The Price Of Prayer – Prayer And The Heavenly Palace Of God, Part 2 (Kurt Appel)

Below is a continuation of a series of articles corresponding to chapters of the book Preis der Sterblichkeit: Christentum und Neuer Humanismus (Freiburg im Bresgau: Verlag Herder, 2015), edited by Kurt Appel, translated by Rachel Thomas.  English editor, Carl Raschke.  This volume of essays represents one of the major works in the new Catholic “cultural humanism” from Central Europe. 

The following is the second installment of Kurt Appel’s concluding essay on prayer. The first can be found here.

Prayer as Evocation of the Divine Name and Glorification of YHWH (Ps 36)

One of the most remarkable psalms in the Great Book of Prayer of Israel and the Church, the Psalter, is Psalm 36. It contains a profound reflection on the nature of prayer, which is quoted below. I refer the reader here to the outstanding interpretation of this psalm by N. Lohfink.[1] The following translation of Ps 36 is similar to that of Lohfink:[2]

1          To the leader. Of David, the servant of YHW

2          The whispering of infidelity to the sinner – (it speaks) within the space of my (own) heart.

Never (is there) any fear of God (elohim) before his eyes

3          For he has flattered himself (too much) in his own eyes (for) his iniquity (ʽāwōn) to be found out, (so that it might be) hated.

4          The words of his mouth (bring) mischief (against the poor) (ʼāven) and deceit (mirmāh); he is no longer capable of willing good through wisdom.

5          Thus he will (continue to) plot evil while on his bed, to travel a way that is not good, and will not reject evil (raʽ).

6          O YHWH, your faithfulness (chesed) (reaches) to the heavens,your trustworthiness (ʼemȗnāh) to the clouds.

7          Your righteousness (zedāquāh) like (as far as) the mountains of God, your judgments (mišpāt) (press as deep as) the great primeval flood, human and animal you constantly rescue, o YHWH.

8          How precious is your faithfulness (chesed), o God (elohim), so that all people take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

9          They feast on the fat of your house,and the river of your delights (Eden) – from that you permit them to drink.

10        For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

11        O continue your faithfulness (chesed) to those who know you, and your righteousness to those of upright heart.

12        May the feet of pride not tread upon me,or the hand of the sinner drive me away.

13        There the practitioners of evil lie prostrate (35:8); they are thrust down (35:5) and unable to rise (35:11).

Ps 36 builds on the preceding psalm in two ways. First, Ps 35 ends with the entreaty that the prayers of YHWH be murmured all day long, which is then realized in Ps 36. David is singularly referred to as the servant of YHWH, thus creating a direct connection to the wording of Ps 35:28, in which Israel’s king is identified through this terminology. A contextual link can also be observed in the fulfillment of the praise promise of Ps 35 and in the theme of the enemies. In Ps 35, as in Partial Collection 35 – 41, the subject of persecution remains in the foreground.

In Ps 35 the one who prays is confronted with superior numbers of insidious and presumptuous enemies, who are out to kill him. In Ps 36 the situation worsens as the enemies, who have gathered against the worshiper in Ps 35, make an even closer approach.

The place of enmity is now one’s own heart. It is from the sidelines that we hear the sounds of a perverse oracle with its accusations of guilt, violence against the weak and poor, betrayal and evil. All the features of the external enemy, which beset the worshiper in Ps. 35, have been transferred to the inner person. The adversary described there has proven to be a projection of one’s own mind, emotions, and affects.

The world which the spokesperson of Ps 36 inhabits has shrunken to a tiny point, the self-immured heart. In this constricted space there can be no room for any alterity. It is completely filled with the “I” and its projections. In addition, there can no possible place for self-distancing. The horror of God is rendered in the German language by the word Ent-setzen, which expresses a disturbance in the very redoubt in which man has settled in order to shut himself off from his surroundings. So what happens throughout the day is not the praise of YHWH displayed in Ps 35:28, but a total – spatially as well as temporally – and uninterrupted, immanent machinery of irascible malignancy, one which knows no “outside” and also no depth. One can add the observation that the four denominations of evil project the four ends of the earth onto the soul, thus reinforcing the impression of one that is closed off. It is hard to imagine a more powerful expression of  Augustine’s incurvatus in se

With this flourish the psalm might have reached its ending. However, it continues on. To be precise, the first part right after the title (V 1), which in four verses sketches the aforementioned most melancholy scene, is followed by two further sections along with a kind of epilogue. The third portion, like the first one, consists of four verses and 36 words, so that the psalm has a centerpiece, one which is clearly framed. The results are as follows. The headline in verse 1, in which the bow is stretched to the previous psalm, is followed by the first part with its description of the curved heart is made as true of the beta (V 2-5). Between these and the third part – as mentioned above, 36 words are used as well as the term “God” (Elohim) – the actual heart of the psalm, consisting of 2 verses and 16 words, is inserted. 

The central segment of the psalm begins with the tetragrammaton YHWH and ends with the name of God. Analogous to the four words used to refer to the enemy in the first part, four other terms are chosen for YHWH, namely, honor, reliability, justice, and the execution of the law. It is noteworthy that with the confession of the justice of YHWH, on the one hand, the promise of Ps 35 is to murmur its righteousness the whole day, and on the other hand a close relation to the worshiper himself, who in Ps 35 desires his righteousness (35,27).

If in the first portion there was an immense abyss between YHWH and the worshiper. In the second part a new relationship is established.  It is all the more remarkable since there is no path leading from Part I to Part II. Uttering the name of God signals a completely new approach. In the first part there is a somber description of the plight of the self-incarcerated sinner, from whose heart can finally be heard a still, small voice of faithfulness. The second part radically alters the entire scenario. It is a different voice that arises and interrupts the outer description as well as the oracle of self-projection of V 2-6.

This other voice, which relies on the unspeakable tetragram whose call begins with a suppression of the voice, a pause, a silence, and an awareness of the unspeakable, expands to assume a cosmic angle of vision. Instead of the four words manifesting the self-contained perspective of the oracle in the quiet of the heart, a new, immensely broad landscape comes into view. God’s communion reaches far beyond the earthly to the heavens and his faithfulness extends all the way to the clouds.

After the visible panorama has unfolded upwards, the same thing happens with the architecture of the cosmos. Justice extends to the mountains of God, not only because of their height, but because the bedrock of the mountains is infinitely deeper than the mighty roots of the trees. The next pericope fuses space and time together. The immensely deep subsoil of the mountains spreads downward towards the primeval flood on which all the world, including the peaks themselves, rests. The gaping chaos engulfing the primeval universe is touched by the law of God and shorn of its power of death, as the next sentence indicates: “Man and beast do you save (constantly), O YHWH”.

The spatial horizon of the voice extends to what is “beyond” all being. The same applies to the temporal horizon, which once again transcends the sphere of death as the most profound manifestation of the chaos, insofar as YHWH saves everything from it. This salvation does not extend simply to the worshiper, or Israel, or humanity, but rather is made available to all living beings. With this offer of salvation permeating the cosmos from “heaven” to the “primeval flood”, i.e. from the “last things” to the “first things”, the YHWH hymn reaches its climax and can pass into the renewed enunciation of the nameless name.  Between God and God, or better, between YHWH and YHWH, the entire cosmos is broken off as an act of a praise that culminates in the confession of saving grace for the sake of all mortal existence.

In the third section the addressee shifts. The explicit name of the divine, YHWH, is no longer invoked, only the general appellation “God” (Elohim). Thus, what follows is a supplement to a sequence that is already self-contained. After the silence that is obligatory when invoking the tetragrammaton, a new salutation to God is offered. It focuses on the motif of divine faithfulness, which was already introduced in the central section.

Next the narrator arrives at two critical junctures that enable him to recapitulate sacred history. The first juncture is the temple in Zion, the second the Garden of Eden.  Here we shift from God’s expansion throughout space into the realm of time. The third part opens with the eschaton. At the end of days the human race as a whole, far beyond the borders of Israel, will be flooding to Zion, as prophesied in Micah and Isaiah. They will be converging on the temple, where the cherubs dwell.

This same image crops up in V 8, where we immediately switch to the the of “first things” in the next verse. The specific wording of this passage evokes in Hebrew the name “Eden”, the Garden of Paradise. Temple and paradise are joined by the motif of the common meal, or the feast, which fills time all the way back from the “last things” to the “first things”. In V 10, this feast is associated with the life and light of God. God is the sun of righteousness, radiating through the entirety of the cosmos, right up to the primeval flood, and to the shores of deadly Sheol.

But the crucial theme here does not seem to be rescue from death, as Lohfink says, but the Cosmic Feast, which signifies precisely that salvation that reaches to death. So it is less a matter of salvation from death than our inclusion in the great feast that brings us within sight of the fountain of life and the vision of God. Of crucial importance is that this vision is no longer performed by the lonely heart immersed in the prayer, but by a “we” that binds the worshiper to Israel, to all humankind, to all life, and to God Himself.

The last two verses of the third part, in which motifs of the beginning – heart, righteousness, sinfulness – are taken up once more, pose the question of knowledge. God should extend his fellowship to those who know him. Considering the distinctive connotations of this verb (jedah), which in Hebrew also means sexual intercourse, it becomes understandable that one of the chief purposes of the Psalm is to promote intimate communion of the worshippers and the mortal world with God. In the opening the worshiper knew nothing of this mortality – “he was not afraid of God” (V 2). The worshiper believed he was untouchable and invulnerable. In contrast, the worshiper, horrified by the way in which the name of God pierces his own opaque self-reflection, can now bring his mortal existence into communion with God and commemorate that horror. However, there lurks within the seat of arrogance a warning that threatens to overwhelm the worshiper, as it did for Cain. The “expulsion” of sinners (v. 12) recalls the banishment from Paradise, which now is accomplished at the hands of the sinner himself, that is, on account of the high-minded and inviolably self-conscious heart itself.

An inorganic conclusion can be found the final verse (V 13), which in the symmetrical structure of the psalm corresponds to the title (V 1).  The words “lie prostrate,” “thrust down,” and “risen” imply an even closer connection to the preceding Psalm ( Of greater importance, however, is that the breaking of those who do not know death takes place at a “there”, which brings us to the second enigmatic message of the psalm. When considering the final verse, the reader of the Psalm is confronted with the fact that the “there” cannot be assigned to anything anywhere. It can refer to the temple and the paradise or to the communion with God.

But considering the fact that V 13 performs a pivotal function in the Psalms Collection 35-41, it suggests an even more radical interpretation, one which is vital for grasping the dynamics of prayer. The “there” refers to the whole psalm or to the Psalms collection in general. Moreover, it signifies the act of prayer itself. At the outset we could hear the place-less voice of the perverse oracle. Yet the voice here is, to a certain extent, the voice of the text, the psalter itself. It is the voice of “heaven”, that of the heavenly palace in which the Psalter is read, thus becoming the actual site of the heavens. Or if one looks more closely at the Psalm, to the place where heaven, earth, and the primeval flood come together and where the self-reflecting subject is set free and at the same time split asunder.

The psalm identifies two enigmatic points that are related to each other and which are connected by the motif of salvation – on the one hand by the tetragram YHWH and, on the other hand, by the “there”. The latter refers to the divine name of God, in the presence of which prayer, the entire Psalter and the world itself are gathered together. Before the heavenly palace the heart is set in motion by the voice of the Psalter, and aligns itself with the name of God. However, it persists as a break in the text and manifests itself in the collapse of the haughty subject which considers itself immortal. In consequencc, the entire psalm, at least in the canonical reading, drifts toward a silence that embodies the ultimate aim of prayer. In a manner of speaking, it builds up into a superfluous abundance of images, while it yet bids them dissolve into the same “eloquent” silence before the name of God. 

In the name itself is entailed the death of all imaginative worlds of the worshipper as well as the sphere of intimacy into which the worshiper returns. The name YHWH is associated with praise, which is no longer pronounced by the old, isolated subjectivity that once characterized the worshippers, but by a different voice that sublates the first. 

Openings: Leibniz, Kant and Hegel or Openness as Monad, Self-Affecting and World Encounter

Psalm 36 transports the worshiper to the edges of the cosmos. He was separated from all images (“images”) and projections, as well as the worshiper of the name of YHWH, thus broaching the possibility of a kind of prayer beyond introspection and manipulation. The question that, therefore, arises is whether there can be room in the cosmos, within the symbolic order of temporality, for the moment of simultaneous inception and disruption that the word YHWH signifies. Earlier we discussed Schelling, who sought to conceptualize the singularity of God.

Following the thought trajectory of Psalm 36, one could say that Schelling has in mind the final revelation of the name YHWH, which is connected with the closure of being itself, whether we are talking about the subject or metaphysical substance, but he perhaps has avoided the ultimate consequence of this break in language and thought. In this section we shall engage in a dialogue with Leibniz, Kant and Hegel. All these thinkers have one thing in common, a rejection of the naturalistic account of the world, which was already underway during their era.

Such an account coincides with the disappearance of the heavenly palace. It is an account without a real past and future, one that transpires in the immediacy of meaningless now-moments. Postmodernism has been characterized as the end of the grand narratives. Yet a question at the same time arises as to whether we are not confronted today with the hitherto most monstrous issue of all epochs – the extinction of the universe in entropic hypothermia. Dawkins and Company join in a tradition that begins with Plato and Zeno through a specific reading of the dialogue Parmenides[3] and continues all the way to modern nihilism.

If we may paraphrase Heidegger, it is the tradition that determines being as presence.[4] Hegel’s suspicion, hinted at in the first part, that the last narrative of the Western would be a “non-nihilistic” nihilism, found its political confirmation, much more than in the reign of terror of Robespierre and the French Revolution, in the all-encompassing terror of National Socialism, which turned out to be an ideology like nothing before or after it.  In National Socialism pure nihilation, and thus a “positive nothingness”, became the ultimate purpose of its very existence.[5]

Today we are confronted with a different kind of nihilism, namely a nihilism of temporality. Time here has no telos of any kind, either as a hoped for future or a past worth remembering. The interchangeability of its moments are matched by the virtual emptiness of our consumer world, in which every object has become arbitrarily replaced and treatable and reduced to its ghostly image.

The philosophical backdrop to temporal nihilism is that of a timeless being postulated in Parmenidean metaphysics, one which was not least thought of as an eternal, immutable, immanent, and absolutely self-present and static now. Such an ancient understanding of being  has transformed itself into the perfect self-presence and immanence of the machine. In “Zenoic” fashion, the pre-requisite for this self-presence is the divisibility of time into numerous motionless now-points, which are amalgamated to form a seamless cause-and-effect relationship.

There is no moment in it that would not be absolutely discernible and objectifiable, and there is no moment that could point beyond itself – hence the term “self-presence”). Shifts, apertures, or overlays have no place among them; everything is totally presentable. The atomized moment allows no scope for meaning and is therefore completely un-utterable, insofar as all linguistic expression manifests itself only in the shadings, associations. and “blurring” of the sentence. In the first section of the book, we suggested that bodies are always ex-oriented in their mutual references, that they are radically accessible to other forms of subjectivity, and that these openings generate a kind of “second skin” as a domain for performing the act of signification.  In contrast, machines are completely disembodied and devoid of any opening towards the other and thus without transcendence and meaning beyond the immediate moment.

This self-contained world subsists as a conceptualization of being that is a combination of objects, which are absolutely quantifiable and determinable as well as a sequence of events strung together as arbitrarily contiguous moments. In this manner  a complete history of the object world from the “big bang” to the end of all structures through a postulated proton decay in the year 10 or also with the “evaporation” of the last black holes in a period beyond 10 years is set. Since every structure can be explained by the movement of particles and their interactions, there is ultimately no ontological distinction and peculiarity, but at most quantitative degrees for each entropic state.

In contradistinction to this world of objects, whose absolute determinability and nakedness is set against every symbolic order, the subject functions as a disturbance, a lesion, and a displacement. The subject does not recount its history as the repetition of the past from a later vantage point.  Instead the past is constantly reconfigured and contextualized as well as reimagined. It is in fact an ontological prejudice of the present day, shared by both the historical and the natural sciences, that there is a past as such in the first place. It is not just a matter of asking to what degree we can make sense of an objectifiable past, one whose existence is merely presupposed, but even more radically whether something like the past can be considered a consistent entity, or whether it derives its meaning and its being only within the perturbations and refractions of our subjective symbolic worlds. Although we can inscribe and fix past(s) in the form of written materials, it is also true that it is only the reader who, in the reception of texts in ever new ways, brings this past to life and casts a vision of it. 

Even in his earlier writings, Hegel did not regard the world as an objectifiable spectrum of space-time into which a subject would simply be inserted. Rather, in his view, the world is fundamentally intersubjective. Not the subject-object relation, but the is the starting point. Our object world is therefore never to be regarded as independent of intersubjective relationships. Subjects cannot be reduced to objects, as Leibniz explained and, as Kant then showed in a splendid way in the chapter on the paralogisms of the Critique of Pure Reason. Leibniz realized that we never arrive at inner units starting from an object world. We would, as Kant states in the millennium parable, “find nothing but pieces that meet each other, but never something from which one can acquire a perception” (Consciousness, Note).: K.A.).[6]

Our contents of consciousness therefore only become meaningful if they are already constituted as units of meaning, which can then also be dissected in a further step (“pieces that meet one another”). In space as it is experienced, according to Leibniz, we find a paradigm for inner units, namely subjects. For this reason, the world for him is not a collection of mechanistic objects, which are in a space-time “apart”, but a world of subjects that establish their “temporality” and “spatiality” in the context of their respective world relations.

Every monad is an infinity of relations, in which other monads “perceive” to the extent that these relations are “presented” and “mirrored” in each one. A human subject perceives other human subjects, the sun, other living beings, e.g.  a beetle. These in turn perceive humans beings, and so on.  Space and time can no longer be detached from, and are not independent of, subjects in their acts of cognition. Rather, they are the expression, or schema, of the relations that constitute the subject, whereby genetivus subiectus and genetivus obiectivus coincide (or paraphrasing Deleuze,[7] “unfold”)! The decisive point is that in Leibniz the infinite differentiations in which the world meets us are an expression of the dynamic relations of the monads. They always have a subjective focus. The res extensa of Descartes does not exist independently, but is a specific expression of the monad, the res cogitans, whereby “cogitans” here expresses not only the conscious act of thought, but the one subjective “unified background” of every entity, whether it is self-conscious, alive, or just plain matter (stars, etc.)[8]

Kant goes beyond Leibniz— through steps which cannot be described in detail here[9] —by demonstrating that the manifold relations of the monads can only be constituted in an infinite regression within the monad, even though such a regression inevitably leads to antinomies. According to Leibniz, the relations of the monad are then adequately expressed in this constellation, if the monad is infinitely “permeable” to all other monads, and such an infinite permeability can also be predicated of the one and all-encompassing subjectivity of God along with his “yes” to the world. According to Kant, this movement towards the infinite means either an interminable, never definable extension of the finite, or a leap into an undeterminable otherness.  In both cases, the finite as such is no longer predicable, but either succumbs to either an infinite regress or eventuates in a “lost” leap.   The prerequisite for taking either step would be to exceed our spatiotemporal boundaries of experience, which Kant calls an “exuberance”.

Conversely, the philosopher from Königsberg represents the world neither as mechanistic structure (the atheist-materialist “solution”) nor as a form subjectivity (e.g., the pantheist Spinozan-Leibnizian[10] “solution” that God is the only subject and the only reality). In Kant’s work the concept of the atom and subject is replaced by that of synthesis. In every act of perception and thinking a conjunction is made that corresponds with that of the subject-predicate relationship and thus the structure of judgment. The true location of this “synthesizing” can be found in the “productive imagination”, in which a synthesis takes place that simultaneously creates a temporal series (produces time) together with the content of time (insofar as it “fills up time”),  the temporal order as a whole, and the embodiment of time, which consists in the correlation between time and object.[11].  Such a synthesis occurs when the structures of judgment inherent in reason develop temporally as a form of intuition that is prior to them.

In this sense the synthesis is neither subjective nor objective, insofar as there is no subject that might produce time.  Yet neither is there any time existing “in itself” independent of these determinations. The upshot of Kant’s formulation here, as Heidegger has emphasized,[12] is the establishment of an inseparable connection between the subject, the form of judgment, and time itself.  “Subjectivity” always requires such a connection, the production of temporal moments, a self-generating affect. This last term is of key importance. It points the way to the Kantian understanding of time and hints at semantic bridges to the work of Leibniz, Hegel and to the topic at issue here. According to Kant, the “form of intuition […] can be nothing but the way in which the mind is affected by its own activity – viz., this placing of its presentation and hence affected by itself; i.e. it is an inner sense insofar as that sense’s form is concerned”.[16]

Between the “activity of the mind”, namely the positing of the idea and its reception, there remains a hiatus, no matter how small. There is an unbridgeable gap between the act of positing and the manifestation of the idea, which explains how the idea not only consists of the active moment of the affection, but also that means affected. Time is just this interval between activity and passivity, a differential that widens in the act of each self-affection. It is not simply the drawing of a line in the mind as a continuous gesture of self-affection, but displacement and delay in the play of affection and affection, activity and passivity.

Thus time cannot enter into the act of conceptual synthesis (“judgment”) and remains the transcendental reference point (as a form of intuition, i.e. as difference, in which the connection of the judgment is formed) of all intellectual activity, by which the subject is constituted. In other words, in Kant the subject manifests itself as the process of synthesis, which, however, does not proceed absolutely, as in Leibniz, where God is the absolute bond of all monads (monas monadum)and thus the absolute subject, the absolute synthesis.  The absolute subject is structured around an absolute difference that cannot be reflected within itself and thus concretizes itself as time. The breathtaking consequence of this thought would be that time would not be thinkable in an affective “space,” but would be subject to the game of “afflicting” and “becoming afflicted,” one that is contrasted starkly with any purely material objectifiable view of being.

In Hegel’s work too the subject is constituted around a point of difference. Hegel’s novel idea, already mentioned in his early writings, consists in emphasizing intersubjectivity as the unfolding of this point of difference to the extent that the subject can only affect that difference, which in itself serves as the difference between singular and universal (for example, in the case of language).[14] Hegel’s early writings try to conceptualize this idea through the category of love.[12Pms 5] This is one of two possible combinations, or syntheses. The first synthesis is the subjugation/of the world through the subject’s own reflexivity, as is typical of the modern subject-object schema in which differences are subjugated/to the subject’s will to unify.

To this end the subject detaches itself from the natural and social ties in which it was embedded and tries to assimilate the world that is separate from it. To be able to do this the subject must render the world finite, objectify it, render it manageable, abstract it from its original connection with the subject, divest it of its difference and “comprehend” (begreifen) it.

Hegel makes the important statement that “Begreifen ist Beherrschen. Die Objekte beleben, ist, sie zu Göttern zu machen.”[16][konnte ich nicht finden!] While the first part of this sentence characterizes synthesis as subjugation, the second part conceives of synthesis as love. This is not a matter of the invention of gods but of the experience that the self cannot apprehend itself as an object (as the master of its own Doppelgänger, as it were), that self-experience can only arise out of the indisposable other, that point of difference in light of which time too must be conceptualized.

In Hegel’s early writings love expresses a primordial synthesis as the living world, as the most intimate form of relatedness within the difference(s) of one’s “own life”, that is, as a subject-subject-object relationship. Only because the subject is opened to other things, which confront it subjectively in its transcendent relationship, can the subject exist in the first place, can it perceive itself as a subject. In other words, we again find that the subject designates an affective space of being in which affecting and being affected are mutually dependent on each other. Like Leibniz, Hegel too universalizes this relationship. Strictly speaking, the subject can find expression only through subjective encounters, through its “own life”, because it is only the other that gives it meaning as a subject. Pure objects would be “mute.”

Therefore, in the earlier writings of Hegel, God is not to be thought of as the highest (sovereign) subject detached from the world, but as love, as the subjective and affective space in which world encounter takes place. This encounter oscillates between self-gain and self-loss. The “I” is found in the unity of the Other.  But it is precisely in the unity of the Other that it succeeds (as a subject!) in an act of self-loss.  It succeeds as a supplement, as an infinite difference to which it cannot attain. “The most intrinsic thing is united in the touch, in the sensation to unconsciousness, the abolition of all distinction …”[17] Hegel in this sentence is referring to the sexual encounter as a paradigm of love.

What is happening here is an opening towards a second opening is no longer reflexively accessible. The absolute merger and abolition of all distinction must not be understood in the sense of the first synthesis as integration of the other, but rather as its release (insofar as there is no longer “something” to distinguish here, but only the subject as a difference to himself and thus distinguishes it as pure openness).  Thus in the design of this radical openness, in which the two openings exchange and meet hospitably, the miracle of birth, the “becoming of aliveness” takes place. According to Hegel, the truth of the subject and its world is thus the opening of the other, or of being in the radically open, as embodied in the child. That is what is meant when Jesus urges us “to become like children” (Mt 18: 3). God as love is radical openness. As I indicated when discussing the work of Kant, it is time that characterizes the openness of our existence, or the difference constitutively inscribed in our existence.

According to Hegel’s early writings, birth, child and life do not refer to “something” but are in fact the absolute openness of the world, being towards the other. Rather than the relationship between two objects or even the relationship of a subject to an object, “being” is understood as the opening of life to its other or, better, as opening towards the openness of the other. Within this opened-up space life is embodied as the convivial exchange of affecting and being affected by the other, who can no longer be seen as a positive existent. And it is in this very movement of opening that prayer comes into play as the semantic expression of this radical opening. What is happening here is no longer a matter of addressing myself to a delimitable other that is localized and thus positivized by me, but neither is there any reference back to myself. Instead I “become-other-to-myself”. Prayer opens up linguistic spaces, one’s own and those of others, and impending times, both past and present, towards this other and they lay the ground for HIS arrival, which may occur in the form of a child or even a contingent event.

God is revealed through the openness of a given world-encounter, which excludes the possibility of unmediated access to him. This intellectual trajectory, on which Hegel set out in his early writings, is continued in a consistent and systematic way in the Phenomenology of Spirit and Science of Logic. While Hegel’s lectures discuss particular topics, it is fair to say that his major works are developments of the sphere of openness outlined above.

In the first part of the book I briefly sketched the approach taken by Hegel’s Phenomenology and tried to show how, up to the chapter on spirit, consciousness seeks to find itself in its world, in other words to position (imagine) itself within it,[18] while in the chapter on religion self-consciousness grasps and symbolizes itself as a negative other. The second negation would then be difference in itself as pure transition, as oscillating movement and referential structure, that which is radically open to itself, within which Hegel “locates” speculative philosophy.

The point of departure is neither a positivizable being, nor a delimitable subject, nor even a “self”, but rather that which unfurls itself and creates space within itself, which is encountered in the name of YHWH and entails an opening of our symbolic order.

Kurt Appel is Professor of Fundamental Theology in the Catholic Faculty as well as director of the Center for Religion and Transformation at the University of Vienna.  He is the author among many monographs of Zeit und Gott: Mythos und Logos der Zeit im Anschluss an Hegel und Schelling as well as Dem Leiden ein Gedächtnis geben with Johann Baptist Metz.


[1] See N. Lohfink, “Introspection and Cosmic Mysticism. Psalm 36”, in: In the Shadow of Your Wings: New Readings of Great Texts from the Bible. Translated by L. M. Maloney, Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press 2003, 98-110. See also E. Zenger, Dein Angesicht suche ich. Neue Psalmenauslegungen, Freiburg/Basel/Vienna: Herder 1998, 82-90; T. Lorenzin, I salmi, Milan: Paoline 2001.

[2] There have been some minor differences in the translation. Thus, for Hebrew ‘āwän, the term “rape of the law” was chosen instead of mischief. Chäsäd was translated with the venerable German word “Huld” (instead of fidelity)

[3] See K. Heinrich, Parmenides und Jona, Basel/Frankfurt: Stroemfeld/Roter Stern 1992. Conversely, see H. D. Bahr, Zeit der Muße – Zeit der Musen, Tübingen: Attempto 2008.

[4] In Being and Time Heidegger ruptures this classification through the structure of care and by consistently reflecting upon the primacy of the future. His account of an apresent time in his late work On Time and Being is even more radical. That a thinker of this calibre, to put it cautiously, sympathized at least on occasion with the positivist nihilism of all previous times, namely that nihilism in which nothing, as absolute annihilation, becomes a thing in itself, is hard to grasp. But it demonstrates that we must never regress, theologically or philosophically, to the point of abandoning Kant’s intellectual achievements and his philosophy of morality and freedom.

[5] In no way am I claiming that nihilism is the only way of explaining National Socialism. There are many modern nihilisms and many different forms of meaninglessness, and there are many factors and developments of a political, economic and cultural nature that led to the National Socialist disaster. But National Socialism would have been unthinkable without the modern form of nihilism.

[6]G. W. Leibniz, Monadology, Indianapolis IN: Hackett, §17/70.

[7] See G. Deleuze, The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque, Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press 1992.

[8] The question of non-living entities in Leibniz’s work would require in-depth discussion. I can only note here that in those spheres in which cosmic bodies generate their own gravity we would surely have to refer to monads from Leibniz’s perspective. See H-D. Klein, System der Philosophie II: Naturphilosophie, Frankfurt, etc: Peter Lang 2006.

[9] See K. Appel, Zeit und Gott, 65-72. See also: B. Liebrucks, Sprache und Bewußtsein IV. Die erste Revolution der Denkungsart Kant: Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Frankfurt: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft 1968.

[10] The final point made in the Monadology is that the finite subject is by definition the self-performance of God. See K. Appel, Zeit und Gott 61f.

[11] See I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Indianapolis IN: Hackett 1996, 145.[Hilfe!]

[12] See M. Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press 1997.

[13] I. Kant, Critique, 100.

[14] Departing from the model of self-affecting, P. A. Sequeri develops his ideas in light of the notion of a pro-affecting between father and son, and here the point of departure is the relational moment. See P. A. Sequeri, “Nur einer ist der Gute. Theologie der Affektion als Umkehr der Ontologie”, in: E. Arens (ed.), Theologie trifft Ästhetik (QD 246), Freiburg: Herder 2012, 46-72.

[15] See K. Appel, Entsprechung im Wider-Spruch. Eine Auseinandersetzung mit dem Offenbarungsbegriff der Politischen Theologie des jungen Hegel, Münster/Hamburg/London: Lit 2003; I. Guanzini, Il giovane Hegel e Paolo. L´amore fra politica e messianismo, Milan: Vita e Pensiero 2013.

[16] Quoted in what follows in G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A. V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1977.

[17] See G. W. F. Hegel, p. 248

[18] I believe we could fruitfully link Lacan’s three stages (imaginary, symbolic and real) to Hegel’s Phenomenology.

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