[書摘] The Time that Remains: Hans-Georg Geyer in the Intellectual Debate about a Central Question in the Twentieth Century

The Resurrection from Grünewald's Isenheim Alt...


Gerrit Neven, ‘The Time that Remains: Hans-Georg Geyer in the Intellectual Debate about a Central Question in the Twentieth Century’ in Theology as Conversation: The Significance Of Dialogue In Historical And Contemporary Theology: A Festschrift For Daniel L. Migliore, Bruce McCormack and Kimlym J. Bender eds., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009, pp. 67-81

My Summary:

Whereas initially Nietzsche and Marx only proclaim the death of God, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze proclaim with equal force the death of a man (cf. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, 1994, esp. the last chapter, and Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, 1993).

Following Barth, Geyer gives the Parousia the determinative role concerning various theological aspects of reconciliation. The Messiah’s having drawn near is the precondition of a future-oriented and therefore a dialogical mode of thinking. The Parousia points to a nearness of salvation that does not supernaturally demolish time and history, but rather breaks open time and history from within [messianically] by turning to the risky expectation of the Messiah, for whom each moment in time is an open entrance.

This expectation leads to intensive forms of discussion and debate with not just  theologians but also with [critical and phenomenological] thinkers like Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger , Horkheimer, Bloch, Sartre, and so on. The focus is the humanity of Christ.

(Hans-Georg Geyer [1929-1999]  studied in Frankfurt during 1950-1954 with Hans-Georg Gadamer, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, and Wolfgang Kramer before he turned to the study of systematic theology (at Gottingen, Berlin, Wuppertal, and Bonn.)

As early as 1962, Geyer declared his agreement with Walter Benjamin’s Theological-Political Fragment. According to Benjamin, only the Messiah himself will consummate all that is happening historically, in the sense that only he himself will redeem and consummate the creation in its relation to the messianic.[1] Therefore, nothing historical can relate itself to something messianic on its own account. With this, he distanced himself from the idea that historical convictions, scientific achievements, or political opinions have in themselves the potential to make “the jump-ahead” to a time which is qualitatively new and different. Our knowledge is determined by economic and political factors. The desire to know is driven by a force consisting only of what can be [pragmatically or in a utilitarian manner] calculated. This [social/structural] force and the history of freedom contradict each other (analogous to the tension between poststructuralism and structuralism/rationalism).

Geyer here introduces the topic of faith in the post-liberal sense. He says, “faith, getting involved with and trusting upon the message concerning Christ, is at the same time radically renouncing the desire to discover the truth of the proclamation and past history”.

This criticism of metaphysics (of absolute certainly) is also part of the thinking projects of Moltmann and Pannenberg, for whom the future became the paradigm of transcendence. But both of them have felt that they have to leave Barth behind for they deem Barth’s system closed and ahistorical. Geyer does not share this view.

Geyer inherits early Barth’s dialectical theology. He is convinced that our time is an implication of the Parousia of Jesus Christ. His intensive debate with Moltmann and Pannenberg  is concerning the epistemology of hope. That is to say, if God’s new coming in the Parousia is an implication of the concrete identity of Jesus Christ, then how do we find his identity? He doubts whether for Moltmann and Pannenberg “the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” are constitutive–and as opposed to merely illustrative— of the exegesis of biblical texts and of the practices of the Christian community. For according to Geyer, Moltmann and Pannenberg’s definition of history and Parousia did not clearly distinguish “the future as an end that we should strive for” (the anthropocentric) from “the future as the goal of God’s exclusive act” (the theocentric). His ultimate criticism is that the theology of Moltmann and Pannenberg is enclosed by a metaphysical correlation between God and the world. Transcendence is devoured by immanence.

To solve this problem, Geyer here uses Husserl’s concepts of protention (the succession of the historical accordance and its end) and retention. The protention in Jesus denotes the continuity between the character of Jesus’ conduct and his fate—death. According to Geyer, this historical fate can undergo an intensification or an ontological deepeningonly by the event of the meta-historical resurrection in Easter” [out of theological necessity].

By retention, it means when we look back, the attempts to ignore this fact or to place this death within an unduly higher framework can only lead to an idealization of his death or a degradation of it to an empirical fact (which is an unduly anthropologized theology full of liberal residues). Namely, the declaration that this historical death implies a [whether phenomenological, hermeneutic, or ontological] jump-ahead should be fiducially rooted only in the meta-historical domain, in [the post-Easter] remembrance, which runs backwards. This solution does not have to leave behind the aporia of this [historical] death. For at any rate, doctrinal or impersonal statements are not possible in the face of this death. Anamnesis and commemoration of this death can only give us non-metaphysical and personal truth. The redemptive history is inherently incomplete if all we have is this death of Jesus.

On the other hand, knowledge concerning the identity of this Jesus can only be acquired by participation in the process of the actuality of this meaning question in the medium of human language. That is why the question concerning the meaning of the cross is characterized by an infinite openness— as opposed to the enclosure of totalitarian metaphysics. For Geyer, the hope is the qualitative feature of faith, which is a prerequisite for new non-metaphysical mode of thinking.

In accorance with the nature of hope, Parousia concerns the future of which no one has sure knowledge of the time and the hour— it is beyond human calculation: Although we are vitalized by images of the future (e.g., Luke 21:7-33), these do not lead us into the future itself.

rhızomıng ındεxatıon dıs-choıcεs . .

There is a remarkable parallelism in the thinking of Geyer and Badiou about metaphysics. Badiou establishes that « the death of God » and « the death of man » go hand-in-hand in the ethos of 20th century philosophy and theology. He calls them “the joint disappearances of Man and God”.

On one hand there is in the 20th century philosophy the movement that radicalizes Kant’s approach by enslaving man in his own emancipation (i.e., German idealism: our [finite] subjectivity creates our world). This line runs from Kant via Fichte and Sartre (man is condemned to freedom; man is programmed to be a man and cannot be freed from this program). On the other hand, there is the way of the radical anti-humanism of Nietzsche and Foucault: the absence of God is one of the names for the absence of man.

As Foucault (he criticizes Levinas and Derrida’s anthropology as religion or theology), Badiou does not think this either or situation leaves room for postmodern thinkers like Levinas or Derrida. For Levinas’ appeal to God’s radical otherness in order to safeguard the otherness of the human other falls short to attest to a radical alterity. (This means that in order to be intelligible, ethics requires that the other should be in some sense carried by a principle of alterity which transcends mere finite experience. cf. Badiou, Ethics [2001], 22). As for Derrida’s deferral of presence (différance), a sort of religion of messianic delay, Badiou sees something too artificial in its ramification upon the relation between philosophy and religion (cf. P. Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth [2003], 157). Postmodernity has become boring.

Badiou searches for what is empty and open in a time when the [human and divine] subject has disappeared. There is no other possibility than to accept this aporia, this emptiness, and to retain a prospect to point beyond death. For Geyer, this means the resurrection and the coming of the Messiah— within the perspective of time. Biblically speaking this is the time that remains, a time of intense expectation (cf. Isa 21:11). [2]

Giorgio Agamben, Benjamin’s disciple, in The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans declares “what remains is what separates us from the Messiah”. More than the Messiah’s coming close is the Messiah himself.

Giorgio Agamben descubre el limbo

[1] The polemical context which Geyer (and possibly Benjamin) set out to argue against includes the following features (i.e., wrong assumptions):

1)       non-realism,

2)       post-structuralism,

3)       the totalitarian features of modernity in the 1960s (for which Geyer thinks Horkheimer’s treatment in the 1930s is exemplary. He lost faith but has not abandoned the project of human transformation of the society into a utopia).

4)       reciprocal freedom: the promises that somebody gives to someone else are ruled by a relationship of absolutely free reciprocity and by a reciprocal freedom.

[2] Here one may become somewhat apologetical over against Badiou. Badiou teaches with Nietzsche that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is dead. According to Nietzsche, faith in God as a supernatural power in general will no longer have any real influence, since God is not ascribed any power anyway. There is no such metaphysical God. However, it is precisely this faith that would be necessary to determine the convictions and the actions of man. This may be the case, Geyer answers Nietzsche. But even if God has lost his power over man and that super-sensual heaven has no meaning for the sensual earth, it does not necessarily follow the death of Christian theology.

Through Barth, Geyer has found a way forward: Christian theology has the task to lead faith out of its dogmatic identification with the concept of religion that is still metaphysically determined. Geyer rejects Nietzsche’s analysis that lumps together the God of metaphysics and the God of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike the metaphysical God, the God of the Bible can die.

On the basis of this God’s death, people in faith received the power to be really earthly finite and to be able to die. In the Christian faith, God’s identity can only be thought of appropriately when we take as point of departure the view that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is God’s act on behalf of all.

The occurrence of cross in history demands remembrance and mimesis: the imitation of God in the praxis of love for one’s neighbor. God is a name that has to be continued in a passionate plea to practice love, as opposed to a concept that asks for ideological representation. Remembrance implies mimesis, through which we anticipate the coming of God in the Parousia.