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David Bentley Hart

The Beauty of the Infinite

A Commentary on:
Introduction Part 2. I. 3, and III. iii.
Including a summary of Harts defense of the
By Dr. Peter Leithart

Peter J. Leithart, February 17, 2005

This is the first of what may turn out to be (but also may not turn out to be) a series of outlines
or summaries of David Bentley Harts Beauty of the Infinite. My goal in this outline (or, these
outlines) is not to critique Hart so much as to understand him.
This is an outline of the Introduction to the book.
I. The Question
Here Hart describes his project as a defense of the inherent aesthetic appeal of Christian
rhetoric. Christianity claims that the peace of Christ has entered into time, and this claim is
made a real and available practice in the church. Thus, it is the church that gives meaning to
the gospel, as the form of Christ is lived out in the community of the church . . . only if
Christ can be practiced is Jesus Lord.
This Christian claim stands in contrast to the contemporary post-Nietzschean claim that
violence is inescapable, and that all rhetoric is violent. A rhetoric of peace is not really that, but
merely duplicitous: subjected to a thorough critique, genealogy, or deconstruction, evangelical
rhetoric can undoubtedly be shown to conceal within itself the most insatiable appetite for
control. The churchs witness is for this line of thought in reality an aggression, the
ingratiating embassy of an omnivorous empire. If this postmodern perspective is true, then
Christianity faces an inherent contradiction between the content of its claims (the church is the
earnest of eschatological peace) and the form of its persuasion (rhetorical, and hence violent).
Hart adds that the postmodern claims about rhetorical violence should not be ignored. Christian
theology in fact claims as much about all worldly rhetorics when it claims to offer a unique
peace. The church agrees with Nietzsche that the world is under the authority of thrones,
dominions, principalities, and powers whose rule is violence, falsehood, and death. Because of
the churchs mixed record in embodying the peace of the kingdom, the question of the churchs
rhetoric is a question for herself, not merely for others.
Hart describes how rhetoric, and hence beauty, is at the heart of Christian theology. Christ is a
persuasion, a form of beauty, and this persuasion must be peace (again, if the church is to avoid
self-contradiction). It is the form of Christ that attracts, and this means beauty is central to the
persuasion of truth. In this regard, Hart affirms the postmodern triumph of rhetoric over
dialectic or the recognition that the dialectical is always essentially rhetorical. Once reason
enters language, it enters into all the deferrals, aporias, suppressions, and historical
contingencies that mark language. For Christian theology, this is simply fine. The church has no
dialectic that is more fundamental to its evangel than the form of Christ Himself. The church
has nothing invested in the near side of Lessings ditch, the side that affirms the universal
truths of reason, since Christian confession and thought is radically particular and radically

Hart intends to offer an aesthetic response to a postmodern insistence on the inescapability

of violence, but this can be adequate only if the church itself can give an account of beauty
with the resources of Christian tradition itself, a beauty that is non-violent peace. He aims to
show how the theme of beauty is found at every moment of the Christian story, in order to
give a continuous theological account of beauty.
Ultimately, he is examining two narratives of infinity: one that conceives of the infinite in
terms of a primordial and inevitable violence, and one that regards the infinite as originally and
everlastingly beautiful. In passing, Hart makes the important comment that infinity and beauty
coincide uniquely in Christianity.
II. Terms Employed.
A. Postmodernism
By postmodernism, Hart means, first, the triumph of rhetoric over dialectic, the recognition
of the rhetoricity of dialectic, the awakening to the aesthetic character of truth, or the unmasking
of dialectics attempts to hide its own rhetorical character. Postmodernisms denial that there is
an overarching dialectic by which a single and rationally ascertainable truth might be set above
all merely contingent truths is not a problem for Christian theology, which affirms that the God
who is Truth became a truth and which does not permit a simple abstraction from the story of
the gospel to universal principles. It remains in the realm of the particular, which is the realm of
The problem with postmodernism, Hart argues, is its residual modernism. In this context, he
brings up a second feature of the postmodern, Lyotards incredulity toward metanarratives.
Modernity does not describe a single narrative, but a metanarrative ambition, an effort to
transcend the conditioned finitude and contingency of stories by discovering the meaning,
limits, and motives of all stories. Postmodernism recognizes that these metanarratives all
stand upon a shifting surface of dead and living metaphors. But postmodernism is not merely
a reaction to the modern, but rather the climax of the critical tradition of the Enlightenment,
aiming at a critique without reserve. It attempts also to abstract from narratives, and strives
toward a status of meta-metanarrative, the story of no more stories. As Hart points out, the
truth of no truth becomes, inevitably, truth.
Hart suggests that a more radical kind of postmodernism would critique the illusion (shared by
moderns and postmoderns alike) that criticism can occupy a place of mere critical suspicion.
Criticism is always from a vantage point, and is always a type of surveillance that has
determined in advance the limits of every storys credibility. Specifically, postmodernism
critique excludes from the beginning traditional theological notions like participation, analogy,
revelation. This more radical Christian postmodernism is able to give utterance to a genuine
discourse of difference and distance, which secular postmodernism cannot achieve.
B. Metaphysics.

Hart begins by listing the various meanings of metaphysics in the Western philosophical
tradition. Citing Ricoeur, Hart suggests that lumping all Western thought into a single
metaphysical tradition is itself a kind of vengefulness and that displays an intellectual
laziness. Hart is skeptical about claims about the end of metaphysics. The end of metaphysics
is simply the introduction of another sort of metaphysics.
Taking Derrida as an example, Hart suggests that, for all his critique of structuralism, Derrida
operates very much like a structuralist when he abstracts from various traditions and finds in
them all a single governing pathos. This repeats the very gesture of metaphysics it enacts a
retreat from the bewildering world of difference to the secure simplicity of foundations.
Hence, Derrida need never consider the real differences that distinguish each tale from every
other. Christianity, Hart concedes, borrows from metaphysics in every age, but by virtue of
its sheer intractable historical particularity does not allow metaphysics of any sort to dictate its
terms. Attention to particular narratives, he argues, is the only true form of deconstruction,
dissolving as it does any stable image of the metaphysical.
To Lyotards notion of the sublime as a crux in the rebellion against totalizing systems,
Hart raises the question of the boundary. If, as Lyotard suggests, a sense of sublime renders all
representation provisional and unfounded, how is he able to locate the boundary between the
sublime (= metaphysical) and everything else? And if the boundary of the sublime is impossible
to discover, so also is the boundary between nature and supernature, narratives and
metanarratives, the metaphysical and the sensible. Citing Deleuzes concern to remain on the
surface, he raises the same question: How can you be sure youre staying on the surface
unless you know the boundary between surface and depth? The end of the metaphysical rests on
a metaphysical premise, the premise that one can see past the boundary that separates the
physical from the metaphysical; else, how do we even know it is a boundary?
A theology that is radically rooted in history and the particular, however, offers no way to neatly
distinguish surface and depth. Theology is always on the surface, but that surface seamlessly
joins natural and supernatural, immanent and transcendent, God and man. Theology does not
attempt to move from historical contingencies to an eternal signified; rather, the narrative
expands into ever greater dimensions of the revealed, crossing the line between the creaturely
and the divine . . .because that line is already crossed, not symbolically but in fact, in the
concrete person and history of Jesus. Theology distinguishes between transcendent and
immanent as different modes of discourse about God. Less philosophically, Gods eternal and
transcendent glory is manifested in creation, so that talk of the immanent and created is always
already talk about the transcendent and uncreated.
C. Totality and Infinity. For Hart, totality is the effort to grasp everything within an
immanent perspective; infinity is what one desires when one seeks to see the totality as the gift
of a true transcendence. He talks more about this in his discussion of Levinas later in the book.
III. Beauty.
Beauty is not of much interest to moderns, carrying connotations of merely decorative or pretty.

Many take an ethical offense at the prodigality or elitism of beauty, or out of the fear that
recognition of beauty will blunt the edge of a passion for justice, since it raises the temptation of
seeing injustice overwhelmed, domesticated, and reconciled in a larger harmony. It gives
harmony to tragedy. For Hart, beauty is necessarily associated with the particular, with form,
and is not concerned with timeless abstract wisdom. Thus, to grasp the aesthetic character of
Christian thought is also to understand the irreducible historicality of the content of Christian
faith. Hart offers a thematics of beauty under several headings.
A. Beauty is objective. This does not mean that beauty is the name of a thing, but rather that
beauty is prior to the response and evokes response. It is not a projection of desire but evokes
desire and can even be recognized in spite of desire (ie, taste can be cultivated). The fact that we
can be surprised by beauty is evidence of its objectivity, and is a pointer to the fact that beauty
comes to us as the communication of Gods glory: In the beautiful Gods glory is revealed as
something communicable and intrinsically delightful, as including the creature in its ends, and
as completely worthy of love. Beauty fosters both attachment and detachment; it can be
received only at a distance, only in letting be, as gift.
B. Beauty is the true form of distance. Created difference exists at the good pleasure of God,
not only in the sense that God willed it but in the sense that He is pleased with it. The distance
of Creator and creature is echoed in the difference and distance of one created thing from
another, and this created distance too is the distance of delight. Beauty is not an adornment, but
is the first word about existence, the first word about being (it was good). Metaphysics, in
attempting to overcome distance, also attempts to overcome beauty. This distance of beauty is
also an opening to the infinite, not in the sense that the beautiful orients us toward a formless
infinite, but in the sense that the object of desire is open to an infinity of perspectives. There
is no move from form/beauty to an infinite that is not beauty. In its infinite dimensions, the
object of desire, the beautiful thing, remains beauty. Beauty is always situated in perspectives
and vantages but never contained by them.
C. Beauty evokes desire. The response to beauty is not disinterested contemplation, but
interested desire, albeit a desire that includes delight in the very otherness and distance of the
beautiful. Beauty is not the product of will, but rather shapes will by evoking desire.
D. Beauty crosses boundaries. The idea of beauty can never be separated from particulars.
Also, beauty is always prodigal, and hence cannot be contained by our categories or
distinctions. The realm of beauty itself is not a separable realm from the realm of goodness;
delight in the other can evoke an ethical response.
E. Beauty is anti-gnostic. First, because it shows creation to be a theater of Gods glory, and
second because it shows the world to be unnecessary, a free gift of glory, framed for Gods
pleasure. In this section, Hart offers a wonderful summary of the Gnosticism of Bultmann,
suggesting that in the end demythologization means dehistoricization. Bultmann assumes that
history is a closed continuum of causality, and treats as myth everything that doesnt fit
that model. In such a scheme, there can be no salvation in history (other than within the
individual soul), and thus leaves the particulars of history without value. This arises in

Bultmann because Bultmann does not see the aesthetic continuity between God and creation,
that is, the fact that creation manifests the glory of the Creator.
F. Beauty resists reduction to the symbolic. Hart is not opposed to symbols per se, but argues
that symbolic robs beauty of its force by treating the aesthetic as an appropriation of the
aesthetic moment in the service of a supposedly more vital and essential meaning. Symbol
turns the semeia of the world simultaneously transparent and adiaphoral. In this context, Hart
offers a brief discussion of Tillich, where symbol is another means of escaping the specificity of
the biblical narrative of cross and resurrection.


Peter J. Leithart, March 03, 2005

Part 1: Dionysus against the Crucified.
Section 1: City and the Wastes.
Hart raises the question, What is postmodernism? And he answers by citing Milbanks claim
that postmodern French philosophers, for all their differences, are united in an ontology of
violence. Beginning from a radical historicism and perspectivism, postmodernists move to a
metaphysics where only violent difference is transcendent. Postmodernism can be understood
within the Nietzschean scheme of Dionysus v. Apollo (or the traditional philosophical
opposition of Heraclitus and Parmenides), but instead of joining most Western philosophy in
celebrating Apollos violent ordering of the chaos, it celebrates the violence of the chaos itself.
Hart suggests that Hegel is to blame for unleashing the Dionysian, precisely because his was the
most unrestrained, regal attempt to bring the dynamism of becoming into the fold of
magisterial metaphysics. In so doing, he ontologized strife and violence, incorporating it into
the overall system. With the systems failure, however, Dionysus declares independence from
Apollo. Hegel did not pose an alternative of two histories and two cities, a true and a false;
instead, the true and false, peace and violence, are convertible. When the totality of the
system collapses, there is nothing but the naked violence left, celebrated by Nietzsche. Hart
notes that in both the Hegelian and the Nietzschean position, the antinomy of flux and fixity
defines the limits and parameters of thought. A Christian understanding of the infinite will offer
an alternative not confined by this antinomy.
Hart reviews Milbanks treatment of Heidegger, whom Milbank also charges is complicit with
the ontology of violence. Milbank focuses on the notion of the fall of being into specific
epochal situations and into the realm of beings. For Heidegger, all manifestation/unveiling of
being within beings is simultaneously and necessarily a veiling. Not only does this imply a
univocity of being (since "every showing is a withdrawal there is no other mode of being than
veiling) but also it implies that ontological difference is itself a rupture within being. There is
for (Milbanks) Heidegger no analogical interval between Being and beings and no idea that
being is gift that suffers violence contingently. Heideggers es gibt (there is givenness)
therefore excludes the it is good of Genesis, and thus excludes also the possibility of beauty.
Hart wants to modify Milbanks account in some measure. The presencing of beings as a
rupture in the unanimity of being might make it seem as if Heidegger thinks of being as
some thing from which other things must positively break out into the open, rather than as the
sheer letting be of what is: not exactly something hidden made manifest, but the manifestation
of the manifest.Yet, the generosity of being consists precisely in its withholding itself, in
its nothingness among beings, its refusal to appear as the absolute, so that being is not the
plenitude of light but rather darkness, the dialectical negation that perpetually, indifferently
grants beings their finitude.; and this is, if not violence itself, the tragic fatedness to violence.
Truth is a being-manifest, but at the same time a struggle of obscurity and light . . . to that
peace and strife are inseparably joined. Thus, despite his differences with Milbank, he

concludes as well that Heideggers ontology is an ontology of violence.

II. The Veil of the Sublime.
In the opening portion of this section, Hart introduces the notion of the sublime as another
way to characterize and categorize postmodernist trends. After the opening section where he
describes the sublime in Kant and Lyotard primarily, and in the remainder of the chapter
examines four narratives of the sublime in postmodern thought: the differential, the
cosmological, the ontological, and the ethical.
Hart briefly traces how the sublime became a key theme of postmodernism, especially those
forms of postmodernism that accept the assault on metaphysics from Kant and Heidegger but
want to avoid the despair of destructive nihilism. Modern philosophy is the story of the
disruption of being, the disintegration of confidence in that radiant unity wherein the good, the
true, and the beautiful coincided as infinite simplicity and fecundity and the divorce between
the notion of being as supereminent fullness of being and God. As a result, being could only
be conceived of as an absence or veil, and transcendence could only be thought of as Gods
absence or exile or alienation. On these premises, being can be figured only as the sublime.
Fundamentally, the sublime is the unrepresentable, and hence something distinct from and
beyond the beautiful. For postmoderns, the unrepresentable is accorded an unquestioned
critical weight, and is somehow true, while representation . . . must dissemble this prior
and alien truth to achieve its quite necessary, but ultimately illusory, stability. The sublime thus
repeats the gesture of Kants first Critique with its prohibition on metaphysics, but also in
relation to the sublime transforms prohibition into a positive revelation of the limits and
possibilities of thought and freedom.
Lyotards account of the sublime serves to illustrate. In this concept, Lyotard finds a notion of
the unrepresentable more radical than the noumenon of Kants first critique because the
sublime actively impinges upon representation and ultimately undermines it. Lyotard writes,
The aesthetic of the sublime . . . comes about through the distension of beautiful forms to the
point of formlessness. . . and . . . , from that very fact, brings about the overturning, the
destruction, of the aesthetics of the beautiful. Beauty, Lyotard says, involves a marriage of
imagination of nature and mind, of imagination and understanding. But the sublime breaks
through this marriage, so that the sublime, as a sentiment of the mind (Kants notion), involves
the mind in feeling only itself. Nature is lacking for it. Thus, experience of the sublime
involves a sacrifice of the imaginative nature in the interests of practical reason. One way to
characterize the point is to say that for Loytard the aesthetics of the sublime are part of an attack
on totality: it belongs to a war upon totality, which claims to have had done with the ancient
desire to make difference obey the plot of the universal, and which preserves thoughts critical
distance from every representation.The sublime is not occasional either: it is at the very
foundation of sensibility, and thus helps thought to achieve an extranarrative vantage from
which the strategies of totality become visible.The sublime thus becomes an abolition of
beauty, the revelation that beauty becomes lost in its own contradiction and vanity.Lyotards
analysis, Hart argues, breaks with Kants at a crucial point, in that Lyotard is involved with a

renunciation of reason that Kant would never have countenanced.

A summary of an article by Rogozinski leads Hart to point out that the entire pathology of the
modern and postmodern can be diagnosed as a multifarious narrative of the sublime, in which
what pure reason extracts from experience and represents to itself is neutral appearance,
separated by an untransversable abyss from everything meaningful. The good and being do
not so much exceed the world as stand over against it, and truth is not, finally, the seen, but the
unseen that permits one to see. Postmodernism is in the grip of a mystical faith in the reality
of the veil of the sublime, which forces it into an immanent metaphysics (since it cannot pass
the veil). In this paradigm, there is no true transcendence: the unrepresentable is more original,
and qualitatively other, and it does not different from the representable by virtue of a greater
fullness and unity of those transcendental moments that constitute the world of appearance, but
by virtue of its absolute difference, its dialectical or negative indeterminancy, its no-thingness.
1. Differential sublime.
Having generally sketched the notion of sublime, Hart turns to the first of the postmodern
discourses of the sublime, the discourse of difference. Here Hart focuses particularly on
Derrida. Postmodern thought in general is an imperative to think difference, and to
prioritize difference over fixity, hence also the priority of change, absence, and
exteriority. Any attempt to confine the chaos of difference, to still the Heraclitean flux, is an
act of violence. Metaphysics arises from precisely this violence.
Derridas project, Hart argues, is an inversion of Hegel, in which all the negatives of Hegels
system which in Hegels story function as median points in the emergence of the Idea
become irreducibly part of the origin. Derrida affirms the primordial dispossession that permits
thought to move and beings to be, without any departure from or return to plenitude.
Derrida works this out particularly in relation to writing, by which he refers to the originary
absence that precedes and unsettles and illusion of presence. There is an arche-ecriture,
characterized by perpetual displacement of meaning, a referral and deferral along an axis of
interminable supplementation, dissemination, and slippage, never reaching the terminus of an
achiever reference that is prior to any present meaning. Difference deferral and difference
always outstrips being. Writing is always already begun, and the deferral is always already at
Hart cites Milbanks criticism that Derrida has simply assumed that all supplementation is
dissimulation, and his suggestion that Gadamers idea of an original supplementarity that is
both the open interminable repetition whereby the origin is and also a faithful supplement of
an origin that is itself pure giving. Hart notes that Milbanks criticism, arising out of
Trinitarian concerns, is more confessional than critical, and also questions whether Derrida
necessarily denies the peacefulness of the supplement. But he endorses the substance of
Milbanks charge, pointing out that Derrida has simply inverted the traditional priority of
difference to presence, rather than challenging the dialectical framework as such.

Hart admits that, with Derrida, Christian thinkers will affirm an originary violence, but that,
contrary to appearances, this violent writing is a palimpsest, obscuring yet another text that is
still written (all created being is written but in the style of a letter declaring love. That is, the
violence that Derrida finds inscribed in the foundations of all culture is secondary, a deviation
from an original peacefulness. That is, again, Derrida ontologizes the fall. Moreover, for
Christian thought, violence and dissimulation is not secondary to an unexplicated origin, a
naked being given as immediate presence, mediation in alienation from itself but rather to a
being that is itself mediation.
For Derrida, then, the sublime is glimpsed somehow in the gaps between flux and fixity, and it
has been identified as necessary incommensurability and struggle between the worlds power
to appear and the appearance of a world.
2. The cosmological sublime.
Here, Harts is concerned with the Nietzschean sublime of Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze makes
Chaos supreme, taking the place of the Neoplatonic One, the simple in which all forces are
gathered, which explicates itself in problems. Below representable space is an
unrepresentable and indifferent spatium, and below representable time is an unrepresentable
infinite linearity of time without a present (the aion). Representable space and time explicate the
spatium and aion because what is unexpressed is subject to the original Question that evokes
an infinite variety of answers in the form of signs.
Got that? More manageably, Hart suggests that Deleuzes project is an effort to affirm the
Platonic simulacrum or phantasm, that shock that impinges on thought and raises the
possibility of a difference between appearance and reality. For Deleuze, this simulacrum resists
similitude, analogy, or even any form of structuralism and is ultimately the unrepresentable,
the sublime, the experience of which precedes all representation, and which both founds and
defies representation. In an effort to complete the Kantian transcendentalism, however, Deleuze
focuses on the unharmonizable experiences in our faculties, and argues against both a Platonic
opposition if idea and likeness and a Kantian subordination of intuition to representation.
Instead, he follows a Stoic notion that ideas are incorporeals dwelling on the surface of the
actual. These surface ideas are images that are quite dead that never lived, and thus
actuality, in the virtuality of its depths, is formless, violent, disjoined, unsynthesizable, and
incapable of analogy. Thought in its representational or analogical modes always encounters
difference as a violent provocation, to which it reacts with a contrary violence of
dissimulating representation.
Deleuze works a bit with Kierkegaards conception of repetition. In Kierkegaard, repetition is
set against recollection, which, particularly in its Platonic variety, is an effort to swim upstream
against the flow of time back to an original eternity. For Christian though, Kierkegaard argues,
eternity is future, and is achieved by perseverance through change, which Hart describes as a
repetition within difference, of which identity is an effect. Deleuze, however, conflates
Kierkegaards concept with the Nietzschean idea of eternal recurrence, in a way that reduces to
repetition to an act of the will to power. Repetition for Deleuze is not a forward motion, but

instead imparts what is repesated in the form of loss.

As a result of these moves, Deleuze has no place for substance, presence, or analogy. He adopts
instead a Spinozan version of the univocity of being, so that being must be said of all things
in the same voice. Deleuze eliminates the God or nature from Spinoza, replacing it with
the necessity of chance. Thus, pure univocity at an ontological level, however, requires a
pure equivocation at the ontic level. Hart chides Deleuze for a simplistic understanding of
analogy (the equivocity of being, the univocity of attributes, but agrees that if analogy is no
more than the simple binary proportion of attribution, then Deleuze is right: If analogy is
merely about resemblance of attributes, and doesnt include a notion of true transcendence, then
each analogy does in fact merely identify abstract properties that may be ascribed to both God
and creatures. The will to power becomes the force of ontic becoming, while the eternal return
is the only ontological possibility.
Hart suggests that the ethical import of Deleuzes viewpoint is a joyous acceptance of all, an
embrace of all being, however ambiguous it may be, and a childlike delight in it. Hart spots a
kind of tragic wisdom here, which doesnt imagine a way of escape from the world, and so
bears all joyously.
3. The ontological sublime.
In this brief section, Hart treats the sublime as it appears in Heidegger, especially as it is
expressed in the work of Jean-Luc Nancy. Heidegger discovers the beginning of an ontology in
phenomenologys withdrawal from ontology, in the very phenomenological effort to collapse it
is into it appears. From this, Heidegger concludes that being appears only in the event of its
withdrawal, which grants being to beings. This ontological difference is conflated with the
distinction between the beautiful and the sublime, so that the sublime is not an intuition of
something beyond the sensible world but of the eventuation of the difference that gives (and
closes off within itself) the world.
For Nancy, the moment of sublime is a perception of the way that formlessness gives rise to
form, that what is not-limit gives rise to what is limited. From there, sensibility . . .
accomplishes a passage to the limit itself, which questions representation and presence in the
light of the nothing that makes them possible. Contemplating the sublime, for Nancy (against
Kantian rationalism), involves a sacrifice of reason which is an event of freedom. The sublime
grants the true sense of the world, namely, that it is open and that it comes as nothing but
the arrival and dissolution of its own sense. For Nancy, there is no continuity between the
sublime and beautiful, but an indissoluble bond of dialectical difference. The sublime is the
Truth that gives beauty its misleading untruths.
4. The ethical sublime.
This is the most bracing section in Harts treatment of the sublime, since he takes to task
Emmanuel Levinas, the postmodern philosopher that many perceive as perhaps the most useful
to theology. Hart thinks otherwise, charging that Levinass work represents poor philosophy

that is Manichean, Orphic, or Gnostic, and even perhaps a little depraved.

For Levinas, the sublime is the Other, which escapes our will and efforts to control, our
efforts to bind it within the framework of the Same. The Other imposes demands, an infinite
obligation that permits us no respite and excites in us an ethical desire susceptible of no
satiation. At the same time, the Other always condemns, so that to hear the call of the Other
is to know oneself as guilty. Perhaps the clearest way to say this is to point to how Levinas
treats those common goods that we live from. Hart mentions light, air, shelter, food.
Unwilling to say that such are good, Levinas suggests that they are instead characterized by
sincerity. Yet, since they compose our world of self-concern, when the circle of
enjoyment is crossed by the Other, it is rendered guilty. Another way to state the point is that
Levinas sees no bridge from Eros to Agape, but instead argues that the erotic is possibly good
only in its surrender to what eludes enjoyment. He denies the goodness of conatus, the desire
to be. Levinass model of Eros is the caress, rather than the embrace, since the caress does
not make any claims, does not possess, as the hand passes over and comes back empty. This
dissatisfaction is the experience of sublime, since What is a defect in the finite order becomes
an excellence in the infinite order. The Other becomes a torturer, a persecutor, who is always
only negatively related to our desires.
Hart points out that Levinas ultimately ends with an Other that is not really other: He asks
whether Levinass austere ethics, complete disinterest, hyperbolic selflessness might perhaps
serve a somewhat self-aggrandizing moral heroism, a selfishness so hyperbolic that it must
ultimately erase everything distinct, desirable, and genuinely other in the other to preserve itself
from the contamination of need, dependency, or hope? Behind Levinas Hart sees not merely
the Kantian or Fichtean Ego; Levinasian postmodernism is the climax not the contradiction of
the aspiration to freedom found in modern thought.
There is much else in Harts account that is worthwhile, but several brief points must suffice.
First, Levinas claims that the relation to the Other is a relation without relation, and is not an
act of communion. It is completely contextless. Hart responds, rightly, that there is no genuine
relation with an other that is not thematized according to some cultural codes. Second, he
points out that for Christian ethics, ethics flows from love and joy, rather than from mere
obligation, and that love has a necessarily erotic component some aspect of desire for the
other. Third, Hart affirms conatus because the desire to be is most frequently a desire to be
with. Conatus is not merely self-interested, but interested in self precisely for the sake of the
other. Finally, he points out that analogy provides a framework in which recognizing the other
as alter ego is not totalizing; analogy is not identity, and the reduction to analogy that
Levinas decries is reduction of the other to another other.
Hart traces Derridas interactions with Levinas, concluding that Derridas rejection of Levinass
infinity and sublime, and his confinement of philosophy to history and the immanent, actually
yields a more ethically responsible position than Levinas. Yet, he also argues that Derridas
position entails an inherent violence in history and the impossibility of a non-violent rhetoric.
Hart admits that his taxonomy of postmodernisms by their view of the sublime may be

somewhat arbitrary, but he points to a number of common themes throughout the writers he
1. Beauty belongs to the realm of the representable, the realm of limit, possession, and stability,
and because of that beauty necessary falsifies the truth.
2. That the truth of being is other than presence; truth has an absolute otherness.
3. The sublime is the intimation of this difference, and as such is both the opposite and the
condition of the beautiful.
4. The infinite cannot be rendered in the ontic sphere; there is no participating analogy,
and no actual continuity with the world apart from the sublime instance that adumbrates it under
the form of radical discontinuity.
5. Beauty gives nothing ultimate, and hence is merely a soporific that distracts from the truth
of the world, which is wholly other than its representable present.
Hart concludes that his two descriptions of postmodernism ontological violence and discourse
of the sublime are ultimately the same: if the world takes shape against the veil of the
unrepresentable, is indeed given or confirmed in its finitude by this impenetrable negation, then
the discrimination of peace from violence is at most a necessary fiction, and occasionally a
critical impossibility.
The options available in postmodernity are thus the tragic melancholy and resignation of a
Levinas or the tragic joy and exuberance of the Nietzsche. Of these, Hart finds Nietzsche the
more congenial, since Nietzsche is able to say it is good to the world and, with the Christian,
recognize that even pain is not incompatible with a good creation. Further, Nietzsche calls
Christianity back to its original form, a rhetorical one, yet also poses the challenge of whether
there can be a rhetoric of peace. Hart will turn to Nietzsche in the following section.


Peter J. Leithart, March 17, 2005

Hart has previously discussed various postmodernism options for aesthetics, showing how
postmodernism reduces to an ontology of violence or a discourse of the sublime. Now he turns
to Nietzsche to ask whether he provides a possible future for thought.
Part I
III. The Will to Power.
Hart suggests that in Nietzsche, the church faces a philosophical adversary whose critique of
Christianity appears to be as radical as the kerygma it denounces. More than even the ancient
opponents of Christianity like Celsus, Nietzsche has grasped how thoroughly Christianity
subverted the values of antiquity, and this allows theology to glimpse something of its own
depths in the mirror of his contempt. Nietzsche thus does faith honor while attacking it.
At the same time that theology recognizes the value of Nietzsches critique of Christianity, it
should also respond to his challenge. While doing this, theology must recognize the character of
Nietzsches attack, which is first and foremost a virtuoso performance, a rhetorical tour de
force rather than a reasoned argument. Hart examines Nietzsches development of three
points: his attack on Christian morality; his views on the person of Christ; and finally an
assessment of the force of his critique. This response does not focus on the historical accuracy
of Nietzsches critique, since the force of the critique does not depend on accuracy but upon the
rhetorical power of the narrative subversion that Nietzsche attempts. The church must meet
Nietzsches challenge on the field of rhetoric and narrative.
Christian morality. Nietzsche objection to Christianity is not so much intellectual as aesthetic; it
is a matter of taste. Christianity inverts all noble values of antiquity, and represents a strategy of
ressentiment, the resentment of the weak against the strong. Christianity is an enemy of life,
natural life with all its urges and pains and violences; Christianity is a withdrawal from the
world, a poor mans Platonism that urges men to see life here as impure and to yearn instead for
eternity. It is the religion of masculation. Christianity is an enemy of life, false to the world, a
cruel denial of sensuality and joy.
As an alternative, Nietzsche offers Dionysus, the god of ecstasy, life, power, joy. Dionysus
represents the celebration of life as it is, while the cross of Christ represents the condemnation
of this life as it is. For the Dionysian, being needs no justification, it is in Nietzsches words
holy enough to justify even a monstrous amount of suffering. The cross renders life guilty
and unjust, while the suffering of Dionysus, his dismemberment and restoration, is the justice of
Christianity thus arises from a slave mentality, where the weak undermine the values of nobility
in favor of the their own values the values of pity, relief, comfort, and consolation. A
specifically Jewish spite for the strong thus drives Christian morality, a kind of aggressive
impotence. Hart points out how effectively Nietzsche evokes the psychology of resentment,

exploiting a specifically Christian tendency to examine and suspect motives, and to anticipate
hypocrisy lurking in even the purest hearts.
Positively, Nietzsche claims that life simply is will to power. Man is to conform to nature,
and nature teaches continuous agon. Suppression of this natural strife is the work of worlddespising priests, the villains of Nietzsches narrative (as also, curiously, of the liberal
Protestant narrative). Consonance with nature is the standard against which all moralities are
judged, Christianity especially; and Christianity is an inversion of nature. (Hart acknowledges
Jasperss point that Nietzsche may be self-contradictory at this point, since he presents an
absolute standard in the course of attacking absolutes.)
Christianitys invention of the soul a stable presence underlying action and change as the
greatest inversion of nature brought to man. The invention of the soul created a moral interval
between force and its exercise; the notion of a soul leads to a divided self, such that the pursuit
of natural instincts and the will to power has to be checked against the underlying reality of
soul. The invention of soul gives a man the opportunity to withdraw from his act, recoil from
his own force. A man with a soul might be guilty of pursuing his natural force. But the moral
interval is not naturally there, Nietzsche claims, but is an invention of priests. Birds of prey is
not free to be passive, nor is it guilty for preying on its prey. Civilization depends on
sublimating the will to power into socially constructive uses of sacrifice, self-discipline, the
internalization of law. This sublimation is actually necessary for the full development of power.
Of this sublimation, however, Christianity is a parody, sublimating aggression not into socially
useful pursuits but creating bad conscience, the internalization of morality that involves mans
most aggressive instincts being turned against himself. Christianity further refuses to
acknowledge that it is involves in this dissumlation, refuses to acknowledge that Christianity is
itself a manifestation of the will to power. Priests rule through the invention of sin.
Hart offers a series of criticisms of this genealogy of morals. First, there is a contradiction at the
heart of Nietzsches account, in that he speaks of life and nature and instinct as if they
were absolutes, all the while claiming that all truths are culturally contingent. Second,
Nietzsches construct depends on an absolute metaphysics in which life is essentially
appropriation, injury, overpowering. Nietzsche, in short, is evangelizing for an ontology of
violence of a basic kind. For Hart, this is no more natural than an ontology of peace and gift;
Nietzsches preference for the agon is simply an aesthetic preference, a matter of taste. Third,
while Christianity early on adopted a Platonic language, it quickly found that it could not
maintain it in its original form. Already with Plotinus, in fact, Platonism had moved in a
Christian direction, in that Plotinus substituted emanation for the original Platonic notion of a
specular relationship between the apparent world of chaotic materiality and the ideal world it
imperfectly imitates. For Plotinus, the infinite was no longer fearful or chaotic, but the
positive plenitude of the goodness of the One. Christianity pressed further, declaring the
Trinity to be equal persons in perichoretic unity, thus undermining the Neoplatonic hierarchy of
diminishing being and destroying finall the last trace of an ontological space of the
simulacral. Christianity thus affirmed that created difference is good. Fourth, for the church
fathers, the fact that creation means the formation of another difference is not the same as
creation as the formation of another world. Christianity does not really teach that there are

two worlds, eternity and time, but rather that the world is much larger and more expansive
than we realize. Were this not the case, Christianity could not have spoken of the world as good,
as participation in the good, or as manifesting the glory of God. Prior to modern Protestantism,
only gnostics spoke of another world of spiritual (or existential) interiority. For ancient
Christianity, the cosmos joined heaven and earth seamlessly.
Fifth, the church can actually join Nietzsche in his enmity to every faith that distracts from or
hates life, but this view, however often it manifested itself in Christianity, actually arose within
ancient paganism. By the time of Christianitys appearance, it had been recognized that ancient
religion was a religion of strife, and two alternatives presented themselves empire, which would
suppress strife by the triumph of one god or power, and retreat from the world. Insofar as
Nietzsches critique applies to the church, it really applies to gnosticism, which the church
rejected long before Nietzsche. Christianity, by contrast, came onto the scene affirming flesh in
all kinds of unseemly ways: incarnation, resurrection of the body, transfiguration of the cosmos.
Christianity came on the scene claiming, with Judaism, that the world was good, a manifestation
of the glory of God. Nietzsche never grasps Christianitys view of creation, nor the corollary
that evil is not a substance. Even the cross is not a renunciation of the world; Christ renounced
wine as he went to the cross, and with wine he rejected all the abundance and joy of creation,
but he renounced with the promise that he would drink it new in the kingdom. In a brilliant
excursus, Hart suggests that the whole contrast of Dionysus and Christ can be summarized
through a consideration of wine. For Dionysus, wine is repeatedly associated with madness,
anthropophagy, slaughter, warfare, and rapine, while the wine of Christianity is the wine of
agape and the feast of fellowship. But how would Nietzsche know the difference? He was a
teetotaler and could not judge the merit of either vintage.
Sixth, what of the soul? Citing Milbank, Hart suggests that there is no need to project moral
judgment to a permanent selfEunderlying action, since within nobleEactions there
is always already a metaphorical tension.EThat is, the noble are always already formed by
cultural codes, by narratives, by mimesis of some totem. The slaves who challenge noble
morality might simply recognize the metaphorical nature, that is the contingency, of noble
morality and wish to offer an alternative metaphor. Nietzsche, Milbank recognizes, cares little
about the codes that function within nobleEsocieties, taking them, contradictorily, as an
expression of pure nature.
This suggests, further, that Nietzsche is operating with an anthropology every bit as essentialist
as Descartes. If the warrior is nothing but his own actions, and each action is an immediate
expression of the self, what would he be other than an egological substanceE If there is no
interval between action and identity, then is this not still the concrete reality of a self,
invariable and absolute, the Cartesian ego transposed into a phenomenalist key?EA soul that
is at the surface, even if it is called an eventErather than a substance, is still a mythical, and
a phenomenalized substance is still a substance. The moral interval that Nietzsche wants to
reject is actually a delay or opening that divides the will, reason, and desire, and where the self
finds itself always subject to the bearing over (METAPHEREIN) of
metaphor.EChristianitys interiority is an inward fold of an outward surface,Ea place
where the self might be reinterpreted and rewritten. Against Nietzsche, only an essential self

could be immutable and resistant to every renarration.ENature and totemism arise together,
metaphor is always present, and therefore there is no tracing back beyond culture and language.
This means that within human action, there is always an absence within every presence
(because of the gapEopened by metaphor). Nietzsche again is merely declaring his
preference for certain kinds of totems.
What of the charge that Christianity is so bound up with an account of the self that the
postmodern destruction of the subject is a frontal attack on Christianity? Hart suggests that
Christianity is in fact a much more radical critic of an invariable, essential self than Nietzsche
is. Nietzsche, after all, finds will to power and only will to power in every surface intention that
he examines; he always seeks something deeper than the surface, and each time the depths are
the same. Admiration of saints is for Nietzsche only an admiration for their will to power. Hart
points out that saints can evoke a whole range of responses, and might open the viewer to the
form of Christ that has shaped the saint. Nietzsches account is reductive, and hence
essentialist; interiority is a fixed reality, fixated on power.
Early Christianity did not in fact invent or even teach that the self is a timeless substance that
remains fixed and stable despite all eternal changes. For Augustine, often cited as the inventor
of subjectivity, the self has no center in itself, but is constituted by its longing for an infinite that
it cannot possess. The imago Dei is in fact precisely this, not a possession so much as a desire
for the infinity of God, a hope. For Gregory of Nyssa, the soul is an always outstretched,
open, and changing motion, an infinite exodus from nothingness into Gods inexhaustible
In the end, the main charge against Nietzsches historicist genealogy is that it simply is not
nearly historicist enough.E
Jesus. Exposing the fact that Nietzsches historical accounts are guided by a monist
metaphysical position does not really undermine his critique. Again, aesthetics is the key.
Nietzsche takes the position that truthEis in service to evaluation, and his goal is to identify
an aesthetic disposition (noble virtue) from which to wage a war of stories. Christianity has long
understood this, that it cannot offer any more fundamental argumentEfor the faith than the
form of Christ Himself, than the narrative of the gospel. Thus, while Christianity can
acknowledge that its own history has been in some measure a history of apostasy, it cannot
accept an assault on the form of Christ. Hence we come to Nietzsches account of Jesus.
Nietzsche finds it difficult to fit Jesus into his story of will to power and ressentiment. Jesus
renounces power, but not out of resentment. What to do with him? Nietzsche makes two key
moves, first cutting off Jesus from the church and asserting his utter uniqueness, and second
arguing that Jesus was decadent and life-denying to begin with.
Nietzsches account of Jesus depends heavily on the biblical scholarship of his time, but is
more honest that he is pursuing an imaginative construct of Jesus, rather than what he considers
an inaccessible historical Jesus. He attempts to describe the psychology of Jesus, but he does so
without much real attention to the gospelsEaccount of Jesus. With the gospels no more than a

palimpsest, Nietzsche is free to create a Jesus for his own purposes. Hart argues that
Nietzsches account is exceeded in every direction by the uncanniness of the Christ of the
Gospels.EJesus outfoxes Nietzsche.
What kind of psyche does Jesus possess? He has no capacity for enmity, and therefore cannot be
a hero. Instead, he lived in a sweet delerium, in which a life of eternal love seemed present in
each moment, in which all men appeared as equal, the children of God; an inner world of his
own creation, one to which he fled principally on account of his excessive sensitivity to touch
and abrasion, his morbid dread of realitys sting; his was a childs evangel, an exhortation to
simple faith, a devotion to an inner light and an immunity to all concrete realities.EThis Jesus
is not Jewish; he is not an apocalyptic prophet; he is not one to drive money-changers from the
temple. All such sharpness and edginess is a Jewish falsification of the gospel. Nietzsches
Jesus is the Jesus of liberal Protestantism, the beautiful soul of Hegel, operating by a kind of
angelistic retreat from the world. This is amazing: Nietzsche finds nothing in the gospels except
what is given by liberal Protestantism. Nietzsche even repeats the liberal Protestant separation
of Jesus and Paul. Jesus was the first and only Christian, but Paul restores Jewish resentment to
Christianity in his interpretation of the cross, in an effort to assert his sacerdotal control of the
masses. Radical? Harumph.
Hart charges that Nietzsches Jesus is not only an historical failure, but more importantly an
imaginative one. His psychology is formed simplistically between the poles of action and
reaction, and he cannot imagine a responsiveness that is creative, which is precisely the
Christian notion of agape. Even if Jesus is the dreamer that Nietzsche claims, this is not
necessarily at the expense of creativity, suggesting instead that a certain distance and oneiric
cast of mind, is required for any creative action; a new practice requires a new imagination of
the world.EJesus was re-imagining the world not according to the grammar of power but the
grammar of agape. The church is the social realization of this re-imagining of the world, a
partial realization and imperfect enactment of this new creation.EBut this is precisely what
Nietzsche cannot allow. Perhaps there can be one man who renounces the will to power with
sincerity, but if there is a community that is governed by love rather than power, Nietzsches
ontology of violence, his monism of the will to power, must be false. The very existence of the
church gives the lie to Nietzsches metaphysics.
Force of Critique. Nietzsche in the end serves the wisdom of totality,Ealbeit a totality that,
like Dionysus, rends itself in order to be reborn. But Christ sends tremors through totality,
subverting both Dionysus and Apollo, and showing that every claim to power and to rights
[is] not only provisional, not only false, but quite simply absurd.EThe Christian claim that the
beauty of Christ appears among the outcasts and slaves is not a sop of comfort nor an
endorsement of weakness or ugliness; the beauty of Christ radiates from the slaves because
Christ dwells in them. If this is to be believed, it will require a far more radical antiessentialism
and historicism than Nietzsches: it would require the belief that nothing in the world so
essentially determines the nature of humanity or the scope of the human soul that there is no
possibility of being reborn.E

Again, taste is the key issue. Nietzsches disdain for Christianity does not follow from his
critique; it is the force of the critique. Postmodern disciples of Nietzsche thus fail to mount so
serious a challenge as their master when they focus on his metaphysics rather than his
evangelistic rhetoric. And his aesthetic preferences run against the preferences and tastes of the
gospels. Nietzsche finds it laughableEthat the gospels show God interested in and involved
with the pettiest troublesEof the fishermen and petty officials of the gospels. He is most
offended that the gospels could record Peters tears after his denial as if they were meaningful
or profound. No self-respecting ancient writer would have shown a fishermans tears without
mocking them. The gospels thus mark a revolution indeed, a revolution of taste, and this is
where the battle between Nietzsche and Christianity must be joined: The most potent reply a
Christian can make to Nietzsches critique is to accuse him of a defect of sensibility Eof
bad taste.E


Peter J. Leithart, May 04, 2005

Part I.
Section IV: Covenant of Light.
This section concludes Part I of The Beauty of the Infinite, entitled Dionysus Against the
Crucified. With this section, Hart concludes his critique of classical, modern and postmodern
thought, and the outlines of the Christian ontology that interrupted the history of metaphysics
and that he develops in the dogmatica minora that constitutes the remainder of the book. He
describes the phrase used as a title for this section late in the section: the covenant of light is a
trust in the evidence of the given, an understanding of knowledge as an effect of the eros stirred
by the gift of the worlds truth(p. 145).
The section begins with a discussion of the interlocking of cosmos, city, and soul in ancient
Greek metaphysics. At each level, the ancient Greeks conceived of being and order as the result
of a violence that stands against the violence of a formless chaos. The city is a hard-won outpost
of order within barbarism; the moderate soul is won by suppressing the violences of excess that
threaten personal and political order; the ordered universe is carved violently out of chaos.
Metaphysics repeats this violence intellectually: Metaphysics, in the words of Gianni Vattimo, is
an attempt to mater the real by force,Ean attempt to bring the world under rational control
by collapsing differences into sameness, a totalizing and hence inherently violent project. Even
when metaphysics is renounced, ironically, the metaphysical assumptions remain in place;
postmoderns renounce the violent maneuvers of metaphysics but find that they can only endure
the strife of chaos that appears to be the only alternative. Hart notes that both Dionysus and
Apollo assume a dialectic of chaos and order, and thus both stand opposed to the Christian
vision of the anarchic prodigality of his love.E
The rhetorical burden of confronting the classical, modern, and postmodern tales of violence is
significant, given the real evils of human history. Christians are tempted to salt their eschatology
with spices of realismEto meet the challenge, or to withdraw the peace that the gospel
announces out of the world and history into an inviolable realm. This is not a real possibility:
The Christian claim is also that this protology and this eschatology do not merely stand
outside human history, but enter into it decisively in the resurrection of Christ; the peace of God
. . . has a real historical shape and presence, a concrete story, one which has entered into human
history as a contrary history, the true story God always tells, in which violence has no place but
rather stands under judgment as provisional, willful, needless: nonbeingE(p. 127).
Over several pages, Hart expands on the claim that metaphysics is inherently violent.
Metaphysics assumes that difference is violence itself,Eand does so necessarily and by
definition because philosophy is a discourse of necessityE(p. 128). Metaphysics can never
arrive at a genuine notion of contingency or at a genuine notion of transcendence. A Heraclitean
universe is not free, but describes the absolutely necessary conditions of being in the world;
chaos is not true contingency. On the other hand, even the most etherealizing idealism
treats the absolute as the top of a pyramid of being, the spiritual resolution of all the
ambiguities of the immanentE(p. 128-129), which is not true transcendence. The very method

of metaphysics requires it to be a discourse of necessity and a discourse of violence:

Metaphysics reasons from the experience and phenomena to some ground of existence, and thus
must deal in some fashion with the tragic, with mutability, with death. Sacrifice and destruction
are thus written into the fabric of things. The form a metaphysics takes depends more on the
sensibilities of the metaphysician than of logic or insight. Necessity lies at the core of the
metaphysical enterprise because it can thrive as a deductive enterprise, able to move from the
world to the worlds principles, only insofar as what is, is what must beE(p. 129). In this
sense, Hart is willing to give a nod to Heideggers notion that the history of philosophy is a
history of nihilism: Perhaps in some fateful oblivion of the mystery of beings event, the
search for beings foundations (the relentless quest for positive truth) commenced, and then
proceeded along a path that, in the end, would prove the ruin of all philosophic faithE(p.
But what this history of nihilism ignores is the Christian interruption, which disturbs the whole
enterprise of metaphysics but in so doing redeems metaphysics. In Christianity, difference is not
violent; difference pertains to the absolute, the Triune Creator of all things. And the differences
and distances of creation are not violent eruptions within being, but gifts that harmonize with
the uncreated differences of the Triune Persons. For the same reason, Christianity affirms
genuine contingency, the absolute NON-necessity of creation; there is no need for the Triune
God to form something exteriorEor otherEto Himself, because there is
exteriority,Eotherness, and distance within the Triune fellowship. And because it affirms a
genuine contingency, Christianity affirms a genuine Transcendence, an infinite that is not
merely a negation of finitude, but an infinite that is fullness of all good and all joy and all being.
But Christianity also brings something never conceived in classical metaphysics: a formed
infinite: Christians proclaim A God whose very being is love, delight in the glorious radiance
of his infinite Image, seen in the boundlessly lovely light of his Spirit, and whose works are
then unnecessary but perfectly expressive signs of this delight, fashioned for his pleasure and
for the gracious sharing of this joy with creatures for whom he has no need (yet loved even
when they were not) is a God of beauty in the fullest imaginable sense. In such a God beauty
and the infinite entirely coincide, for the very life of God is one of Eto phrase it strangely
Einfinite form.E This also means that creation is not merely different from God in the way
that multiplicity differs from unity, or shape differs from formlessness, or limit differs from
indeterminacy (all of which contrasts are classical ways of describing the difference between the
absoluteEand the immanent), but rather the difference between created beauty and its
original divine beauty is in the analogy between the determinate particularities of the world
and that always greater, supereminent determinacy in whose splendor they participateE(p.
131). Creation does not give shape to a shapeless sublime; creation expresses the specified glory
of the God of glory. Creation does not display a multiplicity and difference that is absent in
God; but expresses in created form the multiplicity and difference that is always already in the
Triune fellowship. Hart expresses it this way: the event of the world simply is the occurrence
of this analogical intervalEbetween Creator and creation, the space in which beings rise up
from nothingness into the light that gives them existenceE(p. 131).
This ontology has immediate epistemological implications. It means, first, that there is no hope

of rationally encompassing creation, no possibility of a totalizing metaphysics; for every finite

thing exceeds itself and expresses the infinite glory of God. And it means too our knowledge is
first of all worship, thanks, awe, and desire before it is rational reflection: to know the world
truly is achieved not through a positivisitic reconstruction of its sufficient reason,Ebut
through an openness before glory, a willingness to orient ones will toward the light of being,
and to receive the world as a gift, in response to which the most fully adequateEdiscourse
of truth is worship, prayer, and rejoicing.E Or, the truth of being is poeticEbefore it is
rationalEEindeed is rational precisely as a result of its supreme poetic coherence and
richness of detail Eand cannot be truly known if this order is reverseE(p. 132).
Faced with this Christian interruption, non-Christian metaphysics can attempt to escape this
interruption and this redemption. To reclaim its autonomy after being absorbed into the
discourse of Trinitarian Christianity, metaphysics must wage an explicit war against
Christianity. Christianity thoroughly spoiled Egypt, and left philosophy with nothing
pureEthat had not been contaminated by theology. The nihilism that is at the heart of the
metaphysical enterprise from the beginning must be made more explicit.
Hart notes that theology itself played a role in bringing the inherent nihilism of metaphysics to
the surface. Nominalism, he argues, severed the world from analogy, and thereby severed the
ties between philosophy and theology. The finite world was no longer seen as a manifestation of
infinite glory, as a path leading toward infinite glory. Accompanying this is a retreat from the
biblical affirmation of the goodness of creation, and a tendency to construe God as pure will, an
arbitrary monarch whose acts could, like ours, be indifferently related to his essence,
expressing or dissimulating his natureE(p. 133). Revelation in this system becomes a rupture
in creation, rather than a deepening of the light that shines in creation itself. A Platonic
melancholy at our incarceration in the regio dissimiltudinisEwas the result. The logic of
incarnation, in which the good creation is transparent to God, and in Christ identical to God,
was lost, and instead God came to be conceived as the worlds contrary.E (While my
intention is not to critique Hart, I must protest here at his inclusion of Luther and Calvin as
examples of this trend.) Standing on opposite sides of the abyss, a god of absolute arbitrary
willEfaces human beings made in their image, made, that is, voluntaristically.
Theology contributed to the revolt of metaphysics and the particular shape of that revolt in
another way was well. To the evident beauties of the creation, Christianity added the
additional aura of wonderful gratuity and fortuityE(p. 134). But Christianity left the world
groundless, pure non-necessary gift. Philosophy sought for new ground for itself, and its only
option was to retreat from a world that had been rendered perfectly contingent. Truth was thus
relocated from the world itself into the subject. The truth of the world could be ascertained only
by an act of will and by subjective certitude. Truth was no longer in the appearance of the world
as such, but in the go. Understanding was not rooted in a given world that provoked wonder and
evoked a search for wisdom; understanding was what could be tested and affirmed by reason.
Phenomena exist only in the gaze that establishes them, since they no longer exist in the light of
a Creator. In short, only a conscious project of immanent reason, independent of any narrative
of transcendence that would locate the freedom of truth in the prior givenness of the light, could
rescue philosophy from theologys narrative of being as giftE(p. 135). In particular, beauty

is made useless, reduced to the status of subjective impression or ornamental fancyE(p.

The ultimate upshot of this originally Cartesian move inward to the subject was the Kantian
effort to collapse the distinction between the infinite and subjectivity altogetherEinto the
transcendental egoE(p. 136). Kant attempted to escape the circularity and dialectic of
knowledge by positing the reality of an ego beyond the empirical ego, one that would serve as a
transcendent cause of knowledge and understanding. Given the assumptions of modern
philosophy, this seems the only option. One could not ground knowledge in the world itself,
which was no longer a realm of necessity; nor could one posit a supereminent unityEin
which the phenomena and the subject both participate and which ensures their harmony, since
this picture depends on a mind resigned to a condition of active passivity, a kind of humble
surrender to the testimony of a transcendence that, by definition, cannot be delivered over to the
certitudes of an autonomous egoEEin short, depends on a metaphysical picture that Kant
had ruled out of bounds (p. 137). Hart characterizes Kants revolution as a
PtolemaicEone, in that Kant replaced the sun of the goodEas the center of knowledge
and truth with the unyielding earth of apperceptionE(p. 137).
None of this was logically necessary. The recognition that much of what we know is known
before it is known (that much is presumed a priori in every posterior act of knowledgeE
could be taken as evidence that consciousness constitutes the world; or, it could be taken as a
sign that all being and knowing the work of an irreducible givennessE(pp. 137-18). It was
not necessary to ground the stability of the subject in subjectivity; it is just as rational to find my
stability in the constancy of the light that forms me (p. 137). All that modern
philosophy genuine discovered was already available in the Christian account of the soul, and
the soul is far thicker,Emore deeply embedded in the world and the body, more capable of
uniting inner and outer, than the wispy subject of modern philosophy. Harts wonderful
description of the soul is worth quoting: the soul, rather than the sterile abstraction of an ego,
was an entire and unified spiritual and corporeal reality; it was the life and form of the body,
encompassing every aspect of human existence, from the nous to the animal functions, uniting
reason and sensation, thought and emotion, spirit and flesh, memory and presence, supernatural
longing and natural capacity; open before being, a permeable and multiplicity attendance upon
the world, it was that in which being showed itself, a logos gathering the light of being into
itself, seeing and hearing in the things of the world the logoi of being, allowing them to come to
utterance in itself, as words and thoughtE(p. 138).
Hart offers a number of telling criticisms of the epistemology implicit in the modern project of
metaphysics. He argues, for instance, that the quest for subjective certitudeEis flawed
because it demands that our minds be able to adequate a world that is pure gratuity, poetry
rather than necessity, rhetoric rather than dialecticE(p. 138). Further, all knowledge rests on
an act of faith in the worldEsuch that we know the world only by entrusting ourself to
what is more than ourselvesE(p. 138). Further, the modern ego or subject (which Hart sees
still at work in Levinas and Derrida) is separated from the world. A true phenomenology would
recognize not only that knowledge is always intentional (consciousness is consciousness of a
particular thing) but also that what is given in any knowledge is not only the thing

known,Eas delivered over to the knowing mind,Ebut the entire circle of the event that is
being and knowledge (what theology calls the gift of illumination, flowing from the
superemninent coincidence of knowledge and being in the Trinity)E(p. 143). And this
intentionEis always invitedEby the splendor of concrete form, already awakened
by the aesthetic exteriority of othernessE(p. 143). Not only are world and knower united in
the covenant of light, but truth and beauty. Hart advocates a phenomenology liberated from the
limits of transcendentalism in the Kantian sense: beginning from the phenomenological
presuppositions that being is what shows itself, and that the event of the phenomenon and the
event of perception are inseparable, I wish nonetheless to say that only a transcendental
prejudice would dictate in advance that one may not see (or indeed does not see) in the even of
manifestation and in the simultaneity of phenomenon and perception a light that exceeds them
as an ever more eminent phenomenalityE(pp. 145-146). Hart insists that for those who have
eyes to see and ears to hear, what is seen and heard in the phenomena of creation is the
creatures pariticipation in GodE(p. 144).
Clearly, these epistemological claims rest on an ontological ground, and Hart sketches some of
the main lines of the theological ontology that he develops later in the book. The ontology is
musical, which treats every created thing as an interval, reflection, reciprocally constitutive
modulationEon the shared music of infinite analogical expressionE(p. 144). The history
of creation is the light of the Trinity unfolding its light in the unity and diversity of beings,
composing endless and endlessly coinherent variations on an infinite theme (not, that is, a theme
to which the whole is somehow reducible, an essentialEmeaning, but a theme in the
musical sense, which is itself in its display of supplementation, variation, and difference)E(p.
144). It is also a rhetorical ontology, seeing every created thing as an unnecessary expression of
God, which evokes reflection on, desire for, and delight in the God there expressed. It is an
aesthetical ontology, in which all created things display and share in the beauty of the Creator.
This beauty is the truth of things that is more basic than the strife of the creation, and thus
beauty is not a dissimulation of truth but its healing.
Hart ends with some warnings to theologians who would attempt to accommodate
postmodernisms double critique of Christianity, namely, that it is a totalizing project and that
its promise of peace and peaceful persuasion is chimerical: Theologians who fall to either
side of this critique, either by denying the rhetorical essence of theology or by accepting the
postmodern vision of being as a violence from which Christ withdraws, but who nevertheless
wish to remain apologists for the faith, are condemned on the one hand to repeat an ever more
metaphysical discourse of dialectical truthE(which is fruitless), or on the other hand, to
become unworldly, even gnosticizing Christians, seeking to imitate the withdrawal of Christ as
a flight to an impossible realm beyond history.E Hart suggests a third wayEthat
accepts the irretrievability of purely dialectical truthEbut still rejects the metaphysical
assumptions of postmodernity.E This third way is the way of theological aesthetics, which
denies that there is no truth that is more fundamental than the figural play of Gods rhetoric,
the rhetoric of originally peaceful creation, and therefore there is no necessity of force in

As Hart summarizes: if the measure of truth is the correspondence of beings not to fixed
ideas but to an infinite beauty whose form is the agape freely shared within the Trinity, known
by way of participation, by renewing the gesture of that love, and if truth is the peaceful event
of beings limitless difference, as variations on a beauty that infinitely differentiates, rather
than an essence toward which dialectic must make an endless selective nisus, then there is no
need to answer the Nietzschean critique by any means other than a fuller theological narrative
and charitable practice: Christian thought need only show it enulcleates a beauty that is anything
but incidental, but which is narrated continuously, necessarily, and coherently throughout its
story as rhetoric and as peaceE(p. 151).


Peter J. Leithart, May 31, 2005

Part 2: A Dogmatica Minora
Section 1: Trinity
Hart ended the previous section emphasizing that Christianity offers a story of the infinite that is
also, contrary to all paganism, a story of beauty. To fill out this Christian narrative of infinite
beauty, Hart focuses on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed as the most elementary and
binding canon of catholic confessionE(p. 153), examining four specific issues in that creed:
Trinity, creation, salvation, and eschatology. He organizes each of these moments by a series of
theses, which offer a series of interrelated but also somewhat independent interpretive
vantages upon the essential matterE(p. 154). Through these theses, he presents the argument
that to speak of the beauty of the infinite [as opposed to the infinity of beauty Ewhich
might be a sentimental exaggeration] is genuinely to name the Christian difference in aesthetics,
a thought of the beautiful inconceivable to non-Christian philosophy, ancient and modern
alikeE(p. 154).
I.i. Trinity: Divine Apatheia.
The thesis for this section states that the Christian understanding of beauty is a necessary
emergence from the claim that God is a Triune perichoresis, whose life is eternally one of
shared regard, delight, fellowship, feasting, and joyE(p. 155). Hart begins the section on
apatheia by referring to the Rahners rule, namely, that the economic Trinity is the immanent
Trinity and vice versa, pointing out that the revival of Trinitarian theology does not mark a
resurgence of scholasticEabstraction but a renewed interest in the historical particularities
of Christian faith. Liberalism by contrast was impelled by abstraction, moralization, and
spiritualization, and the turn to Trinitarian theology is necessarily a postliberal recognition in
which the salvific significance of Christs historical specificity has been to some
considerable degree recovered from the confining prejudices of modern thoughtE(p. 156).
The doctrine is simply a theological interpretation of salvation and salvation history. Any
separation of Trinity from the specific narrative of Jesus impoverishes both theology and
Rahners rule is, however, subject to two temptations. The first, which Hart examines in this
section, is a theological Hegelianism that obliterates any distinction of history and theology, any
distinction of immanent and economic. Harts main interlocutor here is Robert Jenson, and he
states his thesis clearly at the outset: If the identity of the immanent Trinity with the
economic is taken to mean that history is the theater within which God Eas absolute mind, or
process, or divine event Efinds or determines himself as God, there can be no way of
convincingly avoiding the conclusion (however vigorously the theologian might deny the
implication) that God depends upon creation to be God and that creation exists by necessary
(because of some lack in God), so that God is robbed of his true transcendence and creation of
its true gratuityE(p. 157). If God is locked in interdependence with the creation, then
Christian becomes another story of necessity (which Hart has critiqued in an earlier section) and
the ground of Christian aesthetics is lost. Without the doctrine of apatheia, the doctrine that God

is perfectly God and perfectly beautiful and joyful and infinitely satisfied without creation, there
is no distinctive Christian aesthetic: God is good and sovereign and wholly beautiful, and
creation is gift, loveliness, pleasure, dignity, and freedom, which is to say that God is possessed
of that loveliest (and most widely misunderstood) attribute,EapatheiaE(p. 157).
Needless to say, in the current theological climate (can you say MoltmannE), showing that
apatheia is lovelyEis a tall order. Hart begins the argument by pointing out that God has no
need of His creation, and need not be our God, because all we are, all we can ever become, is
already infinitely and fully present in the inexhaustible beauty, liveliness, and virtueEof the
Logos, where Eas the infinitely perfect reflection of the divine essence that flows forth from
the Father, fully enjoyed in the light of the Spirit Eit is present already as responsiveness and
communionE(p. 158). God loved and knew us before we were, loved and knew us, as He
now loves and knows us, in the Son. This freedom of God from ontic determinationEis not
a piece of Hellenizing, but the basis for creations goodness and beauty: precisely because
creation is needless, an object of delight that shares Gods love without contributing anything
that God does not already possess in infinite eminence, creation reflects the divine life, which is
one of delight and fellowshipE(p. 158). Or, in being the object of Gods love without any
cause but the generosity of that love, creation reflects in its beauty that eternal delight that is the
divine perichoresis and that obeys no necessity but divine love itselfE(p. 158). Further, Hart
points out that the misreading of Rahners Rule that he is dealing with does damage to the
infinity of God, and specifically suggests that Gods will might be, as it is with all finite
beings, other than his being. Since God is infinite, will and being are one, and thus His will to
create manifests His being, His beauty (p. 159). If God is simply a finite being, there might be
some gap between His will and the products of His will, and His being. This is a profoundly
important point: To make God dependent on the creation damages the Christian doctrine of
God; but, equally, to make God dependent on the creation damages the Christian doctrine of
Hart notes that in some cases the desire for a suffering God is a desire to escape God as judge
by making him co-sufferer. We may be sinners, sure, but God does sympathize, and thus we
have to some degree a valid perspective, one that God should and does acknowledge. In certain
of its forms, however, the impetus behind the assault on apatheia is tempting. Hegelianized
theology is an effort to weed Hellenistic metaphysics out of the biblical idea of a narrated God
who reveals Himself in history, including the history of the cross. Hart argues, though, that the
Christian narrative arises precisely from the double affirmation of divine apatheia and the story
of the cross; if the cross is some necessary stage in Gods self-realization, it is not an act of
utter and bottomless grace. Further, contrary to intentions, a God who suffers with us becomes
the metaphysical ground of AuschwitzE(p. 160). For if God realizes His identity by
identification with our suffering, suffering itself becomes necessary. The problems of collapsing
the ontological into the economic are, Hart says, moral as much as they are metaphysical.
Hart spends a number of pages examining the work of Robert Jenson, who attempts to make a
case for an essential narrativity in the identity of GodE(p. 160) without falling into the
traps of Hegelianism. On Harts reading, Jenson does not succeed. Jenson says that God has
determined from eternity that He will be the God He is in relation to Jesus, and thus the Father

finds His identity as God as He, with the Son and Spirit, confront the horizon of deathEand
overcome it (p. 160). Thus, the cross and resurrection of Jesus are the moment of Gods selftranscendence. The Sons preexistence consists of His presence to the Father as the Fathers
eternally will LogosE God chose to be united to Jesus, and this choice is His being. Thus,
the suffering of the Son is a suffering within the Father, a taking up of the suffering of the
creation (who the Son is) into the Triune life. According to Jenson, however, God would remain
the same God without the creation; but we can never say exactly how this is so.
Hart disputes the last point: it is simply prima facie false that if God achieves his identity in
the manner Jenson describes, he could have been the same God by other means, without the
world: (p. 162). If history determines the identity of God, God could not be the particular God
He is without this particular history. Jenson introduces a voluntarist moment in his account
intended to protect the freedom and sovereignty of God: God chooses, freely, to define Himself
in terms of Jesus and not in any other way. But this leaves Gods identity bound to the
conditions He elects. Nor can Jenson escape the logic of this by saying that Jesus is the one
historical objectEin which absolute consciousnessEdiscovers its meaning and
selfE(Jensons wording). If God has chosen to be, to define himself, in relation to Jesus, His
identity is also inseparable from the entire order of contingencies that Jesus inhabitsE(p.
163). Jensons effort to make a small but drastic amendmentEto the Hegelian scheme
doesnt really change the scheme. The distinction of being and becoming can be overcome
only through collapsing the two, so that being is an infinite becoming. But this makes God a
being, ontic rather than ontological, a God who can potentially become the God He elects to be.
(Hart also notes that Jensons formulations appear to posit some sort of deliberating identity
to the Father prior to the delimiting empirical object in which he
findsEhimselfEEthus, from another direction, Jensons Trinity threatens to collapse
into modalism.)
And this means further that all the tragic consequences of Jesus as well as the preconditions of
JesusEexistence become necessary to the identity of God (p. 164). God must intend sin and
evil as part of His becoming the God He chooses to become. And this in turn means that what
good God has is not good itself but a reaction to evil. This God is a God of sacrifice and
stoicism, a God who failed Ivan Karamazovs test about constructing a world whose
happiness depends on the suffering of one innocent child. Any consciousness that is determined
in a finite object, as in Jensons theology, is itself finite. Gods story thus becomes not a
story of good and evil. Thus the collapse of immanent and ontological turns God into the truth
of our suffering, rather than the sovereign, free, and infinite Savior. Jenson ultimately gives us a
dialectical rather than a transcendent Trinity. A God who acquires determinationsEand is
becoming is not God but a godE(p. 166), the supreme being among beings.
And these moves are wholly unnecessary to achieve the aim of providing the world with a
vision of a compassionate God. If you want a God who is infinitely near us in suffering, He has
to be transcendent. A God who is locked in the process of being and does not transcend created
limits utterly is not capable of being nearer to us than we are to ourselves, and such a God can
only move us from without and not change us from within. Only if God transcends all

boundaries can He cross the boundary of my person and dwell in me through His Spirit.
(A question: Hart is clearly here attacking not just Jensons Hegelian supralapsarianism, but
all forms of decretal theology. What would the picture look like if we affirmed, with classic
Reformed theology, but the apatheia of God and His universal decree? Would this position be
able to respond to Harts challenge?)
Hart is quick to admit that Jenson does not intend any of these consequences, but he suggests
that contemporary theologians have both failed to grasp the Christian tradition and to think
through the proposed alternatives. Hart argues (conclusively in my view) that apatheia in the
sense that he describes it is necessary if we are to insist on the biblical story of creation and
redemption. Because God loved us when we were not, He is capable of showing mercy and He
can overcome all suffering. Hart suggests that this is true in two senses: First, because love is
not first of all a reaction but the ontological possibility of all ontic action, the primordial
generosity that is convertible with being itself, the blissful and desiring apatheia that requires no
pathos to evoke it, no evil to make it goodE(pp. 166-167). That is, Gods goodness and love
is wholly and purely love because it does not respond to some prior evil that it seeks to
overcome. Pathos, he suggests, is definitionally a finite instance of change visited upon a
passive subject, actualizing some potentialE(p. 167), but Gods love is purely positive and
purely active. Second, Gods infinitely accomplished life of love is that trintarian
movement of his being that is infinitely determinate Eas determinacy toward the other
Eand so an indestructible actus purus endlessly more dynamic than any mere motion of
change could ever beE(p. 167). The cross does manifest Gods love, but doesnt
determine its nature; it manifests a primordial Trinitarian outpouring that always already
surpasses every abyss of godforsakenness and painE(p. 167).
Hart offers, in closing the section, a definition of apatheia: Gods impassibility is the utter
fullness of an infinite dynamism, the absolutely complete and replete generation of the Son and
the process of the Spirit from the Father, the infinite dramaEof Gods joyous act of outpouring Ewhich is his being as God.EWithin this eternal and infinite act of being, there is
no negation, no reaction, no pathos, no evil. His love is an infinite peace and so needs no
violence to shape it, no death over which to triumph.E Yet, this is not some kind of original
unresponsiveness in the divine nature; it is divine beauty, that perfect joy in the other by which
God is God: the Fathers delectatio in the beauty of his eternal Image, the Spirit as the light
and joy and sweetness of that knowledgeE(p. 167).
This goes, I think, a long way to demonstrating that apatheia is the loveliestEof Gods


Peter J. Leithart, June 07, 2005

Part II, I.1: Trinity
ii. Divine Fellowship.
In the previous section, Hart addressed one of the dangers of misreading Rahners rule,
namely, the danger of dissolving the ontological Trinity into the economic. In this section, he
discusses the opposite danger of forsaking the economic for the immanent Trinity, by
allowing some far too thoroughly developed speculative account of the Trinity to determine
what in the story of Christs relation to the Father and the Spirit is or is not genuinely
revelation, genuinely trinitarianE(p. 168). Rahners rule means that nothing can be
assumed to be merely economic,Eand this implies that there can be no final closure in our
doctrine of God that would encompass and simplify the story of Jesus.
To develop this point, Hart appeals to the icon of the baptism of Jesus. This icon not only
manifests the economic relations of the Triune persons, but also summarizes the whole drama of
salvation and the immanent relations of the Trinity. JesusEdescent and ascent into the waters
is a sign of his future death and resurrection, and the gift of the Spirit is a foretaste of Pentecost.
But in summarizing the economy of redemption, this iconographic depiction also shows that
within the eternal life of God, in declaring himself, even in uttering himself eternally, God
both addresses and respondsE(p. 168). Christ both speaks with the authority of the Father and
also responds to him. In short, If the economic Trinity is God in himself, graciously
extending the everlasting danceEof his love to embrace creation in its motion, then one
dare not exclude from ones understanding of the Trinity the idea, however mysterious, of a
reciprocal ThouE(p. 169). Rahner himself does not, on Harts view (and on mine, FWIW),
accept this, reducing the persons to a set of merely formal relations within the divine
essenceE(p. 169). Hart distances this from a purely social trinitarianismEas well as the
notion that the Sons response is somehow alongside the Fathers expression of his
essence in the simplicity of the eternal LogosE yet, one must still acknowledge this
distance of address and response, this openness of shared regardE(p. 169).
From this point, Hart launches into a critique of the idea, popular since the late 19th-century
work of Theodore de Regnon, that Eastern and Western Trinitarian theology are opposed in their
relative emphasis on the one and the many, that we must choose between
GreekEpersonalism and LatinEessentialismE(p. 170). Modern movements in
Western theology, especially Barths refusal of person,Eseem to make the choice more
stark than ever. Hart suggests that instead of rejecting personEbecause of its associations of
autonomy and independence, the exhaustive relationality of the Trinity should rather be made
the starting point for a theological assault on the modern notion of the personE(p. 170). No
more than God do human beings possess identity apart from relation,Ebut rather even
our purestEinteriorityEis reflexive, knowing and loving itself as expression and
recognition, engaged with the world of others through memorial and desire, inward discourse
and outward intentionE(pp. 170-171). Because personEapplied to God is governed
entirely by the language of relationsE(p. 171), and divine egoismEentirely consist in
his relatedness, his self-givingE(p. 171). The personhood of the Triune Persons works in a

language of self-oblation, according to which each IEin God is also not IEbut
rather Thou,Ein which each Person makes place for the others (pp. 171-172). More daringly,
Hart suggests that in God, divine substantialityEis the effectEof this distance of
address and response, this event of love that is personal by being prior to every self, this gift of
self-offering that has already been made before any self can stand apart, individual, isolate; God
IS the different modalities of replete love . . . whose relatedness is his substanceE(p. 172). All
the alternatives to person,Ein short, fail to communicate the immediacy, the livingness,
and concreteness of the scriptural portrayal of GodE(p.171), and thus person, for all its
problems is an indispensable wordE(p. 171).
Of course, there is an analogical gap between the personhood of Father, Son and Spirit and
human personhood. Human beings cannot manifest the complete and perfect perichoresis that
binds together the divine persons. Our relationality is multiple,Esynthetic and bounded,
and can only be described from multiple perspectives Enow social, now psychological, now
ontological. Hart nicely captures the difference between divine and human
circumincessionEby referring to the dynamic inseparability but incommensurability in
us of essence and existenceEas well as the constant pendulation between inner and outer
that constitutes our identities,Ethe latter being an ineffably distant analogy of that
boundless bright diaphaneity of coinherence in which the exteriority of relations and interiority
of identity in God are oneE(p. 173). That distinction of pendulationEand
identityEis crucial. Our relations are always relations over-against,Egiven our finitude
and the composite character of human life; but for God relations between Persons are
simultaneously inward and exterior to each other: In God, the inwardnessEof the other is
the inwardness of each person, the outwardnessEof the other is each persons
outwardness and manifestationE(p. 173). Thus, God is simple: the divine simplicity is the
result of the self-giving transparency and openness of infinite persons.E At the same time, the
distinction of the persons within the one God is the result of the infinite simplicity of the
divine essenceE(p. 173). Each person is a face,Ea capture,Eof the divine
essenceE(p. 174). Each Person is both community and unity at once,Ewith each fully
gathered and reflected in the mode of the otherE(p. 174). The Fathers being is paternal, but
it is also already filial and Spiritual; mutatis mutandis for the others.
One of Harts key insights here is that when we forget analogy, we either lapse
(anthropologically) into collectivism or solipsism, and (theologically) into tritheism or
Unitarianism. He also wishes to stress that God is capable of relations with the world outside
Himself because within His triune life He is eternally otheredEand otheringE(p. 175).
iii. Divine Joy.
Hart returns to the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan (with also to aesthetics), emphasizing that God
speaks His Word in the redemptive economy here, and that the form of his utterance is a
declaration of pleasureE(p. 175). The Son is the Fathers joy, and the theophany manifests
God as one whose life of reciprocal giving wayEand containingE. . is also a kind of
dancingE. . . , and the God who is TERPSICHOROS, delighting in the danceE(p. 175).
Gods life, His substance, is the dynamic interplay of distance and the dance,Ea
coinherent unity but simultaneously the interval of appraisal, address, recognition, and

pleasureE(p. 175). In the Spirit especially, love manifests itself as transparent sheer delight,
generosity, and desire for the otherE(p. 175).
The danger of the Augustinian notion of the Spirit as vinculum caritatis is a depersonalization of
the Spirit and a mechanization of the life of God (as if the Spirit as the mutual gift of the Father
and Son explains how God worksE. When understood rightly, it depicts the Spirit as not
simply the love of the Father and Son, but also everlastingly the differentiation of that love, the
third term, the outward, straying,Eprodigal second intonation of that loveE(p. 176).
Because God is also Spirit, the love of Father and Son in its utterance and response is also
differently inflected, renewed, restored, as plenitudeE(p. 176). The Fathers regard for His
image in the Son is not an infinite Narcissism; since God is also Spirit, there is a perpetual
divergenceEof that mutual love toward yet another.E Thus, the harmony of the Father
and Son is not the absolute music of undifferentiated noise, but the open, diverse, and complete
polyphony of Father, Son and SpiritE(p. 176). To put it otherwise, the Spirit is the bond of
love, but also the one who always breaks the bonds of self-love, the person who from eternity
assures that divine love has no single, stable center, no isolated self (p. 176). Quoting
Dumitru Staniloae, Hart notes that the Spirit is the site where Father and Son meet
againEin their mutual love for a third. Beyond mere mutuality,Ethe Spirit is the
excess of Gods love, the sharing outward, and hence it is through the Spirit that Gods love
opens out to address freely (and so to constitute) the otherness of creation, and invest it with
boundless difference, endless inflections of divine gloryE(pp. 176-177).
This is essential, Hart says, for grasping the distinctive Christian notion of beauty. God is not
only beauty, but is beautiful, that is to say, His beauty is not mere form, ideal, remote, cold,
characterless or abstractEnor even merely absolute, unitary, and formless.E Rather, it is
formed beauty, the beauty of a formed infinite, the supereminennt fullness of all form,
transcendently determinate, always possessed of his LogosE(p. 177). And Gods beauty is
also delight and the object of delight, the shared gaze of love that belongs to the Persons of
the TrinityE(p. 177). Hart develops this point in a few critical sentences: True beauty is not
the idea of the beautiful, a static archetype in the mindEof God, but is an infinite
music,Edrama, art, completed in Ebut never boundedEby Ethe termless
dynamism of the Trinitys life; God is boundless, and so is never a boundary; his music
possesses the richness of every transition, internal, measure, variation Eall dancing and
delight. And because he is beautiful, being abounds with difference: shape, variety, manifold
relation. Beauty is the distinction of the different, the otherness of the other, the true form of
distanceE(p. 177). The Spirit who reflects and evokes love also opens Gods joy to the
otherness of what is not divine, of creation, without estranging it from its divine logicE
and the Spirit communicates difference as primordially the gift of beauty, because his difference
within the Trinity is the happiness that perfects desire, the fulfillment of loveE(p. 177). Citing
Jonathan Edwards, Hart concludes that the Spirit is the beautifier,Ethe Person who
bestows radiance, shape, clarity, and enticing splendor upon what God creates and embraces in
the superabundance of his loveE(p. 178).


Part 2, section 1: Trinity

Thesis 2: Different and distance in Christian understanding are understood in Trinitarian terms.
In this light, peace is the true form of difference, and beauty is the true form of distance.
i. Divine Difference.
Rahner's Rule not only encourages a Trinitarian theology that moves from Jesus to the nature of
the Trinity, but also one that moves from the church to the Trinity. Basil of Caesarea paved the
way for this approach by emphasizing that the Spirit works at every moment of Christian life,
and since only God can accomplish salvation which involves our union with God Himself a
denial that the Spirit is God is a denial of ones own experience and baptism. Hart wishes to
explore the Trinity from the "vantage" of the church, asking "what the Spirit has made of sinful
humanity, the better to grasp how the economic Trinity is known to us" (p. 179).
Specifically, he focuses on the fact that the Spirit is given to restore and complete the image of
God in man, a reality that is apparent in the corporate life of the church. Thus, for instance, the
"peaceful participation of Christians in one body" is "a true if vastly inexact image of how God
is forever a God dwelling in and with, a God who truly takes delight and is truly at peace; the
unity of the church somehow reflects the way in which God is one" (p. 179). Citing John 17,
Hart makes the point that the unity of the church reveals that "original unity is original
'reciprocity,'" a point that suggests that Trinitarian affirmation of difference is more radical than
any postmodernism has imagined (pp. 179-180).
From this point, Hart launches into an attack on the notion that the doctrine of the Trinity is
merely another "metaphysics of the one and the many" (p. 180), such as is evident in a Platonic
division between a transcendental unity and a material plurality or in a Neoplatonic movement
of emanation and return. (I have already commented on this passage in an earlier post, entitled
"Not One and Many.") Hart has several objections to this move. First, he renounces the effort to
find "ideal or metaphysical causes of difference, ontic or ontological," such that the perichoretic
life of God is construes as a "substance in which difference is grounded." Rather, the Trinity
shows that Christianity has no theory of the one and the many, since this polarity is transcended
from the beginning of all Christian thought. For Christian thought, difference does not
eventuate as it does in Platonic metaphysics; it simply is, eternally. This is true, second,
because the unity of the Trinity is always already a unity in communion; there is no "pure" unity
to set off against a "pure" multiplicity. Adopting the language of postmodernism, Hart suggests
that "God . . . is God in supplementation, repetition, and variation; and yet the one God" (p.
180). There is for Christian thought "nothing more 'true' than difference" (p. 181), but
Christianity denies that this difference is rupture, or violence.
Because God is not a being who negates difference, for whom difference is not a negative
reality at all but the fullness of His life; because He is a God who lives difference transcendently
and infinitely, He does not stand over against the world. The difference between God and
creation is not a dialectic, nor, Hart says, a difference of high and low; Gods gift of difference
and distance is what makes place for high and low. God is not at the top of a scale of being, but,
because He is transcendent and transcendent difference, He is infinitely near while also being

infinitely transcendent.
Or, to put it differently, creation is not a first address of God but a further address, a modulation
in Gods eternal self-utterance; being is rhetoric, the outward address of the eternally-speaking
God (p. 181). There is no substance beneath or grounding the plurality of Gods being (whether
that substance is "the One, the Concept, differance"). Trinitarian theology disrupts the ancient
conceptions of ousia, deconstructing the difference of ousia and expression by insisting that
Gods being is always already expression. Hart notes that the debates over the divinity of the
Spirit were fundamentally debates concerning the "metaphysical hierarchies of Alexandrian
speculation," and the confession that the Spirit was eternally God shows that all such hierarchies
"were alien to genuine Christian trinitarianism" (p. 182): "The three persons are not economic
accommodations of a supreme ontic principle with inferior reality, but are rather all equally
present in every divine action . . . , each wholly God, even as they differ" (p. 182). The
differentiation of being is not a matter of "a system of substance mediating a supreme substance
confined within its supernality" (pp. 182-183). The "tragicomic" vision of Plotinus, in which
finitude and materiality are at best ambiguous, is replaced by the pure joy of the transcendent
God who "comprises in his perichoresis the full scope of all difference, variation, and response"
(p. 183). Creation's departure from God is thus not really a departure from God, because it is
precisely in that departure that creation manifests the "departure" and "distance" that are
inherent in the Triune life itself. Precisely in its departure from God, creation "approximates
God" (p. 183).
ii. Divine Perfection.
From all this, it follows that the origin is neither indeterminate chaos nor undifferentiated
monad. The origin is determined in differentiation. Returning to the issue of aesthetics, Hart
adopts the language of Bonaventure to claim that "In the life of God, already, there is 'language'
icon and semeion but neither negation nor sublation" (p. 183). This also means that the
Triune God creates without negation or violence, giving over existence peacefully to beings
other than Himself, in an artistic expression ad extra.
It is important that divine perfection be understood as specifically a Triune reality, and not
merely an abstract question of plurality or a purely reflexive binary relation. The key is to
recognize the role of the Spirit in creation. Hart expresses it this way: "if the Spirit is God who
differs yet again, an 'unexpected' further inflection of Gods utterance of himself, so that
difference is never merely the reflex of the Same but the fullness of reply, in all the richness and
dilatory excess of the language of love, then the Spirit eternally remodulates the divine distance,
opens a futurity (to speak in terms of extreme analogical remoteness) to the Father and Son, a
'still more' in the music of divine address, awaited and possessed" (p. 184). Each person of the
Trinity has his own "idiom," expressed in the economy, and the "Spirits idiom is one of
variation with difference" (p. 184). And in this perfection of difference, God is beautiful.
The Spirit's difference from the Son must be affirmed, even if we do not know how to describe
that difference. Neither is prior to the other, any more than knowledge and love are prior; rather
"each is given by and made full in the other" (p. 185). In redemption, the Son receives the

power to give the Spirit from the Father, and the Spirit receives from the Father the power to
communicate the Son, so that "the Son and Spirit are both sent and sending (the Spirit sending
Christ into the world, the waters, the desert, the Son sending the Spirit upon the disciples)" (p.
185). At the same time, the Spirit is always "between the Father and Son . . . , occupying the
distance of paternal and filial intimacy differently, abiding in and 'rephrasing' it" (p. 185).
Hart suggests again that the economic work of Son and Spirit gives us some insight into the
immanent life of the Trinity. As he says, "the Son saves persons by embracing them within the
corporate identity of his body while the Spirit imparts the Son in an endless diversity of settings
and draws creatures in an always peculiar fashion into that identity" (p. 185). This suggests that
the Spirit that moves between Father and Son is "also the infinite openness of the divine
distance, the endless articulation of the inexhaustible content of the Fathers very likeness in the
Son" (p. 185). Or, "God is the event of his circumincession, in which he has graciously made
room for beings" (p. 185). God makes room for beings because God is never an "inward,
unrelated gaze," and "his gaze holds another ever in regard, for he is his own other" (pp. 185186). If the Spirit is the One who "inflects the distance" of Father and Son, then "in every
'moment' of that distance there is a difference, an aesthetic surfeit in its phrase; each 'extractable'
interval is measured differently" (p. 186). God speaks Himself with a rhetorical fullness in the
Spirit, and God is always "his own mediation, deferral, icon" (p. 186). There is, in short,
analogy within God, not merely between God and creatures: "the coincidence in God of
mediacy and immediacy, image and difference, is the 'proportion' that makes every finite
interval a possible disclosure a tabernacle of Gods truth" (p. 186).
Again, Hart insists that all this has to be taken in the context of the analogical gap between
Creator and creation. All of Gods perfections are "wholly convertible with his essence" (p.
186). But for creatures to reach the infinite Creator, it must be asked whether there is not a
necessary negation of finitude or a reduction of the infinite to "determinate negation." Or,
perhaps the proportion id Gods difference is an absolute difference, so that God is a "Wholly
Other" being that can never be reached (p. 186). To answer these questions, Hart turns in the
next section to explaining from the work of Gregory of Nyssa how the finite can reach the
infinite. In sum, Gregory says that God is known first as a surprising beauty that inflames desire
and draws us deeper and deeper into His glory, but in such a way that "one is always at the
beginning of ones pilgrimage toward him always discovering and entering into greater
dimensions of his beauty" (p. 187).


Peter J. Leithart, June 22, 2005

Part 2, section I: Trinity
Proposition 3: The Christian God shows the beauty of the infinite, and thus can be "traversed"
by way of beauty.
i. Desire's Flight.
God, Hart suggests is "all" but not a totality. That is, He is not a pantheistic all, but instead
"contains and exceeds, give creation its breadth and difference, but at the same time infinitely
transcends his gift" (p. 188). God's infinity not only surpasses finite creation "qualitatively," but
also "quantitatively" since He is the world's "supereminent plentitude, whose radiant beauty is
truly declared in creation's swift and shifting play of forms and distances" (p. 188). As he has
emphasized before, Hart insists on the uniqueness of Christianity in affirming a determinate and
formed, and therefore a beautiful infinite. God, in fact, is transcendently determinate more
fully Himself than any creature is itself. What is beautiful is never the product of some
"enfeebling, deceptive, or violent stilling of the prior tumult of being, but is itself the grammar
and element of an infinite motion, able to traverse all of being without illusion or strife" (p.
No theologian, in Hart's view, captures this vision of God's boundless beauty more clearly than
Gregory of Nyssa, whom Hart describes, following Ekkehard Muhlenberg, as "the first 'Greek'
thinker either to attribute to God, or to develop a philosophical description of, positive infinity"
(p. 190). Nyssa recognized clearly, for instance, that the creation is essentially movement. The
original act of creation was a movement from "the darkness of nonbeing toward the light of
God" (p. 189), and since that original act creation has been nothing other than ceaseless change:
"the created dies every moment, writes Gregory, to be reborn the next" and "if it ceased to
change, it would cease to exist." An individual it never merely an individual but a nation and
"the whole of humanity is an unfolding 'series,' a successive realization of the creative word (the
first Adam) that God uttered in making humanity in his image" (p. 189).
To say that created things are in constant motion is to say that they are constantly pulled by
something beyond them, by a desire for good or evil. Human being is ecstatic, longing for an
elusive beauty, ultimately for the beauty of God: "Desire is the energy of our movement, and so
of our being" (p. 190). Hart argues that Plotinus, for all the advancements of his thought, never
reached a truly transcendent infinity, and never had any notion of transcendent difference.
Because of his Trinitarian convictions, Nyssa developed a metaphysics in which multiplicity
leads toward the highest truth; we don't skim off the multiplicity of the world to get to the truth
of the one, for God Himself, infinite truth, is multiple. Thus, "to pass from the vision of the
world to the theoria of the divine is not simply to move from appearance to reality, from
multiplicity to singularity, but rather to find the entirety of the world in all its irreducible
diversity to be an analogical expression (at a distance, in a different register) of the dynamism
and differentiation that God is" (p. 192). Creation "co-responds" and "corresponds" to God in a
way that Plotinus could never have conceived. Our responsiveness is thus not an impulse that

leads to a final stasis; "our desire does not subserve a return to the stillness of our proper being:
it is our being" (p. 192).
ii. Changeless Beauty.
Much of what Nyssa means by "infinity" overlaps with the conceptions of Plotinus. For both,
infinity means "incomprehensibility, absolute power, simplicity, eternity" (p. 192). For both, the
infinite is boundless. Hart intends to defend precisely this "classic theism," and in this section
the classic conceptions of God's immutability and eternity in particular.
God is boundless because of His fullness. Boundaries arise only where contraries arise, and
since "God is without opposition . . . transcendent of all composition or antimony" He is
boundless, and in this sense He is simple (p. 193). God is eternal not only in the sense that He is
without beginning and end but also in the sense that He experiences no succession or sequence
of moments. For Hart (and Nyssa), this does not render God inert or static; He is eternally
dynamic, and the dynamism of creation is precisely an increasing participation in the eternal
dynamism of God. Creation moves in a temporal series, and exists in a spatial extension that is
foreign to the order and movement of the Triune Persons, but this succession in creation is
dependent upon the boundlessness of God's own existence: "the Trinity's perfect act of
difference also opens the possibility of the 'ontico-ontological difference'" (p. 193). We embrace
God's infinity in an endless series of finite instances, so that the Creator-creature distinction is
(again) not a difference of appearance and reality, stasis and change, but two different modes of
apprehending the infinite. The soul's ascent to God is not a departure from distance and
movement but "an endless venture into difference" (p. 194). Thus finite reality belongs to the
infinite, though the opposite is the case only "ecstatically: possessed, that is, in dispossession"
(p. 194).
For Gregory, desire can move away from the infinite toward the "evil" of nonbeing. Gregory
treat evil as "that purely privative nothingness that lies outside creation's motion toward God"
and "never stands in relation to the infinite but is always an impossible attempt at an ending, a
constant breaking of the waves of being upon an uninhabitable shore, the ceaseless cessation of
time" (p. 194). Yet, negativity is in no way for Gregory (as it is for Hegel) constitutive of being.
There is no necessary sacrifice, no contradiction and sublation. Thus creation "is a symphonic
and rhythmic complication of diversity, of motion and rest, a song praising God, the true,
primordial, archetypal music"; more succinctly, "we are music moved to music" (pp. 194-195),
moved to endlessly various variations by our desire for the boundless and eternal music of God.
For Christian thought, then, human beings are created as vessels of the glory of God, as a site
where the infinite and finite meet without violence to the finite. In this context, created change
is not something to be regretted or escaped. Change is a grace: "the good is infinitely various in
its intonations. For creatures, who cannot statically comprehend the infinite, progress in the
good is, Gregory observes, the most beautiful work of change, and an inability to change would
be a penalty" (p. 195). Creaturely mutability marks our difference from God therefore; He is
always already an infinite fullness, containing the end and the beginning. But creaturely
mutability is also the way to God. We are capable of attaining an excellence of soul through

participation in God precisely through our ability to move, to change, not as though we could
become substantively what God is. By successive motion toward and constant expansion in our
desire for God, we come to apprehend the infinite God. As Hart rightly and profoundly points
out, our capacity to receive God does not have any pre-existing limits; citing Nyssa, he suggests
that the "soul partaking of divine blessings" is like "a vessel endlessly expanding as it receives
what flows into it inexhaustibly; participation in the good, he says, makes the participant ever
more capacious and receptive of beauty" (p. 196). Gregory does not confine this progress in
"deification" to Christology alone. Rather, the infinite has been "introduced into the entirety of
the common human nature" in the incarnation (p. 199). This is salvation: Not freedom from
change, but ever-greater apprehension of and ever nearer movement toward God, who remains
forever infinitely beyond us and infinitely near to us.
iii. The Mirror of the Infinite.
Our access to God thus comes through our yearning for Him. We attain to a vision of divine
beauty through a likeness to that beauty: "the likeness to divine splendor that one achieves in
oneself through participating ever more fully in the beauty of God's light" (p. 202). Filled with
God, "one becomes a sign, entirely, an inflection and reflection at a distance of the divine glory,
a deferral of God's presence that is simultaneously a real embrace of his infinite, an impression
of God that is also another emphasis, another expression" (p. 202). In this state, "every dualism,
especially that between flesh and spirit, is overcome, so that 'the manifest exterior is within the
hidden interior, the hidden interior within the manifest exterior'" (p. 202).
The invisible God thus moves within the visible, only because the visible is always first a
movement within God's infinity. Hart suggests that God is invisible in two senses: First, in the
sense that God is infinite in His divinity, and thus invisibility is a property of all three persons;
but in another sense, there is the invisibility of the Father that becomes the manifestation of the
Son and the illumination of the Spirit. The invisibility of transcendence "proceeds" from the
Trinitarian invisibility, and this is the reason why our "restless mutability" can become "a way
of mediation between the infinite and the finite" (p. 203). Hart explains: "We can mirror the
infinite because the infinite, within itself, is entirely mirroring of itself, the Father's
incomprehensible majesty being eternally united to the coequal 'splendor of his glory,.' His
'form' and 'impress,' in seeing whom one has seen the Father; we can become images of God
that shine with his beauty because the Father always has his image in the Son, bright with the
light of his Spirit" (p. 203). But this would be impossible if God were not invisible in His
transcendence, since that allows God to be "inapprehensible to the soul" yet "present to the soul
as a creature never could be within its very being" (p. 203).
For creatures there is a real distinction between "subject and object, motion and motion's aim,
ecstasy and form, participation and 'substance,'" since this is the "essential act of 'repetition,' its
need to participate in even its own essence." But precisely this "dyadic oscillation" makes it
possible for us to participate in and be united to the infinite God. God's transcendence thus does
not conflict with a doctrine of participation and deification; the former is the necessary
assumption of the latter.

Hart wonders whether Gregory would have accepted the later Orthodox distinction between
God's essence and energies, and adds this in a footnote: "I am not at all convinced that Palamas
ever intended to suggest a real distinction between God's essence and energies; nor am I even
confident that he energies should be seen as anything other than sanctifying grace by which the
Holy Spirit makes the Trinity really presence to creatures. I take the distinction to mean only
that God's transcendence is such that he is free to be the God he is even in the realm of
creaturely finitude, without estrangement from himself and without the creature being admitted
thus to an unmediated vision of the divine essence" (p. 204, fn 75).
In this context, Hart makes some intriguing comments about signification. God, he argues, is
not merely at an infinite distance, but IS that distance, the infinite distance "that cannot be, but
must be, and throughout eternity is being, traversed" (p. 205). All distance belongs to the
interTrinitarian act that gives being to everything. And this means that "the divine image is
not . . . some distant facsimile of God: the soul's virtue is God's own overflowing goodness
within it" (p. 205). Such is the nature of signs in general: "in its deferral and difference from
what it indicates, in its constant motion of difference, it may yet be the form of presence" (p.
205). Created things are images (temporally successive) of the "complex simplicity" of the
Triune life, and thus "when the soul is adapted to the diversity of perfections it perceives in the
divine life, it becomes an ever clearer expression, a visible and living sign of God. The
creature's extension in time becomes an endless commentary, an endless series of particular
perspectives, on God's unextended eternity" (p. 205). This neatly captures the postmodern
insight into the sign as "trace" and "absence" while also challenging the nihilistic implications
that often accompany that insight.
For Gregory, salvation is creation (and Gregory sees this universalistically): "Salvation, for
Gregory, is simply the same act but made perfect in Christ by which God rouses us each
moment form nonbeing, as a pure stirring of love, seeking union with him" (p. 206). Evil must
be overcome if the finite is joined to the infinite that draws it out of its limitations. There is no
dark side to God, no negative or contrary, and the soul must move beyond evil toward infinite
good. All evil is, for Gregory, single, "the single fact of that which strives against the will of
God in creation, a limitation absurdly opposing itself to his limitlessness." Were God to fail to
bring all creation to union with Himself, it would imply "an impossible dualism," in which an
"endless godlessness" stood over against the "endlessness of God" (p. 207).
iv. Infinite Peace.
Hart summarizes some of the themes of the preceding sections here. God is in Himself the gift
of distance, and the distance and difference within the creation is not a contrary to Him but an
expression of an infinite reality within God Himself. Hart also returns to the theology of the
sign. The structure of the image reflects the reality of God, in which there is an uncreated and
eternal dynamic of sign and signifier: "Not by dissolution into a higher essence, but by an
analogical correspondence of its created structure of difference and mediation to the God whose
inner life is one of differentiation and mediation, the image expresses the truth of distance, of
the God who is Trinity" (p. 208). Creation announces the glory of God not only according to "a
logic of substances" but primarily "as a free and flowing succession of semeia." Instead of a

strong distinction between substance and sign, "one should perhaps speak of 'substantial signs'
or of 'semiotic substances'" (p. 208), and then launches into a dense discussion of a "baroque"
reading of Gregory through the lenses of Deleuze's treatment of Leibniz. But enough.


Peter J. Leithart, December 23, 2003

Part 2
III. Salvation
iii. The Consolations of Tragedy, The Terrors of Easter (373-394)
David Bentley Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite looks to be one of those books to savor, read,
reread, mark, and inwardly digest. I've only read a bit of it, but it's as masterful as his articles.
(Stylisically, the book is by turns moving and maddening; I've never seen anyone use more
semi-colons than Hart; and some of the rhetoric is a shade just this side of purple; but when he's
more controlled the writing is transfixing.) Late in the book, he has a section on the tragic, and I
turned there first and found some very stimulating things:
1) He challenges the whole notion of tragic wisdom, claiming that what looks like tragic insight
or wisdom in Attic tragedy is really just "emotional exhaustion": the chorus "foresees or fails to,
it warns, it dreads, it ululates, but the only 'wisdom' arrived at from the choral vantage point is a
state of resignation before the invicible violence of being."
2) Tied up as it is with the sacrificial economy of antiquity (strong Girardians echoes here),
tragedy is always simply a matter of restoring a status quo ante: "whereas the resurrection of
Christ in a sense breaks the bonds of the social order that crucifies, so as to inaugurate a new
history, a new city, whose story is told along the infinite axis of divine peace, the religious
dynamism of Attic tragedy has the form of a closed circle; it reinforces the civic order it puts
into question, by placing that order within a context of cosmic violence that demonstrates not
only the limits but the necessity of the city's regime." What survives in Aristotle in a weakened
form as "pity and fear" was originally much more disturbing: "behind Athenian dramaturgy lay
memories of the promiscuous cruelty and antinomianism of the god who came out of the Libyan
wastes to shake the pillars of the city, and the hope that, if this devastating force could be
contained within the Apollonian forms and propitiated through a ritual carnival mimicking its
disorder, perhaps the polis could for another year maintain its precarious peace against a world
that is essentially a realm of countervailing violences."
3) He offers a devastating critique of Donald MacKinnon and Nicholas Lash, both of whom
have urged the necessity to subject theology to the "refining fire of tragic consciousness" (Hart's
phrase). In response to the claim that tragedy innoculates theology against easy totalizing
schemes, Hart makes the obvious but brilliant point that tragedy itself existed with a totalizing,
the closed system of the sacrificial antique city. Tragedy is no protection against ideology, but
rather itself an ideology: "Tragedy might well represent the most pronounced instance in Greek
religion of that mystification of violence that sustains the sacred order of pagan society, the
consecration of social violence as a restraint of cosmic violence, natural and divine. This is why
it cannot preserve moral thought against the lure of ideology, but can only preserve a particular
ideology against critique. . . . It is here, first and foremost, that the Christian narrative proves
resistant to a tragic reading: theology must insist upon 'historicizing' evil, treating it as the
superscribed text of a palimpsest, obscuring the original goodness of creation." Thus Christian

thought "can never reconcile itself to any wisdom whose premise is the ontological necessity of
violence." He points out too that tragedy, rather than disturbing complacency, is in the ancient
world a strategy of consolation: "tragic wisdom is the wisdom of resignation and consent, a
wisdom that is too prudent to rebel against what is fixed in the very fabric of being, and that
refuses to suffer inordinately, enraged by death or resentful of civic order. . . . it teaches that
MOIRA [fate] places and displaces us, and so leads us to a serene and chastened acceptance of
where we are placed and how we are displaced; tragedy resists every motion outward, beyond
the sentineled frontier, and reinforces the stable foundation of totality." That is, tragedy tells us
that there's nothing to do anyway, and so it legitimates quietism in face of horrific evil.
4) Especially Lash, in Hart's reading, undoes the social power of the gospel by reading the
gospel as tragedy. The resurrection, for Lash, is not so much the vindication of Jesus or the
reversal of His death as another dimension to the cross. The effect, Hart argues, is to eternalize
the crucifixion, and thereby to set the cross perilously near to the sacrificial regimes of
antiquity. (He is not denying a sacrificial dimension to Christ's death; like Girard, he sees two
kinds of sacrificial regimes in antiquity and Christianity.)
5) Hart ties this in with his predominant concerns, which are with the "aesthetics of Christian
truth" as follows: The God of Israel is not a tragic God, but a God of love and election, a God
who loves the beauty of the particular and who therefore does not allow the life of Christ
Einsofar as it is a life that ends in murder and the silence of death Eto stand in his eternal
light; even if from his eternal vantage the entire shape of Christ's life is supremely beautiful and
worthy of lifting up into himself, he is not a speculative God, not a God who speculates, whose
eternal light abstracts from the worldly horror of Christ's murder the transcendent beauty of
Christ's life considered as a finished totality Ea well-wrought urn. God's gift in Christ is put
to death, and must be given again Ecalled back to the surface of things Eif it is truly any
gift at all." Put differently, what is vindicated and beautified is not the cross but the crucified
One: "God's judgment [at Easter] vindicates Christ, his obedience unto death, but not the
6) Hart denies that the resurrection produces a Pollyannish avoidance or denial of evil or of the
loss of death. Quite the contrary, he says. The resurrection exposes the fact that tragic
consolations regarding death were hollow, and thus throws the believer on a wild surmise of
faith and hope. Resurrection "requires of faith something even more terrible than submission
before the violence of being and acceptance of fate, and forbids faith the consolations of tragic
wisdom; it places all hope and all consolation upon the insane expectation that what is lost will
be given back, not as a heroic wisdom (death has been robbed of its tragic beauty) but as the gift
it always was." Death is no longer glorious and heroic; death is simply enemy, hopeless and
meaningless, except for the faith that the loss will be restored. Because of the resurrection (as
Hart argued in his recent First Things piece) there is simply no choice but faith in Christ or the
nihil of meaninglessness. No noble, no heroic, no tragic compromise position will do, given the
fact of the cross. In a footnote, Hart notes what this does to tragic drama, using Lear to
illustrate. An ancient version of Lear would have ended with Lear defiantly standing against the
storm on the heath; but Shakespeare brings us back to hope and sanity, and the scene where
Lear and Cordelia are reunited is redolent with forgiveness, reconciliation, even resurrection.

This does NOT soften the blow when Cordelia finally dies, but makes it immeasurably more
From what I've read, this is a book that lives up to the back-cover hype.


Hart defends himself

Peter J. Leithart, November 21, 2005
David Hart responded to several critiques of his book, The Beauty of the Infinite, in an AAR
session this morning. Gerard Loughlin defended Nicholas Lash against Hart's assaults on his
endorsement of a tragic reading of the gospels. Hart responded by saying that he had not
misread or misrepresented Lash's views, and that Lash claims that the resurrection of Jesus says
nothing about the question of life after death. Hart affirmed that the resurrection of Jesus has
everything to do with life after death, that it is God's intervention and eruption in history, if that
is not what resurrection is then we have no business talking about resurrection at all. It was a
very moving, and very Pauline, moment.
Francesca Murphy of Aberdeen also focused on Hart's view of tragedy, charging him with a
misreading of the significance of Attic tragedy, a misreading that reverberates through several
dimensions of Hart's book. Tragedy, she argued, is a sign that even pagan antiquity had deep
down a sense of the fallenness of man and man's own complicity with that fallenness. She also
argued, intriguingly, that taking better account of tragedy would help Hart deal with the
question of necessity and freedom, which is closer to the heart of his book. Hart opposes an
order of necessity that he sees within ancient metaphysics, but Murphy suggested that there are
different kinds of necessity. The necessity of a syllogism keeps surprises at bay; but the
necessity of drama, as Aristotle knew, is perfectly compatible with the surprise of contingency.
By construing necessity in dramatic terms, Hart could have made room for a kind of necessity
without locking the world in a metaphysical totality.
In response, Hart conceded the force of the criticism, but went on to argue that the kind of
necessity he opposes is one that sets a final limit or horizon on the possibilities of life and
humanity. He suggested that philosophy depends for its autonomous existence on this final
necessity to which even the gods much finally submit, for if there is an ultimate gratuity then
philosophy has to bow before faith. Modern philosophy, he suggested, is the revival of the
necessity of ancient philosophy after ancient philosophy was ruined by the Christian
metaphysics of gift and gratuity.
Jamie Smith of Calvin College began by saying that Hart is essentially an evangelist, who sees
Christianity mainly in rhetorical terms. He made the intriguing point that postmodern
rhetoricism finally collapses into a bland form of liberalism: Because rhetoric is an act of
violence, one avoids saying anything or at least saying anything with assurance and conviction which is precisely the resurgence of liberal civility. Hart, in Smith's reading, was contesting this
postmodern form of liberalism, but also opposing the notion that Christian witness is a
triumphalist effort to win the argument. Hart advocates a rhetoric of peace. The key character
type for Hart is the martyr - who is willing to die for what he says and believes (challenging
pomo civility) and yet is not triumphalistically seeking to dominate. Smith also noted Hart's
defense of the objectivity of beauty and challenged Hart to clarify the subjective conditions for
the reception of beauty, suggesting in Calvinist vein that Hart has failed to take sufficient

account of the "aesthetic effects of sin." Smith ended his critique by suggesting that Hart had
given short shrift to pneumatology - which is the Person who forms the taste necessary for the
reception of God's beauty - and to ecclesiology.
Hart's response focused on Smith's suggestions about his notions of rhetoric. He observed that,
Smith to the contrary, he does want to win the argument, and thinks the martyrs did as well. His
goal was not to reduce dialectic to rhetoric, but to recognize that the two are inextricably
combined. But he is all in favor of exposing the logical flaws in various philosophical systems.
When that task is done, however, little has been accomplishes, because the key aspect of
Christian witness is to point to Christ Himself as the incarnate Beauty that evokes desire. In
response to Smith's suggestion that he had smuggled apologetics and universal reason into his
system, Hart argued that he never meant to deny the existence of universal rationality, so long as
it's not construed or defended on Enlightenment grounds. He rather intended his epistemological
reflections to highlight the way we come to know the truth, which is always partial and
Along the way, Hart described his view of Constantinianism as hovering between "neutrality
and nostalgia," confessed to being an arch-conservative, and said some other things that are not
normally heard at AAR.