Eschaton Si, Immanent No!

Sunday, August 30, AD 2009

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.

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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?

  • Nevermind, I see now the quote you mean. Disregard #1. I would appreciate answers to 2 and 3.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Hi there!

    Just noticed an error: Joachim de Fiore wasn’t Franciscan, he lived before St. Francis. He was a Cistercia Abbot.

  • 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.”

  • Ralf: Thank you for the correction — and to Joe Hargrave, for the recommendation for further reading.

  • 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.

  • So to continue for 3, of course I agree with the Catechism and the Pope. That, to me, is the problem. Where assumptions of my position which was not my position came into play.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Zak; you are welcome — I hope the further explanation made sense to you?

  • The “analogia entis” is also what underlies the general Catholic approach/view of “both/and” rather than “either/or.”

    Wow, I thought I was up late.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    Ok, I put up a post which will explain this better:

    http://vox-nova.com/2009/08/31/a-brief-examination-on-balthasar%E2%80%99s-apokalypse-der-deutschen-seele-1937-%E2%80%93-1939/

    It comes from an rough draft of my dissertation work, in a section which had to be later excised as the dissertation moved from a historical analysis to a systematic one.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • e.

    I did not support Obama. I criticized him and continue to criticize him.

  • Oh, and that typo is a laugh. But that’s what happens when I had 5 hours sleep last night!

  • michael — if you’re really curious about where the picture came from (and if you really believe what you just posted on VN), you might want to take the trouble of clicking on the picture itself. Lo and behold, it is linked to (and came from) a pro-liberation theology article. http://religion.info/english/articles/article_176.shtml

  • 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.

  • Christ as a revolutionary is not an unsual motiff at Leftist websites.

    Well of course. Christ was a revolutionary. But the important question is what kind of revolutionary?

  • Then for that Leftist revolutionary on your Christmas List:

    http://tinyurl.com/jesust

  • 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!

  • A lot to digest. I hope to comment in some substantive way soon.

  • Careful, Donald, michael is likely to start saying litanies to those shirts.

  • 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).

  • Yes I have a copy but it’s in a book.

  • You can claim all you want that liberation theology is only present in “two” paragraphs, but it is clearly one of the gigantic boogey men haunting nearly the entirety of your post.