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Meeting Index

Eric Voegelin Society Meeting 2002

Carrying Coals to Newcastle

  Copyright 2002  Ellis Sandoz


The question is about Eric Voegelins relationship to Christianity.  Was Voegelin a Christian?  Is his philosophy Christian philosophy?  The personal and scholarly issues must be divided and subdivided for my few hints on these complicated subjects.

                From the time I first heard him lecture as a young undergraduate student in 1949 I never doubted that Voegelin was profoundly Christian whatever the ambiguities of his formal church affiliation.  It never dawned on me at the time to think otherwise, since the whole of his discourse was luminous with devotion to the truth of divine reality that plainly formed the horizon of his analytical expositions in class and of his scholarly writings as well, as I later found out.  That youthful judgment was valid then and, with appropriate qualification, remains so long years later. His faith formed the bedrock of his personal resistance to National Socialism and strengthened his interpretation of philosophy itself as an act of resistance against debilitating untruth.  It vivified his early insight that the individual man is the intersection of time and eternity [1] and that human nature is a process-structure that is spiritual: Through spirit man actualizes his potential to partake of the divine.  He rises thereby to the imago Dei which it is his destiny to be. [2]   The integrity of the individual human person thus conceived, with its reflective consciousness, is the spring of resistance to evil and responsive source of the love of truththe very core of participatory (metaxy or In-Between) reality, never to be sacrificed to any collectivity of any kind whatever. [3]   At the concrete level of political action, for example, Voegelins identification of the Nazis as a satanic force for evil was sufficiently unambiguous even for the most dull-witted employee of the Gestapo to realize that the author [of The Political Religions] was not on [their] side. [4]

                Voegelin was baptized and buried a Christian, the latter by process of long-deliberated choice of whose details our colleague Paul Caringella was intimately eye-witness.  Even the philosopher must face the ineluctable facts of the human condition and of his own mortality when dying and death loom as more than abstract metaphors.  For his Lutheran form of interment service Voegelin asked that two  passages from the New Testament be read: Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit.  He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal (John 12:24-25); and Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever (First John 2:15-17).  When Erics wife Lissy asked him why he would want that second passage read, he is said to have replied for repentance. [5]

                Does this then mean Voegelin was a Christian philosopher?  While he took the fact and rich contents of revelation with utmost seriousness in all of his work, repeatedly dealing with it over the decades, the answer seems to be no.  As is well-known he was no party man but sought to maintain the dispassionate even fiercely independent stance of impartiality that he considered  indispensable to the integrity of the scientific work to which he devoted his life. [6] Since there is no fury like a dogmatist scorned, however, Voegelin was excoriated and calumniated by religious, ideological, and secularist zealots of all shadesand still is.  But he accepted self-designation as a mystic-philosopher, perhaps to distinguish himself from the odd personalities sometimes inhabiting academic philosophy departments, and to identify his work as palpably like that of the Hellenic philosophers of antiquity. [7]   If the exploration of the human relationship to the transcendent divine ground of  being is the cardinal problem of philosophy, as Voegelin thought, [8] and if he devoted his life to the task in its manifest diversity over time from prehistory into the present, the designation seems appropriate enough.

                If in the course of his work of a lifetime he concluded that the open exploration of Mans tension toward transcendent divine being (while the universal attribute of mankind experienced-symbolized in many modes) is most optimally conducted in the light of the revelatory experiences of prophets and apostles, and the pneumatic-noetic exegesis by Greek philosophers of equivalent experiences, it is not too surprising that he should especially admire these.  But more than this: In the confluence of these currents with medieval Christian mystic-philosophy, the fides quaerens intellectum of Anselm, Aquinas, and Eckhart, Voegelin saw a form of meditative technical philosophizing never surpassed, one that remains paradigmatic into the present.  In that specific sense Voegelin may, after all, be a Christian philosopher: not by partisanship but by discerning and validating experientially a superiority perfecting the contemplative life, one implicit in it from distant antiquity and that he sought to live by himself. [9]   In this practice of meditative philosophy, he pushed well beyond conventional understanding to insist that Reason (nous in Plato and Aristotle) is itself a revelation (not merely natural) and that the contemplative activity of rational inquiry emerges as a divine-human participation from questions that arise in the first place because you have that divine kinesis in you that moves you to be interested.  So-called natural reason is due to Gods grace, and it lies at the very heart of philosophy itself. [10]   This settled analytical conclusion of the late Voegelin, with its far-reaching implications, gives cold comfort to radical secularists, naturalists, and any others for whom fervent separation of  religion from philosophy in experience and rational inquiry may be axiomatic.

                Finally, the insistent exclusivity of putative Christian (doctrinal) truth, Voegelin tempered  with the mystics tolerance as expressed by Jean Bodin who wrote: Do not allow conflicting opinions about religion to carry you away; only bear in mind this fact: genuine religion is nothing other than the sincere direction of a cleansed mind toward God. [11]    And the universality of Christ he grandly understood in accord with Thomas Aquinas who asks whether Christ be the head of all men (ST III.8.2),  and [who] answers unequivocally that he is the head of all men, indeed, and that consequently the Mystical Body of the Church consists of all men who have, and will have, existed from the beginning of the world to its end....[Thus] the symbolism of Incarnation would express the experience, with a date in history, of God reaching into man and revealing Him as the Presence that is the flow of Presence from the beginning of the world to its end.  History is Christ written large. [12]

[1] Herrschaftslehre, chap. 1, MS p. 7 (ca. 1931); full citation in Ellis Sandoz, The Voegelinian Revolution: A Biographical Introduction, 2nd edn (Transaction Pubs., 2000), 275n31.

[2] Eric Voegelin, The German University and German Society in Published Essays 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (University of Missouri Press, 1990- ), 12:1-35 at 7.

[3] Eric Voegelin, Reason: The Classic Experience, in ibid., 265-91 at 290: All philosophies of history which hypostatize society or history as an absolute, eclipsing personal existence and its meaning, are excluded as false.

[4] Barry Cooper, Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science (University of Missouri Press, 1999), 10.  Cf. Eric Voegelin, The Political Religions in Modernity Without Restraint, ed. Manfred Henningsen, Collected Works, 5:19-73 at 24.

[5]   Personal communication from Paul Caringella by E-mail on 1/23/2000.

[6] I have been called every conceivable name by partisans of this or that ideology.  I have in my files documents labeling me a Communist, a Fascist, a National Socialist, an old Liberal, a new Liberal, a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Platonist, a neo-Augustinian, a Thomist, and of course a Hegeliannot to forget that I was supposedly strongly influenced by Huey Long.  Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, ed. Ellis Sandoz (1989, 1996; available University of Missouri Press), 46.  In a related vein Voegelin wrote professor (later U. S. Senator from North Carolina) John East as follows:  The pre-Reformation Christian [label you mention] is a joke.  I never have written any such thing.  These canards arise because I frequently have to ward off people who want to classify me.  When somebody wants me to be a Catholic or a Protestant, I tell him that I am a pre-Reformation Christian.  If he wants to nail me down as a Thomist or Augustinian, I tell him I am a pre-Nicene Christian. And if he wants to nail me down earlier, I tell him that even Mary the Virgin was not a member of the Catholic Church.  I have quite a number of such stock answers for people who pester me after a lecture; and then they get talked around as authentic information on my position. Letter of Eric Voegelin to John P. East dated 18 July 1977 (in Hoover Institution Archives, Eric Voegelin Papers, microfilm reel 10.23.)  Cf. William M. Thompson, Eric Voegelin: A Pre-Nicene Christian? in The Ecumenist, 38 (2001), 10-13; also see  Ellis Sandoz, Eric Voegelin a Conservative?in The Politics of Truth and Other Untimely Essays: The Crisis of Civic Consciousness (University of Missouri Press, 1999), Chap. 9.

[7] The [ancient] mystic-philosophers break with the myth because they have discovered a new source of truth in their souls.  The unseemly gods of Homer and Hesiod must pale before the invisible harmony of the transcendental realissimum; and the magnificent Homeric epic that was enacted on the two planes of gods and men must sink to the level of poetry when the drama of the soul with its intangible, silent movements of love, hope, and faith toward the sophon is discovered [by Heraclitus].  Eric Voegelin, The World of the Polis, Order and History II, ed. Athanasios Moulakis, Collected Works, 15:311.

[8] Philosophizing seems to me to be in essence the interpretation of experiences of transcendence....There are degrees in the differentiation of experiences.  I would take it as a principle of philosophizing that the philosopher must include in his interpretation the maximally differentiated experiences.... Now with Christianity a decisive differentiation has occurred....  Eric Voegelin to Alfred Schtz, Jan. 1, 1953, as given in The Philosophy of Order: Essays on History, Consciousness and Politics, ed. Peter J. Opitz and Gregor Sebba (Klett-Cotta, 1981), 450.

[9] Cf. Eric Voegelin, Quod Deus Dicitur in Collected Works, 12:376-94, and the analysis in Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution, 258-63.

[10] Conversations with Eric Voegelin, ed. with an intro. by R. Eric OConnor, Thomas More Institute Papers 76 (1981), 138-40; cf. Eric Voegelin, The Beginning and the Beyond,in What is History? And other Late Unpublished Writings, ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella, Collected Works, 28:209-232. On nous as revelatory see noetic pneumatic theophanyin Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, Order and History IV, ed. Michael Franz, Collected Works, 17: 96-97, 305-308, 315-17, 324-25, 337, 375.  The movement in reality, which has become luminous to itself in noetic consciousness, has indeed unfolded its full meaning in the Pauline vision [citing esp. Col. 2:9 and Rom. 8:22-23] and its exegesis through myth.  The symbolism of the man who can achieve freedom from cosmic Ananke, who can enter into the freedom of God, redeemed by the loving grace of the God who is himself free of the cosmos, consistently differentiates the truth of existence that has become visible in the philosophers experience of athanatizein [immortalizing, as in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1177b35]. Ibid., 316.

[11] Jean Bodins 1563 letter to Jean Bautru as quoted in Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution, 268, 276n37.

[12] Eric Voegelin Immortality: Experience and Symbol, in Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, 12:78. The symbolism of the divine experienced as flowing presence" is fully developed in Eric Voegelin, Eternal Being in Time, in Anamnesis, ed. David Walsh, Collected Works, 6:312-37 esp. 329-30. Cf. Paul Caringella, Voegelin: Philosopher of Divine Presence, in Eric Voegelins Significance for the Modern Mind, ed. Ellis Sandoz (LSU Press, 1991), 174-205. Voegelin routinely referred to Jesus as the Savior and the Messiah in the first volume of  History of Political Ideas, written in the early 1940s; e. g. Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas I: Hellenism, Rome, and Early Christianity, ed. Athanasios Moulakis, Collected Works, 19:108, 109, 119, 151f, 153, 162f, 182f.  Among important late writings reflecting upon the meaning of Christ as revealed in Scripture see esp. The Gospel and Culture, in Published Essays 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz, Collected Works, 12:172-212, with particular attention to the analysis of Colossians 2:9 at 192ff, and again in The Beginning and the Beyond, Collected Works, 28:173-232 where Voegelin writes: The Christ is the mystery of God in reality; in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; for in him the divine reality, the theotes, is present in its whole fulness (pan to pleroma); and by responding to this maximal fulness through faith, all men will achieve the fulness of their own existence (pepleromenoi) (183).

The Mystery of Divine Presence and "Christianity"

Copyright 2002 Glenn Hughes


Among the questions raised by the theme of Eric Voegelins relationship to Christianity, the most significant and provocative, it seems to me, is the question of whether Voegelins is a "Christian philosophy."

    There can be, I would argue, no clear-cut answer to the question. Voegelin was guarded on the question of his religious identity, and he likewise avoided any classification of his overall philosophical position, other than to affirm that he was a philosopherindeed, a "mystic-philosopher."1 As scholars have shown, one can find passages in Voegelins work that do appear to read as confessions of the philosophical ultimacy of the Christian vision; but just as easily, one can find passages in which Voegelin insists upon the strict impartiality of his work as regards any philosophical or religious tradition.2 But perhaps a harmonization of these apparently divergent postures can be attained, by considering them as thesis and antithesis of a dialectic that attains its synthesis in a higher viewpoint. In this case, the higher viewpoint entails understanding what "Christianity," in its most positive connotations, means for the mystic-philosopher Voegelin.

    An access to this higher viewpoint may be found in an oft-cited passage from Voegelins published response to Professor Thomas J. J. Altizers review of Voegelins The Ecumenic Age. Here he writes that his mature lifes work, his massive inquiry into the human history of experience and symbolization, 

generalizes the Anselmian fides quaerens intellectum [the process of "faith seeking understanding," as formulated by St. Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109] so as to include every fides, not only the Christian, in the quest for understanding by reason. Even this expansion of the fides, however, to all experiences of divine reality in which history constitutes itself, cannot be understood to go beyond "Christianity." For it is the Christ of the Gospel of John who says of himself: "Before Abraham was, I am" (8:58); and it is Thomas Aquinas who considers the Christ to be the head of the corpus mysticum that embraces, not only Christians, but all mankind from the creation of the world to its end. In practice this means that one has to recognize, and make intelligible, the presence of Christ in a Babylonian hymn, or a Taoist speculation, or a Platonic dialogue, just as much as in a Gospel.3

In this passage, Voegelin expands the horizon of the phenomenon of "Christianity" to the point where it is coincident with the horizon of all human experience of the mystery of divine presence worldwide. And how does he justify this expansion of the notion of "Christianity"? Drawing on the combined authority of St. Johns Gospel and St. Thomass theology, Voegelin identifies the divine presence in the existence of Jesus as experienced by Jesus himself and his apostles as an "extraordinary divine irruption," indeed a "fullness" of "irruption," of the one transcendent divine reality in which all human beings have participated and to which all human religious experience has been a response.4 In this way the symbol of "the Christ" becomes assimilable to the mystery of divine presence per se; and, on this principle, the phenomenon of "Christianity" can be claimed by Voegelinprovocatively and heterodoxicallyto include all human experience of divine reality.

    I think it worth emphasizing that this is not a case of Christian triumphalism. On the contrary, it is a case of mystical ecumenicism. Voegelin is, in this passage, as so often, insisting that the revelation of divine presence in the cosmos and in the soul is a universal human phenomenon, and that the divine mystery revealed through the teachings, actions, and presence of Jesus isnot a different divine mystery than that experienced and attested to by non-Christian and pre-Christian peoples. As Voegelin explains to Professor Altizer, in his philosophical endeavors he is

indeed attempting to "identify" . . . the God who reveals himself, not only in the prophets, in Christ, and in the apostles, but wherever his reality is experienced as present in the cosmos and in the soul of man. . . . [One can not] let revelation begin with the Israelite and Christian experiences when the mystery of divine presence in reality is attested as experienced by man, as far back as 20,000 B.C., by the petroglyphic symbols of the paleolithicum.5

In particular, he reminds us, cosmological culturescultures predating the discovery of the radical transcendence of divine being, and thus of the Israelite and Christian "God"must not be viewed as "a domain of primitive idolatry, polytheism, or paganism, but [as] highly sophisticated fields of mythic imagination, quite capable of finding the proper symbols for the concrete or typical cases of divine presence in a cosmos in which divine reality is omnipresent."6 Human consciousness, in other words, is always human-divine consciousness; divine presence is co-constitutive of human consciousness; and it is illogical, indeed ludicrous, to presume that the divine mystery to which the Greek poets and philosophers responded, or Babylonian hymn-makers, or Taoist mystics, or Indian gurus, or Sufi poets, is not the divine mystery encountered in the form of "an extraordinary divine irruption" in the person of Jesus. As Voegelin writes, the "breaking forth" of the divine-human word of truth about ultimate reality

does not in fact occur as a single manifestation of truth in history but assumes the form of an open historical field of major and minor divine-human encounters, widely dispersed in time and space over the societies who together are mankind in history. Nevertheless, in spite of the pluralistic historical form, what breaks forth in this field is the one truth of the one reality.7

Voegelins mystical ecumenicism enables him to embrace, with a philosophical rigor and enthusiasm I have yet to encounter in any other thinker, a truly universal, truly pluralistic vision of the ultimate oneness of human participation in divine being and thus of the ultimate oneness of human history. And precisely because he recognizes the global process of revelation in history as reaching, in the epiphanies flowing from the experiences of Jesus and his apostles, a certain limit of differentiation in the human understanding of divine transcendencea "climactic revelation" of the Unknown God, as he has put ithe can claim that the symbol "Christ" and the symbol "Christianity" can, in a sense, be seen as equivalent to the eternal divine mystery from which and within which all persons have lived.8

    This, then, is the mystical higher viewpoint on "Christianity" that synthesizes Voegelins comments suggesting a certain philosophical ultimacy to the Christian vision and his insistence on his own scientific impartiality and universalism. This is, as I have said, a heterodox view, and would likely be condemned as heretical by an enormous majority of ecclesiastical authorities.9 My own response to it, however, has been to find that, whenever I am once again overwhelmed by the arrogant exclusivism or myopic literalism of the Christian churches, not to mention their suffocating disregard of their own origins in the actual experiences of Jesus and his apostles, it is Voegelins diagnostic and therapeutic mysticism that manages, once again, to redeem for me "Christianitys" essential message of redemption.



1 See Eugene Webb, Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981), 44 n. 43.

2 As examples of the former, one might point to the following sentences: "The [directional] movement in reality, that has become luminous to itself in noetic [i.e.: rational-critical] consciousness, has indeed unfolded its full meaning in the Pauline vision [of the resurrected Christ] and its exegesis through the myth" (Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age (Baton Rouge: Lousisiana State University Press, 1974), 251, emphasis added); "[T]he secret of the Gospel is . . . the event of [the]full comprehension and enactment [of the mystery of divine presence in existence] through the life and death of Jesus" (Eric Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 12, Published Essays, 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 172-212 (204), emphasis added). An example of the latter is the following comment of Voegelins to Alfred Schtz in a published letter of 1953: "Essentially my concern with Christianity has no religious grounds at all. It is simply that the traditional treatment of the history of philosophy and particularly of political ideas recognizes antiquity and modernity, while the 1500 years of Christian thought and Christian politics are treated as a kind of hole in the evolution of mankind. . . . A general history of ideas must be capable of treating the phenomenon of Christianity with no less theoretical care than that devoted to Plato or Hegel" (Eric Voegelin, "Letter to Alfred Schtz: I [On Christianity], January 1, 1953," in Peter J. Opitz and Gregor Sebba, eds., The Philosophy of Order: Essays on History, Consciousness, and Politics (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1981), 449-50).

3 Eric Voegelin, "Response to Professor Altizers A New History and a New but Ancient God?", in Voegelin, Published Essays, 1966-1985, 294.

4 Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," 192. See Glenn Hughes and Frederick Lawrence, "The Challenge of Eric Voegelin," The Political Science Reviewer 25 (1995): 399-452 (428-34).

5 Voegelin, "Response to Professor Altizer," 293.

6 Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," 195-96 (emphasis added).

7 Eric Voegelin, "The Beginning and the Beyond: A Meditation on Truth," in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 28, What Is History? And Other Late Unpublished Writings, ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 173-232 (182).

8 Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture," 196.

9 Note Voegelins comment on the "heretical" character of his views on "essential Christianity" from the point of view of Catholic orthodoxy, in Voegelin, "Letter to Alfred Schtz," 457.


  Copyright 2002 Frederick Wagner


      Aaron Hoffman gave a paper at the EVS 2000 society entitled History and Faith: Eric Voegelin and Historical Jesus Research, in which he ably reviewed our topic in general and the more interesting secondary literature as well.  Now I too have read the secondary literature and, as a matter of fact, it lies about me on the floor  in stacks and heaps as I sit here at the computer.   There must be some reason why Ellis Sandoz thought  this topic was worth discussing again so soon and perhaps that will become clear in Boston!

 The topic Eric Voegelin and Christianity suggests to me three separate, but perhaps somewhat overlapping, areas of inquiry: The first would be  EVs personal relationship to Christianity.  The second would be EVs criticism of the churches.  The third would be the worth of his thought to contemporary theology.  I want to say a little about each of these areas.

  Voegelins Own Christianity

    When dealing with Voegelin's thought, the thought of a man who has alone mastered materials beyond the range of any scholar who might be active  today, and more concretely,  when I consider my own inability to independently verify the accuracy of his source materials, then I must decide whether on the whole to trust him or not. How much we trust a man about  important matters depends on our assessment of his spiritual foundation. The question of a man's spiritual state is centrally important to the question of trust when we touch on what Voegelin liked to call the quaternary structure of reality:  God, man, society and the world.  Those of us who have finally learned to  number our days perhaps have little appetite for procrastination or evasion in these matters.

  Some points then that standout when looking at EV's elusive Christianity:  Voegelins assertion to  Gerhart Niemeyer that he was a pre-Nicaean Christian is well known. Recently Manfred Henningsen wrote to me after Dante Germinos death that  in the days when  he was a graduate student, he   tried to pin down Voegelin on his Christianity  (Germino being a Catholic). Voegelin  said to him, I believe in papal infallibility and Im glad Im a Protestant! (He said this in the privacy of his office!)  And then in my own experience, some 40 or so years ago, I clearly recall EV standing on the lecture stage of a Notre Dame  auditorium and addressing the eighty or so of us undergraduates, It is fortunate that you have a Christian background, otherwise we would be wasting our time.

      Then there is the story told by Niemeyer: [After my 1976 critique of THE ECUMENIC AGE {ORDER AND HISTORY, VOL IV, CW VOL 17)] an American professor and friend of Voegelin's attacked me, in Voegelin's presence. Voegelin rejected his sharp words, saying: 'Let it be; this is a personal problem.'  Could Voegelin have meant that his personal problem was an inability to embrace the Christian faith with a personal surrender?" (Review of Politics, Winter, 1995, Vol 57, No 1, p.101)  Lastly we find in the Epilogue which has been added to the second edition of Ellis Sandoz' THE VOEGELINIAN REVOLUTION (Transaction-Rutgers, 2000), the fascinating exchange between EV and his wife Lissy, just days before he died, in which  he declares, At last I understand Christianity! And she replies: Yes, Eric, but youre going to take it with you!

      This kind of anecdotal material is pretty well known by longtime Voegelin students   and one is inclined to agree with Niemeyers conclusion that Those who still, at this point, are impatiently waiting for a judgment on Voegelins personal confession of faith should be sent to the four oclock session of tattling and gossiping, where they will undoubtedly hear something that for a time will satisfy their idle curiosity. (Ibid., RP,  p.104)

      There seem to be two strains to the criticism of Voegelins Christianity.  One is that he lacked belief in the minimal dogma required of a Christian: Trinity, Incarnation, Resurrection (and additionally for a Catholic, the Petrine Office and Magisterium, the depositum fidei, the Communion of Saints, the Mystical Body, etc.). There was the famous exchange between EV and Frederick Wihelmsen  at the University of Dallas (a Catholic school) which has left a lingering distaste there for EV. Wilhelmsen  asked EV in a public setting if Christ had risen and EV replied, No!  (In this case I suspect EV felt he was being baited by a roughneck, but nevertheless it was said.) One must note also EVs famous long letter to Schtz on January 1st of 1953, in which he displays an astonishingly superior understanding of the logic and utility of the doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, and perhaps most interestingly, those  concerning Maryall of which is prefaced by a denial of any interest in Christianity other than to fill the fifteen hundred year gap left by the modern lobotomization of history!

      In 1983 in Boston, a little more than a year before his death, EV answered questions at a seminar directed by Frederick Lawrence. At one point  EV placed dogma in a context that makes him appear stronger than  orthodox, if one may say that:

    And then you might go on to speak concretely, taking as an example the definition of Chalcedon. You can say, Yes, I believe it because I know the truth intention in it. Or you can say, My God! You have a dogma of that importance formulated with that second-rate type of philosophy that was in use in the fifth century, as compared to what we know about the matters. It is deplorable, but there is nothing we can do about it, since the dogma was formulated in the fifth century. They use such terms as the nature of man and the nature of God, which I wouldnt use today. Thus, they solve a problem which is an entirely ridiculous problem in theology on the basis of the depositum fidei.(THE BEGINNING AND BEYOND, Scholar Press, 1984 p. 101)

  The other criticism is that EV lacked the  moral personality, if I may say that, of a  Christian believer.  This morning on the internet there was published an interview with a Green Bay Packers football player, a young adult professional athlete, who came to Christianity last year. It portrays a kind of fervor that is especially esteemed in parts of Christianity:

Or some people will say, You over-use Jesus too much. Stick to football. Stick to team issues. Stay away from politics and religion. Im like saying, its not a religion. Hes my boss. Hes my Lord and Savior. Thats who I answer to. I cant over-use Jesus. The truth is the truth. If I told people anything else, Id be lying to them. And Id take that glory away from Jesus and put it on myself, but I cant do that because I have to answer to Jesus Christ. (Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilla to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter 8 August 02).

      EVs moral personality was perhaps better described instead by Ellis Sandoz:

'A dry soul is wisest and best, wrote Heraclitus and Voegelin agreed. . . . The spirit of his Quod Deus Dicitur? [his Last Testament] is in this same vein of affective austerity and invocation of the authority of the dry souls for their insight. (VR, ibid., Epilogue)

    But not always a dry soul, for in 1960 I witnessed EV in a state of red-faced anger at the brutal treatment of blacks in Mississippi by sheriff's deputies and dogs.  Any suggestion that EV was insensitive to the need for justice in this world, is in my judgment, unfounded. (as was for instance implied by Aaron Mackler in his review essay found in VOEGELINS ISRAEL AND REVELATION, Marquette U., 2000 AD).  On the contrary I would argue that  EV's whole life was spent in a courageous struggle to establish justice in society by opening first his own soul and then those of his students to the operations of Grace (or mutatis mutandis, the cool and detached Greek vocabulary he preferred)  and that he did so in the face of forces bent on his destruction by murder or ostracism.  Of course I would suggest that behind a  hint that EV didn't care enough about people there is a kind of defective paradigm that rejects the contemplative life as being one that is incapable of reaching the fullness of human stature!

      It is difficult to argue against Niemeyer's conclusion: " None of the quoted passages from Voegelin's works amounts to a confession of Christian faith on the part of Eric Voegelin. Yet, if one remembers that these are scholarly texts (even the letters) one must be profoundly astonished at the inner freedom with which Voegelin can speak of God and Christian dogmas." (Review of Politics,  ibid., p 96)  The phrase "inner freedom" worked like a splash of ice water  in my face!  Of course!  Only a personality in erotic tension, or if you like, in the tension of the life of pneumatic existence, could describe with such loving detail the beauties (and flaws) of his beloved. 

  All the while once must keep in mind, as Aaron Hoffman put it: " Voegelin in 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." (Hoffman, "History and Faith," ibid.)

  Lastly one might want to consider whether EV should be considered a mystic philosopher.  EV deals from time to time with mystical experiences as though he were talking about things familiar and true rather than as someone assessing a strange phenomenon from the outside.  But if we limit the name "mystic" to those who have had an immediate experience of God, I don't know whether EV should be included. 

  Glen Hughes ponders the question and  suggests that while for EV mysticism is necessarily at the core of the Christian tradition,  in his own work it appropriately remains in the background. (MYSTERY AND MYTH IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF ERIC VOEGELIN, 1993, p 59). He refers us to Eugene Webb in his ERIC VOEGELIN: PHILOSOPHER OF HISTORY, (1981, p 44, n. 43) who  quotes a line from Gregor Sebba's Essay "Prelude and Variations on the Theme of Eric Voegelin" which originally appeared in Southern Review, n.s., 13 (1977 )p. 665: "To me Eric Voegelin has always been an exemplary representative of rationality in the Greek sense, but when I argued that against a statement calling him a mystic philosopher he wrote back: 'This will shock you, but I am a mystic philosopher.'" (By the way, I can't find this IN ERIC VOEGELIN'S THOUGHT: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL, 1982, where the Sebba essay  is reprinted on pages 3 to 65.)

  It is otherwise hard to understand EV's attitude of absolute certainty on the great questions, an attitude which seems to depend less on accumulated learning than on a penetrating vision. There is a truly remarkable exchange between EV and  graduate students  in Montreal in 1976:

  E.V.  [Students always ask the question:]  Where do you get this Divine revelation?  Where is the Divine presence?

 You are sitting here and asking questions.  Why?  Because you have that divine kinesis in you that moves you to be interested.:

  Q.  Cant I just call it interest?

E.V.   You can call it interest, but it is the revelatory presence, of course, that pushes you or pulls you.  Its there.  We are talking.

(CONVERSATIONS WITH ERIC VOEGELIN, IV(1976) , Montreal, 1980.  p. 140.)

Voegelins Criticism of the Churches

Voegelins criticism  of the Churches naturally falls into two  areas: personalities and institutions, the former being primarily Protestant and the latter being primarily Catholic.  Since the Protestant foundations are dependent to some extent on the personalities of their founders, it is not surprising that when it was revealed that EV had unsheathed his scalpel  in THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL IDEAS,  he lost a few friends!   (See The Great Confusion I: Luther and Calvin (RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION, HPI Vol. IV,  CW 22, Part 5, Ch 1),

But of course EV didnt actually do this; rather his  literary executors and trustees did it!  If we recall, the manuscript for  the projected History of Political Ideas  ran to somewhere between 10 and 12 volumes.  EV mined the early volumes for the first three volumes of ORDER AND HISTORY and permitted John Hallowell to extract late materials to make up the volume entitled  FROM ENLIGHTENMENT TO REVOLUTION published in 1975 by Duke U. Press (subsequently reappearing in HPI).  EV also published essays based on the manuscript, such as The Origins of Scientism (1948) (reprinted in PUBLISHED ESSAYS, 1940-1952, CW Vol 10. p. 168). 

As far as the materials that were not published in his lifetime, among which must be included those on Luther and Calvin, EV on occasion expressed reservations:  that he would have had  to rework the materials in the manuscript to bring them up to a current state of  scholarship; that the restoration of science following upon the slough that constituted positivism had  led to the proliferation of good scholarship, that the explosion of such good scholarship had made it impossible for one man to keep abreast of all current developments, and lastly, and I suspect most importantly, that he no longer cared to spend his remaining time on these pre-philosophical matters.

Nevertheless we are faced with a collection of almost ruthless critiques of Martin Luther and John Calvin, primarily, and with additional  hard blows against the Puritans, John Milton, John "Dutch Lunch" Locke, and the "spiritual thinning of the English" in general.  The reaction has been swift and barbed, as in Joshua Mitchell's 2000 EVS paper titled "Voegelin and the Scandal of Luther: Philosophy, Faith and the Modern Age," in which EV is portrayed as a producer of anti-Reformation writings consistent with his anti-democratic and  aristocratic elitism.

Likewise there is William Stevenson's "An Agnostic View of Voegelin's Gnostic Calvin." Both essays, I suggest, were composed using unanalyzed terminologythe pre scientific doxic vocabulary that EV always tried to avoid. Both essays, I further suggest, violated a prime canon of Voegelin's own scholarship, which is that one must evaluate the historic development of materials from the time of their origin, through  to the present, and  on their own  ground; and one may not arbitrarily select a date before which everything may be conveniently ignored and after which history really begins.  Nor may one leap over and past awkward periods of time (As does a standard text in philosophy, recently  shown to me by a friend, in which philosophy peters out with the Stoics and resumes  sixteen hundred years later with Descartes!)

I do not mean to argue that EV gave the correct measure of Luther and Calvin.  I am not equipped to evaluate his judgment here; I can say however, that on many occasions I have gone to the original materials Voegelin writes about and have never gotten a sense of a forced interpretation or, in fact, any distortion whatsoever.  But it must be said that text A may mean something different in the light of text B and text C so one needs to look at them all to be sure!  On the other hand, EV was describing pneumopathologic behavior, by his standards standards he rather uniformly applied to historical figures.  So it is necessary to distinguish between the rejection of EV's diagnostic techniques and   misdiagnosis in a particular case.  I do not think these critics have weighed the issue of  whether EV's diagnostic technique is valid.  In any event, Thomas Heilke, in his "Calvin, Gnosis and Anti-PhilosophyVoegelin's Interpretation of the Reformation," (EVS 2000) presented EV's views in great detail, without critically evaluating them in relation to the source materials themselves or the accumulated scholarship on these personalities.

With respect to personalities in the Catholic Church, EV never attacks its foundational figures and no one seems to mind too much when he criticizes popes and theologians, from the Jesuit Francisco de Vitoria ("Who is this man Vitoria? Is he a smooth rascal who writes his lectures tongue-in-cheek? Is he a professional lawyer who defends a racket for a fee? Or is he an egregious example of the human capacity for self-deception?" CW Vol 23 (HPI-V), Chapter 4) to Pius XII ("[the Encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi which first appeared ] in 1943, makes the most severe contraction of the membership of the church that it had ever received, insofar as here the community of the corpus mysticum is limited very strictly to members of the Catholic Church who have received the sacrament. Whoever does not have this sacramental character is not a member of the church, and since 'church' is now identified with corpus mysticum, he is, so to say, not a member of the corpus mysticum. . . . However, a theologian like [Karl] Rahner, certainly in the framework of the formulated Christian doctrinal pronouncements, as, for example, in this encyclical, has to behave himself. He must now erect all sorts of interesting constructions to make these doctrinal pronouncements compatible with his intended thesis, that Christ is the head of all men." [HITLER AND THE GERMANS, CW VOL 31, CH 5, Descent into the Ecclesiastic Abyss-The Catholic Church, pp 210-212]). (Parenthetically I will mention that I did read the long Rahner piece found in his THEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS, VOL II, [Man and the Church ,1963, 1990, p.1] and, as has always been  the case for me, cannot quarrel with EV's interpretation of the text.) 

EV's specific criticism of the Catholic Church  under Nazi domination is scathing:  After he lists ten guidelines to be used by the clergy in reforming their souls, he finishes with "Instructions for use of these guidelines: Lower clergy, copy it out daily ten times; bishops and theologians, daily a hundred times; theologians who have received a Cross of Merit from the Federal Republic, daily two hundred times, until they have got it" (Ibid., CW 31. 4 "Guidelines" for German Clerics and Theologians, pp 199-201.)

            Voegelin often strikes hard and then restores most of what goes flying. It is a technique for getting at the root of things.  As Jacques Maritain has written:

"Before sewing one must cut. A philosopher who is in search of the nature of things is obliged to begin with sharp distinctions. These distinctions may seem brutal. They simply deal with certain essences taken in themselves: and how could we bring out otherwise the intelligibility of things from the confused flux of existence? To isolate an essence does not imply any disregard for the complexity and continuity of the real. It is indispensable in order to analyze this complexity and continuity in a correct mannerand finally to become aware of their very richness and meaning."  (CREATIVE INTUITION IN ART AND POETRY, 1953, p. 44.)

I suspect a number of people,  ranging from Hannah Arendt and Frederick Wilhelmsen down through Joshua Mitchell and William Stevenson, have not fully understood this modus operandi, which I believe is also Voegelin's.   And most of his critics, or perhaps all of them, have failed to master his philosophy of consciousness.

 Voegelin's Thought  and Contemporary Theology

If we can first agree that EV believed that theology and philosophy are rightly considered the same subject, then when I say "theology" I will mean that part of philosophy dealing particularly with man and God taken togetherthat which those in the theology profession call "theology."  It seems to me that Voegelin has performed several valuable services of which modern  theology ought to be made aware: he has brought into clear focus the problems associated with dogma or doctrinization;  second, he has given us a fresh view of some of the Jesus and Gospel issues; third,  has developed his philosophy of consciousness which is useful to make Christianity seem more  congruent with our experiences.

With respect to dogma and the churches, EV often said that dogma or doctrinization led to the forgetting of the underlying experiences and led to the war between the dogmatic adherents, the "dogmatomachy," and eventually to the immanentist's  refutation of dogma once the underlying truth had been forgotten by all parties.  I would add from personal experience that fideism is still sufficiently common today that discussion may be  virtually impossible with those who refuse to step away from doctrine lest thought lead to diminution of faith.                                                                                                                                                                       

 As EV said in response to questions in 1970:

  "Dogma separated from questioning is the style of ideologizing statements.  If you look at those completely ridiculous attacks by Voltaire and Diderot on Christianity, you see that they always criticize statements; they are never aware that behind a statement there is a question to be answered by it...

"That style of degenerative doctrinism in Christianity of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is continued today." (CONVERSATIONS WITH ERIC VOEGELIN, III, Montreal, 1980. p 102) 

            Of course EV would say that  dogma is necessary.  It protects the truth against the fool, the nabala, the man who in his heart says, There is no God. It allows the truth, the depositum fideii, to be transmitted  by the religious institution from generation to generation. By simply becoming aware of this problem in its current and historical manifestations, the theologian can avoid endless traps and dead ends.  EV didnt discover this problem, but by making it thematic, he encourages us to remain constantly aware of it.

The fresh views of Jesus and the Gospel that EV has provided us are found principally in THE ECUMENIC AGE (CW  Vol17, O&H IV) and in such essays as The Gospel and Culture (CW Vol 12).  I do not want to repeat here the extensive and edifying exposition of these later writings by such distinguished men as William M.  Thompson, who has himself internalized Voegelins thought and made it his own in such works as CHRISTOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY (1991, New York) as well as explaining EVs philosophy of consciousness  in numerous essays:

            This brings us to the conclusion of our analysis of Voegelin's analysis of the Christ-event.  I will now bring this essay to a close by indicating what I find

particularly suggestive for those of us engaged in christology.  Perhaps what I should begin with is the probable difficulty the theologian will experience in reading our author, a difficulty which contains a promise.  Voegelin is engaged in a kind of therapeutic

philosophical-theological task.  He views his Order and History as a way of helping us to become conscious of our deformation of our inherited symbolisms and simultaneously of reawakening ourselves "to the truth of reality as it reveals itself in history" (OH, IV, 58).

            He wants to reawaken our consciousness to the theophanic experiences giving rise to the classic and Judaeo-Christian symbolisms.  As Altizer put it, What establishes his as a radical project is that these symbolisms achieve a new form if not a new meaning in his reconstruction.  Voegelin, like Ricoeur, is radical and reactionary at once and altogether, thus baffling all who attempt to employ him either for political or theological ends.   To read him requires nothing less than learning to understand history in a new way. 

            His experiential analyses of theophanic consciousness simply force us to overcome many well accepted dogmas and dichotomies:  that history is linear and necessarily progressive; that the insights of Hellas result from merely human effort while those of Israel-Christianity stem from revelation; that the true advances have only occurred in the West, with no parallels in the Orient; that every advance is a further overcoming of possible deformation; that reason and faith stand in opposition to one another, etc.  In this light we can perhaps appreciate the novelty of his language:  theophanic experience, Metaxy, history becoming luminous for its truth, noetic and pneumatic differentiations, etc.  This novel language is therapeutic:  it enables us to transcend our inherited understanding of our symbolisms and to engage in the effort to reenact in consciousness the founding experiences of our great tradition.  The simultaneous clarity and obscurity of this language is quite purposeful, for that is what real history is:  a Mystery (the obscurity) which through experiences of differentiation becomes luminous for its truth (the clarity).  Need I indicate that all of this has great relevance for christology?."

( VOEGELIN AND THE THEOLOGIAN,  Voegelin on Jesus Christ, 1983, Lewiston, NY. pp 204-205.)

            In his book CONSCIOUSNESS AND TRANSCENDENCETHE THEOLOGY OF ERIC VOEGELIN,  Notre Dame, 1994,  Michael Morrissey has offered us a densely written yet eloquent exposition of EVs innovations and renovations in theology.  (Please bear with my extensive quotations.  His observations are important and irreducible!)

   1.  First there is Voegelins  revitalization of the Anselmian view to give it full breadth beyond time and place:

Consequently, Voegelin believes that the proper method of this inquiry must be something like the fides quaerens intellectum and the correlative credo ut intelligam that was first formulated by St. Anselm in the eleventh century. The only significant difference is that Voegelin's inquiry, following the exigencies of the contemporary world, expands beyond the Christian horizon of Anselm's fides in order to include the
manifold of pre-Christian and non-Christian theophanic events.(Ibid.,  p.151)

. . . .Nevertheless, Voegelin argues, the formulation of the inquiry bestowed on us by Anselm remains durable and sound. It only needs to be generalized so as to include all the manifestations of divine presence in history. In short, the firm tie to the Christian creed that quaerens intellectum has traditionally borne must today be broken. In this time-honored theological phrase, Voegelin argues, is contained the potential for a profound analysis of historical reality beyond the confines of its inception. "Faith seeking understanding" can be structurally applied not only to the creedal faith of Christians but also to the questing symbolizations of a Taoist speculation, a Platonic dialogue, an Egyptian
Amon hymn, or a prehistoric petroglyph. Furthermore, Voegelin claims, if one is to take seriously Jesus' statement that "Before Abraham was, I am," then a philosopher must make intelligible the ubiquitous presence of Christ in these symbolizations just as much as in a Gospel.

Of course this kind of expansion of a Christian symbol will undoubtedly meet much resistance, so Voegelin has to devise its generalized formulation carefully. To do so he returns to the source: Anselm's Proslogion.  The intent of Anselm's meditation in the Proslogion, he states, has been seriously clouded under centuries of interpretation which found in it the so-called ontological proof for the existence of God. The identification of Anselm's argument with this anachronistic phrase effectively assured that the fides behind the quest would become lost.  Voegelin argues that the centuries of distortion spawned by the critics of Anselm who associated his text with the so-called ontological proof (i.e., Gaunilo, Thomas, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Kant,
and Hegel) mutilated Anselm's true insight. Only in our century, he believes, has the experiential content of Anselm's fides been recovered by studies such as Karl Bath's Fides Quaerens Intellectum in 1931, and Gilson's The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, the Gifford Lectures of the same year.(Ibid., p. 152)

2.  For Voegelin it is essential to avoid the objectifying intention of consciousness in addressing the non-intentionality of the spirit:

What makes [Bernard] Lonergan's transcendental method inadequate for Voegelin is that in using the language of "intention" it becomes too easily associated with the kind of deficient intentionality that is pervasive in contemporary thought on consciousness, such as Husserl's phenomenology, which for critical reasons Voegelin seeks to avoid. The intention of consciousness present in the perception of external objects invariably becomes the model for understanding the intention toward divine reality. Consciousness understood in this way tends to objectify whatever is the so-called object of consciousness even if the object is no object at all, but instead transcendent mystery. The objectifying intention of consciousness, thus, is always in tension with the consciousness of nonobjective reality. Because the transcendental method takes its stand on the intentional operations of consciousness, it cannot do full justice to the nonintentional opening toward divine reality. (Ibid., p. 213)

3.  Then Voegelin refuses the ontological vs. symbolic distinction:

. . . Voegelin's theory of consciousness allows him to avoid the deforming confusion wrought by Christian thinkers who draw a distinction between "ontological statements" (which purportedly describe the real truth of things) and "symbolic statements" (which are allegedly "only" evocative and rhetorical). But Voegelin would have none of this. Instead he would say that the truth of Christianity is eminently symbolic and not "ontological," a conclusion made not to destroy Christianity but to free it from a literalist deformation, for in the end one cannot separate "revealed truth" from symbol and myth. Transcendence can only be articulated in an analogical language replete with inevitable ambiguity. Such is the nature of human knowing in the realm of transcendence. Within the orbit of faith one cannot move from mythos to logos pure and simple, for reason itself can not provide the ground for affirming transcendent reality. For example, to say "Jesus is the Son of God" is a symbolic, analogical statement whose truth is apprehended in faith; it is not an ontological statement of rational discourse (which often is based in an extrinsic objectivism that, as Lonergan puts it, is so objective as to get along without minds).This view of knowledge and language follows Thomas' analogia entis, a principle of theologizing which Voegelin adopts. Ultimately one cannot escape the form of symbol and myth in theology; certitude is simply not available.  Faith must tell its story in the penultimate language of inescapably ambiguous symbols seeking ever-greater adequacy.(Ibid., p.232)

4.  The restoration of myth to the core of Christianity has been a central part of Voegelins work:

As early as the 1940s Voegelin argued that this loss of spiritual substance was due in large measure to the destruction of the myth. When the symbols of Christianity met their rational, historical critique at the beginning of modernity, the integrity of Christian truth was doomed. At the heart of the matter was the fact that the symbolic
language of Christianity, stemming from its Hebrew and Hellenistic
origins, was mythical. The myth was the specific vehicle "for expressing the truth of transcendent reality, its incarnation and its operation in man."  In the early Christian centuries this language was not a myth in the modern pejorative sense. It was the precise way to designate religious reality. It only became a "myth" after Christianity was penetrated by the rationalism and the historicizing sciences of the last three centuries. It was the stunning critique of these intellectual movements that debunked the "first naivete" (to use Paul Ricoeur's term) of popular symbols and dogmas and left the teaching authority of the Church with less and less credence. Voegelin's whole endeavor to reconstruct a Christian philosophy of history is rooted in the very urgent need to recover through a "second naivete the original meaning of the ancient symbolisms, and thus to restore their authoritative status in a way that prevents their institutionalized perversion. This entails a reappraisal and recovery of the myth.    The myth is the permanent guarantee for  maintaining consciousness as luminosity. The loss of the myth has meant the loss of the consciousness of the It-reality. For Voegelin, the symbolic form of the myth can alone regenerate the transcending movement of the self toward mystery and the eternal, as well as restrain the immanentizing forces of modern gnosticism. (Ibid., p. 230)

5.  One of Voegelins major achievements has been to reunite the Jesus of history with the Christ of faith:

[Christology today] attempts to wed critically the Christ of faith with the Jesus of history, as the Gospels themselves clearly attempted to do. I believe this fundamental problem can only be assuaged by remembering Voegelin's theory of consciousness, metaxy, tensions, pushes and pulls. It is Voegelin's foundational principle that revelation occurs not in the external world of things but in the in-between of divinehuman metalepsis. The critical focus has to remain on the metaleptic consciousness of divine presence that can be discerned in the original experiences and symbols of theophanic eventsVoegelin's first hermeneutical principle being that symbols must not be torn from their engendering experiences. Their meaning is moored to their source of emergence: the persons who experienced, interpreted, and understood the transcendent reality they objectified through their symbolic imagination. This is why, instead of focusing on the historical Jesus, Voegelin concerns himself with the kerygmata of a Paul, a John, or a Matthew as providing the privileged, indeed the only, access to Christ. The only "historical Jesus" we can know is the one known by the New Testament authors. The event of the theotes coming into revelatory luminosity in Jesus and his disciples is the significant reality behind the symbolic language that expresses the event. There would be no Christ without those who pronounced the Christ and recognized the Christ in Jesus. This event of recognition and the symbolic articulation of it cannot be separated.(Ibid., p. 233)                       

        Morrissey has recently applied this analysis to six contemporary theologians who write without an understanding of metalepsis. The devastating  (and sometimes humorous)  results may be read inEric Voegelin and the New Testament:Developments, Problems and Challenges,in POLITICS, ORDER AND HISTORY, Sheffield, 2001, pp. 462-500.

6. In further comparing Bernard Loergan with Voegelin, Morrissey notes a problem with Voegelin's expressed understanding that has bothered many:

There is a dimension in Lonergan's thought, however,that is markedly absent in Voegelin's. It comes to light due perhaps to the fact the Lonergan is indeed a confessional Christian theologian. Although Voegelin is nonpareil in his analysis of personal and social order and his resistance to disorder, he has not fully grasped the Christian mystery of "the law of the cross" that answers the problem of sin and evil in human existence. The order of self-transcending love that redeems us from the struggles of finitude is only hinted at in Voegelin's "Wisdom" essay, nowhere else. The tale that is a saving tale is true of both Plato's philosopher's tale as well as the Gospel, but the Christian belief that in the cross God's solution to the problem of Lonergan is much stronger on articulating this dimension of human experience."

I would interject here that whatever inadequacies one find in Voegelin's exposition do not cause the edifice to come crashing down. Nor are they a trap for the unwary. One notes them and moves on past them.


One can only speculate how Voegelin's theological explorations will be received over time. The Dante Germino wrote in 1985: " To me, Eric Voegelin saw himself in The New Science of Politics and in the letter to Schtz as a New Thomas Aquinas." ("Voegelin, Christianity, and political theory: the new science of politics reconsidered, Revista Internazionale de filosofia del dritto, 1985, Vol 62,).  I felt Germino also saw Voegelin that way at that time.  

And Ellis Sandoz has written:

"As [William] James subsequently said, 'Souls have worn out both themselves and their welcome, that is the plain truth.' Soul, psyche and consciousness are equivalent terms in philosophy. And James added this afterthought: 'But if the belief in the soul ever does come to life after the many funeral-discourses which Humian and Kantian criticism have preached over it, I am sure it will be only when some one has found in the term a pragmatic significance that has hitherto eluded observation. When that champion speaks, as he well may speak some day, it will be time to consider souls more seriously.'

    "That 'champion' has appeared in Voegelin, for while he accepts virtually all of James's analysis (including the nonexistence of consciousness-soul), yet the latter comes to life nonetheless in his theory of consciousness, which rests on the analysis of experience showing consciousness-soul as a dimension of nonexistent reality." (THE VOEGELINIAN REVOLUTION, 1st edition, pp 176-177)

I rather like Morrissey's conclusion that Voegelin, without so naming it has given us a new Christian philosophy of history:

" . . . . Voegelin's work has been from the start an indisputable attempt to construct a new Christian philosophy of history apposite the contemporary world, a philosophy which theologians ought to begin to take seriously. What makes his work so challenging to Christian theology is not only its broad scope, intellectual rigor, and outright persuasiveness, but also its independence from any Church authority. The authoritative weight it carries is principally due to the experiences it claims to be founded in. Like philosophy itself, its authority is intrinsically rooted in the truth it alone is beholden to. This posture of an independent philosopher who is free form external constraints, political and ecclesial, goes back at least as far as Socrates, the progenitor of the philosophical life whose love of truth and wisdom sealed his fate, thus giving to philosophy every after a sense of sacrificial risk when it is practiced among its 'cultured despisers,''' (Ibid., p. 228)

I hope these ruminations are useful, at least in so far as they try to touch on the high points of a broad topic, "Voegelin and Christianity." It seems to me that while the area of Voegelin's personal belief will always remain an area for speculation and his criticism of the churches will likely be an impediment for some, what we call in a kind of shorthand, "philosophy of consciousness," now has and will continue to have an inestimable value for thinking about the life of the spirit. ###fjw



Voegelin, Christianity, and Murakamis

all gods children can dance


Copyright 2002 Tom DEvelyn



In the text Paul brought to our attention, Voegelin writes:

The modernist topicality of Christianity may have obscured the fact of my dealing all the time with problems of Christianity when dealing with aspects of order which also may appear to fall under other topics.

A study of a cluster of concepts presented in Anamnesis helps us understand what Voegelin means by the modernist topicality of Christianity.

Among the cluster of topics Voegelin repeatedly returns to is the topic Metaxy. In Eternal Being in Time, Voegelin writes about the Metaxy in terms of flow:

We remain in the in-between, in a temporal flow of experience in which eternity is nevertheless present. . . . The concept most suitable to express the presence of eternal being in the temporal flow is flowing presence. (6:329).

Yet the phenomenon of flow points to an understanding of the roots of consciousness in the sphere of the body. If I said to a class of adult learners at Brown University, the function of the soul is to flow, I could sell a lot of snake oil or its contemporary equivalent in self-therapy. Voegelin separates the concepts flow and soul. He says,

it is precisely the function of human consciousness to move away from this vanishing point, not to flow but rather to constitute the spaceless and timeless world of meaning, sense, and the order of the soul. (6:64)

In another essay in Anamnesis, he writes,

In the experience of flowing presence, there occurs a meeting of time with eternity, and of man with God. An experience of this metaxy, therefore, can put its accent modally on either the human seeking-and-receiving pole, or on the divine giving-and-commanding pole. (6: 335)

One accent, he argues, yields philosophy, the other accent revelation. And yet traditional Christians have not been keenly attentive to flow. At the end of the essay Voegelin ponders the shortcoming of Augustinian allegory in the exploration of modes of experiencing the flowing presence, claiming that only contemporary historians and comparativists have cleared the way for understanding flow.

This cluster of topics, applied to a fiction about modern Christianity, help us respond to the second part of Pauls passage, the ironic but still pointed proposal: If anybody is dissatisfied with the results hitherto published, or cannot wait for more, he is heartily invited to take a hand at the task himself.

Which brings me to a recent story by Haruki Murakami, the contemporary Japanese writer. The story is called all gods children can dance and it appears in his new collection after the quake.

It is, for starters, a satire on contemporary Christian cults in Japan. The protagonist Yoshiya is a victim of the kind of mass spiritual illiteracy Voegelin has taken pains over the years to point out as symptomatic of modernity. And yet through the protagonists sincere search for his father, whom he has never known, Yoshiya arrives at a place it is a baseball field which will be the site of his epiphany. In a remarkable development of consciousness, Yoshiya becomes profoundly aware of his own potential for evil and in the last line of the story, acknowledges the fearful transcendence of God.

This moment of self-understanding does not happen in a vacuum. It happens as part of a process, after the episode of dancing in which Yoshiya bound himself to the forest of experience, when he recognized that the forest was inside him . . . The dancing episode ends as he looks down and notes that the firm ground on which he dances is the roof of a subterranean world in which hides phenomena like earthquakes ready to reduce the human world to rubble.

These, too, were helping to create the rhythm of the earth. He stopped dancing and, catching his breath, stared at the ground beneath his feet as though peering into a bottomless hole.

Thus Murakami dramatizes consciousness as a scene of differentiation, a site of impersonal drama. It is with the dying of the dance, and Yoshiyas awakening to his own mere humanity, that Yoshiya spontaneouslyand perhaps blasphemously-- calls out Gods name.

Is Murakami a connoisseur of life in the Metaxy? In his image of the bottomless hole over which Yoshiya has been dancing, Murakami may be drawing on a tradition exemplified by the haiku artist Issa (1763-1827), who wrote: In the midst of this world/We stroll along the roof of hell/ gawking at flowers.

Murakamis characters are quintessentially modernpost-Cartesian-- in their alienation from their bodies. Yoshiyas redemption is to break out of the conceptual prison that governed his life a prison characterized by a Christian idiom that disfigures not only Christian truth but those who adopt the idiom. Yet when Yoshiya gave up the search for his human father, meaning itself broke down:

So what if the man was his father, or God, or some stranger . . .? It no longer made any difference to him, and this in itself had been a manifestation, a sacrament: should he be singing words of praise?

In a minute he had begun to dance.

In some senses, Murakamis art is profoundly traditional. He writes, Kneeling on the pitchers mound, Yoshiya gave himself up to the flow of time. Yoshiyas experience had been perverted by a form of angelism, but after his experience of flow, he seems ready to join humanity in time. But as we have seen, Voegelin writes: In the experience of the flowing presence, there occurs a meeting of time with eternity, and of man with God. Voegelins standard helps us measure the quality of Yoshiyas experience and perhaps Murakamis vision within the topicality of modernist Christianty. And yet, the ambiguity of the story, captured brilliantly in the final line-- Oh God, Yoshiya said aloud-- nevertheless suggests the process of the search for meaning in the Metaxy.

In his analysis of order, Voegelin could deal with modern Christianity as just another topic because he developed more general topics like Metaxy. For his part, Murakami sees Christianity is one among several movements within modern culture that illuminate the tensions within consciousness. Both philosopher and novelist explore the modernist topicality of Christianity.

Seen both as confirmations and departures from Voegelins conceptual schemes, Murakamis stories help us map the Metaxy. A study of Voegelins Metaxy helps us map consciousness. In some analogous fashion, both conceptual analysis and story help us locate the body and the flow within a larger whole, a whole suggested by Voegelins concept of the presence of eternal being. If Voegelin is a mystic philosopher and it does seem that this is a consensus position it may be that his topical approach to Christianity was not merely determined by the facts on the ground. There may be a pious motivation. It seems impertinent to ask Voegelin to name this presence. Likewise, Murakamis fiction preserves the mystery.




The Philosophers Slant on Christianity

  Copyright 2002 Theodore R. Weber


         I do not ask whether my late and very great teacher, Eric Voegelin, was a Christian or was not. Rather, I ask whether he understood Christianity primarily from within its own originating historical experience or from within the experience of the mystic philosopher seeking to understand the order of history from the history of order. The latter seems clearly to be the case, and that perspective produced an interpretation of Christianity and its effects that is open to serious challenge. For Voegelin, Christianity represented soteriological truth following on anthropological truth following on cosmological truth in the differentiation of the consciousness of reality. It completed the process of differentiation by disclosingas did Israelthe gracious movement of God toward humankind to complement the hellenic understanding of the movement of the human being toward God. Most Christian theologians, and certainly all theologians in the Reformation traditions, would agree with this emphasis on divine grace as the heart of the Christian message, even if they would not necessarily see it as complementing a human movement toward God.

            The problem is that Voegelin positioned Christianity mainly in the succession of the Greek philosophers and not in that of the Hebrew prophets. The revelation of this grace in history, he wrote, through the incarnation of the Logos in Christ, intelligibly fulfilled the adventitious movement of the spirit in the mystic philosophers. (NSP, 78) Christianity moved away from Jewish messianic and apocalyptic expectations to the understanding of the church as the apocalypse of Christ in history in a process of evolution in which the specific essence of Christianity separated from its historical origin. (NSP, 108) The specific essence of Christianity is defined in Greek terms by the opening of consciousness to transcendent being, not in Hebraic terms by the descent of God to be with Gods people in their history and to fulfill the promises of their liberation. Accordingly, Voegelin applauds the suppression of Jewish elements in Christianity and the decision by Augustine to move the eschaton from the end of history to a point of transcendence above history. This achievement represents the maximum realization of consciousness of being. Its definitive statement is in the medieval philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

            Voegelin takes his stand with the Platonic, Stoic, and ultimately Aristotelian capture of Christianity and its sacralizing of the hierarchical and coordinating powers of state and churchexactly the arrangement that other interpreters of the Christian experience have seen as the true derailment of Christianity. One consequence is that order has primacy in his scale of political values.  The Hebraic concern for justice seems to be absent. At times he speaks contemptuously of the masses and their concerns. Voegelin certainly is correct that the divine-human tension cannot be resolved in history, and that movements promising the resolution of all human ills in history should be criticized and resisted. However, he has created a framework of interpretation in which almost any efforts or movements for justice can be dismissed by the guardians of power as Gnostic, heretical, and dangerous.

            I regret that Professor Voegelin did not take cognizance of the Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr also was severely critical of movements Voegelin considered Gnostic in essence. Like Voegelin, he believed that the problematic of human nature (for Niebuhr, original sin) was a permanent element of experience and could not be resolved in history. However, for Niebuhr the essence of Christianity was the sacrificial love of the cross, not the ascent to the beatific vision. Sacrificial love meant love for the neighbor, and love for the neighbor implied a quest for justice. This quest required challenges to the established powers, but not a transformation of human nature and history. At this point, Niebuhr and Voegelin could have had a very interesting conversation.

            Another consequence was that Voegelin saw every movement away from the medieval synthesis as a deformation of Christianity. That was how he read history from the philosophers standpoint. He could find no positive place for the messianic tendencies inherent in Christianity or for efforts to return to sources that were not dominated by philosophical concepts. Medieval sectarian movements were derailments, eruptions with Jewish symbols against the maximum differentiation of truth, not serious social protests against the condominium of state and church (and property). Voegelin portrayed the  Protestant Reformation, at least in The New Science of Politics, as the catalytic event for the emergence to power of gnosticism, supporting that assessment with what he acknowledged to be an extreme Puritan example, and not balancing it with Calvinisms constitutionalism, Martin Luthers Hard Book against the Peasants and his understanding of the Christian as simul iustus et peccator, and the Anabaptist Schleitheim Confessionall of which reject implicitly the immanentizing of the eschaton.

            The problem is in the method: Voegelin understood Christianity as a development primarily in the line of the philosophers, the emergence of its essence requiring the suppression of its Hebraic roots. Christianity when understood as emerging from Judaism, not from Greece, looks different, as do elements of its succeeding history. Its messianic elements then must be taken seriously, even if they must be reinterpreted in the light of a theology of cross and resurrection. The philosophical elements which it finds useful must be subordinated to that theology, not dominate them, and must support the divine work of liberation and reconciliation in history, not repudiate them.