Post-Enlightenment Apocalyptic

Post-Enlightenment Apocalyptic December 9, 2016

According to Cyril O’Regan, von Balthasar saw Hegel and Heidegger as the great exemplars of post-Enlightenment mis-remembering (Anatomy of Misremembering). Misremembering is not the same as forgetting. To misremember involves a will to overcome forgetfulness, but at the same time distorts what is remembered. Misremembering overcomes amnesia, but overcomes it wrongly.

Hegel’s philosophy is a massive effort to overcome Enlightenment amnesia, one that “promises an alternative form of thought which is a singularly powerful system of ‘recollection’ (Erinnerung) in which much that is dismissed by the Enlightenment is retrieved as worthwhile and is rationally justified.” Thus, Balthasar prefers Hegel to the Enlightenment and expresses “formal” agreement with him. Yet in Hegel “significant portions of the Western intellectual and cultural traditions are omitted or reduced to schema” and on inspection it becomes clear that “Hegel’s attitude towards the institutions, practices, and many of the beliefs of historical Christianity seem much closer to the Enlightenment than to Christian interpretation in that massive reinterpretation of Christian beliefs is called for and significant alterations in Christian life and practice are recommended” (14–15).

Heidegger too sees modernity in the grip of amnesia, though one that stretches further back to an early “forgetfulness of Being.” Heidegger charges that Christianity has forgotten “its kerygmatic roots, which reinforces as well as being reinforced by the forgetfulness that constitutes philosophy.” There are some exceptions: Meister Eckhart is one (15). Impressive as Heidegger’s achievement is, “Balthasar believes that Heideggerian memory is reductive, lacks the discrimination that separates memory in the full and proper sense from its spurious forms, and deprives thought of resources to overcome forgetfulness that leads to the nihilism that characterizes modern life” (16).

One of the reasons for von Balthasar’s interest in these two thinks is their “apocalyptic horizon”: “Balthasar is clear that Hegel’s form of apocalyptic bears a close relation to the modes of apocalyptic in the Christian tradition, at least insofar as biblical apocalyptic was assimilated in the theological tradition by figures such as Joachim de Fiore. Balthasar recognizes that Heidegger’s form is more nearly Nietzschean than Christian.”

Despite their differences, “Balthasar seems persuaded that the commitment to apocalypse is not only an identifying feature of both Hegelian and Heideggerian thought, but in a way constitutes their horizon. This means that in both cases apocalyptic is not simply the remainder that follows on the critical sifting of the tradition of Western philosophy and the discourses, practices and forms of life of Christianity, and on judgments about relations between Christian discourse and those of art and philosophy. Rather all retrieval and all criticism is made possibly by a seeing from ‘somewhere’ (Heidegger) or from ‘nowhere’ (Hegel).” In O’Regan’s view, Balthasar sees his theology “as an apocalyptic refutation of the different forms of apocalyptic thought of Hegel and Heidegger in which remembering amounts in the end to a misremembering” (21–22).

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