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    Godhead and the Nothing

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    Godheadand

    the Nothing

    Thomas J. J. Altizer

    STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS

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    Published by

    State University of New York Press, Albany

    2003 State University of New York

    All rights reserved

    Printed in the United States of America

    No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever

    without written permission. No part of this book may be stored in a retrievalsystem or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic,

    electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise

    without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

    For information, address the State University of New York Press,

    90 State Street, Suite 700, Albany, NY 12207

    Production by Marilyn P. Semerad

    Marketing by Michael Campochiaro

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Altizer, Thomas J. J.

    Godhead and the nothing / Thomas J. J. Altizer

    p. cm.

    Includes bibliographical references and index.

    ISBN 0-7914-5795-8 (alk. paper) ISBN 0-7914-5796-6 (pbk. : alk. paper)

    1. Death of God theology. 2. NihilismReligious aspectsChristianity.

    I. Title.

    BT83.5 .A427 2003230dc21 2002036481

    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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    For Lissa McCullough

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    Contents

    Preface ix

    Chapter One The Name of God 1

    Chapter Two Primordial Sacrifice 15

    Chapter Three Primordial Evil 31

    Chapter Four Evil and Nothingness 47

    Chapter Five Evil and the Godhead 65

    Chapter Six The Genesis of Evil 79

    Chapter Seven The Transfiguration of Evil 95

    Chapter Eight The Self-Saving of God 111

    Chapter Nine The Absolute Abyss 127

    Chapter Ten The Body of Abyss 143

    Index 159

    vii

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    PREFACE

    While this book is in genuine continuity with my theological work over the

    past forty years, it attempts to open new vistas, and most particularly does so

    to make possible a full theological thinking about an actual absolute nothing-

    ness, one which our history has known as the Nihil, and one which has neverbeen fully entered by theological thinking. Our new era, a new postmodern

    world, can be known as an era of nihilism, certainly nihilism is more pow-

    erful now than ever previously, and yet we have no real theological under-

    standing of nihilism, and this despite the fact that the Nihil or the Nothing has

    been a fundamental theological category for theologians as diverse as Barth

    and Tillich. Absolute nothingness is an ultimate ground of a purely apophatic

    mysticism, and it is even more primal in Mahayana Buddhism, just as it has

    been resurrected in the deepest expressions of a uniquely modern imagina-

    tion. Nietzsche is the only Western thinker who has fully thought an absolute

    nothingness, although that nothingness is a deep even if elusive ground ofHegelian thinking, and of all of the fullest expressions of modern dialectical

    thinking and vision. Genuine or full dialectical vision and thinking finally

    realizes a coincidentia oppositorum between its opposite poles. This is true

    in both ancient and modern dialectical movements. While often attempted in

    modern dialectical theology, this goal has not yet been achieved, but it is a

    goal which can be understood as our most challenging contemporary theo-

    logical project.

    My theological thinking has continually been engaged in this project,

    but only in this book is that thinking fully focused upon the Nothing, and

    above all upon the primal or ultimate relationship between the Nothing and

    the Godhead itself. Heideggers Being and Time is deeply grounded in the

    Nothing, although here the Nothing as such is not unveiled. In his 1929 essay,

    What is Metaphysics?, he could affirm that the Nothing originally belongs

    to Being, but this is a primal motif which he was unable or unwilling fully

    or actually to develop. A comparable lacuna occurs in Barth and Tillich, just

    as it does in the ancient world in Augustine himself. Indeed, Augustine is that

    thinker who discovered an actual nothingness, a nothingness which he could

    know as being incarnate in sin. But ontologically Augustine could only know

    evil as a privation of Being, therefore he could not know evil as an actual

    ix

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    x Preface

    nothingness, thereby leading to an Augustinian and Western dichotomy be-

    tween the nothingness of evil and the full actuality of sin. Hence the deep

    paradox of an evil that is a sheer or pure nothingness and nevertheless a full

    actuality in sin, or an evil that is ultimately real even while being absolutelyunreal, or an evil that is a pure illusion and yet overwhelmingly real in and

    as that very illusion. Both our philosophy and our theology have been unable

    to resolve this paradox, but it is resolved in our greatest modern imaginative

    enactments, which from Dante through Joyce have fully envisioned an abso-

    lute evil or an absolute nothingness, one which is overwhelmingly real, but

    only real as that nothingness itself. This is a fully actual nothingness which

    does not enter philosophy until German Idealism, but then it creates a philo-

    sophical revolution, and a revolution in which Being itself is inseparable from

    an absolute nothingness.

    Unfortunately this is a revolution which has yet to enter theology, nor

    has it entered any twentieth century philosophical understanding of God or

    the Godhead, and while the fullest or deepest expressions of twentieth-century

    philosophy have either suspended or dissolved all thinking about everything

    which we once knew as God, this is accompanied by a comparable suspen-

    sion of all genuine thinking about evil. Our common twentieth-century under-

    standing of both evil and God is more prosaic and banal than ever before, and

    is truly challenged neither by philosophy nor theology, but only by the purest

    expressions of our imagination. Few thinkers have been able fully to enter the

    realm of the imagination, and perhaps no theologians, and nothing is a deeperbarrier to this goal than our given understanding of God, or every understand-

    ing of God which is actually manifest and real. Not until the advent of

    postmodernity does an actual language of God fully and finally disappear.

    This is accompanied by a freezing of theology itself, as for the first time

    theology has seemingly ceased to evolve, and can only perpetuate itself in its

    ancient expressions, even if these are now more empty than ever previously.

    Theology has virtually disappeared from our university world; it is manifest

    in the mass media and our periodicals only in its most banal expressions, as

    theological thinking can now only be a deeply solitary thinking, and one if

    only thereby truly invisible today.Perhaps the most decisive way to awaken theology in our world is to

    center upon its deepest other, one which can be understood as the Nothing

    itself, a Nothing which is surely the opposite of everything which we once

    knew as God, and a Nothing whose full advent is inseparable from a uniquely

    modern realization of the death of God. Just as Nietzsche could know that

    death as releasing an absolute nothingness, theologians could commonly know

    that death as embodying the purest nihilism, a nihilism unknown until this

    advent, but one ever more comprehensively real thereafter. This new nihilism

    is one in which the Nothing is fully embodied, and so fully embodied that the

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    xiPreface

    Nothing has ceased to be manifest as the Nothing and the Nothing alone.

    Now it is inseparable for us from everything else, and most clearly insepa-

    rable from that absolutely new and absolutely total exteriority which is now

    engulfing us. That exteriority is inseparable from a new interior emptiness,one affecting every dimension of our existence, and one which can be called

    forth as a new embodiment of the Nothing, but now an embodiment far more

    universal than ever previously in our history. Every real response to that

    embodiment is finally a theological response, for the naming of the Nothing

    has always been a theological naming, even if a reverse or inverted naming,

    for the Nothing is ultimately inseparable from the Godhead itself. Already

    this is deeply known by a pure mysticism, certainly known by the deepest

    mysticism of the ancient and the medieval worlds, but it is not fully actual-

    ized in either pure thinking or the imaginative vision until the advent of the

    modern world.

    Theology itse