Eschaton Si, Immanent No!

Over at Vox Nova, Henry Karlson offers some thoughtul reflections on eschatology (Part I | Part II | Part III), or rather — those who employ the catch phrase “Don’t immanentize the eschaton!” as a cudgel against those “doing the work of Christ”:

How many times do we find these words repeated, time and again, since Voegelin has suggested to do so is Gnostic? How ironic is this claim, when authentic Christian theology believes that the eschaton has been immanetized in Christ. Voegelin, and many of his followers like Buckley, became critical of anyone who would try to connect the supernatural with the natural in a way which understood the eschatological ramifications of Christ have any this-worldly implications. But this is exactly what Christian theology proposes. God became man; the eschaton has been revealed; the world and all that is in it has been affected by the immanentizing of the eschaton that history can never be the same. Christians are called to live out their lives in and through Christ, bringing the eschatological implications of Pascha to the world itself. The world is meant to be transformed and brought to its perfection, and we are to be Christ’s workers in helping to bring this about; of course, our work is not on the same level of Christ’s, but, if we truly become one with Christ in his body, we must understand this is exactly what we are called to do. Anything else is a rejection of the incarnation, anything else which tries to establish an absolute duality between the immanent and transcendent is what really qualifies as gnostic!

In response, I’d like to say a little bit about why I find myself sympathetic to Buckley and company.

* * *

Henry’s post was a good impetus to find out more about Voeglin, whose work I am not (yet) familiar with. This entry in Wikipedia, however, does a decent job of briefing novices like myself on Voegelin’s understanding of “gnosticism”, and what he perceived to be gnostic characteristics in various movements in history (National Socialism and Communism being two that figure heavily in his mind).

Concerning the “immanentization of the eschaton”, the phrase is apparently derived from a passage in The New Science of Politics, in which Voegelin asserts “the problem of an eidos in history, hence, arises only when a Christian transcendental fulfillment becomes immanentized,” remarking specifically on the heretical eschatology of Joachim of Fiore. A brief summary of Voeglin’s criticism is offered by D. Vincent Twomey (in the context of a discussion of Joseph Ratzinger — more on this later):

Eric Voegelin argued that the speculations of Joachim of Fiore are in large part the source of modernity; they helped replace the Augustinian concept of history that had formed Western Christendom. … In Augustine’s view, history is transitory, and empires pass away; only the eternal Civitas Dei (the “citizenry of God,” as Ratzinger translates it) lasts forever. Its sacramental expression is the Church, understood as humanity in the process of redemption. By contrast, Joachim proposed a radically new understanding of world history as a divine progression of three distinct eras, the last being the era of the Holy Spirit when all structures (Church and State) would give way to the perfect society of autonomous men moved only from within by the Spirit. This understanding of history amounts to what Voegelin called “the immanentization of the eschaton.” It rests on the assumption that the end of history is immanent in history itself—the product of its own inner movement towards ever greater perfection, towards the kingdom of God on earth. This idea is at the root of what we mean today by “progress.” It underpins, albeit in different ways, both radical socialism and liberal capitalism. And it has had a profound effect on political life, giving rise to both revolution and secularism.

As Henry mentions, William F. Buckley was quite fond of the phrase and was largely responsible for its popularization among conservatives as a general criticism of liberal “progressive” ambitions:

“Conservatives believe there are rational limits to politics, that politics should not, in the lofty phrase of Voeglin, attempt to immanentize the eschaton.” [Unmaking of a Mayor 196-97)]

More recently, Mises’ Institute scholar Gene Callahan employed the term in a criticism of ‘neoconservative’ foreign policy.

* * *

But what does it mean to say that the “eschaton has been immanentized”, at least from an orthodox Christian perspective? — Henry answers: “the Church is the continued presence of the Eschaton [Christ] in the World” :

The Church is where the kingdom of God is found in the world, and it is through the Church, which is the Body of Christ, that the world can be united with Christ and find its place in the eschaton. The Church is a sacrament – in her, the grace of God is found immanentized. [...]

The Church finds its mission to be the mission of Christ to the world, to show the world the love of Christ in order to transform it. We are the ones who make the not yet become a part of the “already” as we do the work of Christ by being his continued presence in the world and bring more and more of the world into Christ.

To which Michael Iafrate adds:

In Catholic eschatology, the eschaton is not merely an event or set of events in the future, but we believe that the future has broken into the world in Jesus Christ and continues to break into the world in a variety of ways, including the sacraments, Christ’s ongoing presence in the Church, in the struggle for justice, etc. In Catholic theology, indeed in Paul’s theology, the Kingdom is “already and not yet.” We are living in the overlapping in-between times. As members of Christ’s Body, we are to prefigure the Kingdom in history, today. Of course we don’t do that in the fullest sense. Sin still affects our efforts. The Kingdom is still coming, but it is also here, at hand.

I don’t think any Catholic would dispute Henry’s fundamental point — that the ‘eschaton has been immanentized” in Jesus Christ, God become incarnate in humanity and within history, and that, moreover, “the Church is constituted as the Body of Christ through the Eucharist.”

As (then) Cardinal Ratzinger asserted in his wonderful book on ecclesiology, Called to Communion:

Jesus himself is God’s action, his coming, his reigning. In Jesus’ mouth, “Kingdom of God” does not mean some thing or place but the present action of God. One may therefore translate the programmatic action of Mark 1:15 “the Kingdom of God is near at hand” as “God is near.” We perceive once more the connection with Jesus, with his person: he himself is God’s nearness. Wherever he is, is the Kingdom. [p. 22]

Furthermore, Ratzinger adds, “Jesus is never alone — he came to gather what was dispersed. His entire work is to gather the new people.” The fruit of Jesus’ work is the Church, “a communion of converted sinners who live by the grace of forgiveness and transmit it themselves” [p. 149] — united in our reception of the Eucharist: God himself.

There is, however, the thorny matter of what it actually means to “transfigure the world and bring it to its perfection” (to quote Henry Karlson), or “prefigure the Kingdom in history” (to quote Michael Iafrate). Henry remarks that:

understood properly, the immanentized eschaton leads to Catholic Social Doctrine — the reason why we have social doctrine is because we become persons in Christ, and are to do the work of Christ.”

Again, I don’t think anybody will dispute that the revelation of Jesus Christ should have a necessary and transformative impact on human conduct and our temporal affairs. With respect to “Catholic social doctrine”, however, I would add the qualification that Catholics across the political spectrum may very well likely differ over the prudential application of such. The Catholic Worker and the Catholic enterpreneur, while (presumably) united in an ambition to bring assistance to the poor, may differ in their practical strategies to do so.

However, it is when the idea of “the Kingdom” becomes politicized and ultimately perverted, taking the form of a political manifesto or concrete program for revolution — when we perceive politics itself as a suitable vehicle for “the transfiguration of the world”, that I find myself sympathetic to the wariness expressed by conservatives. For it is at this juncture that the very essence of Christianity, God’s reconciliation of the world to himself in Christ on the Cross — can be — and has been — subverted by our worldly ambitions. Or as Hans Urs von Balthasar cautioned,

Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith. [p. 81, A Short Primer for Unsettled Laymen]

Indeed, Buckley’s own understanding of the “immanentization of the eschaton” — that there is “a rational limit to politics” — bears remarkable similarity to comments made by a certain Joseph Ratzinger, reflecting on the challenges to contemporary democracy:

… there is the inability to be reconciled with the imperfection of human affairs. The demand for the absolute in history is the enemy of the good in it. Manes Sperber speaks about a fanaticism that arises from disgust with the status quo. Disgust with the status quo is on the increase today, along with delight in anarchy, based on the conviction that there must be a good world somewhere after all. No one wants to pay homage to the enlightenment faith in progress anymore, but a sort of secular messianic belief has penetrated deep into the general consciousness. The notion that all history to date has been the history of bondage but that now, finally, the just society can and must be built soon is propagated in various slogans among atheists and Christians alike and even makes its way into bishops’ statements and liturgical texts. Strangely enough, the Reich (kingdom) mystique from the period between the two world wars, which then met with such a macabre end, is now making a comeback. Once again, instead of talking about the “kingdom of God”, people like to speak simply about the “kingdom” as something we are working for and building, which through our efforts has come within our grasp. The “kingdom” or the “new society” has become a moralistic slogan that replaces political and economic arguments. [Church, Ecumenism and Politics p. 195]

That we are striving for a new and definitely-better world is self-evident, says Ratzinger. However, he finds much that is “politically and philosophically questionable about such an imminent eschatology.” (Hey, there’s that phrase again! ;-)

The more I read of Ratzinger, the more I find myself struck by a marked circumspection regarding any attempt by the Church to appropriate political power in pursuit of its aims. (I gather this is born both of his childhood experience of National Socialism and his later encounters with revolutionary Marxism). This warning appears again and again, from his early writings as a young academic down to his most recent book published under his pontificate, Jesus of Nazareth. Here I’d like to offer a few selections for consideration :

… the New Testament is acquainted with political ethics, but not political theology. Precisely along this distinction runs the boundary line that Jesus himself and then, very emphatically, the apostolic letters have drawn between Christianity and fanaticism. As fragmentary and random the various New Testament statements on the political realm may be when taken individually, they are entirely in agreement and thoroughly clear about this fundamental determination. Whether we reflect on the account of the temptations of Jesus and their political implications or th story of the coin of tribute that belongs to Caesar or the political admonitions in the lettersof Paul or Peter or even the Book of Revelation … the Scriptures always reject the fanaticism that tries to set up the kingdom of God as a political project. [Church, Ecumenism and Politics, p. 204]

* * *

The Kingdom of God, not being itself a political concept, cannot serve as a political criterion by which to construct in direct fashion a program of political action and to criticize the political efforts of other people. The realization of God’s Kingdom is not itself a political process. To misconceive it as such is to falsify both politics and theology. The inevitable result is the rise of false messianic movements which of their very nature and from the inner logic of messianic claims finish up in totalitarianism. [Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, p. 58]

* * *

[T]his by no means signifies that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God can be pushed aside as of no practical importance, and so transformed into a surreptitious justification of the status quo. The Kingdom of God is not a political norm of political activity, but it is a moral norm of that activity. … In other words, the message of the Kingdom of God is significant for political life not by way of eschatology but by way of political ethics. The issue of a politics that will be genuinely responsible in Christian terms belongs to moral theology, not to eschatology. In this very distinction, the message of the Kingdom of God has something very important to say to politics. It is healthy for politics to learn that its own content is not eschatological. The setting asunder of eschatology and politics is one of the fundamental tasks of Christian theology. In carrying it out, the theologian can know himself to be following Jesus’ own path in opposing the eschatology of his Zealot rivals. Only by taking this route can we preserve the hope which eschatology carries, and prevent its turning into the terror of the “Gulag Archipelago.” And conversely, only along this way can we preserve the morality of politics and so its true humanity. Where eschatology and politics are made to coincide, morality decrees its own dissolution, becoming no more than the question of how to find the most efficient way of reaching the unum necessarium of the absolute goal. [Ibid, p. 59-60].

* * *

Let us return to the third temptation. Its true content becomes apparent when throughout history we realize that it is constantly taking on new forms. The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was not expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendour. The powerlessness of faith, the early powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. The temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria. [Jesus of Nazareth, p. 40]

* * *

I would also recommend Ratzinger’s “Preliminary Notes on Liberation Theology” — especially with regards to the transformation of fundamental concepts in Christianity: “Hope”, “Love”, “The People of God” and “The Kingdom of God” — by Marxist hermeneutics:

The fundamental concept of the preaching of Jesus is the “Kingdom of God”. This concept is also at the center of the liberation theologies, but read against the background of marxist hermeneutics. According to one of these theologians, the Kingdom must not be understood in a spiritualist or universalist manner, not in the sense of an abstract eschatological eventuality. It must be understood in partisan terms and with a view to praxis. The meaning of the Kingdom can only be defined by reference to the praxis of Jesus, not theoretically: it means working at the historical reality that surrounds us in order to transform it into the Kingdom.

Here we must mention another basic idea of a particular post­conciliar theology which has led in this direction. People said that after the Council every dualism must be overcome: the dualism of body and soul, of natural and supernatural, of this world and the world beyond, of then and now. Once these supposed dualisms had been eliminated, it only remained to work for a kingdom to be realized in present history and in politico­economic reality. This meant, however, that one had ceased to work for the benefit of people in this present time and had begun to destroy the present in the interests of a supposed future: thus the real dualism had broken loose.

* * *

Commenting on Pope Benedict’s second encyclical, Spe Salvi, Fr. James V. Schall characterized it Benedict XVI’s own attempt to “de-immanetizing the eschaton”: “he restores the four last things and the three theological virtues to their original understanding, as precisely what we most need to understand ourselves.”

Spe Salvi Section 24 in particular — titled “the true shape of Christian hope” — seems to me expressive of the Pope’s desire to reign in our more grandiose ambitions. Benedict reminds us that “incremental progress is possible only in the material sphere”; that “freedom presupposes that in fundamental decisions, every person and every generation is a new beginning”; that “the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone” — indeed, that

since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last for ever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined—good—state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all.

What this means is that every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs; this task is never simply completed. Yet every generation must also make its own contribution to establishing convincing structures of freedom and of good, which can help the following generation as a guideline for the proper use of human freedom; hence, always within human limits, they provide a certain guarantee also for the future. [Spe Salvi 24-25]

Wherein, then, lies the Kingdom?

The Kingdom is at once now and not yet. As expressed in Catechism of the Catholic Church:

In the New Testament, the word basileia can be translated by “kingship” (abstract noun), “kingdom” (concrete noun) or “reign” (action noun). The Kingdom of God lies ahead of us. It is brought near in the Word incarnate, it is proclaimed throughout the whole Gospel, and it has come in Christ’s death and Resurrection. The Kingdom of God has been coming since the Last Supper and, in the Eucharist, it is in our midst. The kingdom will come in glory when Christ hands it over to his Father:

It may even be . . . that the Kingdom of God means Christ himself, whom we daily desire to come, and whose coming we wish to be manifested quickly to us. For as he is our resurrection, since in him we rise, so he can also be understood as the Kingdom of God, for in him we shall reign. [CCC 2816]

The Church looks to the time of Christ’s return — when, as the Catechism states, “the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness”, when “the just will reign with Christ for ever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed”; when “God will then be “all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28). [CCC 1060]”

Until that time, Christians, as Henry righly noted, are called to manifest the Kingdom in the “here and now”: in our actions toward each other; to be a witness in this world, “the salt of the earth.” The Catechism is explicitly clear that the vocation of the laity is to “illuminate the temporal order” and direct it according to God’s will — “discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. [CCC 899]”

At the same time, our work on this earth is provisional — we should enter into the social, political and economic realms, cognisant of the necessary imperfections of human affairs, accomodating the demands and reality of human freedom, and particularly vigilant concerning pseudo-messianic attempts to realize “the absolute in history.”

Once again, the Catechism reminds us:

The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

As Benedict puts it in Spe Salvi #31:

His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life.

* * *

Eric VoegelinFinally, a bit of papal trivia. We mentioned D. Vincent Twomey’s reference to Voegelin in “The Mind of Benedict XVI” (Claremont Review of Books).
Twomey notes that Joseph Ratzinger’s postdoctoral dissertation was titled Theology of History In St. Bonaventure — an analysis of the Saint’s attempt to come to terms with the understanding of history put forth by the progressive theology of Joachim of Fiore, the subject of Voegelin’s own analysis. While Ratzinger concluded that Bonaventure failed in his critique of Joachim, it did “alert him to the philosophical and theological issues underlying contemporary political life,” particularly his later analysis of the radical and Marxist forms of liberation theology.

Eric VoegelinNot suprisingly, Ratzinger’s study makes reference to Voegelin’s own study of this subject. And in a subsequent book, Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age Ignatius Press, 2007), Twomey further mentions encountering a letter by Ratzinger, then Archbishop of Munich, to Eric Voegelin on the occasion of his eightieth birthday:

It was as great a surprise as it was a joy for me to receive your philosophical meditation, which you kindly sent to me with a personal dedication, in which you intend to awaken such a necessary and such a very fragile consciousness of the imperfect in opposition to the magic of the Utopian. Ever since your small book, Science, Politics and Gnosticism came into my hands in 1959, your thinking has fascinated and stimulated me, even though I was unfortunately unable to study it with the thoroughness I would have wished.”

* * *

By no means do I wish to infer that Henry Karlson or Michael Iafrate ascribe to the radical positions above, of the type criticized by Ratzinger. (In fact, this is why I’ve taken care to explicitly indicate my agreement with them on the fundamental points of their post).

Rather, my intent was to identify what I think were the perfectly valid and shared concerns, of Voegelin, Ratzinger (and perhaps even Buckley): that time and again, humanity’s desire to “immanentize the eschaton”, to bring the world to its perfection through political means, has resulted in a complete (and oftentimes bloody) disaster.

62 Responses to Eschaton Si, Immanent No!

  • Three questions, if I may:

    1) There is, however, the thorny matter of what it actually means to “transfigure the world and bring it to its perfection” (to quote Henry Karlson), or “prefigure the Kingdom in history” (to quote Michael Iafrate).

    That does indeed sound like something I would say, but from where exactly are you “quoting” me?

    2) Where/when did Ratzinger “encounter” “revolutionary Marxism”?

    3) What’s with the picture of the bullet-wearing Jesus? Where did you get it? And what does it have to do with liberation theology? Don’t you think that that picture has much more in common with ya’ll’s affection for the pro-gun, “open carry” movement than it does with “liberation theology” the latter of which advocated violence no more than standard “just war” Catholicism, and in fact leaned more toward a nonviolent ethic than mainstream Catholicism did/does?

  • Where/when did Ratzinger “encounter” “revolutionary Marxism”?

    Well, I was thinking primarily of Ernesto Cardenal (who he discusses in Church, Ecumenism, and Politics; not a face to face encounter per se. Likewise, Ratzinger’s encounter with Marxist political theory/theology while teaching at Tubingen.

    What’s with the picture of the bullet-wearing Jesus? Where did you get it? And what does it have to do with liberation theology?

    I thought it was illustrative of Marxist liberation theology per se, at least the type that advocates violent revolution (see Cardenal). (Of course, I understand at the same time that not all liberation theologians advocate such). Likewise, I suppose the image of the ‘revolutionary Christ’ is also illustrative of Ratzinger’s concern over theologies in which everything is subsumed into the political and class struggle, as expressed in detail here.

    Don’t you think that that picture has much more in common with ya’ll’s affection for the pro-gun, “open carry” movement than it does with “liberation theology” the latter of which advocated violence no more than standard “just war” Catholicism, and in fact leaned more toward a nonviolent ethic than mainstream Catholicism did/does?

    I’m not particularly a fan of the “open carry” movement, but gun-control isn’t exactly the focus of this post.

    Anyway, thank you for expressing your thoughts on the image. I’m curious what you think about the remainder (and actual content) of the post itself?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    An excellent critique, Chris. The time and effort you put into this is greatly appreciated.

    There is an excellent Ratzinger homily called “My Joy is to Be In Thy Presence”, which appears in “God Is Near Us”, a collection of Ratzinger homilies.

    He most certainly “confronts” revolutionary Marxism in that work, rejecting the pursuit of utopia and insisting that our task is to do what we can to resist evil and promote good.

    It was one of the essays that helped me let go of, for good, any dwindling notions of “liberation theology” I might have held at one point.

    Ratzinger presents what I consider a mature Christianity that rejects the vainglorious aspirations of radical leftism without rejecting the kernel of moral truth in its message – a moral truth that the radicals themselves would have never possessed if it weren’t for Christianity in the first place.

  • Christopher – My point, as you can probably guess, is that Ratzinger did not “encounter” “revolutionary Marxism” at all, save in some books. Nor did he ever really encounter liberation theology, which is clear when one reads most anything he has written on the subject, whether as a private theologian or in his role in the CDF.

    I thought it was illustrative of Marxist liberation theology per se, at least the type that advocates violent revolution (see Cardenal). (Of course, I understand at the same time that not all liberation theologians advocate such).

    It’s not “illustrative” of liberation theology in the least. You are more interested in resurrecting the specter of the “violent” liberation theologian than you are in any serious engagement with liberation theologians and their actual views — which is clear from your post, as it simply relies on Ratzinger’s misreadings of liberation theology. Perpetuating the myth of “violent” liberation theology allows folks like yourself to distract attention from the violence involved in your own political views.

    I noticed that you did not answer my question about where you got the image of the “revolutionary Jesus.” That is telling.

  • So after reading this more attentively, and riffling through your countless Ratzinger citations, it’s clear that you and Henry (and me, by extension) do not disagree. As I read you, this is the main concern you have with Henry’s (and my) position(s):

    At the same time, our work on this earth is provisional — we should enter into the social, political and economic realms, cognisant of the necessary imperfections of human affairs, accomodating the demands and reality of human freedom, and particularly vigilant concerning pseudo-messianic attempts to realize “the absolute in history.”

    I agree 100%. The problem I have is with the way you are following Ratzinger in the way that he implies liberation theologies to be an example of a “pseudo-messianic attempt to realize the ‘absolute in history.’” You, like Ratzinger, cite no liberation theologians as examples of such distortions, nor have you how even the few liberationists who participated directly in revolutionary movements have identified such activities and projects with the Kingdom in its fullness. When liberationists participated in these concrete political activities, they no more thought that they were bringing the Kingdom, in its fullness, to earth than you do when you advocate particular political programs such as the need to make abortion illegal.

    In other words, to become passionately involved in a concrete political project which seeks to make a social situation more in keeping with the Kingdom is not the same thing as believing one is helping to bring the Kingdom, in its fullness, to earth. Neither you nor Ratzinger has demonstrated that liberation theologians or the various European “political theologies” (Metz, Solle, et al.) ever made such ridiculous claims. In fact, what you find OVER AND OVER again is that they repeatedly show that they are “cognisant of the necessary imperfections of human affairs,” as you say.

  • Sorry, left out a word in paragraph 3. The sentence should read:

    “You, like Ratzinger, cite no liberation theologians as examples of such distortions, nor have you shown how even the few liberationists who participated directly in revolutionary movements have identified such activities and projects with the Kingdom in its fullness.”

  • How is this an excellent critique when it fails to address the points I’ve raised properly? It fails to relate to the place Christians are in Christ, as Balthasar himself makes clear? It fails to deal with the fact that we are co-workers with Christ in the world. It fails to deal with the role of being stewards of creation.

    What does it mean to transfigure the world? I have already pointed to the work of St Maximus the Confessor– the divisions of the fall are to be worked out, in Christ, through humanity.

    If Christopher had done as I told Lizzy and read the post I did on the history of Gnosticism, he would also have read that I agree with Voegelin against making utopias — the problem is that his methodology is GNOSTIC -which is the irony of it all. Just because you agree with a conclusion does not mean the method to the conclusion is valid or just. Gnostics themselves laugh at Voegelin’s assertions — as I pointed out, basically anything and everything was called “Gnostic” by him as a catchphrase, though later in life he sort of realized the fault of it, but not others who had read his work. Ratzinger didn’t go the route of Voegelin in reference to Gnosticism. Again, the whole entire Gnostic enterprise is about the DENIAL of the immanence of the eschaton — that is the whole point of escape from this world! Just because others might therefore go the other direction in utopian fantasies does not mean they are Gnostic. If you want to know how Voegelin made the mistake, it is from the influence of Theosophia on early 20th century occultism; while there was elements of Gnosticism there, when put into this worldly roles, it was no longer Gnosticism but theurgia, which is NOT Gnosticism — Platonism is not Gnosticism, indeed, the Platonists refuted Gnosticism. But Platonic theurgia could lead to Promethean designs, as Balthasar much often suggested — that is the issue, Prometheus, NOT Gnosticism.

    Next, the idea that we must keep to the cross as central is right — but that does not mean we have no roles or missions in this world, as Balthasar also makes clear. Indeed, as my posts make it clear, THE CROSS IS THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, and it is in and through the CROSS that IT IS FULFILLED.

    So, Christopher is trying to suggest something with my posts and refutes a strawman! WELL DONE indeed!

    Beyond that, it is always amazing to see people quote Ratzinger against “political theology” on the one side (ignoring all the contexts of the Pope’s thought, and indications where he does encourage Christian work in politics!) while engaging a political theology themselves! See my critique on utopia once again!

  • “His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life.”

    Is exactly the point; his kingdom IS PRESENT wherever he is loved! And when I have pointed out that time is flowing into the eschaton, that is exactly the point of the now-not yet, which I also specifically pointed out in post 2. As examples of Christopher’s strawman.

  • You know, Henry — I think I tried to be charitable, and at a number of points I even indicated where I completely agree with you. I was hoping to engage in something resembling a dialogue — recognizing the points of agreement, but I’ll address your sarcasm in the morning. Cheers.

  • Christopher

    Charitable to write a post which infers upon me positions I did not take? That’s dialogue? If you had said “he is right about Voegelin’s error, but Voegelin is right about these concerns…” that would have been different; but instead, to refute positions I didn’t take as if I did, that is not charity.If you wanted dialogue, you would have asked questions first before the hatchet job!

  • Thus, Christopher, I would once again recommend the post I suggested to Lizzy — where Voegelin is brought up and seriously engaged, where I pointed out I agreed with him on some things, but his claims about gnosticism was where the error lies — Gnosticism and utopianism are antitheses of each other, for Gnosticism is about escape from this world, while utopian thought is about trying to be saved in this world by this world in a completely secular order. The Catholic answer has always been the interdependent relationship between the natural and supernatural — there is, as Lubac would put it, no pure natural without the supernatural; this is also Balthasar’s point to Barth, when Barth seeks to undermine all that is human.

    So if you want dialogue, we can discuss what it means to transfigure the world in Christ. But since you like to post books, here are some references I would suggest: Mystery of the Supernatural by Lubac; Christian State of Life by Balthasar; The Eucharist by Schmemann; Maximus the Confessor by Louth (though hopefully the volume released in September will be more inclusive and reveal more of the cosmic work of humanity); Russia and the Universal Church by Solovyov.

  • In sum:

    1) I think Voegelin is right in his concerns about various attempts by man through history to ‘immanentize the eschaton’ or realize the absolute in history. (Whether Voeglin had an adequate grasp of gnosticism I’ll leave to Henry; apparently Ratzinger found his analysis of benefit).

    Ditto for Buckley’s concern about “rational limits to politics’.

    Ditto for Ratzinger’s assertion that “The demand for the absolute in history is the enemy of the good in it.”

    2) As for indications of those areas where I find myself in agreement with Henry, I invite a re-reading of the entire latter part of my post.

    [Henry]: Beyond that, it is always amazing to see people quote Ratzinger against “political theology” on the one side

    I don’t really think I was disputing that Christians ought to be involved in politics. (I seem to recall only recently where I was defending the need for Christians to take an active, legislative role in the legal defense of the unborn). I do, however, think there are obvious dangers in anticipating what politics can possibly accomplish.

    [Henry]: if you wanted dialogue, you would have asked questions

    Q: What do you actually mean when you assert “The world is meant to be transformed and brought to its perfection, and we are to be Christ’s workers in helping to bring this about”?

    It does seem that we might actually be in agreement — as far as the inherent limitations of political engagement and the imperfection of this present world is concerned. Do I understand correctly that you are in agreement with the excerpts I cited from Ratzinger and the Catechism?

    (I admit I am very much relieved).

  • Christopher

    1) As I pointed out in my series on Gnosticism, which has a lengthy discussion on Voegelin, my concern is his claims of what is or is not Gnostic, and this in part is because I’ve seen people quote “Do not immannentize the eschaton” as a way to criticize liturgy! I think one can agree that Promethean/Utopian attempts are erroneous and leave it at that; to try to claim it’s all because of Gnosticism, that’s problematic. To be concerned about Joachim is right as well (and I’ve read Ratzinger’s work on Bonaventure — it lead me to read Bonaventure’s work on the Six Days).

    2) The issue for me is not where we have agreement, but where you seem to discuss, debate and imply positions which I have not raised. The concern for me is Gnosticism, and the proper understanding of it (Gnosticism is other worldly, period, anything this worldly is anti-Gnostic). But, I agree with the problem of seeing the state as some sort of savior figure, not because it is about Gnosticism, but because it is about idolatry. That’s a different issue.

    Thus, the whole question of prudence and debate as to what politics can accomplish is an important point, but it has nothing to do with immanentizing the eschaton. Indeed, one of the criticism which is often given is that the abortion dialogue is often “idealism,” ignoring what is possible (for now) in politics. I am myself one who is very anti-political, which is why I agree with Tolkien on politics, a position I’ve said a few times on VN.

    3) Thus, when I am talking about transfiguring the world and making it better, working to heal the sick, alleviate the poor, etc, I am thinking on many levels. Of course Christians should work for respectful politics on these issues, but not rely upon them — they are to be the ones doing these outside of the political sphere and transcending the political sphere, because we are the ones with the mission in Christ.

    And so of course I agree with the catechism — indeed, with Balthasar who points out that with the work of Christ done, the evil will be made more apparent as well, and will fight and gain power in history even though the eschaton has already been revealed — it is because of the eschaton this confrontation in history is possible, for history is made in the light of the establishment of the kingdom in the cross, which ends with an “apparent victory” of evil only to find the true victory of love. But in the light of this, we are to live out the work of Christ in history, which, despite the increasing “no” of humanity (and the dangers of the industrial-scientific utopianism, which I’ve also written of many times), Christ’s work does also heal within history and work to keep the presence in history as well.

  • If it would help, here is some of what I said in the post I have suggested people look into:

    With all of this talk about Gnosticism, we must be careful and not propose more about it than can be demonstrated by the facts. Not everything which is uniquely American is Gnostic. Nor must we believe that everything which we find to be wrong in the world is Gnostic. Nor is everything which is Gnostic false in all its particulars. Strange as it might seem to some, there are many elements of Gnostic thought which orthodox Christianity readily affirms with its Gnostic rivals and this does not mean it is Gnostic or influenced by Gnosticism. For example, which Christian could say Gnostics are wrong when they say that some sort of God exists? Even if they are wrong in how they understand God, clearly Christians must agree with them here. These points need to be made so we do not follow Eric Voegelin who, at one time at least, saw Gnosticism as the root error behind all that is wrong in the modern world. “For Voegelin, Gnosticism becomes a catchall term that embraces everything in Western civilization that he hates and fears,” Richard Smoley, Forbidden Faith: The Secret History of Gnosticism (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 177. For it could lead us, like it did him, to call things as Gnostic which actually are not. In The New Science of Politics, a rather influential work of political philosophy, Voegelin, properly understood that Gnosticism had not died out and that it has had a tremendous amount of influence in the development of Western thought. Nonetheless, he confused Gnosticism with any system of thought where he could find traces of Gnostic influences (a distinction which must always be kept in mind, otherwise one could incorrectly suggest that St Augustine, even at the end of his life, was a Gnostic). Despite Voegelin’s desire to classify utopian thought as Gnostic, this must not be done: utopianism is vehemently anti-Gnostic. Utopian visionaries look for perfection here on the earth. They want to bring paradise to us in the here and now. Gnosticism denies such perfection is possible in the world, because as we have seen, the world to them is fundamentally evil and ruled by an evil principle and that evil cannot be turned into something good. Voegelin is correct in assuming that alienation is a problem, and like the Gnostics, utopian thought addresses that problem and tries to find a solution to it. But so does Christians theology. The theology of the fall is a theory of alienation; but instead of Gnosticism, Christian theology believes in the original purity of creation and the final salvation of creation by the work of God’s grace. Thus, we all know that something is wrong in the world; just believing this does not make us a Gnostic. Christians do not put the blame on the creator God; Gnostics do. Marxists, if they are orthodox, clearly cannot claim the problem lies with God, because they do not believe in the existence of God. Since the problem is percieved to be different, the solution is different for each as well. Christians look for salvation which manifests itself not only in the spirit, but in a materialistic, bodily fashion; Marxists, like Christians, hope for salvation here on earth, but do not see any spiritual dimension to it; the Gnostic, on the other hand, desires liberation from the material world and entrance into the realm of pure spirit. And this is where Voegelin really went astray. Christianity, not Gnosticism, is about the immantization of the eschaton, where the two join together as one in the person of Jesus Christ. Marxism is interested in the immanent world; Gnosticism in the transcendent world; Christianity is interested in joining the two together into one non-dualistic integration. The two are one (but not confused). In his extreme denial of Marxism, Voegelin is the one who became the Gnostic. Despite this flaw, Voegelin presented a telling and important critique of secular utopianism, one which demolishes not only the utopian vision of Marxism, but of American neo-conservativsm as well.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Even though I have always been actively interested in Catholic social and theological issues, worked in the Catholic press for nearly 15 years, and visit this and other Catholic blogs regularly, this is the first time I ever encountered the phrase “immanentize the eschaton” and the first thought I had upon seeing it was “What the heck does that mean?”

  • I think Voegelin and all would have done something better if they said, “Don’t identify the absolute with the non-absolute.” It’s when you do such identification (instead of communio-participation) which gets problematic — and where Balthasar’s point against Prometheus could be raised, and is where Ratzinger/Benedict is coming from. And it would be something I would agree with as well. The problem to me is that catchwords/slogans often bring more with them than people realize, and this was one such case, and I think revealed the dualistic/idealistic background Voegelin himself was infected with, and that infection continued in Buckley. The ideal would be to look at the situation through the anaologia entis, which then shows why human action is important and should continue, even if in history, there is also the apocalyptic side to be revealed.

  • Zak says:

    Henry,
    If we assume Voegelin was a smart fellow, why was he so wrong about the relationship between gnosticism and utopianism? What you say about Gnosticism and it’s other-worldliness coincides with what I remember of my studies in the history of early Christianity. Why did he attribute the desire to transform the world through politics to gnosticism? My only guess might be that gnosticism denies connection of divine things to worldly politics, which secular utopianism (with its Kingdom lacking God) also does, although that hardly happens in liberation theology.

  • Zak says:

    Henry,
    I fear you’ve gone too far over my head this time. I don’t know what “anaologia entis” means, but I assume it has something to do with comparing politics to the order found among the tree-herds of Fangorn.

  • Zak,

    As I sort of hinted at the situation, it goes back to the 19th century and Theosophia (Blavatasky, Steiner, and others), whose occultism had an influence in Germany (and other places, even Russia, even in Communist Russia — there is a good book I have which points out some of the occult influences involved with communist science). Anyway, so we have Blavatsky and other theosophists who merged many traditions (Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Gnostic — especially Gnostic, Platonism, Theurgia, etc). This was a major foundation for the modern occult movement (although it was founded upon the Renaissance movement which has Ficino, Pico, Bruno, Reuchlin, et. al. involved). The interest in Gnosticism in this group was quite apparent, so that it was seen by some as “this is what Gnosticism is about.” The problem is, it wasn’t pure Gnosticism, and more importantly, while it influenced 20th century occultism, and with it, various ideologies, how it influenced went outside of its Gnostic side and into classical occultism and theurgia — and of course, the Promethean times of the Enlightenment (idealist+ absolutist+ monism; think Goethe) but not Gnostic. But since “occultism” was seen as “secret knowledge” some still called it “Gnostic,” and misconnected it with Gnosticism. Voegelin’s connection of course is with the occultism in Germany which was influenced by the revolution of Blavatsky et al but again, became materialistic absolutist, contrary to Gnosticism proper.

    As for “analogia entis,” that is the principle of the “analogy of being.” It’s the point that the human person is both like and radically different from God — but because there is this analogy, the positive is not to be distrusted just because it is human, though it is understood, because of the difference, that it is limited and not unlimited in power. Hence why it is the mediating balance — it points to our condition as good, but limited; the problem with Prometheus is to identify the absolute with the non-absolute, which moves for a monistic-totalitarian society, philosophy, etc.

  • I’m coming on this late, as I haven’t read Henry’s series of posts, but by reading this thread I have some comments.

    I do think Henry has a point in which Voegelin goes overboard with Gnosticism, but I don’t think that has to do with Voegelin’s mis-understanding of Gnosticism but of his very strong animosity towards dogmas. Essentially, Voegelin is very wary of declarations of unchanging truth (at least in the moral/metaphysical sense, not the hard sciences), as this makes finite the infinite (or immanentizing the eschaton-the role of the philosopher is simply to contemplate the divine in a very mystical way). This really renders the philosopher helpless to say much of anything without being Gnostic. Indeed, Voegelin seems to have not liked the Church, and bashes it unfairly in his book “Hitler and the Germans.”

    Of course, since such declarations were dogmatic and not in the infinite, they had to be based on secret knowledge. Voegelin does like to find secret knowledge where there is none, but I don’t think that means that it’s unfair to note that the ideologies of fascism and communism where based on a secret knowledge. Indeed, the strength of Voegelin’s analysis comes from looking at the connections between the ages of history conceived by Joachim, Nazi fascism, and communism and that this conception of history came from a belief that we have discovered the key to unlocking history and that we can predict history using this ideology (another favorite word of Voegelin).

    So I think Voegelin and Ratzinger were fair to diagnose one of the ills of fascism and communism as Gnosticism. Ultimately, they both asserted eschatons that could be immanetized through this secret knowledge.

    Ultimately, I think the dispute here gets back to the question of “Was Voegelin a Christian and if so why?” If Voegelin was a Christian (as a lot of his followers assert) then you have to ask on what grounds people could make declarations like “Christ is God” without having secret knowledge that renders it dogmatic/ideological? If Voegelin is not a Christian, then you can see why he embraces this heavily Platonic (which PS-Voegelin loved Plato and hated Aquinas/Aristotle. someone said something that sounded like Voegelin hated Plato on this thread) conception and attacks way too much stuff as being dogmatic and “immanentizing the eschaton”

    I’ve kinda rambled, but I hope this helps.

  • It’s been ten years at this point since I was reading and writing about Voeglin, so I’m working from memory and impression here, but my reading of him was not that he was (as Henry seems to think) convinced that political utopianism (with its accompanying dualism) was in fact Gnostic in the sense of considering the world evil and the non-material good, but rather that he diagnosed the idea of the world consisting of a titanic stuggle between dualistic forces as being a fundamentally Gnostic concept.

    So no, he wasn’t asserting that Gnosticism was politically utopian, but rather that politically utopian movements fall prey to a false view of the world and our place in it which he described as originating in (or being identified with) Gnosticism.

  • Michael

    I think we are on the same track, though I would add a few things. The occult is about “that which is hidden.” The occult transcends Gnosticism, but Gnosticism can be a part of the occult. Which is where I was pointing out that I would agree that the Nazis, the Russian Communists, et. al., embraced ideologies which had elements of the occult shaping their viewpoint. It’s when it is said to be Gnosticism which the problem comes about, because it then begins to misrepresent what Gnosticism is and encourage, from it, a misreading of Christianity and its fight against Gnosticism, allowing real Gnosticism to come into play (which is in part my point of my posts). And I’ve seen this before; indeed, when I first did a discussion on this issue, it came out of one such person claiming incarnational thought was Gnosticism because it immanentized the eschaton.

  • Darwin

    As I have said many times- utopian visions are the complete opposite side of the Gnostic coin: Gnostics look for salvation outside of this world, in the spirit, while the utopian tradition is for salvation in this world, in the purely material world while denying the spirit. In this way one can discuss a common aspect of the two, but it is a common aspect of Christianity as well: looking for salvation. But Christianity looks for the unity of the spirit and the material for its salvation — the Gnostics deny the material, the utopians the spiritual. That they deny the spiritual of course means they deny the transcendent, which is again why this phrase is troublesome. If he just kept with a criticism of Promethean tendencies of utopia, he would have helped everyone more — and if he wanted to discuss some of the occult qualities of modern ideologies, that too would have been fine. But it is the confusing of genus and species which is problematic and causes, in the end, a Gnosticism within some Christians who work within his tradition. And again, the idea that “we can’t have utopia” also leads to a kind of quietism is a trouble, but that is a different issue for a different day.

  • Michael

    One more thing, I didn’t say Voegelin hated Platonism. I brought up Balthasar, who, despite have much appreciation for Platonism (especially Plotinus) saw within it, and with philosophy in general, a Promethean attempt of synthesis of all things into a monism. Having a criticism of this tendency was not to show dislike, but rather, caution. Indeed, Balthasar, who would also put Goethe with Prometheus, was highly influenced by Goethe as well.

  • jonathanjones02 says:

    However, it is when the idea of “the Kingdom” becomes politicized and ultimately perverted, taking the form of a political manifesto or concrete program for revolution — when we perceive politics itself as a suitable vehicle for “the transfiguration of the world”, that I find myself sympathetic to the wariness expressed by conservatives.

    This is the key point.

    I am in the middle on Kenneth Keulman’s The Balance of Consciousness and hope to be able to contribute more as the week draws to a close on some of these points. V has a lot of very important things to say about symbolisms in the history and development of communal order.

  • I think as to Darwin’s point, I think I can formulate Voegelin a little clearer:

    Gnosticism is not necessarily utopian, as Henry has pointed out. However, Voegelin would argue that utopianism, I think in general but at least in the modern forms, is necessarily gnostic.

    Henry, I gather you are challenging Voegelin’s point by saying that to be utopian is to necessarily reject Gnosticism. I’d like to challenge you on that, b/c I tend to think Voegelin is right on that point, but I’d like to read your post on Gnosticism before I stick my foot in my mouth. Could you provide a link to that post? (Assuming it’s not one of the ones Chris links to). Ultimately this seems to be a fight over the definition of Gnosticism.

    As to Plato, I just wanted to be sure. I got the impression but I couldn’t find the quote when I scanned the thread again, so thanks for the clarification.

  • e. says:

    Henry Karlson:

    Why do you keep referring to things relating to the utopian enterprise as being “Promethean”?

    If anything, wouldn’t things pertaining to the utopian notion actually be Platonic rather than Promethean, especially since Plato happens to have been the very person (a la Res Publica) who conceived the earliest notion of a utopia in the first place?

  • Michael

    As I have pointed out, Gnosticism is inherently anti-material. Utopian thought is materialistic. They are opposites of each other.

    I’ve written many things on Gnosticism on VN. I did a series on Gnosticism:

    http://vox-nova.com/2007/12/27/gnosticism-some-of-its-beliefs-practices-and-its-continued-influence-in-the-world-part-i/ is the start

    http://vox-nova.com/2008/01/29/gnosticism-some-of-its-beliefs-practices-and-continued-influences-in-the-world-part-viii-2-the-christian-response/ has links to all but the final part

    http://vox-nova.com/2008/02/01/gnosticism-some-of-its-beliefs-practices-and-continued-influences-in-the-world-some-brief-concluding-reflections/

    Is the final part. As you can see it goes through the history of Gnosticism, the kinds, and also its influences.

    Now that was a point I also raised: being influenced by Gnosticism is not the same thing as Gnosticism. St Augustine, even as a Catholic, had tendencies from his past creep into his writings; despite those problems, I wouldn’t call him Gnostic.

  • e.

    Prometheus is the attempt of super-man to unite everything in one great system, and to do so by usurping the place of the divine in the process. This is a self-assertion which places man on top over everything, including God, and assuming the place of the absolute — which is exactly the problem of utopian ideals. And where do I get this from? Among other places, the many works of Balthasar, esp his Apocalypse of the German Soul. But you will find his discussion of Platonism within this context in his Theological Aesthetics Volume 4.

  • e. says:

    Henry,

    Thanks!

    All things considered, there is erudition in you that I have yet to survey and plum the very depths (in spite of your apparently leftist tendencies, ofcourse)! Much appreciated! ;^)

  • You are welcome (it could interest many people, not just you); however, the claim that I have “leftist tendencies,” certainly shows you are right and you have indeed failed to survey and plump the depths of my thought. The idea that I am “leftist,” is laughable to say the least; I’m a Tolkienesque man.

  • e. says:

    Henry,

    I’m not sure how one could actually “plump” the depths of your thought (or lack thereof); however, adducing as evidence the historicity of your very conduct at VN wherein you preeningly played advocate for Obama would make you such.

  • It’s interesting that in his lengthy response to this post on Vox Nova, Michael Iafrate spends a full three paragraphs discussing the painting of the revolutionary Christ above. Michael speculates:

    (Of course, he didn’t tell where he got the picture. It’s more likely that he got it from a right-wing site than from a site about liberation theology.)

    Unfortunately, the depths of research that have allowed Michael to classify both Benedict XVI and Chris Blosser (I hope someday I write something that gets me refuted in the same mouthful as the pope!) as ignorant of liberation theology does not extent to things like clicking on the image, which is itself a link to it source, a fairly pro-liberation theology assessment of the status of Latin American liberation theology today on Religion.info :

    http://religion.info/english/articles/article_176.shtml

    The source for the image is listed as artist David Silva and this website:

    http://www.mestizo.tv/

    Looking through the paintings on the site, I don’t see the revolutionary Christ painting there, but from the general tenor of the paintings I think I can assure Michael that the source is not conservative.

  • Michael

    It comes as little surprise that you would focus on two single excerpted paragraphs of Ratzinger’s commentary on liberation theology out of the entire post. I personally happened to find Ratzinger’s analysis helpful. However, given that you pride yourself in your familiarity with the topic, I look forward to your post explaining why our former Prefect / current Pope simply didn’t know what he was talking about.

    (P.S. Michael, as to the source of the image, simply put your mouse over it).

    Henry

    Initial late-night/early-morning tensions aside, I’d like to honestly thank you for your continued comments and more than helpful explanations of your research into Voegelin and gnositicism. The discussion here has been good and clarifying and offers much food for thought.

    The chief purpose of the post was really to note some common and hard-not-to-notice themes I had picked up reading various books by Ratzinger across the spectrum of his life on politics / political theology; Dr. Twomey’s observation of Voegelin’s influence on Ratzinger was helpful.

    Suffice to say I look forward to reading your additional posts on the subject of gnosticism and further evaluation of Voegelin.

    Jonathan Jones

    Looking forward to your input on Voeglin as well when you’ve finished reading.

    All others to date

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Granted, the source of the image is not “conservative,” one of the main points of the article is to criticize the portrayal of liberation theology as violent. Thus, the use of the image is precisely to critique that kind of imagery, that kind of false perception, of liberation theology. Blosser’s use of the image and the liberation theology article’s use of the image could not be more different!

  • I personally happened to find Ratzinger’s analysis helpful.

    It’s helpful, but only as an abstract warning about potential theological dangers, but that’s all. It’s not helpful in the least in terms of offering any understanding of what liberation theologians actually say.

    However, given that you pride yourself in your familiarity with the topic, I look forward to your post explaining why our former Prefect / current Pope simply didn’t know what he was talking about.

    Ratzinger’s descriptions of liberation theology are merely descriptions of a very very marginal portion of those who identify as liberation theologians. He notes this in his article on liberation theology, as well as in the first CDF document on liberation theology. (Of course, as I said, he NEVER CITES any particular theologians.) But then he proceeds to continue the discussion of “liberation theology” as if these marginal voices represent the views of “liberation theology” as a whole… right after he acknowledged that he was only describing the views of a few.

    Of course this has led to the impression that “the Vatican” “rejects” liberation theology as a whole, a view parroted even today by Vatican officials. It’s a myth. JPII said liberation theology was “useful and necessary.”

  • Christopher

    I’m not sure if/when I will do a part 4 yet. I have something else I want to write upon next, and this week, I’m having to revise a huge portion of my dissertation work, while also working on applications for teaching positions for next fall, both of which will keep me from doing the writing I would otherwise desire. But I expect I will write more on Gnosticism later — it’s an issue which has many connections to me, in part because I like many authors who have been influenced by it (Solovyov, PKD) it’s made me be more aware of it so to be careful (also when I first started reading patristics, after the Apostolic Fathers and Athanasius, I took on the anti-gnostic works of Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, and that continues to influence my theological studies). I’ve also had, and continue to have, a serious interest in the development of science, and that connects to the history of the occult (obviously) — a history which also is used in fiction I write from time to time.

    On the other hand, you might find the piece on Balthasar interesting (as I said, it’s from a rough draft of my Balthasar section of my dissertation, and this is what is being rewritten; this part of it is not going to have much of a place in the rewrite). It goes into some of the same issues and concerns we are discussing here.

    As for tensions, well, when I wrote in the morning, I had woken up around 2 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So today I’ve been on the edge in general.

  • Donald – Surely you’re not suggesting that depicting Jesus with a gun is inherently wrong? I thought guns were just neutral objects? Maybe Jesus was part of an early version of the “open carry” movement? How dare you condemn gun owners by suggesting that Jesus would not own and carry a gun!

  • Rather, my intent was to identify what I think were the perfectly valid and shared concerns, of Voegelin, Ratzinger (and perhaps even Buckley): that time and again, humanity’s desire to “immanentize the eschaton”, to bring the world to its perfection through political means, has resulted in a complete (and oftentimes bloody) disaster.

    I appreciate this clarification. I never thought that you thought that I hold such positions.

    What I take issue with is the way you and Ratzinger continually point to “liberation theology” as the preeminent example of the “bloody” dangers of “immanentizing the eschaton.”

  • Well of course. Christ was a revolutionary.

    I’m sure that sounds wonderfully edgy, but if you’re going to go around saying that you’re going to have to accept that you’re intentionally associating Christ with people who are almost invariably violent in their ideologies. One can’t have the Che chic without celebrating a man who like to dialogue with opponents by putting a revolver bullet in the back of their heads.

    Especially in a political context, revolutionary strongly implies violent. When you’re talking Marxist revolutionaries in Latin America, there can be no doubt one is talking about violent people. (Not to say they were the only violent people in play, but they were unquestionably violent.)

  • I’m sure that sounds wonderfully edgy, but if you’re going to go around saying that you’re going to have to accept that you’re intentionally associating Christ with people who are almost invariably violent in their ideologies… Especially in a political context, revolutionary strongly implies violent.

    Baloney. There are countless nonviolent revolutions and revolutionaries throughout history.

    When you’re talking Marxist revolutionaries in Latin America, there can be no doubt one is talking about violent people.

    Many of them were violent, but many of them were not. You are making blanket statements that are inaccurate and unhelpful.

    One can’t have the Che chic without celebrating a man who like to dialogue with opponents by putting a revolver bullet in the back of their heads.

    It’s astonishing that you can make such a critique considering your own politics which has no trouble justifying violence, so long as it’s the “right kind” of violence.

  • What I take issue with is the way you and Ratzinger continually point to “liberation theology” as the preeminent example of the “bloody” dangers of “immanentizing the eschaton.”

    Like I said, out of a 4140 word post on a lot of other topics besides ‘liberation theology’, you focus on two single paragraphs. As with Ratzinger and Voegelin, I’d just as likely point to National Socialism and Communism as examples of ‘immanentizing the eschaton.”

    And actually, the two paragraphs I cited were not so much a criticism of liberation theology per se as Marxist hermeneutics, which I specifically noted — and Ratzinger’s observation of how, within such, fundamental Christian theological concepts like “Hope”, “People of God,” “The Kingdom of God”, etc. are perverted.

    JPII said liberation theology was “useful and necessary.”

    John Paul II’s letter to the Brazilian Bishops, 1986. I know. He charactized it as one being “in complete fidelity to the Church.”

    Do you have an actual copy of the full text in English? (Italian translation via Google is a bit choppy).

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