The Sacred and the Profane: A Dialectical Understanding of Christianity by Thomas J.J. Altizer
The contemporary student of religion is living at a time when not only the reality but also the very meaning of religion threatens to disappear. Innumerable Christian theologians insist, however naively, that Christianity is not a religion, and humanistic scholars seem unable to employ a meaning of religion that can give direction and purpose to their own work. All of us in some sense must share the fruits of a Faustian dissolution of faith, even when our own labors of Sisyphus have seemingly carried us beyond the Western world. We inevitably think and speak under the impact of a peculiarly Western form of absolute world-affirmation.
Students of religion know that the primal forms of religious discourse are by one means or another dialectical, and thus they must inevitably exist in tension with the dominant modes of contemporary thought and experience. All dialectical thinking directs itself to the negation of the Given, of that which happens to appear or to be at hand. In all the various expressions of its multiple forms, dialectical thinking must set itself against the autonomy of that which appears before it, seizing upon the immediate being which is manifest about it as the initial springboard to its own movement of negation. A dialectical movement is, of course, never a movement of simple or sheer negation. Being neither a Gnostic escape from the world nor a romantic flight from history, dialectical thinking moves by means of a negation that is simultaneously affirmation. The Given is negated only to be affirmed in a transfigured form. Dialectical thinking thinks both to and from what the Western rational mind knows as "contradiction." It appears when a seemingly unbridgeable chasm arises between the True or the Real and the immediately Given, and it culminates in a coincidentia oppositorum, a final coming together of those opposites whose initial opposition or contradiction occasioned its own creation. Consequently, dialectical thinking is inseparable from the Given which it must oppose; and it can only appear in conjunction with the manifestation of a Given which itself contains the seeds of its own negation.
Hegel, who identified philosophy with dialectical thinking, also believed that philosophy is identical with religion insofar as both must negate the Given: "For religion equally with philosophy refuses to recognize in finitude a veritable being, or something ultimate and absolute, or non-posited, uncreated, and eternal" (Logic, Vol. I, Bk. I, Ch. 3). All expressions of religion must in some sense share such a movement of negation, for religion must necessarily direct itself against a selfhood, a history, or a cosmos that exists immediately and autonomously as its own creation or ground. So it is that critical definitions of religion in all their variety show that the sacred and the religious life is the opposite of the profane and the secular life. Just as the prophet calls upon his hearer to turn away from his immediate existence in the world, the mystic envisions an eternal Now that dissolves the time of duration. Furthermore, and as the work of Mircea Eliade has so fully demonstrated, mythical and ritual patterns the world over are intended to effect a negation of concrete time and space leading to a repetition of the primordial Beginning or to a passage to the "Center" of the world. Yet a primordial Beginning and a sacred "Center" are meaningful only insofar as a chasm lies between the sacred and the profane. A profane worldliness is not simply the mask or the veil of the sacred. Only the religious vision can know the world as maya or "Old Aeon." Profane worldliness is rather a positive and even absolute defiance or reversal of a sacred existence. In contrast, an existence embodying or pointing to the sacred is the dialectical opposite of existence in the profane. Seen in this perspective, religion itself can only appear or arise in conjunction with a rupture between the sacred and the profane, a rupture testifying to the alienation of immediate existence from a sacred or transcendent ground. Christianity has named this rupture the "Fall," and no religion has so profoundly emphasized the gulf between the sacred and the profane as Christianity. All religions, however, in one way or another witness to the loss of innocence or paradise, just as all religions proclaim or celebrate a way to the sacred from the profane.
If religion arises as a positive response to the appearance of the world or human existence in a fallen form, then one might expect the movement of religion to revolve about the repetition or re-presentation (anamnesis) of a primordial paradise. Conceived in this sense, the idea of an original or primordial paradise is bound to no particular symbolic form, and it could just as readily lend itself to apocalyptic symbols of the End when these are apprehended under the form of a final repetition of a primordial Beginning. It is a striking fact that images of paradise throughout the history of religions bear the marks of a dialectical negation or reversal. Paradise appears in the religious consciousness as a dialectical inversion of the here and now of profane experience, whether symbolized in a spatial form as celestial transcendence or in a temporal form as the Beginning or the End. An unfallen Beginning can express itself in symbolic form only to the extent that it is known as the opposite of a fallen present. But whether by way of myth and ritual, or through interior meditation or prophetic faith, religion seeks to annul all opposition between the sacred and the profane, thereby seeking a renewal of paradise in the present moment. Both the mystic, who directs himself to the negation or the emptying of consciousness, and the prophet, who calls for a total reversal of all worldly conditions, have chosen a path of abolishing the profane. Yet the sacred that becomes manifest through a negation of the profane must be a primordial Reality, an original paradise that has been hidden or lost by the advent of the profane, and thus a paradise that can be actualized by an unveiling or a reversal of the present. As Proust so aptly remarked, the only true paradise is always the paradise we have lost.
Religion is a quest for the primordial Beginning, a backward movement to an original paradise or a sacred "Center." With its goal of arriving at the primordial Totality, it follows a path of involution, a path that inverts or reverses the evolution of history and the cosmos out of an original Unity, thereby annulling those antinomies which have created an alienated and estranged existence. At first glance it would seem that those higher expressions of religion which proclaim the triumphant realization of the Kingdom of God, or the sole reality of Brahman-Atman, or the blissful totality of grace or Nirvana, do not fall under such a conception of religion since they transcend a tension or opposition between the sacred and the profane. Rather than conceding that the higher expressions of religion transcend the form and the imagery of religion itself, it would be wiser to note that such expressions of religion are fufillments of a universal religious goal. When faith celebrates the final victory of the Kingdom of God, or contemplation becomes totally absorbed in Brahman-Atman or Purusha, or satori releases the all-pervading reality of Sunyata or Tao, the profane reality has been totally abolished or annulled. If a Zen practitioner were to say that nothing happens in satori, or that truly and actually there is no fallenness, no guilt, no alienation, and no estrangement, then we could only reply that from the point of view of the profane consciousness he has succeeded in abolishing the very memory of the profane. Moreover, if a Zennist were to persist in his denial and to assert that Nirvana is Samsara and Samsara is Nirvana -- or that there is no difference whatsoever between the sacred and the profane -- we would be forced to respond that his language is only meaningful in the context of the complete dissolution of the profane consciousness. A Buddhism that identifies Nirvana and Samsara can do so only on the basis of a discovery that all existing reality is empty or void (sunya) of reality itself, and this discovery is inseparable from an absolute and final negation of a profane reality. This negation annuls the opposition between the sacred and the profane by abolishing both the reality and the memory of the profane opposite itself. On the other hand, if a Christian were to insist that Christianity affirms both the reality and the goodness of the creation, he should simply be informed that originally Christianity was an apocalyptic faith looking forward to the end of the world as the cataclysmic destruction of the "Old Aeon" or old creation, and such an apocalyptic negation of the world is inseparable from a total affirmation of the Kingdom of God. A faith that could look forward to God’s becoming all in all could rejoice in the imminent collapse of the reality of the world, thereby celebrating an End that is a repetition of a primordial Beginning. An End that abolishes the creation repeats or re-presents the Beginning that existed prior to the creation. Again, a total epiphany of the sacred occurs only by means of a total abolition of the profane.
The forms of Oriental mysticism and Biblical eschatology coincide insofar as they must culminate in an absolute negation of the Given. Only a mystical dissolution or an apocalyptic reversal of the reality of the profane can make possible a final or a total manifestation of the sacred. Even the language by which we speak of the higher expressions of religion is inevitably dialectical. We speak of a mystical dissolution or an apocalyptic reversal, thereby testifying to the negative movement of religion. Of course, this negation is dialectical. This means that here negation and reversal are grounded in affirmation; time and space are negated in their profane or fallen form only to be regenerated or resurrected in their sacred or primordial form. Underlying all forms of religion is a dialectical movement of repetition; the negation of the immediately Given is but the hither or apparent side of the repetition of the primordial or eternally Given. Negation and repetition are but two sides of the same movement, two manifestations of a single dialectical process, whose meaning or appearance varies solely in accordance with the intention from which it is viewed. From the perspective of the immediately or apparently Given, religion is a movement of negation. Yet so likewise from the perspective of faith or vision, religion is a movement of repetition or regeneration. Its seeming negation of the profane is at bottom an epiphany or renewal of an original and primordial sacred. A dialectical negation of time and space culminates in a regeneration of Eternity -- a renewal or repetition of a primordial Totality -- and therefore an absolute negation of the profane is equivalent to a total affirmation of the sacred. Accordingly, the higher expressions of religion are consummations of the religious movement itself -- "Old Aeon" passes into "New Aeon," Samsara is identical with Nirvana. The coincidentia oppositorum is a universal religious symbol, a symbol unveiling both the goal and the ground of religion.
All too naturally we employ a Latin phrase in speaking of the "coincidence of the opposites," for it is not too clear if we are speaking of a coincidence, a harmony, a unity, or an identity of the opposites, and with this ambiguity the meaning of the opposites themselves is obscured. When the negative movement of religion is understood as being a reversal of the profane, there is a clear implication that religion acts by way of a backward movement or return, with the inevitable corollary that the sacred is an original or primordial Reality. Certainly the higher Oriental symbols of the sacred point to an eternal, an inactive, or a quiescent Totality, and a Totality that only truly appears through the disappearance or inactivity of all motion and process. Moreover, it is the very disappearance or inactivity that repeats or resurrects an original Totality. Here, repetition and resurrection are expressions of a cosmic and universal process of regeneration. Such a process of regeneration, however, is in no way to be identified with a process in space and time. On the contrary, a fully mystical regeneration annuls or dissolves both spatial location and temporal duration; hence, the Oriental mystic invariably speaks of a timeless Eternity, a Nothing, or a Void. Whether by way of the wu wei or inaction of Taoism and Zen, or the Yogic discipline of emptying the contents of consciousness, or the purposeless action of the Bhagavad Gita, the way of Oriental religions is a way backwards. A primordial Totality can be reached only by a reversal of the movements of consciousness and history, and this reversal of the profane is equivalent to an epiphany or renewal of an original sacred. Yet a reversal in this sense can only mean that a profane time and space cease to exist in their own form and movement. Or, rather, a repetition of a primordial sacred reveals the sacred identity of the profane. A mystical regeneration inverts the concrete expressions of time and space, leading to the resurrection of a primordial Totality. A Totality, however, comprehends all reality whatsoever, and a sacred Totality must annul the possibility of profane existence. A coincidentia oppositorum in this sense must identify the opposites by abolishing their opposition, an abolition effected by an absolute negation of the profane. Coincidentia here must finally mean a non-dialectical "identity," for it is an identity that only appears with the disappearance of the opposites. A mystical epiphany of the primordial Totality dissolves the opposition between the sacred and the profane by annulling the fallen reality of space and time. Space and time then become manifest in their primordial or eternal form, and such an original Totality is free of the polar or dialectical meaning of either the sacred or the profane. Thus the coincidentia oppositorum in Oriental mysticism is an identity of the opposites. The profane reality ceases to move or disappears, thereby becoming identical with the sacred, and the sacred now ceases to exist in opposition to the profane.
May we say that the goal and ground of Biblical eschatology is a coincidentia oppositorum that likewise identifies the sacred and the profane? Does the prophetic faith of the Bible revolve about a return (or "turning," metanoia) to a primordial Beginning? Or does it culminate in an apocalyptic End which is a final repetition of the Beginning? If so, it would seem to follow that an eschatological faith must seek to abolish the opposites either by collapsing the profane into the sacred or by annihilating the form and movement of the profane. Yet such a formulation does violence both to an eschatological faith’s engagement with the world and to the New Testament and Christian meaning of Incarnation. Ever since its establishment in the second century, Christian theology has either chosen the language of a purely rational and non-dialectical thinking, or it has repudiated all thinking that is directed to the meaning of its Biblical foundation. In either case, Christian theology has refused a thinking that incorporates the primal forms of Biblical faith, just as it has turned aside from any attempt to think through to its own ultimate implications. Consequently, Christian theology has never sought to unveil the meaning of an apocalyptic coincidentia oppositorum. It need not surprise us that such a form of theology has always been uncertain about its religious ground. While frequently claiming that the soul is naturally Christian, or dogmatically if uncritically insisting that Christianity is the fulfillment of the world’s religions, Christian theology has nevertheless condemned "idolatry" and opposed all paganism (i.e., non-Biblical religion). The contemporary theologian is even embarked upon a quest for a "religionless" Christianity. Kierkegaard -- who conceived of paganism as an immediate relationship to God -- already sensed that the Christian faith is grounded in a negation of religion. Unfortunately, neither Kierkegaard nor his twentieth-century followers succeeded in creating a fully dialectical theology. Never being able to break from their Lutheran roots, they have clung to a non-dialectical dualism, and have employed dialectical thinking only to attack the profane expressions of faith. Inevitably such a dialectical theology falls back upon a dogmatic and non-dialectical form of faith or belief, thereby foreclosing the possibility of reaching a coincidentia oppositorum. But if Christian theology has the legitimate goal of unraveling the meaning of a "religionless" Christianity, it must take far more seriously than ever before the relationship between Christianity and religion, and this must mean that it is now called to a full encounter with the higher expressions of religion.
Earlier we remarked that Christianity emphasizes the Fall more radically than any other form of religion. The Fall is an actual and real event; the world and human existence are judged to be actually and truly estranged from their original divine ground, and consequently the process of redemption must occur in the arena of concrete time and space. The Fall is never an ultimately real event in Oriental religion. Thus for Shankara it can only be through a great cosmic ignorance or maya that God and the world can be known as moving and existing out of the depths of Brahman-Atman; and for Nagarjuna, Nirvana is non-ceasing and unachieved, because there has been no initial Fall, and there is no need for a re-transformation. When the profane is understood as the opposite of the sacred in a wholly negative sense, then the movement of religion must be conceived as an eternal repetition of an unfallen sacred, and the profane reality must be judged to be an illusory mask or veil of the sacred. Only an acceptance or an affirmation of the fallen reality of the profane can make possible a faith that encounters the concrete actuality of the world, and moves forward through alienation and estrangement to an eschatological End that transcends a primordial Beginning. Just as Christianity is the only religion to have abandoned an original paradise, so Christianity alone among the world’s religions affirms the ultimate reality of the Fall, and opens itself to the actual processes of time and space as the arena of redemption. Owen Barfield’s distinction between an "original" and a "final" participation -- in his fascinating and deeply illuminating book, Saving the Appearances -- does much to unveil the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Images of paradise invariably testify to a longing or a nostalgia for an original paradise, i.e., for participation in an original cosmic Totality, a Totality present in a primordial time prior to the advent of the rupture between the sacred and the profane, a time when suffering, death, and alienation had not yet come into existence. Barfield identifies original participation as paganism, and insists that the Old Testament’s condemnation of idolatry was a negation of original participation. From this point of view, only the loss of original participation or a primordial paradise can make possible a final participation, i.e., an ultimate participation that is reached by moving through fallenness and death to a definitive and final reconciliation between the sacred and the profane.
Whether we conceive of religion as a quest for original participation, or as a repetition of an unfallen Beginning which abolishes the opposites by negating the reality of the profane, it is clear that Christianity cannot be judged in this sense to be a religion, or at the very least that the Christian faith is finally directed to a non-religious goal. Insofar as faith in its Christian expression moves through the factuality of estrangement and death, it can never accept a mere negation of the profane. Nor for that matter can a faith accepting the reality of the Fall seek an unfallen sacred or a primordial moment of time. Only an actual reversal of a fallen and profane reality can lead to a final participation that transcends a primordial Beginning. Such a reversal would be consistently and radically dialectical. It would occur by means of what Hegel terms "pure negativity" or the "negation of negation," and it would move through the reality of the profane to a final or eschatological sacred that reconciles the profane with itself. Despite the fact that Buddhist logic is grounded in negation, Th. Stcherbatsky, in his magisterial study of Buddhist logic, points out that Indian logic has never known the negation of negation. Only an acceptance of the reality of a negative or fallen reality can make possible a coincidentia oppositorum that is a coming together of the dual reality of the sacred and the profane. It is precisely this coincidentia of the opposing realms of the sacred and the profane that makes possible Christianity’s celebration of the Incarnation as an actual and real event, an event that has occurred and does occur in concrete time and space, and an event effecting a real transformation of the world. Faith, in this consistently dialectical sense, must oppose or negate a sacred that is an unmoving Eternity or a quiescent Totality. A sacred that annuls or transcends the reality of the profane can never become incarnate in a fallen form, and thus it could never affect or transform the given or immediate reality of a fallen world. Only a sacred that negates its own unfallen or primordial form can become incarnate in the reality of the profane. To the extent that faith or vision knows an eternal and unmoving sacred it can never know the reality of the Incarnation.
When religion is conceived as a dialectical movement that culminates in an abolition of the opposites, i.e., as a return to an unfallen and primordial Beginning, then its movement may be understood by means of Kierkegaard’s category of "recollection." Believing that recollection is the pagan life-view, a lifeview affirming that all that is has been, Kierkegaard conceived of recollection as a backward repetition. From this point of view, all priestly or cultic religion, including its Biblical and Christian expressions, is a recollection or re-presentation (anamnesis) of a sacred history of the past. Mystical religion could then be understood as an interior movement of recollection, or as a translation into interior meditation of a cultic and mythical regeneration of history and the cosmos. In either case, religion is a backward movement to an archaic, or sacred, or a timeless past, i.e., a past having only a negative relation to the concrete actuality of the present. But Kierkegaard opposed "repetition" to "recollection," attempting to define repetition as a transcendent or religious movement by virtue of the absurd, while noting that "eternity is the true repetition" (Repetition, p. xxii). Repetition, in this sense, must be conceived as a forward movement. Whereas the backward movement of recollection arises from the judgment that all that truly is has been, the movement of repetition embodies the present and actual becoming of an existence which has been. Nevertheless, repetition and recollection are the same movement, only in opposite directions; "for what is recollected has been, is repeated backwards, whereas repetition properly so called is recollected forwards" (Ibid., p. 4). It cannot be said that Kierkegaard thought through the full meaning of his own category of repetition, but it is clear that he intended repetition to have a specifically or uniquely Christian meaning, and that it is the forward movement of Christianity which distinguishes it from its pagan or religious counterparts. Yet such a forward movement cannot culminate in an abolition of the opposites by returning to a primordial Beginning. Like its analogue in the prophetic faith of the Old Testament, it must be grounded in an eschatological End, and it can be consummated in that future End only by moving through a rebirth or renewal of all that existence which has been.
Therefore a renewal occurring through a specifically Christian movement of repetition could only culminate in a transformation of the opposites. The opposites cannot be simply annulled or negated, for then there would be neither a forward movement nor an eschatological End. It is precisely because the totality of existence is being renewed or transformed that the opposites cannot be abolished or dissolved. A pagan or religious "recollection" must, it is true, dissolve the opposition between the sacred and the profane, but recollection cannot move forward to eternity. Only a movement through the fallen reality of the opposites can issue in a genuinely New Creation or New Aeon. Conceived in this sense, an eschatological End cannot be a repetition of a primordial Beginning. If Christian repetition makes all things new, then it must abolish or negate a memory or recollection of an original participation, and thus it must negate the movement of negation in religion. With this negation of negation, an original sacred must itself be negated. By this radical negation every image and every expression of the religious movement of recollection must be transcended. Of course, the higher expressions of mysticism have always known a transcendence of images, but they transcend imagery by abolishing the profane consciousness, or by dissolving all that history lying between the present and the Beginning. As opposed to this backward movement of the religious expressions of mysticism, a Christian repetition must move forward beyond the death of a primordial or original sacred to an eschatological coincidentia oppositorum that reconciles and unites the sacred and the profane. Quite naturally Christian theology has turned aside from the problem of the meaning of such a movement of repetition, just as it has refused the task of thinking through to its own ground in an eschatological End. Insofar as Christian theology is bound to an eternal and primordial God, it cannot be open to a negation of original participation, nor can it accept the possibility of an End that transcends the Beginning. Nonetheless the most radical Christian seers -- who are fully exemplified in their own respective ways by a Blake and a Hegel -- have long insisted that it is the Christian God and the Christian religion which are the deepest obstacles to an eschatological, a consistently dialectical, or a total redemption.
The non-dialectical ground of historical Christianity has been unveiled simply by taking up the problem of the dialectical meaning of religion. For not only do the priestly and institutional forms of Christianity submit to the heteronomous authority of a series of events that are irrevocably past, but the thought of the Christian theologian himself has been closed to a truly dialectical meaning of the sacred. None of the schools of Christian theology has been able to accept a fully kenotic meaning of the Incarnation, despite the fact that such a meaning has again and again been declared to be the goal of Christian thinking. If the Incarnation is the descent of God into human flesh, i.e., if Christ in being born in the likeness of men emptied himself of the form of God (Phil. 2:5-7), then a dialectical understanding of the Incarnation must go beyond the New Testament and recognize that a kenotic Christ cannot be known as an exalted Lord or cosmic Logos. Only a theology which abandons an original and primordial sacred, and opens itself to a forward moving process of repetition, can acknowledge that God has truly and actually become incarnate in concrete space and time. When the Incarnation is understood as a descent into the concrete, or as a movement from a primordial and unfallen sacred to an actually fallen profane, then it cannot be conceived as not affecting a supposedly eternal Godhead, or as being a static or unchanging extension of the God who is the transcendence of Being. Nor for that matter can an understanding of the Incarnation as a process of repetition allow the Incarnation to be confined to a once and for all event of the past. A theology which remains bound to the language and imagery of the New Testament must refuse the very thesis that the Incarnation is a forward movement or process. An authentically kenotic movement of "incarnation" must be a continual process of Spirit becoming flesh, of Eternity becoming time, or of the sacred becoming profane. Yet its forward movement is inseparable from a continual process of self-negation or self estrangement. Spirit can continue to become flesh only by negating its own past expressions. A Spirit that ceases to move or to negate itself is no longer an Incarnate Word. Christianity invariably becomes religious at precisely those points where it refuses to become incarnate.
Seen in this perspective, historical Christianity must be judged to be a discordant synthesis between a religious movement of recollection and an eschatological or non-religious movement of repetition. Religious Christianity parallels the non-Christian expressions of religion insofar as it is a recollection of an original or primordial sacred. Here is found a nostalgia for a lost paradise, a re-presentation of a sacred history of the past, and a belief in God as the "Unmoved Mover" who is the pure actuality (energeia) of Being. When the Christian God appears as the Wholly Other, the sovereign and transcendent Creator, he is manifest in his religious form as a primordial Deity, the El Shaddai of the Book of Job whose very sacrality annuls or negates the existence of the profane. So likewise a Christian faith that lets "God be God" is a submission to a primordial sacred, a recollection of the Beginning, and therefore it cannot respond to an Incarnation which is a movement of the sacred into the profane. Insofar as Christian theology has understood the Incarnate Word as an epiphany of the primordial Deity, it has set itself against the actual process of the Incarnation by understanding it as a backward movement to the Beginning rather than as a forward movement to the End. Only a Word that negates its ground in the primordial sacred can actually move into the fallen reality of the profane. To the extent that the Christian Word fails to negate its original form, it cannot be a forward moving process, nor can it be a process of renewal, or a progressive descent into the concrete. Not only does a religious understanding of the Word reverse the forward movement of the Incarnation, but it encloses the Word in a static and lifeless form, thereby isolating its power and confining its role to one of passive quiescence. When the Word is understood as a dynamic movement of Spirit into flesh, then it must be conceived as a process of reversing the original identity of Spirit, and, in contrast, of transforming the fallen reality of flesh. Consequently, a forward movement of repetition must culminate in an abolition of its original ground. The primordial God of the Beginning must die to make possible a union of Spirit with flesh.
"God is dead" are words that may only truly be spoken by the Christian, not by the religious Christian who is bound to an eternal and unmoving Word, but by the radical Christian who speaks in response to an Incarnate Word that empties itself of Spirit so as to appear and exist as flesh. A kenotic Word acts or moves by reversing the forms of flesh and Spirit. Moreover, a dialectical reversal in this sense cannot lead to an identification of the sacred with the profane or of the Spirit with flesh; Spirit must negate itself as Spirit before it can become manifest as flesh. When the world is affirmed as an actually fallen and profane reality, then it cannot be known as a mask or veil of the sacred, and the sacred and profane must exist in a state of opposition to each other insofar as each retains its original or primal reality. Such a state of opposition can only be effected by a dual movement of the opposites into their respective Others -- Spirit empties itself of Spirit so as to become flesh, and flesh negates itself as flesh so as to become Spirit. True, a forward moving process of repetition culminates in a coincidentia oppositorum. Yet coincidentia now bears an eschatological meaning. Only at the End will flesh and Spirit become identical, and their identity will be established only when flesh has actually ceased to be flesh and Spirit has perished as Spirit. Thus there can be no question of a fully eschatological coincidentia being known as a recollection or an epiphany of a primordial Beginning. Both recollection and repetition culminate in a coincidentia oppositorum, but whereas recollection is a backward movement to the Beginning, repetition is a forward movement to the End.
Is Kierkegaard correct in identifying recollection and repetition as the same movement, in opposite directions? Or does a single dialectical movement assume a different meaning and reality in accordance with the direction in which it moves? Just as recollection evolves about an absolute negation of the profane, may one say that repetition revolves about an absolute negation of the sacred? Insofar as the religious movement of negation is dialectical, its negation of the profane is at bottom an affirmation of the sacred. Is it likewise true that a Christian or consistently eschatological negation of an original sacred must culminate in an affirmation of the radical profane? Here, it is true, there is a genuine and actual movement of the sacred into the profane. But does the actuality of this movement derive from the renewal or repetition of the profane? We have seen that a religious repetition of a primordial Beginning annuls or reverses the life and movement of the profane. Can one now say that the process of the Incarnation annuls and reverses an original quiescent Totality, thereby making possible a progressively forward movement and expression of the profane? Simply to raise these questions in the context of our time and situation is to recognize the possibility that the death of God -- i.e., the dissolution of all images and symbols of an original sacred, and the collapse of a sacred or transcendent realm underlying this dissolution -- is a culminating expression of the forward movement of the Incarnation. When the sacred and the profane are understood as dialectical opposites whose mutual negation culminates in a transition or metamorphosis of each into its respective Other, then it must appear that a Christian and eschatological coincidentia oppositorum in this sense is finally a coming together or dialectical union of an original sacred and the radical profane. By a kenotic negation of its primordial reality, the sacred becomes incarnate in the profane. Yet this movement of the sacred into the profane is inseparable from a parallel movement of the profane into the sacred. Indeed, the very movement of repetition and renewal -- precisely because it is an actual and concrete movement -- testifies to the ever more fully dawning power of the reality of the profane. Consequently, a consistently Christian dialectical understanding of the sacred must finally look forward to the resurrection of the profane in a transfigured and thus finally sacred form.