The Meaning of Christian Eschatology


The Meaning of Christian Eschatology

Barth’s Disingenuous Description 

Let us be honest: we do not know what we are saying when we speak of Jesus Christ’s coming again in judgment, and of the resurrection of the dead, of eternal life and eternal death. That with all these there will be bound up a piercing revelation— a seeing, compared to which all our present vision will have been blindness— is too often testified in Scripture for us to feel we ought to prepare ourselves for it. For we do not know what will be revealed when the last covering is removed from our eyes, from all eyes: how we shall behold one another and what we shall be to one another— men of today and men of past centuries and millennia, ancestors and descendants, husbands and wives, wise and foolish, oppressors and oppressed, traitors and betrayed, murderers and murdered, West and East,

Barth is being disingenuous while simultaneously giving a clear description, as to a lesser extent are Rahner and Lonergan, precisely because we do know what we are saying, whether many will admit it or not.  The eschatology of Christianity as the “Last Judgment” is the judgment of all previous human judgments – judgments that have been made without understanding the origin of the parameters on which they were based, judgments of the I-Subject unaware of the source of its own understanding – the Self, understood through a reflexive understanding that has full insight into insight.  It is the judgment of all past judgments, not only the revaluation of all values but the revaluation of value itself and its replacement by a judgment of the worth of things in every pattern of experience.  The ‘Last Judgment’ must itself reevaluate every judgment, whether of ethics or physics, art or politics, love or the erotic horizon itself.

Rahner abandons the word God precisely as overdetermined, preferring “infinite horizon” or  “the incomprehensibly obvious”.  This is the erotic horizon itself, the horizon upon which we project our identity.  His insistence that it is simultaneously “personal” is simply that it is what it always has been, our individual Self and the simultaneously shared Self of community, which together constitute our person.  The erotic horizon is thus the proper limit of the Self by which it is self-defined.

Lonergan takes hundreds of pages to show the nature of insight, the last part of which was rushed not simply by external circumstances. Nothing in the preceding pages justifies the explicit solution, it merely softened the impact of the book as a whole at a time when most people were not ready for it.  The implicit solution is precisely the abandonment of this mythology, a mythology made irrelevant by the understanding of understanding that overcomes the bias of common sense in the long view by privileging the expansion of the erotic horizon.

The Church is therefore the ultimate corporation: it exists simply in order to continue to exist.  As corporate it is simultaneously, as Zizek describes it, a messenger that in fulfilling its proper purpose has no need of reading the message, of understanding its content.  

The Church can only deliver it the way a postman delivers his mail; the Church is not asked what it thinks it is thereby starting, or what it makes of the message. The less it makes of it and the less it leaves on it its own fingerprints, the more it simply hands it on as it has received it—so much the better.” There is only one unconditional certainty in all this—the certainty of Jesus Christ as our savior, which is a “rigid designator” remaining the same in all possible worlds.

Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (p. 222). Norton. Kindle Edition.

As Rahner notes, Jesus was simply a man, but a man that demonstrates the certain possibility of being the Kingdom of God.  Or in Meister Eckhart’s terms, “if Jesus were here today he might say ‘I became a man for you, if you do not become a god for me you betray me.’”  The second coming is indeed the end of the world, and the beginning of worlds, the only “rigid designator” that is common to all worlds is the certain possibility of being what was previously understood as a god, in a finite, temporal fashion.

Precisely nothing external happens in the second coming, when any individual man finally ‘hears of the death of God’ but the Event. The second coming is the rebirth of the dead God as the individual and shared Self.  It is predicated by the understanding of the dead God as the ‘holy ghost’, the dead (and therefore absent) God of morality and religion.  It is the revelation that belief itself has been misunderstood and misused and is itself the problem when held onto in the face of understanding.  The community of believers has to have a “piercing revelation” of the human origin of revelation itself as the Event of insight into insight, an understanding of understanding in its reflexive fullness, which includes the understanding that understanding is always only partial, that a “complete act of understanding” is a pure desire that always lies beyond the erotic horizon, that explanation is not understanding but the flight from understanding.  

In the Event the third term, the big Other in Zizek’s formulation, is finally nullified leaving only the two of love, and the community of believers without belief becomes a community of love, existing for no reason other than people’s love for one another.  The “passing of the last god” in Heidegger is simultaneously the bestowal of understanding, which has always been the province of gods, and the passing away of gods.  As Zizek puts it, the proper message of Christianity is like a bad news / good news joke: 

The bad news is that we are abandoned by God; the good news is that we are abandoned by God and left with our freedom.

Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (p. 111). Norton. Kindle Edition.

With their knowledge of Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger neither Barth nor Rahner could have been unaware not only of the nature of the last judgment, but that in certain cases it had already happened – the three philosophers mentioned being three such cases.  Lonergan happened upon it through an Event in Heidegger’s sense, and having insight into insight was able to express it more fully.

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2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Christian Eschatology

  1. Rahner’s horizon may be Infinite, it may even connote a dark, invasive absolute future, that obliterates all senses of certainty and foundation (cf., Rahner, “Christianity and the Future, 1969), but Rahner’s horizon is not “erotic,” not without a hefty dose of hermeneutical help.

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    1. I guess that wasn’t clear, where I differ from Rahner, principally, is precisely that his horizon is Thanatic.

      In the Greek mythic cosmos Eros and Thanatos (the messenger of death) were often depicted as twins, although they weren’t on the same level of divinity. Death doesn’t determine us, except in an accidental way, as the permanent interruption of our selves. We are determined instead, both individually and in a shared manner, by the individual and shared erotic horizon. Eros is by definition what draws us towards, draws us onwards, while Thanatos is best described as the Greeks did, as a messenger whose timing we can never predict.

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