Lucas Cranach, der Ältere: “Allegorie auf Gesetz und Gnäde”, circa 1529. Germanisches National Museum.
The above quoted text of the Isaiah Chapter 45:15 on its “original version”, circa 485 BC, where the expression regarding the Deus Absconditus is employed, and most likely not for the very first time, in the Latin Vulgate, “…vere tu es Deus absconditus Deus Israhel salvator…” that has sadly been translated in so many different ways, however the two dominant versions generally accepted, refer to “the hidden” or “hidest thyself” in the sense of the capacity or faculty of the Divine Presence either to show or manifest Himself or not to do so and therefore to retrieve Himself into his own being. Sacred texts can be deceiving and extremely difficult to read and translations are most of the time inaccurate or the chosen words cannot reproduce the original meanings and experiences of the language as such and when it comes to certain readings or interpretations, better said certain given hermeneutics, that will eventually ground dogma or fundamental belief, failure inevitably takes place, let us not forget that wars were waged in the name of words and of course, religious beliefs and continuo to germinate never ending disputes and unsolvable controversies, some wars of today are still being fought on the grounds of religious ideas and so called, divine mandates or heavenly orders, to annihilate or even exterminate others, in the name of very obscure commands from a raging divinity that demands extinction of the others, that dare to pray to another divinity. So obscure and dark.
Martin Luther introduced, from the famous Isaiah’s quotation, regarding a G’d that is hidden or if the third person is chosen, a theological dictum, draws a distinction between a G’d that chooses not to manifest, which is very difficult to defend or to sustain, and the same G’d that reveals Himself trough his Son, Christ, Jesus and trough His manifestation or self-revelation shines in his light, using the Reformers language which in reality stems from the Greek Fathers and the combination of an old tradition, Neoplatonism, the Stoa, Plotinus and other greek thinkers that constituted an important and core tradition of early Christianity influencing greatly on the ancient Patristic thinking and nascent Tradition. Luther knew this world very well and has been known since the beginning of the Reform Movement, Luther wasn’t and expert on ancient languages, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic nonetheless bases most of his translations on the Vulgate and was helped by Erasmus and Melanchthon amongst others, that were indeed great scholars and well versed on ancient languages, however since the work was so demanding it required a long time and endless consultations to be completed. Morphosyntactically ancient or paleo Hebrew had no punctuation marks so miss-translations and errors were very common and still are, The Talmud – that extraordinary work of collective jewish wisdom – gives us a very lengthy and fruitful array of different examples of all sort of disputes, many never resolved, others illustrate the intricate hermeneutical tools employed by the Ancient Rabbis to interpret a text and come up with an answer or even established or create Rabbinical Law, regulations or norms and rules on a distinctive matter. We can find throughout the different Tractates, disputes on the correct interpretation of a word, even on its accurate and precise writing, the finding of the common root of a word that might even carry different meanings in spite off being the same one. In our present case, the key word is an Ancient Greek verb, namely, ᾔδειμεν , if we could dare to read the original meaning of the verb that speaks or names the retrieval of the Divine Presence into His Owness we are in the face of a very profound mystery – not an appropriate term to refer or designate an actual withdrawal of G’d – that tells us that sometimes for unknown causes the Divine Presence simply isn’t anymore present in the world.
According to the Book of Names (Exodus) the Divine Presence dwelt with the Israelites on its way to the Promise Land (Erestz Israel) and latter on when the Temple was finally constructed, the Divine Presence had an especial place of dwelling in the Temple, Holly of Holiest is the name given were the High Priest came into the presence of the dwelling G’d, like in the times of the dessert and the original Tabernacle after he revealed or manifested His Presence to Mosses in Sinai and in the Cloud. When the Temple was destroyed the mystery of the absence or retrieval of the Divine Presence raises the question of the Deus Absconditus. Sometimes the Gods abandon their places of worship or they choose to leave the world when humanity walks a path of self destruction or distances from their Gods. Temples remain empty. Nowadays we can see many empty Churches, Temples, places of worship and after the times of the Death of God were proclaimed – is curious once again how an expression can be so poorly interpreted: Nietzsche’s real meaning of the Death of God is completely the opposite to what has been attributed to his thinking, anew the wrong readings and misinterpretation of a word or in the Nietzsche’s case a phrase – the search for their return or the path to look after the hidden place where the Divine Presence decides to withdraw. During medieval times, Meister Eckart used a wonderful description when referring to the being of the Divinity: “the being that is and dwells on his own light” and probably here we find the source – on a pre-methaphorical language – of the absence of light and the intruding presence of the darkness, when the Gods or the Light of the Divine Presence ceases to be present in the World, stops dwelling in the world, then the darkness takes over and pain and suffering prevail. The absence of light is the presence of suffering. From the Deus Absconditus to the Deus Incognito we travel into different paths. From the so-called Self-Concealing G’d to the Self-Unconcealing G’d to the Unknown divinity that chooses to retrieve into his own absence two opposite conceptions emerge and this is crucial because it deals with the all to well established tradition that the Divinity – however the thinking or representation we choose to follow – is a living G’d that dwells with Humanity in this world. Somehow. The ancient Israelites walked the dessert and trough the dessert accompanied by the Divine Presence, either protecting them and even more, forgiving them for their wrong actions – trying to avoid the language of guilt, transgression or even sins, deliberately – and same can be affirmed from Christianity regardless of their own divisions, trough Jesus comes salvation and the rituality and liturgical elements both explicitly called for the presence of the living Christ celebrated in the eucaristhy no matter what pattern you follow: the blood of the Christ redeems and saves and is present permanently in the people or assembly, and specially in the hearts of the persons-believers, singling out an special and unique direct relation to the living G’d, once again regardless of the liturgical conception that were to be accepted or one chooses to celebrate. To some this is nothing other that revelation, the Deus Absconditus chooses to reveal himself to his people and the sinners to save them from darkness and fall, no matter the preference you are into, either by birth or by a personal election, the revelation of the divinity is the centre and core of the unconcealment by which the bond is grounded: the living G’d now addresses the world and the assembly, people, community and the individual can recognise his presence and reply to his voice or his call and like the great catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, used to say, the hearer of the word emerges.
The idea of describing G’d with human qualities or constructing a vision of the divinity to which we will ascribe all the attributes that humanity can possess or even more, achieve. During medieval times, more specifically during the period when scholasticism dominated not only philosophical and theological thinking, grounded on aristotelian metaphysics, the idea of a Supreme Being that is necessarily Good, Beautiful and Truth, can be exclusively predicated of G’d, however this Supreme Being cannot remain hidden in its eternal perfection – even whilst employing this type of language still remains within the limits of human attributes – because an isolated in Himself Perfect Being who maintains a distance from his own creation, generates a serious difficulty addressing the special bond originally established with the product of his enormous task as a Life-Giver. Creation is essentially a given act and what is given as the most perfect gift of all, none other than the gift of life and although Man is also given the ultimate gift is also the receiver of the ultimate grant, the mystery of freedom. Freedom to choose. Libero arbitrio, otherwise human life and his relation to the Divinity is completely senseless even more, human life as such becomes totally absurd if the possibility to choose is taken away form life. Almost all aspects of what some call “human action” are deeply rooted in freedom, man’s central engine and all his most important faculties and creative impulses come and stem from this extraordinary capacity to choose, human creation surges from the unconditional exercise of freedom. Enslaved human beings are dehumanised and their nature is sinked into the darkness and the abyss of the lacking, or the incompleteness that negates the essential drives of humanity and more specifically, separates mankind of his true being, mission and even destiny to use a more metaphorical language and this inevitably leads us to the other crucial problem, that of evil.
The ever-present problem of evil and the terrible injustice reigning worldwide, the atrocities committed constantly against other human beings and even more, against our own natural habitat, our dwelling-in-the-world being, have become more than dramatic. Words won’t supply answers to what we witness regularly and has turned into some sort of new everydayness. Never ending wars fought for the obscurest of reason or causes, madness spreads and dominates on all corners of the world. Darkness seems to be winning the sacred war against the children of the light. Hope recluses and retrieves from the aspirations of our daly activities – and now sinks even deeper while humanity struggles to comprehend and combat the current malady that has brought the world at large, into an abyss of fear and discontent: the fear of eminent death-, we find extenuating to pursue dreams and maintain minimum stability, if those words still have a certain given meaning. A powerful chaos rules and the old sense and sensibility balance withers away into a greater degree of inaccessibility, meaningless pervades the calmness of what once was hopeful and ascertainable. The famous painting by Cranach and the reference and use Luther introduced into art as a means to communicate and convey the message of salvation for humanity, emerging from the cross worlds of the reform movement and latter on the so called contra-reform, established the widespread view of the crucial question individuals face when it comes to understanding and more importantly, living accordingly not only a certain ethos, but a Kerygma that leads directly to the ultimate and most radical of all questions: can I be saved by my own deeds or only the chosen ones are saved by the almighty. This fundamental and core question which lies at the mere core of our sense of meaning and sense, individual lives will have a meaning from a certain commitment to govern everyday actions by abiding by rules, given to mankind, or, on the other alternative, little can be done if we’ll be granted the grace of being saved as a gift, done into humanity by the ruling and decision taken by the Almighty Deus absconditus. Kierkegaard and some other lutheran and protestant theologians, display an incredible attractive conception that was on those days, named the “Scandal”. Kierkegaard specifically signals to the scandalous nature of the “being called to be saved”, come to me, means nothing other than a calling. I shall save you if you answer my call. Come to me because you are invited and here lies the notion of the “scandal”: not only all humanity is invited into salvation and joy but not everybody listens nor replies to the call. How such a profound deafness can be so widely spread and the lack of response points perhaps to the mystery of evil. Silence turns not into this modern notion of going inside our own being and penetrate our most profound sense of truthiness but on the contrary, the lack of answer or proper replies even furthers the nature of the “scandal”. A powerful and deafening silence dominates a very loud and transformed world where madness and the lost of deepness and ability to hear that which is the fundamental calling. This and none other is the experience of the retrieving gods and the empty temples, churches and places of worship. Whilst some considered denying individuals their write to pray publicly – even to children – as a form of respect to otherness and difference in the name of openness and tolerance, waging the weaponising idea that as a respect to the different all forms of praying in public spaces, might hurt all that don’t share the same beliefs and faiths, namely preferences. Total deafness reigns. The allegory and the need to display the contents of a given disputation serves the crucial purpose of the setting up of a very important controversy. The Deus absconditus, the grace and law, the salvation as such, the dwelling divine presence and the fight to stop the gods from fleeing this horrendous conditions that are creeping up incessantly all over the world, calls for a renovation of the old kiergegaardian notion of the scandal. The ancient Israelites quarrel and established a conversation – to recur to a modern expression or the so called metaphorical speech – that keeps itself alive and on going. Praying publicly in the Kottel carries the powerful meaning of the ever present mandates and fullfilment of Torah Law. We pray in the Kottel because we choose to continuo this never ending conversation with the Divine Presence that once dwelt in the Temple. Wars, destruction, persecutions, condemnations, denials and even, state sponsored policies, the Nazis and others even, to annihilate that very strong sense of commitment, failed and were unsuccessful, still nowadays people travel from all corners of the world to seek for that invisible Holiest of Hollies were they say a dwelling G’d once spoke directly to his people and now speaks to all humanity. None other than the oldest “scandal”. We most listen and hear and more importantly, reply and answer.