The Pauline Vision of the Resurrected -Part 1

§1. The Pauline Theophany

The potential of distortion through metastatic imagination, it should be understood, is inherent to the mystery of meaning. If the mystery were not real, the distortions would have no appeal. This tension inherent to the mystery has received its classic formulation through Paul in Romans 8:18-25. In the wake of the Fall, the whole creation has been submitted to a state of futility or senselessness (mataiotes) of existence (20). The whole creation exists in the earnest expectation (apokaradokia) of the revelation (apokalypsis) that will come to the sons of God (19). "We know that the whole creation is groaning in the one great act of giving birth; and not only creation but we ourselves, who possess the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free (apolytrosis)" (22-23). Together with creation, our bodies will be set free (or: ransomed) from bondage (douleia) to the fate of perishing (phthora) and enter into the freedom (eleutheria) and glory (doxa) of the children of God (21). In Anaximander's language, transfigured reality will have the structure of genesis without phthora. FN

To exist in this tension of the truth revealed, certain virtues are required. Salvation in the sense of transposition into reality without phthora is not a matter of knowledge; it is not seen but rests on hope (elpis); if it were to be seen, hope would not be necessary (24). And if we hope for something that we do not see, we must expect it (or: wait for it) with patience (or: endurance, hypomone) (25). In Romans 5:3 ff., Paul elaborates in more detail a ladder of existential order, rising from the joyful acceptance of affliction (thlipsis) in this world, from the sufferings in time (ta pathemata tou nyn kairou, 8:18), to their endurance (hypomone), further on to the character-forming perseverance (dokime), which in its turn is the foundation of hope (elpis). Existentially this ladder will hold up, so that hope does not give way to disappointment, because it rests on the grace (charis) diffused in our hearts by the holy spirit (pneuma hagion) that has been given us (5:5-6); and even though our prayer be inarticulate, the pneuma in the heart that is divine will carry it up to be articulate before God (8:26-27).

1. Noetic and Pneumatic Theophany

The Pauline analysis of existential order closely parallels the Platonic-Aristotelian. That is to be expected, since both the saint and the philosophers articulate the order constituted by man's response to a theophany. The accent, however, has decisively shifted from the divinely noetic order incarnate in the world to the divinely pneumatic salvation from its disorder, from the paradox of reality to the abolition of the paradox, from the experience of the directional movement to its consummation. The critical difference is the treatment of phthora, perishing. In the noetic theophany of the philosophers, the athanatizein of the psyche is kept in balance with the rhythm of genesis and phthora in the cosmos; in the pneumatic theophany of Paul, the athanasia of man is not to be separated from the abolition of phthora in the cosmos. Flesh and blood, the soma psychikon, cannot enter the kingdom of God; it must be changed into the soma pneumatikon (1 Cor. 15:44, 55); for the perishing (phthora) cannot take possession of the imperishing (aphtharsia) (50).

The change of reality to the state of aphtharsia is the Pauline exegesis of the mysterion (51-52). Plato, it is true, preserves the balance of consciousness, but he plays down the unbalancing reality of the theophanic event; his consciousness of the paradox is weighted toward the Anaximandrian mystery of Apeiron and Time, because he refrains from fully unfolding the implications of the directional movement. As a result, the status of the Third God in his conception of history is surrounded by the uncertainties analyzed.

Paul, on the contrary, is fascinated by the implications of theophany so strongly that he lets his imagery of a genesis without phthora interfere with the primary experience of the cosmos. In I Corinthians 15 he lets his exultation rise to the apocalyptic assurance that "we shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we (who have not yet died) shall be changed." The aphtharsia is an event to be expected in the lifetime of his readers and himself. The metastatic expectation of the Second Coming has begun its long history of disappointment.

While the texts leave no doubt about the point of difference, the point is not thought through. Paul was not a philosopher; he was the missionary for the Christ who appeared to him on the road to Damascus. If the analysis were to stop at this point, we would be settled with an unresolved conflict between noetic and pneumatic theophany, and the import of the difference for the understanding of history would be lost. This import will become clear only if the difference is placed in the context of agreement between Plato and Paul on the fundamental structure of reality.

Plato and Paul agree that meaning in history is inseparable from the directional movement in reality. "History" is the area of reality where the directional movement of the cosmos achieves luminosity of consciousness. They furthermore agree that history is not an empty time-dimension in which things happen at random but rather a process whose meaning is constituted by theophanic events. And finally they agree that the reality of history is metaleptic; it is the In-Between where man responds to the divine presence and divine presence evokes the response of man.

Against this context of agreement the difference narrows to the content of Paul's theophany, to the vision of the God who has become man, of the God who has entered the Anaximandrian Time with its genesis and phthora and, having gone through the pathemata of existence, has risen to the glory of aphtharsia. The vision of the Resurrected convinced Paul that man is destined to rise to immortality, if he opens himself to the divine pneuma as Jesus did. To the vision he responded with the proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God (Acts 9:20); and this conviction he extended to everyman: "For all who are moved by the Spirit of God, are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). "If the spirit [pneuma] of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give new life to mortal bodies by means of the spirit indwelling in you" (8:11). Faith in Christ means responsive participation in the same divine pneuma that was active in the Jesus who appeared in the vision as the Resurrected. "Justified through faith, we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1).

The problems of theophany are so badly obscured today by theological, metaphysical, and ideological overlayings that a remark to ward off conventional misunderstandings will not be superfluous. Stated flatly therefore: The present concern is not with points of christological dogma but with a vision of Paul and its exegesis by its recipient. Hence, there can arise no question of "accepting" or "rejecting" a theological doctrine.

A vision is not a dogma but an event in metaleptic reality that the philosopher can do no more than try to understand to the best of his ability. As the vision occurs in the Metaxy, it must not be split into "object" and "subject." There is no "object" of the vision other than the vision as received; and there is no "subject" of the vision other than the response in a man's soul to divine presence. The vision emerges as a symbol from the Metaxy, and the symbol is both divine and human. Any attempt to break up the mystery of divine-human participation, as it occurs in a theophanic event, is fatuous. On the subjective side, one cannot "explain" the divine presence in the vision by a psychology of Paul. And on the objective side, "critical doubts" about the vision of the Resurrected would mean that the critic knows how God has a right to let himself be seen. One could imagine a questionnaire:

In a flaming thornbush? Yes; at least the flame did not start a brush-fire.

In a Promethean fire? No; myth is a superstition.

In the negative voice of a Daimonion? Yes; the fate of Socrates will teach you to think positive.

In the authoritative command from a fire-spouting mountain? Too spectacular; and authoritarian to boot.

As an angel of the Lord? Perhaps; but are there really any angels?

As incarnate in a man? I don't know. But a dangerous precedent; the Hegels and Emersons are a pain in the neck.

This will make the scurrility of "critical" attempts more obvious than lengthy argument could do. But the questionnaire itself is not a scurrilous exaggeration; rather it is a meiosis compared with the debates actually conducted about Christ as a "historical figure," or about the "historicity" of Incarnation and Resurrection. Again stated flatly: There is no history other than the history constituted in the Metaxy of differentiating consciousness, as the analysis of the noetic field has made clear; and if any event in the Metaxy has constituted meaning in history, it is Paul's vision of the Resurrected.

To invent a "critical history" that will allow us to decide whether Incarnation and Resurrection are "historically real" turns the structure of reality upside down; it flies in the face of all our empirical knowledge about history and its constitution of meaning. The misunderstandings arise from the separation of a "content" from the reality of the experience, and from the treatment of the content as an object of propositional knowledge. In its metaleptic context, Incarnation is the reality of divine presence in Jesus as experienced by the men who were his disciples and expressed their experience by the symbol "Son of God" and its equivalents; while Resurrection refers to the Pauline vision of the Resurrected, as well as to the other visions that Paul, who knew something about visions, classified as of the same type as his own (I Cor. 15:3-8).

FN. All quotations from Paul in this chapter were translated from the original. The text used is Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1969). Whenever possible I have conformed to the language of the King James Version. For specific questions the standard commentaries were used, especially Peake's Commentary on the Bible, ed. Matthew Black and H. H. Rowley (London: T. Nelson, 1962). Guenther Bornkamm, Paulus (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag, 1969), proved to be of considerable help for the understanding of Pauline questions.

The Pauline Vision of the Resurrected,
pp 304-308.