Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 9

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Predestination as Eternal Recurrence

Altizer thinks that Nietzsche is our most Augustinian thinker, and Nietzsche brings to end the Christian historical world that Augustine inaugurated. Both thinkers are perhaps are most God-obsessed thinkers, and both “know God by knowing guilt” (134). While Augustine could know our negative will as one captivated by guilt, Nietzsche would name this negative, impotent will ressentiment. Nietzsche identified ressentiment as a slave morality that was a byproduct of a prophetic revolution in Israel. Furthermore, just as Augustine thought the fall more than rigorously than any other thinker so could Nietzsche identify “the origin of ressentiment as an original fall, a fall which is the origin of a bad conscience” (137). For Nietzsche, the beginning of history entailed that man repress his instincts and drives and devalue them as weak and vulgar. Bad conscience was engendered by these repressed drives turning against the self. While Augustine could affirm the totality of events as being a manifestation of total grace so Nietzsche, likewise, could affirm infinitely willing the eternal recurrence of the same. Nietzsche stands at the end of Christianity and the end of history itself, and the eternal recurrence is truly post-Christian. Eternal recurrence is “a vision of total grace, and an eternal grace which is an eternal consumption of evil or sin, each is a vision of, each is a vision of a real and actual transfiguration of evil” (139). Augustine first broke with the archaic world by thinking an utterly individual, interior will. Nietzsche’s will to power is a reversal of the individual will because the will is “without an actual direction, purpose or goal…[it] breaks and dissolves the individual will” (139. So Nietzsche’s will to power is a conversion of the individual will that reverses that will and depersonalizes it in our post-Christian world.

Both Hegel and Nietzsche are our two prophets of the death of God in modernity. Hegel understood the death of God as the resurrection of God that ultimately led to “the return of the Godhead of God as the center and ground of self-consciousness and history” (140). However, Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence conceived of events as ultimate and absolute thus not permitting any resurrection of God. The death of God for Nietzsche is an absolute and final death, a death unleashing a transcendent ground that now grounds a pure and absolute immanence. “Augustine knows the will of God as a totally transcendent and totally immanent will, Nietzsche knows the Will to Power only as a totally immanent will which is a total and absolute will, but a will which can be realized as such only by knowing the finality of the death of God” (141). Altizer notices that Augustine’s conception of the will of God is transformed into Nietzsche’s philosophy as the will to power, which wills everything absolutely and infinitely. The absolute immanent eternal recurrence is just as total as predestination, and it is likewise an act of creation ex nihilo. This nothing that served as the ground of eternal recurrence is the bad conscience that Nietzsche understood as an “interior act of No-saying, but a No-saying which becomes Yes-saying in the willing of eternal recurrence” (144). Both predestination and its post-Christian version, eternal recurrence, are celebrations of the totality of history and events.

With regards to theodicy, Nietzsche went further than Augustine ever could. Nietzsche understood the celebration of eternal recurrence as a grace that is also an affirmation of evil. Altizer recognizes that this absolute joy and affirmation is also found in the Christian’s affirmation of double predestination. However, this celebration of salvation and grace can only be full insofar as it likewise affirms that absolute nature of damnation.

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