Friday, March 25, 2005

Plantinga and Hegel and the Glorious Resurrection

Johnny-Dee has a post on Plantinga that's of some interest. Plantinga's position always reminds me a bit of Hegel's description of the struggle of Enlightenment consciousness with belief consciousness in the Phenomenology (I've quoted the surrounding context, but the bolded is what I think is particularly relevant):

As pure thinking consciousness belief has this Being immediately before it. But pure consciousness is just as much a mediate relation of conscious certainty to truth, a relation constituting the ground of belief. For enlightenment this ground comes similarly to be regarded as a chance knowledge of chance occurrences. The ground of knowledge, however, is the conscious universal, and in its ultimate meaning is absolute spirit, which in abstract pure consciousness, or thought as such, is merely absolute Being, but qua self-consciousness is the knowledge of itself. Pure insight treats this conscious universal, self-knowing spirit pure and simple, likewise as an element negative of self-consciousness. Doubtless this insight is itself pure mediate thought,, i.e. thought mediating itself with itself, it is pure knowledge; but since it is pure insight, or pure knowledge, which does not yet know itself, i.e. for which as yet there is no awareness that it is this pure process of mediation, this process seems to insight, like everything else constituting it, to be something external, an other. When realizing its inherent principle, then, it develops this moment essential to it; but that moment seems to it to belong to belief, and to be, in its character of an external other, a fortuitous knowledge of stories of [573] "real" events in this ordinary sense of "real". It thus here charges religious belief with basing its certainty on some particular historical evidences, which, considered as historical evidences, would assuredly not even warrant that degree of certainty about the matter which we get regarding any event mentioned in the newspapers. It further makes the imputation that the certainty in the case of religious belief rests on the accidental fact of the preservation of all this evidence: on the preservation of this evidence partly by means of paper, and partly through the skill and honesty in transferring what is written from one paper to another, and lastly rests upon the accurate interpretation of the sense of dead words and letters. As a matter of fact, however, it never occurs to belief to make its certainty depend on such evidences and such fortuitous circumstances. Belief in its conscious assurance occupies a naïve unsophisticated attitude towards its absolute object, knows it with a purity, which never mixes up letters, paper, or copyists with its consciousness of the Absolute Being, and does not make use of things of that sort to affect its union with the Absolute. On the contrary, this consciousness is the self-mediating, self-relating ground of its knowledge; it is spirit itself which bears witness of itself both in the inner heart of the individual consciousness, as well as through the presence everywhere and in all men of belief in it. If belief wants to appeal to historical evidences in order to get also that kind of foundation, or at least confirmation, for its content which enlightenment speaks of, and is really serious in thinking and acting as if that were an important matter, then it has eo ipso allowed itself to be corrupted and led astray by the insinuations of enlightenment; the efforts it makes to secure a basis or support in this way are merely indications that show how it has been affected and infected by enlightenment.

Calvinists (but not only Calvinists) are always tempted, I think, to take a Hegelian view of belief. Faced with Enlightenment-consciousness charges about the historical value of the evidences for the Resurrection, they are tempted to see their belief as "spirit itself bearing witness of itself in the inner heart of individual consciousness", simpliciter - not involving these historical evidences at all, except incidentally (i.e., not used as historical evidences but as clarificatory devices giving a precise content to the work of grace). And the reason, I think, is quite similar to the one Hegel gives: they often have the suspicion that someone who tries to base their appeal on historical evidences (as Enlightenment-consciousness demands) have actually been infected by Enlightenment-consciousness and are on their way to the full self-annihilation Enlightenment-consciousness inevitably induces. This much can be said for such a view: there is plenty of evidence for it, since it has actually happened, and quite a bit. And the question it brings up is an interesting one: Is the Christian belief in the Resurrection of Christ a belief on the basis of grace or a belief on the basis of historical evidences?

The question itself, of course, sets up a tension between the two options. I'm not sure I see any reason for there to be an opposition here. But it could also be seen as a question about the basic foundation of the belief in the Resurrection and its certainty. Since I tend Thomist on this point, and Plantinga tries to make his view broad enough to include Aquinas and Calvin, it isn't surprising that I have some sympathy with it. Where I primarily disagree with Plantinga's view is in the context of belief in the existence of God; since I think he draws the lines in the wrong place. I think what I would say in the case of the Resurrection, however, is roughly something like this:

(1) What the Holy Spirit gives us when it comes to belief in the Resurrection is light. Grace is luminous; it makes things more clear and intelligible. Because of this, the grace by which the Church believes in the Resurrection (because I think we must in these matters talk about our confidelity, our coming together in one faith, rather than about any one individual's sense of faith, which is different) is held with a certainty outstripping the rational evidences for the historical Resurrection. The Christian community as a whole, in its coming together in faith, finds itself carried, as it were, by the luminosity of the Resurrection. In words less metaphorical: when we come together as a community in faith we find that belief in the Resurrection has an immense power to make things intelligible, to set our lives in order (even despite our own resistances and stupidities, which are always legion), and to complete things our reasoning alone appears to leave incomplete. It is on this luminosity that our Christian faith is grounded.

(2) But we cannot stop there. For it is part of our very belief in the Resurrection that the Resurrection is a manifestation, and this means that it was manifested by means of evidences. Aquinas has a beautiful discussion of part of what this manifestation is. Christ's resurrection was manifested by way of (1) testimony and (2) proof or sign. By way of testimony, it was manifested by (1.1) the testimony of the angels to the women; (1.2) the testimony of the Scriptures to Christ. By way of proof or sign, it was done (2.1) on the part of the body; (2.2) on the part of the soul; (2.3) on the part of the divinity. On the part of the body, (2.1.1) Christ showed it was a true body by allowing it to be handled; (2.1.2) that it was a human body by showing his countenance; (2.1.3) and that it was the same body, because of the wounds. On the part of the soul, Christ showed (2.2.1) that he was living nutritively, by eating and drinking; (2.2.2) that he was living sensitively, by interacting with his disciples; and (2.2.3) that he was living rationally, by discoursing on the Scriptures and teaching the disciplies. On the part of the divinity, Christ showed (2.3) that he was divine by performing miracles. Likewise, he showed that the resurrection was a promise of glory by various other things he did while walking among us. One might divide up the subject differently from the way Aquinas does; my point here is that all this seems to be part of our con-faithful belief.

(3) But what does this manifestative aspect of our 'belief-consciousness' when it comes to the Resurrection tell us about historical evidences for the Resurrection? It tells us, I think, that they exist, and are important; for historical evidences are (as it were) the residuum of the original manifestation of the Resurrection itself, and it cannot be denied that the Resurrection was a manifestation. Christ did not simply rise; he arose and manifested himself as risen. And marks or echoes of that manifestation have remained with us to this very day. It is therefore part of our nature as the community of the faithful, to delve into those marks, to see what each of them shows on its own, and to confirm, at the individual level, that we hear those echoes a-right. (Note, incidentally, the switch to the individual level. As a Church, our confidelity is not based on historical evidences; as a Church, we are the Risen Christ, by a sort of extension of Christ's life into the rest of human race. But at the individual level we must be united to the Church not only by a leap of trust, but as a whole person: and this includes our individual reason. As a Church we are guided by the mind of Christ; as individuals, we must be united to the Church by our own minds as well as everything else. And that means, at the very least, taking the actual pattern of historical evidences seriously. We do a disservice to ourselves and to the Church if we do otherwise.)

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