'De-Mything' the Logos: Anaximander's Apeiron and the Possibility of a Post-Metaphysical Understanding of the Incarnation

Introduction [1]

When Martin Heidegger introduced his unique brand of Existentialism to the world, with the publication in 1927 of his vast tome entitled Being and Time, many philosophers recognized what they felt to be the need to move "beyond metaphysics." Even in the realm of theology, this demand was felt, and met, for example, by Rudolph Bultmann and his program of "demythologization." [2] What Bultmann's program amounted to was nothing less than the removal, from the kerygma, of any remnant of divine transcendence. His resultant reinterpretation of the Christian message in terms of Existentialism served to place the radical demand of Jesus Christ at the very center of human existence, and was therefore a positive contribution to theology and ethics. Bultmann's argument that the truth of the Christian kerygma lies in the doctrine of God's immanence, and that the transcendent or "cosmic" language of the New Testament is but the necessary consequence of the mode of expression of a "pre-scientific age," [3] also succeeded in opening the way for a "post-metaphysical" understanding of God. 

The succeeding generation of "Death of God" theologians fixated upon the post-structural critique of language, and the abandonment of what Jacques Derrida has termed "logocentrism" [4]; for the concern to go "beyond metaphysics" was really a critical concern with the way philosophy conceives of truth. When Nietzsche stated that "we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar" [5] he was referring to the prevalent belief that language is capable of expressing ultimate truth. This idea is based upon a belief, going back to Plato, [6] that spoken language proceeds from the logos, or rational faculty of the mind, and therefore owes its referential power to an eternal principle of veracity, if you will - a guarantor of truth. If language all too often fails to convey truth, this is the fault of the one who wields the tool of language, not of the tool itself. Nietzsche, of course, believed none of this, and most subsequent philosophy has followed suit. 

Many radical theologians have seen in the post-modern critique of "logocentrism" a way of reinterpreting the "Death of God" in the sense of an "emptying out," or kenosis, of the logos into and within language, which, in the absence of any metaphysical fundament, has become the sole subject of philosophy. Language, then, and the philosophy and theology that is concerned with it, has come to be seen as a manipulation of the very logos upon which language - understood as the tool for the construction of meaning - was formerly thought to be dependent. In the realm of theology, this can lead to a manner of discourse that no longer has anything positive to say concerning the revelation of God. In an essay entitled "The Deconstruction of God," Carl A. Raschke writes: 

If theology, instead of examining the nature and attributes of God, or even exploring the meaning and discursive function of the holy name, becomes preoccupied in contrast with pondering the purpose for which it is "done," then it must come to understand itself strictu sensu as a meditation within discourse upon discourse. The divine word, the sacra verba, is truly made flesh; it reaches its kenotic consummation, its radical otherness, in a theology which is nought but a writing about theology. [7] 
It is important to note here that the problem that Raschke is isolating, and which he feels signals the "end of theology," [8] is only a problem because he is remaining tied to the metaphysical language or mode of speaking that Bultmann earlier tried to do away with. To speak of "the nature and attributes of God," or even of "the meaning and discursive function of the holy name" is, in my view, to carry over, into post-modern discourse, a now outmoded "mythological" sense of the divinity in order to make seemingly profound claims about the kenosis of the logos in writing, or to "demythologize" the Incarnation by making it into an event of language. This selective use of metaphysical terminology is even more suspect when we realize that the kenotic event that Raschke speaks of would only have meaning if the logos has lost or relinquished a power it formerly held. If this is actually the case, then to speak of this passage of the logos from a position as "transcendental signified" to an immanent dwelling amidst human beings in language as a "transformation of word as logos ('representation') to word as rhema ('flow')" [9] is to subordinate this dispersed or disseminated logos to the human act of utilizing or gathering the various logoi spermatikoi for the purpose of effecting a strictly human meaning. In other words, the logos has become secularized. This is indeed the ultimate kenosis, the final ptôsis or "downfall" of the formerly divine "transcendental signified." 

Post-modernism, and "deconstruction" in particular, admits to working within the general structure of Western metaphysical discourse, even though the work being done is often highly subversive of the original intention of this structure. However, for a philosophical mindset that still seeks positive statements about existence, there is very little satisfaction (to say the least) to be found in a mode of discourse that merely subverts the quest for truth, or, even worse, advocates a fluid relativism devoid of positive assertions. While any attempt to return to a former metaphysical mode of thinking is admittedly untenable, I do not believe that one must abandon the hope of ever again speaking meaningfully of transcendence - or of speaking of meaning in a transcendental manner. It may even be possible, if one is willing to go the intellectual distance, to again speak meaningfully of the Incarnation. 

I will now examine what has been called the earliest surviving fragment of Western philosophical thinking - a few lines from Anaximander - with the purpose of re-establishing a more dynamic conception of the Deity: one that is not bound to static metaphysical principles. Utilizing this non-metaphysical conception of the Divinity, I will proceed to interpret the doctrine of the Incarnation in a manner that will, I hope, preserve the transcendent power of this all-important part of the kerygma, while at the same time making it tenable for the post-modern and, more precisely, post-metaphysical mind. 

Anaximander's Apeiron

From out of that which things arise, there also does their destruction [or dissolution] occur, according to necessity; for they render justice and recompense to one another for their injustice, according to the orderly arrangement of time. [10]
"It is considered the oldest fragment of Western thinking" - thus writes Heidegger in his famous essay on the even more famous sentence of the ancient Milesian philosopher Anaximander (ca. 610-540 BCE). [11] The "fragment" in question, of course, is preserved by the Neo-Platonic scholar Simplicius, who flourished in the early to mid-sixth century CE. Without pausing to consider what meaning, if any, we may find in the phrase "fragment of Western thinking" - as if "thinking" could produce or be held fast in a fragmentary manner - or even to ask how one is justified in assigning an age - "the oldest" - to a passage that occurs, as a quote, in the midst of a treatise produced by a writer working at the very end of a long and noble tradition, [12] I will simply say that we fail to render the proper tribute to this statement of Anaximander if we only refer to it as a preserved piece of thinking. For thinking, as Heidegger himself has taught us, is a tending toward existence and all its questions; a tending that causes questions to grow, and calls ever more urgently for bolder and more profound acts of thought. [13] 

A careful look at Anaximander's statement will show us that his was not a call for thinking, nor even a step toward thinking; rather, it was an interpretative attempt to answer the boldest and most profound question that has ever been asked: 'What is the nature and origin of that which is?' The fact that, for Anaximander, this abstract Being, "that which is," was conceived, even before questioning, as the Divinity, the ex ôn, the from-out-of-which all things emerge, shows us that Being, for this early philosopher, was already thought in terms of dependence upon an origin. But this is not the end of the story. If Anaximander had simply thought Being as the primordial ground upon which all existing beings show themselves forth, or even as the hidden, indeterminate source whence all determinate entities flow, he would not be far from Heidegger's own concept-world. [14] The fact that Anaximander is not uncovering or disclosing an experience, but rather interpreting an understanding of reality that was based on a tradition extending back into the prehistoric mists of Greek memory, should serve as evidence that he was concerned not with the primordiality of the apeiron as indeterminate source, but rather as unlimited possibility. [15] The unlimited possibility of/that is the apeiron, then, is carried over by all existents into the course of a life lived, and utilized as the fecund basis of all self-expression or personal becoming. Therefore, Anaximander was, as Cornford has explained, struggling with the traditional ideas of divinity and the nature informed by it, in order to explain how "that which is" (Being) arose from that which is not - the arkhê. [16] 

The genius of Anaximander is displayed in his 'explanation,' in which he states that genesis, the principle of 'emergence' or birth, is constantly usurping the power of phthora - dissolution, destruction, passing-away, etc. - and vice-versa. Anaximander never states that these two productive principles ever attempt to usurp the apeiron itself. This is supremely logical, from an experiential standpoint, for we know that no existing thing can come to be without the foundational support of that which has gone before. When we posit the apeiron, or the primal possibility, as an actual, existing source, whence all is derived, then we are broaching a metaphysical thought-mode, and foisting it upon an expression that was made before metaphysics was even possible. Anaximander did not do this. What he did was describe the apeiron, in dynamic language, as that which lies at the base of all existence, making expression and individuality possible. "From out of that which ..." (ex ôn de ê genesis) - this is Anaximander's apeiron, his 'principle' of unlimited power or fecundity which makes the dual principles of Becoming - genesis and phthora - possible. Further, since the 'twin' principles of "birth" and "dissolution" are equally dependent upon the apeiron, and also equally necessary for the productive flow of existence, how are we to understand the meaning of Anaximander's statement that these principles do each other "injustice," for which they must make "recompense"? The answer lies, I believe, in an understanding of the apeiron not as a primordial, metaphysical principle or source, but as a power that is present within and amongst all beings. 

In his masterful study of the Pre-Socratics, Cornford went to great lengths to explain the extent to which the ideas of Anaximander were based upon a very ancient, pre-Olympian, cosmogony. [17] This early cosmogony utilized a non-anthropomorphic notion of a primal ordering, moira, upon which all existence is dependent. However, this moira was believed to be, itself, the result of an even more primordial activity or process of 'nature,' phusis. Nature itself was understood as the ever-flowing principle of life, of eternal becoming, while moira, the structure into which nature divided itself, or came to be divided, was understood as fixed, static, immutable. This inviolable moira, then, was that against which one would commit injustice, if one sought to step beyond the bounds set by it - that is, if one sought, in the manner of a tragic hero, to defy the destiny set by the gods. Indeed, with the rise of the Olympian pantheon, the primal moira came to be expressed or understood by way of the decrees and laws of the gods. As we know from Homer, even the Olympians were subject to the higher power of moira, but that idea gradually came to be supplanted by the belief that the Olympian gods were themselves the stewards and dispensers of an eternal Justice which they were believed to embody. By this time, relatively late in the Classical era, the origin of Justice, Goodness, existence, etc., came to be identified with an eternal and immutable arkhê, an inviolable principle of distribution or "allotment" (moira). This development coincided with the critique of the traditional understanding of the gods carried out by Xenophanes and, later, by Plato himself, and provided the impetus for Stoic allegory. This new idea was responsible for, or perhaps grew out of, the belief that the cosmos is eternal, and that each human being is a part of the divine whole, and required to play his or her part appropriately. In other words, this development - of the belief in moira as the fixed and immutable arkhê, over against a notion that the arkhê itself is in motion, flowing, constantly producing - was the very birth of metaphysical thinking. 

The birth of metaphysical thinking, then, was also the loss of that dynamic notion of nature (phusis) as the living and ever-flowing origin of all existence. This dynamic conception of nature was the very conception that Anaximander had in mind when he made his famous statement about the apeiron, the unlimited origin of all things. It was also the idea behind Thales' belief that "everything is full of gods." [18] When we recall that the earlier or Homeric use of the term theô indicated a "running" or flowing, the meaning of this latter statement appears to be that everything contains a productive force or power capable of being expressed in a variety of ways, i.e., as theos. [19] If this is the case, then how are we to make sense of Anaximander's statement about injustice and recompense? In other words, if the very nature of the apeiron is to produce multiplicity through its ceaseless flowing, why is guilt incurred by the existents that are part of the process? This question can only be answered by thinking the apeiron in a non-metaphysical manner. 

When the twin principles of birth and decay come to commit their injustices, they are not said, by Anaximander, to be held accountable by their source for whatever crimes they have committed. There is no need for these principles to answer to or give an account of themselves before the "dread judgment seat" of the Unlimited, if you will. Instead, they pay "recompense to one another for their injustice." If we think carefully about the problem presented to us by this "fragment," it will, I believe, become clear that the "injustice" spoken of by Anaximander has nothing to do with the transgression of a fixed, primordial law, but rather with the manner in which the immanent power of the apeiron is utilized by all those existents that have come to be through it. And since the apeiron is precisely that which is ever flowing and boundless, only that which strives for fixity, or reposeful, static Being, can possibly find offense in the utilization of a given possibility for the purpose, not of ek-sistence or persistence in externality, but of eternal and autonomous establishment. This point is made explicit by the very first line of Anaximander's statement, where he tells us that both the birth and destruction of all things occur in and through the apeiron, the "from out of which ...". Since all things flow back into the apeiron, and out of it again, for all eternity, the injustice spoken of must itself be something that passes away, and is therefore not an injustice against a metaphysical or cosmological order. The injustice is rather an injustice committed against existing beings by existing beings, and is made possible by the fact that all beings carry with them, as their ownmost possibility, the unlimited potential of/that is the apeiron. The injustice is the very attempt, by these beings, to utilize this eternally productive principle for the purpose of establishing their own existence for all eternity, and over-against the apeiron, as Being, the Limited (peras): the same metaphysically static 'entity' that later onto-theology came to equate with God. 

Anaximander's understanding of the primal source, which I feel we are correct to refer to as the Divinity, theios, "the ever-flowing," is such that he is able to leave room, in the cosmos, for the manifest reality of injustice and strife, while never abandoning a belief in the eternal power and fecundity of the Deity. As Werner Jaeger has pointed out, this doctrine of Anaximander "is something more than a mere explanation of nature: it is the first philosophical theodicy." [20] It was only later, with the advent of the Platonic conception of God as the eternal and immutable source or arkhê situated "beyond being" (epekeina tês ousias), [21] that the problem of how to account for the presence of evil in the world became a radically difficult question. This was all the more marked precisely because the Platonic conception of God did not allow any negative predicates - indeed, it was limited. The Platonic God could only be the Good, the Eternal, the Just, etc. Anaximander's dynamic conception of the Deity was completely left behind. The issue becomes even more complex when we realize that the metaphysical conception of God developed in Platonic philosophy was the concrete representation of the very injustice mentioned by Anaximander - that is, the principle of staticity, of Being, was given absolute primacy over the productive force of Becoming, to the extent that the visible, sensible - i.e., changeable and "flowing" - world was degraded to the status of a mere illusion. 

This metaphysical conception of the Deity, and the philosophy that came to be based upon it, held sway throughout the centuries, and exercised its influence upon the Hellenistic mind to a profound degree. By the time of the emergence of the Christian kerygma, this Platonic philosophy was already firmly entrenched, and provided the language and concepts with which theologically minded individuals conceived of the Deity. It is therefore no accident that the New Testament came to be written, as Jaroslav Pelikan has remarked, "in the Greek of Socrates and Plato, or at any rate in a reasonably accurate facsimile thereof." [22] However, we must ask whether the mere use of philosophical or metaphysical language, in the New Testament, is evidence that the conception of the Deity expressed through that language is also, itself, metaphysical. 

The 'Myth' of the Incarnate Logos

Rudolph Bultmann, in his Existentialist analysis of the Cross and the Resurrection, has shown us that the deeper meaning of these events, as expressed in the New Testament, although in mythical language, is not itself mythical, and can indeed survive the process of "demythologization." [23] It must be kept in mind, however, that the events or doctrines that Bultmann was demythologizing are not strictu sensu "metaphysical" events; they are events of an historical character, albeit expressed mythically. By removing the mythical language from the explanation, or expression of the meaning, of these events, Bultmann was able, all the more easily, to fall back upon the Existentialist interpretation that he was already prepared to employ. But what of the Incarnation? The task of "demythologizing" that supremely metaphysical or 'cosmic' doctrine is rendered all the more difficult precisely because Existentialism does not possess the language to describe it. That is to say, this event is not of an existential nature; it is not historical, precisely because it exceeds history, belonging, as it does, to a process originating and culminating in the godhead. It is perhaps for this very reason that Bultmann did not attempt to demythologize the Incarnation, but rather left its mythical meaning intact, by describing it as an article of faith. He of course recognized the mythical character of the doctrine of the Incarnation, as expressed in the New Testament, but he also recognized, tacitly, that it need not be understood mythically. When he wrote, toward the end of Jesus Christ and Mythology, that "[w]hen we speak of God as acting, we do not speak mythologically in the objectifying sense," [24] Bultmann was referring to a manner of perceiving God's activity in our lives that is not metaphysical, in the sense of a transcendent being acting upon us, but rather personal, in the sense of a divine power acting or manifesting itself within us, in the course of a life lived, and dependent upon our own decision to either tend to or ignore the promise of this divine presence. 

The problem with this interpretation is that it places the power of the divine logos at the mercy of the human being, and, as I said of Carl Raschke's notion of the "kenotic consummation of the logos," leads to the secularization of the Deity. For when we demythologize the logos, by refusing to speak of the act of God apart from the human reception or recognition of that act, we are not only removing the myth from the logos, but the logos from the myth! The question we must ask is whether the Incarnation of the Logos, as expressed in the New Testament, can be 'de-mythed,' while leaving the logos intact. To answer this question, we must first discover the relation between mythical thought and metaphysical philosophy. 

The development within ancient Greek philosophy, which led from Anaximander's dynamic conception of the deity to the purely metaphysical conception that we find in Plato, is as varied and complex as the thinkers who contributed to it; however, one thing is clear: that Plato, more than any other thinker, is responsible for the birth of metaphysical thinking, and the theology that came to depend upon it for so many centuries. When we reflect upon the scientific rigor and critical thought with which Aristotle approached the doctrines contained in his own Metaphysics, it may seem striking that Plato relied heavily on myth in order to express his own metaphysical doctrines. Yet this is only striking if we fail to recall, or to appreciate the fact, that Plato was not, himself, returning to an earlier mode of mythical thinking that had now become outmoded or obsolete in the face of the 'scientific' approach of the Pre-Socratic thinkers, but was rather positing a brand new way of thinking about the Deity. That Plato permitted himself recourse to myths and mythical conceptions in those parts of his Dialogues that deal with these 'theological' issues, serves to show, I believe, that he was utilizing the language of the earlier mythic mode of thinking in order to better explain or elucidate his own entirely new conception of the Deity. 

We have already seen how for Anaximander the divinity was conceived in dynamic, productive terms, and described as being thoroughly immanent in the realm of existence. Plato entirely abandoned this way of thinking, and presented us with a view of the Deity (still prevalent today) in which God is described as changeless, eternal, static, at rest with Himself - and hence Limited. The reasons for Plato's conceiving of God in this way are complex, and I shall not discuss them here; however, it will suffice to say that with Platonism two important changes occurred in humankind's thinking about God. These changes are: (1.) the spatial positing of God or the Divine Realm as outside the cosmos (as opposed to the immanence of the Anaximandrean apeiron) and therefore "beyond being"; and (2.) the idea that the thoughts in the mind of God, the Forms, are essences that precede substance, and that all reality is comprised of the images produced or rendered possible by these eternal, intellectual 'seeds'. [25] 

The result of these conceptions are two distinct realms, that of the senses or matter, where human existence plays itself out, and the realm of the Deity, which the human mind can only grasp or understand after it has ceased to be human - that is, when it has become like that upon which it gazes. [26] No longer is the Deity experienced in/as immediacy; in order to know God, according to Plato, one must abandon the realm of the immediate, that is, of the senses. Whereas the Pre-Socratics, for the most part, saw in the immediate manifestations of productive power a direct theophany (which is why Thales could say that all things are full of gods, i.e., water, his productive principle), for Plato, the direct display of productive or natural power was of a lower order, since it involved change - albeit change following a fixed law, but change nonetheless, and hence un-divine. 

It is important to note that Plato's ideal was salvation through knowledge, and all of his myths, in the Dialogues, are concerned with the various aspects of this journey of the soul, or else with the structure and nature of the cosmos containing this soul. Therefore, the mythologizing of Plato is done from an existential standpoint, and not from a strictu sensu theological one. It is safe to say that, for Plato, there is no point in directly discussing God, since He or It is changeless, and so there is nothing to talk about! However, with the rise of Christianity, all the talk was not only about God, but about the way He acted in history, and became wholly human, for the salvation of all humans. When this divine event, the Incarnation, is understood within the limited confines of the Platonic conception of the Deity, then it is truly a 'mystery' or, depending upon one's attitude, "foolishness," a "stumbling block." However, when we think the Incarnation along the lines of Anaximander's conception of the apeiron as productive possibility, we find, in the notion of the "Logos made flesh" the very possibility of a return to a manner of thinking about God as the immanent possibility of existence, while preserving the necessity of the Platonic notion of supreme - if not absolute - transcendence that is so necessary for the Christian kerygma. 

When St. Paul wrote, in his Epistle to the Philippians, that Christ "emptied himself" (eauton ekenôse; Phil. 2:7), and in 2 Corinthians 2:9 that He "became poor" or lowly (eptôkheuse), we are being told that Christ, the Logos, relinquished His divinity when He became human. When these passages are read with the Platonic conception of the Deity in mind, we cannot help thinking, even if only fancifully, that God emptied Himself of His divine substance, and that this substance somehow became scattered throughout the material realm in the form of logoi spermatikoi, and that our salvation consists in our rendering back to God these lost seeds of divinity. This idea is only farfetched to us, because we have had the benefit of two thousand years of largely Platonic-Aristotelian exegesis of the New Testament, much of which has served to soften the bold mythical attitude of this early utterance of Christian faith, without ever coming to question the notion of God that lurks behind the language. The early Gnostics, of course, thought about salvation precisely in this crude - to us - mythical manner. Early in the Christian era this doctrine of the "redeemed redeemer" was quite popular, especially within the highly mythological Manichaean religion. [27] In fact, it is quite easy to 'blame' Christianity for the gradual lapse of the Platonic philosophy into a highly mythical attitude, replete with ritual magic or "theurgy," which became the rule by the time of Iamblichus in the fourth century. The reason for all of this is to be found in the supreme paradox that the language used by the New Testament writers (almost without exception) to describe God is derived from Platonic metaphysics, [28] and yet the underlying message is thoroughly un-Platonic and indeed 'mythical,' insofar as it involves a doctrine of a purely divine force or entity, the Logos, becoming entangled, as it were, in history - in that ever-flowing realm known as Becoming which, to the Platonists, had always held the character of, if not an outright illusion, at least - and especially among Gnostics - of something inferior to and ever separated from the Divine. 

The affront to reason, the skandalon, of the Christian kerygma, was its key doctrine that one is not required to ascend to union with God, but rather to accept God as He has descended to humanity - in the form, not only of a man, but of a servant (morphên doulou; Philippians 2:7). The mistake, made by the Gnostics and others, was to think that the purpose of this divine descent was to raise human beings up to the Deity; it was impossible for these early exegetes, so steeped in the Platonic philosophy, to understand that God Himself chose to incline towards humanity, giving Himself as a gift that would restore humanity to its primeval status as the image (eikona; Gen. 1:26 LXX) of God. This meant, not that human beings would be transformed into gods, as the Gnostics believed, but rather that they would come to be "sharers in the divine nature" (theias koinônoi phuseôs; 2 Peter 1:4). The method of salvation described in the New Testament, then, does not involve a once-for-all cosmic act of God, but a receptivity and decision on the part of humanity - to dwell with/in God. As St. Paul wrote: "in Him all the fullness [plêrôma] was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19). 

What is being broached here is a union of humanity with God in which the human is not only preserved, but perfected, and rendered capable of persisting not as a self-willed and finite human being, destined for death, but as a human being who is an image of God, and hence destined for an eternally fecund persistence in Becoming. The fact that humanity as a whole is implicated in this schema, as evidenced by the use of the term "fullness" (which was a common Gnostic term for the totality of spiritual beings, with which the redeemed human being was believed to join), shows that there is no notion, in this schema, of a cosmic - i.e., spatio-temporal - division between the material or human realm, and the realm of the divine, as Platonic philosophy taught, but only of an existential or 'psychological' division between human and Deity. 

According to the Christian kerygma, this breach both occurred and was healed within history, as part of a divine process, with the result that God, the Logos, is now immanent within His creation as the possibility of all existence, just as Anaximander's apeiron was immanent as the possibility of generation and decay, and the possibility of Becoming as the eternal Good, over-against Being, which is, in itself, the merely static. The fact that this movement or return from a static conception of God as Being, to a dynamic conception of God as the eternal, and immanent, possibility of all Becoming, was made possible by and through the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Logos, shows that, far from being the supremely mythical idea that it has often been taken to be, the Incarnation was, itself, an attempt to "demythologize" the Platonically-derived idea of salvation, which held that the human being must rise to God, and, by so doing, relinquish his or her humanity or personality in the process. This latter, Platonic conception of salvation presents a 'myth' of a wholly different order - that of the heroic quest for the homeland. Indeed, this myth goes back to Homer's Odysseus. However, by the Late Hellenistic era, the "homeland" was no longer Ithaca, an idyllic island within the world, but an hypostatized Pleroma held to exist "beyond being," to which all souls would rise only after leaving behind the body and all its accretions. 

The Platonic or metaphysical view of salvation, then, is not really a salvation of the human being, but rather, and paradoxically, a salvation of the human being from Humanity! The Christian idea of salvation, which can only be comprehended and experienced through the Incarnation, is truly a salvation of Humanity, for it brings all human beings together, as the "fullness," within God as the image of God - but also as a thoroughly human Humanity. 


My purpose here has been twofold: to show that it is still possible to speak meaningfully of transcendence in general, as well as, more specifically, to speak meaningfully of the Incarnation. I felt obliged to accomplish the latter task by showing in what way the doctrine of the Incarnation - understood as the response, on the part of an early community of believers to an historical, revelatory event - served the perhaps unintended purpose of 'de-mything' the earlier Platonic notion of a human ascent to God by turning the attention of individuals to the immanent manner in which God inclines toward us. To experience this inclination of God toward humanity is to actually experience transcendence, to understand or grasp the transcendent not as an abstraction, but as an ontologically or existentially valid event. Anaximander's idea of the infinite yet always immanent possibility for existence opened up by and with/in the apeiron serves as a philosophical or ahistorical basis upon which to speak of the incarnationality of the apeiron itself, which is brought before human understanding in the historical 'event' of Jesus Christ. My success in accomplishing the former task, of course, is completely dependent upon my success is carrying out the latter task. 

One unintended consequence of this endeavor has been the opening up to thought of the possibility that, due to the immanence of the apeiron and its incarnationality, there may be multiple incarnations, or at least more than one. [29] This is a very important matter for further thinking, since it threatens not only to take us beyond the confines of a strictly Christian philosophical theology, but to actually undermine my purpose in this undertaking. In conclusion, therefore, I will merely add a few words that will, I hope, lead us, not to an immediate answer, but to a larger arena for thought. 

It is my belief that, philosophically, Anaximander's apeiron represents an originary moment in thinking - a moment more pluralistic than Heidegger's alêtheia, and not as delimiting - a moment that, once thought, is not repeated, but remembered, held close in thought as the uncanny immanence of the eternal flow of Becoming. Was this apeiron forgotten, then, or lost in later conceptualization, like alêtheia, according to Heidegger, was lost behind the idea of truth as correctness in representation? We may only say that the apeiron was forgotten if its nature is such that it should be remembered - i.e., if we think of remembering as conceptualizing. If that is the case, then surely any attempt at conceptualizing the apeiron would lead to its loss within Being, which would, of course, be an injustice, on Anaximander's terms. However, the loss of the apeiron within Being would also open up the possibility for another incarnation, for what is lost and forgotten is always capable of (re)appearing for the first time. Let us say, rather, that the apeiron requires constantly to be brought to our attention, so that we may utilize and "partake" of this immanent and infinitely powerful source of existence. In that sense, there can only be one presentation or incarnation of the apeiron, which must, of necessity, take on an historical character. Historical events or persons are never really forgotten or lost; they simply require to be brought to attention, or re-presented, in ever new ways and contexts. There is only ever a single presentation, which then makes possible all subsequent re-presentations. The Incarnation of Christ was the unique presentation of God within history, with the result that any further re-presentations or re-incarnations of the unique Godhead must be understood or interpreted in light of the initial presentation - the Incarnation. 

End Notes

[1] An earlier version of this essay was presented at the 53rd Annual Northwest Conference on Philosophy, held at Washington State University, October 12-13, 2001. I would like to thank Professor Michael W. Myers, of the Department of Philosophy at Washington State University, for his challenging and insightful commentary on that earlier version, which has aided me greatly in my subsequent revision, and has led me to new paths of thinking on this subject. 

[2] Bultmann's program of "demythologization" was introduced in his 1941 essay entitled "New Testament and Mythology" (published in Bartsch, ed. Kerygma and Myth, New York: Harper and Row 1961). 

[3] Kerygma and Myth, p. 3. 

[4] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, tr. Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1974). Cf. esp. Part 2, "Nature, Culture, Writing." 

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, tr. Kaufmann, in The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Viking Penguin 1968), p. 483. 

[6] Cf. Plato, Phaedrus 275d-276a ff. 

[7] Carl A. Raschke, "The Deconstruction of God," in Deconstruction and Theology (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company 1982), p. 14.

[8] Deconstruction and Theology, p. 14. 

[9] Deconstruction and Theology, p. 31. 

[10] ex ôn de ê genesis esti tois ousi kai tên phthoran eis tauta ginesthai kata to khreôn. didonai gar auta dikên kai tisin allêlois tês adikias kata tên tou khronou taxin. Anaximander, fragment B 1 (Diels), my translation. The fragment is preserved in Simplicius' Commentary on the Physics 24.13-25. 

[11] Martin Heidegger, "The Anaximander Fragment," in Early Greek Thinking (New York: Harper and Row 1984), p. 13. 

[12] Simplicius lived to witness the closing of the Platonic Academy in Athens, by the Emperor Justinian, in 529 CE. 

[13] Cf. Heidegger, "What Calls for Thinking?" in Basic Writings, ed. Krell (New York: HarperCollins 1993).

[14] Although Heidegger is not often referred to as a philosopher of the 'concept,' I believe that his notions of 'being-toward-death,' 'Care' (Sorge), and most of all, his understanding of Being as that which conceals as it reveals (based on his analysis of the Greek term alêtheia) together produce a 'concept-world' that may or not be ultimately metaphysical. For an articulate and sympathetic challenge to some of Heidegger's ideas, from a Christian and 'post-metaphysical' viewpoint, see Bultmann, "The Historicity of Man and Faith," in Existence and Faith (New York: Meridian Books 1960), p. 92 ff. 

[15] Cf. Werner Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers (London: Oxford University Press 1967), p. 24. 

[16] F.M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation (New York: Harper and Row 1957), p. 145. 

[17] Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, esp. ch. 2, "The Origin of Moira," p. 40 ff. 

[18] This belief is attributed to Thales by Aristotle, in De Anima 411a7-8.

[19] Cf. G.M.A. Grube, Plato's Thought (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company 1980), p. 150. In this important study, Grube reminds us, referring to Wilamowitz, that for the ancient Greeks theos "is primarily a predicative notion." He goes on to explain that 'the divine' (theios), as an adjective, referred to anything that was felt to exceed the human being. 

"Any power, any force we see at work in the world, which is not born with us and will continue after we are gone could thus be called a god, and most of them were. 

It was not only the adjective divine (theios) that could be applied to anything greater and more lasting than man, but even the noun theos was constantly used in such a vague way that it cannot be translated god without making nonsense. The Milesian philosophers, for example, called theos the substratum of the physical world for which they sought, so that when Thales said the world was full of gods he may only have meant that it was full of water!" (Grube, pp. 150-151). 

But even if that were all Thales meant, he would still have been referring not to the simple element of water, but rather to the power or force inherent in water. For water, according to Thales (as his thought has come down to us) was a generative principle, not a mere substratum or foundation - i.e., this 'primal substance' was not considered to be static. 

[20] Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers, p. 36. 

[21] Plato, Republic 509b.

[22] Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism (New Haven: Yale University Press 1993), p. 3.

[23] Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth, esp. pp. 34-44. 

[24] Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1958), p. 62. 

[25] While Plato, in the Dialogues, never systematically explains or posits this conception of the Deity, we know that his immediate successor in the Academy, Speusippus, taught that Plato posited a One that is beyond being and wholly changeless. In fact, Speusippus went so far as to deny this One the status of a 'first principle' (arkhê); rather, he bestowed this distinction upon the Dyad, or the Unlimited Principle, which is ordered or governed by the One, the principle of Limit. The belief that the Forms are "thoughts in the Mind of God" is first attributed to Antiochus of Ascalon (fl. 110 BCE). It is, however, possible that this notion was so commonly accepted, that it did not require any explicit formulation by the teachers of the Old Academy - such is my conjecture. For more information, see John Dillon, The Middle Platonists (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1977). 

[26] Cf. Plato, Republic 508c-d, and 518a-d. The idea that the self is lost in this vision of the Good is problematical. For an alternative interpretation, see my essay, "Salvation and the Human Ideal: Plato, Plotinus, Origen," in the Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of the Ancient Philosophy Society, Villanova University 2001.

[27] Cf. my article on "Gnosticism," in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, esp. the section "Mani and Manichaeism." http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/g/gnostic.htm

[28] This does not necessarily mean that there was a self-conscious usage of Platonic language on the part of the New Testament writers. Indeed, the most striking examples of Platonism in the New Testament - e.g. the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews, as well as numerous sections of the Pauline Epistles where the spirit-soul-body distinction is broached - are filtered through Gnosticism. This serves to show, however, how prevalent the Platonic conception of the Deity, in its various historical forms, had become by the time of early Christianity. 

[29] This possibility was brought to my attention by Professor Michael W. Myers, in his commentary on an earlier draft of this essay (see note 1). 

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