Yoder’s Theology of Mission

I just finished writing a review of John Howard Yoder’s Theology of Mission. The book is a transcription of the course he taught Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries for over two decades. The text itself comes from recordings in the mid-70s. As can be expected, Yoder offers insightful readings of scripture and applies his anti-constantianism to the history and theology of mission. I thought I would post an excerpt of the review in case anyone is interested in further conversation.

Working towards a sort of climax Yoder draws closer to the basic questions of Christianity in relation to other religions. Until this point Yoder outlined an image of the church in mission that needed to repent of and reject past complicity with colonial projects. However, it remains an open question as to whether Yoder actually addresses the underlying logic that led to the destructive elements of the church’s mission. Yoder makes two claims in these final chapters that will need to be acknowledged and engaged by future theologians in this field. First, Yoder addresses the designation of ‘religion’ as an interpretive category and asserts that “what Christians must talk about is Jesus Christ not Christianity as religion or culture” (397). This position comes into tension with the second claim Yoder makes regarding other religions and ‘post-Christian’ movements. Yoder does not advocate active proselytizing of Hindus and Buddhists but articulates how they are changed when they come into contact with Jesus. Then with respect to post-Christian movements (anything from Islam to Marxism) Yoder positions them as “derived from a Christianity that lost its way” (385). This language sounds too much like an expression that is able to retain a pure ‘kernel’ of truth that remains unassailable in the face of experiences. In Yoder’s theology of mission Jesus functions as that which cannot be wrong.

This book is an important contribution to what is at present a controversial topic. Yoder calls on the church to live out of its particular history and formation. This means confessing the wrongs that came from it and returning again (and again) to the biblical witness which points the church towards a communal and migratory understanding of mission. These are welcome correctives to many supercessionist theologies of mission. The question that remains untouched is whether Yoder actually steers the church away from a theology that will always encroach, always insulate itself from receiving good news outside of (and perhaps otherwise than) its particularity; a theology of mission that can’t help but determine the question of salvation for others. The Mennonite church is currently not of one mind on this issue but the question continues to inform and challenge any present or future theology of mission.

The Excessive If Love in Hadewijch’s Complete Works

I. Introduction
II.  Univocity in the Medieval Period
III. The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence
IV. The Conceptual Paradigm of Immanence in Deleuze

V. The Excessive If Love in Hadewijch’s Complete Works

The typical way of conceptually situating Hadewijch is to place her somewhere within the expressions related to neoplatonism.[1] This is understandable given both her intellectual setting as well as a number of her Letters and Visions. Continue reading

Leave or Linger

Easter Sunday Sermon: John 20:1-18

Here in the West we are enthralled by the pursuit of sight. How far and how close can we see? We have developed the technologies of X-Ray vision, telescopic vision, and microscopic vision. More recently are advances in our ability to see other people’s thoughts as we try and read the signals emitted by our brains. In these pursuits we have wanted to see the beginning and we have wanted to see the end. Somewhere along the way we have come to the idea that in seeing further and in seeing closer we will see the Truth, we will see the meaning of life. While this is perhaps seen most clearly in the sciences as it has been the case with religion and politics as we tell ancient and modern stories of our beginnings and future as a religion, as a country, or as a culture.

Our reading this Easter Sunday resists this sort of straining of our sight. Continue reading

Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – The Conceptual Paradigm of Immanence in Deleuze

I. Introduction
II.  Univocity in the Medieval Period
III. The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence

IV. The Conceptual Paradigm of Immanence in Deleuze

Basically put, a paradigm of immanence is one in which the cause of being and the ef­fects of being belong to the same plane. There is no transcendent point of reference, for each being is co-constitutive of every other being. [O]ne consequence of immanence . . . is that it becomes impossible to name being as such, even as the multitude of names given to beings (and to being in itself) point to the inescapability of signification. What I propose, then, is that immanence puts in play a reciprocal relay be­tween namelessness and excessive signification. . . . An immanent relation is one in which neither term can be made utterly prior to the other; immanently related terms are mutually constitutive.[1]

It is often understood that critiquing transcendence has meant critiquing God; that God and transcendence are interchangeable. The critique of transcendence has tracked so closely with the Christian religion that the work of immanence has often been equated with secularism and the rejection of God. Challenging this notion Daniel Colucciello Barber, working first with Spinoza and then unpacking Deleuze, maintains that the critique put forward by immanence is not that of naming God but of accepting transcendence as the stabilizing or authorizing of this naming.[2]

Immanence accepts the relationship of cause and effect but refuses to place this distinction within the register of transcendence, that is, immanence is a two-way street.[3] This immediately places immanence in a questionable position with respect to dominant models of medieval theology. Speaking of relations as ‘two-way’, immanence requires an account of mutual affection. There is no priority of place here, “the cause is not prior to its effects, for its essence is affected by what it effects; the cause is constituted by its effects.”[4] A cause does not remain unaffected by the effects it creates. It is easy to see how this formulation challenges Christian orthodoxy and the belief in an impassible God distinct from (even if connected to) creation. With immanence there is one substance, one plane of relations. This relates to Spinoza’s reference to “God, or Nature.” Rather than deciding on how these terms relate with the subsequent collapsing of one term below the other what is important in that statement is the manner in which it opens up (or keeps open) the differential relay between namelessness and naming. As mentioned earlier, it is tempting to reduce one term as subordinate to the other (God really means Nature; or vice versa). However, this would transgress the formulation and deny both the relation and the non-identity of the terms; it would introduce transcendence.

The nameless reality of immanence emerges then as excess naming and “the only way of thinking this excess is to perform it.”[5] This account of mutually affected and excessive production distinguishes immanent process most clearly from the notion of divine revelation based on a closed canon and also troubles the notion of analogy as a form of mediation because at some point a transcendent authority stops or closes the relay of relations; a prior unity is posited as necessary and therefore remains unaffected. The excess comes not because of the plenitude of the One but of the infinite relay which resists collapsing God, or Nature.

For the purposes of this paper it is helpful to note that immanence also differs from the logic of most negative theology. While negative theology orients discourse around the namelessness of God “it is equally the case that negative theology addresses this difficulty by signifying that the object of signification is unsignifiable. Immanence, however, cannot permit this strategy, for such a strategy (i.e. negative theology) makes the unsignifiable into something that transcends signification.”[6] Naming is not improper because it falls short of some transcendent unnameable reality but because it emerges from the excess of namelessness and according to Barber “the key is to enable this relay.”[7]

Identifying relations of transcendence and immanence are not always as clear as they might seem. For the purpose of furnishing greater conceptual clarity I will briefly summarize what Barber calls ‘rival paradigms’ of immanence that collapse the relay between ‘God, or Nature’.[8]

  • Philosophical Delimitation (PD) – In this model God is clearly collapsed into ‘Nature’ where Reason (Kant) or Being (Heidegger) set the parameters for thought.
  • Theological Particularism (TP) – In this model the particularity of naming God in theological discourse is what orients thought to Nature. Here theology (the naming of God) is auto-referential, positioning itself, as in the case of Karl Barth. Nature then, is positioned by God.
  • Theological Ontology (TO) – This model continues to privilege theological discourse but holds that it can be expanded beyond its particularity in its ability to offer a universal horizon (sort of an inverse of PD). Barber considers this the dominant model within early and medieval Christian theology where the particularity of Christianity represents the universality of truth. This model is represented by the method of theological analogy in Thomas Aquinas which allows theology (God) and ontology (Nature) to be convertible.
  • Philosophical Excess (PE) – This model is close to PD in its general aversion to theological discourse but in contrast to PD this model thinks it almost impossible to avoid theological discourse. PE understands thought to be contaminated by theology and so must attend to it in order to think through it. This can be seen in the ‘turn’ to religion in Continental thought in such figures as Derrida, Zizek, and Agamben. God and Nature represent an problematic relationship.

The first three models of thought are united in their interest or confidence in being able to resolve the tension between theology (God) and philosophy (Nature). PE does not posit a resolution and in this respect is in keeping with immanence. Where PE falls short (according to Barber) is its inability to begin to think through the problematic relationship between theology and philosophy and what that says about the conditions of thought. “Immanence makes its agreement with PE into an occasion for going beyond PE, and it does this by thinking the differential tension of philosophical, or ontological, register (namelessness) and a theological register (signification) as mutually constitutive, or as relays of one another.”[9] As will be demonstrated, it is the holding open of the relay between naming and namelessness that resonates deeply with Hadewijch in a way that the rival paradigms of immanence do not.

To summarize, most expressions of philosophy and theology work within the framework of transcendence. Most basically, this involves a commitment or appeal to a prior unity which is able to identify and stabilize (at least in part) the naming and experience of difference. This is not the case for immanence. With immanence, emerging out of an understanding of univocity, difference (or a differential relation) is the only way of being able to think reality. Rather than a closure of the relay between God/Naming, or Nature/Namelessness immanence facilitates the relay which points to the excessive and productive expression of reality.

This introduction to immanence is sufficient to outline an conceptual framework by which to read Hadewijch. A principle problem for thought from classical Greek, through medieval and into modern times has been articulating the relation between Principle-of-Life / One / Creator / God / Being and life / many / creature / nature / being. The dominant paradigm has held belief in a transcendent presence (or prior unity) that stabilizes and is able to close off the relay between these two realities (or at least allow one pole to remain unaffected). This transcendence can come in a varieties of forms. It can come in the straightforward ascription of authority to a divine scripture; the belief of the One who is unaffected but emanates knowledge; the belief of divinely formed reason which can secure appropriate analogies of mediation; or the otherworldly void of negative theology.

Key to the trajectory of univocity and immanence outlined here is drawing attention to the problematic nature of trying to foreground a stable relation between God and Nature. Indeed, the trajectory, as it culminates in Deleuze, is to actively problematize this model to keep the relay open. A conceptual paradigm of immanence is invaluable to mystical texts as they provide an important contrast to accusations of incoherence or meaninglessness. Furthermore, this paradigm offers conceptual weight to accounts that lodge mystical expressions fully in the realm of experience or performance. Experience and performance are important, however, they are not the only way of speaking about this sort of expression but are indicators for how the common condition and necessity of namelessness (Nature) and signification (God) functions. The only way of thinking this excess is to perform it.[10] The excessive expressions of immanence begin to create space for a fruitful engagement with Hadewijch.

 

[1] Barber, On Diaspora, xi, 1.

[2] This is consistent throughout Barber’s work on immanence but for a helpful introduction see Barber, Deleuze and the Naming of God, 4-9. See also Daniel W. Smith, “The Doctrine of Univocity: Deleuze’s Ontology of Immanence,” 167-183.

[3] What follows can be considered a summary of Barber, On Diaspora, 1-10.

[4] Barber, On Diaspora., 2.

[5] Barber, On Diaspora, 8.

[6] Barber, On Diaspora, 2, emphasis mine.

[7] Barber, On Diaspora, 10.

[8] The following is a summary of Barber, On Diaspora, 11-20.

[9] Barber, On Diaspora, 20.

[10] On Diaspora, 8. I should also note that in an article dealing with Ruusbroec and Eckhart, Eugene Thacker has already made a gesture towards this type of thinking when he articulates the difference between metaphysical and mytiscal correlation. Metaphysical correlation (between subject and object) already accepts a certain ‘given’ within the real as such “is always after a response that is has already posited before it begins the task of thinking. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a self-congratulatory gesture. It has caught its prey before the hunt as begun. By contrast, mystical correlation can receive a response, precisely because it is after that which is simply without-thought (or non-thought). . . . [I]t is always oriented towards something that is understood to be in excess of thought.” Thacker, “Wayless Abyss,” 94.

Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence

I. Introduction
II.  Univocity in the Medieval Period

III. The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence

Thomas Aquinas attempts to mediate the relation between Creator and creature through the process of analogy. Analogy maintains the absolute distinction between Creator and creature through the notion of proportional difference. This is a ‘middle-road’ between the impasse of agnostic equivocity and the endless relation of univocity. While this becomes the dominant mode of theological orthodoxy it does not go unchallenged. Duns Scotus draws attention to the unending nature of trying to ‘relate’ seemingly disparate terms. In contrast to the method of analogy, Scotus “argues that univocity ‘never stops’ and that the real philosophical challenge is in accounting for the persistence of univocity, despite the most radical assertions of differentiation.”[1] The typical criticism of univocity is that if all is of the same substance and there is no end to relating then there is no formal way of acknowledging difference at all. In response to this criticism Scotus argues that when analogy mediates A (God) and B (Nature) via X then X becomes the higher principle by which both are subordinate. This way of relating never comes to a clear end which is not in some way arbitrary. While Scotus “always stops short of a full-fledged pantheism or a fully immanent materialism” he does finally “take up the position of univocity as the only viable philosophical position if the relations between Creator and creature, Life and living, are to be thought at all.”[2]

The work of Gilles Deleuze enters decisively into this trajectory where he states in Difference and Repetition,“There has only ever been one ontological position: Being is univocal. There has only ever been one ontology, that of Duns Scotus, which gave being a single voice.”[3] Deleuze does not simply receive Scotus’s ontology but passes it through his own repetition which includes significant engagement with Baruch Spinoza. With Spinoza, decisive attention is given to relation itself (as opposed to objects trying to be related). Clearly departing from the analogical model which has its basis in Aristotle and is expressed clearly in Aquinas, Spinoza rejects a notion of essential difference, which is distributed by One (God) and received in part by Many (Nature), and emphasizes the existence of difference itself drawing attention to “difference as a degree of power.”[4] Analogy used relations to think the difference between objects while the relation itself remained unthought. Spinoza attempts to think the relation itself.

For Spinoza being, or what is real, is the process of variation or differentiating itself; the variation of a single substance. We can speak of difference through attributes (thought/mind and body/extension) but “attributes are less mediators or vehicles of divine causality, and more like the very viscosity of relation itself.”[5] Analogy demands a transcendent One because there is a unity of these attributes in God before there is the dispersal of these attributes in part. “In other words, what makes individuals separate from God is that God possesses these forms in an essential, unified manner; God transcends individuals because unity transcends difference. Deleuze, on the other hand, makes formal distinction (distinction between attributes) essential to substance (or God), which means difference becomes intrinsic to God, or substance, itself.”[6]

This focus on relation and difference clarifies Spinoza’s famous ontological statement regarding the univocity of being as “God, or Nature”. This phrase is not meant to position one term as the reference for the other (by God we really mean Nature or vice versa).[7] The significance of the phrase is the way in which it keeps the relay of mediation and relationality open, knowing that we must name (speak of Life or God) but that naming remains insufficient, even inappropriate, to reality (the endless differences in Nature). Taken up in the work of Deleuze, the univocity of Scotus and the indeterminacy of Spinoza are heightened in a push towards ‘pure immanence’.

This brief introduction to univocity as it is developed into the concept of immanence demonstrates the relevance of the question of mediation and relationality in the medieval period and how univocity remained a marginal position within the more dominant model of analogy. The following section will more clearly unpack elements of Delueze’s concept of immanence (and as such his critique of transcendence) particularly as it relates to reading Hadewijch.

 

[1] Thacker, After Life, 114.

[2] Thacker, After Life, 114, 119.

[3] Cited in Thacker, After Life, 136.

[4] Daniel W. Smith, “The Doctrine of Univocity,” 178.

[5] Thacker, After Life, 138.

[6] Barber, Deleuze, 42.

[7] Barber, On Diaspora, 25.

 

Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – Univocity in the Medieval Period

I. Introduction

II.  Univocity in the Medieval Period

In his recent book After Life, Eugene Thacker tracks a conceptual trajectory starting with Aristotle’s distinction (or problem of distinguishing) between Life and living. Aristotle is unable to articulate this ontology of life fully because “it is as if, in proposing a concept of the principle-of-life, Aristotle is forced to think ‘life’ in terms other-than-life.”[1] This is a fundamental question of mediation that continued to play out in the medieval period taking up questions of how to speak about the relation or non-relation between Creator and creature or God and nature/humanity. Thacker goes on to outline the various theologies and philosophies that approached this relation that was deemed both necessary and problematic.

Thacker begins by introducing neoplatonism. In this model (deriving from Plontinus) the transcendent One (Life/Creator) emanates the Many (living creatures/nature). The Creator is wholly unaffected by creation residing above the creatures, though in its spiritual or theological forms there are ways in which creatures (or more accurately their Souls) are able to re-trace their steps and find union with the Creator, though this union never alters the transcendent position of the Creator. So while positing the soul as a sort of mediator the God/nature or the Life/living relation remains directly unthinkable (we remain forced to think God with something other-than-god). Two schools of medieval thought emerged wrestling with this continued problem.[2]

  • Positive (kataphatic) theology – Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas are used as notable examples. In this mode the transcendent divine, while inaccessible by human means, eventually pours forth in the excessive or overwhelming imagery of light or radiation. Talking about God in this mode meant filling all the partial attributes that are accessible in nature lifting them to a divine status. Human is x and God is the perfect x.
  • Negative (apophatic) theology – In contrast to positive theology, thinkers like Pseudo-Dionysius and John Scottus Eriugena relay on the imagery of darkness and nothingness to indicate the gap between nature and the transcendent divine. Talking about God in this mode meant emptying language of anything associated with nature and in attempting the soul reside in that darkness / absence / nothingness. Human is x – God is not-x.

Both positive and negative theology typically worked with some understanding of analogy as mediating Creator and creature. Analogy was the compromise between the two poles of equivocity (no relation between realms) and univocity (all relation of one substance). In this way it was possible, or at least maintained, that positive theology could speak of God in nature in proportion to the relationship of cause and effect while maintaining the transcendent and unaffected otherness of God.

While theological orthodoxy maintained a hierarchy and unassailable procession of order mediated by analogy there remained elements or traces of univocity later referred to as pantheism that, as developed in the work of Deleuze, began to influence the emerging concept of immanence.

 

[1] Thacker, After Life, 20-21.

[2] Thacker introduces this distinction in 37-40.

Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – Introduction

It is unexceptional to comment that mystical accounts in the medieval period produced something of significant difference to established or at least majority expressions of faith or theology. While preserved and revered by some, these expressions were often met with derision (if not persecution).1  This sort of reaction can be said generally of the movement but also specifically of the notable rise in accounts by women.2 While scholarship has moved some way past the easy modern dismissal of all things medieval there remains significant opportunity around the extent to which we can think or conceptualize the accounts of medieval woman mystics.3

The purpose of these posts is to articulate a conceptual framework for reading and understanding the conditions of thought in the works of Hadewijch of Brabant. Hadewijch was a 13th century Dutch beguine whose work is characterized by an extreme (perhaps exhaustive) notion of Love as that which informs and pervades all of life. While increased attention has been given to Hadewijch in recent times her work has not been brought into conversation with the concepts of Gilles Deleuze. It is particular elements of Deleuze’s thoughts on immanence that I will employ for reading Hadewijch.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to navigate the debates of how Deleuze is understood and deployed. Further, I am not interested in demonstrating an accurate reading of Deleuze as such or in total. Rather, I intend to direct my engagement primarily through the recent work and focus of Daniel Colucciello Barber and Eugene Thacker.4 While there has been some recent work published on the intersection of Deleuze and medievalism in general5 (as well as some engagement with mysticism specifically)6 I have come across no work that has considered the relationship between Deleuzian immanence and Hadewijch in particular or female mystics more generally.

I will continue these post by first orientating the question of immanence as it emerged in the medieval period and then how it was taken up and developed in the work of Deleuze. I will then highlight some of the elements that demonstrate how immanence can be understood in contrast to transcendence. After outlining a conceptual paradigm of immanence I will then engage the extent works of Hadewijch making notes on how her discourse relates to some of the key elements of immanence. I am not interested in suggesting or defending a position situating Hadewijch as a cause or practitioner of immanence. My interest is more basic in expanding the conceptual tools for engaging religious texts and thought and the extent to which Hadewich’s work resonates with such a framework. The bulk of this series consists of orienting the reader to the concept of immanence as it relates to the western medieval tradition and my engagement with Hadewijch should be considered an exploration with a more extensive treatment laying beyond the scope of the present work.

 

[1] Already by the 16th century Michael de Certeau notes a sustained attack on these accounts calling them ‘gibberish,’ full of ‘strange absurdities,’ The Mystic Fable, trans. Michael B. Smith (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 108-09.

[2] Luce Irigaray notes that the extent to which men enter this ‘madness’ it is by following ‘her’ lead. See Luce Irigaray Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 191.

[3] For a recent account of scholarship and conceptual approaches to religious medieval texts by women see Patricia Daily, Promised Bodies: Time, Language, and Corporeality in Medieval Women’s Mystical Texts (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 2-5.

[4] See Daniel Colucciello Barber, On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Deleuze and the Naming of God: Post-secularism and the Future of Immanence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2014). Eugene Thacker, After Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[5] See Peter Hallward, “‘Everything is Real’: Deleuze and Creative Univocity,” New Formations 49 (2003): 61-74 and Daniel W. Smith, “The Doctrine of Univocity: Deleuze’s Ontology of Immanence,” Deleuze and Religion, ed. Mary Bryden (New York: Routledge, 2001).

[6] See Patrice Haynes, “Immanence, Transcendence and Thinking Life with Deleuze and Eckhart,” Medieval Mystical Theology 22.1 (2013): 5-26 and Eugene Thacker, “Wayless abyss: Mysticism, mediation and divine nothingness,” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 3.1 (2012): 80-96.