Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Four Rivers of Speech

         Cover design for Instead of Eyes (1979)
                                             Poems on biblical themes

In his book,  The Fruit of Lips, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy declares that “We are not studying the history either of the Church or of the world. We are laying foundations for a history of the human spirit.”

Jesus Christ unifies this history, and The Fruit of Lips is an essay that explores the four different forms of speech current in the ancient world—the four forms which Jesus, as it were, exploded into light and made into a new era. “He halted the mere flow of talkative, news-mongering, mystical or practical humanity… He saw that, in separation, they were evil and poisonous even though in themselves they were highly elaborate and efficient. Jesus did not say that poetry or magic or ritual or prophecy were not excellent. He knew that they were and how well he knew, he proved by his creative inventiveness of new ritual, his poetical genius of the parable, his effortless superiority to obsessions and demons, his prophetic insight into the future of the world’s history. But with all these four rivers of speech filled to the brim, he emptied himself of all of them. He, the harvest of all times, decided to change into the seed of a future completely protected against mere time…” (p. 117, Pickwick Publications,  2008)

In the spirit—that is, of the Holy Ghost—“The very meaning of the term Holy Ghost is lost if we forget that the Holy Ghost opens the spirits of the different times to each other” (p. 31) –I would like to revisit the  mythical image of the land before time, the garden of Eden that was surrounded by four rivers.  In my poem, “Four Rivers in Eden,” the rivers appropriately take on the characteristics of language, of speech. I say, “appropriately,” yet  I had never heard of Rosenstock-Huessy when, back in 1978-79, I wrote this poem, the first in self-published collection of poems on Biblical themes, Instead of Eyes. But I am surprised now, some 35 years later, to see how this poem is infused with the Rosenstockian spirit.

The motto of this poetry collections comes from Numbers 10:31—“Leave us not, I pray thee: forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes.”


                        FOUR RIVERS IN EDEN

                        Eden was a desert,
                        a desert far and wide --
                        it made a ghostly sea
                        and a ghostly tide.

To the east thereof a garden,
bounded by rivers four.
Pison struck its head of gold;
Gihon’s mouth was black;
away from Hiddekel ran the sun
to bathe his eye at Euphrates’ back.

Over the sands the rolls of death
beat heavily and subsided:
holding a day against the world
that had no eyes, where nothing was.
The four rivers arched and splashed,
and made unto a door:
hand to foot, and foot to thigh,
it was green and blue and mother-of-pearl;
and the Lord God stood before.

Clouds rumbled and the rain;
and in the milk there swam
the seed of woman and of man.
The Lord God put it in the earth
and blew the clouds to let him pass.
Without, the desert trembled.
Cascades of sunshine spilled through glass.

Two trees opened from a single trunk,
two trees, of knowledge and of life.
Their shadows danced, and the boughs,
where golden birds beamed about and sang,
and rained singing unto the golden grass.
Swayed them whole, elders than the sea
whose wrinkled sleeves whorled the shells
and made them murmur dreams; aye, they grew,
waking and sleeping, and aged no more than dew,
while ever music breathed, and bells;
the milk of stars dripped upon the night,
and by day angels glanced among the bees.
The fruits ripened in the springing leaves,
and the Lord God stood and watched,
for he was pleased.

            The two trees stood together
            but from a single heart;
            one breathed in, the other out;
            one made seed, the other fruit
            that loosed itself from the crown
            and fell with a tiny plashing sound,
            like a little rain finely misted.

One evening at the twilight
The serpent coiled himself upon the roots.
Rings of fire glittered round his navel,
from his eyes gleamed decay of light.
For a long while he wrapped himself around,
and gazed, and meditated.
The night passed before;
his mind divided;
and still he gazed with eyes unclosed,
staring at the tree-bole, whose leaves
beneath his gaze twittered like birds
and at last grew still.
Tighter and tighter he wound around
the roots, until the stars
began dropping off the world
into a silver plate. “Ye are as gods!”
he hissed: the lightning broke;
the crack shuddered through the trunk;
the limbs dismayed flailed at the air
but grasped at only moonlight: for white
and manacled rose the moon,
for she carried with her the soul of day,
but hid the body, as in a cave.
The man and woman were afraid.
A cool breeze was blowing in from Eden,
and they felt themselves and felt of cold.
In a sweat of haste unto their skin
green covers made them from the figs.
For night had broken, and now dawn
burst wide the heavens, and overflowed;
blood and earth were they, and earth and blood,
and the rivers burst, and in the flood
the Lord God came in.

Crouched the two with shining eyes,
and like an after-rain the worlds wept
upon the ruined trees. The Lord God
showed them what silence was,
for he broke the world into a word
and silently gave them bread,
a crust of the work he had made.
That day the garden was all a-flame
when fell the hosts of Cherubim
like a great speech of birds.
But the man could not remember
their scorching words, and the woman
hid herself from them.
It was the Last Day,
the first of many days.

The Lord God led them silently without;
they saw the desert stretching every way.
The man covered up his eyes and quaked,
and the woman, glancing back,
saw a little ripple in the sand.
She then looked upon her husband’s face
and woke unto herself from the dream;
and he, seeing the countenance of Eve,
beheld the trees with Cherubim.

            And in that seeing of each other
            the Lord God closed a little way their wounds;
            and when they spoke they did remember
            four rivers, and breached them into syllables,
            in every word they tasted on their tongues.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Theft of the Future

“The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present, and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose.” William James.   (Quoted as motto at the head of Part Two of Rosenstock’s The Christian Future.)
About seven years ago I self-published through www.lulu.com a whimsical novel on a serious subject. Called After the Crash: An Essay-Novel of the Post-Hydrocarbon Age, the novel’s plot and characters were footnoted by commentary from energy, peak-oil, and others sources from philosophy and social studies. This idea of the novel as fiction-illustrating-scholarship (or scholarship-illustrating-fiction) had not, to my knowledge ever been done in quite that form before.

After the Crash is a fun read. Even now I enjoy re-reading parts of it, looking back on this little confection which came piping down the corridors of my mind in its fresh and virginal state. The novel took about two months to write, at about the pace of a chapter a day. Preparation is needed for the receptivity to inspiration. Like Rosenstock-Huessy, I rather look down on the process of revision. A bit of revision is sometimes needed, of course.  But there are two great dangers of revision and rewriting: self-importance and over-intellectualization.

Inspiration works with the principle that “less is more.” It gives a little to the thirsting soul, and  because it doesn’t overdo it, leaves room for future development. Inspiration is similar to homeopathy, in which a small quantity of substance is taken and, through a process of rhythmical shaking or sucussion,  forces within the substance are liberated.  A mind must be at a sufficient height of tension and strength for inspiration to be possible. This does not mean that an inspiration will happen—only that it might.

I think now, looking back, that the “peak oil” theme was close but not quite accurate to the true theme. That true theme is becoming apparent day by day: we in the West are using up our future at an alarming rate. Indeed, it is quite burned out, and the extraordinary dishonesty of our press in the last eight years is symptomatic of a people that has lost its sense for history. The important thing that Rosenstock-Huessy says in his book, The Christian Future, is that the future is not something that “just happens.” It has to be created:

“…things happen not by living but by birth and death. ‘Living’ is but one half of life, the repetitive and predictable part. The other half is the agonizing creation and the creative agony of dying and being born.”

What is the primary way that we “die to ourselves” in the course of daily living? Is it not through telling the truth?­­— and the words sincerity, honesty, probity, integrity, honorableness, all come close to the same meaning.   

Is not the value for truth the basis of Western philosophy, the witness of truth the basis of Christianity, the search for truth the basis of science? These are the three great pillars of the West upon which the idea of the “freedom of the press” was erected, and it is upon the three pillars that the West owes all of its progress and dynamism. The fourth entity—freedom of the press—has not always been true to its founding principles. But it nevertheless maintained some sort of good reputation until …until a few years ago. With 9/11, with the Iraq War, and now with the demonization of Russia and subversion of the Ukraine carried out by Washington, the lies and falsehoods of the  New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The London Times,  and all their acolytes and followers and imitators  have become standard…de rigueur…normal operating procedure….

Last week, following upon the dismissal of Brian Williams, three journalists died: Bob SimonDavid Carr (and see also)  and Ned Colt 

One of the websites I consult has speculated that these journalists were “offed” because they had taken steps to obtain Russian satellite imagery proving that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by members of the U.S. government. Whether or not this theory is true I cannot say. But it does appear to me that the 9/11 hoax will not carry water much longer, and that possibly this is the reason for the American aggression against Russia.

For only truth makes possible the future. We Americans have been consenting to lies for so long that we no longer know how to act in a responsible manner. For action implies accountability, and we have no accountability. Everything the government touches—from “health care” to “education,” from “foreign policy” to “managing” the national budget, from marriage and sexuality, manners and employment, is reeling from hubris, incompetence, short-sightedness and folly. 

Can’t we do anything right? When will we grow up? Where is the story, not of American “exceptionalism,” but of Americans deciding to put away their narcissistic fantasies and join the human race?

When will we die to ourselves... and --finally-- start to tell the truth?

Monday, February 9, 2015

What Is Truth?—τί εστίν αλήϑεία;

Archery--"hitting the target"--has been a long-term metaphor for truth. Indeed, sin, harmartia, in Greek, means "missing the target." That truth and love are connected is evident in the Greek God of Love, Cupid--who is an archer. 

These words were spoken by Pontius Pilate to Jesus, according to the Gospel of John.  They were part of the trial of Jesus—Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus (John 18:38).  Jesus returned no answer to Pilate’s question.

Arguably these words are the true beginning of the Christian era, which was born at the intersection of three roads: Greek, Roman, and Hebrew.  Not only were there the different histories and characters of these three cultures,  there was also the circumstance in which the words were spoken: a trial, an accusation brought against Jesus. A life and death matter. Critical. Crucial.

Truth. What is truth? Why should we care about truth? Are we capable of knowing truth?  What is our human relationship to truth? Do we have a responsibility to the truth?  How can we distinguish truth from  deception,  from either willful or unconscious deception or self-deception,  from a mistake, an error, a lapse of judgment, a failure of commitment, a hidden agenda, a corruption of language,  a fragmentary or merely partial understanding, a case of bad faith or ill will or human fallibility, or an outright lie…? 

What is the relationship between two things:  a lie and a human soul? Between three things:  a lie, a human soul, and history?  Do we really have any appreciation of the effect of lying in history, of the accumulation of lies, the bureaucracy of lies, the perpetuation of lies, the stagnation of lies? Are lies like a spider’s venom, causing paralysis in the prey before it is annihilated? Is lying therefore actually a symptom of paralysis, impotence, inability to act, self-defeat?-- a collapse of spirit, imagination, resourcefulness, vision, wit, an exhaustion of possibilities—in short, decadence and  decay? If this is so, why do we not devote more attention to the difference between truth and a lie? Wouldn’t it be as important as having food to eat, gas to put in the tank, or money in the bank: something without which we cannot really live?

 “There is no life in a lie, while truth is alive, because the real events and processes which it reflects, are behind it.  To learn to see this is one of the most complicated problems, because parasites are skillful experts in creating so-called camouflage…the illusion of reality.” [Nikolai Levashov, Autobiography]

What is the relationship of speaking and truth? Words, grammar, speaking---do these not presuppose truthfulness, goodwill, good faith, mutuality? Do we have a responsibility to the truth, for the truth? Why do we swear by the truth – “so help me God.” Why would we swear by the truth unless we bore some responsibility to the truth for our life, our witness, our presence, for what we said and testified to? Why would we swear unless we were certain that someone, others, would listen, that they would care, that it would matter to them? That somehow despite the hailstorm of words, the piped-in music, the ubiquitous television and “social media” and all the other paraphernalia of modern life… that yes, words matter, they still matter, and it matters what we say and what we hear others say. That it matters more than the power of social conformity, ideology, politics, making excuses, being too weak to bear it. It matters what we say and what others say to us.

Because what we say has to do with honor. Do we honor our words? Do we honor our lives in our words? What is honor? 

Why do we have no honor in the West? Why has the West become so deteriorated, dishonorable, despicable, brutal, cowardly, threatening, with the United States leading the pack of Western nation sycophants with its endless wars, endless military spending, lack of political accountability and grandiose self-opinion? 

For further reference: 

These reflections were sparked by reading the following piece, from the excellent “Vineyard of the Saker” website. The "Vineyard of the Saker" is one of the best sites on the web, especially for current news of the Ukraine.

From the article, “Listening to Lavrov in Munich” posted on February 7, 2015

“…The western 'elites' … are the embodiment of un-truth in the logical and moral sense. And that chasm was evident in today's face à face between Lavrov has his "western colleagues"... Dishonesty, intellectual and moral, has been elevated to an ontological principle and foundation of the modern western political thought and culture, it is what these societies do best and all they can do. 

Not only are "right and wrong" gone in a moral sense, they are now also gone in a logical sense. Something both deeply immoral and completely absurd can now be elevated to an axiomatic status and then be used as "the measure of all things". Yet again and again, I come to the conclusion that what we are seeing here is truly a deep civilizational clash between two civilizational realm who have grown so far apart as to make them virtual extraterrestrial aliens to each other. 

Lavrov would have had a much better experience speaking to some little green men on another Galaxy, these the people he addressed today in Munich… what I see today is struggle very similar to the one which opposed the Pharisees and Christ 2000 years ago… And since what is at stake today is really the future of the entire international order you can say that we are living one of the most dangerous and crucial moment in history.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

"Judaism Despite Christianity": A Response


 “Judaism Despite Christianity”: After—almost— 100 years …                             

I feel some considerable trepidation in commenting on this book, Judaism Despite Christianity, subtitled “The Letters on Christianity and Judaism between Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and Franz Rosenzweig.”  The contents of the book are  difficult and subtle, and rather than attempt a grand overview or summary, I propose to inch my way through it,  commenting on passages that struck me -- from the introductory material to the letters, epilogue and closing essay, “Hitler and Israel, or On Prayer.” I see this method as a kind of “thinking aloud,” or perhaps addressing an invisible listener with my responses and questions.

Some of the things I write in my responses will be controversial. Any topic dealing with the history of the Jews is controversial, but never more so than in the Modern Age. Taboos, censorship, and even persecution of dissenters are very much in evidence today.  But, on the other hand, there has been a great increase in new research and findings. In Christian eschatology, the New Jerusalem is the place at the end of history where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev. 21:4)  Tout comprendre, tout pardonner.  Truth bears life within itself.  Truth makes possible the creation of  future.

I believe very strongly that Eugen Rosenstock’s “grammatical method” depends upon  truthful words rooted in good faith and good will.  This truth attests to the presence of a mature person, one who takes responsibility for his actions and words. Thus there is something eschatological, or revelatory, in language itself when it is used by a person who takes full moral responsibility for it. No longer do we need to seek in philosophy a “revelation” of the nature of thinking or being.[1] The very words we use are a witness to the commitment we make, and must make,  for the sake of the future of humanity.

On the very first page of Harold Stahmer’s Introduction, there is an immediately controversial matter. He begins by saying, “This unusual collection of letters and essays spans half a century of spiritual and cultural disintegration and concurrent attempts at renewal and reform. In Rosenstock-Huessy’s words, the ‘facts of life’ during this period include, among other things, ‘the murder of six million Jews, two world wars, an ecumenical council, a pan-arabic upheaval’ and ‘700 million Chinese entering the orbit of Christendom.’” [2] Recent historical research on the question of Jewish deaths in Hitler’s Germany has sharply questioned the “six million” figure. In 1974 the book by Richard Verrall appeared, Did Six Million Really Die?  This book claimed that the scale of Jewish deaths was fabricated by the Allies first, in order to mask their own guilt over the firebombing of Dresden  and the atomic bombs dropped in Japan; and second, to serve as a pretext for the establishment of the State of Israel.  Verrall  said also--- using  population estimates from the New York Jewish Almanac, and not contradicted by other sources -- that the Jewish population in German-controlled Europe never exceeded 2.5 million.

In the Preface to Don Heddesheimer’s book, The First Holocaust (2003)  Germar Rudolf wrote that "even though the six million figure had been called a highly 'symbolic figure,' it has now reached almost sacrosanct proportions." He references the German mainstream historian, Martin Broszat, from the Munich Institut fur Zeitgeschichte who so referred to it while testifying as an expert witness for the Frankfurt Jury Court on May 3, 1979. To question the figure of six million Jewish deaths during World War II is not to deny that Jews suffered greatly under the Hitler regime. Douglas Reed, who wrote a history of the Jews that I cannot recommend too strongly, wrote that in his considered opinion, the number of Jewish victims in countries overrun by Hitler "was in roughly that proportion to the total population stricken..." And continuing, he says, "I have found this to be the opinion of all persons known to me who survived the concentration camps and occupations. Having suffered themselves, their feeling for Jewish victims was as strong as for all others, but they could not understand why the one case of the Jews was singled out and the number of Jewish victims monstrously exaggerated."  [3]

I mention this controversy only to suggest that even Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy  mentions this figure without apparently realizing its symbolic nature.  Although  Rosenstock became a Christian, his family was Jewish. It is known that his mother  committed suicide at the onset of the Nazi era. Rosenstock left Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power. In my experience of reading his work,  Rosenstock more often referred to the “empire of lies” and to the corruption of the German language consequent to Hitler’s rise to power than to the experiences of the Jews during this period. [4]  But that there was turmoil and suffering is evident from his biography. He was close, too, to the heartbeat of events in a very personal way. After the death of his wife,  Margrit, in 1959, the widow of  Helmuth James von Moltke, Freya, came to live with him. Helmuth James von Moltke had been executed by the Nazis for participating in the plot to assassinate Hitler.

Eugen Rosenstock met Franz Rosenzweig at the University in Leipzig in 1913, where, at age 25, he was a professor of medieval constitutional law. Rosenzweig, his student,  was two years older.  At that time Rosenzweig, who came from a Jewish family, was not a practicing Jew. The author of Hegel and the State, Rosenzweig was moving toward putting the German Idealist philosophical tradition behind him. He became interested in Schelling and in revealed, as contrasted with reasoned, knowledge.[5]  Rosenstock was a spur to this tremendous inner development through his “speech thinking”  (or “new thinking”) and his deepening conviction that grammar, or what he called the “grammatical method,” would be the  best foundation for a new science of the soul and of society. [6]

Franz Rosenzweig (December 25, 1886—December 10, 1929)                                          

The early conversation between Rosenstock and Rosenzweig reached its climax on July 7, 1913. According to Altmann, this conversation “produced a crisis which, after months of struggle, the new Rosenzweig eventually emerged.” The crisis mainly dealt with revelation versus reason but closely following this was the question with which Franz Rosenzweig wrestled: that is, whether to become Christian. For it now seemed to him that philosophy had become a part of the Church’s tradition. Therefore there was no serious conflict between philosophy and faith. But where did this leave Judaism? “…it seems at first sight the aloofness and separation of the Jewish people from the world indicated to him a hopeless sterility and a lack of meaning and purpose in its continued existence.” [7] The battle between the message of revelation and the “pagan” world was being fought out by Christianity, not by Judaism.

Hence his crisis.  He had decided to become a Christian—but he did not follow through with it and chose to remain a Jew. He began to see that the very uncompromising attitude of the Jew toward the pagan world was “the only safeguard for the completion of the work of revelation.” [8]

The correspondence of Rosenstock and Rosenzweig resumed in May, 1916. It was to have fruitful consequences for Rosenzweig: he later confessed that, “Without Eugen, I would never have written The Star of Redemption,” his master work. Likewise, Franz influenced Eugen’s thinking about the French Revolution.  Altmann comments that in his book, Out of Revolution: The Autobiography of Western Man, “Rosenstock accepted Franz’s view “that 1789 meant the Christianizing of the idea of nations and thus the triumph of Judaism… Through the act of the emancipation of the Jews, the nations are inoculated with the Jewish promise…Messianism…is transferred to the nations in general, which now enter upon a common race of messianic nationalism.” [9]

Since I have not yet read Out of Revolution, I cannot honestly say if Rosenstock-Huessy regards this development as beneficial. It seems to me farfetched to call 1789 a “Christianizing of the nations” when Jacobinism was to such a large degree a fanatical campaign of destruction against the churches.   And to me, living in this age when messianic  fervor has gripped the United States, it seems anything but beneficial, indeed a great misfortune.   Altmann merely comments that “Rosenstock felt certain that by the absorption of the Jews the modern nations had become immune against a return to paganism.” (p. 47)

From the perspective of 2014, a “return to paganism” seems hardly to be an issue. A more pointed question has to do with whether Christianity has any effect whatsoever on the actions of modern Western politicians, especially in foreign policy. Harold Stahmer’s comment, that “the areligious quality of the age involves Jew and Christian in a partnership based on mutual recognition of the validity of their respective claims, even though the claims of both are universal in scope and therefore logically irreconcilable.”[10]  But religion is not about “logical claims!”  To say “the success of the partnership requires that the Jew stubbornly reject the Christian’s claim that Jesus is the Messiah and that the Christian no longer needs the Jew’s Old Testament, since the traditions of the Church have indeed become the Christian’s historical past…”  seem to me both problematical. [11] In other words, the Jew need not change, not examine his presuppositions,  but Christianity’s entire grounding is to be swept away.  I have mixed feelings about this idea that the history of the church is  a substitute for the Old Testament. As problematic as the Old Testament is,  it is a deep and intimate part of our life and history.  [12]

I hope that these comments will give some idea of the very great complexities involved in Judaism Despite Christianity. Dorothy Emmet, in her remarks on the correspondence, comments that the Rosenstock-Rosenzweig letters were “a profoundly sincere adventure in communication.” I agree. Sincere they were indeed. These letters, written in the period 1916-1920, were  written perhaps at the last possible moment when honest Jewish-Christian dialogue was possible. The coming of Hitler, the Second World War and the events following it have made honest and truthful commentary on this question virtually impossible. The significance of these letters is, for me, a glimpse into an age when some degree of honest exchange was possible, even though there were still elements of self-deception and historical confusion.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
July 6, 1888 – February 24, 1973

For instance, it is remarkable that Rosenstock-Huessy begins his “Prologue/Epilogue to the Letters/ Fifty Years Later” with an admission that the common enemy for Eugen and Franz, representing Christian and Jew respectively, was the “objectivity swindle” of modern academe.  The “real event of these letters,” he says was that he and Franz found common cause against humanism, relativism,’ objectivity,’ abstract and nameless statistics.  I can’t say that this “common cause” was so evident to me,  but then again I am not familiar with most of the  theological, literary, academic and publishing news of the day that is so much a part of this correspondence. For example,  the third letter in this collection refers to a book by Eduard Koenig, The Wandering Jew, which Eugen says he has sent to Franz—“not with any idea of your being interested in it already, but rather in order to arouse such interest. Also, I rather think that it is the misfortune of the Jews that they ‘don’t want to hear the truth.’”

Later on (Letter 6) Eugen refers to this book again, asking whether Franz could write something like it, but on his level—“For who still takes Israel and the eternal Jew seriously?...The whole decomposing, short-winded Zionist movement blows itself to pieces, as it were, before this enduring idea of the ‘eternal’(God and the Jews)…” The thought breaks off; it is not developed. But it is nevertheless a case for melancholy reflection that the “decomposing Zionist movement” did not prove to be short-winded at all. Indeed, quite the reverse. Here, in 1916, a year before the Balfour Declaration, Rosenstock, like many others at the time,  appears to be misinformed on the nature of the Zionist movement.[13]

There does not seem to be much awareness in these letters of ‘politicized’ as contrasted with ‘religious’ Judaism. But there are brilliant insights concerning ‘politicized’  ideology and its effects on religion, like this: “Just as freedom of conscience, instead of leading to an impetuous competition of consciences, became freedom from conscience, so private religion leads to privation of religion.”[14] Franz has a difficult passage in the following letter where he says that “the Jew between the Crucifixion and the Second Coming can only have a negative meaning in Christian theology.” He resumes the theme in Letter 11 where he says that “the stubbornness of the Jews is a Christian dogma. “ He summarizes the formation of Church dogma (p. 110) thus:  “… in the firm establishment of the Old Testament in the canon, and in the building of the church on this double scripture… the stubbornness of the Jews is in fact brought out as the other half of the Christian dogma…”  He goes on to say that in practice the theological idea of the “stubbornness of the Jews” works itself out in hatred of the Jews: 

“You know as well as I do that all its realistic arguments are only fashionable cloaks to hide the single true metaphysical ground: that we will not make common cause with the world-conquering fiction of Christian dogma, because however much a fact (it is a fiction)…[and] that we have crucified Christ and believe me, would do it again every time, we alone in the whole world…" 

I know of no “hatred of the Jews” that is part of Christian dogma. The traditional  Catholic  teaching concerning the Jews said that no harm was to come to the Jew and that he must be allowed to conduct his religious practice unhindered. But by the same token Jews were not to defame Christianity or indulge in practices harmful to Christian society.[15]  Franz concludes his passage of extraordinary defiance and what could be considered a remarkable lack of ability to see himself from outside [16] with the statement: “And so the corresponding Jewish outcome of the theological idea of Christianity as a preparer-of-the-way is the pride of the Jews…To the Jew, that God is our Father is the first and most self-evident fact—and what need is there for a third person between me and my father in Heaven?” (p. 113) And, a page later, he adds: “Should I be ‘converted,’ when I have been ‘chosen’ from birth?” (Letter 11)

            This shows the danger of  conflating tribal and religious consciousness. Eugen comes back with a rejoinder, in Letter 12: “That from which Christ redeems is exactly the boundless naïve pride of the Jew, which you yourself exhibit.” In the next letter, again from Eugen to Franz, Rosenstock writes that the Synagogue “portrays the curse of self-assurance, of pride in her nobility, and thoughtless indifference towards the law of growth:”

“That new humanity from universal need and sin, that ever newly born corpus christianum of all men of good will—that being called out from all people—is something of which she knows nothing…The Jews have a saying that one day all people will come to Jerusalem to pray, and they always crucify again the one who came to make the word true. In appearance they wait upon the word of the Lord, but they have grown through and through so far away from revelation that they do everything they can to hinder its reality. With all the power of their being they set themselves against their own promises. They are the image on earth of Lucifer, the highest of the angels, elect of God, who wanted to keep God’s gift from himself as a dominion in his own right, and fell. So Israel stands upon its own inalienable right. This naïve way of thinking that one has won inalienable rights in perpetuity against God…is the relic of blind antiquity in Judaism… The Jew dies for no country and no cause; because he does not experience the boundaries of life he lives by a ghostly reflection of all real life…”

In Letter 14 Eugen reproaches Franz for excessive intellectualism – seeing everything as isolated—“He who has no trust in the whole can see nothing but mere bricks,” (i.e. of the Church). Franz responds in Letter 15—“You may curse, you may swear, you may scratch yourself as much as you like, you won’t get rid of us, we are the louse in your fur.” A ghastly image, to say the least. But Franz pulls himself back from this “in-your-face” kind of  brinksmanship and enters into a more reasonable discussion of the different kinds of sacrifice, that of  Agamemnon, Abraham and Christ:  “Agamemnon sacrifices something ‘that he had’; Abraham, all that he could be; Christ, all that he is.” (p. 134).  

What is sacrifice?  Does the concept of sacrifice mean anything today? My sense is that modern people instinctively rebel against the idea.  But Rosenstock-Huessy touched on a kindred matter in one of his other writings when he spoke of “not-willing” as leaving something open for the future. That is, to refrain from action or will, to not use up all of one’s resources, to hold back, to renounce, to wait—to “let happen.”  To allow the circumstances to unfold as they will or as “God wills.”[17]  Perhaps this was the idea  that originally inspired the concept of sacrifice— later terribly disfigured and distorted to include child sacrifice.

The question of the Abrahamic sacrifice of Isaac is mentioned by Franz. But the truth of this story is that Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac. True, he was about to; he was obedient to what he interpreted as God’s command to do so. But he was also “obedient,” that is, able to hear the Angel who told him not to and to substitute the ram for Isaac. [18] This story remains as powerful and mysterious today as on the day of its first telling. It never loses its power to enthrall. Why? Mt. Moriah, where this mysterious incident was said to have occurred, was the seat of the high priest Melchizedek, whose offering of wine and bread was a prefiguring of the Holy Mass. This “high priest,” Melchizedek, is a mysterious figure, described in Hebrews 7:3: “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually.” Jesus Christ is a priest “after the order of Melchizedek…. Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.” (Hebrews 6:20 and 7:16) 

I believe that the Abraham-Isaac story thrills because it allows us a glimpse into the future, or rather into an ‘esoteric’ or hidden Israel. Let me explain. Chapter Four of Douglas Reed’s history of the Jews describes the first books of the Bible. “Although Genesis and Exodus were produced after Deuteronomy, the theme of fanatical tribalism is faint in them. The swell and crescendo come in Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers, which bear the plain imprint of the Levite in isolated Judah and Babylon.” One of the points of specific issue concerns the theme of blood-sacrifice or of the promise “sealed in blood…which runs like a river through the books of the Law.” Reed sees in this emphasis on blood the uncanny ability of the ruling Levitical sect to instill fear and terror, for it would make the faithful Judahite tremble for his own son. The implication, then, is that prior to the sacrifice of animals there was the human sacrifice.

This implication seems warranted in the light of subsequent development.  The Levitical priesthood later discontinued human sacrifice while contriving to retain the prerogative. It was a “move of genius,” says Reed: “the claim to the firstborn evidently had become a source of grave embarrassment to them...By one more reinterpretation of the Law they made themselves proxies for the firstborn.” In Numbers 3:12 “…the Lord spake unto Moses, saying ‘I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn…” (Reed’s emphasis).

To sum up, then, the child sacrifice-that-did-not-happen of the Abraham-Isaac story points to a distancing from the Levitical priesthood on two counts: either to their retention of power by other means, or to the intervention of yet a more powerful spiritual being. [19]  I would like to suggest a modest, third-way interpretation: that the message of this story is not so much in the “obedience” of Abraham as in the precarious balance between making something happen and allowing it to happen (or not happen). The future is an opening that only becomes revealed to us in later circumstances. How did it come about? First, it was not prevented: which is the “hidden” part behind causation itself. And why “causation” itself is such an unsatisfactory explanation for how things happen.[20]   Amazingly, Franz hints at something like this where he says later in this same letter that, “I myself have written fully already of how our whole part in the life of peoples can only be clam, vi, precario.” (The footnote reads: “Secret, perforce, precarious (a formula from Roman law for the invalid and unprotected ways of acquiring possession).” He may have been saying more than he realized. But whatever may be the case, it seems to me that there is not much similarity between Agamemnon, Abraham and Christ. The latter’s sacrifice was entirely self-given, a radical submission to circumstances. In Agamemnon’s case the circumstances were “owned,” in a sense; Iphigenia “belonged” to him. In Abraham the “ownership,” is presupposed but renounced. Something  has happened to prevent the disposal of one human being by another.  What is this? Perhaps—precisely—the  future,  which is just that which cannot be “owned.”  [21]

I want to mention three or four more points before concluding my response to the Letters. Franz’s Letter 19 to Eugen continues the discussion of the significance of the year 1789. Both Franz and Eugen believed that since that time the Church had entered its “Johannine” period. That is to say, “Christianity now has the proof of its reality behind it. And the Old Testament is something that will disappear.”  The history of the Church is the new “Old Testament.” And then he makes the startling statement that “What remains, and actually only entered Christianity in 1789, is the naked Jew, without Old Testament.” Continuing, he says

“…Christianity now needs the emancipated naked Jew, the Jew of the Jewish problem. And for the same reason Judaism could now produce the emancipated form of the messianic movement, Zionism, the meaning of which you overestimate throughout. It belongs throughout to the series of messianic movements that are continually being produced in Judaism, all more or less grand self-deceptions, attempts to take the Kingdom of Heaven by force…”

I think that Rosenstock underestimates the Zionist movement, rather than overestimating it, as Franz says. But I believe Franz hits the nail squarely on its head about Zionism. The periodic eruption of  messianic movements in Judaism is the subject of E. Michael Jones’ book, The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and Its Impact on World History. Jones   argues that the Jewish rejection of Christ (the Incarnation of the Logos) set in motion an unquenchable restlessness in the search for the new Messiah: “When the Jews rejected Christ, they rejected Logos, and when they rejected Logos, which includes within itself the principles of social order, they became revolutionaries.”[22] It is striking that Franz foretells Jones’ conclusions by nearly one hundred years.

The question of the emancipation of the Jews, the fruit of the French Revolution, takes us to the great “Napoleonic Interrogation,” described by Douglas Reed in his history of the Jews. In 1804 Napoleon was crowned Emperor; by 1806 the “Jewish question” had become, Reed says, “so large among his cares that he made a renowned…attempt to solve it.” He summoned leading representatives of Judaism from several Western European nations to answer a series of questions as to whether the Jews saw themselves as part of France or whether they formed a separate nation.   At that time the members of the Sanhedrin repudiated any idea of Jewish nationalism, and their professions formed the basis for the full integration of Jews into Western society. Yet within ninety years these professions of solidarity with European nations were cancelled with the rising agitation over the Jewish national home in Palestine.

Reed’s answer to the question of whether the professions of loyalty at the Napoleonic Sanhedrin were sincere is answered in effect by pointing to the basic flaw of Napoleon’s approach: he convened only Western European Jews.[23] The whole question Eastern European Jewry was not taken into account. Indeed, until Arthur Koestler took up the issue in his The Thirteenth Tribe, the existence of the Turkic-Mongolian converts to Judaism, the Khazarians, was veiled in utter obscurity. The thesis that the “Askkenazy” origins lie in an area between Russia and Byzantium was ridiculed for many years. But recently (2012) a paper appeared, confirming the Khazarian hypothesis based on genetic data.[24]  These findings put a new spin on Franz’s notion that what entered history in 1789 was “the naked Jew, without Old Testament.” Without Old Testament indeed, and without any claim to a “Semitic” origin or ownership of Palestine. It was the adoption of Judaic tradition by a people utterly foreign to it. Franz refers earlier to the prodigious strength of this tradition” and in Letter 15 says, correctly I believe, that the Jewish doctrine of election has lost none of its metaphysical weight: “For it still remains, and will always remain, the only visible embodiment of the attained goal of unity…” (p. 131)  This weight of tradition touches upon what Rupert Sheldrake terms “morphic resonance”  in all biological systems, that is,  “All organisms are dynamic structures that are continuously recreating themselves under the influence of their own past states.” [25]

Thus DNA evidence may confirm origination or membership in a genetic group. But the decision to take on the history and allegiances of a group is not a “genetic” question as such. This question remains more in the domain of free will, of moral inclination and character, although once making this decision, action and behavior may in the course of time come to “resemble” a type of genetic determinism.  Genetics are not a determinant in conversion—or so Catholic theology teaches, and I believe.   

The final point to be made on this issue concerns the nature of human development and achievement in the light of tradition and continuity. Nikolai Levashov, the late Russian seer and healer, wrote that human achievement—that is, the achievement of human status, as contrasted to the stage of “reasoning animal,” requires “the common experience of, at least, several generations of the whole human society. Moreover, the greater number of people who take part in the creation of this informational bank of the human society, the faster the individual will be able to go through the evolutional stage of the reasoning animal and begin his or her development at the stage of reasoning man.”[26] The strong sense of Jewish group cohesion and historical consciousness have no doubt played a strong role in the development of the formidable Jewish intelligence.[27]

This concludes what I have to say about the Rosenstock-Rosenzweig correspondence. I will only note that I did not read therein, nor have I seen elsewhere, how it came about that Eugen Rosenstock decided to become a Christian. Rosenstock’s affirmation of Christianity is a far more significant occurrence than Franz Rosenzweig’s negation. Why did Eugen not write about his own affirmation? What held him back?

These are questions I cannot answer.


In his Epilogue to the correspondence, Rosenstock-Huessy mentions that the two men “exchanged life-rhythms” between 1913-1918. He thus points to the existence of the grammatical Dual, which is very much downplayed in modern history , since modern humanists characteristically “treat biographical facts in a completely individualistic fashion.” But there have been famous Duals in history, or  if not Duals then names we are accustomed to pairing together: Hawthorne-Melville, Dostoevsky-Tolstoy, Coleridge-Wordsworth, Goethe-Schiller, and the most celebrated,  Plato-Aristotle. Eugen mentions other famous groupings in history—the twelve apostles, the four evangelists, and adds, curiously,  that Franz and Eugen’s mutuality and exchange was quite unintentional, even unconscious: “Individual purposes or intentions were subordinated to a large extent to a process of re-creation or transformation brought about by a most unwanted, even abhorred, exposure to each other.” 

What does this “unwanted, even abhorred” exposure mean? Was there an antipathy between the two men, otherwise unmentioned in the correspondence? The lack of detail on this point does highlight, in my opinion, a kind of emotional deficit which  characterizes this correspondence.  Perhaps Rosenstock captured some of this emotional deficit in a long poem or “litany” he later wrote about the correspondence. Among the lines these stood out for me:

“Through all times his friend,
In all places his foe…
Never are we farther apart
Than when we tread the same road.”

There is a further element of mystery concerning the relationship of Eugen Rosenstock and Franz Rosenzweig, and that is the love between Rosenstock’s wife Margrit Huessy and Franz. I have no details of the nature of this relationship nor of their correspondence. It is not mentioned in prefaces to this book, and so far as I know the letters between Margrit Huessy and Franz have not been translated from German.  I learned what little I know of it in biographical reading of Rosenstock’s life.  Still, it left me with a feeling of something not quite whole, of something “missing,” so to speak, in Rosenstock’s biography. Is there some irony in Rosenstock’s phrase, that the two men “exchanged life-rhythms”? We will never know. Nevertheless, there is something about it that troubles me in some obscure way that I cannot quite articulate.  And it is only too true that all of us have elements in our lives that are misfitting, regrettable, lacking, or less than perfectly transparent.  These might be considered moments in which we experience the divine “No!” within our being.[28]   Eugen’s famous characterization of Revelation takes this divine “No!”  as characterizing Israel. But I rather think that in the largest sense it is a characterization of our human destiny:

“In listening to God’s ‘No,’ Israel recognized herself as God’s servant, merely a man in the face of God’s majesty. In this ‘No’ all merely human desires are burned out, and our notion of God’s will is cleansed. ‘Revelation’ is knowledge of God’s will, after his ‘No’ to our will has become known. Only then is God pure future, pure act—only when all his former creations stand exposed as non-gods, as mere artifacts.”[29]

If history is the biography of mankind,  the ‘No’s’-- our obscure moments, our misgivings  and mistakes, also  belong to the sphere of Revelation in which God has promised us a share. This is the faith that makes us whole, and the faith that inspires us with the desire and the will to be whole. For every bit of it—every grain of sand, every sparrow’s fall-- is a part of the larger story. And not for anything could we wish anything unsaid or undone. And it is this act of acceptance of the whole and the integration of all of it which distinguishes Christianity “when all is said and done.”  Christianity is an act of  affirmation.   But what is unique to Judaism is that it is described in terms of a negation—of a ‘No.’ I wonder if Rosenstock-Huessy quite knew what he was saying. I wonder if Rosenzweig understood him. I wonder if any of us understand it.

[1] In What Is Philosophy, Ortega y Gasset discusses an early Greek word for philosophy—aletheia, which might be translated “not-forgetting” or “truthfulness.”   He said the  less controversial term, ‘philosophy,’ was chosen later. But the original term, through a process of metamorphosis, became the name of the last book of the Bible—“Revelation,” that is to say,  ‘apocalypse,’ unveiling -- in other words, telling the truth.
[2] Quoted from a personal letter from Rosenstock-Huessy to Stahmer, September 27, 1966.
[3] Douglas Reed, The Controversy of Zion, Veritas Publishing, Australia, (1978) p. 400.
[4] According to Stahmer, Rosenstock described the breakdown of the German language as “one of the speediest and most radical events of all times in the field of mind and speech.” Introduction, p. 3.
[5] Stahmer: “Both Rosenzweig and Schelling embraced Idealism early in their lives but later rejected it in favor of a religious position that eventually was to be more orthodox than philosophical in character…” p. 8
[6] Alexander Altmann, in the section “About the Correspondence” that follows Harold Stahmer’s Introduction, says that the main feature of the “new thinking” was the union of philosophy and theology, which “could be brought about only by an experience of the reality of religion, not by mere academic reflections.” (p.29) This genuine reality of religion was to play an important part in Rosenstock’s later academic career. He gained an appointment at Harvard (circa 1934)  but only remained there for two years. His speaking of God— of the living God  who works in history-- were not well received there. He found a more hospitable environment at Dartmouth, where he taught for many years.
[7] Altmann, p. 36
[8] Ibid, p. 38
[9] Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution, p. 236. Later in these Letters (Letter 16) Eugen comments that “the emancipation of the Jews is the process of the self-destruction of the European tradition.” Unfortunately he does not develop the thought.
[10] Stahmer, Introduction p. 22
[11] Stahmer Introduction, p. 22-23
[12] There is, frankly, much in the Old Testament we would have to call propaganda. Still I believe there was great wisdom in the Church’s decision to include the Old Testament in the canon, and likewise its rejection of Marcion, the gnostic who urged abandonment of the Old Testament.  Today, however,  the situation is very different and the idea that the traditions of the Church are the “new” Old Testament has merit – but only, it seems to me, if the Church we are talking about is  acknowledged as the Catholic. For what sense would Luther’s “sola scriptura” make, not to mention other excursions into bibliolatry? To say that the traditions of the Church are the new Old Testament would at least have the virtue of cutting the ground out from beneath the scourge of Christian Zionism. See recent article on Henry Makow website:  http://henrymakow.com/2015/02/christians-have-been-duped-by-zionists.html

[13] Eugen makes a later reference to Zionism in Letter 16: “Do you believe that Zionism is an accident? Israel’s time as the people of the Bible has gone by.” The Church, he says, is the new Synagogue. “God preserves his signs for as long as our blindness needs them. But one must not rely on them…rather must one hasten to drink from the source, to drain it dry before it runs dry. The Imperium Romanum its corpus iuris, and the Old Testament, both remain only so that they may be allowed to die…”
[14] Eugen to Franz, Letter 8, September 13, 1916.
[15] “Under the formula ‘Sicut Judaeis non’ Pope St. Gregory the Great articulated the same principle as the Church’s policy toward the Jews. No one was to harm them, but they were to be given no position of cultural influence, lest they use it to engage in blasphemy and the corruption of morals.” E. Michael Jones, The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and Its Impact on World History, Fidelity Press,  South Bend, 2008; p. 64. The Good Friday prayers concerning the Jews in the liturgy have been considered controversial.  I do not consider them hateful. They are a strong reminder of the days of the early Church and possess, in my view, value and authenticity as remnants of living history. 
[16] Our philosophical vocabulary would be enriched by the addition of a word meaning self-examination, self-mirroring, ability to see oneself from outside or as others see us. I don’t think we have such a word: “self-reflection” implies merely a cognitive act. The word I am looking for has to do with conscience, with moral awareness. This was etymologically connected with the word ‘consciousness’ but the moral dimension seems to have faded from our current usage of that word.  Kierkegaard hinted at this capacity when he said we should be objective with ourselves but subjective with others.  We “walk in others’ footsteps” and have the phrase “There but for the grace of God go I,” but where is the concept in philosophy? We are in need of a term that embraces both the power of seeing and the power of shame.  Maybe forging such a term could be one of the first tasks of a true grammatical philosophy.
[17] Interestingly, this was the counsel of Gamaliel to the Pharisees regarding Jesus. Acts 5:34
[18] To obey, that is to hear: the old Latin form of the word is ob + audire, to hear, to listen to. Rosenstock once made the comment that modern students of  speech rarely pay sufficient attention to the fact that listening is an integral part of speaking.
[19] This is the interpretation of Emil Bock in his book Genesis: Creation and Patriarchs. Floris, 1983. Originally published in German in 1934 under the title Urgeschichte. Bock was a student of the esoteric philosophy of Rudolf Steiner.
[20] This, I realize, could be a huge philosophical topic in itself. Another bone for a grammatical philosophy to chew on?
[21] Another topic for grammatical philosophy: what contortions do people and nations put themselves through when they sense that the horizons of their future are shrinking? I believe we are living through such a declinist period today, and the American government seems to be outdoing itself in aggressive and short-sighted action, especially in relation to Russia. This brings up the question of  the new covenant, the idea that the living spirit moved from Judaism to Christianity: “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing that ye put it from you and judge yourselves worthy of everlasting life, we turn to the Gentiles.” (St. Paul) This idea, called ‘supersessionism,’ has been discredited in recent theological scholarship, no doubt owing to the shadow cast by the Nazi era. But supersessionism is a daily constant fact of life. We are always needing to practice discernment of spirit and of timing. But the idea has not been so far examined, as far as I know, in a ‘secular’ or political context. 
[22] Jones, op.cit., p. 15
[23] Paul Johnson writes that most European Jews opposed the idea of  Jewish state. Moritz Benedict said, “No individual has the right to take upon himself the tremendous moral responsibility of setting this avalanche in motion.” The vast majority of rabbis opposed secular Zionism, which they saw as “atheistic”—“a false, Satanic religion.”  From his History of the Jews, 1987. (No page reference)
[24] The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses Eran Elhaik. Genome Biol Evol (2013) 5 (1): 61-74.doi: 10.1093/gbe/evs119 First published online: December 14, 2012.
[25] Rupert Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past, Rochester, VT 1995., p. 133.
[26] Nikolai Levashov, Russian History Viewed Through Distorted Mirrors, Vol. I. p. 66. Published on his website.
This gives a historical vision of human development, and for that reason would be comparable to Rosenstock’s “grammatical method,” which presupposes a long historical past in the formation of language.
[27] “Intellectual activity in the service of evolutionary goals has been a characteristic of Judaism from the ancient world,” Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique, 1st Books, 2002, p. 231.  This awareness may lie at the root of David Goldman’s astonishing statement, quoted by Ross Douthat in his book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (2012) , that “In the West, nations came by the hope of immortality through Christianity, which offered the promise of Israel to the gentiles, but only on the condition that they cease to be Gentiles, through adoption into an Israel of the spirit.” [Italics mine.] This is an absolute cancellation of Christianity. The question of longevity-spiritual continuity—is very  difficult to disentangle from spiritual validity, that is, the continuance of genuine inspiration from age to age. With the Jews, the two are conflated, and it is perhaps not an accident that David Goldman, who writes under the alias “Spengler” for Asia Times Online, is a great admirer of Franz Rosenzweig. Christianity made a distinction between mere continuance and genuine religious inspiration in the teaching of supersessionism – see note 21   

[28] Obscure biographical hints: Rosenzweig’s mother discouraged him from Christian baptism; Rosenstock-Huessy’s mother committed suicide. Was it because the Nazis had come to power? Franz Rosenzweig died of paralysis (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 1929, aged about 44. Margrit Huessy died thirty years later,  in 1959.
[29] From Eugen’s essay, “Hitler and Israel, or On Prayer,” printed as the last chapter of Judaism Despite Christianity

My thanks to Edward Casey for proofreading this article. The opinions expressed are my own.
 Photos courtesy of Google/Wikipedia.