Heresy and the Godhead

I was quite taken with Laruelle’s calling forth of the heretical imperative in the Future Christ but disappointed with the actual heresies that he evoked, and this awakened me once again to the ultimate importance of heresy to which so few of us are open. Despite the fact that Arianism has been the most popular and pervasive of all heresies, it is not really interesting as a heresy except in its most radical expressions such as Milton, leading me to distinguish between a lighter heresy and a heavier heresy, the latter almost invariably a deeply heretical knowing of Godhead itself, such as occurs in Spinoza and Hegel. Now just as Spinoza is a far deeper heretic than is Leibnitz, and Hegel the deepest heretic in his world, Milton and Blake are the deepest heretics in the world of English literature, and yet Hegel, Milton, and Blake are all profoundly Christian. Of course, the theological world doesn’t know what to do with great heretics of this order, but at the very least they are an overwhelming challenge to faith, and to the deepest faith.

This is just the point at which I am most engaged with heresy, seeking it as an actual ground for a reversal of all orthodoxy, indeed, a reversal of the very deepest orthodoxy, one embodied in the purely orthodox God. Note how Hegel and Blake so clearly inverted or reversed this God, whereas Milton seemingly was wholly bound to it, but this is questionable if only because of Milton’s deep heresies, the most dramatic one being his pure affirmation of Creatio ex Deo in the Christian Doctrine. While few theologians can accept Blake as an authentically Christian voice, a great many are so open to Milton, just as Paradise Lost is the Christian classic par excellance, and that Christian classic which has most shaped Christian doctrine itself. For it is a Protestant illusion to think that scripture is the sole source of doctrine, unless scripture can be known as a universal scripture, and one transcending all ecclesiastical authority and tradition. Indeed, a universal scripture calls forth a universal church, or a universal Body of Christ, one which Blake certainly knew, as did the philosophy of German Idealism.

The deepest motif in the world of mythology is absolute origin, just as the deepest theological question is the origin of Godhead itself, an absolutely forbidden question. This is the very point at which my deepest heresy occurs, a calling forth of the genesis of God, an origin which is not the eternal genesis of the Godhead, but rather a once and for all genesis, as uniquely occurs in the Bible. Paganism knows the genesis of the gods, as most powerfully expressed in Classical Greece, but despite their actual genesis, the Greek gods are immortal gods, as opposed to humanity’s inevitable destiny of death. Plato is representative of only a small minority of the Greeks in believing in the immortality of the soul, and he is alone in this belief among major Greek figures, but nonetheless Neoplatonism soon becomes the dominant philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and when it is challenged by Aristotilianism, it is challenged by a Neoplatonic form of Aristotilianism. So Plato can be known as a truly dominant figure in the monotheistic worlds, and one who is even inescapable in our secular worlds, thereby being yet another anti-heretical power.

Perhaps that which is most alien to Plato and Platonism is absolute novum, one whose birth occurs in the prophetic revolution of Israel, a revolution finally shattering all worlds of eternal return, and making possible both ancient and modern apocalypticism, an apocalypticism revolving about the advent of the new aeon or new creation. But apocalypticism has been the source of our deepest heresies, a process already beginning with Paul, and continuing until it realizes an explosion in the modern word, as so purely manifest in Blake, Hegel, and Nietzsche. Here is our most ultimate heresy, and above all so in its enactment of God and the Godhead, a Godhead undergoing an ultimate genesis, but only by way of a self-negation or self-emptying or self-annihilation of the Godhead. I am now attempting to write a book on the apocalyptic Trinity whose most challenging chapter thus far is one on the origin of the Trinity, wherein I attempt to demonstrate that an actual Trinity cannot be an eternal Trinity, that its very actuality as Trinity demands an actual and once and for all genesis, a genesis apart from which the Trinity would be a primordial and undifferentiated Godhead, and hence not the Trinity at all.

Your fellow heretic,
Tom

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5 Responses to “Heresy and the Godhead”

  1. Philip Goodchild Says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’m also reading Future Christ at the moment. Point taken about the lack of historical heresy. Laruelle is not ostensibly an apocalyptic thinker, but his relentless opposition to the World, his denunciation of the crimes of philosophy, religion and history according to their principles of self-sufficiency, and his appeal to the primacy of unlearned knowledge do threaten to dissolve all our established practices of thinking. What interests me, though, is his appeal to what is determining-in-the-last-instance – which seems to be the immanence of the Real in the World, as well as its separation. So his apocalypticism is nuanced with continuity. And perhaps we do not yet know what God, history, religion, heresy or thought will turn out to have been.

    This raises, for me, a question over your interest in the motif of origins. Why are origins deep? Why do you treat apocalypse as a new genesis? I can’t help suspecting a will to discover an absolute determination from a single source, to view the meaning of Being as causal making, to revere a sovereign and primordial power, in short, to resurrect monotheism after the death of God. Doesn’t apocalypse determine genesis, so that it is only with hindsight that we can tell that an absolute novum has occurred, and yet the absolutely new is not an event but a new way in which the world is determined in the last instance? Doesn’t history emerge in the Bible from divine judgement (which is always apocalyptic insofar as it claims to be insurpassable, so judges the world)?

    For me, everything in its origin lacks an essence – it manifests only as a meaningless atom, as what is most shallow, disclosing nothing of the potential of what it will prove to have been in relation and in actuality. All causality is emergent and multiple. Yet all emergence occurs under the horizon of what will prove to have been determining in the last instance. In your work, we only begin to learn what Christian doctrine really meant after the history of Christianity. Surely, what is deepest comes at the end. But is it fair to think of the end as a new origin? Might not the quest for origins absolve us from determination by the subtleties of nature and the twists of history?

  2. Tom Altizer Says:

    Phillip,

    I am amazed that you responded to this little thing but I am grateful even if I am lost on this website. Yes, I am and always have been ultimately and absolutely in quest of God as a consequence of the death of God. At the moment this is revolving about primordial Godhead, and the possibility if not actuality of the absolute negation of that Godhead, one that I have understood as Apocalypse itself, but which is becoming ever more problematic as I fade into the night. I recognize that I have one last throw of the dice and that I must make this count, and I say that as one who has ever lived under the shadow of damnation. Incidentally Lissa gave me your “Theology of Money” which I have been reading sporadically but having trouble fitting into my work although I have been immersed in Weber whom you apparently ignore. Nonetheless this is clearly an important and much needed work and to my amazement a genuinely theological work.
    Please send me any kind of response so that I can acquire your email address and respond in my own way.
    Tom

  3. Philip Goodchild Says:

    But is it a quest for the same God, only more originary? Perhaps it is I who am unheretical in longing for a better God, one that is more divine in the last instance.

    Since my email address is the first item under my name in Google, there’s nothing to be saved by not reproducing it here: philip.goodchild@nottingham.ac.uk

    I appreciate the ‘genuinely theological’ remark, and look forward to any response you send.

  4. Chris Donato Says:

    I’m a bit torn on your employment of Milton as an example here, not least because of the current debates revolving around the authorship of de doctrina Christiana. Further, the section on “The Son of God” (chap. 5) might be something less than “radical” Arianism. I wonder if it’s little more than over-zealous subordinationism?

    On the other hand, you’ve articulated well the Miltonic heretical imperative — “the knowing of Godhead itself.” And yet I’ll stand with the Cappadocians: the heretical path is walked by those driven to know what God is, not simply that he is. “This fact [that God is Trinity] can be deduced from no principle nor explained by any sufficient reason for there are neither principles nor causes anterior to the Trinity” (Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 47).

  5. AUFS 2010 Wrap-up « An und für sich Says:

    […] Heresy and the Godhead by Tom Altizer — still divisive & heretical after all these years. […]


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