Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 4

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The Crucifixion of God

[Disclaimer, this chapter was dense and central to understanding Altizer’s atonement. If further clarification is needed, feel free to ask]

The Kingdom of God can be understood as the transcendence of God, but transcendence always remains mysterious. Altizer argues that the disappearance of the proclamation of apocalyptic Kingdom to be the greatest reversal in Christianity. This calling for the Kingdom could only ever be resuscitated by heretical movements that radically attacked orthodoxy and the state. Tracking the historical movement of the symbol of the cross, Altizer thinks that the Christ of glory is unthinkable within modern Christianity. Western philosophy has also had such a paradoxical transformation instigated by Augustine’s reflection on consciousness “as the sole ground for a universal horizon and world” (69). The Cartesian subject was metaphysically groundless, and not until Hegel’s philosophy do we witness a re-thinking of totality, and hence the unity between Hegel and Augustine’s understanding of self-consciousness. Hegel integrated the death of God into this thinking whereby “self-consciousness passes through the death of God, and it only thereby and therein that it realizes itself as the pure subject of consciousness” (69). This self-consciousness is absolutely new because it recognizes the alien otherness within consciousness that must be negated to truly understand itself. Similarly, in Paul the “I” interiorized guilt thus making consciousness alien to itself. Altizer provocatively claims that this otherness is an internalization of the crucifixion that is resurrection. This repetition of the crucifixion is “a self-negation, and a self-negation which is an interior actualization of an otherness that is the otherness of itself” (70).

If the crucifixion is resurrection then the crucifixion is the negation of negation. Altizer notices that in the Fourth Gospel Jesus can claim “It is I”, hence we are presented with a Jesus void of interior subject, a Jesus in which there is no difference between the resurrected and crucified Christ. This is demonstrated by the elusive “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. Altizer goes on to analyze the common parabolic language of Jesus in the synoptics. He notes the paradox that although everyone who heard could understand what Jesus was communicating, when these parables are repeated they can only seem wholly mysterious to the hearer. The utter uniqueness of Jesus’ language was that although it was universally understood, and yet it resulted in the “ultimate transformation of in the common language of everyone” (73). Jesus’ apocalyptic and parabolic language has been quickly forgotten by the entire world, and it was not until attacks upon Christendom that we witness a “reversal of reversals of Jesus, and therefore as assaults which recover an eschatological reversal, and an eschatological reversal that is actual in Jesus’ proclamation of the dawning of the Kingdom of God” (74). Jesus’ parabolic language reveals our unknowing because it confounds everyone’s conception of God.

“Thus parabolic language is itself a parable of the Kingdom of God, a parable embodying that Kingdom in the immediate and the everyday; then it is understood by everyone and everybody, but understood by no one when it is understood as a parable of “God”. Here, that God disappears, and disappears in the very advent of the Kingdom of God, an advent which is the ending of God…That ending can be named as crucifixion” (75).

The cross God’s self-negation, and hence if modernity is the historical realization of the death of God then the crucifixion should be understood as being central to modern self-consciousness. Modern self-consciousness leads to a self-realization, a self-realization of the self-negation of God, or what Blake named self-annihilation, which “is the self-negation or self-emptying of Jesus of the crucified God” (76). In 1st Corinthians Paul ends his letter by saying that Son will be subjected to God. Altizer thinks Paul has betrayed the crucified God by saying that ultimately the Son glorifies the Creator. Interestingly enough, Altizer realizes that the voice from the whirlwind in Job in which is identical to the Creator God as God is wholly unaffected by the crucifixion and resurrection. For Altizer, God’s glory is absolutely realized in God’s kenotic self-negation on the cross. God’s ultimate act of Love then is the sacrifice of his Son, a sacrifice that is absolute self-emptying. Following Paul, we must remember that it is not I who live, but Christ in me.

“Thus “I” am dead and buried with Christ, and if that death is resurrection or redemption, it is nevertheless a real and actual death, and a once and for all and irreversible death, and consequently not a death that is a reversed in resurrection, but far rather a death that is fully and finally actual in resurrection” (78).

Contra Gnosticism, Altizer reminds us that this resurrection is one into life, not into an eternal life of glory. Altizer believes that when Christians celebrate the glory of God they cannot celebrate the crucified Christ. For we can only have life as long as we are crucified with Christ.

“Thus the Christ who is present in Christian life is not the Christ of glory but the Christ of passion, the Christ who is the crucified God, or the Christ who is the full and actual embodiment of the self-negation and self-emptying of God. For the Son of God is the God who is love, a love which is enacted in an ultimate sacrifice, and an ultimate sacrifice of death. That is the death which Christianity knows as life” (79).

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