Meeting Index

Eric Voegelin Society Meeting 2000

Voegelin and the Scandal of Luther:

Philosophy, Faith, and the Modern Age

Copyright 2000 Joshua Mitchell


However luminous the thought of Eric Voegelin may be as a whole, any sensitive reader of his writings on Luther and on the Reformation purportedly inaugurated by his "Great Confusion"1-a claim to be considered in due course about the relationship of ideas to historical reality-is bound to be perplexed, if not scandalized. The imbalance of soul of which Voegelin accuses Luther is reflected in the very work that seeks to take his (Luther's) measure: the "blundering"2 Luther, who seems incapable of intellectual subtlety, is characterized without subtlety; Voegelin's accusation that Luther "was fundamentally concerned with nothing but the promulgation of his peculiar, personal experience and its imposition as an order of existence on mankind at large"3, seems, on the

1Eric Voegelin, Collected Works, Vol. XXH; History of Political Ideas, Vol. IV: Renaissance and Reformation, D. L. Morse and W. M. Thompson ed. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), Ch. 1, "The Great Confusion," pp. 217-9 1. References to this work hereafter will be to author and page number only.

2 Voegelin, p. 230.

3 Voegelin, p. 259.

basis of this work at any rate, to betray a thinker who, in some measure, was intent on more than a bit of promulgating and imposing of his own. Where throughout the corpus of Voegelin's writings we find sympathetic acts of reconstruction, as deep as they are urgent, his account of Luther is an act of condescension, made necessary not because Luther's ruminations alert us to a novel exposition of the relationship between man and God that comports with changing historical verities, but rather because of the damage that that formulation purportedly caused subsequent to its exposition.

It would be erroneous, of course, to suggest that Voegelin's assessment of Luther could be understood simply as a Roman Catholic polemic against the Reformation. That said, at times he sounds remarkably like, say, Maclntyre, for whom the crisis of modernity is a euphemism by which the individuated consciousness wrought by the Reformation may be attacked more politely 4 in the now wearisome debate between liberals and communitarians about the ontological status of the individual.5, Voegelin's


4 For a slightly different view see Stephen Holmes,

5 See Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), p. 53, where, on the Protestant view there is "no genuine comprehension of man's true end; and ibid., pp. 250-5 1, where Hobbes and Locke, among others, are purveyors of the "individualist view" in which society is "nothing but a collection of strangers, each pursuing his or her own interest under minimal constraints." See also p. 165, passim, where the beginning of the end is located with Luther.

6 See Voegelin, p. 221. See also ibid., p. 251: "The development of the experiences of Johannine Christianity (which, it is my impression, was closest to St. Thomas) in the doctrine of fides caritate fonnata, and the amplification of this doctrinal nucleus into a grandiose, systematic philosophy of man and society, is the medieval climax of the interpenetration of Christianity with the body of an historical civilization. Here perhaps we touch the historical raison d'etre of the West, and certainly we touch the empirical standard by which the further course of Western intellectual history must be measured."


early reverential reference to St. Thomas6 certainly lends credence to the view that his sympathies are Roman Catholic. Moreover, Voegelin seems intent to lay the blame for Hitler and National Socialism in Germany on Luther's doorstep 7 and this also corresponds to the rhetorical move made by MacIntyre, for whom we must decide, in the end, between the philosophy of Aristotle or that of Nietzsche---or to put the matter in undisguised theological terms, between St. Thomas and Luther. For both Voegelin and MacIntyre, the Reformation is implicated in the collapse of Western Civilization, the evidence of which is "the German problem"--understood either politically (Voegelin) or philosophically (MacIntyre).8

Voegelin, however, cannot be read as an unequivocal defender of St. Thomas; and this poses problems for the view that he was simply defending the Roman Catholic philosophical tradition. With respect to his understanding of sin, as we shall see, he sides

6 See Voegelin, p. 221. See also ibid., p. 251: "The development of the experiences of Johannine Christianity (which, it is my impression, was closest to St. Thomas) in the doctrine of fides caritate formala, and the amplification of this doctrinal nucleus into a grandiose, systematic philosophy of man and society, is the medieval climax of the interpenetration of Christianity with the body of an historical civilization. Here perhaps we touch the historical raison d'etre of the West, and certainly we touch the empirical standard by which the further course of Western intellectual history must be measured."

7Voegelin, p. 246; p. 268.

8Strauss, too, works in this idiom, though for him Machiavelli, not Luther, inaugurates the Modem turn. That said, like MacIntyre, Strauss leads us to believe that modernity ends with Germany as well- in Nietzsche and Heidegger. The odd ongoing intellectual alliance between Straussians and Roman Catholics today derives in large part from their concurrence about the end point of modernity, but not about its origin. All things modem, including (strangely enough) the Anglo-American tradition, collapse into things German. A superb example of the Straussian-Roman Catholic alliance is provided by the work of Pierre Manent, notably, his City of Man (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998)---a book that begins with a dedication to Allan Bloom and ends with the claim that "we never understand more than half of things when we neglect the science of Rome" (Ch. VI, p. 206).

with Roman Catholicism; yet because of his subtle account of the relationship between those "flash[es] of eternity" 9I that irrupt into historical existence, and the always idiomatic articulations that purport to illuminate (but not capture) that flash, he could not accede to the keys"10 of the Christian faith. Consider the following example:

The evocation of the Roman summepiscopate was intimately connected with the unchallenged evocation of the Western empire. With the disintegration of the imperial evocation through the internal and external changes of the historical scene, the Romanitas of the spiritual power could not remain an unchallenged symbol as if nothing had happened. With the finality of the imperial idea, the finality, not of Christianity, but of its Roman ecclesiastical form would pale. With the historical relativation of the imperial idea, the Romanitas of Christianity would become a historical accident. And the leadership of the church would be faced with the task of spiritualizing the idea of the universal church in such a manner that it would be independent of the Roman accident.11

Beyond the looming problem of the relationship between Empire and the symbols that emerge within it to illuminate man's relationship to the Divine (a problem that occupied St. Thomas not at all), there is the perhaps related problem that symbols themselves are subject to degradation and misuse. Voegelin's claim that he was a "Pre-Nicene Christian"12 is indicative of this dismay about the doctrinal ossification to which

9 Voegelin, p. 223.
10See Matt. 16:17-18.
11 Voegelin, p. 224.
12See Gerhart Niemeyer, "Christian Faith, and Religion, in Eric Voegelin's Work," in Within and Above Ourselves: Essays in Political Analysis (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1996), p. 138.

Christianity has been prone, about the respect in which intellectual trespassing--which is not to be confused with philosophy proper-empties symbols of their meaning in the very act of "clarifying" them.

It is theoretically impermissible to submit a ritual mystery, like the conversion, to an "interpretation" in terms of Aristotelian metaphysics, as was done in the doctrine of transubstantiation. Once this fallacious path is taken, it is only a question of time and circumstance before indignant metaphysicians will rebel against a substance without accidents and accidents without substance.... [The] ancestry [of this path] goes back beyond the Reformation into the metaphysical trespassing of the scholastic period. The enlightened misunderstanding of symbols, the Gnostic inclination to extend the operation of the intellect into the realm of faith and myth, begins for special problems as early as the twelfth century; and among the sinners we find, perhaps unexpectedly, even Saint Thomas .13


If Voegelin is a Thomist, the manner in which this is so remains to be demonstrated, his apparent sympathies notwithstanding.

A more fruitful way of approaching the question of Voegelin's generally sensitive rendering of St. Thomas and overt condescension toward Luther is to attend, not to their respective theological ruminations, but rather to Luther's judgment about the philosophical enterprise as a whole and its place in the economy of salvation. In this Voegelin is correct: Luther is anti-philosophical,14while St. Thomas is not. For Voegelin, this rejection sets the stage for the brutality of thought that would follow in the works of Comte and Marx, among others. Here we have a form of guilt by association, in which all anti-philosophical thought is assumed to be alike. A morphological similarity is taken

13 Voegelin, pp. 226-28.
14Voegelin, pp. 237-38,passim.

to indicate genetic kinship. Were Voegelin to have been a biologist he might have said that because both birds and insects have wings they must be closely related. Luther's rejection of philosophy, unlike Comte and Marx's rejection, was not intended to close off the soul to the Transcendent dimension, but rather to make it "available" again. Voegelin seems not to have understood this at all. So let us reopen the question, and consider in a more sensitive light why Luther rejected philosophy, and chose instead "faith."


1. Luther and the Problem of Faith

Any curious reader of Luther will notice that his arguments against the Roman Catholic Church amount to a reconceptualization of the locus of faith. In historical Judaism, as Hobbes reminds us, the carrier of faith was the body Israel, in which there was no separation of spiritual and temporal power.15 In the Roman Catholic tradition, there is a subtle relationship between these two domains, wherein the carrier of faith is not the body of a nation, but rather the Church itself. The nation is separated off, theoretically, at least. (In the Eastern Orthodox Church this separation is less evident.) In Lutheran thought the carrier of faith--in principle, though not yet in actuality~4s not the church, but rather persons, individuals.

15 See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Edwin Curley ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1994), Part III, Ch. 39,15, p. 316: "Temporal and spiritual government, are but two words brought into the world, to make men see double, and mistake their lawful sovereign." Hobbes's project in Leviathan can be understood as an attempt to show how Judaism prior to Saul understood temporal government rightly, while from the period of Saul forward into the present Christian age men have separated what should be unified.

Now I recognize that any one of these three statements-about Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and Lutheranism-would need to be modified in order to do justice to the traditions to which they pertain. Nevertheless, the general historical pattern suggests that in the West the locus of faith becomes successively differentiated, "smaller," in a way: from the nation, to the church, to the individual. I should add before proceeding any further that each of these formulations is still being wrestled with today-in Israel under the form of the question, "who is a member of this nation"16; in the Roman Catholic Church under the form of the question, "what is the relationship of the Church to the nations"17; in Protestantism under the form of the question, "what does it mean to be an individual"18--and no one of the formulations at which these traditions arrive seem entirely adequate as a way of locating faith within the pluralistic horizon stipulated by cosmopolitan society today. It is, however, Luther's formulations of this new personal locus of faith with which we are concerned here, and with a view to explaining why this new locus entailed a rejection of philosophy.

16 See Yossi Shain

17 See St. Augustine, City of God, Henry Bettenson trans. (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), Bk. XIX, Ch. 17, pp. 877-79.

18 See Ernst Troeltsch, Vie Social Teachings of the Christian Churches, Olive Wyon trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1931), Conclusion, pp. 1005-06: "The Christian Ethos alone possessed, in virtue of its personalistic Theism, a conviction of personality and individuality, based on metaphysics, which no Naturalism or Pessimism can disturb. That personality which, rising above the natural order of life, is only achieved through a union of the will and the depths of being with God, alone transcends the finite, and alone can defy it. Without this support, however, every kind of individualism evaporates into thin air." Cf. Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, Howard V. and Edna H. Hong ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), Part 1, A; p. 13: A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between the two. Considered in this way, a human being is still not a self' (emphasis added).


Since we are investigating the meaning of faith, let us start with Luther's rejection of "works." For it is in contradistinction to works that faith achieves its coherence-or rather, it is in contradistinction to faith that the problem of works comes into view. (Above all, let us move beyond Voegelin's assertion that in rejecting works, Luther did not understand that he had stumbled into a "racket of international high finance."19)


It would to correct, though inadequate, to say that Luther's hostility toward works derived from his suspicion of the Church's claim that it held the keys to salvation. Where works are said to be necessary for salvation, there the Church derives great power over the faithful. Luther thought this to be an abuse. Yet over and above this point, his rejection of works must be understood to follow from his much deeper rejection of the Church's theoretical reliance on the analogical vision of the relationship between the orders of reality, in favor of one based on what can be called a dialectical vision of history-one in which the Old Testament prefigures and is fulfilled by the New.

Not analogy, but rather history, is the key to understanding the relationship between the orders of reality: this is Luther's great break with the Roman Catholic Church.20 His thinking about works must be understood in this context.

19 Voegelin, p. 230.

20 See Martin Luther, "Lectures on Isaiah," in Luther's Works, Helmut T. Lehmann ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), Vol. 16, p. 237: faith must be based on the basis of history, and we ought to stay with it alone and not so easily slip into allegories."

In contradistinction to ideas of resemblance and completion that are the tropes of analogical reasoning, Luther believed that there were only two realms, carnal and spiritual; that the carnal realm, "the world," was steeped in sin (about which more shortly); and that the relationship between the two realms can only be understood in terms of Christ's atonement. Christ's fulfillment, His advent in history, superceded what was prefigured in the Old Dispensation; and history acquires its epochal character by virtue of the centrality of this Divine event. The Divine irruption into history renders works obsolete, for it reconfigures the location where the wound of man may be healed by the love of God. Ante adventurn Christi there had been other provisional possibilities. Now neither the unity of the nation nor the apostolic authority of the church regarding what must be believed and what must be done are enough; the location of atonement---the "place of propitiation"21--has shifted to the interior of each and every believer.

We must go further, however; for it is not the historical fact of the Incarnation that gives credence to Luther's formulation. The radicality of Luther's claim stems from its


21 In the Old Testament the place of reconciliation of man before God is understood spatially; for Roman Catholics it is understood institutionally; for Protestants it is understood internally-which is not to say solipsistically. See Karl Barth, 7heologian of Freedom, Clifford Green ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 199 1), Part 2, p. 138: "In the Old Testament cultus the covering of propitiation was the sheet of gold, overshadowed by the wings of the two-angel-figures (cherubim), which covered and marked the place where the contents of the ark, the oracles of God, were deposited (Exod. 25:17-21). In I Sam. 4:4, 2 Sam. 6:2, Ps. 80: 1, it is the place above which God himself dwells; in Exod. 25:22, Num. 7:89, it is the place from which God speaks to Moses; it is pre-eminently, however, the place, where, on the great Day of Atonement, the people were reconciled to God by the sprinkling of blood (Lev. 16:14-15). The analogy with Jesus is especially appropriate, because the mercy seat is no more that a particular, though very significant, place. By the express counsel of God, Jesus has been appointed from eternity as the place of reconciliation above which God dwells and from which he speaks; now, however, he occupies a position in time, in history, and in the presence of humanity" (emphasis in original).


understanding that a new, spiritual, dimension of existence is revealed by the advent of Christ's irruption into history. While under the Old Dispensation works were necessary; under the New they are not sufficient, and this, because what is required now is passive righteousness--through which, and only through which, the interiority of faith may be revealed. To give the matter in a succinct formulation: the active righteousness of works (about which more shortly) is to the Old Dispensation as the passive righteousness of faith is to the New Dispensation.

Since faith can rule only the inner man [it is] clear that the inner man cannot be justified, freed, or saved by any outer work or action at all, and that these works, whatever their character, have nothing to do with the inner man.22

One may complain, as Voegelin does,23 about all the problems that that creates, but it is not at all clear that the interior, personal, locus of faith about which Luther writes was the cause of the wreckage that followed, or a formulation of human experience that was able to render the social transformations that were already well underway endurable and perhaps even meaningful.

We are still concerned with the Luther's rejection of philosophy---a move Voegelin comprehends in light of the subsequent developments of the thought of Comte and Marx,

22 Martin Luther, "The Freedom of a Christian," in Luther's Works, Vol. 3 1, p. 347. Hegel understood, as Voegelin did not, that Luther's rejection of works could only be understood in the context of this new historical situation, one in which freedom reveals itself to-or rather as--the interior life of man. See G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History (New York: Dover, 1956), Part IV, Sec. III, Ch. I, p. 415: "Luther's simple doctrine is that the specific embodiment of the Deity-4nfinite subjectivity, that is true spirituality, Christ is in no way present in an outward form, but as essentially spiritual is obtained only in being reconciled to God--in faith and spiritual enjoyment, (emphasis in original).

23 Voegelin, pp. 262-63, passim.

but which Luther defends24 in light of the rupture wrought by the Incarnation. In view of Voegelin's scant attention to the Incarnation of Christ,25 it is not surprising that he should disregard this critical aspect of Luther's thought. For Luther, the Incarnational irruption was, following St. Paul, the counterpoint to Adam's defection.

Therefore as by the offense of one judgment can upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous .26

The Gospel--the Good News-shows itself to man only in and through this relationship, where man takes upon himself the part of Adam as sinner, that Christ may take man up before God as worthy of Life. In sin, in the experience of condemnation and fault, the spiritual dimension, man's true home, appears. Of this home "the world" knows nothing. Luther's polemic against the Roman Catholic Church is often couched in terms of its foreclosure of this dimension; yet it would be misguided to presume that the problem was simply an institutional one. It was deeper than that, rooted in the fact of man's defection from God. )While grace ultimately accomplishes the turn toward the spiritual dimension, man's temptation is to remain imprisoned within the carnal realm, where he presumes to save himself through works of his own devising, through what Luther called active righteousness.

24 See, for example, Martin Luther, "To the Christian Nobility of die German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate," in Luther's Works, Vol. 44, p. 201: "this dead heathen (Aristotle) has conquered, obstructed, and almost succeeded in suppressing the books of the living God. I can only believe that the devil has introduced this study."

25 See Bruce Douglass, "A Diminished Gospel: A Critique of Voegelin's Interpretation of Christianity, in Eric Voegelin's Search for Order in History, Stephen A. McKnight ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), p. 146: "[w]hat is missing [in Voegelin's thought] is the sense of the Gospel in the specifically Christian sense" (emphasis in original).

26 Rom. 5:18-19. See also I Cor. 15: 21-22.

Active righteousness is the great temptation of man, inscribed into his nature because of sin. He is marked as a sinner because he misses the mark (harmatia). He is marked by active righteousness because he wishes to escape the wounding arrow of condemnation that sin occasions. Pride is this escape from condemnation; it is the clothing by which man covers his condemnation,27 and protects himself from the wounding arrow of God. Wearing such clothing, man comfortably turns his attention to his "works," so that he may build a world that prolongs his illusion that he is not naked before God. Man is too proud to endure the terror of condemnation, and so prefers to imagine that righteousness can be attained through works that he can both comprehend and affect with his own resources. God stands in need of nothing; man, made in the image of God,28 imputes this attribute to himself. man wishes not to need God. God creates a world out of love; man creates a world that stands in need of no love, since he denies the need of all gifts that he cannot repay through more works. Man therefore walks in darkness,29 and is oblivious to the gifts that can save him.

27 Gen. 3:7 ("And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons").

28 Gen. 1:26.

29 Cf. John 1:5 ("And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it noe').

But such is human weakness and misery that in the terrors of conscience and the danger of death we look at nothing except our own works, our worthiness, and the law. When the law shows us our sin, our past life immediately comes to our mind. Then the sinner, in his great anguish of mind, groans and says to himself. 'Oh, how damnably I have lived! If only I could live longer! Then I would amend my life.' Thus human reason cannot refrain from looking at active righteousness, that is, its own righteousness; nor can it shift its gaze to passive, that is, Christian righteousness .30

Works, however, do not appease, but rather generate a melancholy and troubled conscience, from which fallible reason finds no genuine escape .31 Manworks to free himself from the debt he owes God by virtue of his sin. He builds, instead, a prison of melancholy. The harder man tries to overcome it through good works the more it obtrudes. Tempted by the devil, man attempts man to rely on his own resources; yet the inner secret of man's bold satisfaction with himself is a melancholy conscience. Melancholy is a result of the spiritual disease of man, and cannot be comprehended, as Voegelin suggests, in terms of a psychological disposition of Luther's that was itself the first cause of his theological formulations .32

30 Luther, "Lectures of Galatians," in Works, Vol. 26, p. 5 (emphasis added). See Thomas M. McDonough, The Law and the Gospel in Luther (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 30: "for Luther, the human will is somehow curved in on itself... and bent ineluctably on earthly goods. This is the concupiscence or carnality that Luther identifies with sin." Cf. Martin Heidegger's essay, "The Essence of Truth," (in Martin Heidegger.- Basic Writings [New York: Harper & Row, 1977], p. 134). Heidegger there suggests that 'filling up the world' intimates a hiding from Being. Luther has the same insight, viz., that the terror of conscience, the terror of looking below the everyday world of works, leads Christians to "look at nothing except ... works." See also Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Allan Bloom trans. (New York: Basic Books, 1979), Bk. IV, pp. 229-30.

31 See Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, J.P. Mayer ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), Vol. II, Part II, Ch. 13, p. 536: "Americans cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die, and yet are in such a rush to snatch any that come within their reach, as if expecting to stop living before relishing them. They clutch everything but hold nothing fast, and so lose grip as they hurry after some new delight."

32 See Voegelin, p. 249: "[Luther's mood] may be described as a profound anxiety and uncertainty of salvation; the anxiety could be overlaid by the exuberant confidence of justification through faith, but it never ceased to cast a shadow of melancholy over Luther's life."

Good works, no matter how many of them he performs, cannot appease man's conscience .33 He must find respite in the interior dimension of faith '34 a dimension that appears only when man falls into the abyss of wretchedness, into "Hell," as Christ did when He died to "the world'~-by which Luther meant the everydayness with which man is preoccupied when actively righteous.

It is evident that no external thing has any influence in producing Christian righteousness or freedom, or in producing unrighteousness or servitude.... None of these things touch either the freedom or servitude of the soul.35

Faith is only underneath the everydayness of factual history and in authenticity-if I may invoke somewhat Heideggerian language. The horizon of factual history within which most of philosophy operates knows nothing of this dimension .36

Importantly for our analysis here, this experience of powerlessness is the precondition for the "appearance" of Christ--an appearance made possible only when

33 Luther, "Lectures on Galatians," in Works, Vol. 26, p. 5.

34 In Hegel's estimation this insight was a portentous one that signaled a grasping of the truth of Christianity, which the Roman Church had not achieved. Above all, what was necessary was that "a brokenness of the heart [be] experienced, and that Divine Grace [enter] into the heart thus broken" (G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History [New York: Dover, 1956], Part IV, Sec. III, Ch. 1, p. 424).

35 Luther, "Freedom," in Works, Vol. 3 1, pp. 344-45 (emphasis added).

36 See Joshua Mitchell, Not By Reason Alone: Religion, History, and Identity in Early Modern Political Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), Conclusion, pp. 147-52.

man is in another "world," far from disputes about works. Only then "[do we hear] the Gospel . . . that Christ died for US."37 This Gospel can only be grasped "with other eyes [than] carnal reason doth [have]."38 For man to come unto this other dimension he must, like Christ, experience the abandonment of God that is confirmed in the call, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"39 In this depth of abandonnient Christ appears. (What, we may provisionally ask, can philosophy know of this abandonment?)

When the soul suffers abandonment, is exposed, and stripped of any lingering pretense, there Christ appears. Sin here is abrogated, taken in by the Byss of Christ4O--Ahe Ground beneath that abyss which utter self-condemnation occasions. In this abrogation, the powerlessness of man recapitulates the Arche of Christ's own suffering

37 Luther, "Lectures on Galatians," in Works, Vol. 26, p. 234 (emphasis added).

38 Luther, "Lectures on Galatians," in Works, Vol. 27, p. 86 (emphasis added). Cf. I Cor. 2:9. B.A. Gerrish notes that Luther accorded reason its place in matters pertaining to the "world," but insisted that "reason stumbles at the doctrine of the Incarnation.... not because reason refuses to believe in God, but rather [because] it does not understand who God is; consequently it invents a God after its own fancy" (Grace and Reason: A Study in the Theology of Luther [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962], p. 14). As Hobbes (and even Rousseau, in the Emile [Bk. IV, p. 255, passim]) would later argue, reason concludes that there is a God (quod sit Deus), but not what God is (quid sit Deus). In insisting that reason cannot comprehend the mystery of faith, the labor of reason is directed entirely and with legitimacy toward the "world," Gerrish suggests. Luther's insistence that reason cannot understand salvation frees reason from a burden it is not capable of bearing. Tocqueville remarks about the peculiar way in which Christian faith and reason can work together and, in fact, argues that, unlike Islam, Christianity and Enlightenment are not contradictory impulses precisely because Christian faith demands that reason defer only in matters of salvation (see Democracy in America, Vol. 11, Part I, Ch. 5, p. 445).

39 Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34. From Psalm 22: 1.

40 Byss: the alpha privative of abyss; it is the bottom underneath the apparently bottomless. The term is first used by Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), a Lutheran mystic.

and return to God; a Divine configuration of suffering and reunification is here "made flesh" again, and the mystery and great paradox of Christian faith ("power is made perfect in weakness")41 shown. Through a marriage with Christ 42the bridegroom takes in the weakness of the bride in its entirety. The perfection of the bridegroom (Christ), who fought a "mighty duel" and conquered both hell and death, is, through faith in this moment of powerlessness, given over to mortal man-now Christian.43 Here, God the Son draws the sin that utterly condemns the bride unto Him, and imputes a penultimate perfection back to the unworthy bride in virtue of this marriage with Him.44 In unworthiness man lives though Christ; in this marriage across the chasm that separates what is stained from what is pure, man has an advocate who covers up his stain. The imputation that is so necessary is made possible only in virtue of his admission of unworthiness and experience of powerlessness.

It is not without wan-ant that I have traversed this mysterious territory. Luther's suspicion of philosophy stems from his view that it is a devise, by which the gift of Christ

41 Luther, "Freedom," in Works, Vol. 3 1, p. 355. CC 11 Cor. 12:9.

42 This metaphor is found in both the Old Testament (Ps. 19:5) and New (Rev. 19:7-9). The marriage spoken of there was interpreted by the Church fathers to be the marriage between Christ and the Church, not between Christ and the Christian, which was Luther's interpretation. CC Mark 2:19; John 3:29.

43 Luther, "Freedom," in Works, Vol. 3 1, p. 352.

44 In the Divine-Human equation, then, human beings are the passive, feminine principle, while God (the Son) is masculine. This is further confirmed by Luther's insistence that Christian righteousness is passive righteousness, not active. CC Rom. 7:24. 1 note in passing that Calvin's theology does not emphasize this passive aspect of Christian righteousness.

may be circumvented, ignored, misunderstood, defiled. The imputation of faith offered what philosophy never could. No doubt Voegelin's understanding of philosophy was far more luminous than Luther would have conceded philosophy could be. We may argue about whether Luther was right to suppose exactly what Voegelin-indeed what St. Thomas--did not, viz., that reason is a pretense by which man claims to ascend to heights beyond his grasp. If the issue cannot be resolved, however, it can at least be clarified. Luther's claim was that the problem of sin was so grave that God Himself had to intervene directly into the soul of man. It was, moreover, only in the experience of exposure, nakedness, and humiliation before God that the mystery and power of faith shows itself.

Philosophy, however, knows no such embarrassment; its most luminous ruminations begin and end with self-satisfaction, even if such self-satisfaction is construed in the deepest possible sense. The smiling repose of philosophy situates the soul in a manner quite different than does the awesome catastrophe of sin.
It was this that Luther never tired of emphasizing. Said otherwise, the pairing of sinful man and Redeeming Christ define the parameters of the human situation for Luther, and the divine-human economy can only be understood in terms of this paring.

It would be incorrect, of course, to say that Voegelin wholly misunderstood the experience of exposure to which Luther alerts us. Consider, for example, the following

 lengthy example:

The perspective of participation must be understood in the fullness of its disturbing quality. It does not mean that man, more or less comfortably located in the landscape of being, can look around and take stock of what he sees as far as he can see it. Such a metaphor, or comparable variation on the theme of the limitations of knowledge, would destroy the paradoxical character of the situation. It would suggest a self-contained spectator, in possession of and with knowledge of his faculties, at the center of the horizon ofbeing, even though the horizon were restricted. But man is not a self-contained spectator. He is an actor, playing a part in the drama of being and, through the brute facts of his existence, committed to playing it without knowing what it is.... Participation in being, however, is not a partial involvement of man; he is engaged with the whole of his existence, for participation is existence itself. There is no vantage point outside existence from which its meaning can be viewed and a course of action charted according to a plan, nor is there a blessed island to which man may withdraw in order to recapture himself. The role of existence must be played in uncertainty of its meaning, as an adventure of decision on the edge of freedom and necessity."45

The words from this passage that I have italicized, however, indicate that Voegelin has something in mind other than man's nakedness before God. In Voegelin's formulation, "participation in being"-a formulation familiar to Heidegger, but not easily adapted to Christianity--amounts to an exposure of the sort that requires an existential posture more akin to courage than to humility. There is "drama" and "adventure," to be sure; but these attributes of human action belong more to the Greek Cosmos than to the man who dwells in the world created in Love by the God of Abraham.

Moreover, Voegelin's debt to Greece does not end with his understanding of human exposure, but also carries over to his understanding of Christian faith-which is directly indebted to St. Thomas, and indirectly to Aristotle.

45 Eric Voegelin, Order and History, Vol. IV, The Ecumenic Age (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974, Ch. 7, p. 314 (emphasis added).

True faith has an intellectual component insofar as loving, voluntary adherence to God is impossible without intellectual apprehension of the beatific vision as the summum bonum, as the end toward which man is oriented. . . . The relationship of amicitia is mutual; it cannot be forced through an lan of human passion but presupposes the love of God toward man, an act of grace through which the nature of man is heightened by a supernatural forma. The loving orientation of man toward God is possible only when the faith of man is formed through the prior love of God toward man.54

Here courage does not make an appearance at all, for man need not stand heroically against the vicissitudes of being, but is rather already caught up in the mystery of God's love as the very precondition for faith. For Voegelin, faith is comprehended under the category of supplementarity, just as for Aristotle (and for St. Thomas) an analysis of a set of virtues proper to man is supplemented by an analysis of man according to which what is highest in him is revealed to be already divine.55 So comprehended, the domain of nature (''being"?) and the heroic virtue proper to it is not indicted by faith, as it would be for Luther, but rather completed because of it. The idea of an intact nature, which is supplemented by a divine love that is able to draw man toward God precisely because man's intact nature is a necessary precondition for the very reception of grace, struck Luther as a confusion about the gravity of the problem of sin. Moreover, for Luther, the bad news about man's sinful condition is the precondition for the Good News of the

54 Voegelin, p. 250.

55 See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Martin Ostwald trans. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1962), Bk. X, Ch. 7, 1177b27-34: "[A life of contemplation, however,] would be more than human. A man who would live it would do so not insofar as he is human, but because there is a divine element within him.... So if it is true that intelligence is divine in comparison with human life, then a life guided by intelligence is divine in comparison with human life. We must not follow those who advise us to have human thoughts, since we are (only) men, and mortal thoughts, as mortals should; on the contrary, we should try to become immortal as far as that is possible and do our utmost to live in accordance with what is highest in us."

Gospel. Voegelin's formulation, by misunderstanding the gravity of sin, misunderstands the Good News of salvation through Christ. Because he comprehends "sin" in philosopher's terms, his faith is not the faith of the believer, but of the philosopher.

It would be grossly unfair, of course, to conclude from this that Voegelin was closed off to the experience of Revelation; indeed by virtue of his understanding that philosophy involves an account of the "mutual participation of man and divine,"56 he confounds the distinction between philosophy and Revelation. For any number of twentieth century thinkers, perhaps most notably Strauss,57 philosophy is that domain of questioning insulated from Revelation by a firewall that cannot be breached. Voegelin knew better. For him, the philosophical enterprise supposes already a linkage between man and God. Luther understood the grounds for such a linkage otherwise: only through a relationship sundered can a relationship be restored. History is replete with cases where both Voegelin and Luther's idiom have born fruit. And it may well be that among the other luminous mysteries of the Divine is the mystery that there are multiple possibilities of Encounter, in accordance with the limitations of and variations within man himself.

2. Luther and the Social Transformations of His Age

56 Eric Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 12, Published Essays 1966-85, Ellis Sandoz ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), p. 187.

57 See Leo Strauss, Athens or Jerusalem

The conciliatory note on which I have just ended stands in need of further amplification. I have indicated already that Luther's insight about a new locus of faith comports with changing historical verities, and that any evaluation of his thought must take cognizance of the fact that when categories of experience are altered theological expressions will emerge that conform to those categories. This insight accords in some measure with Voegelin's own ruminations about the always-provisional articulations of the divine-human economy that register themselves in historical existence. Yet Voegelin would have thought that the formulation of the relationship between consciousness and being offered above comes perilously close to a Marxian interpretation of history, which he vehemently rejected.


The great noetic and pneumatic differentiations do not occur among Paleolithic hunters and fishers, but in ages of cities and empires; some social and cultural situations appear to be more favorable to differentiating responses than others. The structure of man's existence in society, thus, is somehow involved in the process of differentiating consciousness.
Such observations must not be misunderstood as inchoate constructions of a casual relationship between civilization and unconsciousness. The thinkers of the Ecumenic Age who observe these configurations do not intend to determine a Marxian Consciousness by a Marxian Being. They are not immanentist speculators who degrade their consciousness into epiphenomenona of technical discoveries; on the contrary, they are quite aware of their consciousness as the primary instance that transforms their discoveries into historical events. "

Any number of instances could be adduced to confirm Voegelin's reversal of Marx's formulation-Plato, Aristotle, Paul, John, and St. Thomas, among others. And because

50 Voegelin, Order and History, Vol. IV, Ch. 7, p. 306 (emphasis added). Cf. Karl Marx, "The Communist Manifesto," in The Marx-Engels Reader, Robert Tucker ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1978), p. 489. "From the start", Marx says, "the 'spirit' is afflicted with the curse of being "burdened' with matter" ('The German Ideology," in The Marx-Engels Reader), p. 158.

such a list can be adduced, the three questions that Voegelin poses remain as important as they are unanswerable:

(1) Why should there be epochs of advancing insight at all? Why is the structure of reality not known in differentiated form at all times?

(2) Why must the insights be discovered by such rare individuals as prophets, philosophers, and saints: Why is not every man the recipient of the insights?

(3) Why when the insights are gained, are they not generally accepted?51

Having conceded, against Marx, that Voegelin is surely right about the extraordinary instances of philosophical irruption that can in no honest way be accounted for by the "epiphenomenona of technical discoveries," the question can nevertheless be posed: might the epochal structure of history be comprehended in such a way that Voegelin is correct about the priority of consciousness over being in one epoch and, say, Tocqueville (not Marx) is correct about the reversal of this order in what he called the age of democracy?

In the aristocratic ages, as the attention of historians is constantly drawn to individuals, the connection between events escapes them, or rather they do not believe in such a connection. It seems to them that the thread of history is being constantly broken as man crosses its path.  

But the historian of democratic epochs, seeing the actors less and the events more, can easily string facts together in methodical order.

Ancient literature, so rich in fine historical writings, has not left us one great historical system, whereas even the poorest of modem literatures is swarming with them. Apparently classical historians made too little of general theories, whereas our own are always on the verge of using them too much. 52

Might the epochal structure that authorizes the three questions Voegelin sets forth

51 Voegelin, Order and History, Vol. IV, Ch. 7, p. 316.
52 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 11, Part 1, Ch. 20, p. 495. From this citation Tocqueville's suspicions of Marx's determinist theory of history ought to be evident.

above, in other words, be even more radically disjointed than he allows-so disjointed, in fact, that his formulation of the activating power of philosophy is historically contingent, appropriate for one epoch, but blind to the verities that emerge in the one that succeeds it? In Tocqueville's words,

[The aristocratic and the democratic man] are like two distinct kinds of humanity, each of which has its peculiar advantages and disadvantages, its good points and its bad. One must therefore be careful not to judge the nascent societies on the basis of ideas derived from those that no longer exist. To do so would be unfair, for these societies are so immensely different that direct comparison is impossible.53

To put the matter somewhat cryptically, was Voegelin, an aristocratic man, whose genius lay in the ability to illuminate the heroic possibilities of philosophy and, perhaps, to recover through one man's explorations (namely his own)54 possibilities closed off by that modem deformation, Gnosticism? In being an aristocratic man, however, does his analysis of the modem age fail to take account of both its novelty and its character, the manner in which the civilizational stability of the medieval period could not comprehend the pace and scale of the dislocations that were to follow-all of which required new philosophical and theological formulations to account for the mounting experience of man dissevered from nature and thrust upon his own resources in order that he may make his way in a contingent and hostile world.

Voegelin sees the beginnings of this isolation of soul, if you will, already within

53 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 11, Part IV, Ch. 8, p. 704 (emphasis in original).
54 See Voegelin,

 the medieval period he so admires:

The great wave of mysticism of the fourteenth century would have required the utmost skill of ecclesiastical statesmanship in order to channel the movement into institutional forms. This skill was lacking, and the mystics were derailed into heretical underground movements; this was why we date the decline of the church to 1300.63

It is quite a stretch, however, to suggest that "ecclesiastical statesmanship" might have brought the errant mystics back into the institutional fold. It is more likely that the situation was beyond the capacity of medieval institutions or statesmen to comprehend. There was indeed a civilizational crisis in progress, but it was a crisis of a proportion for which there was no available measure. The mystics of the fourteenth century were perhaps the first clear signs of an emergent civilization, the measure of which we have yet to fully comprehend. What they register indicates that the Roman Catholic Church could no longer mediate the form or content of their religious experience. Tocqueville, rather than Voegelin, offers a compelling account of why this was so.

In democratic ages faith in positive religions may waver and belief in intermediary agents, by whatever name they are called, may grow dim, yet men are disposed to conceive a much more vast conception of divinity itself, and God's intervention in human affairs appears in a new a brighter light.64

There are a number of indications in Voegelin's writings on the Reformation where he seems to understand that parameters of the social transformations occurring at

63 Voegelin, p. 228.
64 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 11, Part I, Ch. 17, p. 486.
65 See Voegelin, pp. 228-29, where he mentions the appearance of the press and a "vast reading public"; p. 228, where he notes the development of independent towns; and p. 240, where there is a brief discussion of  the emergence of nation-states.

 the time," but he nowhere recognizes that these very factors where complicit in the emergence of the "individuation" that characterizes the democratic age. Nor can he, since Voegelin holds the force of Luther's personal will responsible:

For the moment let us only insist on the fact that with Luther a new type enters the Western scene: the individual who pits his strength against the world. We may speak of a diremption of the historical state of a society into the world of the community living in its streams of tradition and into an individual who fills a counter-world only.66

Voegelin's disdain for Marx we have already seen; yet Weber--himself involved in an intellectual project intended to answer the myopia of Marx's vision --- understood that the social transformations of the times had to taken into consideration if Luther and the rest of the Reformers were to be fully understood.

A number of those sections of the old Empire which were most highly developed economically and most favored by natural resources and situation, in particular a majority of the wealthy towns, went over to Protestantism in the sixteenth century.67

And let us add that Marx was surely not entirely off the mark when he notes that the developments that begin in the period with which Voegelin is concerned flower in the succeeding centuries.

Only in the eighteenth century, in "civil society," do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means toward private purposes,

66 Voegelin, pp. 245-46 (emphasis added).
67 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Talcott Parsons trans. (London: HarperCollins, 1930), Ch. 1, p. 36.
60 Karl Marx, "The Grundrisse," in The Marx Engels Reader, p. 224.

as external necessity.60

A wholly "material" explanation of the events and ideas in question need not be uncritically endorsed here; Voegelin, however, is so averse to any version of this possibility that he can only treat Luther, theoretically, as an emergent instance of pure will imposing itself on the world. The resonances of this formulation with a caricatured version of Nietzsche's Obermench are obvious, and might certainly be invoked were it not for the fact that Luther arouses Nietzsche's ire precisely because he (Luther) is taken to be oriented, not by the ethic of nobility (where the will triumphs), but by the ethic of resentment (where the will can only will its own injury).61

Let us shift the direction of the discussion slightly here and ask this question: supposing that such a social transformation was underway during the period with which Voegelin is concerned, in what manner does this increasing individuation make its appearance in the realm of thought?

Because Voegelin adheres to the formulation that man's existence is perennially "Between," and that what pre-modem history shows are different variants of this insight, he cannot but conclude that the philosophical and theological registrations of the emergent modem experience of individuation are perversions of this primordial datum of human existence. Insofar as such modem registrations attend only to the nodal point of man, without reference to the relationship with the Divine in which man participates, they are indicted with the charge of Gnosticism.

60 Karl Marx, "T'he Grundrisse," in The Marx Engels Reader, p. 224.

61 See Freidrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Walter Kaufinann trans. (New York: Random House, 1967), First Essay,

There are problems with this typology, which I will consider momentarily. First, however, let us consider Tocqueville's assessment of this emergent individuation--of man, alone, cut off, and homeless in the world. More specifically, consider what he says about Luther, Bacon, and Descartes:

The sixteenth-century reformers subjected some of the dogmas of the ancient faith to individual reason, but they still refused to allow all the others to be discussed by it. In the seventeenth century Bacon, in the natural sciences, and Descartes, in philosophy strictly so-called, abolished accepted formulas, destroyed the dominion of tradition, and upset the authority of the masters.

The eighteenth-century philosopher turned this same principle into a general rule and undertook to submit the object of all his beliefs to each man's individual examination.62

It is not difficult to discern the pattern that Tocqueville is observing here. The individuation with which we have been concerned appears quite early, but its full implications--corrosive, to be sure--are not yet expressed in Luther, Bacon, Descartes, and the others who followed. As social conditions became more equal and the aristocratic links that held men together were being broken, the resume of individuated man appears in a number of expressions (Luther in religion; Bacon in science; Descartes in philosophy)---but their formulations remained contained within the domains in which

62 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 11, Part 1, Ch. 1, pp. 430-3 1.

they were "discovered." Thus, Luther could assert the equality of all Christians before God but condemn the peasants for their revolt.63 Thus, Descartes could conduct his radical thought experiment without seeing its implications for the subversion of political authority based on tradition.64 In democratic ages "[men are] continually brought back to their own judgment as the most apparent and accessible test of truth,"65 Tocqueville says. We see this beginning in these formulations.

It is not the case, however, that Luther, Descartes, and the rest are already the radically individuated souls that Voegelin contends they are. Such souls can emerge only after a great deal more social corrosion has occurred than had at the time of Luther, Descartes, and the rest. That Voegelin has completely missed the nature of the process at work here is evident in his suggestion, cited at the outset of this essay, that Luther "was fundamentally concerned with nothing but the promulgation of his peculiar, personal

63 See Martin Luther, "Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants," in Luther's Works, Vol. 46, pp. 49-55.

64 "The power of judging well and of distinguishing the true from the false ... is naturally equal in all men, and consequently ... the diversity of our opinions does not arise because some of us are more reasonable than others but solely because we direct out thoughts along different paths and do not attend to the same things' (Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch trans. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985], Vol. 1, Part One, p. I 11).

65 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part 1, Ch. 1, p. 430. In the democratic age, Tocqueville says, "each man, is narrowly shut in himself, and from that basis makes the pretension to judge the world" (Ibid.).

66Voegelin, p. 259.

experience and its imposition as an order of existence on mankind at large . "66 Because Voegelin's point of reference is the ideal-type of the individuated soul that arrives on the historical scene much later, his analysis of its earliest expositions is, at the very least, prone to exaggeration, and more often is simply gratuitous.

Let us note the obvious derailments to which this central idea [of justification by faith alone] is exposed. With the atrophy of faith, the idea will degenerate in practice into the aggressive, utilitarian welfare society without culture of intellect and spirit that we know all to well. And theoretically, the tenuous connection with Christian tradition may be dropped altogether, and Luther's world-immanent love will become the altruism of Comte and his positivist successors.67

Voegelin's typology, as I noted a short while ago, is predicated on claim that the modernity has immanentized the divine pole of existence, that it has collapsed the delicate pairing of man and the divine, expressed most eloquently in the Platonic idea of Metaxy, into the one pole that remains when man becomes willful and modem. The first problem with this typology is that it proceeds by what might be called "exposition by extrapolation." Because Voegelin is unwilling to concede that the ideas of modernity develop in concert with the changing historical situation, he is unable to see, for example, that the more radical ideas of Luther are checked by a series of tacit assumptions made by himself and others around him that render it impossible for his ideas to be a proto-Marxist or Proto-Comtean. What Luther is is said to be revealed by what the inner kernel-or fragments,-of his ideas become. As a consequence, a perhaps well-warranted skepticism about how far the individuation of man has proceeded in our own day becomes the occasion for an unbalanced, and sometimes nearly hysterical, treatment of the modem author in question, in which the intellectual task becomes one of genealogical faultfinding rather than of sympathetic rendition.

66 Voegelin, p. 259.
67 Voegelin, p. 259.

The second problem of Voegelin's typology I take to be graver than the first. Where the first problem leads to an unbalanced analysis of modem authors, the second leads to a misunderstanding about the challenges o f the democratic age in which we find ourselves. The first problem is analytical; the second is political.

Voegelin and Tocqueville are in agreement, formally, that man cannot long live without being drawn beyond himself. Voegelin's manner of addressing this problem is to become involved in an aniamnetic act, which supposes that human health may be restored through a philosophical act of recovery. Yet in some measure this philosophical task achieves its very nobility and purity against the background of the inexorable movement of modernity from its alternatingly na1ve and audacious beginnings to the "civilizational destruction"68 that follows. For all of Voegelin's protestations against the idea of historical necessity--say, as in Marx-there is, lurking within his indictment of Luther, a similar sentiment: once set in motion by its founders, modernity cannot stop itself from its rendezvous with disaster. In this light, the existential drama of the philosopher is to

68 Voegelin, p. 238.
69 Plato, Republic, Bk. V1, 496d.

seek "a sheltering wall against the storm and blast of dust and rain,"69 even while he attends to his task of recovery. In the democratic age, Tocqueville says, "each man is forever thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart."70 There is more than a little irony in the fact that Voegelin's largely solitary anamnetic project of recovery--intended, if you will, to save the democratic age from itself--4s itself implicated in the very disease it seeks to avert.

Tocqueville, like Voegelin, recognizes that individuation is a decisive fact of the democratic age. It is, moreover, a fact that must be modified if we are to survive. Unlike Voegelin, however, Tocqueville does not believe that anamnetic reflection can provide the corrective for the problem. There is, rather, a political antidote that must be administered to draw men out of themselves, namely, the presence of those mediational layers: local government and civil society.71 He proposed this resolution because he knew that going back was no longer possible: democratic man could barely imagine the enchanted world in which aristocratic man lived.72 Or, to put the matter in Voegelin's terms, democratic man cannot conceive of the idea of Metaxy, because the individuation

69Plato, Republic, Bk. VI, 496d.
70 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part II, Ch. 2, p. 508.
71 See Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 11, Part H, Chs. 2-8, pp. 506-28.
72See Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Author's Introduction, p. 13: "When royal power supported aristocracies governed the nations of Europe in peace, society, despite all its wretchedness, enjoyed several types of happiness which are difficult to appreciate or conceive today."

that has occurred supposes already a sundered relationship. The moral vocabulary of man had shifted; recovery was impossible- except perhaps for a few. If man was to be saved it would be through institutional mechanisms that transposed self-interest into self interest rightly understood. While more might be desired, no more than that was possible--though this was, in Tocqueville's view, enough.

3. Concluding Thoughts

Voegelin's assessment of Luther illuminates his intellectual program as a whole. His insistence that the object of philosophy was the Metaxy invites modem man to wonder about the alternatives that he has wittingly or unwittingly lost. Yet the primordiality of this formulation in Voegelin's corpus, its universal application as the silent measure of all other formulations, leads him to misunderstand the new modality of faith that Luther exposits, one that comports with the individuation of man accomplished by the social transformations of his age. To be sure, there is reason to be concerned about the excesses to which such an experience is prone. Voegelin is everywhere intent on exposing these excesses. Yet it seems more plausible to believe that no univocal judgment can be rendered about individuation, for it can comprehend a range of phenomenon from solipsism and arrogance, on the one hand, to responsible liberty and human dignity, on the other. In the post-War climate in which Voegelin writes perhaps his zealous attempt at diagnosing the pathologies that he witnessed was understandable. But as we move forward into a new century, it is more helpful, I think, for historians of
political thought to attempt to discern the manner in which philosophy and theology comes to grips with this datum of individuation in the modem age, all with a view to attenuating its worst aspects, and cultivating its best features-for these do exist. Luther was not the cause of a "civilization disaster," but like thinkers in every generation he sought to give intellectual form to the swirl of historical forces that neither he, nor us, could fully understand.

Was Eric Voegelin Fair to Martin Luther?

Reflections on Voegelin's treatment of Luther in the History of

Political Ideas

Copyright 2000 Henrik Syse & Asbjorn Bjornes

Introduction

Eric Voegelin's treatment of Martin Luther in the History of Political Ideas (henceforth History; page references when not otherwise noted are to vol. IV of the History) is a tour de force in spirited and, indeed, angry writing. For those not familiar with this material, let us begin by giving some examples:

Firstly, the chapter devoted to Luther and Calvin is entitled "The Great Confusion", in itself something of an indication of what is to come.2 Early on in the text, to describe the debates between Luther, the Hussites, Zwingli, and their adversaries Voegelin says that the "conversio had sunk to the level of a pseudometaphysical squabble between intellectuals who did not master the issue" (p. 227). Later in the discussion we find such fiery descriptions of Luther and his movement as

1The authors would like to thank Ellis Sandoz for helpful comments. 

2The exact title of the chapter is "The Great Confusion 1: Luther and Calvin". The next chapter, "The Great Confusion 11: Decisions and Positions", in Voegelin 1998b, pp. 17-69, details the results of the
Reformation by analyzing the political thought of the 161 century. Voegelin's judgment is
characteristically harsh:
...the sixteenth century is singularly barren with regard to work of intellectual
distinction in politics - if we except Bodin Nothing else can be expected,
considering that the antiphilosophism of the reformers had discredited the scholastic
medium in which political thought could be articulated (ibid., p. 17).


"this nightmare of nonsense" (p. 236); "this peculiar blindness" (p. 239); "this impossible Reformation" (p. 245); "probably the biggest piece of political mischief concocted by a man, short of the Communist Manifesto" (ibid.); "[Luther's] almost incredible lack of wisdom" (p. 247); "Luther did not possess the powers of intellect that enable a man to grasp the essence of a problem [ ... ] he was singularly lacking in intellectual insight and imagination" (ibid.); "this miserable story" (p. 260); "we now should like to stress the significance of the year 1523 [the year of the publication of Luther's Secular Authority] as the formal ending of the Middle Ages through the destruction of the symbols of Western Christian public order by the hubris of a private individual" (p. 263); "Obviously there is no way out of this mess ... we have descended to the level of the war of all against all" (p. 265); "Luther lived for another twenty years; but with 1525 [the Peasants' Revolt], we may say, he was finished" (p. 266); "Luther attacked and destroyed the nucleus of Christian spiritual culture through his attack on the doctrine of fides caritate formata" (p. 267); "If the splendor of the Middle Ages has become dark through the criminal ignorance and obscurantism of the modems, the influence of Luther must always be counted as one of the major causes" (ibid.); "Luther destroyed the balance of human existence" (p. 268).

These are, to say the least, strong words, even for Voegelin. And as David Morse and William Thompson point out in their helpful introduction to this volume of the History, it is nothing short of hurtful to read this for the many who still live in communities that trace their teachings back to Luther and Calvin - not least for the Lutherans, who after all still carry their founder's name. Furthermore, Voegelin's harsh attacks may come as something of a surprise to those who know Voegelin from his published works. While he is indeed nasty to Calvin in the New Science of Politics, in general he saves his harshest criticisms for those who immanentize history, either through the "spiritual Gnosticism" of a Joachim de Fiore, or through the secular activism of a Marx. (Indeed, being such an "immanentist" is basically the charge raised against Calvin in the New Science.3) Most readers would be relatively unaware of Luther being a major point of attack in that scheme - yet, when we read

3IAbout Calvin in the New Science of Politics, Voegelin writes: "... a man who can break with the intellectual tradition of mankind because he lives in the faith that a new truth and a new world begin with him, must be in a peculiar pneumopathological state" (Voegelin 1952, p. 139).


Voegelin's remarks in the History, we find Luther appearing not only as an unbalanced thinker, but as one of the major villains of world history.

We will now try to summarize Voegelin's main points of attack, followed by an overview of central aspects of Luther's teaching that Voegelin seems to downplay or ignore. On that basis, we can try to answer the question whether Voegelin was fair to the famous reformer. Before doing so, however, we need to make the following important points:

The History was never revised by Voegelin for publication. Had he decided to do so, he may also have changed some of the tone of the work. Secondly, Luther is not the only author singled out for critical remarks in the History - it is more correct to say that most thinkers, especially of the modem era, receive harsh treatment at the hands of Voegelin. Finally, Voegelin wrote his History partly as an attempt to explain the extreme horrors of his own age. Whenever he found authors who in his eyes had contributed to the totalitarian mess of the mid-201 century, he saw it as something of a duty to point out where, why, and how things had gone wrong. The treatment of Luther is, in other words, part of a complicated picture. Therefore, singling out these 70-odd pages of one volume of Voegelin's History, without putting them into a larger context, will surely leave us with a very unnuanced and skewed image of Eric Voegelin's monumental intellectual legacy.

Voegelin's points of attack

In summarizing Voegelin's attack on Luther - and an attack it is, indeed! - it must be remembered that Voegelin is not out to debate or criticize Luther's theology. He comes to Luther within the frame of a history of political ideas. Thus, he concentrates on the possible dangers of Luther's teachings in the realm of political affairs. However, Voegelin strongly believes that theological speculation can have political consequences, and - as always in Voegelin - it is hard to separate the political from the metaphysical, since the political will always be a manifestation of metaphysical conceptions of order and history, positively or negatively.

There is an interesting two-sidedness to Voegelin's treatment of Luther. On the one hand, there is a strong indictment of Luther's personality (a point we will come back to below). Luther himself, as a man, as a character on the public scene, is the problem. He represents disorder and lack of clarity. But on the other hand, Voegelin does not primarily - at least politically speaking - attack Luther's own stands and actions, but more their consequences, i.e., the dangers that flow from them. He fears that Luther opens up the spectacle of unchecked individualism, lack of attention to moral virtue, and political chaos, yet he is careful to point out that Luther himself never wanted any of these things.

These two facts - personality and personal stands on the one hand and political consequences on the other - are, however, closely intertwined for Voegelin. One of Luther's main failings is exactly his lack of sensitivity to the problems he helped create.

If we are, against this general background, to summarize Voegelin's att Luther, we must at least point out the following:4

According to Voegelin, the famous sola fide ("faith alone") doctrine is destructive not only of the idea that man may be justified by his works - which Voegelin sees as being pretty much a "strawman doctrine", since few, if any, of the major theologians of the Church had ever held it in its pure form - but also of the scholastic teaching of the fides caritate formata ("faith formed by love"): the faith that touches and changes the individual, and which is part of the tension-filled process of loving God in the metaxy (in-between). The scholastic teaching had seen faith as a transformation which forms human beings and helps them love their fellows; thus theology and ethics become intertwined. For Luther, however, in his teaching of faith, there is no ethics left, according to Voegelin (p. 259): The whole realm. of problems that is to be found in the Ethics of Aristotle (der schalkichte Heide) or in the quaestiones on law in the Summa of St. Thomas does not exist for Luther. Here, and also in the discussion of Luther's position towards the peasants in 1525 (p. 266), we see Voegelin worrying that a true ethics is the victim of Luther's doctrine. Justification becomes merely external and leaves the sinner untouched. No "loving formation" takes place. Thus, where Augustine believed that justification through faith transforms the sinner - "becomes part of his or her person", as Alister McGrath

4 See also the editors' introduction, p. 13, for a summary of the same points.

puts it5 - Luther holds justification to be God's external action.

Secondly, Voegelin attacks Luther for his "antiphilosophism", which historically speaking contributes to tearing down the high achievements of Western civilization (p. 267). Voegelin sees Luther, albeit not alone, as laying a pattern of human self-reliance and anti-intellectualism that informs the Enlightenment and subsequent developments in European thought. Clearly, Voegelin is here - as so often - tying to find the roots of that disorder which permeated his own time. (Let us remember that these passages on Luther were written in the 1940's.) He sees somehow a genealogy of ideas stretching - backwards in time - from modem fascism, communism, and secularized liberalism, via Comte, Hegel, Voltaire, and other villains, to Luther. The following quote is typical: [Luther's] antiphilosophism, like Erasmus's, has become prototypical; it has created the pattern that we find aggravated in the obscurantism of the Enlightenment philosophers, and that has reached its last baseness in the aggressive ignorance of our contemporary liberal, fascist, and Marxist intellectuals (pp. 267-268). It is tempting here to comment on Voegelin's simplification in treating liberalism to such a significant degree as one with fascism and Marxism, but we will resist that temptation. Voegelin's main point should be clear: Luther contributed to a revolt against learning and authority, thereby destroying that sense of tradition which balances human consciousness. It is especially the tradition from Aristotle - der schalkichte Heide (that rascally heathen, see p. 259) - which suffers at the hands of Luther; yet, the strong insistence on the authority of the individual tears down tradition and authority altogether, not only Aristotle. Voegelin realizes that this was not Luther's stated intention, yet Luther must be blamed for instigating a movement that with necessity led to such a total revolt.

Closely related to this is Voegelin's third main point of attack, building on Max Weber's emphasis on the Protestant ethic: "Luther destroyed the balance of human existence" (p. 268) by shifting the emphasis from the vita contemPlativa to fulfillment through work and service. Voegelin is harsh in his judgment: Today we experience the deadly results of this shift of accent; the

5McGrath 1994, p. 441.

atrophy of intellectual and spiritual culture has left a civilization that excels in utilitarian pragmatism in a state of paralysis under the threat of the modem chiliastic mass movement (ibid.).

Fourthly, and finally, Luther's own personality, so significant for his revolution,6 comes under attack. While Voegelin includes an almost overwhelming, indeed funny - and, given his scathing criticisms, surprising - list of positive characteristics in Luther (pp. 247-249), it is nonetheless clear that Luther's strong personality is more of an ethical liability than a moral strength. The reformer creates an atmosphere of revolt, and is portrayed by Voegelin somewhat as an elephant roaming through a porcelain store .7 No matter how sincere and well-meant the intentions of the elephant, his mere physical (and, in Luther's case, mental) strength is and must be destructive.

In conclusion, Voegelin describes Luther and his impact as a catastrophe in Western intellectual and social history. Given the comparison with Marx (p. 245), quoted above, and his violent attack on Luther's blindness and insensitivity to consequences, one is reminded of Voegelin's indictment of Marx as "an intellectual swindler".8 It is indeed something of the same image that is given of Luther; someone who should have known better, but who did not. Luther's only defense must be his "almost incredible lack of wisdom" (p. 247). No noble defense, indeed!

In defense of Luther
Luther was such a prolific writer that it is way beyond the task and scope of this paper to give a thorough summary of his thought, even if we - like Voegelin - concentrate merely on the politically relevant. However, we will try to point out some traits in Luther that we believe could have helped ameliorate Voegelin's harsh attacks in the History, had they been given more attention.

(a) Sola fide - Faith alone
First, it is important to grasp the full - or maybe we should rather say, the limited

6 See the editors' introduction, p. 13. 
7 Our image, not Voegelin's! 

8 Voegelin 1968, p. 28.

intent of the sola fide doctrine . It constitutes the third of Luther's basic principles; the first two being sola gratia (salvation (only) through unmerited grace) and sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Its importance pertains to justification: cum sola fidet iustificet. Face to face with God, it is faith, a gift from God, that counts.9 It is meant as an attack on what Luther found to be the wrongful, almost Pelagian, belief in man's ability to commit actions meriting salvation or ameliorating divine judgment. Put in the language of Voegelin, Luther understands man to belong rightfully in a metaxy - an in-between - between the unchangeable and eternal God on the one hand and the ever-fleeting created world, with all its current temptations and evils, on the other. Luther's program is to make man understand his proper place within that tension - to rediscover the metaxy, so to speak - in the face of ideas and movements which have disturbed the equilibrium, as Luther sees it, and have made man fearsome and indeed terrified in facing God and His judgment.

It is, thus, significant to remember that Luther's teaching on faith is almost exclusively directed toward the problem of salvation and justification before God. It is one and only one question that is being answered by aid of the sola fide doctrine: "How am I to be saved?" And this is where Aristotelian scholasticism falls so radically short. Within other spheres, Luther is much less hesitant in calling on reason or appealing to heathen authorities. As Duncan Forrester has pointed out, 

[t]he very Aristotle whom Luther had labeled "this damned, conceited, rascally heathen" when considering his influence on theology [cf. Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation], becomes a most respectable authority when the question at issue is one of politics.10

 The same point can be applied to one of Luther's most famous works, De servo arbitrio, which seemingly attacks the notion of free choice per se, but which is essentially concerned with free choice as it pertains to salvation.11 Even the turn away from thefides caritateformata must be seen in this light, as Bernhard Lohse points out:

9 See Oberman [ 1982]1992, p. 192.
10 Forrester 1987, p. 331. See also Oakley 1991, pp. 170-171, on the importance and use of natural-law
arguments and appeals to reason in Luther's political theology, with reference especially to Whether
Soldiers, too, Can be Saved
and Temporal Authority: To "at Extent it Should be Obeyed.
11 See Lohse [1995]1999, pp. 160-168, for a good summary.

We need to realize, however, that this scholastic distinction [between fides informis (unformed faith) and fides caritate formata (faith formed by love)] had once been drawn in order by means of Aristotelian philosophy to express the causative effect of grace respecting the believer's renewal, while Luther had in mind the situation at the last judgment. 12

While Lohse may be over-emphasizing the Aristotelian motivation of the scholastics, he is surely right in pointing out that Luther was concerned primarily with the doctrine of faith in relation to the final judgment. Luther follows Augustine in stressing that human beings are utterly incapable of the kind of love and meritorious works that count as good in the eyes of God. This does not mean that good works and ethical behavior are impossible, merely that they do not bring us closer to salvation.13

In light of Luther's famous Cathecisms, as well as his Biblical commentaries (e.g., his Commentary on the Galatians), it is quite clear that Luther is indeed an ethicist who strongly emphasizes not least the meaning and consequences of the Ten Commandments. The fact that man is saved by faith alone does not imply that ethics disappears or that the tradition of Christian ethics becomes unimportant to Luther. In other words, one must distinguish between Luther's teaching on salvation through faith alone, and his ethics. His point is that ethics, no matter how good, does not lead to any ultimate perfection or salvation; he does not say that ethics is superfluous or of no consequence to the Christian.

It is almost remarkable that Voegelin, for all his clarity of vision, does not consider this point more fully. In the section immediately preceding the chapter on Luther and Calvin, Voegelin describes the so-called perfectus of Dante's Convivio, and points out how Dante evokes an ideal of a realization of the imago Dei in mundane existence (p. 2 10). Voegelin emphasizes that Dante in this context is not

12Ibid., p. 202.
13For more on Luther's teaching on "good works", see his Treatise on Good Works, usefully commented on in Pelikan 1984, p. 147. See also Bainton 1950, pp. 178-179, and Bainton's connnents on Luther's On the Freedom of the Christian, a work in which the effects of faith on good works are detailed. The strong connection between faith and the quality of works challenges the common claim that Luther totally rejected thefides caritateformata. Something actually happens, positively, to the person who comes to faith in Christ.

concerned with salvation and the transcendental destiny of the soul (although he may be so elsewhere). Luther's concern can be described as being diametrically opposed to Dante's, and it thus constitutes a fine juxtaposition to the latter. The mundane sphere of existence is exactly the one we should not pin our hopes on. Together with the tradition from Augustine, we should come to see our limitations in all their starkness.

In short, debating Luther right after his treatment of Dante's (and others') ideals of inner-worldly fulfillment, Voegelin could have been expected to bring out the contrast to Luther more clearly. That could also have made it easier to appraise Luther's ethics more positively, and it would have made it easier to read Luther's doctrine on good works in a different light. As it stands, Voegelin believes that ethics, including the whole teaching of virtue and of a law of nature available to all human beings, disappears. But, as readers of Luther will know, that is not the case. The law of nature is still invoked, and Luther holds on to the need for reason in order to appraise actions in this world. But, in the face of salvation and God's eternal punishment, none of these works deserve the name of "good". Augustine had in effect said much the same thing.14

(b) Luther and the Augustinian heritage

This brings us to another important point that Voegelin may be under-emphasizing. It is a fact that Luther was - in priestly practice as well as theological fact - a disciple of St. Augustine, and that he indeed understood himself as returning to the wisdom of the bishop of Hippo. Luther's attacks on works-righteousness and on die Schwarmerei (meaning primarily the extremism) of the radical Reformation are the results of a truly Augustinian brand of deep-seated skepticism toward radical and millenarian political action in this world. This constitutes part of the core of Luther's religious and political beliefs. While he was a radical in both speech and deed, he never wished to create an earthly paradise of the elect. (Calvin may, on one interpretation, have come closer to such an idea.) He did not believe that the political sphere could be ruled by the Gospel; the "priesthood of all believers" did not take away the need for a well-educated clergy and sound institutional authority; and, significantly, Luther created or supported no utopian political schemes - the radical action he demanded did not aim to create new institutions or rebellious factions, although they aimed to reform the state of Christendom quite radically and thoroughly.

14 See McNeill 1946 for a fine and thorough, albeit debated, overview of the many references to natural-law ethics in Luther and other reformers. See also Oakley 1991.

In all this, not least in his view of the necessity of temporal authority, Luther was decisively influenced by Augustine. That Voegelin does not emphasize this deep Augustinianism that runs through Luther's works, constitutes a weakness in his account - especially since Voegelin in general puts so much emphasis, implicitly if not always explicitly, on the Augustinian legacy in Western thought. While Luther indeed departed from Augustine on important points - for instance, in seeing grace as external and not so much as a transforming process (cf. the fides caritate formata), and in changing the highest priority among the theological virtues from love to faith - he did take Augustine's teaching on sin and human limitations seriously, in all its radicality, and he did maintain a strong skepticism towards millennial political expectations. 15

We may say that by devoting most of his attention to Luther's relatively early Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520), Voegelin comes to treat the most radical version of the "priesthood of all believers" as the prototype of Lutheran politics, and downplays the more subdued, Augustinian strain running through Luther.

It is not as if Voegelin is not aware of Luther's rejection of radical sectarianism. He goes so far as to portray Luther as the first major instance of a political thinker who wants to create a new social order through the partial destruction of the existing civilizational order and then is appalled when more radical men carry the work of destruction far beyond the limits that he had set himself (p. 23 8). Voegelin, in short, charges Luther with being someone who wants to solve "complicated social and intellectual problems through limited destruction" (p. 239, our emphasis), but who should have known that the destructive forces thereby unleashed can hardly be held back.

The question is whether even the qualifications "partial" and "limited" make this a good and fitting description of Luther's aim. It is quite clear from Luther's 95

15For a useful summary of the debate about Luther's Augustinianism, see Pelikan 1984, pp. 251-253.

Theses and other early works of the Reformation that he was out to debate and criticize what he saw as the Church's teaching about faith and works, aggravated by the practice of indulgences. But he did not see an institutional upheaval as called for, although he surely wished to change local dependence on the papacy (but he was far from the first Christian thinker to want that!). It is a historical fact that the Church met and answered him poorly, if at all (which is a point we will come back to). The lack of proper replies and decent discussion about the actual matters at hand in the earliest years of the Reformation, led to impatience and fervent reactions in many circles - indeed also in Luther himself. But however radical these reactions were, to see his reform program as "destruction" (pp. 238-239), as a call to "civilizational upheaval" (p. 245), and as a seminal, almost unequaled, piece of "political mischief' (ibid.) must be taking Luther too far, since Luther's stated intention was to bring the Church "back" and "out"; back to its Augustinian teaching on faith, and out to a people which had been misled by an uneducated clergy and a partly corrupt Church bureaucracy.

Voegelin does admit this restraint in Luther when he speaks of the Lutheran and Calvinistic idea of a terrestrial paradise as, after all, a "respectable eschatology" (p. 259),16 in contradistinction to other more chiliastic and revolutionary ideas. But here it seems to us that Voegelin lumps together Luther and Calvin too easily. It cannot be inferred from Luther's writings that he believed in any ideal, Christian terrestrial society whatsoever. He was too deeply imbued with Augustinian skepticism towards mundane existence to immerse himself in such utopian dreaming. )while Calvin had more of a philosophical foundation than Luther, and drew more explicitly on especially Stoic and to a certain extent Aristotelian notions of politics and law, Luther is closer to the Augustinian fear of "political theology", and thus actually more open than Calvin to a "non-scriptural" politics, which in turn allows for more versatility and openness than Calvin's ultimately dreary Geneva ever could.

(c) "The affirmation of ordinary life" A further, connected point that deserves attention is Voegelin's discussion of Luther's this-worldly ethics, which we also touched on above. Whereas Voegelin sees Luther's teaching as implying a "lack of ethics", instead creating a new and anti-authoritarian  individualism that tears down the fine medieval balance between the individual and authority, it is possible to see Luther's turn toward the spirituality and conscience of the common man in another and more favorable ethical light.

16 The expression is repeated in Voegelin 1998b, p. 20.

Our point may be explained in the following way: Voegelin draws a historical line from the Protestant Reformation to a German pietism with "the propensity to insulate an existence understood as Christian from the profane, impure sphere of the political" - in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon development, deeply influenced by the "Second Reformation" of John Wesley, which "carried Christendom ... to the people ... and thereby virtually immunized them against later ideological movements". 17 According to Voegelin, the German development, with roots in the 161-century Reformation, had torn politics and Christianity apart, leaving no spiritual resources to combat extremism and, in the 20d, century, totalitarianism.

While such an image has considerable historical plausibility, it is important to ask whether and to what extent Luther is to blame. Luther could, after all, be said to be responsible for a very different trend in the Western history of ideas, namely, that which Charles Taylor has called "the affirmation of ordinary life";18 in one sense the very antithesis to that extreme pietism that some of Luther's followers came to espouse, and that Voegelin indicts for creating fertile ground for nihilistic and totalitarian movements (by creating a radical separation between the religious and the mundane spheres of life, thus allowing for no true dialogue between the two). 19 After all, we find the Wittenberg reformer being as abhorred as Voegelin by that ignorance of the masses which so easily leads to uncritical acceptance of ideological dogma. Simultaneously, and also quite parallel to Voegelin, Luther expresses fear of an elitism that denies true spirituality and dignity to everyday people in ordinary life. The life of a shoemaker or an innkeeper, married life with children, everyday life with its worries and joys - these have as much grace and nobility as the life of reflection or political grandeur, according to Luther. This does not mean that reflection is

17 The quotes are from a lecture on "Freedom and Responsibility in Economy and Democracy" (1960), reprinted in Voegelin 2000, pp. 70-82; for these quotes, see p. 72.
18Taylor 1989, pp. 211 ff.
19As Taylor points out pietism and puritanism - in themselves broad concepts which encompass many thinkers and groups - were indeed part of the movement that criticized medieval monasticism and spiritual elitism; thus they are part and parcel of the modem movement toward the "affirmation of ordinary life". However, Luther's variant is much more down-to-earth and less ascetic than what we often associate with pietism and puritanism.

unimportant, or that political life is without dignity, which is the unwarranted conclusion that may be drawn from Luther's often fiery remarks. His point is that these forms of life may all be combined. Spiritual or political life is not out of reach for the common man .20

Thus, Luther undoubtedly helps lay the foundation of the modem idea of mass education and democratic self-government, not least through his Bible translations and his Cathecisms. Luther can be accused of being both naive and inconsistent in his ambitions, but his aim is at least not "chiliastic" or "millenarian"; rather he can be seen as following up on the Augustinian teaching about the limited, but important tasks of government in this world, and the inevitable limitations and shortcomings of all schemes intended to create an inimanentized sort of "gospel perfection", available only to the "Gnostic" elite. This could possibly have been brought out more explicitly by Voegelin, creating the basis for a more nuanced picture of the reformer.

(d) Luther's problematic personality - and the Church's reply This brings us to a final point not without relevance for Voegelin's discussion; namely, Luther's personality.21 Clearly, Voegelin is right in singling out Luther as a problematic personality whose bold writings and sayings could be - and indeed were - taken out of context and used as pretexts for extreme and radical action. He lacked a balance, an acute sense of moderation in speech (and, to a certain extent, deed), which we expect of great thinkers and heroic political and religious actors. Yet, as Voegelin himself so ably points out, Luther had a keen eye for those ills that needed immediate correction. His were "the talents that one should like to see in an influential cabinet member of a democratic welfare state" (p. 248), as Voegelin amusingly puts it.

We would like to claim that it is plausible - if only partially true - that Luther's proposals and reactions, theologically and politically, were indeed quite healthy and called-for, and that it was the reply that was sadly lacking. A stronger Church institution would have managed to contain the shock of a Martin Luther, and


20 Possibly the clearest exposition of this point in Lutheran teaching can be found in the Augsburg Confession, art. 16; see Villa-Vicencio 1986, p. 47. In both Cathecisna the same emphasis is evident in connection with Luther's comments and explanations of the Commandments.

21 See John Dillenberger, in Luther 1961, p. xiii, for a brief but useful discussion of the relationship between Luther's personality and the many attacks on him.


 even exploit the shock to a useful purpose. Luther's call to a reform of Christendom could have been contained had the Church itself shown willingness to reform. Undoubtedly, many spiritual and religious people were willing to listen to and support the calls to change. But the papal institution and many of those dependent on it for their living did not show the same kind of willingness to engage in serious debate and unselfish soul-searching.22 When Voegelin, in a striking and funny sentence, holds that "if anything is characteristic of the Reformation, it is that nobody could keep quiet, or could be kept quiet" (p. 230), one lamentfully thinks of the fact that the Roman Church initially did keep too quiet, that its replies to Luther's challenges were woefully lacking, and that this contributed to a situation that got out of hand and ended in a century of bloodshed the European continent did not see the like of until the 20" century. If nothing else, the blame for the tragedies that followed in the wake of the Reformation must be shared, a conclusion Voegelin would certainly not have disagreed with (to judge from the general treatment of this period in Voegelin's History), but which - we suggest - could have been emphasized more clearly in the chapter on Luther and Calvin.

Conclusion

Any reader who finds Voegelin's treatment of Luther too harsh, should just look at those polemical tracts that were written in Luther's own day. Luther was attacked from the left and right, and all kinds of slander were heaped on him. The radical reformer Thomas Muntzer customarily referred to him as Doctor Liar (Doctor Lugner; a word-play on Doctor Luther),23 and a balanced thinker such a Francisco de Vitoria referred to Luther as "the most imprudent of all",24 and said that he had "left no nook untainted with his heresies"." Closer to our own time, a moderate Catholic thinker such as Jacques Maritain said tersely that Luther was "not intelligent, but limited - stubborn especially", and totally marked by "egocentrism ... a metaphysical

22See Bokenkotter 1990, p. 193; see also Lohse [1995]1999, pp. 110-117, for a summary and discussion of the unsuccessful encounter with Cajetan in 1518, and the following contact between Luther and Rome, reinforcing the impression of a failure of communication and true dialogue. 

23See Muntzer, A Highly Provoked Defense, in Baylor 199 1, pp. 74-94. 

24Vitoria, On the Power of the Church, qu. 2, art. 1; in Vitoria 199 1, p. 126. 21 

25Vitoria, On the Law of War, qu. 1, art. 1; in Vitoria 1991, p. 296. 16 

26Maritain 1929, pp. 5, 14. We thank our friend Gregory Reichberg for making us aware of this interesting early work by Maritain.

egoism".26 Much has happened over the previous half-century, however. Catholic writers have come to treat Luther much more sympathetically,27 and official documents and declarations, most recently in 1999, have managed to reconcile Catholics and Lutheran Protestants to an unprecedented degree. There is little doubt that Voegelin would have rejoiced at such progress, to the extent he saw it as engaging the two sides in the real questions and not quasi-problems.

These remarks notwithstanding, Voegelin's discussion of Luther in the History is indeed brutal. And Luther understood, of course, that such would be the attacks on him. After all, and without any doubt, Luther is himself one of the most polemical and fiery writers of Western history, much like Eric Voegelin himself. In style, if not in substance, they are probably more similar than Voegelin would have cared to admit.


27 See Bokenkotter 1990, pp. 186-200 for a balanced exposition from a Catholic viewpoint.


Works Cited

Bainton, Roland H. (1950). Here I Stan& A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Baylor, Michael G., ed. (199 1). The Radical Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bokenkotter, Thomas (1990). A Concise History of the Catholic Church, rev. & expanded ed. New York: Image Books.

Forrester, Duncan (1987). "Martin Luther and John Calvin", in History of Political Philosophy, 3rd ed., eds. Leo Strauss & Joseph Cropsey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lohse, Bernhard ([1995]1999). Martin Luther's Theology, trans. & ed. Roy A. Harrisville. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Luther, Martin (1961). Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger. New York: Doubleday.

Maritain, Jacques (1929). Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.

McGrath, Alister (1994). Christian Theology: An Introduction. Cambridge, MA Oxford: Blackwell.

McNeill, John T. (1946). "Natural Law in the Teaching of the Reformers", Journal of Religion, vol. XXVI, no. 3, pp. 162-182.

Oakley, Francis (1991). "Christian Obedience and Authority, 1520-1550", in The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450-1700, ed. J. H. Bums. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Oberman, Heiko  [1982]1992). Luther: Man between God and Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart. New York: Image Books.

Pelikan, Jaroslav (1984). Reformation of Church and Dogma. (Vol. 4 of The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Taylor, Charles (1989). Sources of the Self( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press -

Villa-Vicencio, Charles (1986). Between Christ and Caesar. Cape Town: David Philip.

Vitoria, Francisco de (199 1). Political Writings, eds. Andiony Pagden & Jeremy Lawrance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Voegelin, Eric (1952). New Science of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

--- (1968). Science, Politics, and Gnosticism. Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway.

--- (I 998a). History of Political Ideas, vol. IV.- Renaissance and Reformation, eds. David L. Morse & William A Thompson. (Vol. 22 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, series ed. Ellis Sandoz). Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

--- (1 998b). History of Political Ideas, vol. V.- Religion and the Rise of Modernity, ed. James L. Wiser. (Vol. 23 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, series ed. Ellis Sandoz). Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

--- (2000). Published Essays 1953-1965, ed. Ellis Sandoz. (Vol. I I of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, series ed. Ellis Sandoz). Columbia: University of Missouri Press.


Calvin, Gnosis. and Anti-Philosophy
Voegelin's Intepretation of the Reformation
Copyright 2000 Thomas W. Heilke



I. Introduction
The Reformation movements of fifteenth-century Europe have been variously described as a cultural advance, a civilizational disruption with continuities, a religious revival, a heresy of "invincible error and [perhaps] perfect good faith," and a schism and "calamity." In Karl Holl's estimation, for example, it "enriched all areas of [European] culture," from theology and philosophy to art, from history to literature. It similarly "deepened" a theory of the state and produced a clearer delimitation of state powers. For Frederick Copleston, on the other hand, the contribution of the Reformation to philosophy generally and political philosophy specifically appears to have been slight and mostly derivative, except in one instance--the development of the notion of the state as a distinct and autonomous entity. Quentin Skinner sees this particular development as laying the foundations for modem political thought. For Roland Bainton, the Reformation was "an age of upheaval," but not of disintegration. The "culture of the West" remains a coherent phenomenon that is a kind of post-Reformation Christendom whose ecclesiastical structure has been shattered, but whose internal, cohesive meaning abides. "Above all else "a revival of religion," the Reformation was a movement for the recovery of first principles, the restoration of an "uncorrupted Christianity."

For Eric Voegelin, the Reformation marked "a clear epoch in Western History," to be "understood as the successful invasion of Western Institutions by gnostic movements." Such an assessment seems harsh and idiosyncratic in view of even the most strident critiques of the Reformation from its religious opponents. Voegelin's analysis of the Puritan revolution in England is an example of how he comes to his severe conclusion. Having shown the basic programmatic contours and underlying motivation of this revolution to be gnostic, and knowing that the formative theology of the Puritans stemmed from Calvin's writings, Voegelin traced the outlines of Puritan gnosticism back to the reformer from Picardy. A brief review of Calvinist doctrines of revolt, Voegelin argued, showed the easy transition from being a group that bears the "consciousness of being the representative[s] of a new truth" to a conducting a revolt against the crown. Examples of this "trend in political speculation, nourished from various sources, but converging toward the idea of an autonomous, intramundane polity that derives its governmental authority from 'the people'"... include John Knox and the French Huguenots. Whereas some evaluators may see this anti-monarchical development as a positive one toward modem conceptions of individual freedom, Voegelin's assessment was far less optimistic. The Reformation spelled for him the decisive downward turn in the history of Western Civilization whose final chapter has not yet been written.

This paper undertakes a two-part task. First, with specific focus on Calvin, it will consider Voegelin's argument that the obnoxious features of post-Reformation Protestantism are to be traced directly to the writings and practical reforming activities of Luther and Calvin themselves. It is their anti-philosophism and Calvin's gnosticism, according to Voegelin, that shape modernity to an unprecedented degree. As R. H. Tawney observed, and as Voegelin seemed independently to concur, it is ultimately an "active and radical" Calvinism--and not the much more socially conservative, politically deferential, and religiously quietistic Lutheranism--that wends a path "strewn with revolutions" through the history of modem Europe. Friedrich Heer argues further that "the inner history of Europe" in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries "was an attempt to overcome the attitudes fixed by the Calvinists," who were the "pioneers of the modem world" in almost every sense. Therefore, despite the early dependence of Calvin and his followers on Lutheran political doctrines, this paper will focus on Voegelin's evaluation of Calvin and his writings for their later import in European civilization.

Second, in view of Voegelin's polemical treatment, this paper will consider whether his evaluation of Calvin is fair. Voegelin's claim is unusual enough--even within a tradition of declaring Protestantism heretical--and his scholarship of a quality that a careful consideration of such a charge seems warranted in its own right. Oddly enough, Voegelin is not explicit about what, precisely, he finds, that is gnostic in Calvin's work. The reason for this gap is that The New Science of Politics, where Voegelin makes the charge, is a short text that is in some ways a summary of the results of the earlier eight-volume History of Political Ideas. In the History, Voegelin uses neither "koranic" nor "gnostic" to describe Calvin's work, but his exegesis of the Institutes shows the way to his summary conclusion in New Science. This paper explicates that conclusion by taking into consideration both of Voegelin's works while examining Calvin's texts.

II. Voegelin's Contextualization and Judgment of the Reformation

a. sacrum imperium

Voegelin's critique of the Reformation generally and of Jean Calvin's theology specifically must be understood in light of his interpretation of various political and ecclesiastical developments and responses to them in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This period begins with a
 spiritual dissolution revealed in the institutional corruption of late medieval Europe and in the spiritual alienation of writers like Dante, and it ends in the Reformation. These two centuries spell the beginning of the breakdown of Western civilization, characterized as the dissolution of the corpus Christianum that is institutionally expressed in the sacrum imperium into particularistic national and eventually religious spheres. The breakdown was finalized in the Reformation and religious wars of the sixteenth century. This medieval sacrum imperium or "holy empire" was a singular civilizational achievement of the West. In the mind of Calvin, at least, it was an achievement less to be superseded than to be refounded on new principles. Calvin's efforts at refounding led not to a new Christendom, however, but to counter-foundings, savage wars and eventual efforts to extirpate spiritual concerns from the public sphere altogether in many European polities.

The sacrum imperium, according to Voegelin, is the focal evocation of political ideas in the Middle Ages toward which all other political ideas are oriented. An evocation is a symbol that expresses the rationality or legitimacy or moral and emotional coherence of the "shelter function of the cosmion, the little word of order" that human beings create to preserve themselves in community and to give their lives "a semblance of meaning." The cosmion that human beings create provides both a physical shelter from internal and external enemies as well as an ordering function that is expressed in the political ideas that articulate and evoke the order of both the cosmos and the particular human cosmion that exists within that cosmos. The cosmion replicates the order of the cosmos in its smaller world of human institutions, ceremonies, myths, and symbols of meaning.

"Sacrum imperium" was the summary representative symbol of such a cosmion. It was a uniquely Western political and religious symbol and a distinctive form of organization. In its physical manifestation, it originally consisted in a spiritual center in Rome and a temporal center in the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, north of the Alps, that was first founded by Charlemagne in 800. Unlike earlier (and later) empires, this medieval 'holy empire' "never achieved an internal [political] coherence and an effectiveness as a power organization" that could be compared to the empires of Mesopotamia, Greece, or Rome. Despite these deficits, it did exist as a manifest, coherent unit of organization and orientation in the minds of medieval Europeans as witnessed in their political and spiritual evocations. We might add that in this sense it provided a cosmion of coherent meaning that was far richer than the ecumenical alienation provided by the Persian and Alexandrian empires or the "power apparatus" of "conquest and organization" provided by the Roman Empire, that classical "graveyard of societies." It can also be said to have had a rise and a fall, with the two centuries from 1070 to 1270 comprising its 11spiritual flowering and culmination." Its disintegration--which was primarily a spiritual dissolution that expressed itself physically in the formation of national units out of the imperial territories--began even while its intellectual and spiritual flowering reached its height in the integrative work of Thomas Aquinas.

Like any empire and any cosmion, the sacrum imperium was a continuing enterprise that required for its maintenance ongoing renewal and restoration. While the Reformation of the sixteenth century that dissolved the sacrum imperium was the product of specific institutional pressures, the reform movements of the tenth century that preserved the sacred empire showed that these pressures were not lacking earlier. Voegelin argued that the "fundamental questions that appeared in the Reformation of the sixteenth century" were present in these medieval reform movements. It was therefore the specifically "changed conditions" of the sixteenth century, and not any new human motivations, that led to its "disruptions of the medieval unit of the sacrum imperium." Most importantly, this breakdown appears to have been related to the decreasing ability of the Roman Catholic church to absorb movements of spiritual renewal and institutional reform after 1300.

The disintegration of this imperium was only a traumatic "cultural disaster," however, if the imperium contained features that one admires and/or if the Reformation movements that dissolved it contained specifically deplorable features. For Voegelin, both were the case. Four specific characteristics of the sacrum imperium served him as the criteria for critiquing the Reformation movements and their aftermath. These features therefore comprised core counterpoints to Voegelin's ongoing critique of modernity. They are: (1) the possibility of representing the life of the spirit in public institutions; (2) the existence of such spiritually representative institutions combined with a secular power that preserves them without ruining their spiritual integrity; (3) a concomitant possibility of a life of intellectual inquiry or philosophy that is open to public view, being preserved in and by the publicly representative institutions of the life of the spirit; (4) a publicly preserved community of the faithful.

What does this list mean? Political existence, recall, is existence within a cosmion, which is an analogy of the cosmos, and which is "illuminated from within by the human beings who continuously create and bear it as the mode and condition of their self-realization." Political existence is therefore not merely physical, but also intellectual and especially spiritual existence. The genius of the sacrum imperium was that it developed a set of institutions that expressed and preserved together at the same time the life of the mind, spirit, and practical politics. The ideal characteristics of such a life were given by classical philosophical inquiry, which had analyzed and articulated them and which had passed the results on into the Christian tradition. This latter tradition, in turn, had preserved, critically extended, and articulated this classical inheritance after the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire.

The "evocation of [a] cosmion with its ancillary ideas" is "a reality, effective in history." This "effectiveness" can extend to philosophical and spiritual realms, out of which it influences public practice. But such evocations can be of radically varied quality and scope. The evocation of the sacrum imperium in the high Middle Ages had "absorbed so many elements of reality, worked into a balanced compromise, that the philosopher [could] wander a long way in pursuit of reality before he realiz[ed] the limits of the evocation." Voegelin found at the core of the imperium a medieval spiritualism that holds the relationship of amicitia between God and man, and therefore man and man, to be the highest end of human life. This relationship of friendship has both an intellectual and a spiritual or faith component, whose character and relationship were most precisely articulated by Thomas Aquinas. According to Voegelin, the experience of amicitia with God is unique to Christianity, and in Thomas' articulation of this experience and in his theory of fides caritate formata that is linked to it, Voegelin finds a "grandiose, systematic philosophy of man and society." As Hollweck and Sandoz have it, this theory is, first, "not merely the climax of the interpenetration of Christianity and a historical civilization, but perhaps the very raison d'etre of the West itself historically." Second, "it establishes the experiential standard that is the measure for subsequent theories of man and reality." Against this standard, according to Voegelin, Reformation Christianity fails.

The philosophical genius of the sacrum imperium construction is its "aspiration to find the comprehensive unity of all things, human and divine, temporal and spiritual," and unite them into itself. "Since the political evocation of the empire is based on the evocation of the spiritual Christian community, there are few questions concerning the spiritual personality of man and his relations to God and to his fellow men that have [no] direct or indirect bearing on the political evocation proper." Following the nominalist lead of Ockham, modem thought disaggregates this articulate unity. Perhaps the character of the medieval conception is therefore understood best in a contrast:

What disconcerted the nineteenth-century scholar was the fact that medieval political evocations include the spiritual personality of man, while the modem Western constitutional system leaves the spiritual personality free to become institutionalized in the churches or not at all. We find an evocation similar to the medieval in the political system of Plato.

"The symbolic universe of medieval Christianity," Professor Moulakis argues, was for Voegelin via rare moment of balance between the evocative reality of a particular order and the freedom of the person to contemplate such an order in theoretical openness [that] does not result from a religious commitment or predilection, but [that] is the upshot of historical and philosophical inquiry. What is at issue is the historically rare possibility of upholding the imaginative structures of an evocation, that is, of a finite microcosm of meaning, without losing sight of the absolute beyond, that is of the truth of human existence."

The balances of medieval Christianity may also be evaluated as a configuration of compromises. Voegelin identified three as central to the efficacy of a Christianity that served as the civilizing force and spiritual underpinning for European civilization. They are: (1) the transformation of the rite of baptism from a ceremony in which an adult believer signals his faith and is received into the visible and socially separate community of faith into a rite of "sacramental reception" in which the institutional Christian Church makes all members of society members of itself involuntarily in infancy; (2) the inclusion, by the ninth century, of the activity of secular political rule-- formerly an occupation not considered part of the panoply of Christian spiritual activities-into the list of spiritual gifts Christians may receive and use in the service of the Church; (3) the "compromise with history," in which believers, or at least Christian thinkers, recognize that "God revealed himself to the pagans through the law of nature and to the Hebrews through the Old Law before he revealed himself to the world at large through the Logos that had become flesh." This compromise enabled early Christian theologians and philosophers to "absorb the Stoic natural law into Christian doctrine, and by virtue of this absorption to create for Christianity a system of ethics that was applicable to relations between men who live in the world." In other words, it made it possible to move from the radical quality of early Christian ethics to a less "sectarian" ethic that could include not merely assenting believers, but any reasonable person in a society.
   

The church mediated these compromises to society through a "sacramental objectification of grace" or "sacramental organization" that enabled the many to receive grace objectively, without the efforts of "religious enthusiasm" or "heroic saintliness." The balance between the thisworldly and otherwordly concerns of the church and the sacrum imperium requires a third, balancing symbol, captured in the Christian eschatological symbol of "the kingdom of Christ." As David Walsh explains, the symbol of Christ's kingdom is:

a symbol of the end (eschaton) that describes in figurative language characteristics of our existence other than those of the life between birth and death. Above all it reflects a well-ordered existence in which the inequities of life are balanced out. In eschatology, existence is furnished with symbolic institutions (e.g., Christ's kingship), which by their well-ordered balance are the measure for all of life's institutions, relegating them to a level of diminished symbolical significance. Actual institutions, because they are inextricably both composite and unitary, cannot be perfected to the level of wholeness represented by the eschatological symbolism.

Maintaining this intricate set of balances, compromises, and insights that constituted the medieval sacred empire required the panoply of practical and intellectual virtues among at least some of the ruling and spiritual elites to sustain it.

b. reformation

By the time of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the careful balances of the sacrum imperium were coming undone: "the surrounding political reality of the Western world no longer [could] adequately absorb the spirit into its public institutions," and the unity of "spirit and politics" in the sacrum imperium was coming apart. In this now ruptured world, the life of the spirit could no longer find adequate public representation. In consequence, Dante, along with such later figures as Erasmus and Machiavelli, had discovered a "new spiritual loneliness."

A loss of spiritual unity in one's social environment has historically produced two responses-efforts at reform or revolution on the one had, and an "attempt to find the proper relation of the individual spiritual realist to the political structure of the age on the other." While thinkers as diverse as Dante, Erasmus, and Machiavelli either despaired of publicly representative institutions of the spirit or else reduced their expectations of them, the hope of reformers like Luther and Calvin was a "new spiritual church." Both reformers "tried to recreate spiritually determined political institutions out of the fading church substance," but in Voegelin's estimation, the attempt, "resulting in the split of the [Western] church, failed grossly." The failure is marked by the four specific characteristics that correspond to those features of the sacrum imperium that Voegelin found particularly laudable.

The first failure is found in the intellectual substance of the Reformation. The most serious problem underlying Calvin's and Luther's enterprise was that their antiphilosophism blinded them to the philosophical premises of their enterprises. Both reformers were knowingly hostile to the forms of philosophical inquiry developed in the high Middle Ages: their antipathy to philosophy destroyed the hard-won developments that made Christianity a proper preserver, bearer, and extender of Platonic/Aristotelian philosophical inquiry. While both were influenced by the Augustinian tradition, their strict biblicism made both strikingly unaware of the intellectualism of Augustine's conversion and of the deeply philosophical nature of his theology. Similarly, both were strongly influenced by Ockham's philosophy, but without much philosophical attention to the consequences of such influence. Thus, the dogmatic nature of the Reformers' work (and often of their opponents' responses) made a life of intellectual inquiry in contrast, say, to blunt-edged scriptural exegesis, increasingly unlikely.

Second, alongside the extirpation from Christian thinking of philosophical inquiry and natural law doctrines, which Voegelin saw as one of the formative compromises Christianity had made with paganism, early Protestantism also set aside the inclusion of secular political office into the panoply of spiritual gifts and was ambiguous about the social uses of the sacraments. In Luther's thought in particular, the contradiction became clear. While the intent of the Reformers was to restore purity to the ecclesiastical institutions, Luther's perceived need to do so by extricating the church from political entanglements was combined with his call to the secular rulers for help against his Roman Catholic enemies and against the internal fragmentation of his own reform movement. In both cases, ironically, the help came with a price attached, namely "an increasing secular control over the church." Such control, which was well underway before the Protestant Reformation, made the public representation of the life of the spirit increasingly unlikely, and the public preservation of a community of the faithful fraught with unforeseen compromises. On the one hand, Luther allowed for no interference between the secular political authorities and the spiritual authority or church, institutionally dissolving the Gelasian compromise between the sacred and secular arms of European society. On the other hand, he assumed that the local rulers whom he addressed were "Christian" princes who would, wherever possible, rule in accordance with Christian principles of grace, mercy, and tempered justice. Submission to secular rule was absolute for Christians where matters of conscience do not intrude. What such matters might be in practice remains unhelpfully elusive in Luther's writings. When practical matters are at issue, Calvin's Institutes are similarly unhelpful, being replete with startling tensions and contradictions. Thus, while the reformers strove for a publicly preserved community of the faithful, they could not, on their own premises, promote a life of intellectual inquiry of the kind that Voegelin would have desired, and the secular powers increasingly compromised the integrity of the spiritually representative institutions they sought to control. One nadir of such compromise was manifested in the complicity of German Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches with the National Socialist regime in the 1930s and 1940s.

The roots of several of Voegelin's complaints seem overly intellectual or philosophical, and one might wonder why anyone should be particularly concerned about them. But if the life of spirit, intellect, and body are closely linked in a cosmion of whatever kind, then to object in this way is already to take the modem path and to ignore the very real problems of political society as cosmion. Indeed, the societies of the post-Reformation era did consist in a certain kind, or even varieties, of cosmion, but these were relatively "fragmentary, narrow, and worthless," even if they were "expression[s] of faith," casting their "magic over man," and establishing the "boundaries ... [of] the realissimum enclosing their horizon." The more limited philosophical possibilities of such fragments made conflict more likely between the inhabitants of the dogmatized cosmion and the political philosopher, who seeks a more sufficient knowledge of the world, a larger horizon, and a" public status" for the results of his inquires. Calvin was one reformer who had attempted to reclaim the shape of the sacrum imperium and give it cosmic significance, but on the basis of new and philosophically shaky premises. It is to Calvin's new construction and Voegelin's critique of its gnostic premises that we now turn.

III. Voegelin on Calvin

a. koran

The History of Political Ideas contains Voegelin's most elaborated evaluation of the Reformation, but his summary remark on Calvin occurs in his New Science of Politics. There he calls the Institutes a gnostic "koran," a "genus of gnostic literature" of which Calvin has given us "the first deliberately created" exemplar. Voegelin intends "koran" as a technical term, but it refers first and foremost to an empirical, historical object. The technical term is inevitably metaphorical: what are the concrete characteristics and functions of the historical Koran such that Voegelin could label other texts "koranic."?

The original Koran is a book of prophecy that claims to be the final and complete revelation of God to humankind through His prophet, Muhammed. The message that the prophet delivers therefore supersedes all previous prophetic claims. The message of the prophet, moreover, does not develop historically, nor is it delivered within an historical context that requires contextual interpretation when it is broadcast into another society, culture, or even time. The message is complete, once-for-all, without blemish or need of revision. While the Koran reveals aspects of God's nature, the human response to the message is primarily expressed legalistically. Arabic philosophers, including Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, ingeniously used this legislative quality of the Koran to provide a space of freedom for philosophical inquiry. In various ways, they argued that the Koran speaks only to legal behavior, not to essence. Thus, as long as he conforins to the external requirements of the law, the Koran allows the philosopher to proceed with his inquiries whither he will. Social and political stability are ensured by the fact that only those very few who are intellectually and spiritually able to do so are permitted to engage in philosophical inquiry. For the many, legal and literal interpretation is both sufficient and salutary.

There is nothing necessarily gnostic in any of this. While it is possible for (gnostic) millenarian movements such as Malidism to emerge from Islam, Islam is not intrinsically gnostic any more than Christianity. Voegelin does not say that the Koran is gnostic, but that Calvin's Institutes are a "gnostic koran." "A man who can write such a koran, a man who can break with the intellectual tradition of mankind because he lives in the faith that a new truth and a new world begin with him," writes Voegelin, "must be in a peculiar pneurriopathological state." Voegelin recalls Richard Hooker, "who was supremely conscious of tradition, [and who] had a fine sensitiveness for this twist of mind."

In his cautiously subdued characterization of Calvin he opened with the sober statement: "His bringing up was in the study of civil lay"; he then built up with some malice: "Divine knowledge he gathered, not by hearing or reading so much, as by teaching others"; and he concluded on the devastating sentence: "For, though thousands were debtors to him, as touching knowledge in that kind; yet he (was debtor) to none but only to God, the author of the most blessed fountain, the Book of Life, and of the admirable dexterity of wit."

It seems that the gnosticism expressed in Calvins Institutes is therefore to be found in its peculiar legislative function in combination with its philosophical and literary characteristics. In the remainder of this paper, I will examine these three aspects under the rubrics of dogma and philosophical inquiry, faith and predestination, and gnosticism.

b. dogma and philosophical inquiry

In his "prefatory address" to Francis I, versions of which he retained in all editions of the Institutes, Calvin claims that the Institutes are a kind of training manual, a transmission "of rudiments by which those who feel some interest in religion might be trained to true godliness." This "prefatory address" is in part a polemical defense against "certain bad men" in Francis' realm, whose Miry" allows "no place" in that realm for "sound doctrine." These opponents to Calvin give the "name of error and imprudence to that which they know to be the infallible truth of God, and of ignorant men to those whose intellect they see that Christ has not despised, seeing he has deigned to intrust them with the mysteries of his heavenly wisdom." It is for the defense of this wisdom that Calvin appeals to Francis, and it is the content of this wisdom, "the true religion which is delivered in the Scriptures" and a "hidden treasure," that Calvin will reveal in his work. The Institutes is the means by which this old doctrine, long buried and unknown as "the guilty consequence of men's impiety," will be restored to all believers. This doctrine is perfectly contained in the Holy Scriptures, but finding it there may require guidance and direction. Those, like Calvin, "who have received from God more light than others" have a duty to "guide and assist" the simple "in finding the sum of what God has been pleased to teach us in his word." The Institutes provides "a rule by which to test whatever is presented" to the reader in the Scriptures, and thereby "to make more progress in the School of God in one day than any other person in three months." It is a "kind of key opening up to all the children of God a right and ready access to the understanding of the sacred volume." Indeed, the book is not Calvin's work, but the work of God, providing a summary of Christian doctrine, a guidebook to the proper reading of the biblical writings, and an authoritative interpretation of human experience. As a training manual for "candidates for the sacred office," the Institutes is "a summary of religion in all its parts ... digested ... in an order which will make it easy for any one, who rightly comprehends it, to ascertain both what he ought chiefly to look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought to refer whatever is contained in it."

Two "koranic" functions of the Institutes are revealed in this summary self-evaluation. Both, as Voegelin claims, deflect competent criticism and create group unity. First, Calvin formulates his new doctrine in scriptural terms, standardizing both scriptural interpretation and scriptural selection in support of that interpretation. He thereby suppresses the chaos of the early Reformation, in which everyone was free to interpret the scriptures "according to his preference and education," and he also eliminates the need to engage the "tradition of the church, which, after all, was based on an interpretation of Scripture, too." Indeed, those who would know God must be "led as by the hand to find him," and those who are skeptical of Calvin's particular leading are the willing and bewitched victims of folly, which is "the result not only of vain curiosity, but of licentious desire and overweening confidence in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge." Such an attitude "cannot be excused." Calvin thereby puts a dogmatic taboo, on critical interpretation, which fulfills not merely a koranic function, but, as I will argue, a gnostic one.

The Koran of Islam, recall, is a self-consciously supersessionist collection of prophecies that delivers once and for all God's truth to humankind. The legalistic quality of this truth enabled Arabic philosophers to advocate an outward adherence to the rules prescribed in the Koran while permitting private inquiry into philosophical questions for those intellectually and prudentially competent to do so. Christianity, however, is not a legal code: the canonical Christian documents are not a set of lawlike prescriptions, but a collection of stories, letters occasioned by specific problems or events, and brief, fragmentary historical accounts of the early Christian movement in Palestine and of the missionary efforts of Paul of Tarsus in Greece and Asia Minor. The historical development of Christianity, moreover, made theology and not jurisprudence its 11paramount science." Thus, "the Christian community was constituted not by a single divine Law that comprehensively prescribed opinions and actions of every kind, but rather by a sacred doctrine. The custodians of this doctrine were apostolic successors, the hierarchy, and the theologians, not the jurists." In Islam and Judaism, in contrast, theology receives less emphasis, because both are constituted first and foremost by "a comprehensive revealed Law, the interpretation, elaboration, and application of which gives priority to the activities of jurists.

From its earliest days, therefore, the core substance of Christianity was more closely related to theoretical considerations than either Islam or Judaism, because its tenets are not readily expressed in legalistic terms. Doctrinal, theological, theoretical, and philosophical interpretation have always been an ineluctable part of Christian life and thought. Calvin seeks to do away with the need for further interpretation and move to a legal framework of discussion. First, by putting a "taboo on the instruments of critique," namely "classic philosophy and scholastic theology," he prohibits the use of theoretical argument, thereby making impossible a public theoretical debate 11concerning issues that involve the truth of human existence." For Calvin, as for the eighteenth century Hawaiians from whom our technical term originates, a "taboo" is not an argument, but an exclamation or unreasoned declaration. Second, Calvin's exegetical method is unerringly developed in support of a specific "predetermined doctrine" that "would use Scripture when passages tom out of context would support the cause, and for the rest it would blandly ignore Scripture as well as the traditions and rules of interpretation that had been developed by fifteen centuries of Christianity." One example may be found in Calvin's doctrine of baptism. The practice of pedobaptism is difficult to support with a prima-facie examination of the Christian scriptures--Calvin sees this (and modem scholarship tends generally to confirm it), but his aversion to the Anabaptists and his vision of a new sacrum imperium lead him into contorted exegeses to sidestep the problem. Foremost in Calvin's mind are not the theological issues involved, in terms of which his Roman Catholic opponents articulated and defended pedobaptism much more successfully and coherently than he could hope to, but his predestinationist founding of a new sacruin imperium. This intent makes most sense, for example, of his highly dubious analogies between baptism and circumcision.

In numerous other contexts, even a brief perusal of the Institutes makes Calvin's bad arguments and their underlying purpose evident:

In fact, the foundation of an unequivocal system of doctrine on Scripture, as we know, is impossible. Calvin can arrive at decisions with regard to true doctrine only by relating scriptural texts, first to the doctrinal intentions that have emerged since Luther and, second, to the aim toward which he wants them to converge. In some instances such a relation between scriptural passages and Calvin's intentions does exist, in other instances it does not; but whether it exists or not, it must be shown to exist. Since Calvin is a marvelous lawyer, the result is quite exhilarating--or rather it would be if there were the faintest touch of humor or rascality in the man; to our regret, however, we cannot cast even a shadow of doubt on Calvin's complete seriousness and good faith. Nevertheless, there is enough objective comedy in the enterprise to provide chapter after chapter of solid entertainment for the connoisseur of dirty tricks in argument.

c. faith and predestination

Calvin's fideism, which is a kinder way, perhaps, of characterizing his dogmatic rejection of theoretical inquiry, is present throughout the Institutes. To "divest" our minds of "all doubt" concerning the authority of scripture, for example, we are not led through reasoned arguments, but to "convictions given solely by the Spirit, who "enlightens" our minds and whose "inward testimony" is superior to reason, sealing the hearts of men:

We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgment, but we subject our intellect and judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate. This, however, we do, not in the manner in which some are wont to fasten on an unknown object, which, as soon as known, displeases, but because we have a thorough conviction that, in holding it, we hold unassailable truth; not like miserable men, whose minds are enslaved by superstition, but because we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it--an energy by which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly indeed, and knowingly, but more vividly and effectually than could be done by human will or knowledge....
 
Calvin appears here to be describing an experience of faith or of God's power and of being drawn to God that is the privilege of many a Christian. This experience, however, need not lead necessarily to a suspension of our critical faculties, as Calvin seems to demand:

Such, then, is a conviction which asks not for reasons; such, a knowledge which accords with the highest reason, namely, knowledge in which the mind rests more firmly and securely than in any reasons; such, in fine, the conviction which revelation from heaven alone can produce. I say nothing more than every believer experiences in himself, though my words may fall far short of reality.... only let us now understand that the only true faith is that which the Spirit of God seals on our hearts.

"None," moreover, "comprehend the mysteries of God save those to whom it is given." Those, therefore, who disagree with Calvin! s exegesis and "restoration" of the old Gospel, however obscure and circuitous it may at times be, are "arrogant" and "stupid," condemning without reason "whatever their carnal sense cannot comprehend" and showing themselves to be "furious madmen."

Calvin certainly seems dogmatic, close-minded, contradictory, and fideistic, but the passage poses further difficulties. The most important, as with so many others in Calvin's work, is that it is consistent on the surface with common Christian experiences of faith, which include being overwhelmed by a mystical experience, or being grounded in a deeply-rooted experience of Divinity. In orthodox Augustinian and Thomistic understandings, however, such experiences are tempered by the knowledge that wisdom (a kind of ratio) and the love of God provide, and especially by the humility they engender regarding our capacity to know:

Translated into terms of psychology, the doctrine of grace resolves itself into the doctrine that  my love is my weight' and that the greater love is ultimately irresistible. As such, the working of the Spirit emerges, not as magic but, in the deepest and truest sense of the word, as 'natural law'. Accordingly, it may be described as ardor caritatis, or ignis voluntatis, the 'heat of love', the 'flame of the will'. Its efficacy as a means of salvation thus depends upon the assumption that the image of God, i.e. of the creative and moving principle, has not been wholly effaced from the hearts even of unbelievers. This being so, the process of salvation may be understood as one of sublimation in which the same human love discovers a new centre of fixation; concupiscence, which is self-love, being thus transmuted into dilection, which is love of God.

Calvin reveals no understanding of this Augustinian distinction between magic and spirit in his own doctrine of human knowledge. The magical qualities of human knowing that give Calvin the "conviction which asks not for reason" but that is nevertheless engaged in the practical, everyday world of rational activities move us closer to the gnostic forms of medieval mysticism in which the experience of transcendence immanently and permanently transform the mystic, conferring on him or her a new status as "novus homo." This medieval forerunner of such exemplars of the philosophical bestiary as Nietzsche's overman and Marx's post-historical producer-laborer may be contrasted with the other type of medieval mystic, in whom the transformation of the mystical experience is a temporary transportation into ecstasy, and whose lasting effect is spiritual and not a fundamental transformation of his nature or his status. It is immanent only in the sense that it propels him to deeds of service and to growth in virtue.

Finally, Calvin tends to dogmatize his own religious experience. Similarly to Luther, Calvin
seems to have suffered a crisis of faith at a young age. He could find no consolation in the Catholic tradition, but eventually found a resolution in a new understanding of the Christian faith. This new insight was not, however, a personal one, but a new, universal and dogmatic one:

Still, as nothing better offered, I continued the course which I had begun, when, lo, a very different form of doctrine started up, not one which led us away from the Christian profession, but one which brought it back to its fountainhead, and, as it were, clearing away the dross, restored it to its original purity.... it was with the greatest difficulty I was induced to confess that I had all my life long been in ignorance and error.

Calvin's dogmatic interpretation stems in part from his inclination to see the source of his melancholy and alienation in a universally false doctrine:

My mind being now prepared for serious attention, I at length perceived, as if light had broken in upon me, in what a style of error I had wallowed, and how much pollution and impurity I had thereby contracted.... And now, 0 Lord, what remains to a wretch like me, but instead of defense, earnestly to supplicate Thee not to judge according to its deserts that fearful abandonment of thy Word, from which, in thy wondrous goodness, Thou has at last delivered me.

Having established the universal falsity of his previous thinking and assuming that this thinking was an accurate reflection of the doctrine he now opposes, Calvin has received a new, equally universal, liberating insight. It is a mystery of God that cannot be comprehended by any "save those to whom it is given." The Institutes are the institution of experience into dogma, echoing the Stoic treatment of philosophy with which Calvin, having published a commentary on Seneca's De Clementia, was familiar.

Calvin therefore follows a pattern, according to Voegelin, that begins with the "Christian thinkers and church leaders" of the late Middle Ages who allowed Christian dogma "to separate in the public consciousness of Western civilization from the experience of "the mystery" on which its truth depends:"

The dogma develops as a socially and culturally necessary protection of insights experientially gained against false propositions; its development is secondary to the truth of experience. If its truth is pretended to be autonomous, its validity will come under attack in any situation of social crisis, when alienation becomes a mass phenomenon; the dogma will then be misunderstood as an "opinion" which one can believe or not, and it will be opposed by counter opinions which dogmatize the experience of alienated existence. The development of a nominalist and fideist conception of Christianity is the cultural disaster, with its origins in the late Middle Ages, that provokes the reaction of alienated existence in the dogmatic form of the ideologies, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

How do this fideism and dogmatism move us into gnosticism?

d. gnosticism

The Institutes, in Voegelin's view, is not a systematic theology in either sense of term: it neither attempts to harmonize the several theological strains of the New Testament writings into a single, coherent system of doctrine, nor does it attempt to harmonize faith and reason in the long Western tradition of systematic theology. Instead, it is the extended working out of a problem, initiated by Luther. The substance of the problem, the misapprehended need for its solution, the character of Calvin's solution, and Calvin's procedure in solving it together give the Institutes its specifically gnostic character.

The substance of Calvin's problem is how Luther's principle of justification by faith alone, which unhinged the balance of human existence underlying the order of medieval civilization, could be harnessed as a founding principle for the "establishment of a new public order." The first problem is that justification by faith alone seems inherently to lead to a highly individual faith containing no intrinsic tendency to establish a community of the faithful. Calvin's solution was to combine this new Protestant principle with a doctrine of predestination in order to identify and establish a new ruling elite of the faithful. Understood in a certain way, a doctrine of immanent predestination can be given a quasi-Aristotelian character by suggesting that predestination is for something in the purpose of the predestinator. The term "human being" thereby retains its Aristotelian functional character. That function cannot be known naturally, however, being given purely through the divine conferral of a special status and a corresponding special insight. Its meaning is therefore "prophetic," and not philosophically discernible, knowable, or debatable. This claim to special knowledge, and specifically its character, is not merely a form of dogmatism, but the substance of Calvin's gnosticism.

Lacking a coherent theological or metaphysical system, but being centered on the doctrine of predestination toward a practical purpose, Calvin's Institutes is a "lawyer's plaidoyer for a cause," a massive "political tract" or "livre de circonstance" that "suggests a solution" to the passing of the intellectual and civilizational order of Europe. Voegelin claimed that "a careful, analytical reading of the whole work" shows that Calvin, writing in the face of this "civilizational catastrophe," established a "plan for founding a new universal church" to replace the old order." To accomplish this end, he engaged in an anti-philosophical effort to transfer the transcendence of God into an empirical experience. This effort makes the Institutes appear to be the solution to a theological matter when it is in fact intended chiefly to serve a practical purpose. How do we know we are elected to be among the saved? Because we have an experience of election. God has predestined this experience--those without it are historically excluded, and those with it are called to a new communal purpose, namely to lead the new church.

This doctrine of predestination is a theological misconstruction. Calvin invokes it out of the need to assure certainty to the new elect, to assure "predestined election through the experience of vocation." Having nullified the fides caritate formata that animated the medieval cosmion "by declaring the love of God a command of the law," and not an experience in the soul of being lovingly drawn to the divine in the "in-between" of human existence, Calvin turns to predestination as the new means of creating community. Predestination in orthodox theology, however, is part of a "theory of the nature and attributes of God, not an empirical claim about human experience in history:"

The necessity or ineluctability, of God's decrees arises speculatively from the problem of God's timelessness; because God is out of time, all that occurs in time is in eternal presence for him; he "foreknows" what is going to happen because to him it is not the future but his presence; and insofar as he is the prima causa, all that happens in the distention of time happens of necessity in his timeless causation. "Scientia Dei est causa rerum." These speculations with regard to God, however, in not way affect the structure of reality as experience by man. The speculative necessity of God abolishes neither the experience contingency in nature nor the experience free will in man. Calvin's fallacy, thus, can be defined as a misunderstanding of speculative symbols, by which theologians attempt to describe the relation of the world to its creative ground analogically, as propositions in oratio directa that refer to a content of world-immanent, human experience.

In the same way, "God's grace," is not "an empirical cause with guaranteed effects." When Calvin gives this grace a "predestinarian necessity," his fallacious construction cause problems in scriptural exegesis that make apparent the deliberately anti-philosophical and gnostic principles of his new founding.

The core of gnosticism is not bad argument, but bad thinking that is publicly masked by bad argument. While Voegelin makes much of Calvin's specious argumentation, he does so to unmask bad thinking, which is for Calvin, as for all gnostics, a claim to a special knowledge. Calvin's gnosis is of predestined election, and it is intended to found "a new universal church with Calvin in the role, not of a successor to Saint Peter, but of a new Saint Peter himself." Voegelin's charge is audacious, but Calvin confirms it:

Calvin reflects on the offices of apostles and evangelists as extraordinary offices at the time of foundation; they have no place in 'well-constituted Churches.' Then he continues: 'Though I do not deny, that even since that period God has sometimes raised up apostles, or evangelists, in their stead, as he has done in our own time. For there was a necessity for such persons to recover the Church from the defection of Antichrist.' The apostolic function is secured for him; at the same time it is barred to others once he has constituted the true church.

This particular doctrine of predestination is not needed merely to give the elect historical certainty of their empirical election, however: there also exist other claims to universality. Since these elect "are called not only to salvation, but also to historical ecclesiastical foundation," their intent to do so must be justified against other claims of divinely sanctioned legitimacy. Disputing such claims is an added reason for Calvin to establish the dogma of predestined, empirically verifiable election. Resting on a predestinarian certainty, this new ecclesiastical foundation stands in stark contrast to the ecclesiastical mediation of the Roman Catholic church, which, while making its own assertions to universality, claims less epistemological certainty for itself.

Voegelin also links Calvin's doctrine of predestination to a philosophy of history. In my view, this linkage is the least convincing aspect of Voegelin's argument. It is certainly the case that such a connection is an integral part of later Puritan millenarism, but Voegelin's reading of Calvin's exegesis of the second petition of the Lord's Prayer is much more immanentistic than Calvin himself seems necessarily to imply. It is the case, however, that not much need be added to Calvin's exegesis to create the historically "highly active" elect that take up arms to help in the aggrandizement of God's kingdom on earth, and who become responsible for the energetic expansion of Calvinist doctrines that Tawney noted several centuries later. When we reach Calvin's treatise on civil government in Institutes IV.xx, we may have bridged this gap, but only, it seems to me, with a glance forward to what developed later.

We have circled around the core quality of Calvin' s gnosticism--his claim to special knowledge-in several ways. Calvin claims his book is a revelation of heavenly the wisdom that is hidden in the Christian Scriptures. He establishes a new church, unifying it by means of declarations of truth concerning its status based on empirical experiences of transcendent reality (the call of election), and he excludes criticism by means of taboos. His fideism opens the truth of existence-articulated in declarations--to those to whom it is given to know it, closing such declarations to rational criticism and debate. He also tends thereby to dogmatize his specific religious experiences. The final piece of this gnostic assemblage is his peculiar claim to knowledge in the face of depravity, which we find articulated in the opening paragraphs of the Institutes.

"Our wisdom," declares Calvin, "in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves." It would seem that Calvin follows the classical conception of things, in which human beings are linked through their ratio "with the infinite transcendental reality." But in good Ockhamist fashion, he severs this link, making reason little more than calculating ratiocination. Calvin hovers around the possibility that reason is more than this, but he never touches down. Human sin resulted in a corruption of man's natural gifts and the withdrawal of the supernatural ones. The latter include faith, love to God and towards one's neighbors, and the study of righteousness and holiness. The former include "soundness of mind and integrity of heart." A "residue of intelligence and judgment" as well as will render our minds are "both weak and immersed in darkness." We are, therefore, in a bad way:

As to the will, its depravity is but too well known. Therefore, since reason, by which man discerns between good and evil, and by which he understands and judges, is a natural gift, it could not be entirely destroyed; but being partly weakened and partly corrupted, a shapeless ruin is all that remains.

But human beings build and have built complex, flourishing civilizations. Calvin must acknowledge some ability of the intellect to make its way in the world. He therefore makes a distinction between "earthly" and "heavenly" or "inferior" and "superior" objects of human cognition. Earthly things are those "which relate not to God and his kingdom, to true righteousness and future blessedness, but have some connection with the present life, and are in a manner confined within its boundaries." The heavenly, on the other hand, are "the pure knowledge of God, the method of righteousness, and the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom." The basic principles of justice and knowledge of the manual and liberal arts, all belong to the former, in part as a kind of "instinct." When it is directed toward "inferior objects," reason is sufficient, even showing traces of "the divine image" in its doings. In regard to the heavenly things, however, "men otherwise the most ingenious are blinder than moles." Accordingly, "to the great truths, what God is in himself, and what he is in relation to us, human reason makes not the least approach," and it is "a truth ... beyond dispute," that "human nature possesses none of the gifts which the elect receive from their heavenly Father through the Spirit of regeneration." These gifts include a "special illumination," beyond the bounds of "ordinary natural gifts." Calvin gives no reason for the categorical distinctions between the domain of natural and supernatural gifts--an especially curious oversight, since one kind of justice is an "instinct" in the category of "inferior" things and therefore seems linked to other perceptions or conceptions of justice. Were the illumination of super nature for private, personal benefit only, we might see this as a quaint philosophical incoherence, but since it is Calvin's intent to extend the competence of the supernatural illumination to every realm of human endeavor, one is less inclined to mirth. Insofar as the claims of the supernatural contradict the insights of our naturally given faculties, the latter must yield, without argument, since none can be given. For example, while the bounds of natural justice can be instinctively known, Calvin's illumination, not natural knowledge, defines the true purpose and boundaries of government as an "order established by God," and seemingly for his purposes, inscrutable to all but the elect.

Gnosticism consists at its core of a claim to special knowledge that will release the knower from the perceived disorder of being into a new realm of order. The worm at the core of existence was for Calvin human depravity, from which immanent salvation was possible only through God's predestined election, which could be empirically known through the experience of the call and a concrete response of legalistically conceived response to it. Assurance of election makes the one called "utterly unshakable." In contrast to a general Lutheran pessimism regarding human capabilities, Calvin displays "optimism as to God despite pessimism as to man" in the face of election. He is optimistic that God "is able to perform that which he has promised" according to a "plan for mankind to be achieved within the historical process." The fulfillment of this plan depends upon the chosen agents of God, his elect. Who those are we can know. What they know, they can only know by special, divine dispensation. It is this claim to knowledge as the certainty of "inner illumination"--as opposed to the faith being formed by love in the human experience of divine transcendence--that makes Calvin a gnostic. This gnosis may be contrasted with the philosophical tradition of medieval civilization that it sought, with considerable success, to replace. Calvin's polemical presentation of incoherent or self-contradictory arguments are merely a sign of the deeper problem--a claim to knowledge that leads to civilizational. transformation, but that cannot, on reasonable grounds, be made good. The new form of Christendom that results must consequently share the problems of the old and besides be defective philosophically in ways the sacrum imperium was not.

An Agnostic View of Voegelin's Gnostic Calvin

Copyright 2000 William Stevenson

 

The genius of Eric Voegelin is perhaps most apparent in his insight that the crisis of Modernity springs less from the naturalistic relativism that followed modem science than from unrestrained religious absolutism. The horrors of the twentieth century thus arise out of religious claims to truth. According to Voegelin, there are two sides to this genesis. On the one hand, the growing millennial speculation fueled in the late Medieval period engenders apocalyptic claims by political leaders; on the other, the civilizational instability in the West tempts political followers to grasp the straws of apocalyptic claims. The religious dimension here thus exists both in the claims to divine knowledge and in the desperate hope for historical salvation in the face of historical evidence to the contrary.

In laying out his argument, Voegelin (and I am taking him to be largely consistent through his published works here) makes two rather startling claims. First, the "Gnosticism" (that is, the desperate attachment to the fantasy of historical salvation) of the Modem age has its-mostly dormant-roots in the Christian experience, and second, that the Protestant Reformation-particularly the parts in that movement played by Luther and Calvin-most explicitly nourished its awakened growth.

In this paper, I shall then take issue with Voegelin's analysis in these two respects. While I agree that the Christian faith appears to bring to the table a certain temptation to millennial claims, I find Voegelin's argument for the necessary (to restrain millennial claims) civilizational accommodation of the church and the "spiritual stamina" of the faithful to be both questionable and, in a way, self-contradictory. In addition, I question his characterization of Calvin's project as Gnostic anti-intellectualism and as manifesting an obvious will to power.

                           Gnosticism. the Christian Church- and Civilizational Domicile?

As most in this audience will know, Voegelin's understanding of the universality of human experience points to the existential tension which arises from living in the Platonic metaxy (the "in-between"). Representative human beings, working out of the civilizational (historical) context in which they find themselves, express this otherwise
inexpressible tension symbolically, that is, metaphorically or allegorically. Various expressions of human relationship to the transcendent thus divide into at least three-we should say, healthy --- categories: the cosmological, the anthropological, and the soteriological. In the first instance, human relationship with the divine runs through the omphalos provided by the imperial, and semi-divine, ruler. In the second, the
representative human being is the Platonic philosopher or the Aristotelian spouddios, the fully-developed, intellectually and spiritually attuned creature who tastes of divine reality but properly recognizes his lack of complete connection with it. Through him surrounding society-if it will-sees the measure or standard of human excellence. In the last instance, the Christian experience, the Person of divine reality touches whom he
will, though almost certainly NOT those who profess either worldly authority or developed intellect. In each case, of course, human sanity rests with recognition of both contact and distance from divine presence. The truth is thus the tension, and the proper response to the truth is one of patient and modest attunement.

With Gnosticism, a Christian heresy, we get in the West a perversion of proper human response to the divine. Existential tension is ignored and modesty abandoned. Humanity claims divinity, both divine perspective and divine power. Human salvation is self-salvation; divinity becomes merely a tool of human pretense. The result is megalomania, that is, insanity, an insanity that ultimately drives the revolutionary, and totalitarian pretensions of the Modem age (e.g., NSP, 107ff.; EA, 18-20, 27-29).

While Gnosticism takes many forms in the modem West (for example, "intellectual ... .. emotional," or "volitional" [NSP, 124]), its common source is the millennial speculation which Christianity makes possible. By positing an explicit beginning and an anticipated end to human history, Christianity (most egregiously through its inclusion in the canon of the Revelation to John [NSP, 108]) opens the door to human presumption that both God's agenda and His timetable are open to clear view by self-chosen human beings. Gnosticism thus "re-divinizes" worldly activity (NSP, 106 107, 130), transforming otherwise limited creatures into beings of unlimited ambition and drive. The creature becomes the Creator. We see the end results, of course, as we survey the carnage of the twentieth century. Gnostic "creativity" has yielded only psychotic mutilation.

Voegelin appears to think that the special susceptibility of Christianity to Gnosticism resides both in its potential dislocation of human conscience from civilizationally expressed standards and in the peculiar "spiritual stamina" (NSP, 104, 122-23) which it requires of most human beings. There is, in other words, a kind of social "isolation" implied by the Christian faith that can destabilize carefully wrought institutional designs and breed the instability of spiritual paranoia. Positing history as a now decipherable pattern thus works both to remove (unduly, it goes without saying) existential anxiety and elevate historical events to a status of divine significance (eg., NSP, 110-12,119-20).

In effect, says Voegelin, the Christian experience requires a special subtlety of soul and mind both to house it historically and to live it existentially. 'Me heroes of the early church would thus include Augustine and Gelasius, Augustine for his explicit demarcation of secular and sacred history in the "two cities" metaphor, and Gelasius for his careful enunciation of the delicate balance between temporal and spiritual authority, an enunciation which made possible a stable civilizational residence for the Christian church (e.g., NSP, 109, 118-19; CW, 22:222, 262; 23:47). Augustinian theology thus guarded against millennial speculation, while the Gelasian political balance and institutional scheme guarded against the social isolation of divinely inspired mystical expressions.

It seems clear to Voegelin that the roots of the Protestant "disruption" thus grow from the failure of the Medieval church to "channel ... into institutional forms" the "great wave of mysticism" which appeared-no doubt inevitably-in the fourteenth century (CW, 22:228). The lack of sufficient "ecclesiastical statesmanship" thereby "pushed and derailed'' the mystics into "heretical underground movements." Resisting the Gnostic temptation required a kind of containment of the mystical experience, a placing of it in the larger context of human historical and transcendent reality. And, given the terms of Christian identity, such containment would be possible only with either remarkable psychic and emotional balance on the part of the mystic or a wise and subtle flexibility of of institutions on the part of the church. As Voegelin says in another place, "If the predicament of a fall from faith in the Christian sense occurs as a mass phenomenon, the consequences will depend on the content of the civilizational environment into which the agnostics are falling" (NSP, 123). With its institutional rigidity, the church bobbled its opportunity to contextualize the mystical experience, thus effectively denying the legitimacy of the experience in context. Leaving the mystics to their own devices only aggravated the social isolation the church had in fact a primary obligation to prevent. And left to their own devices, the heretical sects fell into the heretical temptation.

While I do not dispute Voegelin's insight that Gnostic claims grew from perverse millennial speculation, I do dispute his understanding of the Christian faith not only as institutionally amenable to civilizational identity-as, we might say, psychically stable only when civilizationally stable-but also as requiring for its flowering a pre-existing spiritual maturity on the part of the faithful. According to Voegelin, the legitimacy of the church rests on the "historicity" of its symbolization. "The Spirit is absolute," he says, "but the symbolization of its experience and its institutionalization in the life of human community is historical" (CW, 22:223). The implication here is that the church-as the body of the faithful-is healthy only when its institutional expression is historically stable. Voegelin does not mean historical stability to be simply a matter of historical continuity, of course. However, he does see stability as largely a function of historically (institutionally) imaginative symbolic expression. Widespread acceptance of particular symbolizations thus point to common experiences of the transcendent, and, one then hopes, healthy religious exercise.

The great problem facing the Reformers, says Voegelin, was the problem of " recovering intellectual order" (CW, 23:18), the problem of giving new civilizational expression to the historical differentiation that was the late Medieval experience (CW, 22:221-24). The "essence of Christianity," he says, "is a matter of permanent readjustment of its historical expression7 (CW, 22:223). Indeed, Voegelin says in another place, the latent instability of the Christian faith was aggravated by the failures of the Church fathers, who "did not understand that Christianity could supercede polytheism but could not abolish the need of a civil theology" (NSP, 158).1

I wonder, though, if he does not in this way get the heart of the Christian experience exactly wrong. Always, it seems, pointing back to Plato for the base dimensions of spiritual health, perhaps Voegelin does not fully appreciate the dramatic break with the Platonic vision which the Christian experience required. When God comes to human beings in Christ, he does this not only in completely unpredictable way, but with uniformly destabilizing results. It is, after all, precisely institutional expression of the faith which Christ appears most explicitly to resist. If the Christian experience means anything, I would think, it means that God not only breaks into history (the mention of Pontius Pilate in the Apostles' Creed bears mention here) but marks off the

1 Voegelin's fascination with Hobbes's attempted "solution" to the religious wars is instructive here. See NSP, 152ff.


terms and direction of historical movement. The church survives not by human ingenuity but by God's watchful eye and guiding hand. Voegelin does not seem to want to let God be in charge of history, only to be a facet of human experience within history. As he says in The Ecumenic Age, "No answer ... is the ultimate truth ... because no answer can abolish the historical process of consciousness from which it has emerged ... (75)."

Interestingly, earlier in this same volume, Voegelin reveals both an astute awareness of the full implications of the Christian story and an apparent determination to keep it at a distance: "Considering the history of Gnosticism, with the great bulk of its manifestations belonging to, or deriving from, the Christian orbit, I am inclined to recognize in the epiphany of Christ the great catalyst that made eschatalogical consciousness an historical force, both in forming and in deforming humanity" (EA, 20).2 The implication here, of course, is that the clay pots which tend to carry the Christian substance would ultimately not be up to the task. But of course this is only half of the Christian message. Says Paul, "For we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Corinthians 4:7).

The idea that healthy religious expression grows from reasonably healthy religious institutions and from spiritually mature human beings, then, flies in the face of much of the Christian story. Religious and spiritual health grow from following God's lead, not from articulating and channeling God's reality. God seems rarely to make use of either the intellectually sophisticated or the emotionally mature. On the contrary, it is the presence of his Spirit which defines both wisdom and emotional balance. Even more

2 See also NSP, 100- 10 1.

to the point, God's Spirit seems to defy all attempts to articulate his presence institutionally. The institutional church, this means, is as much in tension with the destiny God has mapped out for it, as it is with the political realm within which it finds itself set historically. Prophetic voices are not only real, but ongoing.

When Voegelin states in The Ecumenic Age "the process of history ... is not a story to be told from the beginning to its happy, or unhappy, end; it is a mystery in process of revelation," I am with him completely. I lose him, however, and I think he loses the essence of the Christian story, when he seems to require appreciation of the mystery to precede its experience. If God in Christ is not only the source of the mystery but the answer to it, then God's direction and will become the guiding lights, not intellectual subtlety and emotional balance. To suggest, as Voegelin does in his analysis of the Reformation (eg., CW, 22:247 and 262), that Christian "individualism" is somehow dangerous and misplaced is to ignore the heart of the Christian witness. Surely there are "false prophets," but just as surely there are institutionally isolated and even socially bizarre "true prophets."

I wonder, therefore, if there is not something at least a bit contradictory in Voegelin's emphasis on the spiritual maturity of the representative human being, on the one hand, and on the necessary civilizational embodiment of the representational experience, on the other. Looking in particular at these two claims from the perspective of the Christian faith, the contradiction seems apparent. Voegelin himself acknowledges that the representational experience can be expressed only symbolically.3 So long as this

3 See, eg., CW, 22:226-27, on the transubstantiation controversy.

experience is merely one of an eternal and immutable "presence," such as one finds in Plato, then some sort of institutional embodiment is potentially non-problematic. Yet the Christian experience of God is one of intensely personal contact: God operates out of loving determination, but he speaks, it seems, almost idiosyncratically. What he says to one, he may not say to another. Indeed, what he says to one at one moment may turn inapt the next: witness Jesus' conversation with Peter and the other disciples in Matthew 16:13-23 (also Mark 8:27-33). It is precisely for this reason that Paul works so hard to abolish the traditional emphasis on "the law" of God, and to enthrone the reality of "righteousness through faith" (e.g., Romans 3-5). How can the representational experience, then, be fully embodied in historic tradition? The Christian faith comes only from personal confrontation with the God of grace; it cannot come from institutional guidance or the "re-lived" experience of others.4

At the same time, Voegelin claims that the Christian faith requires an unusual 66spiritual stamina." Clearly this follows, for him, from the possibility-perhaps likelihood-in Christianity of an individuation of transcendent experience. Christianity requires a certain psychic maturity to keep in balance the reality of God's presence and the limitations of human endeavor. No doubt such balance is essential. Yet Voegelin seems determined to emphasize the importance of the "eccesiastical statesmanship" which imaginatively institutionalizes this balance. The implication here thus points more to a Platonic elitism. So long as the spiritual stamina of the talented few is historically

4 Perhaps the best evidence of this personalization is the long series of "conversion" stories making up the heart of the Christian tradition. Unless a person experiences alone the reality of his own sin, the healing grace of God will never penetrate to the core and engine of their being. See, eg., the powerful story of Augustine's conversion in Confessions


intact, the body of the faithful is stable and well-ordered. This is the primary reason, after all, for Voegelin's conclusion that the timing of the Reformers' "individualist" emphasis was so catastrophic; the Medieval church was not institutionally equipped to catch the "fall" of ordinary persons from inherited civilizational identity (NSP, 123-24).5 So it seems that for the great mass of the church body, spiritual stamina is less important than institutional obedience. But if true "spiritual stamina'~--as I understand the Christian story to propose it-appears only after and through individualized contact with divine reality, then not only are civilizational elites ruled out by definition but the need for civilizational net-catching is as well. It is the ongoing reality of God's presence that holds up the believer and gives him his proper balance and poise. Those who lose their balance are not the true believers, but precisely the pretend believers, the ones who rely not on God's real presence but on human inclination and civilizational bearings .6

                                                          
John Calvin as Gnostic Revolution?

With the above discussion in mind, my reasons for skepticism regarding Voegelin's treatment of John Calvin will perhaps become clearer. While Voegelin is convinced that Calvin's reformational view only presumed divine and Scriptural

5On this point see also Voegelin's discussion of the devastating effects of sola fide in CW, 22:248-60. 

6Voegelin's take on the "human carriers of the spiritual outbursts," as he gives it in The Ecumenic Age (8), is instructive here. Such carriers "do not always realize the narrow limits of the area directly affected by the differentiating process. For the differentiation of consciousness indirectly affects the image of reality as a whole; and the enthusiastic discoverers of the truth are sometimes inclined to treat such secondary effects as they believe themselves to perceive, and not always correctly, as direct insights." The implication, of course, is that some are better prepared for contact with divine reality than others. I understand the Christian story to be saying something very different, namely that no one is "prepared" for such contact. More to the point, it is the divine reality Himself who inspires and manages the proper response. Witness the wonderfully illustrative story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 34.


authority-thus laying the political foundation for worldly revolution-I would question Voegelin's take both on the Christian experience generally, and on Calvin's presentation of it. Voegelin's most energetic objections are to two facets of Calvin's work: his doctrine of predestination and the apparent "political" uses he makes of this doctrine. In effect, Voegelin argues, Calvin uses predestination first to radicalize Luther's individualism and then to establish a new ecclessiastical, ultimately political, elite. In opposition to this view, I shall argue first that Calvin's predestinarianism is perfectly in keeping not only with Christian orthodoxy but also with ordinary Christian experience. I shall argue second that Calvin's "political" ambitions-in fact modest and quite
limited-were very much in keeping with the boundaries which Scripture imposes.

For Voegelin, the Reformation as a whole is "the successful invasion of Western institutions by Gnostic movements" (NSP, 134). While Luther's ideas were the most destabilizing,7 Calvin's influence enthroned the Gnostic tendencies. Calvin continued the "anti-philosophical" attack on Medieval scholasticism and rational openness to truth. His contributions to the "breakdown of ordered, systematic thought" (CW23:17) culminates in his production and promotion of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, the "first, deliberately created Gnostic koraif' (NSP, 1374 1). Following Luther's lead in elevating to lodestar the doctrine of sola fide, Calvin completes the destruction of inherited understandings of social ethics and of human wholeness. "Whether a work is good or evil cannot be decided by standards of ethics; it depends on the justification or non-

7 These included Luther's "attack on the doctrine offides caritateformata"; his attack on Aristotelian scholasticism; his "destruction" of the "balance of human existence" through his righteousness solafide; and his "prototypical personality," through which he aimed to impose "as an order of existence on mankind at large" his peculiar, personal experience," his "egotistical obscurantism" (CW22:245-46, 259, 267-68).


justification of the man through faith alone" (CW22:258). Thus, "the decision of the heart solves all complications and conflicts of values" (CW22:260).8 Calvin's predestination only serves to solidify the attack by proposing new criteria for evaluating human effort: the "saints" can do no wrong; the reprobate can do no good. And the determination of sainthood rests not on any traditionally understood levels of human maturity but rather on the eccentric choices of a megalomanical and idiosyncratic God (CW22:283).

The key point about Calvin, for Voegelin, is that the doctrine of predestination is both destructive and invented. Voegelin finds Calvin's enunciation of the doctrine clearly "fallacious" and just as clearly politically-motivated (CW22:284; NSP, 138-39). Says Voegelin, "There is enough objective comedy in [Calvin's "exegetical"] enterprise to provide chapter after chapter of solid entertainment for the connoiseur of dirty tricks in argument" (CW 22: 275). With predestination in place, Calvin can and does assemble his own army of the saints, energizing them with visions of temporal paradise through unquestioned earthly authority. The purpose of the Institutes, says Voegelin, "is the foundation of a new universal church with Calvin in the role, not of a successor to St. Peter, but of a new St. Peter himself' (CW 22:277).9 Why else would Calvin so assiduously and erroneously construct a misleading "Biblical" theory of government which approves in practice only those which "operate institutionally under the close supervision of a board of Calvinist divines" (CW23:46-47).

8 See the entire discussion in CW 22:248-60.

 9 See also CW 22:273, 276, 280, 283, and 286.

We should consider these characterizations one at a time. First, what is Calvin's doctrine of predestination and what basis in Scripture might it have? My sense is that Calvin's doctrine not only makes sense on its own terms, but is solidly based in Scripture. The Christian experience of the personhood of God should be our guide here. Personal interaction with his creatures thus implies for God not only particular-time-, place-, and person-specific---conversations and instructions, but also a differentiation of value based on such interaction. To be "chosen" by God thus implies for the one singled-out a far different set of experiences and subsequent motivations than those coming to the Platonic philosopher or the Aristotelian spouddios. And the experience of so being "chosen" is universally present across the entire story of God's people, from the Patriarchs to the Judges to the Prophets to John the Baptist to the disciples to the Apostle Paul. Is Voegelin suggesting that God's choosing ends with the end of the scriptural accounts? Can he so easily ignore the retelling of such encounters from the Church Fathers down to the present, to Diedrich Bonhoeffer and even in our day to Columbine High student Cassie Bernall? Surely there is a sense in which every such story has similar and comparable dimensions, but not one of them is the same. And of course the one universal and constant chord running through them all is the confusion over God's choice: Why me? How am I worthy of God's attention?

Calvin's doctrine of predestination-following closely, I would argue, the authority of the Gospels as well as the leads of both Paul and Augustine10--aims to showcase precisely this universal Christian experience: belief follows divine choice. More to the point, the belief following choice engenders gratitude and social humility.

10 See, eg., Romans 8:28-39; as well as Augustine, The City of God XIV. I and YXI. 12


As Calvin puts the point, the "very sweet fruit" of predestination lies both in its pointing to "the wellspring of God's free mercy" and in its growing of "true humility." Thus, "They who shut the gates that no one may dare seek a taste of this doctrine wrong men no less than God. For neither will anything else suffice to make us humble as we ought to be nor shall we otherwise sincerely feel how much we are obliged to God" (Institutes 3.2 1. 1, 922).

Voegelin clearly dissents from the notion that predestination engenders humility, but, as Calvin makes clear, properly understood it can do nothing else. 11 No doubt, Calvin acknowledges, "human curiosity" sets to "wandering in forbidden bypaths and thrusting upward to the heights" of God's hidden wisdom. "If allowed," Calvin says, "it will leave no secret to God that it will not search out and unravel." Such "audacity and impudence" ends up being counter-productive and even self-destructive, of course. When one inquires into predestination, one presumes to enter the "sacred precincts of divine wisdom," and "if anyone with carefree assurance breaks into this place, he will not succeed in satisfying his curiosity" but rather "will enter a labyrinth from which he can find no exit." For human beings "unrestrainedly to search out things that the Lord has willed to be hid in himself' is, simply, "not right'' (Institutes 3.21.1, 921-23).

Indeed, Voegelin's protestations to the contrary, 12 Calvin is remarkably consistent

11 On this score, I find Voegelin's attack on Calvin's moving of his discussion of predestination (from Book I of the Institutes to Book III) misguided. According to Voegelin, predestination is properly a matter concerning "The Knowledge of God," rather than of "The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ." Calvin's "wrong use" of the doctrine is demonstrated in just this transfer. Yet how is this doctrine to engender any kind of intellectual and personal modesty if God's choosing is in the end a proper subject matter for natural theology-Calvin's primary concern in Book I? 

12 For Calvin, says Voegelin, "the problem of predestination ... thus was actualized by the emergence of individuals who through their special call have penetrated into the knowledge of God's decree of salvation" (CW22:281).


on this point. The hiddenness of God's choice making is a constant theme in the Institutes and in Calvin's writings generally. 13 The presumption to know the pattern of God's choosing is a sign not of faith but of sin. Calvin understands quite well the more subtle and insidious dimensions of human pride. Believers, as all human beings, "readily esteem our virtue above its due measure" (Institutes 3.8.2, 703). Quite easily, then, "presumption" can "creep [in] upon the saints" (Institutes 3.2.22, 568). 14

Calvin is not being anti-intellectual here. He merely seeks to point out the dangers of intellectual presumption, of philosophical smugness. It turns out, I would argue, that Calvin ends up presenting a remarkably Voegelinian picture of human tension in relation with God. On the one hand, the personal call and claim of God is one of unmistakable clarity.15 Yet on the other hand, the reality of the recognition of one's continual sin and thus one's full dependence on God's deep and everlasting compassion and mercy is unmistakably clear as well. The "two plagues," which believers in particular must "banish from our minds," are to "put any confidence in the righteousness of works" and to "ascribe to works any glory." Instead, Scripture "consistently dissuades us from confidence." It teaches "that all our righteous deeds are foul in God's sight unless these derive a good odor from Christ's innocence" (Institutes 3.14.16, 782-83).

The keys to maintaining the proper balance between inspired conscience and personal humility-the keys then to "the sum of the Christian life" (Institutes 3.610)-include continual mindfulness of the Cross, recognition of and gratitude for the

13 For a quick survey of this point, see Stevenson, Sovereign Grace, 18-19, 132-38, and 155nl4. 

14 See the discussion in Stevenson, Sovereign Grace, ch.'s 1-2. 

15 For Calvin's discussion of the assurance of faith, see, eg.,


earthly (institutional) "helps" which God through His providence has provided, and an active life of prayer (Institutes 3.20, 850-920). Nowhere does Calvin imply that the "assurance" of faith assures the righteousness of whatever one does. On the contrary, he spends pages upon pages reminding believers of their full dependence upon the Father's providential provision, the Spirit's mysterious instigation, and the Son's sacrificial intercession. Hence, "a dauntless spirit of praying rightly accords with fear, reverence, and solicitude" (Institutes 3.20.14, 869).

Voegelin's anxieties about predestination appear to stem primarily from his conviction that the reformers' doctrine opens the floodgates to individual eccentricities, moral relativism, and thus perversely charismatic leadership. With this doctrine, says Voegelin, Calvin can not only claim the legitimacy of whatever he wants to accomplish but also include in his "revolutionary" movement whomever he chooses. Predestination thus makes otherwise isolated individuals particularly susceptible to the charismatic call of the revolutionary mass movement. But two questionable assumptions are in play here. One is that there exists no objective and determinable content to the personal, salvific calls which believers experience. The other is that their "isolation7 breeds only emotive and heedless sociability.

It is certainly true that Calvin argues for the centrality of personal motivation in the evaluation of interpersonal deeds (e.g., Institutes 3.7.6-7, 696-698). Yet when he speaks on numerous occasions of "all the duties of love" (eg., Institutes 3.7.6, 696; and 3.19.12, 845), he rather clearly does not understand such "duties" to be personally subjective and idiosyncratic. Pointing persistently to Scripture, Calvin finds obvious objective content in the notion of loving intention. Love requires seeing in another human being the very face of Christ; it requires believers to put themselves "in the place of him whom they see in need of their assistance" (3.7.7, 697). Hence Jesus' Sermon on the Mount lays out in great detail all the objective extremities of right love, and does so by pointing more to motivations and less to deeds: "You have heard it said..., 'Do not murder.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment" (Matthew 5:21-22). The law of God, now through the reinvigoration of Christ, must be understood only with reference to the clearly revealed purpose of the Lawgiver (Institutes 2.8.6-10, 372-76).

God's "election" of particular human beings, then, lays a foundation of compassionate empathy, not arrogant and graceless judgment. After all, such election points initially and primarily toward the Cross of Christ. Reading through Calvin's collected correspondence is particularly instructive on this last realization. No doubt Calvin used harsh and apparently judgmental language from time to time, but what strikes the reader of this correspondence most are his frequent and poignant pleas for selfexamination and patience, exhorting those feeling the sting of apparent persecution to await God's guidance and to accept his sometimes unexpected divine judgment. God's choosing and his subsequent care of those chosen can take surprising and often-indeed, usually-painful turns. True belief is thus as much about patient and forbearing inaction as about assertive and courageous action. True Christian discipleship, in sum, means trusting with one's whole being the loving Creator, Ruler and Sustainer whom one

16 See the recounting of a number of examples in Stevenson, Sovereign Grace, 131-48.

follows, and taking the path he takes.16

To ascribe revolutionary political motives to Calvin thus seems rather seriously to exaggerate. No doubt Calvin was politically astute: he was aware of events surrounding him and his advice was often sought by persons in positions of power. But was he the quintessential charismatic megalomaniac? According to Voegelin, in Calvin "we sense a will to power without intellectual conscience" (CW22:276).17 I find this characterization uncharacteristically (for Voegelin) simplistic. Indeed, perhaps the most striking evidence to the contrary is Calvin's clear fascination-particularly toward the end of his life-with the biblical story of Daniel. His final biblical commentary is on the Book of Daniel (1561), and his preface to that work is addressed explicitly to the faithful in France. In it, he exhorts them not to armed revolution (not to the "madness of the impious who act thus intemperately") but rather to "that moderation by which alone [the persecutors] have thus far been conquered and broken down" (Comm. Dan. Pref., Ixxi).18 Not only the example Calvin elevates to prominence, but the manner in which he elevates it recalls less the wild-eyed modem revolutionary than the patient, forbearing, but observant Christian of Romans 12.

Were Calvin's political ideas true to Scripture? I believe they were. While Voegelin finds that "Calvin's unrivaled gift for unscrupulous interpretation enabled him to find the status and function of civil government outlined in the very epistles of Saint

17 Voegelin goes on in this passage to describe Calvin's "terroristic" practices in Geneva, a description now belied by a number of recent studies of the Geneva of Calvin's day. See in particular the work of Robert Kingdon and his team of researchers. 

18 Contra Voegelin, the essay "On Civil Government" in the final (1559) edition of the Institutes seems to me perfectly consonant with Calvin's injunctions in his Commentary on Daniel. See Stevenson, Sovereign Grace, 32-36; 138-47; and passim.

Paul" to be within the "charismatic order of the Christian community" and this in the face of "fifteen hundred years of Christian history" (CW23:47-48), I find Calvin's interpretation of Romans 13 both commonsensical and straightforward. Contrary to-and because of-those "tumultuous spirits who believe that the kingdom of Christ cannot be sufficiently elevated, unless all earthly powers be abolished, and that they cannot enjoy the liberty given by [Christ], except they shake off every yoke of human subjection," says Calvin in his Commentary on Romans 13: 1, the apostle Paul "was induced to establish, with greater care than usual, the authority of magistrates." Indeed, Paul "calls them the higher powers," apparently in order to "take away the frivolous curiosity of men, who are wont often to inquire by what right they who rule have obtained their authority." Instead, "it ought to be enough for us, that they do rule; for they have not ascended by their own power into this high station, but have been placed there by the Lord's hand." Moreover, "by mentioning every soul, [Paul] removes every exception, lest any one should claim an immunity from the common duty of obedience" (Comm. Rom. 13:1, 477-78; Calvin's emphasis).19

Calvin does indeed, as he shows throughout his writings, understand civil government to be a significant part of God's plan of redemption for his world. Those with temporal authority do thus necessarily shoulder obligations of loving service to their temporal subordinates. Civil government has, that is, a proper-biblically grounded-role to play.20 Yet Calvin just as consistently adheres to the institutional

19 Here Calvin speaks of "die error" of thinking that believers should never "continue in submission to another power." Even those "attempting to take away the kingdom from Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth," are nonetheless "legitimate princes and rulers" (Comm. Rom. 13:1, 477-78).

20 See Institutes 4:20.2, 1487; as well as Stevenson, Sovereign Grace, 94- 100.


separation of church and "state." He does not understand it to be the church's role either to hold temporal power, to pick temporal rulers, or to write temporal policy. Civil rulers are of course obliged to "cherish and protect the outward worship of God," and to "defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church," but they are just as obliged to "adjust our life to the society of men, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness, to reconcile us with one another, and to promote general peace and tranquility. "21 Anyone who thinks, says Calvin in the same passage, that there "ought to be such great perfection in the church of God that its government should suffice for law ... stupidly imagine such a perfection as can never be found in a community of men" (Institutes 4.20.2, 1487). In sum, while Calvin does understand civil governors to have clear obligations under God, he understands as well that their authority and place must be respected even if it appears that they are self-consciously ignoring or refusing those obligations .22

All of this begins to undermine Voegelin's argument that Calvin's worldly-Machiavellian, perhaps?-ambition was his primary motivation." The question of Calvin's true intentions is one we will probably never answer, but in criticism of Voegelin's generalization it is worth noting that Calvin was an odd choice for

21 It is interesting to note on this score that Calvin's usual word for "government' 'was the Latin moderatio.
See Harro Hopfl, The Christian Polity of John Calvin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
For an important argument aiming to demonstrate the basis for religious liberty in Calvin's thinking, see
John Witte, Jr., "Moderate Religious Liberty in the Theology of John Calvin," Calvin Theological Journal
31 (1996): 359-403.
22 Voegelin is fond of generalizing about Calvin's on the basis of the traditional accounts of life in
"Calvin's" Geneva. As noted above, however, these traditional accounts have been rather seriously called
into question in recent years.
23 See, for example, Voegelin's rather remarkable statement that Calvin's praise of rulers tolerant of the
Protestant cause "is extended not primarily to make the people submissive to civil authority, but in
order to make the rulers submissive to Calvin" (CW 23:48).

charismatic, power-hungry, quasi-totalitarian leader. Twice he resisted coming to Geneva even after express pleas to do so; his first efforts at establishing a pastorate there resulted only in his banishment, in 1538, from the city; his obvious influence on the Genevan municipal government became apparent only after 1555; none of his published works, even after 1555, supported a theory of armed revolution; indeed, both his Christology and his ecclesiology held fast to the Gospel; thus his understanding of human experience under the ultimate rulership of God in Christ assumed, as Harro Hopfl makes clear, that the church would never be anything "but a beleaguered and persecuted minority" (Hopfl, 194). No doubt the extravagant claims of Cromwell and Knox supported the notion of a "revolution of the saints," but Calvin's legacy ought just as properly to include the liberal thinking Locke inherited from John Owen and others, not to mention the American legacy of Jonathan Edwards .24 Is it worth noting that none of the great ideological movements of the twentieth century were able to get a foothold in societies with a strong Calvinist heritage, countries such as England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Switzerland, and the United States?25

                                                                              Conclusion

As I have tried to make clear in this paper, my critique of Voegelin's assessment


24 For connections to Owen and others, see Wayne J. Baker, "Church, State and Toleration: John Locke and Calvin's Heirs in England, 1644-1689," in Later Calvinism (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994), 525-43. For the political implications of Edwards' theology, see, e.g., Allen C. Guelzo, "From Calvinist Metaphysics to Republican Theory," Journal of the History of Ideas 56 (1995): 399-418; and Gerald R. McDermott, "Jonathan Edwards and the Culture Wars: A New Resource for Public Theology and Philosophy," Pro Ecclesia 4 (Summer, 1995): 268-80. 

25 Somewhat ironically, Voegelin pays tribute to British and American resistance to the ideological currents of the day at the end of his lecture series published as The New Science of Politics (189).
 
of Calvin rests primarily on what I take to be Voegelin's unduly Platonic view of the Christian experience. There. is no question that the experience of Christ's gracious salvation engenders a sense of personal isolation and thus social instability. It is that experience, after all, which brings one to a new appreciation of the full context of Christ's saving work and so calls into question all humanly-devised social institutions. There is also no question that the experience of Christ leads one to see human history in a different and altogether compelling way. If Christ is Lord, then history as a whole is a real story. Yet Voegelin seems to assume that since most human beings are neither intellectually nor psychologically equipped to manage the reality of the world in the face of the reality of Christ's rule then the Christian faith, as intriguing as it might be, merely provides a handy and ultimately dangerous cover for the megalomaniacal claims of false prophets.

There are two main problems with this train of thought. First, the idea that human beings must somehow be  cap able of receiving God's truth in Christ shortchanges the-I dare to say, universal-experience of Christians that only Christ is capable of divine goodness, and only in and through Christ are his followers capable. The Christian faith is not simply an intellectual problem to be enjoyed and appreciated, in other words, it is a genuine lifeline thrown by the one true God to the spiritually desolate center of us all. Its strength lies not in its knowledge of Christ, but in the ongoing relationship with Christ which it establishes. The balance and poise to live in the world come after meeting Christ, not before. Second, and consequently, Voegelin assumes that to leave the discernment of false prophets to the faltering consciences of individual believers is to invite mass delusion and ultimately mass hysteria. But it is precisely the Spirit of Christ which calls believers to skepticism regarding various "prophetic" claims. Indeed, perhaps the key building block of Christian witness grows from Christ's injunction to beware false prophets (e.g., Matthew 24: 23-25; Mark 13: 21-23; and I John 4: 1-2 1).

As only one example, Calvin's commentary on I John 4:1 clearly demonstrates his loyalty to Christian gospel by showcasing just this question of "tying the spirits." Noting that "the Spirit will only ... guide us to a right discrimination, when we render all our thoughts subject to God's word," Calvin proposes "a twofold trial of doctrine, private and public" (Comm. I John 4:1, 23 1), a twofold trial steeped at both ends in confession and prayer. The Christian faith, that is, requires us to welcome true prophetic voice but to pass all prophetic claims through the sieves of "private and public" spiritual discernment. In the end, says Calvin, "[n]othing is easier than to boast that we are of God; and hence nothing is more common among men..." For that reason alone, then, "we prove ourselves to be of God ... by the obedience of faith" (Comm. I John 4:6, 236), and obeying Christ means following John's injunction that "Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God," and that "whoever does not love does not know God" (I John 4:7-8; Comm. I John 4:7-8, 238-39). Calvin understands, that is, that the Christian faith points less to the need for "ecclesiastical statesmenship" and "great ordering minds" than it does to genuine response to Christ's love and faithful obedience to his earthly example.


Works Cited

Augustine. The City of God. Trans. Henry Bettenson. London: Penguin, 1972.,

Baker, J. Wayne. "Church, State and Toleration: John Locke and Calvin's Heirs in England, 1644-1689." In Later Calvinism, ed. W. Fred Graham, 525-43. Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994.

Calvin's Commentaries. 45 vols. Trans. Calvin Translation Society. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843-59. Reprinted, 22 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 vols. Ed. John T. McNeil. Trans. Ford L. Battles. The Library of Christian Classics, XX-XXI. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960.

Hopfl, Harro. The Christian Polity of John Calvin. Cambridge: Cambridge, 1982.

Stevenson, William R., Jr. Sovereign Grace: The Place and Significance of Christian Freedom in John Calvin's Political Thought. New York: Oxford, 1999.

Voegelin, Eric. Collected Works. Ed. Ellis Sandoz, et al. Columbia, MO: Missouri, 1989-.

The Ecumenic Age. Baton Rouge: LSU, 1974.

The New Science of Politics. Chicago: Chicago, 1952.

Witte, John, Jr. "Moderate Religious Liberty in the Theology of John Calvin." Calvin Theological Journal 31 (1996): 359403.


History and Faith: Eric Voegelin and Historical Jesus Research

Copyright 2000 Aaron D. Hoffman



Introduction

Eric Voegelin's interpretation of Christianity bears a direct relationship to the type of scholarship that developed out of the Protestant Reformation. Placing the authority of Scripture above the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church presented the opportunity for Biblical interpretation and Biblical criticism to be independent of Church authority. This also allowed the resulting conclusions to be outside the traditions of the Church.1 Biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson writes that for Martin Luther the "recovery of the original text was the key to the recovery of original Christianity ... so the theologian could measure the inadequacy of medieval Christianity against the norm of the primitive church, or even better, the figure of Jesus himself. "2 Voegelin's relationship with the Christian tradition was strikingly similar to this type of Reformation thinking which posited that "the recovery of origins means the recovery of essence" that "can act as a theological non-n for the reform of the church."3 Johnson in his study is attempting to draw a straight line from the Reformation to modem (and radical, according to Johnson) historical Jesus research. Though Voegelin himself was not an historical Jesus scholar, one can see how his work on the meaning of Christianity comes from the same vein as

1 This analysis is dependent on Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional God (ja (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 67-9.

2Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus , p. 68. 

3
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus, p. 68.

historical Jesus research. Both, as children of the Reformation, are committed to the recovery of the authentic origins of Christianity behind what they see as decaying dogma. More important for present concerns, both are committed to the importance of the figure of Jesus, and both would stir up much controversy, debate, and reflection because of their desire to dig to the roots of the Christian experience.

The publication of The Ecumenic Age, the fourth volume of Voegelin's five volume Order in History brought the issue of Voegelin's analysis of Christianity to the forefront of debate. The perception was that Voegelin, in the nearly two decades between the third and fourth volume, had moved away from a decidedly Christian perspective on the order of history to one that was more detached and spiritually neutral. The emphasis now seemed to be centered on consciousness and not on the figure of Jesus and subsequent Christian history which were expected in the fourth volume. The meaning of Christianity now seemed, according to Voegelin, to be found in the consciousness of Paul rather than in the figure of Jesus and the early Christian community.

Harsh critics like Frederick D. Wilhelmsen claimed that Voegelin was not concerned at all with the figure of Jesus. Wilhelmsen would postulate that for Voegelin Jesus' existence meant nothing, only the spiritual experience of Paul mattered. Friendly critics like Gerhart Niemeyer still generally agreed that Voegelin did not emphasize the figure of Jesus and his direct relationship to Christianity. The opinion seemed to be that Voegelin's interpretation of Christianity was troubled by its underplaying of the type of history and development that were done so thoroughly with ancient Israel and the Greek world in the previous volumes.

 With the generally negative reception of The Ecumenig-A-Zf, as background, this paper will examine Voegelin's relationship to Christianity by highlighting one aspect of Voegelin's writings, his treatment of the figure of Jesus. Voegelin's treatment of Jesus will then be used to illuminate Voegelin's understanding of Christianity in general. This paper will look at Voegelin's perspective on the figure of Jesus within the horizon of historical Jesus research. Though one cannot claim that Voegelin holds some esoteric theory about the historical Jesus (in fact he numerous times disavows any quest for the historical Jesus), the model of historical Jesus research will permeate how this study examines Voegelin's writings that deal with Jesus. This paper will use historical Jesus research as a net in order to lift out what Voegelin says about Jesus in his work. Closely examining Voegelin's writings about Jesus within the horizon of historical Jesus research allows the importance of the figure of Jesus in Voegelin's work to come forward.

A common framework that historical Jesus research works within is the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Voegelin collapses the distinction between the two, because for Voegelin the divine presence in reality can only be known through an experience of the divine, not through an empirical model. The only ways to understand anything about the figure of Jesus are: (1) a divine experience followed by an analysis of that experience within the structure of reality; or (2) to study the divine experiences of others by opening oneself up to the structure of reality.

Though Voegelin was most concerned with the structure of reality, an analysis of his work proves that he hardly ignored the figure of Jesus. Voegelin's utmost concern is with the structure of reality. The figure of Jesus is important but still only fits within


Voegelin's larger concern. Many scholars became very critical of Voegelin's philosophical writings that dealt with Christianity, because in his later work the structure of reality became more important that a linear conception of historical persons and events. This paper shall begin with Voegelin's harshest critic and then move forward to those who recognize the importance of the figure of Jesus for Voegelin. 

Interpretations of Voegelin

As stated above, Frederick D. Wilhelmsen was critical of Voegelin's treatment of Christianity in The Ecumenic Age. In writing about the volume, Wilhelmsen states that the "historical figure of Jesus is totally bypassed by Voegelin and the only Christ to emerge in Voegelin's pages is the resurrected Christ of Paul's experience, the Christ who appeared to Paul and who transfigured his life and the life of all mankind as well."4 For Wilhelmsen there is a crucial distinction between historical fact and personal experience that Voegelin ignores. The historical figure of Jesus cannot be ignored and replaced with the experiences of his followers. Wilhelmsen concludes that for Voegelin personal experience is more important than historical facts.

Like Gerhart Niemeyer, Wilhelmsen claims that Voegelin has given insufficient attention to the existence of Jesus. For Wilhelmsen, Jesus as a particular figure at a particular time in history is more important than Paul's experience of the Resurrected Jesus. The meaning of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection cannot be divided from the historicity of those events, where Wilhelmsen sees Voegelin as only concerned with their meaning and not their history. Wilhelmsen is outraged at Voegelin's apparent disinterest

4 Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Christianity and Political Philosgphy (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1978), p. 197.


in the historical facts about Jesus. In a rhetorical flourish, he states that "the historicity of Christ and of his resurrection, of the Easter we Christians celebrate as the central feast of our faith, annoys Voegelin: he finds it vulgar ... Whether Christ arose in deed or arose from the dead only in Paul's experience of a deed that occurred only in Paul is an irrelevant distinction for the German professor."5 The fact that historical reality for Voegelin cannot be divided from the experience of reality makes Willielmsen compare him to George Santa Ana who held that there was no historical Jesus to be discovered by scholarship behind the Christ of faith as known throughout history. However, Santa Ana held that the Christ of faith was just a myth, so history and faith were both devoid of truth. Wilhelmsen writes that Voegelin, because of his conception of reality, is not even concerned about whether Christ is a false myth.

It appears to him that Voegelin has ignored that historical existence precedes any meaning or interpretation. For Wilhelmsen what is important is that the events of the New Testament happened historically prior to any interpretation of them. Where Niemeyer faults Voegelin for not taking Paul's conception of Jesus into account, Wilhelmsen believes that Voegelin has abandoned the historical existence of Christian events altogether.

Gerhart Niemeyer does take Voegelin to task for insufficient attention to the figure of Jesus in The Ecumenic Age. Niemeyer writes, "St. Paul knew Jesus to have been a contemporary person who was bom, lived, preached, performed miracles, 'suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.' Apart from the problems

5 Wilhelmsen, p. 203.
 
of the 'historical Jesus,' the facticity of Jesus himself separates Christian theology as a type from all myths and philosophical speculations."
6 Niemeyer claims that what jumps out of Voegelin's book, by his downplaying the fact of Jesus' existence, is that Christianity, myth, and philosophy have all collapsed into one category. Thus Christianity can be approached in the same way as myth or philosophical speculation. However, Niemeyer holds that the stumbling block for such a collapse is the historical figure of Jesus. Jesus is not just another symbol resulting from an experience with the divine ground of being. According to Christianity, Jesus is not a symbol but is the divine ground of being.

Niemeyer complains that Voegelin's analysis of Christianity almost exclusively deals with Paul's vision of the Resurrected Jesus and does not take into account the specificity and particularity of the figure of Jesus himself. As a result, Jesus just appears to be a symbolization of Paul's experience. Voegelin never asks the question of who Jesus is and what the idea of incarnation in the person of Jesus means, because this particularity and specificity of Jesus will not allow one to make Christianity equivalent with other experiences of the Beyond. Niemeyer writes that the heart of the problem is that "Voegelin's exegesis of St. Paul would not have to be changed if one removed Jesus Christ from it altogether."7

In regards to Voegelin's relationship to Christianity, Niemeyer concludes that it "seems that this once Voegelin has approached a great spiritual reality from a standpoint

6 Gerhart Niemeyer, "Eric Voegelin's Philosophy and the Drama of Mankind," Modem Ag (Winter, 1976), p. 35.

 7Niemeyer, "Eric Voegelin's," p. 35.

  extraneous to it."8 Voegelin has swallowed up the truth of Christianity, which depends on the particular figure of Jesus, into his own philosophical system. Clearly Niemeyer does not criticize Voegelin for not engaging in a quest for the historical Jesus, but he does use the term 'particular' in order to demonstrate that Christianity has to take the figure of Jesus into serious account and cannot pass off its central figure as just a symbol.

The two preceding interpretations conclude that Voegelin discounts the historical figure of Jesus. However, as more of Voegelin's writings about Christianity were digested, the hostility that greeted The Ecumenic Age subsided into an appreciation of the totality of Voegelin's thought and the place of Jesus within that thought.

In a later essay, Niemeyer praises Voegelin's openness to the truth of Christianity in his writings that deal specifically with Christianity. He admits that if he wrote a review of The Ecumenic Age, at the time of this later essay (about 19 years after his earlier review), his criticism would "be somewhat milder."9 Though still reproducing a large section of the original critical review, Niemeyer states that "Voegelin puts himself in sharp contrast with so many contemporary philosophers or historians who seek to put Christianity on the same plane as other great religions by not mentioning Jesus as the core of Christian faith."10 When taking into account the totality of Voegelin's writings on Christianity beyond his exegesis of Paul, Niemeyer can appreciate the depth of Voegelin's interpretation of Christianity.

Against Wilhelmsen's complaint that Voegelin has no core truth to distinguish a

8Niemeyer, "Eric Voegelin's," p. 35.
9 Gerhart Niemeyer, "Christian Faith, and Religion, in Eric Voegelin's Work," The Review of Politics
(Winter, 1995), p. 100.
10 Niemeyer, "Christian Faith," p. 102.

  true experience from a false one stands Niemeyer's conclusions. Niemeyer claims that Voegelin's philosophy does not simply lead to an open-ended spiritually that leaves one unable to separate the truth of various visions and experiences from their falsity. Niemeyer does admit that for Voegelin the "divine reality ... is not subject to discovery, or verification by the senses, like things are. It is a matter of inner experience."11 However, that does not leave divine reality as just a matter of inner experience. Niemeyer points out that "there is a spiritual truth, even though it cannot be something found attained by measurement or experiment."12 There is a way to determine true visions from false visions. The inner criterion of truth is a "consciousness filled with the loving tension toward God."13 The criterion for the outside world is that this consciousness must be expressed in language that "fit the 'In-Between' situation of man."14 These inner and outer criterions are attempts by Voegelin to put the structure of reality into language. Jesus is important as the core of Christian faith, but experiences of Jesus must fit within this structure of reality for it to be regarded by Voegelin as true.

Bruce Douglass also takes Voegelin's entire project into account and concludes that the figure of Jesus is important for Voegelin. Douglass states that "Voegelin's Gospel is inextricably tied to the life and death of Jesus. Strictures against concern with the historical Jesus notwithstanding, Voegelin is not a Bultmann."15I Against the conclusion of Wilhelmsen, Douglass believes that Voegelin is unlike Rudolf Bultmann

11 Niemeyer, "Christian Faith," p. 102. Emphasis in original. 

12 Niemeyer, "Christian Faith," p. 102-3. 

13 Niemeyer, "Christian Faith," p. 103.

14 Niemeyer, "Christian Faith," p. 103.

 15Bruce Douglass, "A Diminished Gospel: A Critique of Voegelin's Interpretation of Christianity," Eric Voegelin's Search for Order in History, edited by Stephen A. McKnight (Lanham: University Press of America, Inc., 1987), p. 145.


who claimed that one could know practically nothing about the figure of Jesus. Thus one is completely dependent on the proclamations of faith of the earliest Christian communities. Voegelin in his writings is concerned with the historical figure of Jesus who stands behind early Christian belief. As proof, Douglass points out that Voegelin addresses the figure of Jesus when he writes about the meaning of the Incarnation, the dual nature of Christ, and the events of the death and resurrection. In The Ecumenic Age, Voegelin does not seem to be concerned with the historical figure of Jesus, because he is writing about Paul's vision of the Resurrected Jesus. If one looks at the entire corpus of Voegelin's writings about Christianity, one can see that though he may not be concerned with a strictly historical approach to the figure of Jesus, Voegelin was very interested in the meaning of Jesus and holds specific traits about the figure of Jesus as certain.

David Walsh also recognizes the importance of Jesus throughout the corpus of Voegelin's work. Walsh even holds that for Voegelin Jesus engages in a "redemptive suffering on behalf of fallen man."16 When critics take into account Voegelin's writings that deal with Jesus, a stronger relationship between Voegelin's philosophy and the figure of Jesus emerges. Voegelin's entire corpus of work, beyond the chapter on Paul in The Ecumenic Age, proves the assertions of the later Niemeyer, Douglass, and Walsh correct. The figure of Jesus is important for Voegelin, and Voegelin holds that we can know something about Jesus. This will be made plain by a close examination of Voegelin's writings about Jesus with special focus on the recently published History of Political 

16 David Walsh, "Voegelin's Response to the Disorder of the Age," The Review of Politics (1984), p. 280.

                                                           
History of Political Ideas

Copyright 2000 Aaron D. Hoffman


In the posthumously published first volume of the History of Political Ideas, Voegelin gives a more thorough and adequate treatment of the figure of Jesus and the development of the early Christian communities than in his other published writings. However, one must constantly keep in mind that Voegelin was not attempting to provide a complete and total account of the subject. The themes in his writing relate to his concerns as a political theorist. They are not primarily focused on the concerns of theology and/or religious studies.17 This focus on the concerns of political theory will shape the topics Voegelin addresses and the space he gives to them. Voegelin's explicit statement that his focus is on political theory should warn the reader to be careful about critiquing Voegelin from his silences, which critics did in his later writings about Jesus and early Christianity. The length and breadth of topics in Voegelin can betray that fact that he is focused on certain problems that are fundamental for him. In the case of Jesus and early Christianity, he only addresses the facets of them that relate to his fundamental concerns.

Voegelin rejects the historical-critical methods that are practiced by historical Jesus research right at the beginning of his section on Jesus in the History of Political Ideas. After reviewing one of the latest books on the historical Jesus that concludes Jesus was a failed Jewish rabbi who was not considered to be the Messiah until after his death, Voegelin states that he has "to draw the conclusion that the methods of critical exegesis

17 Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas Volume 1: Hellenism. Rome- and Early Christianity (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997), p. 154. 
18 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 152.  

of the Gospels are not the methods by which we can approach the personality of Jesus."18 However, thought rejecting critical methods as a method to analyze the texts of the Gospels, Voegelin does not place the figure of Jesus in the category of an unknowable cipher-like figure. Voegelin does not use historical-critical methods, but he is willing to make assumptions about the figure of Jesus. Voegelin doubts the thesis that Jesus was just another failed Jewish prophet, because it leaves out any consideration of what it was in the personality of Jesus that caused his disciples to proclaim that he was the Son of God after
his horrible death. Though rejecting 'the methods of critical exegesis', Voegelin does believe that there are some things we can know about the figure of Jesus.

What one can know about the figure of Jesus for Voegelin will not depend upon dogma and/or the Gospels being understood as a journalistic report of historical events. Voegelin suggests that the Gospels, though unique in their own right, are like the lives of the saints. We do not have a straight history of the life of Jesus, but Voegelin thinks that one can find in the Gospels an accurate portrayal of Jesus' "religious personality and its effect on the disciples."19 The Gospel of Mark "reflects the personality of Jesus, his life and work, though the details may be historically incorrect."20 To become entangled in the historical details of the Gospels is to misread them.

The religious personality of Jesus is the framework by which one can understand the figure of Jesus. When one is engaged with a "Jewish prophetic soul" like Jesus, one cannot expect to find answers that fit within the framework of the historical-critical

18 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas , p. 152. 
19 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 153.
  20 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 153.


methods of modem Western scholarship.21 Voegelin's treatment of the Deutero-Isaiah demonstrated that its author had tensions, confusions, and conflicts in his message that can confuse the contemporary interpreter .22 Keeping this in mind, the desire to have the figure of Jesus admit or deny his Messianic status by contemporary logic does not take into account what the Gospels are and what type of personality there are conveying. The personality of Jesus will be impossible to locate through a scientific lens. By stepping into the worldview of the Jewish prophetic soul, there are certain things one can know about the personality of Jesus prior to the writings by Paul. So, in his early writings, Jesus for Voegelin is more than just the vision of Paul.

Through the Gospels, one can know that Jesus has a mana (often translated as power in the New Testament). This power can heal the afflictions of a person as long as the person has faith. The power of Jesus combines faith with the healing of the body. Faith and healing are not separate as they are in the modem Enlightenment worldview. The relationship between the power of Jesus and the faith response of a believer is the underlying matrix by which the Gospels are written. The Gospels are written in the spirit that the "mana of Jesus and the faith of the believer are corresponding personality elements that can communicate with each other and thus constitute a kind of community substance ."23 That is why the Gospels should not be read as conventional biographies or straight histories of Jesus. In fact the model of historical biography is an obstacle to a full appreciation of the meaning of the Gospels. As Voegelin states, "the biographical

21Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 153. 
22Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 116-9.
23Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 155.

knowledge of the person prevents the experience of the mana."24 Jesus had problems performing miracles in his hometown because intimate biographical knowledge of him prevented many of his own people from having faith in him. The Gospel writers' primary concern was not historical biography. They were "sensitive to the mana of Jesus" and thus wrote their narratives within that framework.25

However, this does not mean that no knowledge of the figure of Jesus is possible. Voegelin wants to shy away from the fundamentalist position that the Gospels can be read as an accurate journalistic account of the life of Jesus. But Voegelin's emphasis is so much on this; one can miss his insistence that the personality of the figure of Jesus shines forth. The power of Jesus and the faith of the community create the community substance out of which the New Testament is written. These are more important than the historical details of Jesus' life. Yet one can delineate some bare historical details as well. Voegelin writes:

We may agree that every single miracle report is untrustworthy and still understand that the report as a whole as substantially reflecting the healing work of the Savior; we may agree that the parables and dialogue scenes have little chance of reporting correctly the pronouncements of Jesus and still be sure that he expressed himself in parables and general that the parables as reported reflect essential features of his teaching; we may doubt the report on the baptism by John and still be sure that at some point in his life the experience must have occurred that started him on his life; and we may doubt the report on the temptation and still assume the existence of the problem of temptation of his life."26

Voegelin is comfortable in affirming that Jesus had a mission that consisted of healing and teaching, and he resisted temptation.

24 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 155. 
25 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas , p. 155.
26 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 153.

Jesus was most concerned with the "metanoia" that Voegelin describes as "the turning, the healing, the state of faith" that "had to spring from the soul forces of the individual ."27 This was important for Jesus and was the response he was looking to bring out of people. His healings were not to be the proof of his status; rather people were supposed to respond with faith to his power. A response to Jesus was not to come from the fact of a miracle but through the faith of the believer. Those with faith were to be the ones in the coming kingdom. Those who respond to Jesus are not to be concerned with wealth or anything that ties a person to this world order instead of the "divine world order."28 This is the eschatology that is preached by Jesus; an eschatology that does not involve social or economic reforms but "demands a change of heart and imposes rules of conduct that have meaning for men who live in the daily expectation of the kingdom of Heaven. "29 This emphasis away from the order of this world is an important point for Voegelin. The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount/Sermon on the Plain involve an ethics not suited to the order of this world. Indeed "the radicalism of the demands precludes their use as a system of social ethics."30 Voegelin even terms these teachings "radical anticivilizational forces."31 The metanoia and the ethics of Jesus are preached within the horizon of eschatology. That is why "the call goes right to the spiritual core in man. ''32

27 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 154.

 28 Voegelin, Histoiy of Political Ideas, p. 158.

 29 Voegelin, Histoly of Political Ideas, p. 161.

 30 Voegelin, Histo1y of Political Ideas, p. 162.

 31 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 162. 

32 Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 159.

The big question in historical Jesus research is whether Jesus in his lifetime considered himself to be the Messiah. As stated above, Voegelin believes stepping outside of the historical-critical methodology is the only way to approach this question. Voegelin has placed Jesus' personality, as belonging to the tradition of the Jewish prophetic soul, so like the Deutero-Isaiah, within Jesus there was a tension. He writes that Jesus' belief in his messianic status "was an experience that could become stronger at times, and at times weakened."33 This tension was between Jesus' existence as a man and his existence as the Messiah. This is evidenced in the agony in the garden where Jesus asks to be spared the death that is to come (again for Voegelin the experience is more important than the historical accuracy).

Jesus in his lifetime does not represent the traditional image of the Messiah as warrior king. He more resembles and is eventually seen by his followers as like the Suffering Servant in Isaiah rather than a warrior king. Both Jesus and his followers were in a state of tension in regards to his identity yet in "the atmosphere of eschatological tension that the Gospels reflect, it is practically impossible that followers of Jesus should not have believed him to be the Messiah and said so in public."34 Voegelin stresses the tension in Jesus between his role as a man and as the Messiah and the tension in the disciples in trying to comprehend the death and resurrection of Jesus. This 'tension' places a screen between the modem expectation for clear scholarly evidence of Jesus' identity and the experience within the soul of Jesus and the earliest disciples. The tension in the Jewish prophetic soul must be appreciated to adequately grasp the meaning of the Gospels.

33Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 162.  
34Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 163.


After the death of Jesus, his followers experienced visions of a Resurrected Jesus. These visions constitute "the fundamental evocative acts of the Christian community."35 However, again Voegelin stresses that the "historic details of the visions are of secondary importance as compared with the phenomenon itself and the interpretation that was put on it by the first Christian generation. "36 Though Voegelin is not concerned with the historic details, it is important that the Christian community begins with the visions of the Resurrected Jesus, and Voegelin considers the visions of the Resurrected Jesus historically unique. If Jesus had been considered a traditional Messiah, his death would have meant he was a failure. If Jesus had just been considered a prophet, a religion similar to Buddhism would have developed. A Greek or Roman type of religion would have made Jesus a cultic figure rather than a universal savior. In the tensional understanding of both Jesus and his followers, he was not a traditional Messiah, or just a prophet but was a different kind of Messiah. According to Voegelin "the Spirit of the Resurrected (GK. Pneuma) took as the community substance the place of the mana (the dynamis) of the living Jesus. The precondition for this community of believers with the living God was the visionary conviction of his personal presence."37 The power that was present during the life of Jesus was now, after his death and resurrection, the spirit of Jesus available to all those with the metanoia. The first generation of Christians held that "Jesus, the man, is dead, but Christ lives, and under the guidance of his spirit the

35Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, p. 163. 
36Voegelin, History of Political Idea p. 164.
 37Voegelin, History of Political Idea p. 164. 


community continues to exist as it did when he was present in the flesh."38 This for Voegelin is the meaning of the resurrection.

In his early writings, Voegelin has a lot to say about the figure of Jesus. Though Voegelin eschews the quest for an historical Jesus, Jesus is not just a literary creation of the earliest Christian community based upon the life of a now historically unknowable Jewish rabbi. In the sections that deal with Jesus in the History of Political Ideas, Voegelin's focus is on the power of Jesus and the turning in faith to him. Becoming overly concerned with the accuracy of the historical narrative or the authenticity of the sayings of Jesus is to miss entirely the message of early Christianity. One cannot help but notice that the figure of Jesus that remains after Voegelin's treatment is a traditional figure that is entirely compatible with orthodox Christian thinking. Voegelin's interpretation might be offensive to "fact fundamentalists" who are looking for iron clad guarantees about the historical facts in the lifetime of Jesus.39 Voegelin was not even willing to engage in that type of search for historical "facts", but neither was he willing to say that there is nothing about the figure of Jesus that one can know or should care about. Most importantly, Voegelin had the opportunity in the History of Political Ideas to accept that possibility that Jesus was a failed Jewish rabbi who was killed in Jerusalem on a prophetic mission and then proclaimed Christ by an early group of followers. Voegelin could have said that this interpretation may be true, but what really mattered were the beliefs of the early Christian community. Voegelin did not say this and upheld the importance of the figure of Jesus for Christianity.

38Voegelin, Histo1y of Political Ideas, p. 165.
39The term "fact fundamentalist" is used in Huston Smith, "Jesus and the World's Religions," Jesus at
2DU, edited by Marcus J. Borg (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997), p. 116.

                                                                    
On Christianity

After the History of Political Ideas, Voegelin focused more on Paul in his interpretation of Christianity. Still, in the History of Political Ideas and in his letter replying to Alfred Schutz, one can that Voegelin was always aware of the importance of Paul.40 In the letter to Schutz, Voegelin writes that Jesus was born in the lower classes and was put to a horrible end, but what was most unique about him was that he was a mediator to God who was considered one with God. Jesus also had a universal message. For Jesus "was a mediator performing his function not for an historically existing society but for all men (this was what caused the tension between the Jewish-Christians of Jerusalem and the Paulinians)."41 Voegelin here is claiming that Paul is the person who helped make Jesus' message a universal one. Voegelin in his letter is also positing a difference between what he calls essential Christianity and gnostic and eschatological Christianity. In this stage of his thinking, Voegelin is giving credit to Paul for establishing this essential Christianity by helping the early Christian community to realize they are part of the mystical body of Christ rather than a group waiting for the end of the world.

One can also see this in the History of Political Ideas when Voegelin writes that Paul and his followers are responsible for the lasting qualities of Christianity. They helped make early Christianity into more than just an aristocracy of believers because

40Eric Voegelin, "On Christianity," The Philosophy of Order: Essays on History. Consciousness and Politics, edited by Peter J. Opitz and Gregor Sebba (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 198 1). 
41 Voegelin, "On Christianity," p. 454. 

they taught that each member of the body of Christ had something to contribute. They taught that the quality of love was more important than any changes in social relations. They also did not look upon existing governments in a hostile way. They resisted the Jewish-Christians centered in Jerusalem in their attempts to make the new Christians follow closely the tradition Jewish laws. Paul also resisted the Hellenistic pneumatics (as Voegelin called them) in their attempts to make the Christian message one that is private, inspirational, and non-communicative.42 However, Voegelin holds that Paul's compromises in spreading the word of Jesus "were not an arbitrary addition; they were definitely implied as a possible evolution in the appearance and the teachings of Christ."43 Voegelin has recognized Paul's importance in building the early Christian community and interpreting the message of Jesus. It is no surprise therefore that Paul received so much attention in The Ecumenic Age

                                                                          The Ecumenic Age

Decades after the sections on Jesus in the History of Political Ideas were written, Voegelin no longer uses the term metanoia in his book The Ecumenic Age Voegelin now speaks of the experience of the Beyond. To speak of the Beyond must be done in "the language of seeking, searching, and questioning, of ignorance and knowledge concerning the divine ground, of futility, absurdity, anxiety, and alienation of existence, of being moved to seek and question, of being drawn toward the ground, of turning around, of return, illumination, and rebirth."44Though Voegelin has gone through two major shifts in philosophical orientation, he is still operating in the same general conceptual framework.

42 Voegelin, History of Political Idea , p. 173-75.
43Voegelin, "On Christianity," p. 453.
44Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974), p. 17-8.
 

Voegelin again states that his interpretation of early Christianity is not dependent on dogma. However, unlike his earlier treatment, his focus is on Paul's vision of the Resurrected Jesus and Paul's interpretation of that vision. In order to understand Paul one cannot look to the "facts" of history. Voegelin as a philosopher states that he can understand Paul's vision only by attempting to understand the experience by which Paul had the vision. One cannot determine the historicity of Paul's vision of the Resurrected Jesus because that "vision emerges as a symbol from the Metaxy, and the symbol is both divine and human."45Paul's vision does not take place in empirical history; rather it takes place as part of the experience of the Beyond. The only way that Paul can speak of his vision is as a symbol of his experience in the In-Between of existence. The structure of reality for Voegelin is existence between the poles of the symbols 'God' and 'Man' in "the experience of existential tension towards the divine ground."46

Voegelin again dismisses any attempt at a historical-critical method that would uncover the historical figure of Jesus and the facts of the incarnation and the resurrection.

Voegelin boldly states:



45Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 243. Sometimes in Voegelin's writing the word Metaxy is capitalized and sometimes it is not. For the sake of clarity the word will always be capitalized in this paper.
46  Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 255. 

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 content, 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 which Paul, who knew something about visions, classified as to the same type as his own (I Cor. 15: 3-8)."47

Though his philosophical terminology has moved far beyond his earlier writings, Voegelin has not abandoned his earlier belief that the followers of Jesus experienced the reality of the divine through Jesus, and that Jesus' resurrection was experienced by his followers after his death in visions that cannot be uncovered through historical-critical methods.

Just as historical critical methods cannot grasp the figure of Jesus, they also cannot grasp the proper perspective on Paul. Paul seemed unconcerned with questions about the historicity of Jesus because he "still moved in an open field of theopany."48 Paul is writing within the tension of there being one God and many other experiences of gods. Paul was thus more open in his language and clarifications about the status of Jesus. The problem with modem questions about the historical Jesus is that modernity takes place historically after dogma has replaced the open field of theopany. Thus modem scholars either correlate or deconstruct the Jesus of Paul's vision with the Christ of church dogma. Voegelin holds that "the 'Christ' of Nicaea and Chalcedon is not the reality of theophanic history that confronts us in the Pauline vision of the Resurrected;

47 Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 243-44. 
48 Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 259.

and to invent a special kind of 'history,' disregarding the theophanic reality on which the dogma is based, in order to endow the Christ of the dogma with 'historicity,' would make no sense."49 For Voegelin dogma is only supposed to be "a protective symbolization of the original theophanic event"50

Christian dogma is a dangerous influence in Western history according to Voegelin. The problem is that "there can be discerned a legitimate discontent with a doctrinaire metaphysics and theology that has cut loose from the originating experiences and earnest desire to return to the reality experienced. The desire, however, did not reach its goal of either reconstructing and re-enacting the original experiences, or of advancing beyond them to mysticism..."51 Instead the theophanic experience of Paul has devolved into the egophanic constructions of Comte, Hegel, and numerous others. Man can no longer embrace theophanic experiences, because they have been banished from the modem consciousness. Thus those in search of the meaning of Christianity tend to focus on the historicity of the Gospel narratives and the sayings of Jesus rather than the theophanic experiences that would truly answer any questions about Jesus. The truth of the experience can be articulated when one is open to the possibility of a theophanic experience and then accepting the experience on its own terms, instead of placing it inside the categories of modem science.

Voegelin writes that one can separate the truth of the Pauline vision of the Resurrected from its falsity. The importance of Paul's vision needs to be separated from

49Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 260.
50 Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 264. 
51 Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 265-66.


why Paul was wrong about the coming transformation of the world within his own lifetime. Paul's misinterpretation for Voegelin stems from the problem that the "mythopoetic genius of Paul is not controlled by the critical consciousness of a Plato."52 Voegelin thus uses what he thinks is a more critical consciousness to preserve "the hard core of truth" in Paul from "the no-so-hard fringe of ambiguities and metastatic expectations."53

For Voegelin, the reality one experiences is a reality that is constantly in a state of moving beyond itself. This revelation when experienced is a theophanic event. Jesus and his followers (including Paul) experienced this pneumatic revelation as Voegelin terms it. Their experience was a "concrete historical event in the Ecumenic Age. "54The experiences were part of a differentiation of the Near East experiences of the cosmological empires. What is important for Voegelin though is that these experiences are part of the structure of reality. They do not abolish the structure of reality. Voegelin writes that:

Structure and transfiguration do not begin when they become conscious through the theophanic events of the Ecumenic Age; they are experienced as the problems of reality both before and after their differentiation. Transfiguring incarnation, in particular, does not begin with Christ, as Paul assumed, but becomes conscious through Christ and Paul's vision as the eschatological telos of the transfiguring process that goes on in history before and after Christ and constitutes its meaning."55

52Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 249. 
53 Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 267. 
54Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 270. 
55Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 270. Emphasis in original.


Paul's mistake is that he thinks he has arrived at the end of history. Voegelin believes that Paul wanted to abolish the tension between "the eschatological telos of reality and the mystery of transfiguration that is actually going on within historical reality."56 Voegelin needs to correct any interpretation of reality that seeks to abolish the in-betweeness of existence. Paul symbolizes the transformation of reality but also abolishes the tension in reality when he thinks he knows when the total transformation of the world is coming. Participation in the divine ground of being on its own was not enough for Paul, Voegelin suggests, because there was no society in the Ecumenic Empire that could be "a representative carrier of transfiguring divine presence in history" and the experience itself is always biased towards more reality. Someone like Paul will always expect more reality to come rather than nothing. It is simple to believe that before the creation of anything there was just nothing. However, the theophanic experience of transforming reality leads one to associate this transformation with something more to come rather than nothing. 57 The crisis of the modem world follows from Paul's interpretation of his experience. Voegelin writes that the " 'history' of the egophanic thinkers does not unfold in the Metaxy, ie., in the flux of divine presence, but in the Pauline Time of the Tale that has a beginning and an end."58

This was a problem for Paul. Was it a problem for Jesus also? Two times in M, Ecumenic Age Voegelin refers to Jesus as being one who experienced "the theophanic events in which the dynamics of transfiguration is revealed."59 However, because the focus in the volume is on Paul's vision, Voegelin never makes clear whether Jesus is also guilty of the expectations which move from the structure of reality to the abolition of the tension inherent in reality.

56Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 270.  
57Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 271.
58Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 269. 
59Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 269.

The problem with an authentic understanding of Jesus is the experiences of those like Paul hardening into dogma. At Nicaea and Chalcedon, Voegelin believes the Pauline myth was translated into "pseudo-philosophical" terms, thus transforming Paul's experience into dogma .60 The problem that we now face is after 2,000 years the experience of Paul has devolved into a debate between dogmas. The only solution to this for Voegelin is a return to the fundamental experience that has caused these debates, "the experience of transfiguration as symbolized by Paul ."61

Voegelin has clearly moved beyond his early preoccupations with the power of Jesus and the experience of this power by his followers. Paul is not longer the stabilizing force who made peace with the world by making compromises with the everyday reality of Gentile existence. The focus in The Ecumenic Age is almost entirely on Paul with some analysis of the Gospel of John. Voegelin is most concerned with the problem of egophanic thinkers, so he focuses on the two early Christian documents that can be read in a gnostic way. Voegelin still holds that one can only experience the divine presence through Jesus by experience, and the divinity of Jesus cannot be a fact discovered within the framework of subject and object. The new aspect in Voegelin's treatment of Paul is his assertion that there is a structure of reality and consciousness by which Paul experiences Jesus. The experience of Paul takes place within a structure of reality. This points toward the conclusion that for Voegelin the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus are

60Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age , p. 267. 
61Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age p. 267-68. 

part of the ever-present experience of the divine ground. One cannot take the experience of the Resurrected Jesus and discover exactly when the transformation of reality is coming. The truth of Paul's vision was that reality was being transformed. The falsity of Paul's vision was that he believed a new reality was coming very soon. He failed to interpret his vision within the structure of reality of tension towards the divine ground of being.

                                                  
Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme

Clearly Voegelin's interpretation of Paul also applies to the Gospels in his essay "Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Mediation" when he writes that "the saving tale of the gospel, is not merely a tale to be examined for its historical accuracy, but the vision of transfiguring salvation breaking forth into the Word that saves."62 Those like Paul who have a transfiguring vision can believe that an imminent transfiguration is going to take place in reality. The utter power of the vision upon the person creates the expectation that history and the world are coming to an end. The vision is so different from the regular movement of reality, the recipient believes that reality is thus going to be completely transformed very soon.

This vision of the Resurrected Jesus and the experience of the presence of his spirit mutates when it is solidified into dogma. The definition of the 'nature' of Jesus at Chalcedon used the philosophical language of its day in order to try and express "the presence of God in the man whose word spoke the truth of suffering and salvation, in the man Jesus"63 The dogma tried to express what the fundamental experience of Jesus as God which was that:

62 Eric Voegelin, "Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation," Published Essays 1966-1985, edited by Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), p. 371. 13
 63 Voegelin, "Wisdom and the Magic," p. 367.

He is neither a man, moving in the struggle of the Metaxy towards immortality, nor the divine reality beyond the Metaxy. The visions see in the Christ the historical event of God's pleromatic presence in a man, revealing the suffering presence of the God in every man as the transfiguring force that will let mortal reality rise with the God to his immortality. The pleromatic Metaxy seen in the Christ reveals mortal suffering as participation in the divine suffering."64

This is the same as Paul's vision. Curiously, Voegelin in the quote above does not speak of Jesus as a man living with a vision or in the tension of existence, because here is referring to the experience of Jesus by his followers.

As stated before, Voegelin holds that one cannot discover some empirical content behind a divine experience, and the Resurrected Jesus is not of empirical history. Trying to force these experiences into dogma will eventually cause the experiences to lose their meaning and reality. Voegelin states that 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."65 An empirical historian cannot prove the historicity of the resurrection using empirical methods, because the historian's soul must be open to the divine presence. Any search for the facts of a Resurrected Jesus will not find one. Neither Paul nor any of the followers of Jesus can be understood using only empirical methods.

64Voegelin, "Wisdom and the Magic," p. 369. 
65Voegelin, "Wisdom and the Magic," p. 242-43.

One can see though that Voegelin did not focus on Jesus, Paul, or the early Christian community for their own sake. Voegelin was most concerned with gnosticism and the dangers of the egophanic thinkers, so he naturally focused on the response to the experiences of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the danger of those who thought they knew when the world was coming to a end.

                                                                    
The Gospel and Culture

In his earlier more general work Voegelin focused on Jesus' personality. However, even in a later essay like "The Gospel and Culture" he has not abandoned the figure of Jesus.66 Voegelin writes how the author of Colossians conveys the message: "Something about Jesus must have impressed his contemporaries as an existence in the Metaxy of such intensity that his bodily presence, the somatikos of the passage, appeared to be fully permeated by divine presence."67 This is the meaning that the New Testament writers were trying to convey. This meaning has been forgotten at "a time when the reality of the gospel threatens to fall apart into the constructions of an historical Jesus and a doctrinal Christ, one cannot stress strongly enough the status of a gospel as a symbolism engendered in the Metaxy of existence by a disciple's response to the drama. of the Son of God."68 The experience of Jesus as the presence of God is the framework by which to understand the New Treatment. The New Testament itself is a symbol of the

66Eric Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," Published Essay 1966-1985, edited by Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990).
 67 Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," p. 193. Emphasis in original. 
 68Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," p. 201.

response to Jesus' divine presence. This process of experience and symbolization cannot be collapsed into history or dogma. For Voegelin one cannot separate "the drama of participation asunder into the biography of Jesus in the spatiotemporal world and the eternal verities showered from beyond."69The Gospels cannot be read as straight histories that provide proof of God acting in history.

The Gospels are not the records of an ancient historian. Careful study of the Gospels will reveal that they are four often-different accounts of Jesus. Internally too, the narratives of the Gospels do not follow a straight and logical path. This "illogic" is because a Gospel is a "symbolization of a divine moment that went through the person of Jesus into society and history. The revelatory movement, thus, runs its course on more than one plane."70  The symbol will not yield to the iron cage of modem Western logical analysis. The gospels are written to allow those with an open soul to respond to the call of Jesus. As Voegelin states, the Son of God is someone "who alone knows the divine Father in the pleroma of presence, and mediates his knowledge to his followers according to their human receptiveness."71 Someone who is utterly tied to the spatiotemporal world will not understand the true meaning of the Gospels. For Voegelin, Jesus praises the poor not for the purpose of encouraging a violent revolution to abolish wealth. Jesus is praising those who are not tied to this world (like the rich and powerful are) and thus are better able to open themselves up to the divine presence.

69Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," p. 201.   

70Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," p. 203. and Culture," p. 209. Emphasis in original.

71 Voegelin, "The Gospel
 
Voegelin believes that the "strength of the gospel is its concentration on the one
point that is all-important: that the truth of reality has its center not in the cosmos at large, not in the nature of society or imperial rulership, but in the presence of the Unknown God in a man's existence to his death and life. " 72He does go on to warn though that this "very strength, however, can cause a breakdown, if the emphasis on the center of truth becomes so intense that its relations to the reality in which it is the center are neglected."73 Though Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew does veer towards apocalyptic fervor about the coming end of the world, the Gospels important message is the life and death of Jesus and how Jesus is the presence of the unknown God. This is more important than the world, society, or government and on the whole is what the Gospels stress.

To neglect everything else within the cosmos and only to stress the center of truth, at the expense of the structure of reality, leads to gnosticism and the gnostic systems which "are a symbolism sui generis which expresses a state of alienation from reality, more precisely to be characterized as an extracosmic isolation of existential consciousness."74 Alienation, isolation, and the desire to leave an evil world are always a
possibility when dealing with the vision of Jesus.
 

                                                                               Conclusion

This paper has analyzed Voegelin's writings about Jesus to prove that the figure of Jesus was important for Voegelin. Even though Voegelin focused on consciousness and used existential language, he was not an existentialist who was more concerned with personal experience than the reality of Jesus. Voegelin explicitly criticizes Rudolf

72Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," p. 2 10.
 73Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," p. 210. 
 74Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," p. 211. Emphasis in original.

ButImann's existentialist theology, because Bultmann ignores Paul's concerns with history. The experience of the Beyond can only take place in a particular place within a society, a government, and a tradition. Voegelin states that the "revelation of God to man occurs in concrete situations to concrete human beings who receive it representatively for all men. History has a structure inasmuch as it has representative centers of reception from which revelation is communicated to the rest of mankind."75The experience of God always takes place within the order of history and must avoid the temptation to leave that order of history. Even with the experience of Christ "Man still exists under God in the world, within the limits set by his nature, within society and history, with all the obligations and responsibilities such existence entails."76 Voegelin emphasizes that it is a mistake to think that the order of history ceases to exist during a revelation and will cease to exist soon after the revelation.

Voegelin is his work is most concerned with the balance in the order of history and the structure of reality. His hedgehog-like attention to this issue overshadows his writings about everything from ancient Israel to the German universities. It is no wonder then that the figure of Jesus and early Christianity are subordinate to his concerns of restraining egophanic tendencies and the spread of gnosticism. The figure of Jesus is very important in Voegelin's writing, but Voegelin was not trying to write the definitive work on the history of early Christianity. However, Voegelin has struggled with the essence of the meaning of Christianity, and his sympathetic engagement compares favorably to the treatment of Christianity in Strauss, Arendt, Rawls, or postmodernism. In fact one could say that Voegelin is trying to protect the Christian experience from irrelevance. He preserves the truth of its experience from its eschatological falsity. He also tries to awaken an authentic experience of Jesus from its dogmatic slumber. In the end, Voegelin collapsed the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith by doing an end run around them both, because for Voegelin the distinction in itself is a sign of the decline of Christianity. For Voegelin if the experiences of the first Christians could have been kept alive, there would be no reason for an historical recovery of Jesus in order to compare the recovery to the dogma.


75 Eric Voegelin, "History and Gnosis," The Old Testament and Christian Faith: A Theological Discussion, edited by Bernard W. Anderson (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), p. 75. 
76 Voegelin, "History and Gnosis," p. 85.