down to earth.” Emphasis in the original, Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶ 581. [↩]
- Key observations in this post refer to The Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶’s 784-7, but the thread is woven throughout Hegel’s works. [↩]
- Unhappy Consciousness – “that God himself is dead… the return of consciousness into the depths of the night in which ‘I’ = ‘I’, a night that no longer distinguishes or knows anything outside of it” (Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶ 785, emphasis in the original) – is exemplified in the typically “post-modern” position of Frederic Jameson – see The Hegel Variations, p. 1:
Let’s begin with the ending: it is above all else urgent not to think of “Absolute Spirit” as a “moment,” whether historical or structural or even methodological. Absolute Spirit cannot be considered as a terminus of any kind, without transforming the whole of Phenomenology of Spirit into a developmental narrative, one that can be characterized variously as teleological or cyclical, but which in either case is to be vigorously repudiated by modern, or at least by contemporary, thought of whatever persuasion.
The ironies and self-contradictions in this beginning-ending statement of “vigorously repudiat[-ing],” un-persuadable persuasion include its alignment of a pre-eminent post-modern Marxist with our arch-conservative anti-Marxist, and each against himself. Jameson asserts that Hegel’s mutually determining theology and teleology are non-contiguous with the main body of Hegelian philosophy. Hegel insisted otherwise, and not just by happening to put them next to each other in the text of The Phenomenology of Spirit. Kojève agrees with Hegel, though, subject for further exploration, insists on his own mode of fully agreeable disagreement. [↩]
- Hitler and the Germans, pp. 204-5 [↩]
- Unlike the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen does not directly refer to a Creator. It simply substitutes a religion of the newly emergent state for the previous religious order. Save for a final reference to the sanctity of property (“La propriété étant un droit inviolable et sacré), openly religious or theological language is entirely absent from the text. The result shines all the more with eternal light. [↩]
- Hitler and the Germans, p. 121 [↩]
- Kurzweil’s “Singularity” is in more ways than one a reverse image of the crucifixion, an appearance of immortality betokening fates much worse than death. [↩]
- Hitler and the Germans, p. 269. [↩]
- “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts,” Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, Chapter 3; for a more comprehensive explication see Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity, 2009 [↩]
- Religion of Reason, XV:30, p. 308 [↩]
- “[W]hat enters it as present, as the side of immediacy and existence, is the world that still has to await its transfiguration,” Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶ 787; in Religion of Reason Cohen refers us to the reminder from the sages that millennia are a blink of an eye to the Eternal. [↩]
- “Common Era” is qualified secularism: The notion of a “common era” is itself a product of the Christian dissemination that we are discussing. [↩]
- Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶ 784. [↩]
- … or would, if Voegelin had ever been of a mind to supplement rather than combat or diminish the philosopher [↩]
- …in somewhat the same way that an early nation converted to Christianity might be Christian in principle [↩]