Kenosis and the End of Modernity

The doctrine of kenosis was not a point of intense theological debate until the seventeenth century, but because here my concern lies with the doctrine at the end of rather than the entry into modernity, we will pick up kenosis as it came to be developed in the nineteenth century by Lutheran theologians. The focus of the doctrine is now upon the religious self-consciousness of Jesus. The contents ofJesus the Christ's consciousness as the focus for understanding the man—God paradox dominate the wave of debate on kenosis; this debate ranges from E. Sartorius's book Lehre von der heiligen Liebe, published in 1844, through to WF. Gess's work Das Dogma von Christi: Person und Werk of 1887. The most significant development in this treatment of the

15 Mysterium Paschale, tr. A. Nichols (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990), p. 13.

doctrine comes from the contemporary concerns with historicism, biography and Bildung. The treatment of kenosis is a theological aspect of the search for the historical Jesus and discussions concerning the evolution of Jesus's Messianic consciousness.

The most systematic and theologically rigorous of these accounts came from Gottfried Thomasius. For Thomasius what Christ 'poured out' were certain properties of his divine nature, two in particular: omnipotence and omniscience. God is treated as absolute subject and the subject is a self with certain dispositions and attributes that are essential to its nature and the way that self will develop. Thomasius does relate kenosis to a Trinitarian operation, for the 'being man becomes a moment of the inner-divine relationship'.16 But his concept of the Trinity is two subjects (Father and Son) and a relationship (Spirit).17 He distinguishes between what is an essential attribute and what is a relative attribute in God. The essential attributes are freedom, holiness, absolute truth and absolute love. The relative attributes are omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. These God possesses only in relation to the world and it is these that Christ relinquishes.18 There are obvious theological difficulties with this account, not the least of which is the division in God himself caused by the existence of a world he brought into being. Alois Emmanuel Biedermann's observation is accurate: 'the relative attributes ... [God] can surrender, because the world and thus the relation to it is not necessary to Him'.19 Biedermann views this as a step on the road to gnosticism.

As far as this essay is concerned, all that needs to be noted is Thomasius's inadequate Trinitarian reading of kenosis, his attention to subject positions with essential and relative attributes and the absence of any necessary connection now between the incarnation and the Passion. Kenosis begins to label a certain diminishment of faculties. Time and creation prevent God from being God. It is human finitude that is uppermost, a human finitude to which his model of Christ draws attention. Death is the release from such finititude. Hence, because of his attention to attributes of Christ as a historical person, the crucifixion is not the final outworking of the incarnation, a movement in God himself, it is merely the cancellation of the human con

16 Christi: Person und Werk (Erlangen, 1853). For a selection from Christ's Person and Work, see C. Welch ed. and tr., God and Incarnation in Mid-century Germany Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 23—101. This quote is from God and Incarnation, p. 83.

17 This is a concept of the Trinity that constitutes one of the backbones of modern theology, particularly Protestant modern theology. There are parallels between this concept and the kinds of Christological thinking I draw attention to in chapter five, 'Divinity and Sexual Difference', pp. 147—8.

sciousness and its limitations. With this attention to the attributes of Christ's person and with the emphasis upon historical contingency in the developing liberal humanist Christologies, the Myth of God Incarnate simply awaits its writing. Developments in the doctrine of kenosis will lead to theologies of the death of God, so-called secular theologies.

It was Hegel who first announced this possibility. The tragic fate of the Unhappy Consciousness in which the self aims to be absolute, in which the human absorbs the divine, announces 'the hard saying that "God is dead"'.20 Hegel prophesies here the atheistic apotheosis of liberal humanism. Prior to Thomasius or even Sartorius, Hegel propounded a view of kenosis in one of the closing sections of The Phenomenology of Spirit, 'The Revealed Religion', which was to be highly influential in the development of twentieth-century Christologies. Prior to the mainline nineteenth-century kenoticists, he nevertheless was more radical in suggesting the complete surrender by Christ of all divinity or the complete identification of Christ with all things human.21 The closing sections of the Phenomenology of Spirit are vague, elliptical and suggestive. They are notoriously difficult texts to elucidate. But it is important to understand Hegel's recapitulation of kenosis not only in order to see how modernity's preoccupation with death culminates in the semi-readings of Hegel by death-of-God theologians, but also in order to recognise the parallels between Hegel's thinking and Balthasar's teaching on kenosis.

In The Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel employs the word twice in his highly abstract account of Christ's birth, death and resurrection. The abstract nature of the account, while difficult, is methodological — the concern of the dialectical movement of Spirit is always to move beyond its representations of itself. Hegel wishes, then, to concentrate upon what he calls the 'Notion of Spirit' rather than 'picture thinking' — a move similar to Bultmann's project of demythologisation, a move in which (or so it seems) speculative philosophy becomes the hermeneutical key for understanding the revelation of God in the narrative accounts ofJesus Christ. I write 'so it seems' because following the considerable reappraisal of Hegel as a theologian22 it seems

20 The Phenomenology of Spirit, tr. A.V Miller (Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 455.

21 'Hegel ... must be regarded as the primogenitor in modernity of the espousal of a thoroughly radical interpretation of kenosis': Cyril O'Regan, The Heterodox Hegel (New York: State University of New York Press, 1994), p. 219. It is significant, though, that Hegel's concept of the Trinity moves closer to an operational one — it is not two persons and a relationship.

22 See O'Regan and the detailed analysis of the religious context of The Phenomenology of Spirit in Laurence Dickey, Hegel: Religion, Economics, and the Politics of Spirit 1770—1807 (Cambridge University Press, 1988). For theological accounts of Hegel see Albert Chapelle, Hegel et la religion, t. 1: La problematique; t. 2: La dialectique. Dieu et la Création; t. 3: La dialectique. La Theologie et l'Eglise; Annexes (Paris: Editions Universitaires, 1963—71); Emilio Brito, Hegel et la tache actuelle de la christologie, tr. Th. Dejond S.J. (Paris: Editions Lethielleux, 1979).

that the judgement ofJean Hyppolite — that religion is 'prefigurative representation of philosophical thought'23 — cannot go unchallenged. The revealed status of the Christian religion for Hegel privileges and universalises its claims to truth. The narrative of Christ can be seen as offering a hermeneutical key for the condition of being human. That is, the Trinitarian account of Christ's kenotic descent and return to the father presents us with an account of selfhood. Rather like Augustine's De Trinitate, therefore, it is not the structure of being human which offers us a revelation of the Trinity, but the Trinity which offers us the revelation of the structure of being human. Theology precedes, in this model, and provides the possibility for understanding and the condition for the existence of the philosophical and anthropological.

In developing the Notion of Spirit Hegel draws upon metaphors culled from a Biblical soteriology — Adam's fall, Christ's coming, Christ's return to the Father — and understands the structure of what later was termed Heilsgeschichte as the structure of mind itself, our mind and the mind of God. Unlike the Greek religious Spirit which gave rise to an aesthetic representation (in works of art), the Christian man-God was actualised in history. Hegel does not doubt this. In the former religion the absolute self-consciousness of the Spirit is figured forth by the finite Spirit. In the latter the absolute self-consciousness of the Spirit manifests itself. The former represents human knowledge of the divine. The latter is God's presentation of his own self-knowledge. Hence Christianity is a revealed religion and the 'content of this picture-thinking is absolute thinking'.24 We can observe here the radical difference between the Lutheran Hegel and Luther's own emphasis upon divine concealment. For Hegel, '[t]his concealment ceases when the absolute Being qua Spirit is the object of consciousness'.25 There are theological, though not philosophical, difficulties here. If all is revealed then there is no transcendence. If there is no transcendence, if all is immanent, then all is indifferent. We will return to this. Death is resurrection for Hegel, but does that mean that there is no distinction? Are we moving towards a form of integration where difference collapses and knowledge is oblivion — a form of death a la Spinoza's third degree of knowledge?

Kenosis is used on both occasions in Phenomenology of Spirit to express an externalisation of Self that moves consciousness into self-consciousness. This self-consciousness, to become self-consciousness, has to take on form, has to involve itself with representation (Vorstellung). It is exactly at this point

23 Jean Hyppolite, Structure and Genesis of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, trs. S. Cherwiak and J. Heckman (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 1984), p. 532.

24 Hegel, Phenomenology, p. 479.

— the recognition of the centrality of mediation and mimesis — that the focus of Hegel's account of kenosis differs from the Christocentric accounts of the seventeenth- and nineteenth-century Lutherans. This, in turn, is because of the emphatically Trinitarian understanding of both Christ's kenosis and the movement of the Spirit towards the integration of knowing and being in Hegel. Christ is one moment, one figure in a Trinitarian narrative. He alone is not the Saviour, his death is not in some isolated way the summation of our salvation. '[T]hree moments constitute Spirit ...: essence, being-for-self which is the otherness of essence and for which essence is, and being-for-self, or knowledge of itself in the "other".'26 This Hegel relates to a Lutheran emphasis upon the Word. 'It is the word which, when uttered, leaves behind, externalized and emptied, him who uttered it, but which is as immediately heard, and only this hearing of its own self is the existence of the Word.'27 This pictures a perichoretic Trinity: 'Thus the distinctions made are immediately resolved as soon as they are made, and are made as soon as they are resolved, and what is true and actual is precisely this immanent circular movement.'28

We need to elucidate this further in order best to appreciate its implications — for an understanding of both Hegel's theological thinking and the future kenoticists. The main point is that incarnation completes creation.29 Incarnation reveals the spiritualisation of Nature because it reveals the dynamic whereby the infinite Spirit in its abstraction and alienation enters into living and necessary conversations with the finite Spirit. This raises problems about the freedom of God to create out of nothing that we will examine further in relation to Balthasar's emphasis upon the diastasis between Creator and creation. But Hegel's doctrine of kenosis is Trinitarian: the Father abandons in an externalisation of his Spirit his abstract distance, entering into self-consciousness, which, to be self-consciousness must take on concrete representation. The Son, as this concrete representation of the Father, allows himself to be put to death so that the absolute Spirit, which is the continual movement of consciousness to self-consciousness, might be manifest. 'This death is, therefore, its resurrection as Spirit.'30 This Trinitarian economy parallels creation itself because it was the 'eternal or

29 O'Regan thinks creation and incarnation are given equal weight, that the body of God in creation is identical to the body of God in Christ. I am not sure here.

30 Hegel, Phenomenology, p. 471. Is there too much emphasis upon pneumatology? O'Regan thinks so. But the Spirit only exists on the basis of creation/incarnation. We could say that there is not enough Spirit in Hegel — that the Spirit simply remains as the movement-in-relation operating between the Father and Son; that the Spirit is not a distinct hypostasis. See later in the chapter.

abstract Spirit' becoming 'other' to itself or entering existence, which created the world.31 Within this world individual selves do not exist as Spirit because they remain bound to the immediacy of the natural. They must become self-conscious, other to themselves, in order to be spiritual. The Fall is therefore inevitable, man 'lost the form of being at one with himself'32 and began 'this withdrawal into itself or self-centredness'.33 The withdrawal into oneself is not in itself evil, for Hegel, for in the purity of God's Trinitarian action there is a withdrawal into God's self. But because human self-reflected 'thought stems from immediacy or is conditioned thought, it is not pure knowledge'.34 The move of the finite Spirit is therefore towards the purity of knowledge, Gewissen (certainty). The incarnation is a vital stage on this journey because it is with the incarnation that the truth of universal consciousness is revealed, and the certainty is manifest that human beings strive to attain. 'The dead divine Man or the human God is in himself the universal self-consciousness.'35 This is manifest now in the Spirit of the community. An imitation of Christ is necessary and possible. As Jean Hyppolite glosses, 'The movement that took place in Christ must now be executed in the midst of the community and must become its movement instead of being alien to it.'36 God empties himself out into the human and the human empties itself out into the divine.

'The entire system seems dominated by a meditation on the death of Christ.'37 The secularisation of this subject, subsequently, will only emphasise the death-bound subjectivity we noted earlier. Furthermore, Luther's existential approach to theology is now substantially developed and, along with Schleiermacher's contemporaneous project, the foundations of liberal Protestantism are laid. It is with the apotheosis of such liberalism and the desiring subject, in the death-of-God theologians, that Hegel's concerns with kenosis will be recapitulated.

According to the flight of history as Thomas J.J. Altizer conceives it we are the inhabitants of a profound spiritual darkness which has been enshrouding the world since the death of Christ and is now coming towards its final and apocalyptic conclusion.38 The Word will have its eschatological

38 See his books History as Apocalypse (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985) and Genesis and Apocalypse (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).

fulfilment. As the history of religions unfolds Christianity is the final one and Christianity can be the final one because the death of God is the centre of that religion. The distinctiveness of Christianity lies in its commitment, through kenosis, to time and creation. The death of God at the crucifixion is emphatically not simply the death of the Son of God, it is deipassionism — a radical working of the doctrine of kenosis. Altizer builds specifically on Hegelian foundations: 'Hegel is the only thinker who made the kenotic movement of the Incarnation the core and foundation of all his thinking.'39 In Hegel he finds the total eclipse of the transcendent, sovereign and impassive God and the affirmation of the immanence of the world order, a baptised world order. This is the order of what Altizer calls 'total presence'. On the basis of Hegelian kenosis Altizer recommends us, then, to a Christian atheism.

Altizer develops this radical kenosis the furthest, followed by the decon-structive theologians Charles Winquist and Mark C. Taylor.40 These last two thinkers explicitly relate Altizer's 'theology' with the concerns, and philosophical methods, of post-structural nihilism. How accurate their readings of post-structuralism are is a debate we cannot enter into with this essay. But, for example, in Taylor's work, the eclipse of the transcendent Word is mapped onto a certain reading of Derrida's critique of the relationship between presence and language (logocentrism), Derrida's economy of the endless promotion of differences and deferrals of meaning in language (dif-férance) and Derrida's understanding of the continual need of language to supplement itself (dissemination); and so he writes: 'writing is a kenotic process; it empties everything of absolute self-identity and complete self-presence'.41 In Taylor's work Hegel encounters the linguistic turn. Kenosis is Hegel's immanent process of consciousness becoming conscious of itself and always in the process of surpassing itself reinscribed in terms of textual-ity. In fact, for Taylor, reality is textuality. But this textuality has none of the allegorical depth and transcendent significance of the Word enfolding all our words — the theme of the kenotic hymn in Philippians. This textuality is all surface, simulacra and façade. As a Christian atheist, Taylor relates this

39 The Gospel of Christian Atheism (Philadelphia, Penn.: Westminster Press, 1966), p. 29.

40 See Charles Winquist's Epiphanies of Darkness: Deconstruction in Theology (University of Chicago Press, 1986) and Desiring Theology (University of Chicago Press, 1995). For Mark C. Taylor, see Deconstructing Theology (New York: Crossroads, 1982) and Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (University of Chicago Press, 1984). These theological readings of kenosis are paralleled with several contemporary philosophical ones, as we saw in chapter two, 'The Schizoid Christ', pp. 77—82. Each of them is bound to nihilistic non-foundationalism.

dissemination of the presence of the Word to the eucharist as a celebration of dismemberment, dissemination as distribution and crucifixion of the individual self.42

Altizer's total presence, like Taylor's linguistic idealism, announces the nihilism of indifference that is the last stage on the road to pure immanence. In Taylor's more performative work we have a vision of the endless, playful erring that fulfils the telos of history as Altizer presents it. Here is total presence — for the writing itself, as it flows along and floats over various ideas and themes, is all there is. The reader constructs and performs and the reading experience of that construction and performance is all the meaning Taylor wishes to promote. Although both atheologians speak of new-found freedoms, particularly freedom from the bondage of a transcendent master God, all value in their worlds is simply local, transient and relative. Liberal humanism — all three thinkers are indebted to the romantic tradition and the theological liberalism of Paul Tillich — has now arrived at the apotheosis of the secular and the superficial. Only the aesthetic, divorced from truth and goodness, remains — Altizer's poetic theology and pastiches of the prophetic, Taylor's commitment to Dionysian wordplay as a form of spiritual exercise.

At the end of modernity, therefore, where does the doctrine of kenosis go? Fundamentally, we have to reappropriate what modernity left behind in its own development and exposition of the teaching. I suggest, with reference to the exegesis of Philippians, that what is absent from modernity's concept of kenosis is the role played by theological discourse as response to a reception of and participation in the divine. For the kenotic economy is redemptive and culminates in a resurrection of the body. In the Pauline narrative, being-unto-death does not expunge the greater movement of being-unto-eternal-life. In refiguring the doctrine of kenosis at the end of modernity Hegel is important here. Hegel drew attention to the importance of representation in the kenotic economy. Furthermore, the reading of Hegel by the death-of-God theologians is a particularly selective one. It is Hegel read through Nietzsche's amor fati (a version of the immanence announced in Spinoza's amor intellectus — which is also a move towards oblivion) and Zarathustra's pronouncement in the market that God is dead. Hegel rails against those who collapse God into World so that there is too much God — 'God is everything and everything is God' — in the closing pages of his Encyclopaedia. He accuses such thinkers of stupidity, falsification,

42 Ibid., pp. 120, 141—2. See the philosophical equivalent to this mode of thinking in Jean-Luc Nancy's essay 'Corpus', in The Birth to Presence, tr. Claudette Surtiliot (Stanford University Press, 1993).

and misconception, foreseeing the outcome as 'the secularity of things'.43 Spinoza's philosophy is listed among such tendencies. Furthermore, Hegel's death of God is not the same as Nietzsche's. Hegel's is more Lutheran and historically concrete — it is the death of the particular incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Nietzsche's death of God is a metaphor for the end of any transcendent system of values — Goodness, Reality, Truth, Immortality. God for Nietzsche is the figure par excellence of what he terms 'metaphysical comfort'.

For Altizer God is a superego, a bigger and more powerful version of ourselves in the sky above — he is overlord. He is, to use the language of Karl Barth (or in a different way entirely, Louis Althusser), Absolute Subject.44 Hegel's God is much closer to Aristotle's dunamis and therefore Aquinas's actus purus. Even Feuerbach, as a pupil of Hegel, distinguished between Hegel's God and his own conception of the divine as a human projection.45 Fundamentally, for Altizer (as for Nietzsche) God is not Trinitarian. It is because of Hegel's insistence upon the Trinitarian distinctions that he is not committed (as Altizer and Nietzsche are) to deipassionism. It is also because of the Trinitarian distinction that the logic of theology for Hegel retains its insistence upon the transcendent (or, at least, self-transcendent)46 Christ, who existed before all worlds, returning to unity with the Father.47 In the movement of that giving and return, that mediation of the infinite and the finite, the Spirit is dispensed into the community. There is, then, an immanent and an economic Trinity, and so Hegel believes he avoids the atheism of the pantheist as he avoids the docetism of the panlogist. Altizer does not read Hegel in this way. Altizer's reading follows a line of Anglo-American antitheological accounts of Hegel; accounts in which 'Hegel is trimmed and important aspects of his vision shelved, misinterpreted, or explained away'.48 French and German readings of Hegel tend to have a deeper and more positive evaluation of his theological framework. Nietzsche's much greater presence in the thought of Altizer and the death-of-God theologians is

43 Hegel, Philosophy of Mind, Being Part Three of the 'Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences', tr. A. V Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 304-5.

44 For Barth see the Introduction to this volume. For Althusser see essay five, 'Divinity and Sexual Difference'.

45 See Lawrence Dickey, 'Hegel on Religion and Philosophy' in The Cambridge Companion to Hegel, ed. Frederick C. Beiser (Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 301-47.

46 For a discussion of the difference between transcendence and self-transcendence see my 'Sacra-mentalism or Neopaganism', Theology (July 1991), pp. 279-83.

47 Philosophy of Mind, p. 225. God 'has from all eternity begotten a Son, in whom he, as Spirit, is at home with himself'.

48 O'Regan, The Heterodox Hegel, p. 86.

evident in talk about being released from bondage to this transcendent God and the new Dionysian life that awaits us all when we move with the flow and pulsations of life. There is an ever greater sense of freedom, these death-of-God theologians argue, as the finite moves towards a greater sense of its particularity and universality. This is a secularised doctrine of atonement and another turn in the Enlightenment dream of human emancipation. But Hegel's concept of necessity means that God has never usurped a position that was not his to begin with. He is as committed to our self-realisation as his own. His freedom and ours are co-implicated. There is a doctrine of participation in the operations of the divine. There is no scope for a release from bondage to the transcendent in Hegel — this is Nietzsche's reading of Hegel's master—slave dialectic in terms of Christian ressentiment. In Hegel, we are bound to God as God is to us — necessity led to the incarnation and death of Christ; bound by love. It is this necessary relation, which obviates God's own freedom to chose, and the traditional teaching of creation ex nihilo, that will lead Hegel into troubled waters. Primarily, there is the impossibility of grace and the Trinity as an economy of gift. Secondly, there is a compromised transcendence, a univocity in which part and whole, human and divine, share a common ontological foundation. Kenosis operates here — and this is where he differs from Balthasar or, more recently, Jean-Luc Marion49 — within, not beyond, the philosophical project (metaphysics understood as onto-theology).50 And with this lies the danger of presenting far too much God, like Spinoza. Hegel is, then, certainly not orthodox, but he is not apostate either. His work stands ambivalently in two historical epochs — the traditional past (late antiquity and medieval) and modernity's present. To refigure kenosis Christologically at the end of modernity we have to develop the Hegel who drew upon the premodern. That will lead us to Balthasar and to poststructural thinkers of kenosis, particularly Julia Kristeva.

49 Marion develops a theologia crucis which rests upon 'une kénose de l'image' which transgresses 'des principes esthétiques'in his book La Croisée du visible (Paris: La Difference, 1991). See also JeanYves Lacoste's essay 'Jalons pour un traitement kénotique de la question de l'homme' in Expérience et absolu (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1994).

50 Balthasar wishes to keep metaphysics. In fact, he wants to view the Christian as the guardian of a proper metaphysics of eros, but he distinguishes this metaphysical thinking from the metaphysics which conflates Being with total presence and 'systems of identity': Herrlichkeit, Bd. III. Teil 1/2 (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1967), p. 978; Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. V: The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age, tr. O. Davies et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991), p. 651.

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