Thomas J. J. Altizer
Professor of Religious Studies, Emeritus
State University of New York at Stony Brook
1. While the power of apocalypticism in our history is now acknowledged, we have little sense of its power or even meaning in thinking itself, and this despite the fact that so many of our primal modern thinkers, such as Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, havemanifestly been apocalyptic thinkers. Indeed, the very advent of modernity can be understood to be an apocalyptic event, an advent ushering in a wholly new world as the consequence of the ending of an old world. Nowhere was such a new world more fully present than in thinking itself, a truly new thinking not only embodied in a new science and a new philosophy, but in a new reflexivity orintrospection in the interiority of self-consciousness. This is the new interiority which is so fully embodied in the uniquely Shakespearean soliloquy, but it is likewise embodied in that uniquely Cartesian internal and radical doubt which inaugurates modern philosophy. Cartesian philosophy could establish itself only by ending scholastic philosophy, and with that ending a new philosophy was truly born,and one implicitly if not explicitly claiming for itself a radically new world. That world can be understood as a new apocalyptic world, one which becomes manifestly apocalyptic in the French Revolution and German Idealism, and then one realizing truly universal expressions in Marxism and in that uniquely modern or postmodern nihilism which was so decisively inaugurated by Nietzsche's proclamationof the death of God.
2. Yet a truly modern subject or "I" is a doubled or self-alienated center of consciousness, and is so in a uniquely Cartesian internal and radical doubt, one never decisively present in previous cognitive or philosophical thinking, although its ground had been established by Augustine's philosophical discovery of the subject of consciousness. Even as Augustinian thinking hadbeen deeply reborn in the late Middle Ages, thence becoming a deep ground not only of the Reformation but also of Cartesian thinking, this new modern subject which is now established and real is an interiorly divided subject, and so much so that its internal ground is a truly dichotomous ground. Nothing else is so deeply Augustinian in modern thinking and in the modern consciousness itself, andif Augustine discovered the subject of consciousness by way of his renewal of Paul, it was Paul who discovered the profoundly internal divisions and dichotomies of consciousness and self-consciousness. This is the Paul who is so deeply renewed in the dawning of modernity, but also the Paul who was the creator of Christian theology, a theology which if only in Paul is a purely and consistentlyapocalyptic theology, and Paul's realization of the ultimate polarity or dichotomy of consciousness is an apocalyptic realization, one reflecting an apocalyptic dichotomy between old aeon and new aeon, or flesh (sarx) and Spirit (pneuma).
3. Descartes himself acknowledged that his cogito ergo sum is already fundamental in Augustine's philosophy (letter to Colvius, 14 November, 1640), and he believedthat his philosophy was the first to demonstrate the philosophical truth of the doctrine of transubstantiation, and could go so far as to claim that scholastic philosophy would have been rejected as clashing with faith if his philosophy had been known first (letter to Mersenne, 31 March, 1641) Indeed, nothing is more revolutionary in modern philosophy than its dissolution of the scholasticdistinction between natural theology and revealed theology. This initially occurs in Descartes and Spinoza, but it becomes far more comprehensive in Schelling and Hegel, and so much so that the whole body of dogmatic theology undergoes a metamorphosis into pure philosophical thinking in Hegel's system. So it is that in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit (par. 11), Hegel can declare that ours is...