Sunday, August 03, 2008

Lord Irascible

More Bloom, transcribed from his Jesus and Yahweh (pages 98-99):

With this as a preamble, I turn to the Trinity, Christendom’s extraordinary exploit in somehow asserting its innocence as to the exiling of Yahweh. Monotheism may or may not be an advance upon polytheism, but Christianity would not concede its own pragmatic resort to three Gods rather than one. Where and how did the dogma of the Trinity begin? In the fourth century of the Common Era, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, persuaded a majority of his colleagues that Jesus Christ was God, a persuasion both unqualified and yet curiously subtle, since Christ was also a man. But what sort of man? Was he creature or not? The Jewish Christians, led by James the brother of Jesus, had insisted that he was, as did Arius, the fourth-century opponent of Athanasius, but the Athanasian Creed won the contest, and Jesus Christ became more God than man, in practice if not quite in theory.

Theology necessarily is a system of metaphors, and doctrine represents its literalization. I am inclined to believe that the best poetry, whatever its intentions, is a kind of theology, while theology generally is bad poetry. Yet theology can be what Wallace Stevens called “the profound poetry of the poor and the dead,” and for two centuries now in the United States it has been the poetry of the people. The Trinity is a great poem, but a difficult one, and always a challenge to interpretation. Its sublime ambition is to convert polytheism back into monotheism, which is possible only by rendering the Holy Spirit into a vacuum, and by evading the flamboyant personality of Yahweh. If the Trinity is truly monotheistic, then its sole God is Jesus Christ, not Yeshua of Nazareth but his hyperbolic expansion into the usurper of his beloved abba.

The historical Yeshua, insofar as he can be isolated, had his own anguishes of contamination, including toward his immediate precursor, John the Baptist, and also to such forerunners as Abraham, Moses, and Elijah. But he apparently suffered no anxiety of influence in regard to Yahweh, unlike the metaphoric Jesus Christ, whose separate identity demanded the subtraction of all ironic irascibility from Yahweh, who was after all a failure as a father. Oscar Wilde mordantly observed, “Fathers should be seen but not heard: that is the secret of family life.” Athanasius, though no wit, may be accounted an ancestor of Oscar Wilde, who, as Borges said, was always right.

As a lifelong critic of poetry, I admire the poem of the Trinity without loving it. If the Trinity is a myth, is it also a dream of love? God the Father, a mere shade of Yahweh, has the primary function of loving his Son, Jesus Christ, and of loving the world so much that he sacrificed Jesus to save it. Yahweh intervened to save Isaac from the overliteralist Abraham, most obedient of Covenanters, but was not able to save Jesus from God the Father. Metaphor runs wild in the Trinity…

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Blogger San said...

Paschal, I've come to this post on two different occasions and turned away, feeling too tired, physically and emotionally, to read it.

This morning, however, I awoke to the big New Mexico wind whistling around the eaves of my faux adobe house. 'It's blowing out all the fragmentation of the past few days, I thought, exhausting the exhaustion.'

So today I came back and sped right through this. It made a lot of sense. In the way that a poem makes a lot of sense--it opened a lot of doors to the wind. Bloom's distinction between theology and poetry is wise.

I have honestly never regarded the Trinity as a kind of polytheism, but it is. Kind of. The doors are open. The wind is blowing.

3:47 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...


Happy the winds are blowing for you. What I love about Bloom is that every sentence is loaded for bear. He pretends no offense, nothing but a "thinking through," but you can tell he is sick and tired of the Christian appropriation of all manner of myths, while pretending nothing of the sort. Everything gets wonderfully turned on its head. I sit in church now and feel his reverberations at times, as the language flows by. Something as seemingly simple, but not simple in the least, as the "Old Testament." Old to whom? Old covenant? Old to whom? I recently invited the participants in the class I'm teaching on Isaiah to consider shifting the language to referring to the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, rather than the "Old" Testament.

I did not return to church after nearly forty years for the mythos or the language, though I would much prefer an inclusive, non-masculo-centric liturgy. I'm there to be part of the people, the loving energy I experience there. So, what's "fun" about Bloom isn't exactly every churchgoer's cup of tea, but energizing (and yes, subversive) language will always get my attention and pull me on in for the fun and play.

Peace, sister. Enjoy those winds.

4:07 PM  

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