Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Truth in Orthodoxy . . . Or in Bucking Orthodoxy?

In light of my post two days ago -- about Lindall's talk on "Satan's Peculiar Grace" and Bien's "Satanic Free Rhapsody" -- the artist Orin Buck sent those of us in the WAH Circle a 'peculiar' email:
Terry, are you guys going to start a new schism in the Western Church, advocating an appreciation for Satan's role in God's Plan? That would also fit with the appreciation of Judas as Christ's collaborator in the Salvation of Man -- you should include that, also. I think that view has an older precedent, which is always good.
Orin's link led to this surprising 'revelation': "Judas the Misunderstood: Vatican moves to clear reviled disciple's name" (Times Online, January 2006):
Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, is to be given a makeover by Vatican scholars . . . . on the ground that he was not deliberately evil, but was just "fulfilling his part in God's plan" . . . . [A] campaign led by Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science, is aimed at persuading believers to look kindly at a man reviled for 2,000 years . . . . Brandmuller told fellow scholars it was time for a "re-reading" of the Judas story. He is supported by Vittorio Messori, a prominent Catholic writer close to both Pope Benedict XVI and the late John Paul II . . . . Messori said that the rehabilitation of Judas would "resolve the problem of an apparent lack of mercy by Jesus toward one of his closest collaborators" . . . . [and he added] that there was a Christian tradition that held that Judas was forgiven by Jesus and ordered to purify himself with "spiritual exercises" in the desert . . . . Father Allen Morris, Christian Life and Worship secretary for the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, said: "If Christ died for all -- is it possible that Judas too was redeemed through the Master he betrayed?" . . . . The move to clear Judas's name coincides with plans to publish the alleged Gospel of Judas for the first time in English, German and French. Though not written by Judas, it is said to reflect the belief among early Christians -- now gaining ground in the Vatican -- that in betraying Christ Judas was fulfilling a divine mission, which led to the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus and hence to man's salvation . . . . The "Gospel of Judas," a 62-page worn and tattered papyrus, was found in Egypt half a century ago and later sold by antiquities dealers to the Maecenas Foundation in Basle, Switzerland.
That was back in 2006, and I've not heard that anything has come of it, but a similar idea was entertained by none other than Jorge Luis Borges in the short story "Three versions of Judas" way back during the twilight of the Nazi gods in 1944. The protagonist of this story was a Swedish theologian named Nils Runeberg whose scriptural investigations combined with a bent toward metaphysical speculations and led not merely to a complete rehabilitation of Judas, but indeed to that disciple's apotheosis in Runeberg's magnum opus:
Toward the end of 1907, Runeberg finished and revised the manuscript text; almost two years passed without his handing it to the printer. In October of 1909, the book appeared with a prologue (tepid to the point of being enigmatic) by the Danish Hebraist Erik Erfjord and bearing this perfidious epigraph: In the world he was, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not (John 1:10). The general argument is not complex, even if the conclusion is monstrous. God, argues Nils Runeberg, lowered himself to be a man for the redemption of the human race; it is reasonable to assume that the sacrifice offered by him was perfect, not invalidated or attenuated by any omission. To limit all that happened to the agony of one afternoon on the cross is blasphemous. To affirm that he was a man and that he was incapable of sin contains a contradiction; the attributes of impeccabilitas and of humanitas are not compatible. Kemnitz admits that the Redeemer could feel fatigue, cold, confusion, hunger and thirst; it is reasonable to admit that he could also sin and be damned. The famous text "He will sprout like a root in a dry soil; there is not good mien to him, nor beauty; despised of men and the least of them; a man of sorrow, and experienced in heartbreaks" (Isaiah 53:2-3) is for many people a forecast of the Crucified in the hour of his death; for some (as for instance, Hans Lassen Martensen), it is a refutation of the beauty which the vulgar consensus attributes to Christ; for Runeberg, it is a precise prophecy, not of one moment, but of all the atrocious future, in time and eternity, of the Word made flesh. God became a man completely, a man to the point of infamy, a man to the point of being reprehensible -- all the way to the abyss. In order to save us, He could have chosen any of the destinies which together weave the uncertain web of history; He could have been Alexander, or Pythagoras, or Rurik, or Jesus; He chose an infamous destiny: He was Judas.
The fictional Runeberg went far beyond the rehabilitation of Judas proposed by the Catholic scholar Monsignor Brandmuller, but should one not expect a Protestant to forge far beyond Catholics in heresy, there being fewer institutional boundaries and more theological splitting?

Only a writer like Borges could come up with such a fictional economy of salvation, more fabulous even than the utopian economy of salvation concocted by Karl Marx! As an Italian girlfriend of thirty years ago once told me, "Marxists read Marx, bourgeoisie read Borges." Like her, I prefer the latter's fiction over that of the former . . .

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At 3:01 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Messori said that the rehabilitation of Judas . . .

Messori was a colleague of mine as a journalist. Indeed, my office in Milan (from 2000 to 2004) had previously been his very office. As far as I can say, that rehabilitation of Judas has not been a great success. Messori is - and especially was, some decades ago - sort of an 'opinion leader' in certain Italian Catholic circles. His views show an interesting mix of traditionalism (he has often looked at Vatican Council II with a critical eye, and is disenchanted with ecumenical and interfaith dialogue) and more personal, unexpected, even brilliant insights.

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I imagined it hadn't been. Judas's time hasn't yet come . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:41 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

A relatively famous sermon by an Italian Catholic priest called Don ( = Father) Primo Mazzolari, back in 1958, dealt with "Nostro fratello Giuda," our brother Judas. Sometimes a different interpretation of the '11th and a half' apostle surfaces, but not a widely shared opinion. After reading the New Testament 'more than once,' I have come to the conclusion that the reason/s why Judas did what he did is/are not clear at all. What about you?

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A couple of gospels attribute the betrayal to the promptings of the devil . . . but in a larger Christian sense, what evil isn't such a prompting?

Jeffery Hodges

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