The following essay is an effort to remind Catholic phenomenologists of the broad eschatological horizon of St Paul, which we are encouraged to rediscover during this Pauline Year. The topic is to be aired in a forthcoming volume edited by John Manoussakis and Neal DeRoo on Phenomenology and Eschatology.
The Eschatological Horizon of Vatican II
One of the great changes Vatican II brought about, at least for those lucky enough to be studying theology in its aftermath, was the recovery of a broad eschatological horizon within which the Christian message took on a new, powerful and integrated meaning. ‘The Kingdom’ was a phrase that came easily to our lips back then, and its meaning seemed quite plain. The Kingdom was a society being built up in the present world, marked above all by the struggle for justice and peace, and marked also by a straining forward in hope toward a future fulfillment. One discerned the Kingdom in optimistic dialogue with the ‘signs of the times’ as urged by John XXIII. Vatican II presented the Church as the People of God striving forward in history: ‘Its destiny is the kingdom of God which has been begun by God himself on earth and which must be further extended until it is brought to perfection by him at the end of time… Hence that messianic people… is.., a most sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race’ (Lumen Gentium 9). The Church, Paul VI insisted, exists not for itself, but for the world, where it functions as the vanguard of the Kingdom, laboring to build it up and to prepare its final coming. When Edward Schillebeeckx saluted the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua as a sign of the Kingdom, that was perfectly intelligible. Liberation Theology was admired for its integration of concrete political and social struggles for justice and peace with an eschatological vision derived from the Prophets and the Gospels.
In the background to this lay the revolutionary work of scriptural scholars at the end of the nineteenth century, who from the confused mass of speculations about the historical Jesus exhumed the unsettling shape of his teachings and activities as those of an eschatological prophet. The breakthrough work was Johannes Weiss’s 1892 monograph Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes. It is often claimed that Albert Schweitzer proved the impossibility of the quest for the historical Jesus by showing that all the questers projected their own image on Jesus. But in reality Schweitzer hailed Weiss’s work as a breakthrough to solid ground amid the welter of complicated and unconvincing hypotheses (Geschichte der Leben-Jesu Forschung, Munich, 1966, pp. 254-6). If the result of historical Jesus research was devastatingly negative, this was not because it yielded no knowledge of Jesus, but because what it did yield was so alien to the modern world: ‘Known in the particular determinateness of his ideas and his action, he will always have something foreign and enigmatic for our time.’ Schweitzer embraces ‘the solution of consequent eschatology.’ Jesus’ outlook is eschatological through and through, so that one cannot, for example, siphon off an ethical teaching of Jesus independent of his expectation of the coming Kingdom; his ethics is an interim one, for the end-time.
Rudolf Bultmann took these findings on board and attempted to think them through theologically. He sees the Kingdom preaching of Jesus as a Jewish prelude to New Testament theology. In his Theology of the New Testament, he finds that all New Testament themes have an eschatological cast, which begins to be lost in the ‘early Catholicism’ of such texts as the Pastoral Letters. In his own thought he attempts to rethink the eschatological horizons of Paul in modern existential terms, somewhat as Luther rethought the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith. (Indeed that doctrine itself can be parsed in eschatological terms; one is a sinner as bound to the past, righteous as striving forward to the Kingdom, simul iustus et peccator.) Bultmann tends to reduce eschatology to a matter of how individuals live their existence here and now. His disciple Ernst Käsemann enlarges the perspective to cosmic apocalyptic, stressing also the social dimension of the Kingdom, and urging Lutheran eschatological theologians to pay as much attention to Marx as to Kierkegaard. (See D. Way, The Lordship of Christ: Ernst Käsemann’s Interpretation of Paul’s Theology, Oxford, 1991; interestingly, Käsemann had an aversion to Heidegger, p. 159).
Encouraged by the post-war ‘new quest’ for the historical Jesus, and with the ground prepared by R. Schnackenburg (God's Rule and Kingdom, New York, 1963) and J. Moltmann's A Theology of Hope, New York, 1967), Schillebeeckx in 1974 shook the Catholic world with a Christology starting from the figure of Jesus as eschatological prophet. Hounded by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and denounced as a ‘heretic’ on Vatican Radio, he was not found to be unorthodox. Such defensiveness kept the Church from developing and deepening a biblical consciousness of striving forward with all humanity toward the coming of the Kingdom. Today the eschatological Jesus is again out of fashion in scholarly circles, due to the new emphases of the ‘third quest’ for the historical Jesus and the work of the Jesus Seminar. However, sober scholarship continues to verify that the announcement of the Kingdom is the very bedrock of the teaching of Jesus, in the earliest witnesses to it. (See especially C. M. Tuckett, Q and the History of Early Christianity, Edinburgh, 1996; also B. T. Viviano, 'Eschatology and the Quest for the Historical Jesus,' in J. L. Walls, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, OUP, 2008).
For Bultmann faith itself, pistis, comes into focus only when we note its eschatological dynamic; it is a trusting investment in the divinely promised future. Christ himself and his resurrection can only be understood as eschatological events:
Jesus Christ is the Eschatological Event as the man Jesus of Nazareth and as the Word which resounds in the mouth of those who preach him. The New Testament indeed holds unmistakenly fast to the humanity of Jesus over against all gnostic doctrine, naturally with a naivety for which the problems of ‘very God and very man’ have not yet arisen – those problems which the ancient Church doubtless saw, but sought to solve in an inadequate way by means of Greek thought with its objectivizing nature; a solution which indeed found an expression that is now impossible for our thought, in the Chalcedonian formula... Christ is everything that is asserted of him in so far as he is the Eschatological Event... He is such – indeed, to put it more exactly, he becomes such – in the encounter – when the Word which proclaims him meets with belief; and indeed even when it does not meet with belief, for whoever does not believe is already judged (John 3.18). (Essays Philosophical and Theological, London, 1955, p. 286.)
Through a nuanced hermeneutics, one may reconcile this orientation with the claims of orthodoxy, which can be satisfied with the recognition of some kind of objective distinction in God between God, Word and Spirit, a distinction required if the New Testament evidence is to retain its full meaning. But the elaborate superstructures built on this in speculative trinitarian theology need to be dismantled if the original core of dogma and its necessity are to be brought into view. The identity (‘hypostatic union’) of Jesus and the Word, taught by Council of Chalecedon in 451, has to be rethought in terms of event and process, as a coincidence of the human historical career of Jesus with the revelational activity of God leading history to its goal. Thus Chalcedon is ‘overcome’ insofar as it belongs to the Greek metaphysical inculturation of the Gospel and ‘retrieved’ as the opening of a horizon (horos) rather than a definition that closes debate. (See S. Coakley, ‘What does Chalcedon Solve and What Does it Not?’ in S. T. Davis, et al., ed. The Incarnation, Oxford UP, 2002, pp. 143-63.)
Bernhard Welte existentializes Chalcedon as follows: ‘In that the entire human being came about (sich ereignete), the entire living God came about toward believers. In the one event in which the human being came about, the living God came about too’ (‘Die Krisis der dogmatischen Christusaussagen,’ in: A. Paus, ed., Die Frage nach Jesus, Graz, 1973, p. 177). Heidegger might say, as he did of Bultmann’s TWNT article on ‘faith’: ‘Too Heideggerian for me!’ But though Welte’s proposal needs to be cashed in richer biblical terms, and to be given a sharper eschatological inflection, it indicates the hermeneutic task: to clarify the phenomena that gave rise to dogma and to measure against them the limits of the horizon within which the dogma was formulated. Christ is the eschatological inbreaking of God’s grace and judgment, its earthly personification, and that is the reason why it is precisely insofar as he is fully and entirely man that he is fully and entirely God. An eschatological streamlining of our language about Christ would make Christology more concrete and more credible. To be sure, the very language of revelation and eschatology on which Karl Barth and Bultmann rely so heavily may now be found strained and abstract by many.
The perennial tension between the Christ of dogma and ‘the historical Jesus as he lives hidden in the Gospels’ (Schweitzer, p. 47) has been exacerbated by clearer emergence of the historical Jesus thanks to two centuries of scholarship. The ‘God incarnate’ schema seems to impose an alien mythological framework on the prophet who announced the imminence of God’s Kingdom and gave body to his message through exorcisms and healings, table fellowship with outcasts, and a fresh interpretation of Jewish law and wisdom. Jesus associated acceptance or rejection of his own message with the judgment to come, and spoke in a way that gave rise to his identification as the Davidic Messiah and the coming Son of Man. Jesus’ own messianological notions must be interpreted against the background of Jewish religion and culture. The obsolescence of Hellenistic myth does not entail any rejuvenation of Hebrew myth. The task of rearticulating in contemporary categories what the ancients envisaged in mythic terms is daunting, for however refreshing we may find the older biblical representations by contrast with stale Hellenistic notions, it is the latter that harmonize with the tracks of thought most familiar in Western culture.
The repertoire of Jewish eschatological thought-forms came to appear alien and inadequate as the Church spread, and though the notion of Messiah was crucial in controversy with Judaism, the Hellenistic mind was more engaged by representations of the pre-existent Son of God (Paul) and Logos (John). A reappropriation of the Jewish mythical categories in an existential translation, helped by thinkers such as Rosenzweig, Scholem and Buber, may challenge theology to break out of its Hellenistic rut, but it will also cut a swath through the over-abundance of mythological motifs in the Gospels. Eschatological vision has to be constructed anew on the basis of past and future as they appear in a contemporary horizon, instructed by the discoveries of cosmology and evolutionary biology and by our longer and wider experience of history.
The Resurrection in a minimalist interpretation refers to the power of the gospel kerygma, itself an event of eschatological liberation according to Bultmann, or to the realization that ‘the cause of Jesus continues.’ In this perspective, the encounter with the risen Lord in Galilee (Mk 16:7; Mt 28:10, 16-20) has more to do with eschatology than with resurrection, in line with the idea that early communities such as the group associated with the Q material (preserved in the gospels of Matthew and Luke) lived in expectation of an imminent parousia, with no interest in passion-resurrection traditions. The crucified one, in some mysterious way, now stands before the apostles as the one who has gone before them into his ‘glory’ (itself an eschatologically charged concept). The transfer of the resurrection appearances to Jerusalem in Luke 24 and John 20 might mark a de-eschatologicization of this tradition in light of the delay of the parousia. The emphasis now falls heavily on the spiritual and bodily presence of the Risen One to his Church.
For Barth the resurrection appearances belong to the order of Revelation, not physical or psychical vision.
The resurrection of Jesus stands or falls with the anastasis nekrôn, with the resurrection of the dead in general, What sort of historical fact is this, of which the reality or at least the knowledge is bound to the knowledge of a truth that is general, one indeed that in its essence does not arise in history, or more precisely, that arises only on the border of history, the border of death? (Die Auferstehung der Toten, Zollikon, 1953, p. 77)
The resurrection is an eschatological event, known only by revelation, and not verifiable even by inspecting an empty tomb. If so, a Church that has ceased to think eschatologically will not be able to think the Resurrection either. The risen Christ is the eschatological Christ, as known under present conditions of hope and forward striving. To apprehend him, an eschatological horizon is necessary. Otherwise the resurrection becomes a myth or a miracle. ‘To see the empty grave and to see the risen one differ toto coelo’ (Barth, p. 79) and the Gospels warn us against focusing on the former: ‘Why seek you the living among the dead?’ (Lk 25:5). The popular apologetic of the resurrection as a well-attested historical event, such as is promoted by N. T. Wright, falsifies the nature of the encounter with God in revelation; it is not something at our disposal or packaged in a form we can control. Even were Christ’s body filmed from the moment of his death, and even should the camera reveal astonishing events – the body’s sudden disappearance for example – none of this would substitute for the seeing and interpreting of faith that is essential to the resurrection appearances. The revelation of the resurrection or exaltation of Christ, that is, of the eschaton breaking into history, the beginning of the divine future, is no less solid, true, trustworthy than any other revelation – and no more.
The Catholic Retreat from Eschatology
There has been a marked retreat from eschatological vision in contemporary Catholicism. Revival of the Tridentine Mass is actually a reinstatement of a theology alien to the perspectives of Vatican II, especially in its curtailment of the eschatological openness exemplified by Romans 8. A restorationist ideology again presents the Mass in a one-sidedly sacral style as a Sacrifice, and obscures the inseparability of its sacrificial sense from its enactment as a meal-event bringing us into contact with our neighbor and obliging us to overcome social differences (there is no kiss of peace). A pagan notion of sacrifice threatens to prevail over sacrifice in the Christian sense, as an action ‘whereby we inhere in God as a holy society’ (Augustine, City of God X, 6). The Eucharist risks losing its orientation to the Kingdom and the eschatological task of building it up in the present world. Scripture, which reminds us of these dimensions, is reduced to a minimum, and read in a dead language. Individualist piety prevails over communal listening and response to the Word of God.
It seems that catechesis has failed to transmit the integral biblical vision of the Council, and that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has not helped in this regard. The satirical tones in which churchmen speak of the Enlightenment undercuts the ideas of development and forward advance that are basic to Vatican II and to Scripture itself. The Enlightenment is caricatured by focusing on past positions and violent events such as the French Revolution and glossing over the way the Enlightenment inspiration has been enriched over time in a self-corrective process of free thought and open discussion. Even the Enlightenment ideals of democracy and human rights are relativized in the melancholy vision of history now in vogue, for which the supreme modern evil is the assertion of human autonomy and adulthood. The eschatological goal of this mindset is the restoration of Christendom, an eschatology perversely oriented to a dead past.
The virtual disappearance of liberation theology is celebrated as a victory by the restorationists (e. g. http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=643), but it has left Catholic social thinking and engagement in a listless state, while it has entailed almost a phobia against taking seriously the eschatological language of Scripture. Such expressions as ‘the Gospel of justice and peace,’ ‘the people of God,’ ‘the kingdom of God’ have been depreciated as leftist slogans and are never found on the lips of conservative Catholics. Discussions of limbo and hell have been given far more prominence in recent years than a biblical eschatology of the Kingdom. The theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, also devoid of a social justice dimension, has been far more popular than that of liberal theologians such as Küng, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Metz, who had sympathy with their Latin American colleagues.
Paul VI's 1967 encyclical, on 'The Progress of Peoples' gives a clue in its very title as to how the Church today can enrich its eschatological self-understanding; though it was his best encyclical, it is extremely rarely mentioned by his successors. The Church is the People of God, underway toward the Kingdom -- a goal envisaged in faith and hope, and perhaps best defined as the fulfillment of the gospel promises. The peoples of the world are also underway, in progress, and constantly projecting hopes for a better future. The dialogue between the people of God and the peoples of the world as they move forward together in hope can be mutually enriching and enlightening. When communication becomes one-way, the Church preaching at the world, the Church's message of hope itself becomes blurry.
Benedict XVI’s best-seller Jesus of Nazareth well reflects this retreat from eschatology. He says that Weiss and Schweitzer, who see Jesus as expecting the imminent arrival of the Kingdom, arbitrarily overlook teachings of Jesus that entail a long wait for the parousia, such as the parable of the sower (Jesus von Nazareth, Freiburg, 2007, pp. 81-2). Since he does not advert to the textual precondition of their discussion, the differentiation of primitive and later layers in the Jesus tradition, his argument against them has loopholes. The Synoptics are pervaded by awareness of the delayed parousia, and some claim that this is true even of hypothetically later strata of Q, so that the teachings ascribed to Jesus would be shaped by this awareness.
Benedict treats the prophets’ vision of a healed world, in which ‘they will beat their swords into plowshares’ (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3), as an outdated aspect of the Jewish Messianic ideal, falsified by the facts of history. In contrast, the otherworldly vision of Jesus reveals ‘that no kingdom of this world is the Kingdom of God, the definitive state of salvation of humanity. Human kingdom is human kingdom, and anyone who says he can establish a healed or whole (heile) world is assenting to Satan’s deception and surrendering the world to him’ (p. 73). This stark opposition of prophetic hopes for justice and peace over against the message of Jesus verges on Marcionite rejection – indeed, demonization – of those hopes as belonging to a lower material order than what the true Messiah brings.
Benedict swerves into evasive polemic against what appear to be straw men: ‘a secularistic reinterpretation of the idea of the Kingdom’ (p. 82); ‘“Kingdom” – that signifies simply the world, in which peace, justice and preservation of creation prevail. It is a question of nothing else’ (p. 83). For some unnamed theologians, ‘God has vanished, it is a question only of humans. Respect for religious “traditions” is only apparent. In reality they are seen as a heap of customs that we can leave people keep on to even though ultimately they do not count for anything. Faith and the religions are finalized to political goals’ (p. 84). The theologians in question must be very poor representatives of their discipline; polemic against them is a poor substitute for dialogue with the wide middle range of Catholic thought that pursues the ‘social Gospel’ in continuity with biblical spiritual vision. Ignoring the intensive reflection on justice and peace, as integral imperatives of the Gospel and marks of the Kingdom, that has been carried on in Catholic teaching and theological research since the Council, Benedict even treats them as abstractions to be considered skeptically: ‘Who can genuinely say what justice is, or what really serves justice in the concrete situation, or how peace is to be created? On closer inspection all this shows itself to be utopian chatter without real content, unless one silently presupposes party doctrines as the content of these concepts to be accepted by all’ (ib.). That the People of God, reading the signs of the times with the hope-filled vision of those who expect the Kingdom, have a prophetic capacity to discern the ways of justice and peace is overlooked in such withering comments.
‘What did Jesus then really bring, since he did not bring world peace, or good conditions for all, or a better world? The answer is quite simple: God. He brought God… Now we know His face, now we can call on Him’ (ib.). What was the Kingdom Jesus preached? ‘Quite simply, God, and indeed God as the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history, and is doing so even now’ (p. 85). Jesus says to us: ‘God is there. And: God is truly God, who holds the threads of the world in his hands. In this sense the message of Jesus is very simple, theocentric through and through. The new and quite specific quality of his message consists in this, that he says to us: God is acting now – it is the hour in which God, in a way that surpasses everything up to now, is showing himself in history as its Lord, as the living God’ (ib.). Luther would say, more concretely, that Jesus brought a gracious God, a God who is gracious because he is identified by a concrete action, the forgiveness of sins, and the conferral of freedom. This account acquires definition by overcoming previous inadequate or oppressive images of God and by reworking the Pauline dialectic of Law and Gospel. Liberation theology likewise seeks to identify the concrete face of the liberating God for a world racked by poverty and violence, finding a new actuality in the Hebrew Bible’s language of oppression and deliverance. Benedict’s rhetoric is cushioned against such questions and answers, though he does provide concrete content to the Kingdom message by characterizing it as a new Torah, to the satisfaction of some, but not all, or his Jewish readers.
Consequent eschatology is relativized: ‘All our considerations hitherto have led us to recognize the immediate expectation of the end-time as an aspect in the early reception of the message of Jesus, but at the same time it apparent that one cannot plaster it over every saying of Jesus nor elevate it to the basic theme of his message’ (pp. 226-7). But the relativization goes so far as to reduce all eschatology to the ‘realized eschatology’ of God present among us here and now. The Kingdom is Jesus himself, the autobasileia as Origen called him. The themes of justice and peace are merely applications of his command of charity. Though the title ‘Son of Man’ reflects ‘the very center of Jesus’ self-consciousness’ (p. 382), this self-designation of Jesus loses the eschatological sense it carries for most exegetes and expresses rather ‘the being-one of God and man’ (pp. 384-5). The Messianic title, ‘Son of God,’ also ‘expresses a special being-one with God’ (p. 389). Both titles lose their specific biblical connotations and come to mean the same thing: the unity of Jesus with God, conceived as a present and timeless reality, with no messianic or eschatological thrust to the future.
The prayer ‘Thy Kingdom come’ has less to do with imagining some divinely granted future state of the world, a state of justice and peace such as the prophets longed for, than with recognizing ‘the primacy of God’ (p. 179) over against any ‘automatism of a functioning world such as the utopia of the classless society envisaged’ (p. 180). As Michael Westmoreland-White quite aptly remarks: ‘His Jesus is safe and tame. He does not challenge, does not provoke, does not upset any current applecarts. Ratzinger’s Jesus is too meek and mild to have ever been crucified. Thus, his book may promote the remembrance of Jesus, but not the right kind of dangerous memory. If the pope remembered Jesus faithfully, he could never be persecuting liberation theologians like Boff and Sobrino’ (http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2007/08/remembering-jesus-benedict-xvi-and.html).
Missing here, in short, is an integrated eschatological perspective. And that entails the lack of an adequate grasp of the biblical events and phenomena in their original force. Metaphysical presuppositions have set limits to the possibility of these phenomena showing themselves of themselves. The explosion of eschatological horizons in the prophets and in early Christianity is controlled in view of a doctrinal closure determined by the Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries. What is needed instead is to find a new perspective on these Councils by reading them as attesting the original Eschatological Event of Jesus Christ, in uneasy interaction with the metaphysical frameworks prevailing in Hellenistic culture.
Can Phenomenologists Recover the Eschatological Horizon?
If eschatological thinking is now in the doldrums, can we expect that phenomenology will catalyze a new appropriation of this tradition? The rapport between phenomenology and eschatology is emblematized in the lifelong friendship between Heidegger and Bultmann, foremost 20th century thinkers of the phainomena and the eschata respectively. Heidegger participated in Bultmann’s seminar on Paul at Marburg, 1923-4, and ‘Bultmann regarded him as the leading expert on Luther’; Heidegger wrote to Karl Jaspers in June 1924: ‘The only real human being here is the theologian Bultmann, whom I see every week’ (H. Ott, Martin Heidegger, London, 1993, p. 125). Heidegger’s own comments on Paul in the 1921-22 winter seminar at Freiburg already show the influence of the early dialectical theology of Barth and Bultmann. Though scholarship has recently revealed the immense influence of Luther (along with Harnack) on Heidegger at this time, it is surprising to find him apparently unaware of the existence of the greater Galatians commentary of 1531 (Gesamtausgabe 60, p. 68), and repeating a wooden Catholic critique of Lutheran fiducia. He criticizes the academic approach to eschatology as a history of ideas (Vorstellungen); ‘eschatology is never primarily a matter of ideas or representations’ (p. 111). He calls for a regrounding of dogma and history of dogma in the original existential Vollzugszusammenhang (context of realization), from which alone one can descry ‘the meaning of the being of God (Sinn des Seins Gottes)’ (p. 117).
The ‘phenomenological destruction’ that can ‘bring phenomena to givenness’ in their ‘originarity’ (p. 121) opens two paths of thought – a theological one and an ontological one. Heidegger devoted himself to the latter, choosing to respect theology by being silent about it. His phenomenology of the future, and his establishment of its primacy over present and past, is in a tacit relationship of mutual enrichment with theological eschatology. His ‘being-unto-death’ is an immanent, this-worldly eschatology that brackets questions about a life beyond.
The theological furrow Heidegger began to open is explored professionally in Bultmann’s work, ‘a theology born of the spirit of Heidegger’s philosophy’ (R. Safranski, Martin Heidegger, Harvard UP, 1998, p. 134). It entailed not only an overcoming of Hellenistic metaphysics in the spirit of Harnack but also a phenomenological destruction of the mythological thought-forms of Scripture. The step back to die Sachen selbst of Christian revelation, for Bultmann, was a step into the existential eschatological horizon of Paul, reinterpreted in contemporary terms. Return to the past became opening to the future, a structure that is also inscribed in the huge Heideggerian project of overcoming metaphysics. Many would find Heidegger’s eschatology of Being rather eccentric, particularly when it takes a posture of waiting for a mystical ‘turn’ that will somehow transform the eclipse of Being in technology and that even seems to require a divine intervention: ‘Only a god can now rescue us!’ Bultmann’s eschatology suffered from the opposite weakness – it fitted too neatly with standard exegesis and with the individualistic outlook of Lutheran faith. If a Heideggerian overcoming of metaphysics in theology simply meant ‘back to Bultmann’ it would not have great appeal.
In Étant donné (Paris, 1997), Jean-Luc Marion frees phenomenality and eventhood from the tight grasp of the principle of sufficient reason and other metaphysical conditions of possibility, thus making straight the paths to recognition of the possibility of such a phenomenon as ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). It may be asked if Marion does justice to the eschatological structure of that phenomenon, or of ‘revelation’ and ‘incarnation,’ which figure prominently in his philosophy but which, no doubt because of the limits of the philosophical horizon, as with Heidegger, lack the eschatological thrust they have in Scripture. The arrival of the divine, in a realized eschatology, does not stimulate a forward striving toward the Kingdom, but instead a mystique of receiving the gift of divine presence from moment to moment. To be sure, Marion's earliest thinking on the gift is in the context of a meditation of eschatological eucharistic time, the eucharistic present as given to us from the future (Dieu sans l'être, Paris, 1991, ch. 6). But the very fact that those pages are placed under the rubric of Gregory of Nyssa's epektasis indicates that they move within a narrow conceptual and spiritual circle. The words 'liberation,' 'kingdom of the Spirit' (not 'Kingdom of God' -- the insinuation is that those who go on about the Kingdom are Joachimite eccentrics!) and 'hope' occur in scare quotes on p. 205, but such motifs seem to have no shaping power for the author's vision.
The Transfiguration of Jesus, perhaps the most memorable presentation in Scripture of the ‘saturated phenomenon’ of revelation must be seen, like the Resurrection, as a proleptic pointer to eschatological glory. If revelation loses this proleptic character, then a rich differentiation of degrees and modes of givenness is not enough to restore its dynamic character as a temporal and eschatological phenomenon. Convoked by a once-for-all event, uncontaminated by any trace of pluralistic, historical open-endedness, one experiences a sublime rupture of the tissue of history, but it becomes very difficult to link this to modern evolutionary and historical perspectives. When Marion speaks of Christ’s flesh as ‘affecting itself by itself and thus manifesting itself without having to inscribe itself in any relation, thus in an absolute mode, outside or beyond every horizon’ (p. 333), the docetist overtones are troubling. To abstract Christ’s flesh from dependency on human relations is untrue to the modalities of incarnation as theology has painfully rediscovered them over the last two hundred and fifty years. It withdraws Christ into the cocoon of the self-affection of Life, in a manner reminiscent of the late Michel Henry, who read the Fourth Gospel in this fashion, in disregard of biblical context and ecclesial interpretation. The fleshly Christ is ‘the light of the world’ (Jn 8.12) not from a place above and beyond it, or in abstraction from it, but from within it, radiating out to it along historical pathways and interpreted to it differently in successive contexts by the dynamic activity of his Spirit. His flesh is of the same frail ‘dependently co-arisen’ texture as ours (Heb 2:14, 5:7-8), and it is precisely as such an ‘earthen vessel’ that it becomes the vehicle of the ‘eternal weight of glory’ (2 Cor. 4:7, 17). That glory is not given in raw immediacy, but for the most part in the straining of eschatological expectation; the story of the Transfiguration is firmly fixed in this horizon and not allowed to saturate or swamp it.
One suspects that Marion ends up subordinating the phenomena to a totalizing, originary concept of ‘givenness’ (donation), which enjoys the same transcendental status as ‘being’ does in Thomism. Wittgenstein and Derrida, who are also in their way thinkers of eventhood and phenomenality, might object that this concept is a logocentric mystification, and that phenomena are in reality caught in a pluralistic web of language that reduces ‘givenness’ to a moment within a wider context (différance), which itself is not governed by the values of presence, givenness, or phenomenality. How does this objection connect with our suspicion that in orchestrating the biblical categories of divine call and gift, Marion underplays the eschatological dimension, and that his absorption in the ‘saturated phenomenon’ of revelation does not sufficiently attend to its future-oriented character and the call inscribed in it to transform the world in light of one’s expectation of the Kingdom of God? Is postmodern awareness intrinsically anti-eschatological?
All phenomena are temporal, and an integral phenomenology will take account of the openness to the future that is intrinsic to temporality – whether grasped as longing, anticipation, expectation of what is to be (futurum) or as that which comes to us at every moment (Zu-kunft). Jewish phenomenologists have specialized in this and Catholics have raced to catch up on the dizzying talk of apocalypse and messianology in Derrida, which is inspired by Levinas but seems to carry to an extreme the tendency of Levinas to reduce the eschatological to a rather abstract posture of receptivity before the Other.
As a quasi-transcendental philosopher, Derrida clarifies ‘messianicity’ as a basic structure of temporal experience preceding any particular ‘messianism’, be it that of the Abrahamic religions or of Marxism. He can scarcely be said to guide his readers back from this empty, universal structure to a concrete vision, and his book on Marx has done nothing to redeem Marxism from its spectral status in the contemporary horizon. Like Heidegger’s being-unto-death, the hospitable openness of the subject in Derrida seems in practice to function as an immanentization and secularization of biblical models of hope. To be sure, the Jewish eschatological horizons are rather a strait-jacket for the modern mind. Rather than immediately rewriting them in light of evolutionary time or the critical perspectives of liberation theology, perhaps there is something to be said for stepping back to the basic structures of human temporality. Neal DeRoo argues that ‘the Derridean distinction between messianicity and messianism echoes the Husserlian distinction, within his account of protention, between general and special fulfillment’ (‘Protending the Messiah? The Husserlian Roots of Derrida’s Messianic,’ in DeRoo/Manoussakis, forthcoming). All subjects are constituted as a promise, infinitely open to the future, reaching toward fulfillment. Starting from this, we can adhere to concrete messianisms in a demystified way. But such analysis can seem an expensive detour; demystification can be brought about in a more empirical fashion by simply doing a literary-historical critique of our symbolic representations and identifying where and why some inherited models of hope have lost real traction for us, while identifying languages of hope that are still persuasive and that admit of development.
It may be significant that the The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology (ed. G. Ward, Oxford, 2001) has no entry for 'eschatology' in its fourteen-page index. It does have a lot of entries for Messianism, all of them referring to the contribution of Richard Kearney, who has wrestled with the conundrums arising from the play of forces between phenomenology, deconstruction and biblical eschatology, from the start integrating into his reflections on such general philosophical themes as imagination, the possible, and the other, a reference to concrete Kingdom concerns, very much under the sway of post-Vatican II Catholic culture and activism (and with some encouragement from the example of Paul Ricoeur). Setting up a dialectic between this engaged vision and the postmodern fascination with dissemination and the khôra, he confronts both phenomenology and deconstruction with an eschatological criteriology, centered, as was the ministry of Jesus, on hospitality to the stranger or outcast. Descending to the givenness of the phenomena or to the indeterminacy and infinite dispersal of the khôra may be liberating, and may break the stranglehold of logocentric metaphysics, but the authority of ‘the face of the other’ forbids one to be content with this, and summons one back into the real world, where in compassionate response one builds toward the coming Kingdom of justice and peace.
Of course the problem here is whether the purity and rigor of philosophical discourse can survive such a massive injection of biblical imagery. Philosophy deals with empirical matters, with science, religion, history, art, politics, by refining their conceptual aspect in a critical or a foundational way. Hegel absorbed an unprecedented amount of such matter, showing the power of his logic in every domain. Husserl saw that as "an impure world-wisdom". Heidegger focused only on his theme of being, and even constructed a vague eschatology of being, a hope that the extreme depletion of being in technology would lead to a turn-around. He engages poets in this perspective, as bearers of a like hope. Ricoeur, who accuses Heidegger of neglecting the Jewish prophets and who renounces as an illusion the Hegelian totalizing synthesis, makes philosophy a vast hermeneutical survey of and dialogue with its own history and neighboring disciplines such as literary criticism, exegesis, historiography, political science and psychoanalysis. If one feels here that "the centre cannot hold", this is more the case when Derrida pursues a full-scale mutual contamination of disciplines, so that philosophy no longer claims to hold the conceptual key that clarifies or even grounds other discourses. What then is the eschatological role of the philosopher? Can he or she project a concrete future hope in the manner of Hegel or of Heidegger? Or clarify a transcendental eschatological structure, the condition of all possible eschatologies? Or preside over a critical review of and dialogue between eschatologies? Or should the philosopher subordinate the entire work of philosophizing to a concrete eschatological struggle, whether religious or political?
Like Richard Kearney, John Manoussakis, from a Greek Orthodox perspective, attempts to make up the eschatological deficit in phenomenology – to move from universal messianicity to particular messianic hope (http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/manoussakis_esc hatology.html). His focus is rather liturgical, as in his key claim that the Parousia is ‘that event that, grounded in the Eucharist, flows continuously from the eschata and permeates every moment in History.’ How does this connect with the strain of all creation toward fulfillment that Paul talks of in Romans 8, or with the imbrication of eschatological hope with concern for social justice and for peace that we find in the prophet Isaiah? Manoussakis claims that ‘eschatology is in essence a “liberation” theology (freeing us from the moral and social constellations of this world) and that… it has real, practical, day-to-day consequences for the ways we conduct our lives and our relationships with others.’ This makes eschatology sound like a heightened consciousness that has shuffled off the condition of ordinary humanity, instead of entering more courageously into that condition under the sign of hope, as Vatican II and liberation theologians urge.
‘Whereas Judaism and Islam have one eschatological center, fixed in the future, Christian eschatology unfolds as this tension between two eschatological nodal points: between the already of the Incarnation and the not yet of the Parousia.’ Should we not say that since the Incarnation, or the entire mission of Christ and the Paschal Mystery, are eschatological through and through (as clarified by Schweitzer and Bultmann) their meaning can be summed up in the phrase: the Kingdom at work in the world, striving toward its future fulfillment. To say that the Kingdom is Christ (the Origenian autobasileia cited by Benedict XVI) or that the Kingdom is the Incarnation or that the Kingdom is the Church tends to lose the open horizon of Pauline expectation, returning to an ecclesiastical enclosure. Better to say that Christ, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the Church are the inbreaking of the Kingdom, the first-fruits of its unfolding. Rather than say that “the eschaton is the Incarnation as unfolded in History through the celebration of the Eucharist” one might say that Incarnation and Eucharist are eschatological events that have meaning only as pointing beyond themselves to a future fulfillment.
‘This is not our home, our goal, our destination; that the categories of this world are not and should not be the paradigms and the concepts of our thought.’ Here the danger is nigh that eschatology becomes a liturgical dreamworld in the manner of von Balthasar. Only interaction with the categories of this world, in the spirit of Gaudium et Spes or of liberation theology can prevent this disconnect. That Marx is viewed as cultivating an ideology of totality, a Hegelian onto-theology, is hardly an encouraging sign that such dialogue is to take place.
‘The kingdom of God does not coincide with the culmination of History, that is, with a totality, but it signals a breach in the body of history, a rupture occasioned by the encounter with the Other.’ Fine, but how is such Levinassian language to be cashed in an engagement of the Church in historical struggle for the betterment of humanity, in association with all people of good will? When Manoussakis quotes Levinas: ‘eschatology institutes a relation with being beyond the totality or beyond history…. It is a relationship with a surplus always exterior to the totality’ of history (Totality and Infinity, Pittsburgh, 1969, p. 22) and “When man truly approaches the Other he is uprooted from history’”(p. 52), are we not in danger of losing any concrete grounding of biblical eschatology?
‘If incarnation was not the unsurpassable eschaton, one would have been justified in anticipating a time where I could have a more direct, full, unmediated understanding of the Other… Such an eschaton beyond incarnation would offer me the metaphysical alibi to overlook the Other in front of me.’ Incarnation is the mode of the Kingdom’s presence in the world, the leaven of spiritual and social growth of evolving humanity. But to talk of it as ‘unsurpassable’ seems to curb the open-endedness of the Pauline and Johannine horizons, in which the expected final triumph of the Gospel is something surpassing our present imagination.
‘In order to make visible the invisible, that is, in order to make present the futural, the Eucharist has to let the visible and the present sink into the background in order to allow what lies there, unnoticed, to become manifest. In other words, if the world in its worldliness were a photograph, the Eucharist would be its negative.’ The duality here sounds like an aesthetic complementarity. Would it not be better to focus on the duality between ‘the sufferings of this present time’ – which are not made invisible but raised to the forefront of consciousness in proper, socially aware celebration – and ‘the glory which shall be revealed in us’ (Rom. 8:18), the object of hope for the oppressed.
Manoussakis quotes Pannenberg as follows: ‘The truth of things that will be revealed in the future, their true essence that will come to light at the eschaton, generally defines already their present existence even though in one way or another this may still have a radical change ahead of it. Only within a general ontology of the present reality of beings as this is constituted by the eschatological future of its nature do the statements of theology about the eschatological present of salvation achieve full plausibility.’ But is this not again an abstract quasi-Hegelian structure, bound to have a stifling effect on eschatological consciousness rooted in the prophets, the concern for justice and peace, and attention to the signs of the times? Pannenberg, von Balthasar, Ratzinger and Communio theologians are given to scotching the Enlightenment “myth of progress” in the name of an eschatological awareness that knows better, whereas Teilhard, Schillebeeckx, Rahner and Concilium theologians espouse the dynamic of progress as aligned with Christian eschatological hope. Manoussakis writes an exquisitely balanced sentenced that might satisfy both schools or neither: ‘The from-the-kingdom movement that runs against the forward current of pro-gress, but also propels it by exercising an irresistible attraction towards itself, has as its aim the disarmament of our predictability, that is, our prejudice.’
Is the future of the Kingdom merely a regulative ideal, a useful utopia? Even if it were so, to establish its authority on these grounds alone would be a worthy phenomenological task. Christian faith in divine promises can be strengthened by the clearing of this phenomenological basis. Scriptural ‘revelation’ at its most convincing has often been linked with prophetic concern for people suffering from exclusion or discrimination, and eschatological imagination has been galvanized by the idea of redress for them. Eschatological awareness woke the Church from its dogmatic slumbers by forcing it to attend to the signs of the times – to situations of injustice and violence, and to the aspirations of human beings from different cultural and religious backgrounds. The loss of this awareness entails a return to the cocoon, from which the face of the other is glimpsed only from the distance, as something to be placed in a bureaucratic theological category or considered as an “object of charity.” The Church is a “light to the nations” above all by its message of eschatological hope, and it is in studying the face of suffering and striving humanity that it can give flesh to that hope, so that the humanity of Christ is no longer a picture from the past but something discerned in the texture of our world.
Some may say we see there only Christ crucified, not Christ risen. But a phenomenology of suffering and death in light of the resurrection hope need not be a wishful beautification of these realities. Phenomenology here is nourished by the primary exposition of these phenomena in literature, in elegy and tragedy, where the end of finite existence often carries intimations of a horizon that grounds its dignity – a horizon Heidegger would call ‘the mountain-range of Being.’ In Christianity one’s death is conjoined with that of Christ, and what lies beyond is descried in light of Christ’s exaltation to the Father’s right hand, his eschatological victory. The interplay between this ‘revealed’ eschatology and the eschatology of being that can be discerned by phenomenological analysis remains a theme for thought. Phenomenology can bolster the empirical bearing of mythical schemes of thought, while revelation can confirm the hunches of phenomenology.