Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 8

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The Genesis of the Will

The individual will is manifested in the I, an I that was totally alien to history until the epistles of Paul. Paul knew better than all of the impotence of the will, a will that he admits being wholly ensnared by in Romans (“I do the very things I do not desire to do”). This negative will is in absolute opposition to the I that consciously wills. Augustine, following Paul, philosophically developed the concept of the will. For Augustine, the I is both free and enslaved simultaneously. We forever are beings torn apart by the two wills battling inside us: the carnal will and the spiritual will. This is why Augustine recognizes that a true conversion must come from outside of us (i.e. grace of God) because we are forever divided. “So it is that the new will is a will of grace, and a will that can only actually enact itself through the breakage or negation of the fallen will, a negation which is a self-negation” (124). This fallen will can thus be understood as an empty will, and we here see the parallel with Augustine’s definition of evil as the privation of being. The guilt that Paul and Augustine knew better than all was actually evidence of the grace of God because the grace of God breaks the fallen will thus leading to the internalization of guilt. This guilt opens up the possibility for real freedom because “that guilty will is a will that is only our own, it necessarily embodies a responsibility that is fully our own, and that responsibility is the very freedom of the will” (126).

Altizer makes an interesting claim that the doctrine or predestination only emerges in the most powerful epochs of history. Clearly, the Reformation re-invigorated the doctrine at the beginning moment of modernity, also Altizer believes that Marxism is our most revolutionary politics that is predicated on realizing the absolute necessity of a (predestined) history.

Nietzsche’s will to power is “a will which is an absolute will, and a will wholly transcending everything which is manifest as mind and consciousness, for the will of will is absolute power, and that power is only manifest and real to the interiority of consciousness as an absolutely negative power” (128). Just as Augustine understood the relationship between the will and predestination, so Nietzsche maps out the relationship between the will to power and eternal recurrence. Here Altizer conceives of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence as the absolute ending of the archaic visions of eternal return. Eternal recurrence ends eternal return because it begins with the dissolution of transcendence (i.e. death of God), and hence it leads to “a total immanence, a pure immanence which is absolute reversal of every moment which is open to transcendence, and therefore a reversal of an eternal return which is a return of a primordial and eternal moment of time” (128).

Augustine’s doctrine of predestination is the true source of evil. God’s will is the ground of everything. His battle against Manicheanism is ultimately an attack against those Christians so disinclined to admit that God is the source of evil (i.e. a refusal of God’s sovereignty). Augustine knew evil most intimately because his struggles with his rebellious will was evidence of the sheer power of the negative. His belief in the justice of God led him to conclude that God must extinguish evil in the fires of hell. “Predestination is the eternal act of God, and that act is an embodiment of the eternal will of God, a will which is an absolute love and grace but a will which can only be known to the fallen will as absolute judgment, a judgment which is damnation” (131). Altizer recognizes that predestination is both damnation and salvation, but he wagers that the absolute grace of God can only be experienced by those who are completely unworthy of receiving it.

“Augustine is our greatest theologian of grace only by being our greatest theologian of sin. Here sin itself can be known as a consequence of grace, and the origin of sin or original sin can full be known as having its source in God, and its source in the will of God, a will which is carried in an eternal predestination” (133).

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