restricted access 6. The Concreteness and Continuity of Faith
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6 The Concreteness and Continuity of Faith In chapter 5 we saw how the self is constituted through the address of an external word, which gives the self its point of unity (Einheitspunkt). But if the self is constituted in the event of being addressed, how does the self have continuity from moment to moment? Does this event have any concrete extension in the life of the self, or does this account lead in the direction of an actualistic or punctual (Pünktlich) self? Charles Taylor uses the term “punctual self” to describe the highly influential modern assumption that the self is pointlike in nature, with no extension in space, time, or corporeality. The punctual self is a disengaged consciousness, defined by its power to objectify external reality through its epistemic acts and to remake this reality through practical activity. This self is pointlike because it is really “nowhere”; it exercises these powers remotely,1 and in its most extreme form the punctual self defines itself entirely through its acts, which are unconditioned by any ontological claims regarding the way things are apart from these acts. We find an analogue to the punctual self in certain dialectical accounts of the eschatological event—the Moment, Kairos, Augenblick—of faith. In a radically disruptive event from beyond the closed world of the self, God justifies the sinner by grace and faith alone. The self constituted in this event is not the disengaged , punctual self of modernity, insofar as the faithful self does not define itself through unconditioned epistemic and practical acts. Instead, it is the revelatory , justifying act of God that is punctual in nature. The faithful self is sheer passivity, defined by a divine act that has no ontological location or extension. Does this pointlike eschatological event have any continuity in the concrete, historical existence of the self? There are two questions at stake here. First, what is the ontological status of revelation, that is, what sort of being does it have? Second, what sort of ontological continuity does the self have as the recipient of revelation? Is the self a bundle of these constituting moments? Is there any unity or continuity between the concrete, historical existence of the self and the self as it stands in this moment of justification? In an important sense the new reality of faith is hidden, but does this mean it is entirely absent from the horizon of self-understanding? In short, what difference does God’s ultimate word of address make in concrete existence? As Bonhoeffer puts it, we must consider “whether we can live by the ultimate alone, whether faith, so to speak, can be extended through time,” and “whether the word, the gospel, can be extended in 104 A Philosophical Anthropology of the Cross time” (E 151–52). If the moment has no extension, then it would seem that the faithful self is a purely punctual or actualistic self. In this chapter I examine how Ricoeur and Bonhoeffer diagnose this challenge , which they perceive as a danger of dialectical and existential theology. I also show how this debate is framed by a long-standing theological dispute over the capacity of the finite to bear the infinite. I conclude by proposing Bonhoeffer ’s category of the penultimate as a promising way to think about the relation between finite and infinite, immanence and transcendence, ontology and eschatology . Hermeneutics and the Moment An important reference point for both Bonhoeffer and Ricoeur is the early theology of Karl Barth. The theme of the eschatological moment punctuates Barth’s commentary on Romans, which describes the “Moment” of justification in which God acts and the human being does not. The error of religion is to assume that this moment depends on some prior or subsequent act—some behavior, feeling, or practice, but justification occurs entirely apart from the works of the law (Romans 3:28).2 We are habituated by religion, ethics, and metaphysics to assume that the moment occurs along a continuum, as an immanent telos actualized once certain conditions are established or a certain threshold is crossed. But the moment has no such continuity. It is Krisis. Thus Barth famously writes, “if I have a system, it is limited to a recognition of what Kierkegaard called the ‘infinite qualitative distinction’ between time and eternity .”3 The moment does not extend itself within the known world of historical existence; eternity touches time the way a tangent touches a circle—namely, at a point with no extension.4...