Voegelin’s Gnosis, Part 2: Crossing

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) ((See especially An Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Chapter 5.)) 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. ((…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) .)) Voegelin’s warning on the eschaton reverses Hegel’s famous statement in praise of the modern revolution as an embodiment of the divine. ((“The two worlds are reconciled; heaven comes down to earth.” Emphasis in the original, Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶ 581.)) 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. ((Key observations in this post refer to The Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶’s 784-7, but the thread is woven throughout Hegel’s works.)) 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. ((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.)) 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. ((Hitler and the Germans, pp. 204-5))

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. ((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.))

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.” ((Hitler and the Germans, p. 121)) 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. ((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.)) 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. ((Hitler and the Germans, p. 269.)) 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 concepts ((“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)), 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. ((Religion of Reason, XV:30, p. 308))

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. ((“[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.)) 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.” ((“Common Era” is qualified secularism: The notion of a “common era” is itself a product of the Christian dissemination that we are discussing.)) 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). ((Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶ 784.)) Voegelin’s insistence against the Nazi Era churches on a non-regressive, un-compacted Christianity ought to underline for us ((… or would, if Voegelin had ever been of a mind to supplement rather than combat or diminish the philosopher)) 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 principle ((…in somewhat the same way that an early nation converted to Christianity might be Christian in principle)), 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)

21 comments on “Voegelin’s Gnosis, Part 2: Crossing

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  1. John 3; 16 made the point much more succinctly, recall Nietzche did not rejoice at his claim that ‘god was dead’ because he knew what horrors would come after. Faith is about belief, in those things unseen, you either do or you don’t.

    • Don’t see how anything I’ve written minimizes any Biblical anything. As for Jeremiah, I would leave it to much more learned observers to parse the contradictions or apparent contradictions between statements like Jeremiah’s and other statements on the “attributes” of God. Of course, I may not understand your purpose in bringing it forward.

  2. It’s worth noting that East Indians see the Western consciousness as being more inclined to define itself with reference to the issues of time and history. I do that too out of continued western style habituation. What’s wrong with it is that it “conditions” the human being. Eastern consciousness is committed in general to an “unconditioned awareness.” So it’s the opposite of believing (or not believing) that man is only what history has made him because any other choice would be an escape at the expense of what is real.

    • It’s possible that under the “one reality” paradigm we’re exploring, the “unconditioned awareness” would be the “reality under mystery of the cause of being” that Voegelin claims the ancients, like everyone whose awareness isn’t occluded (i.e., by “conditions”), simply experienced and took as a given. This awareness of First Reality or simply reality, real reality, direct experience, would be what Voegelin wants to restore. It was Hegel’s objective, among others, in The Phenomenology of Spirit to show that notionally “immediate” or we might say unconditioned awareness was never as simple as it seemed – that, in his example, our perception of a simple sugar cube right before our eyes implies numerous assumptions even before we consider the uses we might make of it, where it came from, etc. The point isn’t that an unconditioned awareness of the sugar cube as object is impossible or undesirable, but that as such it is a pure abstraction. Moving beyond a focus on sensory perception alone always involves greater concreteness via relations, comparisons, embeddedness, etc. The point isn’t that greater concreteness of sugar cube contemplation is “better,” just that it “also” is, can be made an object of awareness to greater or lesser degrees of abstraction, as can contemplation itself, and contemplation of contemplation, and so on, though each degree of approach to contemplation of self contemplating etc. refers us to particular distinct aspects of the structuring of consciousness. The result makes for some of the hardest to follow but oddly rewarding, transportive and memorable passages in the book.

      • That actually does clarify some things, thanks. The other way to explore that is to question our Western idea that truth is at all separable from experience. Easterners emphasize “realization” first. Realize an unconditioned state or non-state and then get back to me. Speaking or not speaking from a conditioned state, no matter what words are used or not used, is never the same as what is expressed from an unconditioned state and never will be the same. The same words or non-words won’t even be the same.

      • I’ve been mulling this over, but can’t fully think what I ‘m getting at any rate not the least of problems is framing my mullifications. From a Prasangika Madhyamika viewpoint the crucial part here is: “our perception of a simple sugar cube right before our eyes implies numerous assumptions even before we consider the uses we might make of it, where it came from, etc.”

        In PM lingo, the most important of these assumptions (reflex is possibly a better characterization) is that it exists as a sugar cube without these assmptions ie to do so falsely imputes that there exists a sugar cube in and of itself. Imputing existence in this way is in fact a condition of the perception/awareness. Doing so makes uncondtioned awareness impossible.

        All of this can be reframed by asking this: What does a Buddha see?

        • Well… the language strains as we try to get behind built-in assumptions.

          So the notion of “unconditioned awareness of the sugar cube” is the notion to be deconstructed, that Hegel and any phenomenologist, so presumably the Buddha if he’s talking, is refraining from taking on faith. We know people see a sugar cube, and say “sugar cube,” and assume others know exactly what they mean. But a “close look” at the sugar cube raises the question, naturally, of whether what we’re looking at is “the sugar cube” or merely perceptions of familiar sugarcubenesses that we are simplifying pragmatically. So do we have perceptions, or perceptions of perceptions, or perceptions of perceptions of perceptions, etc.? Each notion has its own relationship to the entire possible structure of consciousness, or represents a different way of relating to an object as mental object. It is questionable whether a being that does not also experience things as real-existing unities or objects is a being with whom we can communicate. So I look at the sugar cube and can acknowledge that I’m also just associating perceived perceptions with perceived recollections of prior perceived perceptions, etc., but I can then take the entire complex of alternative ways of looking at the sugar cube and say that, for me and as far as I’m concerned for anyone else, that’s what the word “sugar cube” means: all of the perspectives on sugar-cubitude from everyday pragmatic approximation to doubt as to its actuality amidst all manner of perceived perceptions. And similarly when I refer to myself as “me myself,” “me myself” does not necessarily name a false and unsustainable view of “me myself” as simple and coherent, but is a shorthand reference for one way of organizing orientations toward the mystery of being, and why would anyone or ones ever think anything different?

          • The PM approach is to make a non-affirming negation. Inherent existence is negated as an impossible mode of being. It does not affirm something in its place of inherent existence. This prevents the contemplation of contemplation of… loop – at least for a Buddha.

            I assure you am not doing the PM view justice.

            My question is despite all the twists and turns, does Hegel affirm anything as truly/inherently/by its own power/in and of itself/ideally existing?

            • There’s a third term “between” affirmative and negative, “privative,” which in grammar denotes the absence or removal of quality, but not its reversal into its opposite.

              Hegel recognizes the thing-in-itself as, my words, a way of thinking about the thing that is irresistible to thinking, and so does not less exist than the thought of the existent or the thought of its non-existence, and exists for thought differently than the thought of existence, of non-existence, or of thought, but he affirms as irreducibly existing neither the bare existent nor the knowing subject, but the “motion” between all of these “moments,” since to deny the last would require the absurd denial of the very same denial, or a claim not to be claiming, etc. It would be for us to deny that this comment is a comment. To affirm that this comment is a comment or these words are words is not to deny that a perspective can be imagined from which they aren’t, in which there are no meanings or is no meaningful speaking, but that perspective is never the perspective of meaningful speaking, or is never spoken. The position was already, I think, well-developed among the ancient philosophers.

  3. bob:
    To deny the inherent existence of this motion still allows its (and the comment’s) conditioned and functional existence.After all this motion is dependent on it’s existence on thought, subject etc.

    In the PM approach, emptiness itself is a conditoned phenonomen with no inherent existence.

    At this level of ontological inquiry we have to start paying very close, Heideggerian attention to the words we’re using. Since we do not seem to be thinking of existence in the Heideggerian mode, as “ek-sistence” – see here, for example, under a rather forbidding heading: DEATH – are we using “inherent existence” to denote physical existence or materiality or substance or thingness or real reality – or to denote “the irreducibly true,” which might have a different form altogether, and be more like Cohen’s “impetus of the ascent,” or Hegel’s motion of absolute knowing, or Heidegger’s “being towards”? From the latter perspective, we can say that “emptiness” “inherently exists,” even though in relation to the former perspective it might refer to the unconditioned “non-existence” (or “not-yet existence”?) of (supposedly) existent-as-material things-in-themselves.

  4. The Wiki article on Sunyata quotes The Dalai Lama ( n the Geluga section)

    According to the theory of emptiness, any belief in an objective reality grounded in the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence is simply untenable.
    All things and events, whether ‘material’, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence […] [T]hings and events are ’empty’ in that they can never possess any immutable essence, intrinsic reality or absolute ‘being’ that affords independence.[51]

    The “simply untenable” refers the dea that x entity is empty because when analyzed, it can not be found ie found to be truly exsting. This is also rendered as “x can not bear analysis”. This analysis has three parts: x has causes and conditions wthout which to ceases to (exist)(function) ; it has parts upon which it depends and; its label is a conceptual designaiton which (without the perception of emptiness) imputes an impossible mode of being (inherent existence) onto the base of designation. Emptinesss can not bear this analysis any more than anything else.

    As I said, I’m not doing this justice.

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