Repetition as a reconciliation with oneself in atonement for the guilt of the other

Boris Šinigoj

From Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky to Levinas, Ocepek and Ricoeur

I.  Discovering my own untruth in sin

My own untruth is something I could discover only by myself, since it is only when I have discovered it that it is discovered, even if the whole world knew of it before … But this state, to be untruth by reason of one’s own guilt, what shall we call it? Let us call it Sin.[1]

Søren Kierkegaard

How do we begin in our spiritually eroded time when it is unpopular to speak of human sinfulness to passionately consider fundamental existential questions of the individual? How can we achieve the existential turn, not only on a personal but also on a social level? And how about the incredible possibility of repetition as an event of grace, which is already in the Book of Job understood as a scandal for every rational explanation and human expectation? Or to put it more radically, how do we ourselves achieve our own conversion toward the very Truth in confronting our own untruth, which is according to Kierkegaard indisputably rooted in sin, and hope that in scandalous repetition, we will get back everything we have lost in double measure after long suffering, torn between responsibility for one’s personal guilt and the other’s guilt?

To understand these questions deeply we should follow the Danish philosopher to awaken our inner spiritual human being, who is not without enthusiasm for Christ as the liberating Truth nor without fearless trust in God’s providence and care. Although at the same time, we already feel with anxiety in our hearts that at the existential turn such an awakened individual (den Enkelte), who is constantly developing the ethic-religious dimension of his existence in relation to his neighbour and to the living God, cannot avoid the painful encounter with the sinfulness of the one and the suffering truth of the Other. Until I do not find myself in my neighbour and discover my own participation in his guilt, which according to Levinas demands not only infinite responsibility but following Jesus’s example by serving to the last breath, I remain caught in my own untruthful self and his fictional justness, hopelessly lost to the Truth.

Let us join for a spiritual blink of an eye (øiets blik)[2] the praying vigilance of Københavner[3] in the contemplation of Adam’s original sin and primordial anxiety, which emerges from this contemplation in every one of us. Thus we could discover that man as an individual is never just himself (sig selv) but is always ontologically-historically connected with the whole of humanity. Not only as far as »the whole race participates in the individual and the individual in the whole race«[4], but even more in the real compassion for everyone’s guilt, i.e. in true human sympathy which »accepts suffering of the other as a guarantor and surety«[5]. When we become aware of the mutual participation in sinfulness and guilt, no one can remain indifferent to mankind or the individual, as compassionate love (ἀγάπη) begins to emerge in us.  

As the elder Zosima told Alyosha Karamazov and monastic confreres on his deathbed  in the last novel by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, which can be read as his spiritual testament amazingly akin to Kierkegaard’s thought about human sinfulness and guilt:

For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth.[6]

This astonishing insight, which emerges from the deepest compassionate awareness of every one’s sinfulness including myself at the forefront, unfortunately remains utterly incomprehensible in the pragmatic context of juridical understanding of justice and morality which prevails today.  As the Danish master of irony says: »Whoever learns to know his guilt only by analogy to judgments of the police and the supreme court never really understands that he is guilty.«[7] And he immediately adds: »For a man is guilty because he is infinitely guilty.«[8] Therefore we could name this understanding according to the elder Zosima not only the crown of monastic life but also the crown of everyone’s life in this world.

For all the years of spiritual growth of the individual and maturation in faith, hope and love for the Creator and all the creatures it is here that man reaches his climax and receives heavenly power of compassionate love. However, in order to achieve this we need to let this knowledge go from the mind to the heart because only in this way will we be able to produce the right results. Let me quote again the words of the elder Zosima:

Only then will our hearts be moved to a love that is infinite, universal and knows no satiety. Then each of us will be able to gain the whole world by love and wash away the world’s sins with his tears.[9]

But what is the true meaning of man’s sinfulness? Isn’t it true that man bears double infinite guilt, as according to the Apostle, the whole universe suffers »the pains of childbirth right up to the present time« [10] because of human sinfulness? Is it possible to ever be liberated from the hereditary sin through our care for each other and compassionate love? Undoubtedly, there is already a bright ray of faith and hope. From the anxious yearning for salvation »the possibility of freedom and thus the relation to the infinity and responsibility«[11] emerges. This very freedom gives us hope, » that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage toward decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God«[12].

Yet, how to find a way out of guilt and gain back the meaning of life when we face the hopeless anxiety of »the ironic nothingness of deadly silence, which is frightening and mocking in its irony«[13]? Don’t we feel, when we are driven to the edge, that with our untruthful existence we cause unhappiness not only to ourselves but also to others in their inconsolable longing for salvation? It seems that the right way to salvation lies in free will which is always torn between sin and penitence. This indeed cannot be the abstract path of Kantian critical thought nor Hegelian logical synthesis but the path of existential reconciliation with oneself in atonement for the guilt of the other, when I prostrate myself before the Creator and spread my arms to embrace all the suffering creatures following Christ’s example. Thus the elder Zosima encourages us in the face of death:

Let each of you keep close company with his heart, let each of you confess to himself untiringly. Do not be afraid of your sin, even when you perceive it, provided you are repentant … Brothers, do not be afraid of men’s sin, love man also in his sin, for this likeness of God’s love is the height of love on earth. Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love animals, love plants, love each thing.[14]

In order to achieve this, we should according to Lev Shestov risk the jump into the abyss of sin to learn how to fly towards the Truth.[15] Only in this way can we make the turn from our own sinfulness towards penitence and the paradox of reconciliation with oneself in atonement for the guilt of the other. For in his guilt I am the one who participates in the first place with my human inclination towards sin and evil, according to Levinas’s paraphrase of the elder Zosima: »We are all guilty of all and for all men before all, and I more than the others«.[16] Not to forget the suffering of animals and other innocent beings, especially children, who are according to Zosima »sinless, like angels, and live to bring us to tenderness and the purification of our hearts and as a sort of example for us«[17].

 

II Ethics as an infinite responsibility to the other

One is infinitely responsible before the other. The other is poor; and nothing that bothers him is strange to oneself, for one cannot be indifferent. One reaches his completion without his existence, more precisely when he sees everything in the other. The fullness of power is where the sovereignty of oneself does not extend toward the other to compete but rather to support him. At the same time one helps the other to carry his burden, which confirms his own substantiality, i.e. reinstatement of oneself.[18]

Emmanuel Levinas

How should we understand the help in carrying the burden which weighs heavily on the shoulders of the other to whom I have infinite responsibility according to Levinas’s reading of the Hebrew Bible, rabbinical commentaries and the Brothers Karamazov of Dostoevsky? Should we understand it as substantial confirmation of myself or rather as liberating awareness that »from now on to be myself means not being able to avoid responsibility«[19]? Isn’t it clear in the light of Levinas’s quotation of the fundamental insight of the elder Zosima »we are all guilty of all and for all men before all, and I more than the others«[20] that it is the ethical responsibility κατ’ ἐξοχήν which alone gives real identity to oneself insofar as one is from now on emptied of one’s own ontological imperialism and egoism?[21] 

To answer these questions, let us first turn to the Bible following Levinas’s example, not only because the Bible consists of »all fundamental things, which, help human life gain meaning« [22], but also because biblical personalities unveil »transcendence« [23] with loving dedication to God and to their neighbour. When we thus discover that real ethical relation to the other is always asymmetrical as it is evident from Abraham’s hospitality towards the three foreigners at the oaks of Mamre,[24] the question of the other’s burden coincides with my own responsibility which does not allow indifference. Then the burden of the other becomes a responsibility which »is incumbent on me exclusively, and what, humanly, I cannot refuse«[25].

Insofar as one is not searching for the confirmation of his being in himself but in the acceptance of the responsibility for the other, he should support the other to help him carry the burden. Not out of mercy or some unconditional obligation but out of » the altruism of complete responsibility«[26]:

This burden is a supreme dignity of the unique. I am I in the sole measure that I am responsible, a non-interchangeable I. I can substitute myself for everyone, but no one can substitute himself for me. Such is my inalienable identity of subject.[27]

This is true even in the case of a hired worker »if this person finds himself in an inferior position, which is dangerous for his freedom«[28] as Levinas underlined in his commentary of a Talmudic tractate Baba Metsia with the meaningful title »Judaism and revolution«.[29] Yet isn’t  our being responsible to the other, to help him carry heavier existential burdens than disrespect of his worker’s rights, burdens such as loneliness, feelings of being unloved, unbearable personal guilt or even mortal sin? No matter how we name these burdens Levinas righteously emphasizes the seemingly innocent details, which turn out to be the paradigmatic origin of Jewish humanism, the ultimate source of his philosophy:

The man whose rights must be defended is in the first place the other man; it is not initially myself. It is not the concept of »man« which is at the basis of this humanism, it is the other man.[30]

This is particularly true when I discover the descendant of Abraham in the other, although he is only a hired worker whom I promised work and food. For even when I would give him a royal treat with the son of Rabbi Johanan ben Mathia in the style of the King Solomon, I could not fulfil my duty to truly satiate and honour him. Although he is in a subordinate position as a hired worker and, despite the limited roughness of his profession, his right is unlimited, insofar as »the extent of the obligation toward men who are fully men has no limits«[31]; not only for the employer but also for any superior social institution:

All the splendour of King Solomon would not suffice to guarantee the dignity of the descendants of Abraham. There is more in the family of Abraham than in the promises of the State. It is important to give, of course, but everything depends on how it is done. It is not through the State and through the political advances of humanity that the person should be fulfilled – which, of course, does not free the State from instituting the condition necessary to this fulfilment. But it is the family of Abraham that sets the norms.[32]

What is the actual meaning of Abraham’s descent? According to Biblical and Talmudic tradition Abraham is initially the father of all believers, but »above all the one who knew how to receive and feed men: the one whose tent was wide open on all sides«[33]. Not only the oral tradition which links the name of the ancient Syrian city of Halab (now Aleppo) with the Semitic word for milk, with which Abraham had treated the passersby on the top of the hill, where later the city fort was built. Even more evident is the Biblical testimony about Abraham’s hospitality toward the three foreigners: »When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.«[34] He received them as apostles of God in spite of their appearance of Arab Bedouins from the Negev Desert. He simply named himself their servant and offered them water to wash their feet, rest under the oak of Mamre and nourishment from bread, butter, milk and freshly prepared beef:

The heirs of Abraham are people to whom their ancestor bequeathed a difficult tradition of duties toward other people, a tradition that is never finished and an order of which one is never free. In this order, above all else, duty takes the form of obligation toward the body, the obligation of feeding and sheltering. So defined, the heirs of Abraham are of all nations: any human truly human is no doubt of the line of Abraham.[35]

Spiritual proximity with the other, for whom I am infinitely responsible according to Levinas, thus ultimately consists of practical care for him. As Rabbi Israel Salanter says: »The material needs of my neighbour are my spiritual needs.«[36]  Yet, do I have any influence on the reception of my responsibility to the other? What if he would not accept my practical care for his needs? And what does it mean when it is obvious that my responsibility to the other is beyond human strength? For »everything begins with the right of the other man and with my infinite obligation toward him«[37].

All such and similar questions are redundant when we realize with Levinas that dia-konia, i.e. devoted service to the other is more important than any compassionate dialogue. It is enough to say: »Here I am!«[38] and start giving, practically acting for the benefit of the other, simply doing something for him. At the same time this means to reinstate the identity of myself, which testifies to the authentic »human spirit (esprit humain[39]. It could be understood as a repetition of the situation before the Fall in reconciliation with God and with oneself for the exculpation of the other in atonement for his guilt. The example of Abraham enables us to hope again, insofar as he compassionately intercedes with God for the others and thus reveals that God has mercy for a crowd of sinners, even for the sake of only one righteous servant among them who will bear their iniquities and justify many.[40] 

Therefore it is not a coincidence that Levinas, in contrast to Kierkegaard who puts forward Biblical testimony about Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac as inevitable suspension of human ethos for radical service to God, rather focuses on Abraham’s bold dialogue with God, in spite of the awareness of his own nothingness and mortality, to intercede for the inhabitants of Sodom, the ancient city full of heavy sinners, which so sadly reminds us of many metropoles in the modern the world:   

Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes. [41]

 

III Re-sponse to God’s re-quest

God’s forgiveness is bound to the mutual forgiveness of men … Reconciliation is only possible in forgiveness … reconciliation occurs only when individuals are willing to atone not only for their own transgressions, but also for the transgressions of others.[42]

Miklavž Ocepek

In the Christian context of re-sponding to God’s re-quest, it is evident that in spite of acknowledging that »faith could speak and testify after it has listened, opened itself and received«[43], Ocepek follows Levinas’s biblically inspired encouragement of the infinite responsibility one has toward the other and the Other, rather than Kierkegaard’s interpretation of Abraham’s chivalry in faith, which reaches its climax with the suspension of human ethos by sacrificing his son. In contemplating the deep and inseparable bond between God’s forgiveness and people’s mutual forgiveness of each other, Ocepek thus rather underlines Abraham’s re-quest for the exculpation of Sodom where the rare righteous inhabitants »could be the reason for reconciliation and salvation of the whole city«[44].

Although Abraham’s faith is »silent listening and devoted consent«[45], everyone who is incorporated in Christ’s mystery bears God’s spirit. As such we are entrusted with the most responsible testimony, »also that others could profess their ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ to God«[46] and fall in love with Him who »wore flesh in bones for our sake«[47]. In order to reconcile with ourselves in atonement not only for our own transgressions but also for the transgressions of the other, we should preserve sensibility for both tasks of the Judeo-Christian tradition, despite of the anxious awareness of our own sinfulness: to silence the heart in order to listen to God’s re-quest[48] and to fully re-spond in atonement for the guilt of the others.

Thus we can better understand Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the reinstatement of oneself in the qualitative leap in which man becomes anxiously aware of his own sinfulness and eager for eternity,[49] as well as Levinas’s underlining of the infinite responsibility of oneself toward the other, testifying about God’s re-quest for sanctity[50] with the exclamation »Here I am!«. According to the Danish master of irony, human history moves in quantitative categories, whereas the history of individual life proceeds from one existential state to another that is constantly posited by a qualitative leap, beginning with the sinful fall of the individual.[51] However in the Christian spiritual horizon, such a leap could occur only in the act of self-knowledge when a man discovers not only his own mortality and the miracle of life but also himself as a human being in whom »repentance and guilt ethically torment forth reconciliation «[52]. Yet, inconsolable longing for reconciliation with oneself and with God can be appeased only in recognizing the coincidence of ethical and religious reality which reveals itself on the face of the other: »Visage means the Infinite!«[53]

But let us return to the question of individual salvation as it is testified in the life of Miklavž Ocepek by embracing his own suffering as an atonement for the guilt of the other, thoroughly understood in the light of one’s re-sponding to God’s re-quest.[54] Thus Ocepek faithfully followed the example of Jesus who in contrast to the hierarchic structure of the majority of religions initiated »the new order of brotherhood«[55]. All men are brothers and sisters insofar as we are allowed » to call God our Father«. Furthermore, not only is Jesus our »friend and brother« but a child, which God made as an example of our brotherhood, although children are viewed as »insignificant and immature«  in human society. The essence of Jesus’s announcement of God’s kingdom on earth is not a hierarchy. Rather, its aim is to serve as neighbour whose manner is of a child’s innocence. The other thus encounters the self who is devoted to him as a servant in unconditional love.

Therefore to believe does not only mean declaring the words of credo but also uttering unconditional »yes« to the living God,[56] i.e. responsible acting, serving and consistently living out of faith in salvation for the other and the Other. It is not a coincidence that in this matter the central role belongs to the question of sinfulness as far as according to Solzhenitsyn the distinction between good and evil in every human society always takes place in the heart of an individual.[57] Furthermore as Kierkegaard said: »Exactly the concept of sin and guilt posit the individual as individual.« But at the same time it is not the concept of coincidence nor the concept of necessity but the concept of prudence[58] which helps the individual in the struggle with evil in his heart while God’s mercy is coming toward him.

Although the burden of man’s sinfulness could not be taken off in the re-sponse to God’s re-quest, we can finally put special emphasis on forgiveness, according to Ocepek:

This emphasis reminds us of the announcement and activity of Jesus himself … his announcement of God’s kingdom otherwise firmly demands conversion from the wrong, sinful path. But Jesus never causes the feelings of guilt with which he would leave men alone; he doesn’t tyrannize men, nor demand from them to do penitence in sackcloth and ashes. On the contrary, he invites them to inner, radical and total conversion and return of their entire self to God and to the life of others.[59]

It becomes clear not only that »man could not accept God’s great forgiveness but also refuses small acts of forgiveness to other men; he should deliver forward the forgiveness which he has received«.[60] It is even more important to realize that in a spiritually awakened community it is necessary to transcend the ethical dimension in the religious re-sponse to the God’s re-quest:

Under normal circumstances, it is held to be true that the condition for reconciliation with oneself and others is to confess one’s own transgressions and have the will to atone for them. Yet, the most integral views and beliefs about the world, man and God contain other important items for reconciliation: forgiveness and atonement for the guilt of others.[61]

We cannot hope for reconciliation in the most profound and entirely spiritual sense without immense indulgence for human transgressions and mistakes with which men voluntarily or involuntarily injure one another in every moment. This is the recognition from which we could gain strength for mutual forgiveness and atonement for guilt. We can find testimony for this not just in Abraham’s request for the sinful citizens of Sodom to reconcile with God and save themselves through intercession of rare righteous men among them. Moses testifies compassion for his sinful community on Mount Sinai even more when he asks God to blot him out for the sake of sacrifice for reconciliation.[62] Furthermore the prophet Isaiah testifies about the righteous servant who voluntarily takes on himself the suffering of community to atone for their guilt:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life
and be satisfied;
by his knowledge
my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities
. [63]

In this passage we can finally recognize the prophetic image of Christ who voluntarily sacrificed himself on the cross in redemption for sins and reconciliation for the whole of mankind. According to Ocepek’s belief, we should follow the example of Christ with confident and voluntary acceptance of our suffering in the name of solidarity in atonement for the common guilt insofar as we already participate in it because we all sin. Thus we do not cure only ourselves but the whole universe which suffers the pains of childbirth because of the guilt of all men until the birth of the new world. Yet to achieve real reconciliation with oneself as in the paradoxical repetition of heavenly harmony with God, one’s willingness should not be forced from the outside but should come from one’s innermost free will, which embraces the Biblical concept of justice and righteousness.[64]   

This concept is very well presented in Ocepek’s final quotation from the spiritually profound treatise Between guilt and reconciliation by the Slovene theologian and Biblical scholar Jože Krašovec:

… rigorous justice after all is not the only path to redeem humankind from the abyss of guilt. We should complete it with bright examples of voluntary atonement for one’s own guilt and for the guilt of others. Those who admit only formal and juridical criteria of justice practically do not see the possibility for forgiveness. It seems to them that the transgression must be punished. They think that the stricken person is not obliged to forgive the transgressor even when he repents and is willing to atone for his guilt. Yet integral and profound understanding of personal justice, which is significant for the whole Bible, turns this formal conception of justice upside down …[65]

Therefore to follow the final Biblical example of Jesus on the cross who stretched out his arms to embrace the whole of creation and mankind with his compassionate love, it is not enough to respect and fulfil the ten commandments of God. From now on the following thought becomes irrevocably true: »Faith in personal God is nailed to the cross.«[66] As far as we as Christians really want to live our own credo, we should follow the example of the suffering Servant and re-spond to God’s re-quest with the reconciling atonement for our own guilt and the guilt of others. Thus we would become new men like the father of the epileptic son who took a leap of faith in the abyss of unfaith when facing Jesus:

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief![67]

 

IV Toward rediscovered proximity

Perhaps the idea of judgement needs to be radically demythologizedOr what amounts to the same thing but which is considerably more difficult, to demythologize »sin« – infraction against the law as separation from God. So God’s memory is »pardon« in something more than a juridical sense of acquittal or payment, in the sense of a rediscovered proximity.[68]

Paul Ricoeur

How do we reconsider sin and penitence in relation to death and last judgement after all that we have recognized till now concerning the reconciliation with oneself in atonement not only for one’s own guilt but also for the guilt of the other? How do we understand death alone? Can we speak about death without taking into account the dying man?[69] Who among the dying men could satisfy himself in the last anxiety of the farewell with the phenomenological explanation of man’s relation to death either as being-toward-death according to Heidegger or being-against-death according to Levinas?[70] What are, where are, how are and what kind of beings are the dead?[71] Are we according to Levinas really responsible for them also in their death and even beyond?[72] Aren’t the dead as the deceased, as Ricoeur said, always already »disappeared third persons« beyond every imagination?[73] What does it mean to atone for the guilt of the dead and pardon their transgressions insofar as they did not believe in exculpation and redemption? Is the last judgement bound to the juridical judgement of sin and faith in life after the death of an individual or are there mysteriously opening unthought-of horizons of God’s forgiveness which promises to man the rediscovered proximity not only in embracing the other but also oneself as the other?[74] Isn’t it true that in mourning for our neighbour’s death our own living experience »of the pure goodness of existing«[75] also fills us with the silent cheerfulness that he lived and we might meet him?

Such and similar questions come to mind while reading posthumously published Ricoeur’s meditations about death. From questioning the doom of the already deceased, Ricoeur begins his inner struggle »with and against the image of tomorrow’s dead, the dead that I shall be for the survivors«[76]. Although the answers of different religious and spiritual traditions concerning afterlife vary, they don’t question it: »Passage to another state, expectation of resurrection, reincarnation, or, for more philosophical minds, change of temporal status, elevation to an immortal eternity«[77]. Yet these are the answers of survivors. The dead don’t talk about death but keep silent.

Therefore it is not a coincidence that Ricoeur in the internalization of the question post mortem doesn’t just ask »what are the dead?« but wants to speak at the same time about »the joy of living to the end, hence about the appetite for a life coloured by a certain insouciance that I call cheerfulness«[78]. But it is still a long way ahead. Hence at the beginning of our examination of dying we should remember the encouraging words of Hannah Arendt, repeated by Ricoeur: »Men are not born to die but in order to begin«.[79] Likewise physicians who relieve a patient’s pain with palliative care in the last stage of illness don’t say that it is easy to die, but they do say that »so long as they remain lucid, dying people do not see themselves as dying, as soon to be dead, but as still living, and this can be … even up to a half an hour before their dying«[80]. Furthermore: »what occupies one’s still preserved thoughts is not the concern for what there is after death, but rather the mobilization of the deepest resources of life to still affirm itself«[81].

But what does it mean, the deepest resources of life? Are they really receiving their meaning from the inner grace in emergence of the Essential which occurs in a time of agony according to Ricoeur’s anticipation of his own dying? It seems that some dying persons at that time graciously meet with »that which is common to every religion and what, at the threshold of death, transgresses the consubstantial limitations of confessing and confessed religions«[82] insofar as they elevate themselves to the transcultural, transconfessional, transreligious level till the last spiritual experience of unio mystica with the Essential. Yet, we see only a dying person »who is struggling for life until death, and not … who will soon be dead«[83]. And at that moment only accompanying compassion remains in us. But what does »suffering-with« really mean?

It is not a moaning-with, as pity, commiseration, figures of regret, can be; it is a struggling-with, an accompanying — if not a sharing that identifies oneself with the other, which is neither possible nor desirable, a just distance remains the rule for friendship as for justice.[84]

But let us return to the consideration of death as the moment of the break with one’s own life insofar as at that moment one could achieve complete detachment from oneself in »the transfer of the love of life to the other«[85]. Yet then to reconcile with oneself in death beyond sin and penitence in the abandoned world cannot mean only to atone for the guilt of others out of the »’agape’ component of renouncing one’s own survival« and final liberation from ontological egoism, but also »a gain: liberation for the essential«[86], i.e. for trust in God and his care for the justification of my own existence. Since according to Meister Eckhart only by detachment from the unessential I become susceptible to the activity of God’s grace in me:

Confidence in grace. Nothing is owed to me. I expect nothing for myself; I ask for nothing; I have renounced—I try to renounce!—claiming, demanding. I say: God, you will do as you will with me. Maybe nothing at all. I accept no longer being.[87]

Ricoeur’s concept of detachment from all the unessential in the world is based on Middle High German term gelâzenheit (in modern German Gelassenheit) which is the central expression of Eckhart’s mystical theology for man’s total commitment to God. But the basic verbal form lâzen indicates that in man’s commitment to God there is also an active moment of abandoning oneself and the whole world, and only then can man be »liberated from all the creatures to which he is bonded until he liberates himself from his own created self«[88].

Thence also the title of Ocepek’s posthumously published collected writings Abandoned World, which are full of the search for God, receive their true meaning. Yet in Ricoeur’s thought encouraged by the idea of Alfred Whitehead, another hope rises, which differs from the usual hope for survival insofar as it does not concern preserving the ephemeral self in the life of the world but preserving in God’s memory where in timeless present tense every existence counts: »God remembers me.«[89] Thus the French philosopher concisely presents the central Whitehead’s thought regarding God’s memory: »Every existence makes a difference in God.«[90] The ephemeral existence thus receives a symbolical meaning of a mark on the heart which confirms that »the Lord knows those who are his«[91]. But Ricoeur does not want to understand the hope in God’s memory only in the sense of the redemption of sins: »It is a question of an infinitely more radical salvation than the justification of sinners: the justification of existence.«[92]

How should we understand this? It seems that we could find the answer in Jesus’s attitude in the face of death as it is reconstructed by Ricoeur in accordance with Xavier Léon-Dufour[93] who emphasizes the following paradoxical statement of Christ which is repeated even six times in the Gospels:

Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.[94]

In Jesus’s relation to death Ricoeur finds a type of different present time insofar as according to Léon-Dufour, the Son of God does not refer to some distant future according to the prophetic and apocalyptic tradition but says that the Kingdom of God is already here. It reveals itself in flowers of the field which do not labour and spin, yet not even King Solomon in all his splendour is dressed like one of them.[95] It reveals itself in the birds of the air which do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet they are provided by God’s mercy.[96] Thence the kingdom of God is already available to everyone who listen to Jesus’ voice in himself:

The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed the kingdom of God is in your midst .[97]

In this regard the language of Jesus actually differs from the Biblical prophetic tradition because it does not focus on eschatological future but in his words speaks the »terminology of the Eternal with Time«[98]. According to the Gospel of John thus a judgment does not occur at the End of time but already here and now, i.e. when a person decides for or against Jesus:

Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.[99]

Furthermore, according to the Gospel of John, the resurrection cannot only be understood as  a reference to afterlife but also as a reference to the fullness of the eternal moment when a believer »has crossed over from death to life« Thence Riceour argues for a radical demythologization not only of the eschatological idea of judgment because of its heavy dependence on punishment but also on the idea of a sin as infraction against the law which separates us from God and His love. With Ricoeur’s shift of emphasis on God’s loving memory in which forgiveness can be again obtained, as in Job’s repetition, in terms of rediscovered proximity, we can, contrary to mere juridically understood acquittal, open the following key question regarding the title issue of reconciliation with oneself and atonement for guilt of the other: How do we follow the matchless love of Jesus on the cross when he gives his life as redemption for many in this regard?

Do we really understand Jesus’s suffering on the cross too ideologically with the awkward terminology of sacrificial theologies insofar as we according to Ricoeur, as in some kind of juridical weighing, believe that it is a matter »of a death both offered for all people and destined to satisfy the implacable justice of a God who demands satisfaction from them for a sin itself worthy of death and who finds satisfaction in the ‘substitution’ of the very Son of God the Father who dies in their place«[100]? Or is it only a matter of exaggerated emphasis on fatal and inexorable divine justice, which is difficult to reconcile with an understanding that equates God with love?[101] Either way, we can agree with Ricoeur that Jesus’s sign is sufficient in itself as far as in Jesus on the cross we see not only a sacrificial lamb but especially an inspiration which invites us to our own serving and giving in responsibility toward other men and also toward the reconciliation with ourselves in atonement for the guilt of the others, so that finally we may discover in the character of the prodigal son the possibility of real repetition, which has so far been given in double measure only to the suffering Job.

Yet, in order to achieve this we need to risk an existential turn from our own untruth toward the very Truth, a qualitative leap into the abyss of human sinfulness and inclination toward evil, to rise again toward endless responsibility for others in compassionate solidarity with their guilt. We need the turn from our concern that is detached from itself and redirected to others as a pure act of anonymous service to the neighbour out of living faith, unshaken hope and immortal love. For only thus can we dare to hope that we achieve at farewell as in repetition a reconciliation with ourselves in a nonreciprocal, asymmetrical and non-recurrent giving of ourselves and at the same time acceptance of ourselves in atonement for the guilt of others. In this context resurrection as a promise of victory of life over death, resurrection as the last cheerfulness and joy of rebirth into the eternity of God’s kingdom is something which I do not request for myself but want for the others.

Thus Ricoeur writes in his last apology of responsible life here and now in spiritual rejection of Derrida’s all-deconstructive persistence in anxiety of merely dying and death:

If » finally learning how to live« is to learn to die, to take into account accepting absolute mortality without salvation, resurrection, or redemption, I share all the negative here. I too,  do not expect resurrection for myself … I yield my spirit to God for the others. This bond, this transmission has its meaning beyond me, and a meaning is concealed there by which God will perhaps join forces with me in a way I cannot imagine; what remains: continue living up to death.[102]

Prevod v angleščino Nina in Boris Šinigoj v sodelovanju z (lektorico) Barbaro Carlson


[1] S. A. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, trans. D. F. Swenson, Princeton 1936, accessible in simplified format on  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0xb4crOvCgTWmExYkU2WUwxRjg/edit?pref=2&pli=1, pp. 7–8 (with minor adjustments according to the Slovene translation by F. Burgar, Ljubljana 1987, pp. 18–19).

[2] Cf. S. Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin, trans. by R. Thomte, Princeton 1980, pp. 87–88, where the author refers to Plato’s term for the sudden insight (ἐξαίφνης): »Nothing is as swift as a blink of the eye, and yet it is commensurable with the content of the eternal … Thus understood, the moment is not properly an atom of time but an atom of eternity.« Kierkegaard then adds the quotation of  Saint Paul about the End of time in a footnote to emphasize eternity as the climax of the moment of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:51–52): »…We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash (ἐν ἀτόμῳ), in the twinkling of an eye (ἐν ῥιπῇ ὀφθαλμοῦ) …«

[3] Cf. Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Vigilius Haufniensis in his treatise The Concept of Anxiety which alludes to unceasing vigilance in contemplative prayer of the author in his native Københaven.

[4] S. Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin, trans. by R. Thomte, Princeton 1980, p. 28. 

[5] Ibid., p. 120 (with minor adjustments according to the Slovene translation by P. Repar, Ljubljana 1998, p. 142).

[6] F. M. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. by R. Pevear & L. Volokhonsky, New York 1990, p. 138.

[7] S. Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, p. 161.

[8] Ibid.

[9] F. M. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, p. 138.

[10] Romans 8:22.

[11] P. Repar, »Tesnoba eksistence in eksistencialna komunikacija (Anxiety of existence and existential communication)« in Slovene translation of  Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety, Ljubljana 1998, p. 249.

[12] Romans 8:21.

[13] S. Kierkegaard, Om Begrebet Ironi, SV 1, p. 273; cf. P. Repar, ibid. pp. 237–238 and remark 25.

[14] F. M. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, pp. 138, 271.

[15] Cf. L. Shestov, In Job’s Balances, trans. by C. Coventry & C.A. Macartney, London 1932: »Gethsemane Night«, Ch. 8.

[16] E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, trans. by R. A. Cohen, Pittsburg 1985, Ch. 8: »Responsibility for the Other«; cf.  F. M. Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, pp. 138 f.

[17] F. M. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, p. 271.

[18] E. Levinas, »Eksistenca in etika (Existence and Ethics)«, quotation according to Slovene trans. by M. Ocepek in a Slovene journal Apokalipsa 16–17/1997, p. 113.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Cf. E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, ibid.

[21] Cf. E. Levinas, »Eksistenca in etika (Existence and Ethics)«, p. 113 and »Poklic človeškosti« (Interview), Slovene trans. by M. Špelič in a Slovene journal 2000, 46-47/1989,  pp. 1–6.

[22] E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Ch. 1: »Bible and Philosophy«.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Cf. Genesis 18:1–8.

[25] E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, Ch. 8: »Responsibility for the Other«.

[26] E. Levinas, »Eksistenca in etika (Existence and Ethics)«, p. 113.

[27] E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, ibid.

[28] E. Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings, trans. by A. Aronowicz, Bloomington 1994, p. 97.

[29] Ibid., p. 94 ff.

[30] Ibid., p. 98.

[31] Ibid., p. 99.

[32] Ibid., pp. 99–100.

[33] Ibid., p. 99.

[34] Genesis 18:2.

[35]E. Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings, p. 99.

[36] Ibid., p. 99.

[37] Ibid., p. 100.

[38] E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, ibid., cf. Genesis 22:1 and 11, and Isaiah 6:8.

[39] E. Levinas, Éthique et infini, Paris 1982, p. 93.

[40] Cf. Isaiah 53:11.

[41] Genesis 18:27.

[42] M. Ocepek, »Ne moja, temveč naša Cerkev (Not mine but our Church) «, in: M. Črnivec et al., Ekklesia, Ljubljana 2001, pp. 68–69.

[43] Ibid., p. 60.

[44] Ibid., p. 69.

[45] Ibid., p. 59.

[46] Ibid., p. 60.

[47] Paraphrase of a verse from the poem of contemporary Greek Christian poet N. Karouzos; cf. G. Kocijančič, »Cerkev – prostor duhovne ozdravitve (Church – space of spiritual recovery« in: Ekklesia, p. 119.

[48] Cf. P. Rak, Utišanje srca (Silencing of the heart), Ljubljana 2011.

[49] Cf. S. Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, pp. 47–48 and P. Repar, ibid., p. 238.

[50] Cf. E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, Ch. 9.

[51] Cf. S. Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety,  p. 47, 137.

[52] Ibid., p. 12.

[53] E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, Ch. 9.

[54] Cf. the testimony of the philosopher’s sister Ivanka Ocepek  in: M. Ocepek, Zapuščeni svet (Abandoned World), Ljubljana 2007,  pp. 513–530.

[55] This and following quotations are from M. Ocepek, »Ne moja, temveč naša Cerkev« (Not mine but our Church), p. 53.

[56] Ibid., p. 64.

[57] Cf. A. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Paris 1973.

[58] Cf. S. Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, p. 99 and the meaningful title of S. Weil’s philosophical aphorisms Grace and Gravity, trans. by E. Crawford & M. von der Ruhr, London & New York 2003.

[59] M. Ocepek, »Ne moja, temveč naša Cerkev (Not mine but our Church)«, p. 67.

[60] Ibid., p. 68.

[61] Ibid., p. 69.

[62] Cf. Exodus 32, 32–34.

[63] Isaiah 53:5; 53:11.

[64] Cf. M. Ocepek, »Ne moja, temveč naša Cerkev (Not mine but our Church)«, p. 70.

[65] J. Krašovec, Med krivdo in spravo (Between guilt and reconciliation), Ljubljana 2000, p. 459; cf. M. Ocepek, ibid., p. 71.

[66] M. Ocepek, Zapuščeni svet (Abandoned World), p. 97.

[67] Mark 9:24.

[68] P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, trans. by D. Pellauer, Chicago & London  2009,  p. 46.

[69] Cf. last words of a dying protagonist in the novel by A. Malraux, The royal Way, trans. by S. Gilbert, New York 1935, pp. 249–250:  »There is … no death. There’s … only I am dying.«

[70] Cf. P. Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. K. Blamey and D. Pellauer, Chicago 2004, p. 361; also O. Abel, »Preface« in P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, note 4, p. 99–100.

[71] Cf. P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, p. 8 ff.

[72] Cf. E. Levinas, God, Death, and Time, trans. B. Bergo, Stanford 2000, p. 117: »Is the nearness of the neighbour not my responsibility for his death?«

[73] Cf. P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, p. 9.

[74] Cf. P. Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, trans. by K. Blamey, Chicago and London 1992.

[75] O. Abel, »Preface« ibid. p. xiv.

[76] P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, p. 9.

[77] Ibid., p. 10.

[78] Ibid., p. 11.

[79] P. Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, p. 489; cf. O. Abel, »Preface« in P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, p. xiii.

[80] P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, pp. 13–14.

[81] Ibid., p. 14.

[82] Ibid., p. 14.

[83] Ibid., p. 17.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid., p. 42.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Ibid., p. 44.

[88] V. Snoj, »Slovar (Vocabulary)«, in: M. Eckhart, Pridige in traktati (Sermons and Treatises), Slovene trans. by M. Kač et al., Celje 1995, p. 510: s.v. gelâzen, gelâzenheit.

[89] P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, p. 43.

[90] Ibid.

[91] 2 Timothy 2:19.

[92] Ibid., p. 44.

[93] Cf. Xavier Léon-Dufour, Life and Death in the New Testament: The Teachings of Jesus and Paul, trans. by T. Pendergast, San Francisco1986.

[94] Luke 17:33; cf. Luke 9:24; Matthew 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8.35; John 12:25.

[95] Cf. Matthew  6:28–29; Luke 12:27.

[96] Cf. Matthew  6:26.

[97] Luke 17:20–21.

[98] X. Léon-Dufour Life and Death in the New Testament: The Teachings of Jesus and Paul, p. 22; cf. P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, p. 45.   

[99] John 5:24; cf. John 3:18: »Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.«

[100] P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, p. 71.

[101] Cf. 1 John 4:8: »Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.«

[102] P. Ricoeur, Living up to Death, p. 85.