Posts Tagged ‘counter logos’

I’m finally back to work on my homework from January. Hallelujah, it’s been a long haul!

My current assignment is an analysis of a short Bonhoeffer text, for which I’ve chosen an excerpt from his Christology lectures. This is a fascinating text, not least because it is reconstructed from the notes of his students. Bonhoeffer introduces Christology by examining the act of questioning:

All scholarly questions can be reduced to two fundamental questions: First, what is the cause of X? Second, what is the meaning of X? The first question covers the realm of the natural sciences; the second, that of the arts and humanities. – DBWE 12, p. 301

All of our answers to these questions, he says, come down to a system of categorization based on the relationship of the object in question to other things, and ultimately, to ourselves as a human logos. This leaves us with only one real question that we’re capable of asking: “how?”

The question of “how” cannot be applied to something beyond our human logos, our frame of reference (namely, ourselves). When we realize that we are the ultimate reference for the “how” question, and our own validity as the centre of this question is challenged by our limited nature, we’re faced with a somewhat existential challenge:

The logos sees that its autonomy is being threatened from outside. It meets the demand made upon it by negating itself. This is the last thing it has the power to do. It is what Hegel did in his philosophy. Thus what the logos does under attack from the other Logos represents not philistine self-defense but rather a great insight into its power of self-negation, for self-negation signifies the self-affirmation of the logos. So it appears that the attack on the final prerequisite [the human logos, the human frame of reference] has failed, for the logos has assimilated the counter Logos into itself. – 302

If you know what this means, please tell me. As far as I can make out without reading Hegel, what Bonhoeffer is saying here is that human-centered or immanent knowledge is challenged by transcendent or God-centered knowledge; we are finite, mortal, sinful, and perhaps not the measuring stick by which all other knowledge ought to be categorized. But upon realizing this, rather than meeting the question of our own finite nature head on, we find ways to philosophically negate the question, inverting the whole enterprise and thus undercutting the question itself, allowing us to keep ourselves at the centre of the universe. But God is not so easily satisfied:

But what happens if the counter Logos suddenly presents its demand in a wholly new form, so that it is no longer an idea or word that is turned against the autonomy of the [human] logos, but rather the counter Logos appears, somewhere and some time in history, as a human being, and as a human being sets itself up as judge over the human logos and says “I am the truth,” I am the death of the human logos, I am the life of God’s Logos, I am the Alpha and the Omega? Human beings are those who must die and fall, with their logos, into my hands. Here it is no longer possible to fit the Word made flesh into the logos classification system. Here all that remains is the question: Who are you? – 302.

Our self-investigation is confronted by God, but we negate him; but God confronts us directly, interrupting our self-centered investigation, causing us to stumble over his self-revelation in Christ. Our “how” questions require our human framework of classification; the “who” question destroys that framework.

This is the question asked by horrified, dethroned human wisdom, and also the question of faith: Who are you? Are you God’s very self? This is the question with which Christology alone is concerned. Every possibility of classification must fall short, because the existence of this Logos means the end of my logos. He is the Logos. He is the counter Word. We are now talking about “Being”! – 302.

“The question of “who” expresses the otherness of the other.” “How” is the question that puts us at the centre of the universe, so that all things can be categorized in relation to us. This somewhat objectifies all other things, and is a profoundly immanent question. Christ is transcendent and personal, so we must ask “who?” instead. In so doing, we can no longer objectify the universe with ourselves at the centre, but must instead recognize the other-ness of Christ, and in so doing recognize the end of our self. If there is an other, then I am not all in all. The moment we ask “Who are you?” of Christ, we are faced with an existential question that cannot be avoided. “To sum up: the question of one’s existence is the question of transcendence” (303).

We ask the “who” question all the time, but we’re still asking “how”, just veiled in other language. When we ask “who” of others, we’re really just asking them for details about themselves so that we can still fit them into our self-centered categories. We need to ask the “who” question, but we’re not actually capable of doing so until the other reveals herself.

The ultimate question for critical thinking is that it must ask who but it can not. That means the one can legitimately ask who only after the self revelation of the other to whom one puts the question has already taken place, after the imminent logos has already been superseded [that is, after our self-referential classification framework has already been demolished by a realization of the otherness of the other]. That is, the question of who can only be asked on condition that the answer has already been given. And this in turn means that the christological question can only be asked, as a scholarly question, within the sphere of the church, and the prerequisite for it is the fact that Christ’s claim to be the Word of God is a just claim. – 303

So, when we ask “who” on our own, we’re really only asking “how” and categorizing people in our self-centered framework, until we are actually confronted by the self-revelation of an other. When someone else reveals themselves to us, only then can we really ask the “who” question of them. I’m not sure if he means that there is an experiential element to our knowledge here, but certainly he’s saying that one cannot ask Christ who he is unless one is met and challenged by Christ in that existential, transcendent way – and more than that, one can only ask who Christ is if they have first taken seriously God’s self-revelation in Christ (probably implied or assumed in this is our knowledge of Christ through scripture, which requires that we first accept scripture as a valid authority).

SO, because of all of this, Christology can only really be studied in the context of the church, among those to whom Christ has revealed himself and those who accept the challenge and validity of that self-revelation, seeing Christ truly as a self-revealing other whose very existence challenges our own and transcends all of our frameworks for classification – namely, he transcends our very selves. It is only in this relationship which is dominated by the other-ness of Christ that we can truly ask “Who are you?” and get an answer that similarly transcends our very selves.

I think to do otherwise would give us a picture of Christ that is a picture of our selves; religion would be a human creation, and God a human projection, and the sociologists of religion would be right. But by his interrupting self-revelation, which challenges us at precisely this point, God in Christ has upset this human-centered, self-centered view of the universe in which our hearts turn in upon themselves. By transcending our selves, he allows us to transcend ourselves, to see beyond ourselves, and perhaps for the first time, to really see ourselves – and each other. By transcending our selves, he allows us to see him as more than just a projection of our selves. At last, we can move beyond “how” to “who.”


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