Issue #1 · 2021-02-23

The Birth of Faustianism

by Marcus Cunningham

For people of European descent, the question of who we are and what it means has never been so ambiguous. We are told that our heritage is meaningless and that any apparent historical glory that we could claim is in reality a colonial evil. A new subculture has emerged around sincerely enquiring into the meaning of western identity, resisting the burden of shame ubiquitously imposed on westerners by the capitalist elite and the petty bourgeois anarchists of the left. Inseparable from the question of what it means to be Western is the necessary analysis of origins: where we came from and why certain beliefs, and how distinct practices and attitudes came about. Most importantly a shared idea of origin is precisely what unites a community. We need to be able to point to where we came from and what distinguishes us, furthermore a particular idea of the West’s origin implies an agenda: who are we supposed to be? Mistakes here can lead to an inauthentic worldview, spiritual alienation and a requisite confusion as to our civilisational direction.

Questions of religion and spirituality are what reveal our highest and deepest identity, rendering this question of who the West is a fundamentally theological one. The source of the West’s theological uniqueness is in an epic dialectical and ultimately spiritual struggle, in which the West definitively differentiates itself from previous cultures and their archetypes, forging the character of what we recognisably see as our own spirituality.

Oswald Spengler’s theory for the birth of our civilisation, which he christened Faustian Civilisation, was a process of cultural pseudomorphosis. Meaning that unlike the first generation of civilisations, in river valleys such as China or Mesopotamia, Faustian culture began within the culture-forms of preceding civilisations. Faustian man begins in the shadow of his fathers, he is deeply influenced by Classical (Greco-Roman) man on the one hand and Magian (Middle Eastern) man on the other, but eventually breaks free and has his own distinct culture which Spengler characterised as the passionate thrust into infinite space. This ‘thrust’ was represented in the sharp apex of Gothic cathedrals and profound depth of perspectival painting. Empirical science and its subjugation of nature for vivisection, the thirst for exploration and navigation, classical music, and the Faustian myth itself are all distinctive features of the European soul which Spengler celebrates. Illuminating this morphogenesis we may consider the emergence of an artistic genius, he may begin within the genre of the master but ultimately his self-expression breaks free and founds a new genre out of this unique style’s formal innovations.

Jean Gebser built on the work of Spengler by recasting theory of history as a progression of increasingly complex consciousness structures rather than a progression of mere civilisations. The West as we recognise it then, can trace its origin to what Gebser christened the Rational consciousness structure (which contained the Classical, Magian and early Faustian within it in Spengler’s schema). Gebser illustrated the difference between rational and mythical consciousness with the clear images, contrasting the Spanish conquistador on his horse, dominating nature with the Aztec warrior subsumed by an animal spirit headdress. The individual of mythical consciousness is possessed by the various animal spirits which sing through him; western man dominates nature and has expelled the mythical forces with the production of the individual who stands over spirit and animal alike.

Before Faustian man emerged from the synthesis of Classical and Magian man, there was a precursor and forerunner in Christianity’s overcoding of the collapsing Roman Empire. Rome may have politically disintegrated, but it projected its influence forward through history with the Papacy it left behind. Christianity in its purity it was however rejected by Medieval European man and was instead alchemically integrated in its interpretation through the lens of Classical Greek philosophy. This is summed up by Michael Allen Gillespie in the beginning of the Theological Origins of Modernity:

The origins of the medieval world can be traced to the synthesis of Christianity and pagan philosophy in the Hellenistic world of late antiquity. This began in Alexandria in the first and second centuries. Here various strains of Christian thought, eastern religious beliefs, Neoplatonism, and a variety of other ancient philosophical views were amalgamated in different and at times conflicting ways, reflecting the intellectual and spiritual ferment of the times. This process of amalgamation was clarified and institutionalized when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine. The various conflicting strains of Christianity were fused into a formalized doctrine in the series of councils beginning with the Council of Nicea (323). However, despite this doctrinal consolidation enforced by imperial authority, the tensions within Christianity between revelation with its emphasis on divine omnipotence and incarnation, on one hand, and philosophy with its emphasis on rationalism and the notion of a rational cosmos, on the other, were not so easily resolved and remained a continuing problem for Christianity throughout its long history. Indeed, much if not all of the succeeding development of Christian theology was made necessary by the continual and periodically deepening antagonism between these two elements of Christianity.

Michael Allen Gillespie, the Theological Origins of Modernity

The different pieces are now assembled, the question of the West’s genesis can be traced through the complex interactions between the influences of Greco-Roman and Magian culture. Beyond this we must also consider the native pagan European culture, and how all this produces the singularity of the Idea of the West through a series of complex discursive continuities and discontinuities alike with these traditions. These interactions come together and develop a trajectory of increasing complexity the further the development of the dialectic of consciousness continues, until it reaches a breaking point: the pseudomorphosis, which is what we may call Faustianism.

Part 1: Literacy and desacralisation

Cor 2:17 “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity . . . 3:1 . . . Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 3:2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3:3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. . . 3:6 [God] has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

The New Testament, Second Corinthians 2:17-3:6

The origins of theology itself lie in the decay and death of mythical consciousness during the reciprocal rise of the rational. Jean Gebser’s theorisation of this development of consciousness is primarily an aesthetic model which looks at the beginning of the various archetypal forms and psychical attitudes of not merely the West but all civilised peoples as necessarily posterior to developments in art. Gebser, demonstrating his Heideggerian influence, viewed the aesthetic innovations expressed by geniuses of the arts as a kind of manifold upon which conceptual innovations could be conjured.

It is with great reverence that I write the names of Fra Angelico, Giotto, Pierro Della Francesca, and Cimabue, as these are my favourite painters from the era leading up to the discovery of perspective. Their art is prophetic, mystical, and exploratory, as if they were reaching out into the unknown, seeking what lay behind the curtain. They are in the uncanny valley between the world of formulaic numinism, iconography, and the renaissance period of perspectival realism, and so they stand at the beginning of Western Civilisation as unique entities. Perspective derives from the individual, the vanishing point comes from the perspective of one person who perceives the world as a Cartesian phase space. Thus we can see the genesis of the individualism associated with the West from this point, it is no coincidence that Descartes and his individualist epistemology come after this development. Furthermore, scientific representations were dependent on such artistic developments. It is impossible to draw a blueprint or draw three dimensional diagrams in mechanics or architecture without depth perspective, hence the discovery and development of perspective is a genuine revolution in consciousness.

Whilst Gebser does indeed yield great insight here, which can be summed up in the maxim; the artist always is ahead of the philosopher. He fails to sufficiently explain is the reason why the consciousness structures as he calls them change when they do. Why is it that mythical consciousness decays and is replaced by the rational? He does however tell us that there is a deficient and efficient mode of a consciousness structure. The deficient mode of myth he associates with oral culture and the speaking of myth, a bizarre claim given that oral folk tales go very far back indeed, in fact orality is the core of mythical consciousness. A more clear explanation of changes in consciousness is needed, and this can be found in media studies and in an examination of history. To thus begin the historical account that was promised we need to explain mythical consciousness as the beginning of our story.

The essence of mythical thinking is the failure to draw a distinction between sign and cause, as Lévy-Bruhl famously put it. One way to understand this is to collapse the distinction between metonymy and metaphor, ‘metonymy’ being simply understood here as the understanding that properties of a representation contain properties of the referent itself. To quote Olson:

This suggestion gains plausibility when we note that metaphor and metonymy have not always been distinguished. Lloyd (personal communication, 1993) has suggested that the distinction between the two is unique to the traditions that stem from Aristotle. In the Middle Ages many people believed in the efficacy of relics and to this day we are tempted to believe in the efficacy of charms, curses, blessings, and well-wishing. As we shall see, the issue of determining precisely how to take such biblical statements as “the Kingdom of heaven is within you” or “this is my body,” continued to puzzle scholars throughout the Middle Ages and many to this day.

Metonymy, taking signs, especially images, as somehow embodying the things they are signs of is deeply rooted in all of us, primitive or modern. The ancient structure of “graven images” implies a concern with the possibility of confusing the image with the thing it is an image of. Gombrich (1950) reminds us that even the most civilised among us would still feel a twinge if we were to poke a pin through the eye of a photograph of a friend. Revolutionaries topple statues of deposed despots and we do not allow our children to mutilate their dolls.

David R. Olson, The World on Paper

So the question then becomes, how is it possible that we came to be able to distinguish sign from cause? How did we break away from mythical thinking? 

Mythical and other earlier pre-rational consciousness as described by Jean Gebser in his magnum opus The Ever Present Origin are linked deeply to oral culture.  Even today, mythical consciousness is still ubiquitous in non-literate societies. Luria and Vygotsky famously went out into the rural Soviet Union and asked subjects logical questions. For example when asked the question “In the far north, where there is snow, all bears are white. Novaya Zemlya is in the far north and there is always snow there. What colour are the bears there?” the non literate response was “I don’t know… There are different sorts of bears.”

What we can see here is a failure to abstract, a failure to be able to think outside concrete situations. But it does not show signs they are “unreasonable”, rather that they do not posses rationality, which is something which comes after writing. The change from verse to prose and the rise of logical and rational perspectives (basically the gulf between Homer and Plato) was co-extensive with the emergence of literacy, and so the question is how becoming literate altered consciousness.

A good observation to begin with is that writing takes speech out of its context and carves out a space for the individual to interpret a text, creating an internal scene of representation. For Olson, there is a fundamental transformation from an oral culture to a culture of reading. Olson did not see writing, but reading, as the fundamental driver of the impact of this on consciousness. Through writing we become aware of language and we are able to participate in philosophy. Writing is basically the representation of representation, that is, metalanguage. When we see language represented, the components of language gradually become abstracted from their referents as objects unto themselves, which makes concepts such as the ‘word’ or the ‘sentence’ possible for example. Oral culture talks through, for the most part, and not about language. Luria summed up this phenomenon here:

The Beginning reader is not able to make the word and verbal relations an object of consciousness. In this period a word may be used but not noticed by a child, and it frequently seems like a glass window through which the child looks at the surrounding world without making the word itself an object of his consciousness and without suspecting that it has its own existence, its own structural features.

Luria, 1946, quoted from Olson 1994

The language can be used upon objects before we become aware of it as an object unto itself suggests the structure of language arrives unconscious and is something basically transparent to us, with literacy enabling us to make conscious its features. Children when they are learning to read in school need to become aware of language in this way, this is one of the most important realisations and allows most of more advanced cognition to be possible. Of course now we can understand how this development liquifies the mythical world, if we are conscious of language as an independent and separate object, it is no longer possible to confuse the representation for the thing itself, metaphor is properly separated from metonymy.

We did not simply gain from the transition from orality to literacy however, we also lost certain subtle aspects of meaning in the purification brought on by our new found metalinguistic capacities. Orality has its own distinct worldview in myth and its own legitimacy, just some of these profound features are described by Loubser:

Speech as such consists of highly complex systems enabling the codification of ideas into sound patterns. The most common and important function of speech is to enable people to share information. As with all media, speech has its own limitations. After a word has been spoken it is gone forever, unless memorised. In “pure” oral societies this dynamism of the spoken word coincides with a dynamic world view where everything is perceived to be in flux. Speech is local, direct and inclusive. It is also the closest to interior thought. In societies using the oral medium exclusively as means of communication, we find that this medium influences social structures and thought patterns. Past and future are assimilated into the present. Time is not a continuum, but an ever-present reality. Oral communication also allows for the closest possible association of the knower and the known. Knowledge is not understood as a personal commodity, but rather as a communal event. Ritual, totem, and taboo, which regulate pure oral societies, serve as collective mnemonic aids. Myths and epics, sung or chanted, serve as collections of the wisdom, morals and customs of society. Those with good memories, especially the elders of the tribe, achieve a position of power. Those who speak loudest become the most efficient leaders. The “pure” oral world is a world of spirits. It is a world in which the elusiveness and interiority of the spoken word coincides with a dynamic concept of time, a world where a communal awareness rather than an individual awareness focuses human consciousness, and where authoritarian traditionalism is vested in the elders of the tribe. These social parameters also encourage the development of peculiar characteristics necessary to cope in such an environment, for example, the development of the capacity to remember vast amounts of information and to obey older people.

Loubser, J. A.. Oral and Manuscript Culture in the Bible

The only other thing I would have to add to the temporal aspect discussed here is that generally see a distinctly cyclical view of time. Deeply influenced by the rise of agriculture and the rise of the need to keep track of time, ideas about the turning of the seasons was seen non-metaphorically as the cycle of time. This as we shall see is indeed not ubiquitous to mythical consciousness and is a much more prevalent theme in early mythical consciousness in fact, but the nuance that there are different stages of mythical consciousness is also something which will be relevant later. In any case the idea that time is an ever present reality and not a continuum is the key aspect of this conception whether cyclical or non-cyclical.

The idea of linear temporality is a spatialised concept. We very often spatialise time without realising it. Of course you can take the example of actual measured time as in clock-time, which operates in purely spatial terms (an hour is 1/24th of a day which is the earth revolving around its own axis), and thinks in terms of past, present and future. But all reality takes place within a thick present. Your immediate experience of time is sensed as a totality, as a holistic experience. When you listen to a piece of music your immediate perception doesn’t split it into different notes understood independently, this is something done after the fact in theoretical constructions. In the same way these mathematicisations of time are done after the fact in a geometrical sense, split and chopped up in language. To quote Bergson in the introduction to Time and Free Will: “We necessarily express ourselves by means of words and we usually think in terms of space. That is to say, language requires us to establish between our ideas the same sharp and precise distinctions, the same discontinuity, as between material objects.” Thus we see this spatialisation of time as a geometricalisation after the fact, retrojected and not distinguished between the ostensive and immediate experience of time itself, a reification which leads into many problematic philosophical places.

Martin Heidegger came up with the idea of Zuhandenheit, or ready-to-handness, to critique Cartesianism. In Descartes’ analysis of objects there has to be a conscious conceptual synthesis of experience. In the famous wax example Descartes pointed out that we must use reason to recognise that the wax is a unified entity when it goes through changes in states, as he holds it to the fire. Heidegger pointed out that it is not sufficient to look at an object as merely being-present, but that we have to have a further perceptive synthesis of memory which is passive, which is pre-philosophical, in order for an object to be comprehended. Take the example of a hammer, in order to comprehend it we have to also take into account that it exists in a world which presupposes nails, wood, and a list of other technical and natural objects with which it has relations, there is an inter-referentiality to it. In this way Heidegger historicises Bergson’s ontological notion of time as pre-conceptually perceived.

Leroi-Gourhan would take this further in his analysis of technics, pointing out that technical objects have a necessarily political constitution. He divides the social order into an external milieu and an internal milieu. The external milieu is the environing world that a social order exists within (the climate, the geography, etc..), the internal milieu is the cultural memory, the shared idea of origin that all members can point to. There is also the technical milieu which emerges from the internal milieu to mediate its relation with the external milieu: the inter-referential web of technical objects. Technical objects have their genesis as solutions to problems within the external milieu, the confrontational directedness of problems and constructions of communal solutions is what politicizes the technical.

The technical millieu of writing then enables the projection of spatial juxtaposition and the linear progression of a narrative upon the external milieu, linearising its temporality and alienating the internal milieu from accessing the past perceptually through the context of circular time. This melts down the mythical into time mediated by representation, Olson points out that this is a distinct development of writing in his later work, The Mind on Paper:

The translation of language from a time-based temporal structure to a spatial one is the occasion for the discovery and consequently the awareness of certain implicit or underlying features of language. For the inventors of writing systems the problem was to discover properties of speech that could be represented by a limited inventory of visual signs sufficient to convey a meaning. Writing systems are composed of visual patterns arrayed in space to represent sound patterns in the acoustic domain, thus allowing a reader to go back and forth between sounds and signs; to write what was said and to read aloud what was written. The primary obstacle to that translation was the challenge of discovering properties of the spoken utterance that could be represented by visual signs. The concepts mediating them, the concept of word, for example, provide a link between the written sign and a detectable feature of the spoken. Similarly the concept of sentence mediates the relation between components of unsegmented speech and the space inserted between written sentences. The concepts linking the written and the spoken make the previously implicit properties of speech explicit, something to talk about. Such concepts are about language and hence metalinguistic.

David R. Olson. The Mind on Paper

This is also a carving out of an internal scene of translation wherein internal narratives are formed, separate from the previous tribal and collectivist attitudes. This evolution of how we understand temporality is important to focus on because it points to the most basic and important level at which consciousness is shaped by developments in media and at a political level. Going forward, this observation will contextualize deep ontological difference between early and modern Christian culture, and explain the theological confusions that emerge from the modern assumption that the early Christians inhabited a more or less equivalent time consciousness. 

The history of consciousness always has inflection points and the middle of some of these processes can be a time of great identity crisis and cultural confusion. On the other hand they produce some of the most interesting thinkers, one of the clearest examples of this is St Paul. Paul was active at the time of what Loubser calls intermediate manuscript culture, which is still very much rooted in Oral culture but with emerging literacy within an elite minority. During this phase, a manuscript was just a mnemonic aid for the speaker to present their speech, there is strong textual evidence for many typically oral features of the “texts” available to us in the New Testament. A significant example of this is the poor construction of the “prose” with many repetitions of the same words and reminders of where a scene is taking place, this strongly indicates orality because you need to address an audience like this when speaking for them to follow along. 

As evidenced by the verse (2 Cor 3:6) quoted at the beginning, Paul disfavourably associates Roman imperialism and Jewish legalism with literacy itself, remarking that “a man of letters” is “a boastful and arrogant one” in Gal 6:11. It is a deep suspicion of literate culture for its undermining of the mythical compatibility of oral culture that Paul is desperate to defend against. St Paul is therefore not a philosopher, he instead represents the final stand of oral culture against legalism and the changes of consciousness which come about with literacy.

But this is all so far a superficial argument, at a profound level we can see Paul, and the other “writers” of the New Testament are mythical thinkers, Paul and his contemporaries were therefore in a sense the last stand of mythical consciousness in the Middle East. In sketching Paul’s thought there are three tendencies indicative of his mythical nature; his attitude to temporality, his use of mythical language and the relation of the text to the audience, and the ‘corporate personality’. All these different features are features of oral culture and by extension, mythical consciousness. To get a profound grasp on the New Testament and a hermeneutic for how it originally would have been intended to be taken, the purpose here is to look at the internal milieu of this epoch and the world in which Paul and the other New Testament “writers” lived, and how the coherence of the relation to divinity itself is shaped by this internal milieu. First we will examine the corporate personality:

Kelber describes the unity between speaker, message and audience as an “oral synthesis” and finds ample evidence of this in the Pauline text (1983:19, 147). The subjective involvement and solidarity of the different parties in the Pauline text with one another (e.g., the author, Christ, Adam, God, congregation, and humankind) has in the past been studied under the concept of the “corporate personality” as first introduced by H. Wheeler Robinson.

In contrast to the way in which the idea of the corporate personality operates in traditional societies, we find it to be the object of conscious reflection in the Pauline texts (e.g., in Rom 5:12ff)—perhaps a sign that this procedure was no longer so obvious to Paul’s audience. However, our general observation regarding the empathetic nature of oral communication helps us to understand at least why Paul’s typology was intelligible to his audience. The manner in which he conceives of the believer as being “in Adam” reflects a communal way of thinking that would not normally occur to modern interpreters.

An insight into the typological hermeneutic which reconstructs the first-century believer’s psychological participation with Christ can further lead to clearer description of the Pauline sacramental and sacrificial language, the mimesis of Christ, expressions as “in” and “with” Christ, and also expressions such as “he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:15).[…]It also follows that the Pauline “indicative” did not refer to a past saving event. The “imperative” was not a rational or speculative application of abstract principles, but the action of Christ in the presence of the believer.

J.A. Loubser, Oral and Manuscript Culture in The New Testament

This exegetical term of the corporate personality is really a description of the mythical, tribal, traditional, and collectivist mentality ubiquitous in oral culture, however we do see signs here already that it is on its way out. Paul is conscious of it and advocating for it, criticising and chastising people already infected with a desacralised, literate mentality. So we see more modern ideas cropping up even in Paul. We aren’t the mere playthings of the gods as in Homer. Nevertheless he is actively siding with that world over the new one. The mysticism which is inherent in oral culture we can see in the the language of “through him and with him and in him”. Solidarity with Christ is not dependent on his being present on the earth, he is a super-personal spirit which speaks directly through the preacher in the unity of the “oral synthesis” as Kelber called it. If we are in a state of sin here Adam is acting within us, we are not just trying to interpret what Christ is saying but instead are engaged in a mimesis where we consume Christ and he acts through us and is present. It is not only the case however that in Paul there is this oral collectivism, but as we have seen, people in the supposed past like Adam and Christ are also present. This won’t make much sense until we understand the temporality which Paul is operating in and the manner by which he was supposed to be interpreted which we will turn to immediately.

Loubser goes on to analyse the language of Paul which shows it is deeply within mythical consciousness in other ways including the language of dualities and complementarities you see in oral cultures, and finally the non-linear complex notion of temporality in Paul. This is in contrast to the geometricalised, linear temporality which comes with the inauguration of philosophy and a culture of reading which post-representationalist philosophers like Bergson and Heidegger would rail against thousands of years later. It is through this lens that we can gain a coherence in the language that is being used here.

In terms of interpreting the New Testament, we can look at some of the implications of this new media studies analysis. In Luke 9:51-56, Jesus Christ rebukes his disciples for their quickness to ask for hellfire when they are not received by the Samaritans on the way to Jerusalem. 

What are the ethical consequences of this episode? It has been read in different ethical modes. Most commentators view it like Plummer, i.e. deontologically as a lesson in tolerance: a missionary should not force himself on those who do not receive him. Thus it becomes a prescription for missionary strategy. 

The disciples did not consider that the conduct of the Samaritans was rather the effect of national prejudices and bigotry, than of enmity to the word and worship of God; and though they refused to receive Christ and his disciples, they did not ill use or injure them, so that the case was widely different from that of Ahaziah and Elijah . . . It is easy for us to say, Come, see our zeal for the Lord! and to think we are very faithful in his cause, when we are seeking our own objects, and even doing harm instead of good to others.


This seems to be a consequentialist interpretation with a focus on the motivation and is clearly a literate attitude towards the Bible, they are looking to it and forming ethical interpretations, be it consequentialist or deontological in each case. On the other hand the media Studies approach does not directly answer or bring about formal ethical principles but asks you to think about reflections on what has been said directly:

Our media-critical reflection does not present a direct ethical interpretation. It rather leads the modern reader to open him/herself to the force of the oral narrative and to allow the oral intertext to emerge. Such a procedure allows questions to multiply. Would Jesus the Jew today have travelled through the West Bank, seeking to be received there by his enemies? What would have happened? Can the violent anger of the oppressed be controlled by firepower? What kind of firepower would work?


Here we can see that Christ is preempting a bureaucratic ethical interpretation. It is a disposition towards the message that Christ is intending us to move towards, this disposition is grace which we inherit though the previously described spiritual mimesis with Christ. Kierkegaard’s interpretation of the Abraham story makes this clear, we are not in the business of forming universal axioms based on reading scripture but instead are engaged in spiritual mimesis where we try to incarnate Christ in our actions in a way which is much more direct, much more difficult. In short it is simply not reducible to moral law. This is because moral law is a borrowed metaphor from scientific law so they can’t be so easily separated, a scientific experiment ensures the same conditions by assuming equalities. But of course, no such equalities exist in nature, this is the problem of induction. We cannot exchange one event for another as if they were equal, no matter how useful this is for modelling. In moral law we cannot legislate in advance how to act, every moral event is unique, it is a singularity, and must be treated as such. The central question is the famous “what would Jesus do?” which centrally about embodiment and performance, in unique moral events where referring back to a rulebook will not be sufficient.

This is why you get supposedly contradictory moments in Paul, there is a complex oral intertextuality which is revealed through a confrontation with the text in this kind of a way, a self conscious replication of listening and reflecting on the speaker which we arrived at through meta-cognition. Still, such a view of the world and divinity only becomes coherent when we understand the relation to temporality. Before we can see a new way (the original way) in which the new testament was understood, we need to understand the temporality of the New Testament, specifically looking at Paul again:

Time expressions by means of which Paul interprets the saving events are extremely difficult to systematise. These temporal expressions are sparse and tend to vary from one passage to another and cannot be fitted neatly into a linear or circular pattern. In the passages where he reflects on the time aspect, he usually formulates his point in terms of two antithetical temporal co-ordinates which coincide with the motive for writing the letter. In Rom 3:21–26 there is, for example, a sharp contrast between the present and the past. In Rom 5:12–21 the time of Adam is contrasted to the time of Christ. Whereas the past is signified by sin, the present is signified by the abundance of grace. In Phil 2:6–11 Christ’s past humiliation is contrasted to his present and future exaltation. The apostle is encouraging a grateful congregation towards even more gratitude and joy. These antitheses have a direct bearing on the immediate rhetorical intent. To Paul, as in oral culture, the present, not the past, is the locus where God acts decisively. This results in a strong link between eschatology and proclamation, both representing different sides of the same coin. So, for example, the cross and the resurrection are not seen merely as past events. By their proclamation they are experienced as present events controlling the present and the future. Between events like the crucifixion itself and the “word of the cross” there is much less distance than would be the case in modern culture.


The view of temporality here is similar to the Bergsonian one in his magnum opus Matter and Memory, where he points out that within us our entire life is present with us unconsciously. When we are in a room there are all the memories of where different objects are that make it a coherent environment to live in. There is a necessary temporality to the subject, but most importantly for this biblical discussion, there are paradoxes that emerge when linear-geometrical views of temporality are taken when understanding memory. This helps greatly to understand what Paul is talking about when he says that the events of the New Testament are present, and yet also in the past.

We have great difficulty in understanding the survival of the past in itself because we believe the past is no longer, that it has ceased to be. We have thus confused being with being-present. Nevertheless the present is not. Rather it is pure becoming, always outside itself. It is not but it acts. Its proper element is not being the active or the useful. The past, on the other hand, has ceased to be active or useful. But it has not ceased to be. Useless, inactive, impassive, it IS, in the full sense of the word: it is identical with being in itself. It should not be said that it “was,” since it is the in-itself of being, and the form under which being is preserved in itself (In opposition to the present, the form under which being is consummated and places itself outside of itself). At the limit, the ordinary determinations are reversed: of the present we must always say that it “was,” and of the past that it “is,” that it is eternally, for all time.

Deleuze, Bergsonism

Thus when we apply this to the events of the Bible we can see what Paul means precisely, the Resurrection is present because the past virtually coexists with it. The Virtual for Deleuze and Bergson is real but not actual, think of something simple like a capacity or tendency. Ice has the tendency to melt or boil at certain temperatures, and this tendency is both real and immanent whether it is actually melting/boiling or not. This is also the ontological status of the pure past, in so far as it can be remembered the past is always virtually memorable, even if it isn’t actually being remembered at this moment. Bergson visualised it like a cone, with the present moment being the most concentrated tip, and with the past gradually accumulating in an ever expanding cone. This understanding of temporality is a self-conscious recovery of the non-linearity of mythical time.

So what the Christian is supposed to be doing is following the example of Christ, in our re-dramatisation of the figure of Jesus in our lives Christ becomes re-actualized. The Idea of Christ is virtual and therefore always immanent in any situation, awaiting our dramatic actualisation. Deleuze describes the Idea as problematical in its nature, and so for Deleuze the Idea eternally returns thematically as a problematic multiplicity which it dramatically solves differently each time. The problematic of the Idea is so internally complex that no particular solution exhausts it, and Jesus was the original and perfect solution to the problematical theme of representing the Divine Will on Earth because his example can be eternally repeated in different situations. In this way Christ’s spirit is eternal even if the flesh of Jesus died. Christ rises again in every Christian act and his spirit inhabits our flesh and we are born again in union with this eternal Idea. This is exemplified by eating Christ in the Eucharist, it is about becoming Christ, it is not an abstract treatise of ethics. The events of the Bible are virtually coexistent and available to us in the present which allows the coherence of this whole worldview.

This Christianity I have briefly looked at is not the Christianity that the vast majority of people associate with the term. We can see a huge discontinuity between the oral-mythical thinker of Paul, and the literate-philosophical thinker of Augustine. What we then see is this deeply mythical Magian religion of Christianity, fundamentally transformed in Europe. This is something which you see in all orthodox interpretations of Christianity, and you can see this most clearly in Augustine. His project was a synthesis of Greco-Roman classical philosophy with Christianity and was very plainly a product of a culture of literacy.

In Augustine it is the reflection and reading of texts which is the main spiritual practice, the meditative practice of reading the Bible allows the reader to overcome their carnal desires through the construction of narrative. It is the reflective reader whose job it is to ethically “rewrite” their life, so to speak, to gain freedom from their carnal desires and replace it with narratives of charity and the other Christian virtues. This is in stark contrast to the methods of Oral culture and is building upon the Classical cultural notion of virtue being achieved through reason in the construction of civilised Roman or Greek man, this is exemplified by the teachings of Socrates. Augustine rebukes Classical claims that reason alone is sufficient to produce virtue, because there is no value-neutral way in which we can examine ourself. For Augustine we require Biblical study and the model of Christ particularly as a reference point with which we can deploy reason to examine ourselves.

If the stream of time is a reflection of how narratives function, and if the flow of words in a narrative is an illustration of how time can be understood, then intellectual schemes for understanding behaviour are not detachable from the lives we have lived or would like to live. Nor is it important in this scheme that the lives in question be our own. They can be narratives we have heard or read about, in which the ethical value of the story has been agreed on by communities over time. In such stories it is the collective hearers’ or readers’ response that shapes the individual’s intended narrative, as it is in the life histories of the virtuous philosophers, the Jewish prophets, and the apostles.

Brian Stock, After Augustine

Here we distinctly see a dramatisation of the earlier deployed idea of the technical milieu infecting the internal milieu in Augustine’s life. Augustine internalising the externalised spatial medium of writing to form his view of temporality which brings a new notion of theosis from the one described earlier. Augustine’s great problem with the pagans was that he saw the various gods as not being good models of behaviour, so to avoid the corruption of people into vice it is very important for the people we admire to be the very archetypes of virtue, which he sees of course in Jesus Christ. This is analogous to the way in which Paul lays things out except there is a much more clearly defined notion of the individual, and individual reflection on texts is what allows the process of spiritual mimesis. There is a discontinuity in that this is a clearly literate account and there is not the apocalyptic mysticism of Paul but instead a neoplatonic conception. Again we see the dynamic of reading being associated with the increase in consciousness of the individual, it carves out an internal scene of interpretation, which allows the individual to break away from the earlier oral “corporate personality”.

It is also incredibly important to note Augustine is drawing his account of temporality always from his experience of reading and temporality as narrative, breaking away from the mythical view earlier. The spiritual theosis of direct engagement with the speaker has been replaced by a rewriting of one’s life based on reading, ethical interpretation has triumphed over performatist spiritual ordeal. Our relation to divinity has become mediated, and the spirit of Christianity has been hollowed out by an understanding shackled to literacy and classical philosophy in particular. This ethical and spiritual practice that in many ways Augustine inaugurates is called Lectio Divina,  to understand the theological dialectic which proceeds to unfold we must interpret it through a historical theory of literacy:

According to Jean Leclercq, the author of a classic study of the subject, the founders of the medieval tradition of lectio divina were Benedict and Gregory the Great. However, the methods that they employed had precedents in the biblical period in both Hebrew and Greek. A text that combines these traditions is Romans 10:8, where Paul, in contrasting Jewish law and Christian faith, supports his position with a quotation from Deuteronomy 30:14 that refers to the presence of God’s word in the believer’s “mouth or heart.” It was the recreation of the biblical text through oral reading and recitation that provided the rationale for lectio divina as it evolved out of Jewish tradition into Christianity. In a statement that was echoed by (among others) Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian, Cyprian emphasized the oral nature of the experience and its closeness to prayer: “Sit tibi vel oratio assidua vellectio: nunc cum Deo loquere, nunc Deus tecum” (May you engage constantly in prayer or reading: in the one you speak with God, in the other God speaks with you).9 It was Origen and Augustine who were chiefly responsible for expanding the biblical and early patristic notions of lectio divina into a more systematic style of asceticism. This tradition was passed on to the Middle Ages as a part of the divine office. From the eleventh century, it became customary for monastic authors to speak of three interconnected ascetic activities, lectio, meditatio, and oratio.

First of all, in lectio divina continuity arose, as noted, between reading, meditation, and prayer, whereas in lectio spiritualis it occurred on the frontier between reading, interior reflection, and a number of other devotional activities. In lectio divina the reflective process began in the presence of the text, whereas in lectio spiritualis it could take place in the absence of the text; that is, it could be based entirely on internal resources. The presence of the biblical text was therefore a necessary condition for lectio divina but only a sufficient condition for lectio spiritualis. In the one meditation focused on the words that were actually read; in the other it was concerned with words or images that arose during or after the reading. Also, in lectio divina the passage of time was marked by the sounds of the words that were read, as in Augustine’s famous measurement of time in book 11 of the Confessions; in lectio spiritualis it was measured by what Edmund Husserl called internal time-consciousness, whose ebb and flow was entirely determined by the subject. If lectio divina created an experience in which silence succeeded sound, lectio spiritualis frequently took place entirely in silence.

Brian Stock, After Augustine

In contrast with the more or less oral nature of Paul we can see here a deeply literate culture based around the reading of texts. We should not be taking sides here this is simply part of the development of the dialectic, and it seems somewhat inevitable that the apostolic succession would be broken and a new culture would be inaugurated. What I will now describe is the all consuming fire of lectio divina, but first we must remember Olson’s insight that it was not writing but reading which propels forward the advance of consciousness throughout history. The previous example given was the birth of metalanguage as people became conscious of language as an independent object in and of itself. What I will now describe in detail is the increasing suspicion that the role of writing is viewed with in mediating our relation to Divinity, leading to the creation of bureaucratic systems which are erected to patch up this world which is falling apart.

One objection that has to be responded to before I continue, is the point that the medievals and fathers seem very oral indeed. Thomas Aquinas famously dictated all of his theological work. But ultimately this is a superficial point, as the medieval and earlier patristic period are in high manuscript culture. The earlier intermediate manuscript culture of Paul was indeed just mnemonics for if you really couldn’t remember something from the oral presentation. However in high manuscript culture, we have mnemonics for remembering other written texts, manuscripts referring to other manuscripts. The clarification needed is that when we are talking about literate culture, we do not narrowly mean to say the prevalence of writing and reading, but the exploitation of the resources of a written tradition, to use Olson’s phrase.

The history of reading contains a very conspicuous paradox: it proceeds in the precise inversion of what you would have predicted looking at it in the abstract. The most basic function of reading, we assume, is deciphering the literal meaning of a text, as it requires reflection to grasp the deeper metaphorical, spiritual, and poetic meaning. But when you look at the history of how the Bible was read, beginning with the break of apostolic succession with the oral culture of the original Magian Bible until this arche is completed in the Reformation, you see the exact opposite. The original and natural tendency was to read the book in a spiritually revelatory way, and through a long dialectical process which eventually reaches Luther, we finally arrive at a point where no meaning other than the literal is acceptable.

What is important to understand about writing is what it fails to capture. When speaking there are many indicators of communicative intention that are absent when writing, what J.L. Austin called illocutionary force and include such things as the speed of talking, intonation, facial expression, body language, emphasis and sarcasm. The basic idea of interpretation in a text is to decipher not merely what a text says but what it means, such a process is synonymous with trying to recover the illocutionary force of a text.

The rough process by which the Bible became demythified was that we gradually became aware of our participation in reading, we became aware of what we were doing when we were interpreting, and we tried to systematise it to avoid problems of interpretation. This had the effect of transforming the Bible from an object of mysticism into an object of study. Questions of historical context and the specific context of the audience to which the writer was addressing came not to be seen as profane but essential to exegesis.

Initially in a reaction against the Jewish hermeneutic tradition, Christians tried to stick to St. Paul’s doctrine of “the letter killeth” (2 Cor. 3:6). As we have seen this is deeply ironic because Paul is warning against texts entirely, not something within the interpretation of texts themselves, but this was nevertheless how it was interpreted by the medieval church fathers who were embedded in a literate culture. The letter/spirit duality is key to understanding the development, written signs were seen by medieval authors as an obstacle against finding the ‘spirit’ of the text. 

The text was seen as a limitless well from which to draw for spiritual nourishment, as we saw earlier for Augustine it is the source of ethical transformation, as in divine revelation the spirit of the text is revealed to us. Reading between the lines is what is essential to this practice, yet it is important to note that this was not seen as a mere “subjective” interpretation, but a personal revelation of the objective spirit of the text. The very concept of subjective interpretation would have been incoherent in the thinking of that epoch and it is therefore a mistake to retroject it back onto them. 

As we saw with Brian Stock, the lectio divina was how the interpretation of scripture took place in the middle ages, an excellent example in Dante of how medieval interpretation was practiced is as follows:

In order to make the manner of treatment clear, it can be applied to the following verses: “When Israel went out to Egypt, the house of Jacob from a barbarous people, Judea was made his sanctuary, Israel his dominion.” Now if we look at the letter alone, what is signified is the departure of the sons of Israel from Egypt during the time of Moses; if at the allegory, what is signified to us is our redemption through Christ; if at the moral sense, what is signified to us is the conversion of the soul from the sorrow and misery of sin to the state of grace; if at the anagogic, what is signified to us is the departure of the sanctified soul from bondage to the corruption of this world into the freedom of eternal glory.

Dante Alighieri, 1317, 1973 translation.

It could be criticised that this is a fairly late example but it does show the complexity of interpretation in the middle ages. Within the west the move from oral to a literate culture was largely completed by the 11-12th centuries with the rise of systematic theology; this was exemplified by people like Peter Abelard and Anselm in opposition to the final monastic adversary who maintained the “spiritual exposition” – Bernard de Clairvaux. However in a purely literary sense, the most important exemplars of this hermeneutical shift were the Victorines.

Hugh and his student Andrew of St. Victor inaugurate and exemplify this process of Biblical desacralisation in the middle ages perfectly. Hugh was frustrated with his mentors that were according to him substituting what we could call today their subjective interpretations over what the original authors meant, and he thus set out to find what the original authors had intended. Once the problem of interpretation became recognised as a central problem, the dominos were destined to fall.

Andrew took this to a new level by looking at the work of the Jewish scholars of the Rashi School who examined the geography, chronology, cultural context of the Old Testament, even going so far as expunging supernatural interpretations from exegesis. Andrew took this up and also looked at the lexical and grammatical structure to provide a purely literal account of the Old Testament. This line of research closed out what was not explicitly in the text, carefully examining the exact wording, this kind of reading became standard especially for subsequent attempts to translate the Bible. Andrew thought of this method of interpretation as an object of study separate from finding the spiritual meaning, but the letter now has been given distinct power to it unmediated by the spirit in the deciphering of the meaning of texts.

The conclusion of the process comes about in the works of Maimonides and Aquinas, who attempt to solve the letter/spirit problem directly, but still open the door to Luther who evolves out of their methods:

Aquinas begins his summa with the somewhat traditional conception of the literal and the spiritual senses. He takes God to be the author of scripture. But he proceeds to develop the distinction in a new way of pointing out that human writers express their meaning by words. What the human writers intend constitutes the literal sense; the literal sense was the legitimate object of scientific study and research.

The spiritual sense is what the divine “author” expressed by the events described by the human author; the spiritual sense was the object of theology. Only scripture had both senses. Aquinas thereby granted complete autonomy to the text and its literal meaning.

Luther’s theory of reading, the theory we associate with the reformation, was a rather direct outgrowth of Aquinas’ view of literal meaning. Luther took as the real true meaning of scripture the historical or literal meaning, the meaning that was available for all to see if they read carefully. The meaning of scripture relied not on the dogmas of the church but on a “deeper reading of the text.”

Readings or interpretation were to be grounded openly in the text and were not to be dependent of Church doctrine , cabalistic traditions, or private inspiration. The search changed from one for revelation to one for meaning. One was to seek for meanings on the lines rather than the epiphanies between them.

David R. Olson, The World On Paper

It is important to emphasise that when Luther is reducing the meaning of the Bible to a purely literal one he is not expunging the metaphorical, poetic, or other values of the text, but subsumed them all into the literal meaning as part of the communicative intention. So whilst not guilty of fundamentalism himself, he did contribute to the dialectical process toward fundamentalist interpretation by localising the “working out” of Biblical meaning in the individual’s interpretation. Of course, Luther was wrong that we could in fact through study reach an objective recollection of the illocutionary force, for the people who actually constructed the Bible had a totally different mentality to his contemporaries. It also fails to take into account the unconscious, and is highly suspect given the subsequent rapid fragmentisation of Protestant sects. What problematises traditional catholic genealogies of modernity is that all he is really doing is democratising the practices of the priests who already viewed what they were doing from the perspective of the individual, separated from the community, engaging in an individualist epistemology studying scripture and dissecting it based on close study. 

The Post-Lutheran mentality has often been deemed ‘the death of the author’, in which we can ignore authorial intention. This came largely as a reaction against very biographical attempts in the 19th Century to figure out what an author of some prose is intending. The death of the author approach allows the text speak to us directly. This is overall a flawed hermeneutic in general, but it is especially inappropriate for the Bible, because the Bible is not prose, and therefore authorial intention (god is speaking to us) is of paramount importance. Only a complex hermeneutic which takes into account media studies and looks carefully with systems theory and structuralist influence can examine elements of language and come close to exposing the author’s faith. The process by which we became advanced enough to embark on such a project was started out by Herder who first recognised the orality of the New Testament in 1796. Of course even this isn’t perfect and there will always be a certain amount of mystery.

Rather than a coming to consciousness of something new what we saw here was a different kind of awareness, of the limits of writing as a medium and increasing scepticism that we could actually reach the truth of the christian message through reading in general. This had the inevitable effect of demythifying Christianity because the attempted solutions of systematised literacy and exegetical methods lead to a doubling down on literacy, in Protestantism anyone can be a philologist and figure these things out for themselves (yet of course they seldom possess a self-conscious hermeneutical theory). It is not until the 20th Century with a more developed hermeneutical approach that we can actually interpret what they meant through complex system theory or structuralist accounts, taking very seriously the consciousness of the people at the time and the media situation. It is impossible to go back to any previous level of awareness, that would require collective cultural forgetting, and we’d roll back down the hill anyway. 

To drive this point home there are two very closely related concepts, the generativity of enquiry and the singularity. Deleuze was very insightful to point out that it is the constitution of the problem which is the fundamentally creative act. In the example of the Victorines, they began by coming to awareness of a problem, the problem of different interpretations, a very basic and very important problem. Wars have been fought over different interpretations of scripture. In recognising the problem they then enquired into how to solve it, and came up with the solution of dissecting religious scripture with a hermeneutical method to very clearly work out the literal meaning to clarify. The process of enquiry is thus itself transformative, merely in recognising a problem and enquiring into a solution they have changed the object they are studying in the process. Once the Bible was seen as an object of study the rest of the process down to Protestantism was unleashed, it is this exact warning which drove both De Maistre and Spengler to warn of the destructiveness of enquiring into things, because making everything an object of abstract inquiry is a desacralising and potentially nihilistic force.

The singularity of this process as irreversible comes from the nature of the problematic encounter and the transformative act of enquiry both into and upon the object. Thus we can see this history of reading as a series of creative encounters with problems and the construction of solutions. The meta-problem however is that the solutions contain problems anew inside them and the process falls down to the next great thinker who engages it and drives history forward. The destiny of this is that it changed our relation to metarepresentation, we became more and more aware of the limits of writing in conveying meaning and had to recursively add characteristics to the interpreter to fill the hermeneutic gap.

We can avoid the misunderstanding that history is a constant process demythification in recognising the paradox that we are not observing this grand historical process as disassociated scientists. By recognising the overarching trajectory of western thought as moving towards demythification. In the act of recognising it we are ourselves turning demythification upon itself and in the process creating a new means of accessing the mythical world. The other implication of this is it frames history as a series of creative encounters with problems and the constructions of new solutions, solutions which contain the problematic inside them, reflexing back upon itself in an eternal repetition. Through this understanding we access the mythos as now active rather than passive participants.

This participatory traditionalism comes paradoxically through affirming the discontinuous dialectical confrontations our tradition. To be in communion with this historical process we must chart out our heritage and work out the motivations behind what our ancestors were doing and why they broke with the people beforehand, the problems they inherited, solved, and passed on. In affirming the creative encounters which drove consciousness forward, we form an unbroken chain with our heritage and may receive it whole, in its paradoxical continuity through discontinuity. We are looking at the difficult situation our heritage has left us and raising the cross, and carrying it forth, into the future.

Part 2: Pseudomorphosis

With this background we can now far better inquire into the uniqueness of Western identity and set out what the right disposition is towards it. The theological scene of the pseudomorphosis which sets in motion the entire western tradition was the nominalist revolution of the thirteenth and fourteenth century. Moving on from the development of exegesis, theology in the eleventh-twelfth century attempted to fuse together the persona of God in Christ and the impersonal Good of Classical philosophy. The Will of God appeared chained and shackled by this Classical (Platonist) conception, and this was something the Nominalists railed against. They wished to liquidate the classical world of essences and forms and replace it with a liberation of the Divine Will.

Pre-Faustian Christianity culminated in Scholasticism, which took the typological and categorical theories of Aristotle and fused it with a Neoplatonically conditioned Christianity mediated by reading. The Nominalists rejected the legitimacy of these Classical philosophical notions to mediate the Divine, this could be seen in light of our earlier analysis as a problem induced by the literate mentality that had developed, in the articulation of the problem of Universals in the thirteenth and fourteenth century, Gillespie sums it up here:

Scholastics in the High Middle Ages were ontologically realist, that is to say, they believed in the real existence of universals, or to put the matter another way, they experienced the world as the instantiation of the categories of divine reason. They experienced, believed in, and asserted the ultimate reality not of particular things but of universals, and they articulated this experience in a syllogistic logic that was perceived to correspond to or reflect divine reason. Creation itself was the embodiment of this reason, and man, as the rational animal and imago dei, stood at the pinnacle of this creation, guided by a natural telos and a divinely revealed supernatural goal. 

Nominalism turned this world on its head. For the nominalists, all real being was individual or particular and universals were thus mere fictions. Words did not point to real universal entities but were merely signs useful for human understanding. Creation was radically particular and thus not teleological. As a result, God could not be understood by human reason but only by biblical revelation or mystical experience. Human beings thus had no natural or supernatural end or telos. In this way the nominalist revolution against scholasticism shattered every aspect of the medieval world. It brought to an end the great effort that had begun with the church fathers to combine reason and revelation by uniting the natural and ethical teachings of the Greeks with the Christian notion of an omnipotent creator.

Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity

Here we see that there is a continuation of this process of subjectivation that has characterised the development of consciousness. There is a levelling of the ontology of Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being in favour of a flat ontology where there is only the individual subjectivity, the lowest rank on the Aristotelian schema. These revolutionary moves in favour of a radically new way of thinking was the result of contemplation on the omnipotence of God:

Faith alone, Ockham argues, teaches us that God is omnipotent and that he can do everything that is possible, that is to say, everything that is not contradictory. Thus, every being exists only as a result of his willing it and it exists as it does and as long as it does only because he so wills it. Creation is thus an act of sheer grace and is comprehensible only through revelation. God creates the world and continues to act within it, bound neither by its laws nor by his previous determinations. He acts simply and solely as he pleases and, and as Ockham often repeats, he is no man’s debtor. There is thus no immutable order of nature or reason that man can understand and no knowledge of God except through revelation. Ockham thus rejected the scholastic synthesis of reason and revelation and in this way undermined the metaphysical/theological foundation of the medieval world. 

This notion of divine omnipotence was responsible for the demise of realism. God, Ockham argued, could not create universals because to do so would constrain his omnipotence. If a universal did exist, God would be unable to destroy any instance of it without destroying the universal itself. Thus, for example, God could not damn any one human being without damning all of humanity. If there are no real universals, every being must be radically individual, a unique creation of God himself, called forth out of nothing by his infinite power and sustained by that power alone. To be sure, God might employ secondary causes to produce or sustain an entity, but they were not necessary and were not ultimately responsible for the creation or the continued existence of the entity in question 

In this way, Ockham’s assertion of ontological individualism undermines not only ontological realism but also syllogistic logic and science, for in the absence of real universals, names become mere signs or signs of signs. Language thus does not reveal being but in practice often conceals the truth about being by fostering a belief in the reality of universals. In fact, all so-called universals are merely second or higher order signs that we as finite beings use to aggregate individual beings into categories. These categories, however, do not denote real things. They are only useful fictions that help us make sense out of the radically individualised world. However, they also distort reality. Thus, the guiding principle of nominalist logic for Ockham was his famous razor: do not multiply universals needlessly.


These reflections on Divinity constituted a singularity, Scholasticism would not recover and the Faustian Civilisation ensued. What makes it a singularity was that nobody could escape from the terrifying revelations about the Divine Will, the genie could not be put back in the bottle, the basis of a new approach to the world had formed that was truly unique and new. Nominalism cannot be found in any of the archetypes of Classical philosophy which it was directly rejecting, and whilst in some ways it is motivated by the an attempt to return to the primordial Christianity I described earlier, because it is through reflections on texts, it is another beast entirely. There is a paradox incepted at the origin of Faustian man, any philosophising about Divinity will necessarily constrain the Divine Will, backloading his dogmas with a self-destruction sequence initiated by an affirmation of their supposed Divine basis.

Gillespie powerfully argues that Protestantism and Empiricism both come from Nominalism. Empiricism of course is British, and the Nominalists, Ockham chief among them, were British as well. The skepticism of future British philosophers such as Hume and Bacon trace their origin to this dialectical process, with the Anglo scientific worldview’s reliance on experience and rejection of notions like teleology and a priori reasoning coming directly out of this Nominalist ontology. The God of nominalism is deeply unsettling, he could damn the saints and send the sinners to heaven, should he please to. God has been liberated and we can have a more direct relationship with him, but it seems more like we have unleashed a Lovecraftian monster. Whilst Nominalism is indeed the great singularity which sets out western thought it is somewhat limited, namely it leaves us in a place where we don’t have clear concepts pertaining to spiritual phenomena, we just have a critique of the understanding of Classical philosophy but not a true transcendence of it. 

Nominalism is a rebellion, it is the start of a new conversation and the end of a dialectic which had plagued western thought for too long. Faustian thought going forward is either an affirmation of this rebellion or an attempt to bureaucratically resolve it, because the Nominalist world was too frightening and chaotic. Falling into nihilism due to Nominalist advances is a genuine threat, but Faustian Consciousness cannot simply go back to a pre-Nominalist world as many Traditionalists desire. Dogmatic Christianity is not longer spiritually viable, but this does not mean Christianity cannot continue authentically in a more complex hermeneutic capable of meeting the Nominalist critique.


There are really two sorts of Traditionalists, the first kind is the immunological traditionalist. Their modus operandi is to carve out some genealogy of the “decline of the west”, to trace it to some great dialectical mistake and can be solved by the “return” to some prior philosophical position before the trauma was induced. This takes many different forms, it could be neo-Aristotelianism like in the virtue ethics movement, it could be radical Orthodoxy with its idiosyncratic genealogy and theology, it could be a deracinated perennialism or a romanticist idealism tracing the problems to materialist ontologies. All are fundamentally immunological, they are trying to find a worldview completely exterior to Modernity and grasp it psychologically to avoid a genuine confrontation with the problems that induced Faustianism and reduced all of these traditions to rubble.

There are two primary problems with such a perspective, the first is the problem that there is no genealogy which can go any earlier or later than the emergence of literacy in what Karl Jaspers christened the Axial Age. The Axial Age acquisitions of formal logic and philosophical enquiry which are anterior to the development of writing melted down the world of myth which generated the Great Religions. This is the same exact tension which provoked Nominalism in the first place, failing to recognise the problem of the Axial Age means that their project will always be restricted and will not ask the most fundamental questions about the originary meaning of their own religious traditions, but more obvious and more clearly problematic for them is that none of these world-views are actually exterior to modernity in a full sense but are rather corpses which have been dumped off the train to Modernity along the way.

The more profound problem is that it is disloyal to the meaning of Faustian spirituality. An authentically participatory traditionalism is about respecting the unfolding of history and the dialectical drama it contains and affirming the perennial themes which recur at different stages of development. To see the struggles that thinkers thousands of years ago were facing in relating to Divinity, and recognising the brilliance of their contributions and creative solutions for the spiritual crises they encountered. Furthermore it is also about seeing the necessity of innovations to escape dogmatisms which subjugate Divinity to human understanding. It is an ecumenicism where there is an affirmation of the continuity of discontinuities. 

The ontological aesthetics Faustian man currently inhabits was described by Jean Gebser as aperspectivity due to its melting down of the perspectivity associated with Rationalism and Individualism. It is a glorious achievement of our culture to be affirmed inside Christianity, the eternal life of Christ is not bound by the limitations of Myth and Reason alike. The view I have expressed is only a pseudo-progressive view of history. It is progressive strictly in a spiritual sense, and specifically that we have increasing spiritual complexity constituted by increasing metacognition. There does not necessarily involve a practical benefit to society necessarily that comes along with this. Neither is there a necessary moral or cultural advancement which comes with it, on the contrary it can cause deep crises if we fail to adapt morally and politically to the implications.

The problem for us then does not become immediately obvious, but it is a question of haunting. We are being haunted by the ghosts of rational consciousness and its abstracting and demythifying tendencies. As a result, Liberalism stands victorious over all other ideologies and this is leading to deep moral, cultural, and even geopolitical problems. The question for us is a spiritual crisis which cannot be resolved with mere political theory or an immunologically traditionalist recapitulation to dogmatic philosophy, because all of these problems ultimately are the unfolding of a process which was irreversibly opened at the very foundation of abstract thought. Only authentic innovations in theological hermeneutics and aesthetics capable of revealing Divinity in the moral and political problematics of our time will be sufficient to the task.

The next paper seeks to answer the problems raised in this paper, how do we take up our heritage and what is the worldview which goes along with it? How do the spiritual revelations of the 19th and 20th centuries relate to the ones discussed here and answer the problem of the Nominalism? And finally, what does this all imply politically?