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Absolute Transcendence

Transition from searching for relative transcendence to the quest for absolute transcendence represents, for human spirituality, a greater breakthrough than the first relative overstepping of the boundaries of modern immanence. Unlike the kind of groping exploratory toying, which constitutes a quite sufficient motive for successful movement in the areas of relative transcendence, the opening up of the path to the Absolute requires an intrinsic decision supported by desire which can really no longer be satisfied with anything smaller. This is not a useful exploration mediated by spiritual knowledge and spiritual techniques. This is a radical, on the human part not entirely mediatable, turnaround or upsurge regardless of anything. The goal is not a completion or transcendent contextualization of immanence; it concerns Transcendence as such, in its entire, ultimate shape, the search for which is not conducted for some secondary avail but because of it alone. Due to the surplus of relativity of everything that postmodernity, in its amorphous openness, is capable of mediating, its era paradoxically creates favourable conditions for such a radical search.

1. Transuniversality

The infinite Being can have or suffer next to itself something which is outside it and a free being can strike roots in the infiniteness of a God.

Emmanuel Lévinas

A condition for penetrating into the trans-universality of absolute transcendence is not an exhaustive investigation of the universe of transcendent relativity in the entirety of its transpersonal and transcultural spheres. The range, which lies in the sphere of transcendence between the relative and the absolute, evidently cannot be surmounted by grading in the same dimension. Absolute transcendence is not a mere culmination of relative transcendence, a kind of its extreme margin: it is an opening up of something new.

Metaphorically speaking, one can say that relative trans-cendence renders itself accessible to our search as an unknown landscape – vast to infinity, mysterious and complex, teeming with fateful dangers as well as miraculous gifts. We can even begin gradually to settle down in it; in actual fact, we will always find it „in its place“: with its inner dynamism, it more or less passively offers itself to our examination and to our consonant and gathering reposing. Absolute transcendence lies outside the framework of such an image and will never succumb to us in this way. As we will see, its transuniversal inaccessibi-lity is a prerequisite for the possibility of its free initiative.

Divine Freedom

It is not surprising that it is the relaxed postmodern language concerning God that creates space to what had had, in the previous history of Western thought, a rather limited chance of gaining adequate expression: Divine freedom.

The primary touch with its reality is opened up in elementary experience that the relationship of absolute transcendence to us is essentially independent of our relation to it. We might not necessarily encounter it at the moment of our most intense effort to achieve it; it can address us when we least expect it, even in the absence of any search. However strongly we seem to be clinging to the banal surface of utter immanence, just like however greatly enchanted we may be with the depths of relative transcendence, this poses no obstacle to absolute transcendence in diverting our attention from any instance to itself. But, at the same time, there exist no neutral laws on which an eventual technology, to which we could safeguard such an encounter according to our will, could lean. Unlike the quest for relative transcendence, more or less passively accessible and methodologically always attainable, when searching for absolute transcendence, we find ourselves, in terms of experience, in a kind of void; however, at the same time, we find ourselves in a more or less „tangible“ field of power, surmount-ing the universe of everything we can think, we can be and we can somehow assume any attitude to.

Seen from such a perspective, the atheism, characteristic of the modern era, with its calculating rejection of free God (who does not want to be a mere transmission lever of human aspirations and interests) appears to be a shortcut reaction of a childishly narcissistic attitude within whose framework man is interested only in things for which he alone can become a determining centre. It is obvious that nature, culture or even relative transcendence do not principally stand up against it; they are capable of serving man also to their and his detriment. But absolute transcendence remains, on the contrary, an indepen-dent support for each case of resistance to human arbitrariness.

To put it in the words of Emmerich Coreth, „God needs neither the world nor man to be God.“ 90 Only in a mature unbiased dialogic relationship is it possible to believe in his freedom – which is „menacing“ to man because it attests to his powerlessness – and to forge ahead to meet it. The realism of respect inhered in this relationship prevents human projectivity to reverse search into an optional illusory dictate.

90 Emmerich Coreth: Vom Sinn der Freiheit. Innsbruck – Wien 1985, p. 92

In this sense, the conceptually available „God of Philosophers“ – God conceived in Aristole's fashion as the „prime mover“, in the neo-Platonian mould as „One“ ' in the Thomasian manner as „esse“, in Hegelian terms as „Idea“, ... – is already beneficially distant to the postmodern era. In actual fact, it does not allow, fully and in the positive sense, to think the transuniversality of Divine freedom. Originally, an ancient thought horizon, in which the „God of Philosophers“ had been born and in which it jointly developed, actually does not permit of any other but negative understanding of freedom. To the Greeks and Romans, the Divine order of the universe was Necessity, to which even gods were subordinated (Cf. terms like ananké and fatum). Within this world of thought and life, God who stands principally and absolutely „above necessity“ can incite usually only negative preoccupation. The universe – an area of a tough and yet certain and comprehensible order – would, in relation with the free absolute, somehow open up to the anarchic irrati-onal power of the threatening Chaos. Philosophical thinking which knows no personal relationship with trans-universal God (a relationship where „theoretical“ fear of Divine freedom could turn into practical trust) and its subsequent relevance to thinking, secures the meaning of its conceptual world by sticking to the principles which illusorily convert absolute transcendence to a mere apex of non-personal and necessary universal order. Philosophy and theology for which Divine freedom is not expressible in any other way but as – in the late Middle Ages -demonic licence 91 or as – in late modernity – a starting point towards despotic terror 92 can probably only through gradual articulation of human freedom proceed to the necessity of expressing, with fuller understanding, the freedom of absolute transcendence. Nowadays even because free postmodern man has been quite urgently searching for greater freedom than that embodied by himself and proved to be quite powerless and limited – leading to destruction in many areas. Postmodern man has been casting about for a relation with more powerful and real freedom. But he cannot reach it by climbing an artificially created conceptual ladder bound up into the „other world“ – an imaginary area, from which access to the world appears to be closed.

91 „(Nominalism) teaches: If God chose to order hatred instead of love, hatred would have been just good.“ (Robert Spaemann: Křesťanství a filosofie v novověku. In: Křesťanství a filosofie (velké epochy). Praha 1991 – in Czech)

92 „Why do people worship God whose most important quality is power, whose interest is subjugation, whose anxiety is the anxiety caused by human equality? The being which is addressed as 'Lord' and which is not content with mere power – theologians had to confirm its omnipotence! Why should we worship and love a being which does not transcend the moral level of contemporary man-determined culture but stabilizes this level?“ (Dorothee Sölle: Es muss doch mehr als Alles geben. Nachdenken über Gott. Hamburg 1992, p. 29–30)

Philosophy has been gradually finding instruments for a relatively difficult formulation of the fact that the relation-ship between God and man does not have the nature of a discoursi-vely transparent conceptual necessity but that the „Divine covenant with Man is based on Divine freedom“. 93 As early as at the end of the modern era Peter Wust stated: „The uncertainty in which the religious certainty of God is constantly stuck reduces the danger (...) of humanizing the Divine image through dead images and letters. (...) This higher order of incalculabi-lity is a scandal to reason, it is a boundary at which reason shall speculate itself to death. (...) This is the voice of spiritual power, which uniquely and absolutely defies the framework of all that is humanly common, which with its message -in terms of form and content profoundly mysterious and unusually dictatorial – disquietens the entire humankind to the utmost, bringing it into vehement motion and challenging it to the absolute scandal of natural reason.“ 94

93 Robert Spaemann: op. cit., p. 54

94 Peter Wust: Nejistota a odhodlání (Ungewissheit und Wagnis). Praha 1970, pp. 108, 110, 113 (in Czech)

The ground-breaking (and at the same time orthodox) steps in the thinking of the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinascan be perceived as a relatively most comprehensive postmodern expression of a philosophically well-defined understanding of Divine freedom. According to his views, least of all, God shall not be incorporated into the human world; neither shall he be used as a mere coping stone of an all-encompassing system. The term „God“ has the structure of an enigma 95, which cannot be clarified, being more than what can be thought. The „Divine name“ is outside any universe, outside any order that can be laid down by man; it defies definition, it cannot be integrated into a system of knowledge; God is different from any fulfilment of an intention of a cognizing subject. We „get to know“ him by accepting his ethical demand 96 with which he reveals himself -in his free otherness – through the other man. The face of our neighbour, however, is not some kind of a sign of a hidden God (a sign which would again, in an illusory manner, incorporate absolute transcendence into human meaning-forming contexts); God is not a denotatum; rather, my neighbour transcendentally „keeps following the trace of God“ 97: he makes the extra-discoursive speech, which comes from God, his own speech, thus relating my responsibility required by God to himself.

95 Emmanuel Lévinas: Autrement qu'etre ou au-dela de l'essence. La Haye 1974, p. 196

96 Emmanuel Lévinas: Difficile liberté. Essais sur le judaisme. Paris 1963, p. 33

97 Emmanuel Lévinas: Humanisme de l'autre homme. Montpellier 1972, p. 63; Emmanuel Lévinas: En découvrant l'existence avec Husserl et Heidegger. Paris 1949, p. 202

God, therefore, never reveals himself in conditions that would be set to him by the human I. On the contrary, a genuine contact with him transforms even philosophy itself, which otherwise seeks to create such „universally valid“ conditions in a systematic way. Lévinas allows himself to be led to the statement that not a self-assured I but the other man is the spot of a transuniversal encounter with Divine freedom as a freedom: with an absolute independence and, at the same time, with an absolute requirement of awakening my ethical action. In his free passages God goes round each human construction and from the closest possible proximity to those who create or share them he renders them metaphysically unsure. In Lévinas, this can be illustrated by the example of the ratio between the ethical challenge of Transcendence and two late modern versions of the immanent philosophical universe: Husserl's intentional phenomenological conception of the transcendental I and Heidegger's ontological conception of Being. 98 According to Lévinas, thinking which proceeds solely from natural contexts – ontology, phenomenology – can provide, as far as God is concerned, only his caricature: they put him into the events of Being, eventually into the process of the human imparting of meaning, thus defying his ability by himself to express himself. Only as if in an „atheistic“ restraint of Divine ontology and phenomenology is a philosophizing man given a chance to open himself up to a free, „living“ God.

98 In Husserl's perspective – Lévinas concludes on several occasions – it is impossible to think anything outside the world of phenomena constituted by the intentional activity of I. In this way Husserl's phenomenology (linking up to the main line of modern thinking) principally legitimizes the conceptual totalization of the world. Transcendental I attributes to everything around a structure of meaning in which it essentially encounters only itself again. In turning to another one, it still remains related to itself – another one is always only that which is accessible to the arranging activity of I, and which takes its meaning from it. Even the other person enters this world under these given conditions. The other one – including God – cannot operate here as a determining factor but always as the determined one; not as he himself and how he himself wants but only as a moment of active self-mediation of the subject through inviolable whole of „my“ world.

Against the Husserlian term phenomenon Lévinas develops the term expression – self-externalization which is not subjected to any semantic context. He who expresses himself does so on his own behalf and from himself, presenting himself as himself, in his entire freedom and otherness towards any horizons of meaning. Above that power of extra-discoursive, personal expression I has no power because it is not objectifiable, graspable, appropriable. The other one displays „ethical resistance“ towards I, being „outside“, being „a revelation“, being „an unannounced visit“ which unsettles the wordly self-confirmation of I. Through expression, which thus manifests itself in the „face“ of the other one, God addresses man. As a result, an ethical relationship can appear in the spot instead of a noetic pattern of adequacy, which is described and used (not only) by phenomenology.

The ontological perspective – Heidegger's interpretation of being – actually assumes, together with the entire Western tradition, the existence of the human subject to which being manifests itself. In Lévinas's view a human thus becomes a mere function or lawless appendage of a self-revealing impersonal being, from which he cannot disengage himself at the level of ontology. Man is radically threatened by this anonymous, indeterminate and indeterminable being in the determinateness of his personal identity. Only the ethical Absolute „outside being“ is in a position to „plot“ against the thinking of being, relativize it – once again through the unconditionally appealing „face of the other one“ – through the identifying „choosing“ of man to his personal responsibility.

This is feasible only in a mode of „thinking which would not convert the transcending once again into immanence and would not disturb transcendence through comprehending, (...) a mode of thinking which is no longer either an aiming or seeing or will or intention“. 99 This „non-intentional experience“ 100 is describable in the briefest terms as „an irreversible affection of the finite by the infinite. Passivity and patience which does not recover its self-certainty in some thematization, (...) the idea of God as love of God and fear of God (...) a paradoxical entanglement which is apparent already in a religious revelation. This revelation, associated since the beginning in its concreteness with the obligations towards human beings – the idea of God as love for one's neighbour – is the 'knowledge' of God, who, even though offering himself in this 'openness', remains, at the same time, also absolutely different or transcendent.“ 101 Faced with this paradoxical experience of the transuniver-sal, we are not those who – as usual – seize the experienced object, incorporate it into our world and subordinate it to the reflective construction of our identity. Through our relation with God as God and with another man as a neighbour, this manipulative power is broken, its ego-centric asymmetry is outweighed by the asymmetry of respect towards the demanding Divine freedom. The reflexive circle centred around I ceases to close itself; the transcendent „other one“ is becoming closer to me than I am to myself; I am ceasing to belong to myself. 102

99 Emmanuel Lévinas: Transcendence a inteligibilita. In: Člověk v moderních vědách. Praha 1992, pp. 138, 140 (in Czech)

100 Emmanuel Lévinas: De Dieu qui vient a l'idée. Paris 1982

101 Emmanuel Lévinas: Transcendence a inteligibilita. In: Člověk v moderních vědách. Praha 1992, pp. 140, 138 (in Czech)

102 Emmauel Lévinas: Autrement qu'etre ou au-dela de l'essence. La Haye 1974

In the world of self-centred I and impersonal Being a free and living God is fatally impossible to be contacted. An ethical relationship constitutes for Lévinas an initial as well as escha-tologically relevant mode by which absolute transcendence „subjugates“ the human „sub-ject“: well before all of its choice it orders him to be tied to the good. This „violence“ [characte-ristically criticized by Jacques Derrida 103] provides a meaningful alternative to our spontaneously totalizing thinking and acting. It is an opening of space in which genuine, destructive violence can be surmounted by a life-giving – and liberating – relationship with the transuniversally free Absolute. Thus, Lévinas's philosophy is not a „conception“ of Divine freedom (even the very expression „Divine freedom“ appears there rather implicitly). It is a „prophetic“ speech – in the sense that it is an embodiment of what it refers to, an embodiment of an ethical relationship in which God himself speaks out.

103 Jacques Derrida: Violence et métaphysique. Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 69 (1964), pp. 322–354, 425–473

In the postmodern era, such an approach to absolute transcendence is becoming exceptionally necessary. To be true, it is valid exactly for this period that the most convincing sign of an independent influence of absolute transcendence in this world is – as it seems – not so much the order of overall creation (which was admired, in a characteristic way, by the Antiquity and the Middle Ages), not so much the existence and attractiveness of great ideals of mankind (to which the modern era has been looking up) as the existence of ethically reliable relations, which increasingly appear to be impossible to attain without support of an absolutely free Transcendence.

Dark Night

„The biggest problem any attempt at establishing an autonomous society has to cope with is to bring people around to recognizing not only their own mortality but also the mortality of the collective and of everything they have created.“ 104 – In postmodern reflection, the theme of supra-individual death emerges ever more frequently and in the most diverse context, not always without reference to the enquiry after absolute transcen-dence. Whatever the explicit substantiation of this fact, its omnipresent background is formed by all the more menacingly looming threat of a planetary ecological catastrophe with its entire ethical context. The lukewarm reactions on the part of the wealthiest section of humankind to this threat, which is actually being posed to all the others by that very part of mankind, imply that there exists something worse than a physical threat. A factor which precludes any efficient protection: namely metaphy-sical tiredness. A tiredness caused by us, by our illusions which have kept dragging us throughout history from one construed goal to another, by our own nonsensical, unfulfilled, „too humane“ being. A strong integrating reason for preserving such being is eventually lacking.

104 Cornelius Castoriadis: Psychoanalýza a politika. Lettre internationale, 1991, 2, p. 20 (in Czech)

In a situation when the probability of arresting the various disastrous trends (based on the non-technicizable factor of radical common willingness to change the style of life) keeps decreasing, there is a growing urgency of launching a search for an absolute support for efficient action, whether towards physical salvation or the salvation of humanity independently of any conditions of physical life (or dying). The search for absolute transcendence, therefore, constitutes a spiritual reaction which goes radically beyond the given situation – unlike the ever more illusory consolations and increasingly powerless warnings and in opposition to the escapist senseless practical principle „after us – the Deluge“. Heidegger's categorical dictum „we can now be saved only by a god“ 105 spells out the growing intuitive recognition that by searching for transcendence nothing can really be lost. While losing everything, we can become relaxed inside us to an unbiased centredness towards what is sufficiently „outside“ so that it still could – if we really cared for it – save us.

105 Martin Heidegger – Interview. Der Spiegel, May 31st, 1976 (No. 23)

But if, once again, this transcendent centredness of ours is not to lapse into a mere toying with illusions, designed to divert attention and fill the time by passive unrealistic hoping and relationless utopian daydreaming, it is vital to proceed from a full acceptance of the state of human affairs. We have noted above that worse than the awareness of an (approaching) end is -besides that – the encroaching awareness that life of certain qualities is not worth saving at any cost. Paradoxically enough, this awareness is liberating. Man disengages himself from too spasmodic a struggle to protect ozone molecules, to save trees in an Amazonian rain forest, to provide food for the Third World. Yes, it is necessary to keep fighting to the very last minute – only that is humanly dignified (particularly so if we defend ourselves against the consequences of our own follies). But is that really all we can still do? Has mankind been here only to keep alive? The awareness of such an absurdity of the human being so far is yet more unpleasant than an awareness of an approaching death, releasing, however, man from all illusions. Search for absolute transcendence is gradually ceasing to be contaminated by secondary interests – the whole world of interests seems to be coming to an end. The search for absolute transcendence no longer has any meaning because of some relative human perspective but because of Transcendence itself. A mortal danger poses a shock whose most important meaning does not seem to be the calling forth a banal struggle for survival but a challenging manifestation of finality of everything (after all not only of our civilization or planet) – the postmodern accentuation of the universal principle of the transient nature of everything, usually appealing to genuine and pure aspirations of the human spirit. It is increasingly clear that the human question, which aims through and above that finite universality, can be answered truly reliably only by absolute transcendence itself – or by nobody at all. Faced with death, man can and should prepare himself also for the latter variant. And perhaps exactly then, when he has fully accepted it and yet keeps on searching – when standing silently and enquiringly before unobscured nothingness -only then will „God accept the hospitality in man's heart“, on many occasions just because only then has it been genuinely opened to him. 106

106 If everything ends for us where we can still relate actively, where our ultimate human horizon is closed – though capable of an active extension as far as transcedence, albeit only to a relative extent – then we are mere captives of that horizon and prisoners of our own activity. But if we admit that Another active instance, which transcends our cognitive and operational radius, can relate to us from the starting point beyond that horizon and under the condition of our outgoing openness, then we at least open for us the possibility of salvation, a possibility we, however, are incapable of availing ourselves of. If we seek transcendence mainly just for purposes fixed by ourselves, through this motivating starting point we actually restrict our potential findings to nothing but the passively offering relative transcendence. It is impossible to open ourselves to Divine freedom with any special purpose in mind; on the contrary, with a relationship to it we accept the questionability of all our purposes. By enclosing ourselves into their conditioned horizon – in which we do not defy the eventual power of Creator, but because we „do not know“ about it, it cannot touch us in any other way than through external anonymous conditons and stimuli, as it does with other subhuman creatures – we „only“ deprive ourselves of a specifically human understanding above all purposes.

To describe the individual state of such a spiritual shock and awaiting of the impossible the Spanish mystic John of the Cross coined, at the threshold of the baroque period, the fitting term „dark night“ 107. At the time of post-modern (and also propter-modern) threat to mankind, this term was taken up by Elisabeth Ottin a non-traditional extension to cover supra-individual spiritual situations. „An individual's 'dark night' is nowadays immersed in a collective night, in the midnight hour of the world. Man enveloped by the 'dark night of today' realizes that his own salvation is closely connected with the salvation of the world, his world which has become so vast, of the earth and even – according to John's Apocalypse – of the entire universe, of creation.“ 108

107 „An instrument for man to get to know God and himself is that dark night with its aridity and emptiness. (... In it there occurs) a secret, peaceful and loving inflowing from God which, if unobstructed, will kindle the soul with the spirit of love. (...) That is why – for the soul to proceed to those great things – it is highly desirable and necessary that this dark discerning night should first introduce it into nothigness and crush it as far its lownesses are concerned, introducing it to darkness, aridity, anxiety and emptiness; because the light which it is to get is the most sublime divine light, which exceeds every natural light and which reason cannot naturally comprehend. (...) This fight and struggle goes into the depth of the soul because the peace which is hoped to be gained shall be very profound; and the spiritual pain is piercing and sharp because the love which the soul shall have will also be very piercing and refined. (...) In the midst of these dark sufferings the soul is feeling to be cut to the quick and pervasively so by the powerful love of God in a kind of feeling and anticipating God. (...) But at the beginning, it is not love that is usually felt but rather aridity and emptiness. (...) God takes you by the hand and guides you through the dark as a blind man, taking you to a place you do not know where, and along a route you do not know whither, and to a destination which your eyes and legs, however nicely they would carry you, would have never succeeded in reaching. (...) Because this dark discerning night will submerse and absorb the soul into itself, and will put it so closely to God that it will be protected and freed from everything that is not God.“ (Jan od Kříže /John of the Cross/: Temná noc /Dark Night/. Olomouc 1941, pp. 61, 55, 86, 89, 93, 56, 106–107, 107 – in Czech)

Among 20th century philosophers it was Peter Wust who touched upon this theme: „In the mystic's 'dark night' we have before us the most horrible situation of uncertainty into which not only man in general but mainly homo religiosus can be transported. (... The soul) must suddenly experience that ground seems to be swept away from its feet and that it must feel competely in a bottomless void. The former being, whose inner instability it had known, can no longer satisfy it. 'The world' with its mundane delights and the people in it which it has left can no longer offer it the only thing that could satisfy it. (...) And so it is now, as it seems, completely alone, alone with its own wretchedness and frailty. (...) In this feeling of the ultimate abandonment by God it experiences the destitution of uncertainty, which cannot be compared by far with any other experience of being unsecured in the world. (...) It seems to be afflicted by mortal sleep. (...) It must suffer injustice from the world. (...) It even feels how deep in its heart there rise dark, demonic powers it is afraid of falling victim to. (...) But God shall not test any soul beyond the limits of its strength. (..) When, faced with this ultimate threat, it has passed the test, sudden salvation arrives. The abysmal darkness of the dark night shall start dwindling. A new light shall suddenly flood in from all directions going inside. (...) The Getseman night is followed by the transformation on Mount Tabor.“ (Peter Wust: Nejistota a odhodlání /Ungewissheit und Wagnis/. Praha 1970, pp. 134–137 – in Czech)

108 Elisabeth Ott: Die dunkle Nacht der Seele. Elztal-Dallau 1981, p. 135

Ott shows that „only in the field of the ultimate dimension can 'dark night' be recognized as something creative which is filled with meaning“. 109 She understands today's era of the end as „a Good Friday of the world“ in which the ultimate goal of everything is involved, co-determined by our decision to follow Christ as far as such a love which does not stop even before the greatest sacrifice. „After the collapse of all the external supports – such as vitality, health, involvement in various communities, cohesion of the family, human love, conven-tions, social consensus, cultivation of religions according to traditional patterns – there looms before man his own 'wretched-ness' (Luther), his poverty, his nakedness. Nowadays in a truly exemplary way. This is emptiness which clamours for fullness.“ 110 „The abyss of evil“ is confronted here with the „abyss of Divine love“; faced with that, all the hidden guilt comes out into the open, with evil being stripped of its power. „In this sense 'dark night' is a crucifixion followed by resurrection.“ 111

109 Ibid, p. 136

110 Ibid, p. 139

111 Ibid, p. 145

Ott does not treat the issue analytically, asking to what extent and depth can the awareness of mortality, futility and absurdity (as far as the elementary turnaround) be really shared with one another. She outlines only a basic general framework specific to our time and its general opportunities. 112 It would be possible to specify that this situation becomes a „dark night“ in the true sense of the term only to individuals who are able to accept it as dark night, who have been addressed by it sufficiently profoundly and not anonymously. To many others, the one and the same situation needs not reveal its spiritual dimension at all: to them it can still be just an opportunity for an ever meaner way of making profit (even out of the death of others), of achieving prosperity (even on ruins) and of indulging in a senseless self-provisioning until the moment of the very end. Experiencing the same time as the time of dark night is probably some kind of a gift. There are people who can pass through that time – opened to transuniversality so radically – with their eyes struck with a merciful blindness reminiscent of the blindness of all the other creation. There are other people who will pass through it „from death to life“.

112 Cf. also Jean Guitton: „Mankind has now realized that it is mortal; and as such it resembles a solitary individual.“ (Jean Guitton: Mlčení o podstatném. Brno 1992, p. 51 – in Czech. Original: Silence sur l'essentiel. Paris 1991)

At the same time to accept anything else than absolute transcendence (veiled in dark night) in this way, as if it were absolute transcendence, would mean straying to a path whose danger is directly proportional to the unconditional inner opennness and defenceless inner abandonment, adequate only and solely to the contact with the Absolute. Man passing through dark night is, therefore, protected both by the fact that he can be attracted to and satisfied with nothing less than God and by the fact that absolute transcendence here touches man in the deepest centre of his being which is accessible only to it. Dark night thus transpires not as a special state visible from the outside or as a special activity but in the midst of everyday life, as an inconspicuous and covert opening of any of us to Divine trans-universality. In this way, the human situation of finality is placed in contexts radically restructuring its present meaning and completely transforming its perspective.

2. Transalterality

(...) out of the desire for one-to-another and one-with-another in the no-foundation, no-phenomenon, no-image.

Alois Halder

Rahner's forecast that the Christian of the future will either be a mystic or there will be none at all is slowly beginning to come true. The traditional and modern replacement of the vertical religious relation with a relation to horizontal mediating supports is ceasing to be spiritually tenable. The „natural“ human world is losing confidence, faith as a collective sharing of certain formulated contents appears to be a mere empty shell. A genuine relationship with absolute transcendence cannot be taken over from one another as is possible with a habitual (traditional) thought content or with a plausibly justified (modern) idea. A relationship cannot be established in any other than original way, each for himself, in going beyond all that I can get from others, in a harsh (postmodern) solitude – and yet in the hope that in precisely that way the plurality of our search shall reveal its non-violently unifying foundation of trans-alterality.

The vertical cannot be replaced by a horizontal: a modern reduction of religion to love for one's neighbour (continuing in its extension to cover love for all creation) has already exhausted its not too big strength. In the postmodern world, this love tends to lose its self-evident meaning, common in the times of an established order of values. It must have deeper foundations, grounded in what it immediately proceeds from in its supreme forms and without which it is transformed into a mere part of self-love: in the love of God. „The theology of the death of God“, the last echo of the modern theology, which had hoped that only a consequential secularization would still save some residues of Christianity, has turned out to be an error of the type of thinking fixed on an ideological purposefulness even in deadly serious situations. It is a sort of ultimate provocation for a possible alternative „theology of the death of man“ whereby man could finally lose his illusory central position which turns even the Absolute into a mere function of human immanence.

Only through transalterality is it possible to overstep the horizontal human links (both system-based and personal) in the vertical direction, where their re-establishing is possible on a freer level and in a fuller form.

Human Freedom

Freedom drawn from the relationship with absolute transcendence is not only a gift but also an art. Not to resign to it even in a situation of enthralling corruption requires longterm self-cultivation. And yet the ability to sacrifice life out of solidarity with Divine freedom has been, especially since the birth of Christianity, a permanent and – on a global scale -constantly living phenomenon, enforced by various historical situations in various places of the world. Until recently this applied to our country too. „There was no protection against the destructive, liquidating hatred of totality. Yet it was impossible to act in any other way than – according to the command of one's consciousness – to engage in an unequal fight. (...) The heroism of martyrs, the loyalty of the last ones in their loneliness, the strength of the oppressed. (...) That is the ultimate testimony for God. That is loving unto death.“ 113 In a similar vein, the Church in Latin America has, over the past few decades, been waging a struggle until making the sacrifices of life. Its „theology of liberation“ is a spiritual reaction to the fact of human suffering which can be answered only with selfless mercy. 114

113 Oto Mádr: Slovo o této době. Praha 1992, pp. 203, 240 (in Czech)

114 Otto König – Gerhard Larcher (Hg.): Theologie der gekreuzigten Völker. Jon Sobrino im Disput. Graz – Budapest 1992

In his own search for a postmodern theology the North American theologian Harvey Cox 115 finds significant promising moments particularly in this theology of the poor, combined with the traditional Roman theology. „No one is quite sure just what the postmodern era will be like, but one thing seems clear. Rather than an age of rampant secularization and religious decline, it appears to be more of an era of religious revival and the return of the sacral.“ 116 The source of postmodern theology, lies, according to Cox, in the „periphery of the world“ – in its „bottom“ or „edge“ which takes no part in the academic life of the modern theological centres of the West. He bases his claim on an important insight: that unlike science and philosophy, theology needs a social basis – it grows, to a decisive extent, out of living religious movements. In this sense, Cox views the theology of liberation as an antagonism to the modern liberal theology. He sees a guarantee of its greater fertility in the return to the original Christian message, in the radical participation in political life and in the emergence of many charismatic personalities. Its fusion of mysticism and politics, anchored in the practical recognition of the transalteral presence of Christ in the poor, leads to a prophetic critique within whose framework religion is, in no case, a merely private affair but an embodiment of liberating Divine power fighting on the side of the poor, resisting the evil.

115 Harvey Cox: Religion in the Secular City. Toward a Postmodern Theology. New York 1984

116 Op. cit., p. 20

Cox, therefore, forecasts that the postmodern theology will see a certain liberating inversion: the source of articulating religious truths will cease to be in the academic „centre“ (the modern theology is not so universal as it had believed it was), its role will be taken over by what is known as popular religion (especially of the Latin American, African and Asian nations). Coloured people, women and the poor – the forgotten and the ignored – have since the present time, without forming any cohesive community or subculture, been working on a new pattern of Christian life. The shallowness of its modern form – which has in no way eroded the institutional structures of ruling and money-making – is calling forth a history-making reaction. Cox believes that „Christianity can and will make a decisive contribution to this new global civilization, and will do it in a manner completely different from the way it contributed during the modern age.“ 117

117 Ibid, p. 207

The „engaged mysticism“ of the theology of liberation leads to the Christian's direct conflict with his secular environment. This attests to a live and powerful spiritual inspiration which determines the preponderance of faith, love and efficient service to theology as an academic „esoteric insight“. Cox also highlights the plurality of the theologies of liberation (Latin American, Indian ones etc.); nevertheless, their shared idea – that God is present among the poor – can address all kinds of poor people all over the planet.

This anticipation of the renowned theologian – who was, thirty years ago, a pioneer of Christian secularism (!) – is remarkable precisely because of its ability to highlight the specifically postmodern social and historical implications of that level of human freedom which can be constituted solely through the transalteral relationship with absolute transcendence. At this level, the individual freedom of choice is guided not by horizontal power pressures (which usually enter the personal sphere in the shape of „interests“ and „needs“) but by the regularly posed question after live (non-academic) truth. Somebody once asked the American theologian Diogen Allen: „'Why should I go to church, when I have no religious needs?' I had the audacity to reply, 'Because Christianity's true!' (... Christi-anity) is so serious and so demanding personally that adherence to it cannot be properly described as merely a matter of personal taste.“ 118 The spiritually demanding (non-ideological) nature of its free relationship with the truth is even strengthened by the fact that „of all the religions of the world none has been exposed to as intense and persistent critical examination as Christianity.“ 119 Postmodern Christianity is a Christianity refined under the fire of modern criticism. Human freedom in it is a freedom to the truth that cannot be manipulated – Blachnicki: „Man is free when he has the courage to endorse the truth and live the truth regardless of suffering and sacrifice“ 120 – and the Christian's free external attitude towards social justice is the result. As a matter of fact, critical reflections have always concerned, and still do, exactly that „God“ who is a mere enslaving illusion, an artificial resonating board for immanent wishes and interests. „God“ as a human creation (conceptual, imaginative, emotional, archetypal), as a mere image, which is insufficiently transparent, would really be the most perfect „screening“ obstacle to a free and truthful relationship with God (and, eventually, with everything else). 121 Therefore, the biggest enemy to the spiritual fullness of human freedom is evidently the human tendency to create idols. Modern atheism justifiably turns against the genuine (and unjustifiably against illusory) idolatry: against the false and enthralling provisioning of something immanent or merely relatively transcendent through the epithets or names of absolute transcendence.

118 Diogenes Allen: Christian Belief in a Postmodern World. Louisville 1989, pp. 1,2

119 Ibid, p. 2

120 Franciszek Blachnicki: Teologie osvobození – v Duchu. Samizdat almanach Orientace, 1988, 25. (Original in: Religion in Communist Lands, 1984, 2)

121 Cf. Jolana Poláková: The Truthfulness of Faith. Ultimate Reality and Meaning, 14 (1991), 4, p. 263–278

With an idol – an artificially „elevated“ piece of reality, which, set in a mere interhuman space (lacking the kind of transalteral openness), substitutes for absolute transcendence, lacking, at the same time, its lively independence and life-giving initiative – man creates for himself arbitrarily dogmatized standards for his behaviour and sets artificial limits to his knowing and to his responsibility. In so doing, he restricts his freedom – turning it against it itself. An idol is a boundary stone of that spiritual world beyond which its creator is (as yet) unable or unwilling to go, and hence he tranfers to it the dignity whose real holder is beyond the horizon of action of the idol. As a matter of fact, it is sometimes difficult to preserve one's free inner openness towards a potential encounter with absolute transcendence when dealing, in too detailed and intense a manner, with what is seemingly closer to us and when allowing ourselves to be, more or less, absorbed by that. Even by sticking to mere relative transcendence – in terms of volume virtually inexhaustible but in principle limited – we prematurely lose the independence of a searching man. In this way, we can gradually confirm ourselves in the illusion of the inaccessibility, insignificance or „inexistence“ of absolute transcendence, and – as a substitute for it – we may pin our thoughts on religious artefacts. With their help, it is possible to build around oneself a magic circle wherein symbols replace real relations and an endless self-mirroring of an enclosed spiritual world is a substitute for events which would have occurred had this „universal“ integrity freely opened itself to absolutely independent transcendence.

The postmodern idolatry can assume both traditional collective forms (ranging from primitive sects to gnostic communities) as well as utterly individualistic manifestations inherited from modernity. A remarkable piece of evidence attesting to this is provided in a book written by Elisabeth Hämmerling 122, where – on several hundred pages – the authoress describes her own private cult of the god Orpheus and recommends to all her readers any analogous personal mythology. She says that „just as most children, I too had, as a child, had my hero whom I loved and with whom I identified myself: it was Orpheus as I had known him from the realm of Greek mythology. We usually discard our heroes with child shoes. They no longer suit our new ideas and ideals, we keep laughing at our childish infatuations out of which we have grown. Surprisingly enough, as it turned out, Orpheus would not be so easily put aside, in the changed circumstances and experiences of my life, to reveal, in a Prothean manner, ever new aspects of his multi-layered appearance. Orpheus kept growing with me as my inner brother.“ 123

122 Elisabeth Hämmerling: Orpheus' Wiederkehr. Alte Mysterien als lebendige Erfahrung. Interlaken 1984

123 Op. cit., p. 13

As illustrated also by this quotation, a typical feature of the belief in idols is that, for one, such credence does not overstep human dimensions and does not pass through inner crises (which are, on the contrary, supremely characteristic of the belief related to absolute transcendence). A relationship with what we have ourselves (usually with the help of our unconsci-ousness) created and and with what we allow ourselves to be internally menacled, is, to be sure – unlike a free relationship to anything independent – under a lesser threat. The archetypal idea, which need not be confronted with anything real, is invulnerable; on the other hand, any idea, which is not permitted by us to discharge anything but its servicing, mediating function towards something that infinitely transcends it, is constantly subjected to judgement. Exposed to the fire of criticism and doubts, what always burns on is that which turns out to be only our own artefact which relates to nowhere. An idol is precisely such an intransparent idea, an end to itself, which, however, we voluntarily want and cultivate. We do not subject it to any external correctives, on the contrary, we keep moving within its horizon as if it were something independent of us. We tend to forget that we are enclosed in it originally out of our own choice, being artificially immune towards spiritual crisis and spiritual growth – untill we opt for liberation: for a more demanding search, fixed less on relative transcendence.

Elisabeth Hämmerling's captivating text portraying the entrance of her soul into mankind's orphic proto-memories (expressed in the Jungian terminology) and Orpheus's power to save the world (ie. to transform the views of mankind, become a peace-promoting spiritually political force) offers not only a convincing document for the conception of the idol as „useful fiction“ (which is at least endowed with a certain „therapeutic“ and spiritually cultivating power) but also attests to the phenomenology of the idol which aims deeper – seeing the idol as a phenomenon whereby man worships only his own pious experience (and nothing else), as a phenomenon fixing the divine according to human measures, disqualifying everything that goes beyond that framework.

In this sense, the French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion 124 compares the idol with the icon – with an image which also seeks to present the divine but not „ex analogia hominis“ but in the opposite – immediate and authentic – direction. In the icon, „the invisible has opted for the visible“ 125, in its respectful observation man finds himself under its spotlight. Marion illustrates the difference between the icon and the idol with two quotations. The New Testament, Paul's Letter to the Colossians (1,15): „Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God.“ Plato, Timaios (92 c 7): „an image of the comprehensible – a perceivable god“. Therefore, the icon is an image of the invisible that remains invisible; unlike the idol „it does not obscure what it cannot render visible“ 126 but aims human look at an „endless journey“. „During that journey man's look gets lost in the invisible gaze which is visibly looking at him.“ 127 This is matched by the manner of depicting icons, which is not an act of human creation in the usual autonomous sense; it spells out the intention of the ungraspable because it renounces its grasping. Hence, while the idol only mobilizes human pious memory, the icon expresess the infinite distance of absolute transcendence. In this way, it introduces a liberating dialogue with it.

124 Jean-Luc Marion: Dieu sans l'etre. Paris 1982

125 Op. cit., p. 29

126 Ibid, p. 29

127 Ibid, p. 32

It was not incidental that Marion mentions Jesus Christ as an example of a living icon. Even in the postmodern era one can see that Jesus's unique corporealization of absolute transcen-dence acts out of unselfish love – out of the principle through which the world could have been created and through which it can probably be saved. Such a profound, infinite transparency of his personality – extending as far as direct revelation of the absolute – is determined by his freedom: by independence of any self-centred interests, going as far as independence of the preservation of his own physical life and as far as its free sacrifice.

In the throes of the postmodern world where the original beauty of creation is ceasing to be apparent, where ideals have already been trampled down into dust, where the only recourse that seems to remain to human life is everyday care of oneself, whose banality can be somewhat brightened up perhaps only by an exciting crime or unbridled orgies, free personalities stand out as highly conspicuous in their surroundings: Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Janusz Korczak, Václav Havel, Helder Camara, Roger Schutz, Thomas Merton, Chiara Lubich, ... – postmodern icons inviting us to follow them at our free will.


Cox's appraisal describing the theology of liberation as the most promising theology of the postmodern era comes from a certain prophesying position. The licence associated with it – which is legitimate and stimulating in a field where no exact forecasts are practicable – stresses the traits of hopefulness and prospectiveness. The controversial and „too human“ elements whose permanent preference within this spiritual movement could, on the contrary, result in sterility lie outside the focus of Cox's attention. These are primarily a certain affliction (in Latin America in particular) by the modern conceptions of human emancipation which reduce human freedom to its horizontal socio-economic dimension. A theological consequence of this is the reduction of Divine freedom to a mere instrument for achieving a utopian worldly justice. Should the „liberation from oppression“ (Leonardo Boff) really become a dominating idea of this spiritual movement, then theology too shall be reduced to a kind of utility concept of an anachronic revolutionary way of thinking within whose restrained and murky horizon the expression „God“ shall mean nothing but a fictitious legitimizing ideological phrase.

Taking a more distinctly postmodern outlook, the search for absolute transcendence views, in its various variants, the socio-economic horizon in a far more contentful, relativizing perspec-tive, abandoning – without any regret – the idols of the modern emancipatory movements. Economic poverty and even social oppression are accepted not as a mere negative reality but even as a „gift“, as a unique opportunity for developing the fullness of human being which – if anchored in the transalterality of absolute transcendence – is capable of freely transforming any suffering into an opportunity for love. Standing closer to this more realistic and spiritually more comprehensive conception is perhaps the Indian variant of the theology of liberation (Tisha Balasurya) and especially the versions created under atheistic dictatorships in Central Europe (Franciszek Blachnicki, Oto Mádr, Josef Zvěřina). Unlike the „classical“, Latin American theology of liberation (Gustavo Gutiérres, Leonardo Boff, Jon Sobrino etc.) these insights are accessible also to the plurality of religions and to a dialogic search within the postmodern openness and tolerance. Not so much interested in the educational project of the future „new human type“ (Boff) 128, they are preoccupied with the hope related to the presence of absolute transcendence at any time and in any environment, a hope associated with the fact that this presence is not bound up with any special, in this sense „privileged“, human types or situations, but establishes the possibility of universal dialogue. 129

128 Leonardo Boff: Erfahrung von Gnade. Düsseldorf 1978, p. 131. Quoted from: Klaus P. Fischer: Gotteserfahrung. Mystagogie in der Theologie Karl Rahners und in der Theologie der Befreiung. Mainz 1986, p. 127

129 Cf. eg. Oto Mádr: Slovo o této dob_. Praha 1992, pp. 79–80 (in Czech)

The philosophy of dialogue meets in a fruitful manner these non-totalizing theological speeches about God respecting natural plurality and going beyond modern anachronisms. The philosophy of dialogue constituted itself as early as in the 1920s – in the works of Ferdinand Ebner, Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber 130 – proceeding from the completely different dispositions than those represented by the typical modern (but also traditional) system unity, the unity of I, the monologic self-sufficiency of immanence in general. This way of thought has attained its most developed form so far in the works of Emmanuel Lévinas. Its starting point is the recognition of the freedom of the other one and the recognition of plurality – systematic respect for the „otherness“ (that can be assimilated neither through perception nor thinking), for the independent identity of anything perceived and thought: The traditional and modern principle of adequacy or correlation turns out to be in the philosophy of dialogue a principle of mere fulfilment of the measures and intentions of our immanence. What remains outside the framework of knowledge thus conceived is, however, most important – the „other“, intrinsic to the thing itself which we can never hope to appropriate. We can only open up to it in a dialogic mutuality which is possible only as an opening up to transcendence in general, going as far as its absolute (ie. creational and redeeming) dimension. In a dialogue, the unthinkable opens up to man. The biblical sentence „My thoughts are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours“ (Isaiah 55, 8) is accepted by the philosophy of dialogue as a cleansing judgement upon all human endeavours to seek and absolutize parallels between the order of our reason or spirit on the one hand and the order of everything created (which stands primarily under the power of God) or even the order of absolute transcendence itself on the other.

130 Bernhard Casper: Das dialogische Denken. Eine Untersuchung der religionsphilosophischen Bedeutung Franz Rosenzweigs, Ferdinand Ebners und Martin Bubers. Freiburg 1967; Jolana Poláková: Filosofie dialogu. Uvedení do jednoho z proud_ filosofického myšlení 20. století. Praha 1993 (in Czech)

This impoverishing hybris – in Lévinas's view culminating in Hegel's philosophical system 131 – reduces dialogue with the unthinkable to a mere dialectic of thinking. In it everything is converted into the mere thinkable and by and large to the neo-Platonian One – to the apex of self-sufficient immanence of the thought universe, explainable in a unified fashion from the universally valid laws of reason. It is possible to integrate into this whole only categorially accessible mutual differences in the field of immanence, not a mutual otherness of all created things or beings that cannot be grasped categorially, cannot be synthetically „surmounted“ but only dialogically accepted, face to face with its guaranteeing background – the transalterality of absolute transcendence. The world has not been created by man and that is why his order cannot be grasped in its entirety within the order of the human spirit.

131 Emmanuel Lévinas: Totalité et Infini. Paris 1961

Dialogue is probably the only method through which it is possible perceptively to address that which disappears beyond the horizon of human immanence (and which is, precisely because of that, important for man). One can even go as far as saying that dialogue „is identical with the total, intrinsic prayer – which is no longer a mere (often only autosuggestive) talk or a mere (similarly monological) meditation but an authentic endeavour on the part of man and God to keep getting closer to one another.“ 132 Dialogue cannot be subordinated to knowledge, experience, relatedness to oneself or to any system. It has its own and original spiritual authenticity whose background is deeper than a mere idea of universal Unity. Compared with the spirituality of dialogue, attempts at a consistent explanation of the universe on the basis of immanent principles amount to theoretical violen-ce which, sooner or later, produces violence at ideological and practical level. The eschatological Divine peace is not anchored in such a unity but in a universal relationality of plurality.

132 Jolana Poláková: The Possibilities of Transcendence. Lewiston, N.Y. 1996, p. 73

In Lévinas's words, „a relationship differs from all the bonds that are established within the world in which thinking as knowledge thinks according to its measure, in which perception and comprehension occupy and appropriate the given, thus contenting themselves. This is a relationship which to Buber represents a relation in the genuine sense of the term and which existed 'at the very beginning'. Language is not there to express states of consciousness; relationship is an incomparable spiritual event, an event of transcendence and sociality to which the whole endeavour for expression – the entire wanting to impart a thought content – is already related. Franz Rosenzweig understands this at the level of Revelation in the supreme and religious meaning of the word, which signifies to him the creation of a relationship with the Absolute, a relationship of isolated elements defying synthesis, rendering in totality and in any connection in which they lose – as in idealistic philosophy – their life too. (...) In this way, superior to the unity of self-consciousness, which is equal to itself and which equals the world, is an act of encountering in a dialogue, in a thought thinking outside the world. Inherent in this radical difference between I and You, which are located in the relationship of dialogue where an encounter takes place, there is not only a mere failure of getting to know one another, a failure of synthesizing their coincidence and their identification but something extra or better of something outside oneself, extra and better of the proximity of one's neighbour, proximity which is 'better' than coincidence with oneself, despite or because of reasons of difference which separates them. (...) The reality that human spirituality, which does not proceed from knowledge, in the psyche as experience, is possible and that relationship with you in its purity is a relationship with an invisible God is doubtlessly a new view of the human psyche, which has already been stressed above. But this is likewise very important for the orientation of theology: the God of prayer – of invocation – is older than God derived from the world or from whatever an a priori radiation expressed by an indicative clause; the old biblical theme of man made according to God's image receives a new meaning but this similarity is declared in 'you' and not in 'I'. The movement which leads to the other one leads to God.“ 133

133 Emmanuel Lévinas: De Dieu qui vient a l'idée. Paris 1982, pp. 223, 224, 226

The Lévinasian position „face to face“ – whose theoretical expression is also the elevation of ethics to the decisive place of the „first philosophy“ – is a position of genuine listening. Compared with this „realism“ of dialogue, what recedes into the background is not only the naive realism of traditional metaphysics (whose insufficient regard for the mediating role of subjective factors has passed, during the modern age, through a long period of comprehensive critique) but also the most sophisticated procedures of modern hermeneutics whose sense for authenticity has its limits lying in the very principle of interpretation – after all, in the passive submissiveness of that who (what) is interpreted to that who does the interpreting. The asymmetry of our marshalling intentionality and the subject „being marshalled“ remains intact. On the other hand, the post-modern principle of dialogue is a principle of listening to direct speech, and the principle of giving direct answers to it in the presence of the Other one. In dialogue – which is not possible without an implicit relationship with absolute transcendence – subjectivity discards its protective coat of naivity, reflection and prior understanding, offering the sphere of its immanence up to immediate encounter. Speaking truthfully of this encounter means speaking of it in it. Equally, to talk of absolute transcendence always means talking only together with it.

The principle of dialogue thus represents a liberating opposite to the ideological stereotypes with which man takes up in his hands – also with the help of theological terminology (cf. some views of the theology of liberation) – the illusion of his absolute spiritual power. In this way it enables, in an outgoing manner, an original sharing of oneself to anybody with whom we find ourselves in a relationship. It brings reciprocity, though not meaning any mechanical symmetry. It provides necessary purity through which it is possible to get at the truth however „powerless“ it may be. That is why genuine spiritual power can prevail only in a dialogue. The Divine kingdom as a state of mutuality anchored in transalterality, in which no force, artifice or beneficial self-illusions are used, in which everything is transparent and neither lie nor violence can survive, is basically possible at any time but cannot be constituted in a totalitarian fashion „for all“; the desire for it is a matter of personal free choice.

3. Proexistence

Oh Lord, when you come in your glory, remember not only people of good will. Remember the people of ill will as well. However, do not think of their cruelties, torturing and violence. Remember the fruits we have born because of what they had done to us. Remember the patience of some and the courage of others, the friendship, humility, magnanimity and faithfulness they have illuminated inside us. And one day, Lord, please let those fruits we have born be their salvation.

An anonymous Jew
before dying in a Nazi gas chamber

The principle of relationality of absolute transcendence is proexistence. It is not only an answer to the question why anything exists at all and the question about the prerequisites of human freedom but also an answer to the question of the absolutely valid.

Basically, the principle of proexistence can be expressed very simply too: in the words of John of the Cross, „Everything I do is love“.

The metaphysical non-objectifiability of absolute transcendence is a negative reference to its relatedness; to its total departure from itself, to its inexhaustible state of „being for“.

That is why the attainment of fullness in a found relationship with absolute transcendence has its immeasurable importance for man and can motivate even the supreme sacrifice. 134 To the typical modern Christianity this devotion – the full sharing of God's self-giving – was and is quite distant. 135 The postmodern era is marked by the remarkable process of increasing meaning of constants without which Christianity and Judaism would be nothing but withered human fabrications but with which they are, on the contrary, supremely significant modes of free being in the challenging splendour of a lively relationship with absolute transcendence. At a theological and philosophical level, it is precisely this central Christian theme – proexistence – which has been asserting itself nowadays.

134 „In Auschwitz, Maxmilian Kolbe voluntarily went to his death instead of a father of three children (...) South American Christians – bishops, priests and laymen – go out of their way to stand up for the poor, exploited and humiliated, being arrested, imprisoned and murdered by secret police or other death commandos (...) Russian Christians keep protesting against the violations of human rights in their country and then disappear behind the soundproof doors of psychiatric clinics or behind the barbed wire of concentration camps.“ (Johannes B. Brantschen: B_h je v_tší ne_ naše srdce. Samizdat edition „Duch a _ivot“, Praha 1988, p. 14 – in Czech)

135 „In the end, Christian culture has eventually perished because of the lack of relatedness, due to the universal l'art pour l'artism not only in the arts but also in philosophy, theology, in politics, in economy. It has ceased giving a testimony of the Christian relations, of the elementary Christian principle of communication. The vaults of churches, which were meant to bring people of God together, became mere illusory facades of eternity. Instead of celebrating God beneath them, utopian dreams began to be hatched there.“ (Rio Preisner: Kritika totalitarismu. Rome 1973, p. 18 – in Czech)

From the angle of his diatopic hermeneutics the Catholic philosopher and theologian Raimundo Panikkar views proexistence as a sacrifice and in the dialogue with non-Christian currents of religious thought – especially with Vedic literature – confirms its universal onto-forming nature. „One of the central intuitions of the entire Vedic tradition consists in seeing all life, divine as well as cosmic, in terms of a dynamism rooted in the sacrificial character of reality itself. Sacrifice is the primordial energy, prior to everything. It was by sacrificing himself, by offering himself as a victim, that Prajapati created the world. And, when exhausted by his creative act, it is again through sacrifice (offered in turn by his creatures) that he regains his power. By sacrifice the Gods win immortality. From the sacrifice of the cosmic Man (purusha) by the Gods, Men and animals and the cosmos are born. By sacrifice Men obtain heaven. Sacrifice is the fundamental law that regulates absolutely everything: cosmic, divine, human life. 'The sacrifice is Man.' Sacrifice is the total oblation of all we have and all we are; by this offering, life unfolds and we are redeemed from death. Although the notion of sacrifice may have been modified, refined and interiorized down the ages, then underlying Vedic intuition remains vital. (...) Sacrifice is the communication, and communication constitutes the very structure of the universe. Reality is neither self-subsistent nor purely contingent. It is not necessary that beings, or even Being exist. (...) We have no guarantee, no certainty, that time will always continue, that the world will not destroy itself one day, or even that Being will not cease to be. (...) Sacrifice is what conserves and perpetuates life, what gives life and gives it hope. (...) To offer sacrifice is not to take part in a profitable exchange, or to pleas the Gods, or humanity, or oneself; to sacrifice means to live, to contribute to one's own survival and to that of the entire universe. It is the act par excellence by which the universe continues to exist.“ 136

136 Raimundo Pannikkar: Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics. Cross-Cultural Studies. New York 1979, pp. 125–127

The Catholic theologian and philosopher Hans Waldenfels uses the stimuli supplied by Buddhist thinking and in an explicit reference to Karl Rahner he itemizes proexistence christologi-cally as an emptying in the sense of Biblical kenosis. 137 „The high point of the kenosis of God is realized in two steps, with the radical and total correspondence of the self-emptying of God and the self-emptying of man. That is precisely what Christian belief confesses in the figure of Jesus Christ and in no other. The self-surrender of God to the world in his Logos corresponds to the radical obedience of Jesus of Nazareth in his total self-surrender to his 'other' which he calls 'God' and whom he addresses as 'Father'. In Jesus of Nazareth the self-emptying of God and the self-emptying of man coincide. This process reaches its final consequences in death – as a historically comprehen-sible event in the life of Jesus – since only through death are things shown to be what they are. (...) The stages of God's 'emptying' – creation, incarnation, death, death on a cross – point to an ever greater radicality of the 'emptiness' of God. No motivation is given for the kenosis of God; it happens groundlessly, selflessly. But when God acts groundlessly and selflessly, the highest name we have at our disposal for such a motive is: love. 138 (...) Christian dogmatics as persistently very complex and yet as a consequential commitment to the freedom of an indescribable God whose unfathomable love man cannot confine and cannot get to the bottom of.“ 139

137 Paul's Letter to the Philippians, 2, 5–8: „Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.“

138 Commenting on the same, Karl Rahner says: „There is really no word capable of describing this love, because there is nothing else like it which we could use as an external standard in order to define it; also because it is, in itself, the unifying and absolutely original essence of all reality, and therefore there is nothing apart from it except emptiness and nothingness.“ (Karl Rahner: Theological Investigations. Vol. 8: New York 1973, p. 240;, quoted according to: see following note, p. 160)

139 Hans Waldenfels: Absolute Nothingness. Foundations for a Buddhist-Christian Dialogue, New York 1980, pp. 158, 160, 161

For his part, the Catholic theologian Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger describes Jesus's proexistence in personalist terms, as relationality. „'Son' means being-from-the-Other-one; St. John uses this word to define Jesus's being as being from the Other one and towards others; as being which is concurrently opened in both directions and delineates no space for pure ego. If it is thus clear that Jesus's being as Christ is an absolutely 'open' being, that his being is pure relationality (not substantiality) and as such it is pure unification, that this is being 'from' and 'towards' which never leans to itself and nowhere stands with itself, then it is equally clear that what can thus be said of Christ, essentially becomes (...) at the same time an interpretation of Christian existence. For St. John, to be a Christian means being as the Son, becoming a son, ie. not standing with oneself or not staying inside oneself but living quite openly in that 'from' and 'towards'.“ 140 When meeting Christian intellectuals for discussion, the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas expresses Jesus's self-giving proexistence in ethical terms as unlimited responsibility for others, through the identification with which we can fulfil our choosing. „The problem of Man-God encompasess, on the one hand, the idea of humiliation set to itself by the Supreme Being, descent of the Creator to the level of a creature, ie. absorption of the most active activity through the most passive passivity. On the other hand, this issue, and somehow through this passivity taken by suffering to the extreme, contains the idea of redemption for others, the idea of substitution. (...) Incarnation (...) amounts to exposing oneself to insults, accusation, pain. (...) If such a betrayal of identity is possible, if such a turnaround is possible without leading to a pure and simple alienation, what else could it be, if not exactly responsibility for others, for what others are, leading as far as the responsibility even for the persecution it suffers? To quote the 30th verse of the 3rd chapter of Lamentations: 'He turns his face to the one who is striking him and feeding him with contempt.' (...) To be oneself is passivity within identity, passivity of the hostage. Absolute passivity transformed into absolute intractability: freedom accused from the other side but precisely because of that obliged to initiate an answer. As a result, this involves an unusual reversal of passivity into activity, the singular into the universal, an outline of the order and meaning in being which does not depend on any cultural work, not even on any simple structuration. (...) It is exactly towards this infinite passivity or suffering or patience of I – my own self -, towards the exceptional uniqueness to that the one is brought who is that never-ending act of substitution, that defence of being by getting rid of his being. (...) The fact that I take onto my shoulders the burden of suffering and mistakes of others establishes the very I of (my) I. I, only I, can – without any cruelty – be designated as a sacrifice. I is that person who, before all the decisions, has been chosen to shoulder the responsibility for the whole world. Messianism, that peak in Being – a turnaround in the being 'residing in its Being' – begins in me.“ 141

140 Joseph Ratzinger: Einführung in das Christentum. München 1968, pp. 146–147

141 Emmanuel Lévinas: Dieu l'homme? In: Qui est Jésus-Christ? Semaine des intellectuels catholiques. Paris 1968.

Let us leave these four direct speeches concerning proexistence without any analytical commentary. Let us listen to them as examples of dialogic plurality of deeper insights into the transcendent relational principle which the current era – so evidently, severely (and purifyingly) manifesting the situational contingency of all merely human endeavours – allows to stand out in its absoluteness in a completely new light.

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