Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 7

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Incarnation and Apocalypse

The God who is pure actuality originally actualizes Himself by negating a primordial plenitude. Actualization is in absolute opposition to itself, which leads Altizer to say that the source of I AM’s absolute otherness is the fact that I AM is simultaneously I AM NOT. This is opposition is not some harmonious polarity because the actualization of I AM self-negated an original quiescence in the violent genesis of creation. This self-negation was the necessary condition for absolute otherness (i.e. difference) to emerge because in this primordial plentitude there was no differentiation. The original sacrifice (self-negation of) of I AM that shattered creation is likewise “the sacrifice which is evoked by the Christian affirmation that God is love, for the love of God is the self-sacrifice or the self-negation or the self-emptying of God, a sacrifice which is the very center and ground of I AM” (110). The irreversible incarnation’s fulfillment is apocalypse itself, and incarnation is not simply the Word enfleshed but also the “Word or Godhead realizing itself, and realizing itself as the full and final opposite or otherness of itself, an otherness which is its ownmost otherness” (111). The absolute forward-movement of history itself is realized by the self-negation of I AM which is contingent on the negative pole of the Godhead, a pole that cannot absolutely differentiated from its positive pole.

Altizer sees the ascension and assumption as pagan reversals of the incarnation in which the apocalyptic faith of early Christianity is negated in favor of a regression into the cycle of eternal return. “So it is that resurrection is here known as ascension, and as an ascension which reverses the movement of incarnation, and reverses it so that Christ can return to the glory of heaven” (116). Ultimately, Altizer believes that the incarnation of I AM is the forward movement of history in which God’s self-negation leads from transcendence into immanence and eternity into time. We must be careful to recognize that incarnation is a repetition of creation because it results from the absolute negation of the Godhead, just as creation begins by an absolute self-emptying of an original plenitude. However, this suggests that the regression into the transcendent sovereign Lord, or into the Christ of glory sitting at the right hand of God in heaven can only be a negation of the incarnation. But, if incarnation is the irreversible absolute motor of history itself then nothing could reverse the event of the Word becoming flesh. All the negations built into Christian doctrine that attempt to control the radical nature of incarnation only attempt to reverse it, but Altizer contends that the effects of the incarnation of the kenotic Christ of the passion cannot be understood if we remain captivated by the ruling Christ of glory.

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