The Pauline Vision of the Resurrected -Part 2

§3. Death and Transfiguration

Such assurance met with skepticism among the recipients of the message, and Paul felt compelled to answer pertinent questions concerning the source of his assurance. In I Corinthians 15:12-19, he established the connection between his prediction (kerygma) of resurrection and his vision of the Resurrected. "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is vain (mataia)" (16-17). "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is empty (kenon) and your faith is empty" (14). The argument closes with the revealing sentence: "If we have no more than hope in Christ in this life, then we are of all men the most pitiful" (19). This sentence is the key to the understanding of Paul's experience of reality—or so at least it appears to me. Hope in this life, in our existence in the Metaxy, not only is not enough, it is worse than nothing, unless this hope is embedded in the assurance that derives from the vision.

The vision of the Resurrected is, for Paul, more than a theophanic event in the Metaxy; it is the beginning of transfiguration itself. This understanding of the vision, however, is possible only if the experience of a reality that paradoxically moves toward the divine Beyond of its structure, if the movement of the psyche toward the divine depth, is pursued to the point at which existence under the conditions of genesis and phthora is revealed as an event in the history of the divine Beyond. The Resurrection can be the beginning of transfiguration because it is revealed to Paul as an event in the tale of death he has to tell: "For as through one man came death, so now through one man comes the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all men die, so in Christ all men shall be made alive" (21-22). What I have called the "homogeneous medium of reality" in which I felt Paul moving from phthora to aphtharsia is the same medium of the myth in which the Fall of Adam occurs. When Paul goes beyond the analysis of reality in the perspective of the Metaxy, in order to interpret his vision of the Resurrected in the perspective of the divine Beyond that reaches into the Metaxy, he must, like Plato, resort to the symbolic form of the myth. Only in this medium can he tell the plot of the cosmic-divine drama that begins with death and ends with life.

Paul tells the tale of death and resurrection to its end. Having established Adam and Christ as the dramatis personae, he can pursue the phases of the transfiguration that has begun with the Resurrection in their due order (hekastos de en to idio tagmati, 23): In a first act (aparche), Christ is raised from the dead; then, when the parousia has occurred, those who belong to Christ will be raised; then comes the end (telos), with Christ handing over his kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed the principalities (arche), authorities (exousia), and powers (dynamis); "and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is Death (thanatos)" (26). All things having been subjected to Christ, then, the Son himself will be subjected to God, "so that God may be all in all" (28). The war with the rebellious cosmic forces ends with the victory of God.

This tale, placing the vision in the perspective of God's way with the cosmos and man, dominates the imagination of Paul so strongly that the perspective of the Metaxy recedes to comparative insignificance. The domination of the tale rather than the tale itself is the cause of the ambiguities that spread from the symbols "death" and "time" to the various strata of Paul's exegesis. For the death of the tale is not the death every man has to suffer even if he believes in Christ. The difference could become shadowy to Paul, because he was obsessed with the expectation that the men living in Christ, himself included, would not die at all but, in the wake of the Parousia, be transfigured in their lifetimes. The transfiguration, as it had begun in time through Jesus the Christ, would shortly be completed in the same time. The Pauline "time" is ambiguous inasmuch as it lets the time of existence blend into the Time of the Tale.

§4. The Truth of the Pauline Myth

The mythopoetic genius of Paul is not controlled by the critical consciousness of a Plato. The uncritical encumbrances of the symbolism must be discounted if the hard structure of its truth is to be discerned clearly. Since the tale of death and resurrection is a myth, the degree of differentiation it has achieved in symbolizing the truth about God and man must be determined by relating it to the less differentiated theophanic events, as well as to the more compact types of myth developed in the course of their exegesis. Myth is a symbolism engendered by the experience of divine presence in reality. In its cosmologically compact form, it is an intracosmic story about the gods and the divine origin of things. Still within this form, but pressing toward the limit of noetic consciousness, there develop the mytho-speculative types.

When the breakthrough toward the luminosity of consciousness occurs, as in the Hellenic development of the noetic field, the myth then will lose its Cosmological compactness; it can no longer be an intracosmic story, when its symbolism becomes luminous as the exegesis of a theophanic event in the Metaxy. Hence, the Platonic myth, though it can be a myth of the cosmos and its order, is no longer a Cosmological myth, but an alethinos logos, a "true story," of the Demiurgic presence of God in man, society, history, and the cosmos. This philosopher's myth is carefully devised so as to make the tale of divine presence in reality compatible with the existential truth of man's tension toward the divine ground. The compactness of the myth dissolves when the structure of reality as revealed by the noetic theophany becomes the criterion of truth for the alethinos logos. Even the Platonic myth, however, is not yet fully differentiated; for Plato, though he established the truth of existence as the criterion for the truth of the myth, refrained from developing the criterion completely. Plato was aware, as I have shown, of the divine abyss beyond the revelation of God as the Nous, but he surrounded this further movement of the psyche toward the depth of divine reality with the deliberate uncertainties. Since the truth of existence was restricted to the noetic structure of consciousness, the alethinos logos of God and man in the Timaeus did not go beyond the figure of a Demiurge whose noetic efforts remained limited by Ananke.

Compared with the more compact types, the Pauline myth is distinguished by its superior degree of differentiation. In the first place, his vision carried Paul irresistibly beyond the structure of creation to its source in the freedom and love of divine creativity. Paul differentiated the truth of existence, i.e., the experience of its ordering process through man's orientation toward the divine ground, so far that the transcosmic God and his Agape were revealed as the mover in the theophanic events that constitute meaning in history. Since the truth of existence, however, is the criterion of truth for the myth, the Platonic type was no longer suitable as the ultimate truth about God and man, once the pneumatic depth in divine reality beyond the Nous had been articulated. While the Platonic Demiurge could remain limited by Ananke, the Pauline creator-god had to emerge victorious from his struggle with the forces of resistance in the cosmos. Paul, furthermore, differentiated fully the experience of the directional movement by articulating its goal, its teleion, as the state of aphtharsia beyond man's involvement in the Anaximandrian mystery of Apeiron and Time.

If the movement of reality is consistently extrapolated toward its goal, again a more differentiated myth than the Platonic is required to express the experiential insight. In the perspective of the goal, the myth must become the story of the fall from and return to the imperishable state of creation intended by divine creativity. It must become the drama of creation and fall, of fall and redemption, of death and resurrection, and of the ultimate return of creation to its imperishable glory. The movement, in order to have meaning, must come to an end. In the philosophers' noetic theophany, the problem of the end presented itself in the form of Aristotle's aetiological argument and engendered the symbolism of the prote arche; in the pneumatic theophany of Paul, with divine creativity differentiated, an eschatology is required to complete the meaning of the movement.

The Pauline myth indeed pursues the drama of the movement to its conclusion in the eschatological events. And finally, Paul has fully differentiated the experience of man as the site where the movement of reality becomes luminous in its actual occurrence. In Paul's myth, God emerges victorious, because his protagonist is man. He is the creature in whom God can incarnate himself with the fullness (pleroma) of his divinity, transfiguring man into the God-man (Col. 2:9). The whole creation that is groaning can be redeemed, because at one point, in man, the sonship of God is possible (Rom. 8:22-23). The movement in reality, which has become luminous to itself in noetic consciousness, has indeed unfolded its full meaning in the Pauline vision and its exegesis through the myth. The symbolism of the man who can achieve freedom from cosmic Ananke, who can enter into the freedom of God, redeemed by the loving grace of the God who is himself free of the cosmos, consistently differentiates the truth of existence that has become visible in the philosophers' experience of athanatizein.

The Pauline Vision of the Resurrected,
pp 312-316.