Occidental Eschatology – Epilogue

In his brief and pointed Epilogue to Occidental Eschatology Jacob Taubes begins,

With Hegel on the one hand and Marx and Kierkegaard on the other, this study is not simply closed but is essentially resolved.  For the entire span of Western existence is inscribed in the conflict between the higher (Hegel) and the lower (Marx and Kierkegaard) realms, in the rift between inside (Kierkegaard) and outside (Marx). 191.

For Taubes this culmination or resolution is just that, an end.  This results in decision and crisis that is still (written in 1947) shaking the Western world.  Taubes sees this end as the trajectory that both classical (Greek) and Christian traditions have been weaving together and aiming towards.  With this end (which Taubes calls post-Christian) we are now entering a new age.

To all weak spirits longing for shelter and security, this age appears wanting.  For the coming age is not served by demonizing or giving life to what-has-been, but by remaining steadfast in the no-longer and the not-yet, in the nothingness of the night, and thus remaining open to the first signs of the coming day.  How many are liberated to what is to come is not important.  Who they are is the question that determines their position, for they are the ones who measure out existence by interpreting the signs of what is to come. (193)

What follows, in terms of what theological discourses we now reside in, strikes me as unexceptional.  The age has culminated the divisions of upper/lower and inner/outer.  What is to be done?  God.  God is higher than high, lower than low, etc.  God is everything and everything is in God therefore “everything has its center outside itself” (193).  Man forgets the divine measure and makes himself the measure (perhaps Taubes’s dated gender structuring is appropriate here).

By making himself as subject the measure of all things, man conceals the true correspondence of things and constructs fabrication; he fills the world with purposes and safeguards, fashions it into a protective shell, and wall himself in. (193)

This process pushes God into the realm of ‘mystery’.  This in turn makes the ‘intricate web things’ also a mystery and as such is more easily manipulated by human technology.

Taubes goes on to ask the question of why this error (of breaking with God) is prevalent.  Taubes does not really answer the question but states that this break reveals the essence of man as the ‘shadow of God’ and it is this shadow that moves to the center and creates the dark night.

Humanity then must look into this night and see it ‘for what it is’.  This form of sight will seemingly usher the dawn and humanity will again find its center in God and the measures of God will be established.  Taubes concludes,

The measure of God is the holy.  First of all, the holy is separation and setting apart; being holy means being set apart.  The holy is the terror that shakes the foundations of the world.  The shock caused by the holy bursts asunder the foundations of the world for salvation [being made holy].  It is the holy that passes judgement in the court of history.  History exists only when truth is separated from error, when truth is illuminated from mystery.  History is elucidated from the mystery of error to the revelation of truth. (194)

I could not help but be disappointed with this ending.  It reminded me of my hopes of ending sermons on a ‘strong note’.  You engage with these massive themes that try to account for immense swaths of human experience and engagement and somehow you begin to feel like you need to act accordingly even if the words are not there burning in your bones.  Reading this some 60 years on I can’t help but wonder if these de-centering accounts of theology have now run their course; they are increasingly common in how many areas are articulating theology as a dispossesive posture, but most accounts seem to be just that, a posture.   This may not have been the case when it was written but as far as a form of theological discourse or account goes I don’t know how much traction it has on its own.

This line remains suggestive for me however,

How many are liberated to what is to come is not important.  Who they are is the question that determines their position, for they are the ones who measure out existence by interpreting the signs of what is to come.

Who they are determines their position.  What is being asked for here in light of his engagement with eschatology and Hegel/Marx/Kierkegaard?  Also suggestive is the to what of liberation.  There is an inability to project liberation, not an inability to engage and work towards, measure, the present darkness and approaching dawn.  As I said though, this is suggestive, but not exactly moving or necessarily persuasive in light of his earlier grand claim of his work demonstrating the end of an age.

I am hoping to start his recently published collection of essays titled From Cult to Culture.  It will be interesting to see how some of these themes are or are not picked up there, particularly the notion of abandoning the oppositional space he articulated around Hegel/Marx/Kierkegaard.

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4 comments on “Occidental Eschatology – Epilogue

  1. “In old times, men used their powers of painting to show the objects of faith; in later times, they used the objects of faith that they might show their powers of painting.” John Ruskin. Volume II, chapter IV, section 103.
    Yes, well, I’m finding a great deal of theology “disappointing” these days. Extravagant theorizing with little hinging it to lived experience, ‘demonstrations showing the power of thinking.’

    I’m trying to write up a blog post on Ruskin and Turner so I’m reading biographies etc., and some of the writings of the painter/cultural critic Ruskin (he wrote so well of the painter JMW Turner, one of my favorite artists, who I am trying to emulate in a few experimental paintings). Later in the “Crown of Wild Olive” he wrote the all too familiar, “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.” Of course that’s not quite right is it? Still why are you torturing yourself with Taubes? Preach a sermon on Turner! Maybe his “Shade and Darkness,” or better yet his staggeringly profound “Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying.” How would the practice of jettisoning slaves for insurance money (slavers couldn’t collect the insurance if the slaves died of sickness) reflect on your quote by Taubes, “How many are liberated to what is to come is not important.  Who they are is the question that determines their position, for they are the ones who measure out existence by interpreting the signs of what is to come.”

    What would/should we say to those dying slaves abandoned in the water? When the storms come why are those most oppressed and suffering already the ones who are hurt the greatest (something for all kinds of revolutionaries to think about). Now there’s an opportunity for ending on “a strong note.”

    Blessings and obliged.

    • I should also add that his lectures on Paul really are good, and this book is quite good. I just sense the epilogue is a bit reflective of his age (said from my great perspective). We’ll see what his later essays are like.

      • I haven’t really read much on Paul or kept up with all the latest thinking. I have been asking theological folks for a couple of recommendations, is this one you would recommend (I’v never read any Taubes) or do you have some others that you like more (until DanO’s book comes out). Obliged.

      • Taubes was probably the most enjoyable read. I liked Badiou’s reading but he seems to get pegged at the lower end of scale on the ‘philosophical’ readings for some reason.

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