Monday, July 14, 2014

Is there a Hegelian Event in the Cross?

I am taking John D. Caputo's characterization of the event in The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (henceforth, I) very seriously. Events are not merely things that occur, as the colloquial use of the term would suggest, but that which is 'going on' in what happens that is the event. Events beckon, call, insist from within the action that is happening (I have never heard Caputo say something like 'calendar of events,' but I have heard him say 'event' the way he means it here: he says it with a temporally long 'e' in the second syllable followed by a carefully articulated 't'). It is a different and inflected word, and it is always a technical term.

The Crucifixion of Jesus is a happening that perhaps proffers several events. So, I will ask: what is going on in, on, and around the Cross? And is Hegel there, too?

Caputo likes to begin in forsakeness, abandonment: Matt 27:46, so let's meet him there, say 3 o'clock:

And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [New American Bible Revised Edition].

What's happening is the death of Jesus and a shout of despair from the Cross. What's going on? The death of God. Well at least the little death of God, la petite mort. No patripassionism here, but an act of love. Eli seems unmoved. Jesus dies. What is God's response? Deaf transcendence, indifference? No, perhaps. Perhaps the response is silent presence. The hypostatic union is many things, but it is never less the than the communication of idioms. The Logos remains present to the suffering of the flesh; it interdigitates with it, evaginates human dying, bears a placental unity with the womb of the Logos-sarx, allowing for an accidental cross-over of suffering. It feels and acknowledges the dying qua dying. The soundtrack to the scene is the Song of Songs, and its sounds a little like the Liebestod whose libretto is now the Sermon on the Mount. La petite mort always refers to the transcendence in what just happened; the little death is the event in the climax. The call from the Cross, the call from this real presence, moves within death and despair, from within the loud cry that yields (And we have not even gotten to the Johannine spear that breaks into the Body of Jesus and releases the Church and its uncertain faith, oozing from the side of the man). It is as the April fool, Melito of Sardis, has said, "It was He because of whom the earth quaked. He that hung up the earth in space was Himself hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that bore up the earth was borne up on a tree; the Lord of all was subjected to ignominy in a naked body-God put to death!" Communicatio idiomatum.

If Caputo's summary (execution) is right, that "[i]n Hegel and Altizer,the death of God is God coming to life in space and time, the death of the transcendent otherworldly God and the birth of the God with us, the immanent infinite womb of divine life that sustains us," (I, 137) then what we are recognizing as an event in the occurrence on Calvary (Hegel is there in the crowd, looking over Caputo's shoulder) is what invites faith into being: the response to the death of God is Christianity. God insists (from where Caputo knows not, but for the Christian from a presence coming into being) in the event in the Cross, and the answer to that call is an action, the birth of faith already moving to and fro. This is not a Hegelian totality, some final point of the Spirit, but a beginning---an irrevocable beginning---but a beginning of a process of the unfolding of a new reality and new way of thinking. The play of (syn)thesis and antithesis is a never-ending sequence of events--we chide Hegel for being a bad Hegelian when he suggests it all ever lands on some encyclopedic 'somewhere.'

In fact, there can only be Hegel's idea of the silhouette: an outline of a 'something' that can never be contained in any given Gestalt; but rather continues the process to knowledge and insights whose visions, decisions and revisions only precariously sit within their moment (Ray Brassier retrieves Hegel for the event when he opines that the change in reality and ideation make it impossible to say everything about anything). And it is here in the ever-provisional Gestalt that Hegel meets Rahner (they are old friends): in the theological anthropology of the hypostatic union, which for Christians is a trajectory. That trajectory is itself an event, because (if an event is doing what we are saying events do, then) this trajectory-as-event engages and drives the circumincession of past, present and future. This engagement is the trace of the event in Hegel eventuated in the Hegelian event of the Cross.

Of course, we are talking of the event of God's 'little death' here, the act of love in and through the suffering known so well to the Psalmist so many years before the crucifixion. Christianity does not know of the Grand Death of God, and so a small adjustment needs to be made to Caputo's assessment of Hegel and Altizer: Christianity cannot speak of the 'death of the transcendent' but it can and does and must speak of the kenosis of that 'otherworldly God,' the self emptying of divinity into Emmanuel ('God with us' [cf Matt 1:23]). Kenosis is all over I, single kenosis, a plastic 'double kenosis', a kenosis of annihilation and a kenosis of birth, and it is there through and through the event of the Cross.

Caputo's synthesis is instructive: "The au revoir of Father and Son are superseded in a final rendezvous in the Spirit,"  which is none other than the "movement that takes place within the Absolute." The trinitarian dance (perichoresis) continues to release the event kenotically, as everything empties from the Cross: the fiat of the annunciation, of overshadowing of the Spirit and the birth of Emmanuel. The infancy narratives are inaugurated in the issue from the side of Christ, but they are at once of the Nativity and Pentecost. The out-pouring of the Spirit through the event in the Cross is the same creative gesture of Genesis. On the seventh day God rested from his labors---Saturday is lost time that howls the 22nd psalm; God is exhausted, and it takes until the first day of the week, about as long as it takes Jesus to arrive in Bethany to seek out Lazarus, for the event to run its full course in the Resurrection. God again says yes to the void, to negation, to Saturday, and sees Sunday as very good. Sunday is Saturday's child who picks up the pieces of desolation and finds a way to go on; and the child is the Resurrection: God, born again and re-presented, puts on his own lips, Hineni, and answers the question, Eli, Eli...

For Caputo and Hegel, the actant of the call is anonymous, undecidable; there is no self-communication because there is no self to communicate. For the Christian, the self-communication of the caller is decided and decisive, even if there remains some anonymity in the absolute mystery that extends a most unexpected invitation, a most generous hospitality. It's rather something like grace.

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