Filosofilsamtal 2022

Måndagen den 4 april

Om skapelse och uppenbarelse i Schellings filosofi

Clara Berg, doktorand i systematisk teologi, CTH Lund



Samtal 28 februari


Care against death
by Mårten Björk


The word catastrophe comes from the Greek words kata, down, and strephein, turning, and originally signified the sudden and final event which brings a play to a close. 


The katastrophḗ was in the Greek drama the dramatic resolution of the plot after its beginning, protasis, development, epitasis, and its climax, catastasis. “The catastrophe,” Aristotle writes in his Poetics, "is an action bringing ruin and pain on stage, where corpses are seen and wounds and other similar sufferings are performed." But, more importantly, with this catastrophe the meaning, or sense, of the drama is sealed. 


The catastrophe is an event that overturns a stable order, and even if it was not until the eighteen century that the English word catastrophe was extended to imply a sudden natural disaster, becoming a concept for events outside the world of drama and plays, it was still originally used for describing a disastrous occurrence in a play. But it was a disaster with sense, a tragic and dramatic sense, since tragedy is the catastrophe that gives meaning to a life or to a sequence of events by concluding it catastrophically. In sharp contrast to the Greek tragedy, which thus culminates in the revealing sense of the catastrophe, stands the biblical myth of the primordial fall as told in Genesis. For Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the catastrophe is not an end concluding an existence by giving it a sense but the original cataclysm of the fall out of Eden. 


The fall reveals, as the theologian Paul J. Griffiths argues, that the world is a form of devastation, “The principle signs of the world’s devastation are death (of animate creatures), annihilation by destruction (of inanimate ones), pain and suffering (for animate creatures), and chaotic decay-toward-destruction (of inanimate ones).”  Beauty, happiness and justice remains, Griffiths writes, but “for the most part, the world appears to human creatures as it is: a charnel house, saturated in blood violently shed; an ensemble of inanimate creatures decaying towards extinction; a theatre of vice and cruelty.” But at the same time, it is important to remember that life in itself is not catastrophic if we believe the story of the fall. Life is originally an uncatastrophic order, which becomes catastrophic through the hubris of Adam and Eve. And here we see the difference to the Greek drama; the catastrophe described as the fall is not something that gives meaning at the end. The catastrophe is what commences life as we know it and the end is the promise of a non-catastrophic order. The sense and meaning of life is, so to speak, the catastrophe of the fall.


The Abrahamic traditions oscillate between a tragic and comic sense of the catastrophe. The catastrophe is on the one hand a generalised tragedy engulfing life as such, since the tragedy of existence is not revealed at the end but at the beginning. On the other hand, the idea of the fall is tied to a conception of temporality as something that moves existence towards an end of this original cataclysm. The sense of the end, viewed from the comic perspective of the Abrahamic traditions, is the recapitulation of the non-catastrophic promise of the origin in a new form. It is a happy end, a comic cancellation of the tragical farce of the fall. Thus, it is not strange that a strong tradition in Christianity, from Ambrose of Milan to G.W. Leibniz, describes the primordial cataclysm as a happy fall, a felix culpa, since the violence and destruction constituting the normality of the postlapsarian existence according to this tradition signifies the possibility of a fundamentally non-catastrophic end. 


This does not necessarily lead to a stoic acceptance of the violence of the world before the eschaton, the end, even if this certainly has been motivated by all the Abrahamic traditions and the civilizations that have their roots in these so-called religions. The myth of the fall can also be an endeavour to designate how one should develop a life form here and now against those forces that the myth of the fall denaturalizes. The violence and catastrophes of the world are from this perspective inherently irrational, and they only have a sense if they can disappear. The only acceptable meaning of the death, destruction and decay characterizing animate as well as inanimate existence in the fallen world are, from the lenses of the myth of the fall, their end. The story of the fall has therefore always been connected to the hope of the resurrection of the dead and the promise of eternal life. Church Fathers such as Origen and Irenaeus developed doctrines of the recapitulation of all things at the eschaton, and said that the end draws the cosmos in its totality out of the fall and moves it towards something, which philosophers today perhaps would designate as the singularity.   


The idea of the felix culpa has in the history of ancient and modern Christianity been related to the Abrahamic ideas of the election and the covenant, and to the promise God gives to his people so that they can, as Oskar Goldberg writes in Die Wirklichkeit der Hebräer, live contra naturam. This life against nature is not a life against creaturely existence as such, but against the political and biological forces moulding it to a being enslaved by death, sickness and aging or what the Abrahamic traditions call sin. Like premodern and mythical thought in general, the story of the fall is impossible to understand accurately if we consider it from the divisions between culture and nature, history and morality, politics and economy, which we take for granted today. Biblical thought is to some extent close to what Claude Levi-Strauss calls pensée sauvage since death in the Bible is not primarily or solely a natural phenomenon. It is a political and ethical disaster, in other words it is a sin, and immediately related to how we humans organize our daily existence. 


The human species as a race of animals gifted, through the fall, with the strange capacity to differentiate between right and wrong as well as good and evil, can decide to reproduce the sin of the original catastrophe or to wrest itself out of its grip and thus be part of that messianic recapitulation, describe Origen and Irenaues in their exegesis of the Bible. The species can, as the Hassidic tradition of Jewish thought teaches, be part of the tikkun olam, the mending of the world, or live on in the state of the world that the revelation has disclosed as an existence in sin. And if sin first and foremost is the decay and destruction of inanimate things, and the death of living beings, be they animals or plants, then one could argue, with the help of the palaeontologist Peter Ward, that sin is the discovery that "[l]ife itself, because it is inherently Darwinian, is biocidal, suicidal, and creates a series of positive feedbacks to Earth systems (such as global temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane content) that harm later generations." It is multicellular life, understood as a superorganism that thrusts itself into decay and destruction, which reveals life to be inherently catastrophic. It is important to understand that this implies that Darwinian life produces temporal instability undermining its own capacity for reproduction by immanently producing catastrophes that can become enormous. Two of many examples which Ward uses to illustrate his case of the suicidal tendency of life is the release of microbial-triggered extinctions, such as the oxygen catastrophe 2.7 billion years ago, and the Great Dying, 252 million years ago, which was a hydrogen sulphide driven mass extinction killing 90 to 96 % of all species. Life as such is prone to death and destruction. But interestingly enough, Ward thinks that there is something special with humans. When the human species comes to the scene an animal ascends that not only accelerates the destructive traits of the evolution, which it certainly does through the anthropocene, at the same time the capacity to conceptualize the danger of extinction that life immanently leads to arises, "We humans have the odd distinction of being the only ones that either know or care, and it remains to be seen if we will stave off planetary extinction or hasten its onset." It is this odd distinction that, at least from an evolutionary perspective, makes it possible to define humankind as what the Jewish philosopher Erich Unger has called a "turning point in the order of nature", which potentially can live against nature, Gegen die Natur, in the sense that humankind can, so to speak, care against death.


The myth of the fall is from such a perspective not a legitimization of the misery of death, destruction and violence inherent in all Darwinian life but an anthropotechnics suggesting how life should be lived contra naturam even before the end of the fall. This strange ability to care for the dead, and care against death, is certainly part of the slave revolt of morality which Friedrich Nietzsche diagnoses and aims to save humanity from by declaring the innocence of life. But life, and perhaps especially human life, is not innocent to the destruction and extinction immanent to its evolution and reproduction. The myth of the fall is a description of the human condition as an existence inherently in need to take responsibility for its debt to all life, and it expresses the hope that humanity can flee all the catastrophes its compassionate parts witness in death and destruction of both animate and inanimate creatures. The fall of humanity is therefore not an actual history of what once happened. It is a mythical endeavour to make sense of the history of humankind, which clearly is tied to the violence and destruction of life at the same time as it expresses the happiness all creaturely life reveals in its moments of joy. These almost messianic instances of joy are enmeshed in the brutality of life, proven by the simple fact that the pleasure of eating comes at the cost of death and destruction. But at the same time these instances of happiness give rise to the strange speculations of a non-catastrophic life that became so important for the groups in the Middle East depicted in the Bible as life forms that through prayers, myths and hope attempted to live against the brutality of society and nature and overcome death. These and other odd distinctions in the life of our species point to an existence breaking with the forces of production and reproduction that the German Catholic theologian Erik Peterson traces in his exegesis of the nature of the fall:


Reproduction is without sense, like ‘life’ itself . . . The paradise trees do not reproduce themselves. God has created the tree of life, but not its reproduction. In fact, the reproduction is done outside the paradise. Not ‘the life’ but only ‘the eternal life’ has a meaning. According to the Bible, a very transparent sense is attributed to life after the fall: the work for the man and the birth for the woman. As if the chain of births could replace eternal life! Or as if work could kill the memory of paradise in us!


These harsh words from a father of five children should not be understood as a form of Gnosticism, as if creation as such is evil, but as a reminder that from a Christian perspective, humanity is fallen into a life of birth and work, and all civilizations and empires are part of the fallen world and not symbols for the life of God. But, at the same time, as the imago dei humankind is rooted in a life, which can only be known analogically, or perhaps negatively, in its eschatological unfolding of the end of the world that is also its origin, namely, the Edenic order which will be recapitulated at the resurrection. It is not an exaggeration to state that Peterson searches for a life beyond production and reproduction, beyond the state that animal and vegetative life find outside the walls of paradise according to his interpretation of the myths in Genesis. Life here and now is not life but a form of death. Peterson claimed already in the 1920’s that theology, and especially natural theology, never should contribute to the glorification of life and the body in the vein of the popular Lebensphilosophie. The path of Lebensphilosophie is closed for theology, “Every absolutisation of the concept of life attempts to take the glory from God and the shame from the humans . . . We can never forget that our lives will be destroyed by death, that we are taken from life by the fall.” It is the whole cosmos, all life and death, which has sinned and is in need of righteousness in order to be able to break free from the catastrophe of the fall that curses women to be mothers and men to be fathers. No part of the cosmos can escape this judgement, and all natural theology must begin from this state of sickness and death. Peterson writes:


Only in contemporary theology has it become customary to make life, experience, irrationalism the starting-point of the theological thought. This seems to me a disastrous mistake. When we begin from ourselves, only our misery, our death, our ratio can be our starting-point, only then can the theorems of natural theology give the foundation for the propositions about revelation.


These words from 1922 are not only the words from a disillusioned veteran from the First World War. It is also the statement from a theologian who argues that anthropology, and even biology, are attempts not only to objectively state what the human is––perhaps a dangerous animal as a conservative philosopher as Carl Schmitt would argue, or a metabolic carbon based process with the power to reproduce itself––but also to give an implicit or explicit suggestion of how one should live. The myth of the fall exposes the normality of birth and labour, death and finitude, as something constructed and artificial. It makes the speculative wager that the world of production and reproduction, birth and labour which the fall instigates and which we from the viewpoint of Genesis can trace to Abel's murderer is nothing but an on-going catastrophe threatening life itself. 


Cain, the first farmer and murderer in history, is also the builder of the first civilization, Enoch, where the human species dwells as a race doomed to labour and birth. The postlapsarian Homo Sapiens is a Cainite species, an animal that, as Karl Marx argues in his Economics and Philosophical Manuscripts from 1844, humanizes nature and, as we know today, changes the Earth's crust to the point that it becomes increasingly unliveable for whole species of creatures. As long as human life is fixated on the dialectic between production and reproduction, work and birth, and constituting human history as a cycle of civilizations culminating in greater and greater disasters, the catastrophe, Peterson states, will be the condition of possibility for human existence. And no political action can by itself free humanity, and thus nature, from this precondition if it does not at the same time aim for something of a biological revolution moving our species out of its Darwinian prison. The primordial catastrophe, the fall, grounds not only the political history of humanity but also the biological life of the human race, and thrusts the whole cosmos to which it belongs, into the postlapsarian existence that Griffiths baptises as the devastation and which Ward describes as a Darwinian life. 


Peterson searches for a non-catastrophic life by using the myth of the fall to state the speculative question if it is possible to discern a life beyond the ideas of production and reproduction. Such an existence is also beyond the division of sex that Peterson, in accord with a long tradition, traces to the fall. Peterson is certainly no feminist. In his lectures on Paul’s epistle to the congregation in Rome, he stresses that Christ is male, and that humanity is saved through an exemplar of our species equipped with a penis, “While the male is fallen we can also only be saved through a male. Christ has not only become human, but also male”. And in “What is Theology?” from 1925, he makes clear that “the seduction of Eve was subordinated to the fall of Adam”. This is important, since it is not Eve, here symbolised as the woman, but Adam, the male member of humankind, who, as Peterson states, commits a sin. Eve, as Peterson writes, can only give birth to sinners while Adam can produce sin and death, in so far as, “he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image” (Gen 5:3), that is in death and sin. Peterson claims that “first through the fall of the man the reproduction [Fortpflanzung] of sin has arisen”. Even though he in 1949 questions if Adam should be described as male, he argues in the 1920’s that Eve, the woman, is only tempted, whereas Adam, the man reproduces the sin that the woman carries in her life and womb as the curse of birth. This leads the conservative Peterson to argue that the man is the head of the woman before the eschaton, but he also states that the curses on their genitals, what he calls pure functionality, is undone through the life of Christ. Christ, as a male who renounces marriage, and who according to the myth is born of a virgin, liberates male and female from the chains of nature, revealing a life beyond the empire of flesh that the fall instigates. The promise of a non-catastrophic life that Christianity entails is, for Peterson, a strange reality where the genitals of men and women either have disappeared or at least been deactivated and robbed from all reproductive sense. 


After the Second World War, Peterson revealingly writes that the church should never bless cannons or matrimonies, since these are parts of the biopolitical structure of the modern national state which needs arms and children (soldiers). And by returning to the ideals of asceticism, celibacy and virginity, in an epoch when family, motherhood and natality had moved to the centre of politics, Peterson’s theology becomes a critique of his time. Theodore Roosevelt writes as early as 1905 that the men and women who refuse reproduction merit “contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him.” Benito Mussolini implements “a bachelor or celibate tax on unmarried men to found some of his pronatalist programs,” and Adolf Hitler imposes pro-matrimonial policies by providing loans for men who were engaged to be married. In contrast, Peterson declares that the life of the Christian cannot be found in any sphere of human existence but in the participation in eternal life that the resurrection has revealed for the baptised to be the truth for humanity. This is not a non-erotic life, since eroticism not even in the fallen state needs to be centred on genital intercourse, and it is not even a life where the happiness of children is forbidden. But it is a life that questions if reproduction, be it a biological, metabolic reproduction, or an economical reproduction of the empires of the world, is the meaning of life. 


To be human is not to be a Homo faber, or to partake in the creation of civilization on the Earth’s crust, but rather to reveal that there exists an exteriority, something else, and more, than everything that can be named and understood with the categories of nature, history and even ontology. Life is the eternal life of God, and not the Darwinian life that the fall initiates, Peterson argues, for “[w]hen the Christians think about life, then they are thinking of the eternal life of God, of the gift of the life of Paradise or the revealed life in Christ, and when they are thinking of death, then they are thinking of death as the expulsion from Paradise, of the death as the pay of sin, of the death of Christ.” Life and death are cosmological, and therefore, political concepts that for Peterson reveal the metaphysical status of biological nature as something in need to be chastened, in others words uprooted from death, and changed. From Peterson’s mythological conception of reality, moral and metaphysical questions cannot be separated from their real and positive existence in being. Sin is not primarily a moral category but an objective fact of death and thereby a part of the concrete world as the loss and horror that every death means, from the perspective of the creature gifted with compassion, in the development of the cosmos. 


The grammar of the fall is not necessarily related to the language of Christianity which Peterson spoke, but it reveals that the conditio humana is a political condition. It shows that the guilt of all human life is its participation in the universal community, which, if we believe Ward, both accelerates the tendency to destruction immanent to Darwinian life and has the odd distinction to care against death. The catastrophe is not the fall of the order. It is the fall into the order of Darwinian life and implemented as a form of natural destiny since all life dies and all events have an end. Thus, the tragedy of existence is not the catastrophe that throws a noble man or woman, or a whole society into chaos and disarray, as it was in the Greek drama. The tragedy is that humanity still is bound to the dialectic between reproduction and production, birth and labour, upholding the division of classes and sex, which from this perspective is anything but natural. Not even death is, if we listen to the story of the fall, a natural phenomenon. It is surely part of the nature of the world, and something we certainly cannot free ourselves from, but it is still possible to hope that even death will end, since we who are alive can care against death and live in a community with the dead through the living hope of their resurrection. 






Filosofisamtal  2020 - 2021


Tisdag 5 oktober kl 19.30

Elena Namli professor i teologisk etik Uppsala universitet



Tisdag 3 november kl 19.30

Mårten Björk, doktor i teologi och religionsvetenskap, Research fellow vid Campion Hall, Oxford universitet

artikel av Mårten Björk:

Care against death: life and catastrophe

Utopi och verklighet - Filosofisamtal 2019 - 20

 Utopier kan leda till förstörelse. Men är utopier ändå nödvändiga för att ge riktning och gemensam väg?



Måndag 3 februari kl 19.30

Carl-Göran Heidegren, professor i sociologi i Lund

Artikel med samma namn i Signum 1 2019



Tisdag 15 oktober kl 19.30

Jayne Svenungsson, professor i systematisk teologi vid Lunds universitet


Drömmen om himmelriket på jorden

Kristendomen är inte en av historiens stora händelser. Det är historien som är en av kristendomens stora händelser. Ungefär så formulerade sig den franske tänkaren Henri de Lubac (1896–1991) i en aforism. Påståendet kan tyckas pompöst, i synnerhet för att komma från en kardinal, vilket var de Lubacs värv mot slutet av livet. Men de Lubac var ingen osofistikerad apologet, utan en av efterkrigstidens mer erkända intellektuella i Frankrike.
I själva verket ligger det en hel det i hans oförvägna påstående. När kristendomen växer fram under senantiken spelar historieskrivningen en central roll. Den unga kyrkan använder sig i väsentlig grad av teologiska tydningar av historien för att skriva fram den egna traditionens särdrag och budskap. Här lånar man förvisso friskt från de gamla grekerna som kunde konsten att skriva medryckande historia. Men det är ändå något nytt som sker vid denna tid. Om grekerna berättade om specifika historiska episoder – fälttåg, krig och segrar – berättar de tidiga kristna teologerna om historien som sådan.
Det de Lubac vill fånga med sin aforism är att kristendomen lägger grunden för idén om historien som ett meningsfullt helt. För första gången föreställs historien som en universell berättelse som har en given begynnelse och ett givet mål. Begynnelsen var Guds skapelse av världen ur intet. Målet var världens fulla återlösning genom Kristus. Hur man föreställde sig detta mål kunde variera mellan olika teologer. Somliga tänkte sig att världen skulle återskapas till sitt ursprungliga paradisiska tillstånd. Andra föreställde sig en radikal nyskapelse bortom varje historisk existens. Gemensamt för alla var dock övertygelsen om att historien var på väg mot en framtida fullbordan som man föreställde sig i termer av evig fred, rättvisa och harmoni.

Likväl är de Lubacs påstående en sanning med modifikation. Kristendomen uppstod inte i ett vakuum. Tvärtom fanns flera av dess bärande komponenter närvarande i den antika judiska profetismen. Redan under den babyloniska exilen på 500-talet f. Kr. växte drömmen om en kommande förlossning fram. Denna dröm var av rent inomvärldslig karaktär och handlade bland annat om ett återupprättat Davidsrike dit folket kunde återvända och där rätten skulle breda ut sig. Några århundraden senare antog denna dröm om ett framtida fridsrike alltmer apokalyptiska drag. Förlossningen började förstås i överjordiska termer som en ny tillvaro som skulle bryta in vid tidens slut. Det var i detta kulturella klimat som kristendomen så småningom växte fram.



En förtrollad värld - tema för filosofisamtalen 2018-19

Dagens intensiva bildflöde invaderar oss med styrka. En konsekvens är att bilder blir banala och inget man verkligen tar till sig. Många bilder är framställda i konsumtionens eller annat budskaps tjänst och saknar djupare värde.
Men en bild gjord med allvar kan vara fönster mot något bortom sig självt. De kan göra en annan verklighet närvarande, en som gör intrång och i sin tur väcker nya bilder hos betraktaren.
Föreställningsförmågan, den inre bilden, ger oss tillgång till en närvaro bortom, den fysiska verkligheten här och nu. De inre bilderna kan öppna den verklighet som ligger för handen och bli en hjälp att tolka livet och världen. 
Bilder och inre bilder leder in i en förtrollad värld, ibland skön, ibland skrämmande och de utgör en del av humanistisk tradition och kristen tro som världen inte kan vara utan.


Pierre de Marolles OP, Dominican, Student at the Dominican University of Albertinum, Fribourg, Swizerland


Selected passages of Suprised by Joy

Three senses of imagination– ch. 1

It will be clear that at this time — at the age of six, seven, and eight — I was living almost entirely in my imagination; or at least that the imaginative experience of those years now seems to me more important than anything else. Thus I pass over a holiday in Normandy (of which, nevertheless, I retain very clear memories) as a thing of no account; if it could be cut out of my past I should still be almost exactly the man I am.
But imagination is a vague word and I must make some distinctions. It may mean the world of reverie, day- dream, wish-fulfilling fantasy. Of that I knew more than enough. I often pictured myself cutting a fine figure.

But I must insist that this was a totally different activity from the invention of Animal-Land [an imaginary world developed by Lewis and this bother]. Animal-Land was not (in that sense) a fantasy at all. I was not one of the characters it contained. I was its creator, not a candidate for admission to it. Invention is essentially different from reverie; if some fail to recognise the difference that is because they have not them- selves experienced both. Anyone who has will understand me. In my day-dreams I was training myself to be a fool; in mapping and chronicling Animal-Land I was training myself to be a novelist.

[Note of Lewis: For readers of my children's books, the best way of putting this would be to say that Animal-Land had nothing whatever in common with Narnia except the anthropomorphic beasts. Animal-Land, by its whole quality, excluded the least hint of wonder.]

Note well, a novelist; not a poet. My invented world was full (for me) of interest, bustle, humour, and character; but there was no poetry, even no romance, in it. It was almost astonishingly prosaic.
Thus if we use the word imagination in a third sense, and the highest sense of all, this invented world was not imaginative. But certain other experiences were, and I will now try to record them. The thing has been much better done by Traherne and Wordsworth, but every man must tell his own tale.
The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's "enormous bliss" of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to "enormous") comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit-tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. Ἰοῡλἱανποθω — and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison. The second glimpse came through
Squirrel Nutkin; through it only, though I loved all the Beatrix Potter books. But the rest of them were merely entertaining; it administered the shock, it was a trouble. It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamoured of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible — how can one possess Autumn?) but to re-awake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, "in another dimension".

The third glimpse came through poetry. I had become fond of Longfellow's Saga of King Olaf: fond of it in a casual, shallow way for its story and its vigorous rhythms. But then, and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegner's Drapa and read

I heard a voice that cried,
Balder the beautiful
Is dead, is dead

I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.
The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure.

Two type of Litterature – ch. 2

Intellectually, the time I spent at Oldie's [the first school of the young Lewis] was almost entirely wasted; (…) There was also a great decline in my imaginative life. For many years Joy (as I have defined it) was not only absent but forgotten.
My reading was now mainly rubbish; but as there was no library at the school we must not make Oldie responsible for that. I read twaddling school-stories in
The Captain. The pleasure here was, in the proper sense, mere wish-fulfilment and fantasy; one enjoyed vicariously the triumphs of the hero.
When the boy passes from nursery literature to school-stories he is going down, not up.
Peter Rabbit pleases a disinterested imagination, for the child does not want to be a rabbit, though he may like pretending to be a rabbit as he may later like acting Hamlet; but the story of the unpromising boy who became captain of the First Eleven exists precisely to feed his real ambitions. (…)

Imaginative Life – ch. 5

By the imaginative life I here mean only my life as concerned with Joy — including in the outer life much that would ordinarily be called imagination, as, for example, much of my reading, and all my erotic or ambitious fantasies; for these are self-regarding. Even Animal-Land and India belong to the "Outer".

The history of Joy with the Northernness – ch. 11

The history of Joy, since it came riding back to me on huge waves of Wagnerian music and Norse and Celtic mythology several chapters ago, must now be brought up to date.
I have already hinted how my first delight in Valhalla and Valkyries began to turn itself imperceptibly into a scholar's interest in them. I got about as far as a boy who knew no old Germanic language could get. I could have faced a pretty stiff examination in my subject. (…) And only very gradually did I realise that all this was something quite different from the original Joy. And I went on adding detail to detail, progressing towards the moment when "I should know most and should least enjoy". Finally I woke from building the temple to find that the God had flown. Of course I did not put it that way. I would have said simply that I didn't get the old thrill. I was in the Wordsworthian predicament, lamenting that "a glory" had passed away.

Learning the adoration by the Northernness – ch. 5

If the Northernness seemed then a bigger thing than my religion, that may partly have been because my attitude towards it contained elements which my religion ought to have contained and did not. It was not itself a new religion, for it contained no trace of belief and imposed no duties. Yet unless I am greatly mistaken there was in it something very like adoration, some kind of quite disinterested self- abandonment to an object which securely claimed this by simply being the object it was. (…) I came far nearer to feeling this about the Norse gods whom I disbelieved in than I had ever done about the true God while I believed. Sometimes I can almost think that I was sent back to the false gods there to acquire some capacity for worship against the day when the true God should recall me to Himself. Baptism of the Imagination – ch. 11

(One night Lewis read Phantasies, a faerie Romance by George Mac Donald)

The woodland journeyings in that story, the ghostly enemies, the ladies both good and evil, were close enough to my habitual imagery to lure me on without the perception of a change. It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new.
For in one sense the new country was exactly like the old. I met there all that had already charmed me in Malory, Spenser, Morris, and Yeats. But in another sense all was changed. I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos. I do now. It was Holiness. For the first time the song of the sirens sounded like the voice of my mother or my nurse. Here were old wives' tales; there was nothing to be proud of in enjoying them. (…)
Meanwhile, in this new region all the confusions that had hitherto perplexed my search for Joy were disarmed. There was no temptation to confuse the scenes of the tale with the light that rested upon them, or to suppose that they were put forward as realities, or even to dream that if they had been realities and I could reach the woods where Anodos journeyed I should thereby come a step nearer to my desire. Yet, at the same time, never had the wind of Joy blowing through any story been less separable from the story itself. Where the god and the idolon were most nearly one there was least danger of confounding them. (…)
For I now perceived that while the air of the new region made all my erotic and magical perversions of Joy look like sordid trumpery, it had no such disenchanting power over the bread upon the table or the coals in the grate. That was the marvel. Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert — "The first touch of the earth went nigh to kill". Even when real clouds or trees had been the material of the vision, they had been so only by reminding me of another world; and I did not like the return to ours.

But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow.
Unde hoc mihi?
In the depth of my disgraces, in the then invincible ignorance of my intellect, all this was given me without asking, even without consent. That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptised; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.

Imagination as a Reflect of God – ch. 11

I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least. "Reflect" is the important word. This lower life of the imagination is not a beginning of, nor a step towards, the higher life of the spirit, merely an image. In me, at any rate, it contained no element either of belief or of ethics; however far pursued, it would never have made me either wiser or better. But it still had, at however many removes, the shape of the reality it reflected.

Joy itself wasn’t what I wanted – ch. 14 and 15

I had asked if Joy itself was what I wanted; and, labelling it "aesthetic experience", had pretended I could answer Yes. But that answer too had broken down. Inexorably Joy proclaimed, "You want — I myself am your want of — something other, outside, not you nor any state of you." I did not yet ask, Who is the desired? only What is it? But this brought me already into the region of awe, for I thus understood that in deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self, a commerce with something which, by refusing to identify itself with any object of the senses, or anything whereof we have biological or social need, or anything imagined, or any state of our own minds, proclaims itself sheerly objective. Far more objective than bodies, for it is not, like them, clothed in our senses; the naked Other, imageless (though our imagination salutes it with a hundred images), unknown, undefined, desired.

Joy only a pointer to something other – ch. 14 and 15

But what, in conclusion, of Joy? for that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. I cannot, indeed, complain, like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away. I believe (if the thing were at all worth recording) that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.


My friend Corineus has advances the charge that none of us are in fact Christians at all.
According to him historic Christianity is something so barbarous that no modern man can really believe it: the moderns who claim to do so are in fact believing a modern system of thought which retains the vocabulary of Christianity and exploits the emotions inherited from it while quietly dropping its essential doctrines. Corineus compared modern Christianity with the modern English monarchy: the forms of kingship have been retained, but the reality has been abandoned.
All this I believe to be false, except of a few "modernist" theologians who, by God's grace, become fewer every day. But for the moment let us assume that Corineus is right. Let us pretend, for purposes of argument, that all who now call themselves Christians have abandoned the historic doctrines. Let us

suppose that modern "Christianity" reveals a system of names, ritual, formulae, and metaphors which persists although the thoughts behind it have changed. Corineus ought to be able to explain the persistence.

Why, on his view, do all these educated and enlightened pseudo-Christians insist on expressing their deepest thoughts in terms of an archaic mythology which must hamper and embarrass them at every turn? Why do they refuse to cut the umbilical cord which binds the living and flourishing child to its

moribund mother? For, if Corineus is right, it should be a great relief to them to do so. Yet the odd thing is that even those who seem most embarrassed by the sediment of "barbaric" Christianity in their thought become suddenly obstinate when you ask them to get rid of it altogether. They will strain the cord almost to breaking point, but they refuse to cut it. Sometimes they will take every step except the last one.

If all who professed Christianity were clergymen, it would be easy (though uncharitable) to reply that their livelihood depends on not taking that last step. Yet even if this were the true cause of their behavior, even if all clergymen are intellectual prostitutes who preach for pay—and usually starvation pay—what they secretly believe to be false, surely so widespread a darkening of conscience among thousands of men not otherwise known to be criminal, itself demands explanation? And of course the profession of Christianity is not confined to the clergy. It is professed by millions of women and laymen who earn thereby contempt, unpopularity, suspicion, and the hostility of their own families. How does this come to happen?

Obstinacies of this sort are interesting. "Why not cut the cord?" asks Corineus. "Everything would be much easier if you would free your thought from this vestigial mythology." To be sure: far easier. Life would be far easier for the mother of an invalid child if she put it into an institution and adopted someone else's healthy baby instead. Life would be far easier to many a man if he abandoned the woman he has actually fallen in love with and married someone else because she is more suitable. The only defect of the healthy baby and the suitable woman is that they leave out the patient's only reason for bothering about a child or wife at all. "Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?" said Jane Austen's iss Bingley. "Much more rational," red Mr. Bingley, "but uch less like a ball."1 In the same way, it would be much more rational to abolish the English monarchy. But how if, by doing so, you leave out the one element in our state which matters most? How if the monarchy is the channel through which all the vital elements of citizenship—loyalty, the consecration of secular life, the hierarchical principle, splendor, ceremony, continuity—still trickle down to irrigate the dust bowl of modem economic tatecraft?

The real answer of even the most"modernist" Christianity Corineus is the same. Even assuming (which I most constantly deny) that the doctrines of historic Christianity are merely mythical, it is the myth which is the vital and nourishing element in the whole concern. Corineus wants us to move with the times. Now, we know where times move. They move away. But in religion we find something that does not move away, It is what Corineus calls the myth, that abides; it is what he calls the modern and living thought that moves away. Not only the thought of theologians, but the thought of antitheologians.

Where are the predecessors of Corineus?Where is the epicureanism of Lucretius,2 the pagan revival of Julian the Apostate?3 Where are the Gnostics, where is the monism of Averroes,4 the deism of Voltaire, the dogmatic materialism of the great Victorians? They have moved with the times. But the thing they were all attacking remains: Corineus finds it still there to attack. The myth (to speak his language) has outlived the thoughts of all its defenders and of all its adversaries. It is the myth that gives life. Those elements even in modernist Christianity which Corineus regards as vestigial, are the substance: what he takes for the "real modern belief" is the shadow.

To explain this we must look a littlecloser at myth in general, and at this myth in particular. Human intellect is incurably abstract. Puremathematics is the type of successful thought. Yet the only realities we experience are concrete— this pain, this pleasure, this dog, this man. While we are loving the man, bearing the pain, enjoying the pleasure, we are not intellectually apprehending Pleasure, Pain or Personality. When we begin to do so, on the other hand, the concrete realities sink to the level of mere instances or examples: we are no longer dealing with them, but with that which they exemplify. This is our dilemma—either to taste and not to know or to know and not to taste—or, more strictly, to lack one kind of knowledge because we are in an experience or to lack another kind because we are outside it. As thinkers we are cut off from what we think about; as tasting, touching, willing, loving, hating, we do not clearly understand. The more lucidly we think, the more we are cut off: the more deeply we enter into reality, the less we can think. You cannot study pleasure in the moment of the nuptial embrace, nor repentance while repenting, nor analyze the nature of humor while roaring with laughter. But when elsecan you really know these things? "If only my toothache would stop, I could write another chapter aboutpain." But once it stops, what do I know about pain?

Of this tragic dilemma myth is the partial solution. In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction. At this moment, for example, I am trying to understand something very abstract indeed—the fading, vanishing of tasted reality as we try to grasp it with the discursive reason. Probably I have made heavy weather of it. But if I remind you, instead, of Orpheus and Eurydice, how he was suffered to lead her by the hand but, when he turned round to look at her, she disappeared, what was merely a principle becomes imaginable. You may reply that you never till this moment attached that "meaning" to that myth. Of course not. You are not looking for an abstract "meaning" at all. If that was what you were doing, the myth would be for you no true myth but a mere allegory. You were not knowing, but tasting; but what you were tasting turns out to be a universal principle. The moment we state this principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction. It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely. When we translate we get abstraction—or rather, dozens of abstractions. What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is), and, therefore, every myth becomes the father of innumerable truths on the abstract level. Myth is the mountain whence all the different streams arise which become truths down here in the valley; in hac valle abstractionist Or, if you prefer, myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsular world of thought with that vast continent we really belong to. It is not, like truth, abstract; nor is it, like direct experience, bound to the particular.

Now as myth transcends thought, incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact, The old myth of the dying god, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed. To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other.

A man who disbelieved the Christian story as fact but continually fed on it as myth would, perhaps, be more spiritually alive than one who assented and did not think much about it. The modernist—the extreme modernist, infidel in all but name—need not be called a fool or hypocrite because he obstinately retains, even in the midst of his intellectual atheism, the language, rites, sacraments, and story of the Christians. The poor man may be clinging (with a wisdom he himself by no means understands) to that which is his life. It would have been better that Loisy6 should have remained a Christian: it would not necessarily have been better that he should have purged his thought of vestigial Christianity.

Those who do not know that this great myth became fact when the Virgin conceived are, indeed, to be pitied. But Christians also need to be reminded—we may thank Corineus for reminding us—that what became fact was a myth, that it carries with it into the world of fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about "parallels" and "pagan Christs": they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren't. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic—and is not the sky itself a myth— shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: perfect myth and perfect fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.

Bilden som vittne      Rebecka Katz Thor, Estetik, Södertörns högskola        22 november 2018

Writing samples, ur Beyond the witness av Rebecka Katz Thor

What is a witness?

 I seek to answer the question of how images bear witness when they are produced,

reproduced, and resituated in conflicting political and historical situations. My
hypothesis is that the testimony of images can be grasped through the work of montage
and in relation to their archival conditions, the context, and the framework (conditions
of production) and means of aesthetic representation (voice, narration, and gaze). These
factors offer the framework for the analysis through which the testimony of images can be
understood. The tension embedded in an understanding of the image as witnessing, lies
between the image as acting, speaking, and testifying and the necessary interpretation of
its speech and testimony.
Thus, throughout this work, I intend to follow two strands of inquiry. The first strand is
the specific discussion of the witness tradition after the Holocaust and the role of images
therein. Along these lines, I ask what it would mean to bear witness from that specific situation
and what role images would play in the act of bearing witness. The second strand
deals with the more general question of what images do and how they give testimony. The
latter strand poses the theoretical challenge of this book, whereas the former provides the
backdrop and context in which my entire endeavor is immersed – hence, the first strand
provides the material for the second.
The three films that I discuss in this study are based on archival materials, which are edited
visually and aurally, thus reactivating and reinterpreting the materials. Let me introduce
them in more detail:
A Film Unfinished (2010) by Yael Hersonski is a documentary which returns to the making
of the unfinished German propaganda film Das Ghetto from 1942. The Nazis shot the material
in the Warsaw Ghetto, only two months before most of its inhabitants were deported.
Hersonski’s film shows staged scenes in the Ghetto, shot by the Nazis, but also includes
classical documentary features such as interviews with survivors and a reenacted testimony
with one of the camera operators who filmed the material. The images depicting Ghetto
life are highly questionable, as they aim at manifesting the anti-Semitic stereotype of the
wealthy Jew, contrasted with the actual misery in the Ghetto.
Respite (2007) by Harun Farocki merges moving images with still images from the transit
camp Westerbork in the Netherlands. In the spring of 1944 the camp commander commissioned
a film, presumably as a means to argue why the camp should be maintained. It
was shot by an inmate but never completed. The shots show daily activities in the camp,
focusing on labor and production. Farocki’s film displays the original text frames and inserts
new written commentary on the images, but no sound is added.
The Specialist: Portrait of a Modern Criminal (1999) by Eyal Sivan is an edited montage of
filmed material from the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961. The trial, the first ever to be
videotaped, was recorded in its entirety and broadcast daily in 37 countries. Sivan used only
archival material, however, reflections are added and the sound is partly distorted in order
to set up a narrative based on Hannah Arendt’s account in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report
on the Banality of Evil.
What brings these three films together, beyond their interventions in Holocaust commemoration,
are two common and crucial factors. Firstly, they can be seen as critiques of other
films departing from an assemblage of several sources, where archival material is put to
use in order to illustrate a given narrative. Secondly, these filmmakers inscribe themselves
as actors intervening in the materials. In all three films the intervention in the material is
highlighted rather than obscured, and the presence of the filmmaker is embedded in the
narrative – it is their specific voice, gaze, and argument. Through a reading of how the films
reinterpret the archival material and position it in a new time and context, I seek to explicate
how the film images bear witness.
Each of the three films manifests a particular method, or a certain way of understanding
how images testify: in a discussion of a beyond the witnessing subject and the role of
images therein, the filmmakers employ different image strategies, ways of working with
archival material, and means of working with those images. The strategies employed by the
filmmakers have informed my method, which I understand through the notion of resituating.
The artistic intervention in the archive formulates how the material is resituated – the filmmaker
creates a situation in which the filmed material operates so as to give witness within
a narration. This book seeks to unfold the implications of that movement. The concept of
resituating arises from a focus on situation – the presupposition that everything is grounded
somewhere and in something. Both the phenomenological view of the human condition of
being-in-the-world and the feminist critique of universal knowledge can amount to the view
of a specific being: a being based in a here and now. The footage on which each of the three
films is based is, like all films and photographs, produced in a situation. The films at hand
are to be analyzed from and within the specific situation in which they were shot (the context
and conditions of production), as well as within the newly constructed one (the films).
Hence, the word “situation” in “re-situation” implicates two specific moments: the time of
the making of the material and the time when it is placed and reactivated in a new context.
A Film Unfinished, Respite, and The Specialist offer reinterpretations of a temporal negotiation
which is embedded in the films. It is a negotiation that spans from the filmic situation to the
distribution of the artistic rendering and a continuous span from the filming and development,
to the editing, storing, archiving, and collecting, as well as transfer between formats,
extraction from the archive, re-editing, and montage. Hence, the main interventions in the
materials are made at the editing table. The figure of the filmmaker at the editing table is
a recurrent description of how Farocki worked, but it is also applicable to both Sivan’s and
Hersonski’s films. 7 In the practice of directing through editing, a backwards movement is
set in motion, so that the shooting of the actual film is rather its end point than the beginning.
The contemporary gaze bestowed upon the material shapes the montage, but the
facts drawn out of the material, concerning its history of production, remain over time.
What is unraveled is, in two of the films, Nazi ideology and, in the third, the politicization
of the Eichmann trial. This does not mean that the same footage might be recycled
again and again and ascribed a new meaning in a different ideological context. Violence can
always be done to images, but they do not offer infinite possible readings. How imagery is
perceived can of course change, but the circumstances of its production remain and must
be adhered to.

Thus, a deciphering of the resituated image encompasses the situation (the photographic
situation) and the frame (the temporal and spatial gap and the various contexts of production
and reading of the image over time). I will discuss how editing and montage provide a
new framework and narrative structure, which is founded in an understanding of the image.
The notions of resituating and framing are central and encompass the entire line of production
and representation. In A Film Unfinished, new images are produced, testimonies
given and staged, whereas Respite and The Specialist operate by reworking the preexisting
material. However, Farocki inserts written comments as text frames and Sivan manipulates
the filmed material through additional shadows and reflections, as well as distortion of
the soundscape. A Film Unfinished investigates the archival material by intersecting witness
accounts from both survivors and the cameraman, while Respite offers a reflection on the
unstable meaning of the image in the historiography of the Holocaust. The Specialist, further,
reacts concretely to that very tradition of witnessing and questions the role of the witness as
such, as well as the testimony of the images. This is achieved through the montage of moving
images, creating a new meaning out of the conflictual images, as described in classical
film theory. 8
The three works are chosen as examples because of their function as forms of witnessing,
their form of production, and their narrative modus operandi. Each one of them originates
in a single archival source, fundamental to the films both conceptually and formally. Further,
they all operate with a sense of self-reflexivity; in Respite this is explicit in the use of intertitle
cards and in The Specialist through exaggerated montages, while in A Film Unfinished it is
less apparent but still present in the reflection on the archival material. This self-reflexivity
allows for an uncertainty and the suggestion of a possible truth, rather than a presentation
of the “true story.” 9 Another central feature which brings the three films together is, as
mentioned above, that they relate to the cinematic and theoretical discussions on witnessing
and representation. However, the films have been produced and presented in different
contexts: A Film Unfinished was distributed in cinemas as a documentary, while The Specialist
has been screened both in cinemas and exhibitions and Respite foremost in exhibition settings.
There are essays written on all of the films, but no extensive studies, and none where
all three films are brought together. 10 Most importantly, the films have not been regarded
through the lens of the image as bearing witness and as resituated images. However,
Georges Didi-Huberman suggests a reading of Respite, where the material singularity of
the image is considered as well as a possible remontage. 11 Within the field of memory studies
Caterina Albano writes about Respite and The Specialist and labels the work of the prior as
a rememorialization.12 Further, these three films have been chosen because of their thematic
similarities and their investment in questions of witnessing and Holocaust commemoration.
All of them explicitly address the trope of the witness, for example by asking what the
images testify to, regarding them as illustrations of testimonies previously given, or positing
the perpetrator as a primary witness. As two of the films are based on archival footage
from the Holocaust, their relationship to one another is given. There is, however, other film
material similar to these sources, such as that shot by the Nazis in Theresienstadt, which
have not been the object of an artistic venture yet – hence, the images have not been resituated.
The third archival material, from the Eichmann trial, was filmed almost twenty years
after the other two and in a post-war context. However, a focal point of the film is the issue
of witnessing and testimony, which ties the film to the other two thematically.
What I will argue in the following is that the footage, as employed in the films, means
something else today than it did at the time of the recording. When the films are presented
in cinemas and exhibition halls today, the viewer sees something different from what was
seen in the same archival images seventy years ago. The archival material is bound to the
specific contexts and conditions of production, and so are the films created out of it. In the
given works, the gaze and the voice of the filmmaker are crucial factors since the footage is
not simply screened and displayed as it was found in the archive. The filmmakers’ usages of
the archival footage are very different. In A Film Unfinished the film images serve as a source
from which a narration can be extracted, in Respite the images are addressed through textual
readings and reflections, and in The Specialist the images make up the narrative through
suggestive editing and montage. In one sense, the images serve as witnesses to the various
events in all three films, and in another sense the filmed material is the point of departure
for the creation of a filmic narration. Two of the films, Respite and A Film Unfinished, intervene
concretely in the debate of Holocaust representation, however, the archival material
differs from most representations of the Holocaust, since the majority of the images are
not gruesome. Rather, the films, especially Respite, expand what can be considered a representation
of the Holocaust, and posit a question about the role of such alternative images
in Holocaust commemoration. A further fact to be taken into account is that the footage
used in Respite and A Film Unfinished was produced as propaganda for the Nazis: it was
commissioned by the perpetrator and is limited by his gaze and control. The third film, The
Specialist, deals with an emblematic moment in the aftermath of the Holocaust. By means
of its montage, the film questions the narration built up around that event, and importantly,
the role of the witness in Holocaust commemoration at large. Hence, all the materials were
recorded with strong political implications – two as internal Nazi propaganda and the third
as a means to remind the world of the Holocaust and to show how justice was being done.
The witness debate which arose after the Holocaust serves as a source and a context from
which this project emanates. My research is an intervention in the debate and a proposed
extension of what it means to bear witness. A witness can be defined as not only a human
subject, but also possibly a visual document or recording, an image, which can testify to an
event, as mentioned above – the event being a photographic situation in which a photo or
film was shot. The witnessing quality of the image – the testimony it gives and its means
of doing it – resides in the totality of the image, which, as we shall see, includes both its
context and the structuring frames. The commissioner of the film sets the contextual frame
for it, the cameraman frames it in a literal sense and the event filmed is what is represented.
Yet, when the film is materialized, distributed, and spread it gains a life of its own. Hence,
it is through a form of backtracking that one can see the testimony which the image gives.
A witness can only bear witness in the aftermath of an event, in the practice of historicizing,
and this is how I see the image as witness as well. As mentioned, I begin from the final
product, the film, and offer a reversed reading of the material and its archival history. This
implies an approach to the imagery that starts by asking questions, rather than interpreting
a representation. My analysis thus extends to the theory of photography and film, as well
as into the realms of commemoration and historiography. There are historiographic stakes
embedded in the witnessing trope, and I suggest both an extension of it, by regarding the
image as witness, and a proposal for the need of alternative sources, when all the living
witnesses are gone.

The historiographic issues are complicated by the constructed nature of all archives, as
painstakingly visible in relation to the three films. Taking as a point of departure that the
archive is first and foremost a collection, further questions need to be posed about who
made the collection, when it was made, and with what intent. 13 The archive contains possible
truths, just like the witnessing image. I will argue that in the case of these films, truth
is conveyed precisely by illuminating the unstable nature of the archive as well as of the
image itself. The films testify to this aspect of the material, yet, in so doing, they also make a
rendering of the event visible. An affinity appears between the archive and the image, both
traditionally holding strong truth claims, but in need of re-evaluation – not because they do
not hold any truth, but since truth is not a given. A prominent feature of these films is that a
focal point offers a reflection on the very material they are constructed from. Each film consists
of material from one archival source, and by different means they all call attention to
this material as a main point of interest. The films unravel what the materials are, how they
were made, and what they were supposed to convey. In Respite, Farocki examines every shot
critically. In A Film Unfinished, the history of the footage is reconstructed through testimony.
The Specialist, finally, locates the re-evaluation outside the scope of the film by invoking the
politicization of the Eichmann trial. 14
Beyond my inquiry into the two strands of Holocaust commemoration and the discussion
of the image as witnessing, here is a greater and more difficult question that motivates
both of them. As mentioned in the beginning, I undertake this investigation at a particular
moment that confronts us with a particular dilemma: how can we rethink the notion of
the witness when there are no witnesses left? I argue that we can turn to images, but that
this is a move that needs to be made with great care, taking into account what lies beyond
mere representation. My understanding of the witness is not only someone but also something
with the agency to give testimony to an event – an agency stemming from a presence in
the situation testified to, which is not necessarily a lived experience but which could also
be the conceptual and material history of, for example, a film or an image. Yet, while the
subject actively narrates, structures, renders, writes down, and changes his or her account,
the filmic image must be deciphered. What I want to address is how this can be done.
Taking this view on what constitutes a witness entails an investigation of not if but how the
image can be regarded as a witness and, further, how one can understand its testimony.
The discussion of the specific material and its context thus leads to a more general inquiry
into images as witnesses, which can be extended from historical materials to contemporary
ones. I propose to engage in a polyphonous discussion of what images do. Images
are approached as agents, as actors to whom the spectator is called upon to respond. An
image is never just an image: its testimony needs to be considered, as well as its central role
as a prominent means of relating to what is and what has been. In the reinterpretation of
images, history is being rewritten, offering a possible truth of not only what took place, but
also how it took place.
My interest is film images, yet, I remain with the broad concept of image, as the central
issue is bound to the constructed frames and the photographic situation, as well as the
situations of the making of the films. The notion of image can encompass film, in line with
W.J.T. Mitchell’s view on the image, which he differentiates from the picture. Hence, pictures
are the appearance of the immaterial image in a material medium, since the image is
the “intellectual property” and the picture is what makes it possible to hang it on the wall.15
The analogy he makes is that images are like species and pictures are like “organisms whose
kinds are given by the species,” which also applies to film images. 16 Further, Malin Wahlberg
describes how the film image has been seen as “the moving other of the photograph, or the
dynamic presence of the film image as opposed to the nostalgic past of the photograph.” I agree
with her view, since the other is always tied to the one to which it relates. Film and photography
might best be thought of as two different, but inevitably connected iterations.17
Importantly, Mitchell emphasizes that while one can speak of various sorts of images, one
must understand that “the image in or on the thing is not all there is to it.” 18 Therefore,
instead of only employing film theoretical concepts, I have applied a broader concept of
the image, encompassing notions of the frame, situation, and aesthetics. What is addressed
is both image qualities in general and the relation between the singular image and the
sequential image. That is what is at stake in a specific image, as well as in the combination
of images, that is, the montage.
I will argue that images by their nature are unstable – they cannot be pinpointed and
ascribed one single meaning. Susan Sontag famously claimed that photographic images
are not determined by the photographer, but are made use of by diverse communities and
thus ascribed different meanings.19 The same of course applies to film, and it is this indecisiveness
that lies at the core of my discussion. Hence, images are neither a substitute nor a
guarantee for comprehending a historical event; yet, they point to a possible truth.
The strength of images, be they still or moving, is that they are singular but reach beyond
that singularity in the same instance. Asking what happens if one regards the image as witness
means following this movement, regarding the exclusion and inclusion and seeing the
specific situation and the greater picture at once. Each still image, each scene or sequence,
should be watched, as Ariella Azoulay puts it; as Judith Butler suggests, its normative frames
should be laid bare in order for a deciphering to take place that can encompass and adhere
to the agency of the image – and thus regard its testimony. In an attempt to distinguish the
image from the visible, critic Serge Daney clearly formulates what I am trying to express:
“The image is always both more and less than itself.” 21 In the films under discussion the
images are both the subject and the method. As stated, the footage is understood through
its means of production and material surfaces, intentions, and representations, and I question
how, in documentaries about the Holocaust, they have been reduced to mere objective
recordings of a course of events. Hence, the same images, especially those shot during the
liberation by the Soviet and Allied armies, have been reproduced as illustrations of the
camps and the Holocaust in general.
What enables a deciphering of the testimony of images is an aesthetic sensibility.22 It is a
crucial approach for understanding how the filmmakers unfold multiple layers of meaning
in the images. Their interventions in the material point towards the political as well as the
aesthetic dimensions of the footage, both of which inform my reading, and position the
situation and frame of the images as my central quest. This implies a multifaceted reading
of the films, where for example sound, image effects, and the politics of representation are
considered as interacting factors that together shape the understanding of the films. For
example, it is expressed in my discussion of the use of silence in Respite, the distorted sounds in The Specialist, and the means of narration through different voices in A Film Unfinished.
Or similarly, when I address how reflections are employed in The Specialist, how A Film
Unfinished is constructed by a combination of newly produced and archival images, or
how the reflexivity between imagery and comment plays out in Respite. Hence, these films,
and my reading of them, is dependent on the dual relation of aesthetic rendering and
the intellectual processing of images. This dependence stems from the subject at hand,
as Rancière described the ethical turn of aesthetics, in which “arts and aesthetic reflection
tend to redistribute themselves between a vision of art dedicated to the service of
the social bond and another that de-dedicates it to the interminable witnessing of the
catastrophe” (the Holocaust).23 Thus, the two strands of Holocaust commemoration
through witnessing and image theory are brought together when regarding them in the
realm of aesthetics.
The book is divided into six chapters, the first offering a theoretical framework and the second
the archival histories of the different material employed in the three films. The subsequent
three chapters are analytic, addressing the central conceptual realms of this endeavor,
ranging from the concept frame as a means of understanding the stakes in the works, to the
role of voice and narration, and the shift from the witness as victim to the perpetrator as
witness. The final chapter returns to, and reassesses, the theoretical problems formulated
in the first chapter.
In the first chapter, “An Event Without an Image,” I provide a background and a general
introduction to the role of the witness in Holocaust commemoration, to then describe a
move from the “era of the witness” to the image as witness. It includes a theoretical discussion
of previous research on the specific debates on witnessing and representation, as well
as a methodological foundation for how I perceive the image as bearing witness and how
this can be understood in relation to the specificity of the three films, in terms of genre and
method. Here I expand on how one can understand the notions of resituating and frame.
This is followed by the second chapter, “Archival Work,” dedicated to questions of the
archive. The particular relation between archival images and Holocaust representations
is addressed, as well as the implications of archival practices transgressing a notion of the
archive as a neutral storage. The main part of the chapter aims to elucidate the specific
circumstances and archival stories of the footage from which the three films were made.
Hence, the context of the recording of the films in the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Westerbork
Transit Camp, during the war, as well as the filming of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in
1961. In “Structuring Frames,” the third chapter, I address the heart of the matter: how the
practice of resituating is carried out in the respective films and what role the notion of frame
plays therein. What is the agency of the image, in terms of witnessing? And how does one
find truths in non-trustworthy images? I also address questions of montage and reflexivity,
how they are put into practice and how the filmmakers can be seen as overcoming an
aesthetic distance.
Following this, I turn to means of narration, which reaches beyond the image work. In the
fourth chapter, “Voice, Text and Narration,” I ask what the difference is between verbal and
pictorial witnessing, as well as addressing the different strategies of using voice-over, silence,
intertitles, and written testimonies as means of narration. Chapter five, “The Perpetrator as
Witness,” accounts for how the photographic situation is the key to understanding material
like that employed in the three films. I argue that the photographic situation compromises
the frames of the footage, and that those frames in turn influence the spectators’ encounter
with the images. The different approaches to the perpetrators in the three films and how
these are expressed visually, form the core problem of this chapter. Since two of the archival
films were commissioned as Nazi propaganda, the perpetrator’s gaze is embedded in the
production. The footage in the third film provides a stage for witness testimonies, but in
the resituating of the footage the director directs the gaze back to the perpetrator. The
sixth and last chapter is devoted to some concluding remarks on the connections between
the two strands of this study: Holocaust commemoration through witnessing and the theory
of the testimony of images. By considering questions of interpretation and the role of
montage in witnessing, this chapter gestures toward future testimonies and ways of dealing
responsibly with the violence and the crimes of the pasts.

Crimes without an image

In our times, when the last people who experienced the Holocaust are perishing, an account
is needed of how witnessing as such is being transformed. When a face-to-face meeting is
no longer possible, the transmission by necessity changes form, due to the specific media
and mediation used and the altered position of the receiver of the testimony. The receivers
of recorded and literary testimonies are per definition unknown – when time passes the
videos or books might be watched or read in various settings and contexts. The act of witnessing
is shaped by the specific conditions and agenda of the witness, and so is the reception
of the intended receiver. One always testifies from somewhere, to someone. There is a
context, a point in time and a place. Yet, the receiver of the testimony shapes the account to
some degree: what is heard of that which is spoken, and what the points of identification
are. The transmission taking place cannot be the same over time, as a story can never be
told in the same way twice. One must repeatedly ask what the witness is testifying to: a
trauma; the loss of a people, a way of life, a culture, a yiddishkeit; or as a writer or historian
chronicling an individual or collective event.24 Important here is the fact that the literary
accounts and the memoirs remain within the frame constructed by their authors – the pages
have a set order held by the book cover – whereas images are subjected to endless reframing
and montage. In this sense, the temporality of images differs from that of text, a difference
which makes the questions of frame and witnessing pertinent.
The role of the witness has always been present in Jewish tradition; the Holocaust was
inscribed in the traditional memorial books as the “dritter hurbn,” the third destruction, following
the destructions of the two temples two thousand years ago, thus creating a continuity
throughout Jewish history. The memorial book Memorbukh is the traditional source
for commemorating the names of the dead, through text, image, and family trees, a tradition
which resonates in the contemporary practice of pronouncing the names of the victims
in Holocaust memorial and museums 24 25
Since the early 1960s, there has been a development of the role of testimonies in Holocaust
commemoration. Witnessing has evolved as the prominent means of commemoration, and
testimonies are directed towards younger generations, for example through the survivors
and children of survivors who tour schools to give testimony, as well as through literary
accounts. Testimonies are also collected and preserved for an unknown future through
the creation of video archives. Hence, more and more testimonies are transmitted through
mediations. Listening to someone speaking is not the same experience as sitting in front
of a screen – someone standing in front of you is more difficult to dismiss than someone
remote, someone on a screen. The relation between sender and receiver in a shared space
does not rely on the same agreement as that which results from the sender being recorded
in one context and then replayed on a screen in another. Obviously, the temporal and spatial
delay in regard to recordings is an important factor, but so is also what an unmediated
bodily presence does. The footage which I address does not consist of talking heads, and
the prominent question is not the relation between the witness testifying and the receiver
of that testimony.26 What is pertinent, however, is the question of what is transmitted by
a witness, beyond the words uttered. It is the question of how to commemorate and how
the event can be transmitted by other means than face-to-face or face-to-face-on-screen.
I perceive such a transmission to be possible through images – which is what I will explicate
in this study.
The title of this chapter is a reiteration of the description of Holocaust as an event without a
witness, which captures the suggested move in this chapter from the impossibility of bearing
witness, to the image as witness – and from theory to method.27 What is the basis for
the idea of the impossibility of bearing witness? And how was this debate expanded to
include images and to the notion of the Holocaust as an event that is impossible to represent?
Attempting to reply to these questions forms a crucial backdrop to the critical debate
of this study. I argue that moving images can be seen as witnesses and that a definition of
genre might render a further understanding of the films possible. The chapter ends with
a section dedicated to two key concepts in this study, resituating and frame. All in all, this
chapter lays the theoretical groundwork for the move from the subject-as-witness to the
image-as-witness – which is the point of departure for my readings of the films.

When no witnesses are left

What is at stake is survival, the perseverance of existence, and no human world destined to
outlast the short life span of mortals within it will ever be able to survive without men willing
to do what Herodotus was the first to undertake consciously – namely, to say what is.
Hannah Arendt

We will soon reach a point in history when all survivors from the Holocaust will have
passed away and we will be left with only written, audio and visual collections of testimonies,
hence, where the witness narration is mediated. We need to further consider what
such mediation could mean. “When no witnesses are left, there can be no testimony,” David
Rousset states, thus one must turn to other sources and forms of commemoration in order
to understand our historic past.29 Yet, there is neither an unequivocal position on the role of
the witness, nor in regards to the possibility of being a witness at all.
The construction of this witness tradition has developed from the attempts to document
the events during the Holocaust, via the Eichmann trial to the debate that unfolded towards
the end of the century. During the war, both historians and victims in general understood
the need to create a foundation for a future remembrance of the events. They collected testimonies,
wrote diaries and novels, documented major events and day-to-day life in order
to bear witness, in order for something to remain even if the Jewish people would perish.
The Nazis had aimed to destroy all evidence of the Holocaust and erase all traces of Jewish
life in Europe, with the explicit goal to prevent future witnessing – no one would survive
and nothing would remain.20 Still, victims documented and preserved notes, protocols,
diaries by all means possible, but it was not until the sixties that much of these materials
were fully recognized. In 1949, one out of three Israeli citizens were survivors, nonetheless
the consensus was that “the less everybody talked about the Holocaust, the better, thus
the great silence was born.” 31 The silence of a parental generation also had bearings on the
children born in Israel after the war, as they did not comprehend the trauma or sorrow of
the parents. 32 The consequence of this was a lack of knowledge about the event, which was
also why one of Prime Minister Ben Gurion’s pronounced goals for the Eichmann trial was
to educate the Israeli youth about the Holocaust. Hence, the testimonies given during the
Eichmann trial spoke to a world perceived as not knowing much of the event, and were
internationally televised and broadcast on radio. The witnesses’ testimonies broke the
silence instated among many survivors after the war, and for this reason the testimonies
can be seen as being directed towards the fellow survivors as a gesture encouraging others
to speak up. As mentioned in the introduction, the Eichmann trial provided a setting for
public testimony. In the words of historian Annette Wieviorka, the trial is the advent of the
witness, since it designates “a new era, in which the memory of the genocide becomes central
to the way many define Jewish identity.” 33 In testimony theory, this has even been labelled as
the “Auschwitz paradigm.” 34
The enhancement of the individual witness was also a means to resituate what the Nazis
had strived to eliminate – the humanity of the victims. And more so, the wish to uphold the
singularity of each victim. Therefore, the name gains a central position, to refute the Nazi
practice of degrading the victims to mere numbers. Hence, in many Holocaust memorials
the listings of victims’ names are a prominent feature. Examples of this could be that Yad
Vashem is Hebrew for “a memorial and a name,” the German cobblestones with names of victims
outside their former residences, the Stolpersteine, or the listing of names by the entrance
to the synagogue in Stockholm. 35
The Eichmann trial was followed by an unfolding of the different layers of witnessing,
which is marked by a contradiction. The position of the witness and her testimony are
emphasized, yet the possibility of bearing witness at all is also questioned. Prominent writers
and philosophers, spanning from Primo Levi, Giorgio Agamben, Shoshana Felman,
and Dori Laub to Jacques Derrida and his reading of Paul Celan and further to historians 26 27
like Annette Wieviorka, have been engaged in the subject – I will return to these in the following
chapters. 36 From the 1980s and onwards, this debate has been a central theoretical
quest, deeply concerned with how to commemorate the Holocaust and promote the trope
of never again. 37 The discussion, which revolves around the impossibility of bearing witness,
can be traced back to several elements: Theodor Adorno’s famous – and much-debated
– statement that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric;” the literary attempts made
to actually testify about the event; and an engagement with questions of visual representations.
38 Many of the later theoretical interventions have been discussions of the body of
memoirs and novels written by survivors, offering readings explicating the relation between
trauma and witnessing, and between commemoration and memory. 39 Consequently, a
main concern has been the means through which testimony was given.
The paradox is that the actual witnessing stems from the very impossibility of being a witness:
a survivor cannot testify from inside the gas chambers, since the ones who entered
them died. Yet, the gas chamber is the ultimate signifier of the horrors of the Holocaust and
thus what needs to be testified to.40 Primo Levi famously stated that there are no complete
witnesses to the Holocaust; all “complete” witnesses are those who died, and so the survivors
“speak in their stead, by proxy.” 41 In Giorgio Agamben’s rendering of Levi’s remark,
the lack of the complete witness leads to a form of “pseudo-witnessing” where the survivors
“bear witness to a missing testimony.” This produces an alteration at the core of the witnessing
act, since the witness must always proceed from the impossibility of bearing witness. 42
Survivors and witnesses are thus separated in Levi’s comment: the survivors can bear testimony
– as Levi himself did – but never testify to the complete horror of the event. Jacques
Derrida presents a similar argument: “One cannot and (in addition or moreover or above
all) one must not (claim to) replace the witness of his own death, for instance, someone who
perished in the hell of Auschwitz.” 43
As mentioned, the title of this chapter paraphrases Dori Laub’s and Shoshana Felman’s
notion of the Holocaust as an event without witnesses. Their central contribution to the theorization
concerning the witness partly follows along the same lines as Levi’s. The witness
speaks the unspeakable; he/she lived through something out of the ordinary, something that
needs to be told, which at the same time is impossible to bear witness to. 44 Laub, himself
a survivor of the Holocaust, defines the witnesses as those who “witness the truth of what
happens during an event,” a position impossible to inhabit both for a bystander to the event
and for someone involved in it, since it requires an objective standpoint which is not possible
within the order of the Nazi rule. 45 The impossibility thus arises from the specificity of
the genocide, but on a different basis than in Levi’s observation. Laub describes the system
set up by the Nazi regime as designed to eliminate the very idea of a transmission: “there
was no longer another to which one could say ‘Thou’ in the hope of being heard, of being
recognized as a subject.” 46 The Holocaust became a historical reality “which extinguished
philosophically the very possibility of address, the possibility of appealing, or of turning
to, another.” 47 It is a loss of the other to whom the testimony is directed. Thus, for Laub the
impossibility of witnessing does not reside in the fact that only the dead experienced the
entirety of the Holocaust, but in the intertwined facts of the impossibility of taking a neutral
stand and the erasure of even the possibility of imagining to whom a testimony could
be directed. Being a witness seems to imply a certain ability to regard objectively what one
is being subjected to, which, according to Laub, is unimaginable while being “inside” the
Holocaust. For those imprisoned in the camp, the outside world seems to have vanished
and no other can be conceived; there appears to be no outside to bear witness to. 48 The act
of bearing witness thus seems impossible at its core, but Laub still believes in the importance
of giving testimony. One must attempt to describe what seems indescribable, that is
“the coercively totalitarian and dehumanizing frame of reference in which the event is taking
place, and provide an independent frame of reference through which the event could be
observed.” 49 Felman describes the act of giving testimony as always reaching beyond oneself as
the speech is directed to someone else. She refers to Emmanuel Levinas’s suggestion that
the speech of the witness, by its very definition, transcends the witness who is the medium
of realization of the testimony, as it is addressed through him to the other.50 Derrida puts
forth a view of the witness as doing more than simply transferring knowledge. The witness
engages herself in her own account, with a strong implication of being truthful. The act
of witnessing implies something similar to an oath, a promise to tell what really was. The
view shared by Arendt and Derrida, of the implicit condition for the witness to be truthful,
is the foundation of all witnessing. Derrida dwells upon a stanza in a poem by Paul Celan,
addressing the question for whom the witnessing is intended, since the act of witnessing is
never directed towards another witness. 51 The given testimony is then by its nature directed
towards another, towards someone who does not know.
The two positions held by Levi and Laub are brought together in Agamben’s exploration,
which relies on both sources. Agamben’s understanding of the impossibility of bearing witness
is founded in the loss of voice and in a quest for language that signifies something
previously not signified. 52 He writes: “The Shoah is an event without witness in the double
sense that it is impossible to bear witness to it from the inside – since no one can bear
witness from inside death, and there is no voice for the disappearance of voice – and from
the outside – since the ‘outsider’ is by definition excluded from the event.” 53 He finds his
solution in a figure introduced by Levi: a three-year-old orphan, born in the midst of death.
Levi relates that the child did not speak and had no history or name; the other deportees
called him Hurbinek. Agamben sees this as the moment when the lacuna can be bridged:
Hurbinek had a nonsensical speech, which for Agamben illuminates that language in itself
is insufficient and thus forms an integral part of the impossibility to testify. 54
Agamben does not offer a solution to the paradox, but he illuminates the core of the problem.
In response to Shoshana Felman’s discussion of Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah, which
I will return to later, he poses the critique that Felman “aestheticizes” testimony by deriving
an aesthetic possibility from a logical impossibility. Felman exemplifies a speech beyond
words made possible in a scene where a survivor describes how inmates in the camp sang
while entering the gas chamber. In Agamben’s view this does not solve the paradox of testimony,
but what he fails to acknowledge is that Felman’s foremost matter of concern is
the filmic play between voice and silence, not testimony in general.55 Still, as a reaction to
Felman’s discussion, Agamben claims that neither a song nor a poem can redeem an impossible
testimony; rather testimony is what from the start enables an aesthetic to take shape.
Agamben’s view suggests a bond between testimony and poetry, where the latter cannot
be conceived of without the former, but where they at the same time seem to remain separated.
His assertion poses a theoretical impasse in relation to my reading of the image as an
aesthetic form and a testimony. For Agamben the issue resides in the question of language,
as mentioned above, but my presupposition stems from an altogether different view of what
a testimony is and can be. In contrast to his reading, a point of departure for me is the very
possibility for an aesthetic form to be a witness – hence, Agamben’s hierarchy of the testimony
as something before the poem would disqualify my hypothesis from the start. The central
trope of the image as witnessing is not an impossible witness in this sense, yet the questions
posed and the theoretical claims made above render the idea of a witnessing beyond the
witness possible. While this debate flourished, the survivors were still many and there was
not the same necessity for this questions to be posed. Now, what is left in terms of witnesses
and testimonies are mediations of different kinds, and what needs to be addressed is how
one can make use of them and how a further commemoration can be shaped.

Impossible representations

So let us not invoke the unimaginable. How much harder was it for the prisoners to rip
from the camp those shreds of which we are now trustees, charged with sustaining them simply
by looking at them. Those shreds are at the same time more precious and less comforting
than all possible works of art, snatched as they were from a world bent on their impossibility.
Thus, images in spite of all: in spite of the hell of Auschwitz, in spite of the risk taken. In
return, we must contemplate them, take them on, and try to comprehend them. Images in
spite of all: in spite of our own inability to look at them as they deserve; in spite of our own
world, full, almost choked, with imaginary commodities.
George Didi-Huberman

Discussions about the unrepresentability of the Holocaust draw on the same arguments
as the debate concerning the impossibility of bearing witness. Both face the same paradox:
it is impossible to bear witness, yet testimonies are given repeatedly; the Holocaust
can be regarded as unrepresentable, yet there are images and verbal renderings of it. Since
the advent of the witness, the role of testimonies has developed and one cannot account
for all testimonies made. Besides the written accounts, archives of audio-visual testimonies
have been set up, beginning in the late 1970s, nowing forming the era of the testimony.
Creating archives with testimonies is a widespread practice nowadays: the main ones are
the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies (at the Yale University Library),
initiated by a group of survivors themselves in 1979, and the largest of them all, Survivors
of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual
History and Education), which was founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg after working
with survivors for his film Schindler’s List. The difference between the two enterprises is
crucial. The Yale archive operated with the utmost respect for every single witness, creating
a testimonial pact, according to Wieviorka, whereas the Spielberg archive operated on
an international level with fast-track training of the interviewers and using a set format,
with the given goal of interviewing as many survivors as possible before they perished. 58
Consequently, each survivor’s specific method of narration does not remain in focus in the
Spielberg archive, but is subordinated to a form and mode of address. In the construction
of the archive collection, the archive itself assumes the task of an authorization, since the
selection of witnesses to record follows a set formula. The question of who is authorizing
the witness is also present in relation to the footage used in the films at hand.
The question of if and how witnessing can take place is followed by the subsequent argumentation
which asks if and how representations are possible. The images taken during,
or in the direct aftermath of, the Holocaust, are heavily charged. How these images are
reproduced, spread, and understood is still a crucial question for understanding what such
images do. Archival images have been made use of as tools of commemoration, and their
role in the intricate web of the writing of history is inevitably associated with the question:
is it possible to represent an event as horrific as the Holocaust?
Leshu Torchin, a theorist of photography, argues that the medium of photography has
played a crucial part in extending the possibility of witnessing and made up for “the loss of
words” experienced by many survivors – a loss that might be structural if one follows the
arguments put forward by Levi, Agamben, and Laub, as described above, but which also
emphasizes the paradox of testimony and representation.59 Agamben describes the “grey
zone” which existed in camp operations conducted by inmates, which was also evident in
the shame of the survivors of the Sonderkommando, the Jewish men who assisted in executing
the genocide. Agamben refers to a testimony retold by Primo Levi about a soccer
match between the Sonderkommando and the SS, which might appear as “a brief pause
of humanity in the middle of infinite horror,” but claims that this horrendous image should
rather be understood as “the true horror of the camp.” 60 Like the signifying image of the
soccer match, every instance of representation seems a possibility to grasp the true horror
of the Holocaust. Hence, the expectation to see the entirety of the Holocaust in every single
image makes the very idea of representation impossible. Rather, it seems like a search for
a stand-in, which would be necessary in order to make the claim for the impossibility to
understand or represent what went on. The event cannot be grasped, confined, or summarized,
and therefore also not caught in an image. In Agamben’s reading there is neither
a possible pause, nor an end to the event, as the “grey zone” exists in every place or time.
Hence, the genocide as such might have come to an end, but the “match” cannot reach an
end – it repeats itself in every instance when one watches a game, in a stadium, on our television
sets, and in the “normalcy of everyday life.” 61 Jacques Rancière objects to Agamben’s
wish for an ontological revolution, as it leaves no room for political disagreement and erases
the difference between contemporary democracy and the extremity of the Nazi rule. Under
this “ontological destiny,” all differences are erased and we are left to a messianic waiting for
salvation.62 Agamben’s understanding of the camp as the nomos of modernity summarizes
what Rancière understands as the “ethical turn” of aesthetics and politics.63
I suggest that the footage in the three films might be a conceivable way out of the impasse of
the impossibility to bear witness. Images might be what makes it possible to go beyond the
event without witnesses. The footage is in this context, as previously mentioned, a subcategory
to the image and if images are bound to their double nature of being both objective
and subjective, they both capture what was and remain framed. This might allow them to
overstep the boundaries of the inside and the outside that Agamben describes, in a way that 30 31
is impossible for a person. Georges Didi-Huberman also addresses the “fold” between two
impossibilities: first, the self-obliteration of the witness, since the SS attempted total elimination
(no one would survive), and second, that the testimony itself would be obliterated,
since no one on the outside could possibly believe what was happening. The image appears
in the fold between “the imminent obliteration of the witness” and “the certain unrepresentability
of the witness.” 64 The image captures what was and provides access for the viewer to
see something of what took place. Hence, by its very nature an image provides a possibility
for imagining: “since an image is made to be looked at by others, to snatch from human
thought in general, thought from ‘outside,’ something imaginable that no one until then had
even conceived as possible.” 65 Thus, Didi-Huberman sees the image per se as something
that refutes the unimaginable, by expanding the very idea of what is imaginable. 66 Writing
about four photos shot in Auschwitz in August 1944, he refers to them as “images in spite
of all.” The images, which have become known as the “Sonderkommando images,” are the
only surviving photos with a confirmed history taken in Auschwitz by its inmates while the
camp was in operation. There are other images from Auschwitz, of course, but none where
the identity of the photographer is known, apart from the images taken by, or on behalf
of, the SS, such as the Auschwitz Album or by the Auschwitz camp photographer Wilhelm
Brasse. Brasse also testified to the existence of many more images, photos, and films, that
he encountered in Auschwitz, that were either destroyed or disappeared during liberation.67
Didi-Huberman argues that the four photographs are the closest one can get to a true representation
of the Holocaust – not because they depict the camps more accurately, or comprehensively,
but because the conditions of their production were decided by the activities
in the camps. They both enact a particular historical moment and provide a space for the
viewers’ imagination. They appear as the possible redemption and means of finally making
the Holocaust visible. Images that enact an unthinkable moment also demand a reaction
from the onlooker and thus fill a void in the historicizing of the Holocaust – but they must
not be regarded as an absolute truth.68 The images from Auschwitz are enactments of a
bare life and of a structurally impossible image production.69
The story behind the images is that a camera was smuggled into the camp by a civilian
worker in the resistance movement and was hidden at the bottom of a bucket. Photos were
taken secretly, and Didi-Huberman emphasizes the importance of those practical conditions
that surrounded the shooting and the visual effects of those conditions which form
the representation. He also reconstructs sequences in which the four images were taken,
since that allows the viewer to extract knowledge both of the images and of what went on.70
Two of the images have a broad black frame, due to the fact that they were shot from inside
a gas chamber; since the room was dark one cannot see the inside of it and the motif is
what is visible through the door opening. Outside the gas chamber, bodies are being burnt.
When these images are used in books and exhibitions, which they have often been, they
are usually displayed with the black parts cropped away. 71 Didi-Huberman claims that “the
cropping of these photographs is a manipulation that is at the same time formal, historic,
ethical, and ontological.” 72 For him, the black is what gives us the “situation itself, the space
of possibility” and might then also be viewed as what ties the images to a moment, which
did exist “in the world.” 73 The viewer gains information not only from what we see in terms
of horrors, like the pile of dead bodies, but also from the large black area, the wall of the
crematorium, which informs us of the difficulty of taking images within the camp. One can
understand the black area as important for the act of witnessing, even though it does not
witness to the suffering or horror of the camp per se. The black does not contain death,
but it does gesture to the wish of the Nazis not to leave any traces, and simultaneously to
the fear of the inmates of not being believed, which made them take great risks in order to
document what they we going through. The horror of the extermination camp might be
beyond what one could imagine and the image thereof widens the imaginable in a literal
sense. The struggle to facilitate the comprehension of something unprecedented defines
the entire discussion of Holocaust commemoration.
I agree with historian Michael Roth’s reading of Didi-Huberman: in order to claim that the
snapshots from Auschwitz are to be seen as gesturing towards a truth he quotes Arendt:
“Lacking the truth, [we] will however find instants of truth.” 74 Thus, these images offer a
way to turn the idea of unrepresentability on its head. On the one hand, they emerge in the
dual impossibility of witnessing described above (no one would survive to witness, yet, if
someone did, their testimony would be unimaginable). On the other hand, the photographs
snatched in Auschwitz are bound to a paradoxical condition and a constraint of immediacy
and complexity, and by truth and obscurity. The images are defined by their quality as snapshots,
as part of an intricate plan to make the taking of them possible, of capturing what is
there (i.e. the truth) and yet, they are blurred by the smoke of the burning bodies. Still, what
the images do, in this context, is to make Auschwitz real in some sense – not necessarily to
tell the “truth” about what happened in the camp, but to show, or provide evidence for, what
went on. It is done by an elementary form of montage, in Didi-Huberman’s view, since it
would be disastrous to regard them one by one, as it would counter his attempt to uphold
“the sequential, plural, animated, even gestural character of the photographs.” 75
Neither A Film Unfinished, nor Respite, nor The Specialist contains images that would at first
glance fit within the realm of the unrepresentable. The footage used does not display any
overt horror. Yet the discussion I have related is crucial for the reading of these three films.
They all operate in relation to Holocaust representations and are connected to this discussion.
Consequently, I interpret Farocki’s excavation of the images in Respite as a questioning
of the privileged position of the oral testimony, Hersonski’s investigation as a quest to
see how a staged image can bear witness, and Sivan’s choice to diminish the role of survivor
testimonies as a reaction, in some sense, to the extensiveness of the testimonies in
Lanzmann’s Shoah. Further, the images of the Warsaw Ghetto in A Film Unfinished appear
staged today partly because there are visual and literary accounts of the real conditions of
the Ghetto. Almost the same goes for the images from Westerbork in Respite, though it
is not the true conditions of that specific camp that are hidden, but their wider context.
The Specialist, based on image material stemming from a very different context, omits the
passages when images from the extermination camps were shown to the court and in so
doing avoids reproducing those images. However, it is not only a relation on the level of
imagery: the arguments of the films are illuminated when regarded within the scope of
the discussion of the possibility of representing the Holocaust. For example, when Farocki
proposes a concept of “happy images” in Respite, I read the implication as both an argument
for a possible representation and a question of whether or not a “happy image” can be said
to represent the Holocaust at all.

Image as a witness

History decays into images, not into stories.
Walter Benjamin

It has to do with the representation of the camps in German photography and film; it has to
do with the politics of the image; it has to do with montage.
Harun Farocki

Asking what happens if one regards images as bearing witness, by necessity implies a move
beyond the witness (as a subject) and beyond the witness tradition (based on individual testimonies)
described earlier. There is a need for alternative forms of and tools for commemoration,
which encompass different forms of mediations. The image is neither a substitute
nor a guarantee for comprehending a historical event – it requires an interpretation, the
form of which I intend to investigate. As the Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg comments
it is not “easy to summarize all that [the picture] contains in words”.78 The trope of the
image as witnessing is in itself nothing new – quite the opposite. Since the invention of
the camera, the debate on its ability to represent the real has been ongoing.79 I suggest a
move beyond the presupposition of the moving image as proof or redemption, to allude to
Siegfried Kracauer’s discussion on cinematic representation, to instead examine how one
can understand the testimony given by images and by which means.80
In her seminal work on how to regard the pain of others, Susan Sontag described the image
as bearing witness, not in the sense of the image itself being a witness, but because a person
had been there to take the photograph.81 She suggests that the image testifies through the
presence of the photographer, but as André Bazin argued, the presence of the human agent
is what that photography could rid itself of, and was what made it ontologically connected
to “the real.” 82 Yet, my subject here is the moving image – which has both similarities and
dissimilarities with still photography. A difference could be formulated in line with Jean
Epstein’s conception of cinema as the thinking machine and also in relation to the practice
of montage. I would argue that the image has more to offer than what the photographer
intended to capture and that this can be further elaborated on in montage. In Epstein’s
The cinematograph is a witness that recounts a figure of sensible reality that
is not only spatial but temporal, integrating its representations into an architecture
whose relief presupposes the synthesis of two intellectual categories
(extension and duration), a synthesis in which a third category emerges almost
automatically: causation. Through this power of effecting diverse combinations,
the cinematograph, though it may be purely mechanical, proves to be
more than an instrument of enlargement or replacement for one or several of
the sense organs.83
What I propose is a view of the image as being able to bear witness – something which
can be understood firstly through the threefold relation between the photographic situation,
the mechanical recording and developing and the reading of the imagery done by
the spectator; secondly, and most importantly, by considering how this witnessing takes
shape through the work of montage. I do not believe that the image should be seen as a
document of the real, yet neither images as such, nor the specific images discussed here, can
be considered to be without truth claims. In part, this is grounded in the montage, which
can be said to illuminate a singular, rather than general truth, as Didi-Huberman writes,
“[montage] can bring images to a degree of intensity capable of suddenly producing
a truth.”84 Hence, I want to emphasize the constructed nature of all images, rather than
arguing for the transparency of film, since the construction and politics enabling the filmic
image can be considered a means of defining how it can be regarded as a witness.
When considering written testimonies, the literary form is seldom at the forefront; language
is perceived as almost transparent – as conveying a testimony by the sheer combination of
words and syntax. In relation to both texts and images, there is a subject involved in the
witnessing process, but just like a novel cannot be reduced to biography, an image cannot
be reduced to the intention of the camera man. Without maintaining an analogy between
text and image, this illuminates the technical as well as the circumstantial aspects of the
footage, which are two strong factors for understanding what kind of testimony footage
like this can convey. Even if this analogy offers a reductive view of writing and literature
and also of the practice of reading, it illuminates the relation in all works of art between
producer, work, and receiver. Hence, there is a fundamental – and inescapable – dialectic
between the image as an agent, a witness, and the image as having a testimony to give, but
one which can only be heard through interpretation. This relation is what is played out
in the trope of the image as bearing witness. Images are understood as ontologically and
ideologically charged materials and as a form of speaking objects – images have agency, and
yet the agency of the historical situation and facts is conveyed through the image. Michael
Roth describes this feature of photography as the ontological uncertainty where “photographic
images seem to offer the possibility of reexperiencing the past, or of experiencing a past for
the first time without a subjective intermediary.” He explicates the ontology stating that the
photograph raises “questions of presence and temporal disjunction in mnemonic context
of desire and absence,” hence “the photographic image calls one to (and perhaps from) the
past, while reminding one that the object one beholds is ‘just an image.’” 85 Hence, as mentioned
in the introduction, one is ascribed to the presence and the other as referring to a
nostalgic past.
Here, one might recall what Volker Siebel labels as Harun Farocki’s “critique of the enlightened
eye”: “Philosophy asks: What is a human being? I ask: What is a picture? In our culture,
images are not given their due. Images are enlisted. Images are interrogated, in order
to extract information, and only the sort of information that can be expressed in words or
numbers.” 86 This is a claim against representation, against the idea that an image can be
described in words, and against the notion that an image can be deciphered in a coherent
or structural way. Above all, it is an argument against the order of affairs, that there is a
reality which the image depicts. The image by default comes after; hence the discussion of
the Nachleben, the survival of the image or motif which was so important for Aby Warburg.87

What Farocki wants is to produce another type of images: “Vorbilder” rather than “Abbilder,”
or in other words, to produce models rather than representations or reproductive images.88
Farocki was engaged in an image production reaching beyond the image as replica or mere
representation, a production in which images can be thought of as actively creating something
anew. The vor alludes to a before, to a pre-image rather than an after-image, and thus
to the decisive creation of an image rather than, in the wording normally employed, a capture,
snatching, catching. This kind of image would be the opposite of Roland Barthes’ recording. In
my view, this understanding of images, “Vorbilder,” as actively created and as creating something
may be extended to a method of reading images. In relation to an image already produced,
as with the films discussed here, rather than an image production as such, it becomes a
question of what these images create – or in other words, what kind of “Vorbilder” they are,
and how this is produced and upheld. I see this creation as analogous to how I perceive
images as witnessing, objects from which one cannot solely extract information, but rather
to which one must listen carefully. To hear what an image has to say, or, in W.J.T. Mitchell’s
words, to let it speak, would then be to do a close reading, and more than that: a reading
that takes the image in itself as its point of departure (that is, rather than perceiving it as
first and foremost a representation). This would allow the image to appear as giving testimony,
recounting an event and simultaneously being the event, rather than considering the
event and subsequently the image as a representation thereof.
As many scholars of documentary theory have pointed out, a filmic process entails much
more than an objective recording.89 Film scholar Michael Renow claims that the persuasion
of the documentary form rests upon “the ontological promise of the photographed image,
its suggestion that what appeared on screen once existed in the world.” 90 This is a reductive
understanding of the moving image, as it disregards the montage, still it is the common
way of reading documentary footage. My engagement with the work of images is in line
with how Volker Pantenburg describes Farocki’s (and Jean Luc Godard’s) interest in “the
mechanisms of image production and reception, in how images function, and in the possibilities
of gleaning an (oppositional) visual theory from images themselves.” 91 Pantenburg
builds on Mitchell’s notion of metapicture, which refers to a sort of self-knowledge of images,
which in turn could be related to the testimony of images.92 What Pantenburg suggests
is, thus, a view on film (the films of Farocki and Godard) as “thinking in images, as contributions
to a theory intrinsic to film.” 93 This view on the knowledge production enabled by
images is helpful, as Pantenburg, in another line of argument writes that “through montage,
the image becomes an element of a precise argument” – something that can describe how
I read the films through the lens of witnessing. 94
The presumption of a direct relation between the real and the representation might have
diminished in todays’ easily accessible image manipulation, yet, images are still often
employed as illustrations or evidence. Contemplating the construction of the image entails
an interpretative act. Writing on the finding and verification process of Josef Mengele’s
skull, Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman present the advent of a forensic aesthetic, against
the backdrop of the witness tradition discussed in the previous sections. Their approach
might be a way to explain the agency of the image, in relation to its testimony. Keenan and
Weizman recount the story of Mengele’s skull and ask how the bones speak: what knowledge
can be extracted from them and how can they testify to a life lived? Drawing on the
etymological root of the word forensics referring to forum, they perceive forensics as linked to
the art of persuasion, to the skill of making and presenting an argument. This involves the
use of objects, in classical rhetoric, when addressing the forum. As the object could not
speak, a form of interpreter, translator, or mediator was needed – the figure of prosopopeia –
to endow the inanimate object with a voice. 95 This view could offer a further explanation
of how to read images as witnesses and make them speak, like the bones. Yet, the forensic
model consists of three components: the object, the mediator, and the forum. What differs
here is, thus, the forum, the structural setting of a court room or equivalent, which would
mean that the object and the mediator are left to one another, thus lacking the instance
granting the validity of the speech. The mediator could be biased, miss facts or misunderstand
what the object has to say, and the object could be false or inauthentic. As I am
writing about works of art, made out of archival images, the main issue is not to verify
the images, but just like the filmmakers, I suggest a similar process of interpretation and
a reconstruction of sorts. In some sense the filmmakers reconstruct the footage, by their
interventions, and my reading, also provide a reconstruction of the archival and contextual
histories of the different types of footage. Stephen Heath describes how film can be viewed
as a discourse, which in turn might be decoded: “that reality, the match of film and world, is
a matter of representation, and representation is in turn a matter of discourse […] It is the
discursive operations that decide the work of a film and ultimately determine the scope of
the analogical incidence of the images; in this sense at least, film is a series of languages, a
history of codes.” Yet, what this process of decoding amounts to, through the employment
of different strategies, makes Keenan and Weizman’s point pertinent: “the forums in which
facts are debated are technologies of persuasion, representation, and power – not of truth,
but of truth construction.”
Another strand of inquiry in the relationship between the image and the real is expressed
in the image interpretation. The image as witness is thus bound both to a time–space category
and to the idea of likeness versus interpretation – hence, a further question of representation.
Sontag writes: “Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed
capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world
as paintings and drawings are.” 98 And André Bazin observes, in his discussion of the ontology
of the photographic image: “In achieving the aims of baroque art, photography has
freed the plastic arts from their obsession with likeness. Painting was forced, as it turned
out, to offer us illusion and this illusion was reckoned sufficient unto art. Photography and
the cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy, once and for all and in its very
essence, our obsession with realism.” 99 The ability of photographic images to represent
thus frees other art forms from the constraints of representation.100 Furthermore, the possible
readings of the representation are transformed by the passing of time and by shifting
contexts, and still, the image is something in itself. Thus, what the image is, as discussed,
is not confined within the limits of representation. Thus, the transference of the real is in
part due to this process of pointing the camera, the mechanical recording, the imprint on
the film, the development as a negative, and the final printed material form, where the real
is transformed to a piece of paper and by that is no longer the real. A similar process can of
course be imagined with contemporary technologies – digital recordings and the image on
the screen – since the sole point is that the representation might be both the outset and the
endpoint, but that the process in between is a part of the image to the same extent.

Regarding the image as witness is not a question of mere representation, but means that
it must be understood in its totality, a totality which is enacted between the scope of the
event as such and the singular moment of the shot. Hence, images do not only show
something, but actively bear witness.101 Ariella Azoulay describes how photographs are
never mere objects; they act, and make others act.102 Her notion of action emanates from
Hannah Arendt’s distinction between work and action, and while photographs are products
of work, by their nature they more closely resemble action. Arendt understands work
as characterized by a demarcated beginning and a predictable end, and, as I have argued,
images cannot be restricted in this sense.103 Actions rely on other actions, which changes the
intended end of all actions; hence, they can never have a foreseeable goal, which also is true
for the distribution and interpretation of images over space and time.104 Further, actions,
as well as images, are marked by their irreversibility – the taking or recording of an image
cannot be undone. As mentioned, the image seen as bearing witness is not a substitute
and definitely not a guarantee for grasping a historical event; it does not reveal the truth,
but could point to a possible truth. What a reading of the image as witness thus strives for
is such truth construction – not necessarily to say what was, but to offer a fuller frame and
context of the image.

Gestic thinking

The proper term would have to indicate that the work begins on the cutting table, with
already existing film shots. It also has to indicate that the film used originated at some time
in the past. The term could also indicate that it is a film of idea, for most of the films made
in this form are not content to be mere records or documents – and in this factor lies my
chief interest in the form, which will have to be referred to in the following pages in various
inconsistent ways. Can you suggest a right term?
Jay Leyda

Neither A Film Unfinished, nor Respite, nor The Specialist can be easily confined within any
given genre. Rather than offering an exhaustive answer to Leyda’s question above, I seek
to trace the question back to the problem at the heart of my endeavor. The films brought
together in this study share a basis in archival materials. They are second-hand films, made
out of found footage, incomplete accounts, and rushes. This genre has long searched for
an appropriate label, such as archival films, chronicle montage films, collage film, library
films, or compilation films, the latter of which might be the most relevant term; yet the
genre cannot be understood solely within the scope suggested by any of the terms. In the
following I suggest that what might best describe them is what Harun Farocki labels as
gestic thinking, which is a concept that has to be understood against the backdrop of the
other genre descriptions.
The term compilation film was coined in 1927 by the Soviet filmmaker and editor Esfir Schub
and reformulated by Jay Leyda in the 1960s, but the first compilation film was made as early
as in 1898, as a response to the Dreyfus Affair. 106 Esfir Schub wanted to show pre-revolutionary
Russia, using newsreels to reconstruct history. She wished to maintain a documentary
quality, which meant not looking at the material for its own sake, but subordinating it to
a theme. 107 Hence, the genre is per definition structured thematically – “the actual content
and the meaning of the finished product always reflect the editors’ choices and points of
view.” 108 Film scholar Paul Arthur outlines how by 1945 the deployment of archival images
“to reanimate or polemically reinterpret prior accounts of events, figures, and social processes
was a standard feature of nonfiction filmmaking […] and was established as integral
element of exposition and argument, often serving as illustration of a verbal reference or as
means of filling gaps in spatial continuity or didactic evidence.”109 According to Arthur, this
trend grew during the 1960s, and in parallel with the spreading of Michel Foucault’s notion
of archaeology, both the wish to reformulate tropes of historical narratives and the political
quest for a broader inclusion in terms of representation were frequent. The practice
of found footage has thus been around since the invention of film and developed through
modernity into something like a token of the avant-garde (hence, the prominent role of
montage in modern art and cinema).
William C. Wees oversaw a survey of found footage and collage films for the Anthology Film
Archive and then wrote a book, in which he differentiates between three types of montage:
compilation, collage, and appropriation.110 According to Wees, the three modes of montage,
or ways of working with found footage, can be deconstructed under the headings of
methodology, signification, exemplary genre, and aesthetic bias. The signification of compilation
is reality, its exemplary genre is documentary, and its bias is realism. Collage is
connected to image, avant-garde film, and modernism, while appropriation is associated
with simulacrum, music video, and postmodernism. The criticism which Wees proposes
against the method of compilation is the assumption that there is “a direct correspondence
between the images and their profilmic situations in the real world,” and further that the
process of compilation in itself is not treated as problematic.111 Appropriation does not rely
on the real, but rather on the different media themselves and their inner logic, and is thus
exempt from all claims of depicting anything historically correctly, whereas collage appears
as the method able to bridge the presumptions of compilation film and yet remain critical as
opposed to appropriation, which is rather accommodating. In collage films the found footage
“will be recognized as fragments still bearing the marks of their media reality.” 112 Wees
builds on an extensive theoretical discussion of montage, in which Adorno prominently
wrote that montage articulates discontinuity, since “the principle of montage was conceived
as an act against a surreptitiously achieved organic unity; it was meant to shock.”113
None of the three films under discussion here is structured in a dialectical relation of shot
and counter shot. Another common feature is that none of them work with montage from
several archival sources. The imagery is reconstructed as a whole rather than displayed as
conflicting shots. Sivan makes use of harsh juxtapositions in his montage, while Farocki
creates a dialectical montage between image and text, and Hersonski between archival and
newly produced material. Further, they do not belong to any of the three figurations formulated
by Wees: they are not appropriations as they still claim a relation to the real, not collage
in the sense of avant-garde filmmaking, and not compilation films as they have a strong
artistic agenda and question claims of realism rather than upholding it as an aesthetic bias. 38 39
The sole fact that each of these films consists of one single archival source differentiates
them from compilation films which draw upon manifold archives or newsreels. Jay Leyda
describes a successful compilation film as concealing the various sources of its materials,
so it “almost seems one cameraman’s work.” 114 Harun Farocki comments on the genre of
compilation film stating that, even if the concept is not seen as a pejorative term within the
field, the word “compilare” also means “to plunder.” 115 As the essay from which the quotation
is taken was written while Farocki was working on Respite, it can almost be read as a manifesto,
stating what he did not want to do. Presumably, he wanted to explore another method
for engagement.
I also find the term “compilation film” insufficient, and prefer Christa Blüminger’s distinction
between the conventional compilation film and the “thinking” essay film, as the latter
in its secondary rendering of the material encompasses its archival story and thus also its
specific discourse and materiality.116 The three works offer readings of the material, but the
footage does not serve solely as visual means of narration, as is often the case in mainstream
documentary. The artistic presence and the location of the artist’s interest in the material
itself differentiate the films from documentary accounts and highlight the artistic intervention.
The notion of the essay film has a history as long as that of compilation film and might
be the most fruitful conceptual framework, but at the same time the least telling.117 The
essay film is an approach and manner of constructing an argument, but it does not tell us
anything about the particular form or method of the specific work. Hence, an essay film can
employ documentary strategies, build on archival sources, work with voice-over or with
dialogue. Still, it is a feasible genre to place the films within, since as film scholar Laura
Rascaroli puts it, “the essay film is performative inasmuch as it does not present its object
as a stable given, as evidence of a truth, but the search for an object, which is itself mutating,
incomplete, and perpetually elusive and thus deeply uncertain and problematized.” 118
However, since the genre does not capture the methodological use of the single archival
source, it is too wide for my purposes.
In order to begin to explore what is at stake in works like these, one can turn to a short text
by Harun Farocki about the work done at the editing table, from which I have borrowed
the title for this section.119 Gestic thinking encompasses the process at the editing table and
the confrontation between the director’s memory of the shot and the reappearance of that
same shot as something else than what the memory conveyed. Farocki argues that a second
script is created at the editing table, not as a matter of intentions, but of facts. 120 This
process takes place twice in relation to the filmed materials: first, in the rough editing by
the directors – the Eichmann material was edited at the same time as it was filmed – and
second, when brought out of the archive by the filmmakers. The reason why I mention
this concept is the distinction made by Farocki between intention and fact. The intention
guides the moment of the filming and constitutes the framing, whereas the fact refers to
the image or shot as it turned out, the actual frame. The role of editing is key – in Farocki’s
words, editing has the power to “convert colloquial speech into written language” and to
turn babble into rhetoric.121 Editing is thus what structures and provides meaning – in relation
to the films I address, this capacity is amplified as the filmmakers intervene in the materials
foremost through editing, placing the archival materials in a new context and thus, in
Farocki’s lingua, organizing the speech of the images into a coherent rhetoric.
What Farocki’s concept of gestic thinking manages to capture is a temporal gap between the
shooting of the image and the reappearance of that image at the editing table. The archival
material employed in the three films that I discuss here was not shot by the directors of the
films, but imagining the gesture of the images as defined by the moment they were shot and
by the moment when they reappear at the editing table might be precisely the central and
common feature of the films.
Yet another discussion would entail the relation of the films to the genre of the documentary
in terms of the concepts of fiction versus reality. Eyal Sivan proposes the label “fictionalized
documentary,” where “fiction would be the idea of a construction, which does not
exist or preexist prior to the new work.”122 The films are documentary in the sense of being
constructed from documents, hence Eyal Sivan’s preferred genre description. While this
labelling of The Specialist as fiction might very well relativize its political, cinematic, and
historiographical operation, the view of the documentary as inherently bound to fiction is
far from the dominant view.123 The documentary genre in cinematic traditions of montage
and concepts of mise-en-scène does more than turn the real into fiction. The films produce
a representation of the historic instances as inhabiting a world separated from the event.
As Bill Nichols writes: “since there is no fictional world to be intruded upon, intellectual
montage in documentary emphasizes the overt or constructed quality of an argument,
based on representations from the historical world, rather than the constructed quality of
an imaginary world.” 124 Nichols acknowledges that the structure itself forms a crucial part
of constructing an argument, which is fundamental for all three films. Yet, this also bypasses
the central position of the archive.

Resituated images and the question of frame

Thus the present constitutes the past.
heodor Adorno

Where it is interesting, montage connects two things without turning them into one.
Harun Farocki

The concept of resituating captures the image operations at stake in the works discussed
here, as they all entail transmission from the context of the filming to the inscription in
a new context through editing and montage.127 All images are produced within a specific
frame and visual regime, shaped by the conditions of production, motif, and situational
context. That is to say that the archival footage, on which the films draw, is based in
a time, place, technique, gaze, and political system. When contemporary filmmakers
reinterpret footage like this, the material is grounded in a new time and context – not in
terms of what it represents, but in how it is perceived. Dialectical images of sorts are 40 41
produced, in Walter Benjamin’s classical sense, where the present and the past collides.
Benjamin writes:
It’s not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present
its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes
together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image
is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a
purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is
dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.128
When the filmmakers resituate the footage, they tell another story than that which was
intended at the time of the making of the materials. Even though the films cannot be wholly
confined within the genre of compilation films, the practice of found footage films entails
a form of seeing where one never sees the same film. Christa Blüminger rightly points out
that, since film as a medium is profoundly temporal, in terms of the viewer’s experience of
time as well as of historic and contextual time, what the spectator sees in the footage is also
temporally defined.129
The gap between then and now, between the filming of the archival materials and the making
of the films, allows for a space of reinterpretation. The creation of a new context does
not alter the footage as such, but it changes the possible reading of it, and in this process
the images are extracted from the historical time confined within the archive and placed in
the present, as laid out above. Thus, the films all intervene in how the events in themselves
have been commemorated and what role the visual material has played therein. Even if the
context of the images alters the understanding of them, the archival material of course has
a relation to the filmed event. The crucial question is how these representations fit into
a comprehensive conception of the event (are the images misrepresentations or are they
staged?) and also how these images are made use of (what is done by editing and montage?);
hence, what kind of testimony they give.
Remontage, Georges Didi-Huberman’s preferred concept when discussing Respite, is similar
to how I see resituating. However, what he wants to bring forth is primarily the image operation
of semblance and dissemblance – the constellation – hence, the work of montage in the
archival material and the re-montage done by the filmmaker. 130 With the concept of resituating,
a further move is indicated, namely the operation conducted by the filmmakers and
the immersion of the archival material in a new situation. As repeatedly pointed out, the
material is not altered per se, but it is conceived differently in a way which relates to the issue
of the internal and external aspects of the image. Something is done by the filmmakers as
they create a new situation, but the way the material is interpreted is also connected to the
perception of images over time – as Sontag also pointed out. 131 Hence, there is both a resituating
and a shifting situation involved. In regard to the passing of time, Adorno claims
that the shifting view on images over time is external with regard to what transpires in the
works themselves: “Artworks are on no account transformed exclusively by what reified
consciousness takes to be the changing attitude of individuals toward works, which shifts
according to the historical situation.”132 This change is thus a question of time and ideology,
whereas resituating also reaches into the realm of the aesthetic.
As mentioned previously, when imagery is resituated it is placed in a new context, but this
context is not only a temporal or spatial one (as it would be if one only viewed the archival
material), but also a new aesthetic context characterized by a gestic thinking as described
above. The archival footage is not shown as such, but appears as a new work of art: a new
film is created. In Sontag’s understanding of aesthetic distance, the time passed gives the photograph
a chimera of art, differentiating it from contemporary documentary images.133 The
historic image is thus perceived as art, due to a kind of romanticizing of its material and
motif. Hence, the archival footage used in the films is subjugated to both the temporal
and artistic factors. Although Sontag’s claim can be disputed, there is also an additional
factor which determines how the material will be perceived: the aesthetic intervention by
the filmmakers. They employ means of emotion, affect, sound, light to facilitate an aesthetic
experience, which reaches beyond the questions of historic representation. My interest here
is precisely in the aesthetic renderings and reactions at work – the gestic thinking – in relation
to the moving image.
Looking at footage through a situation means adhering to its frame, which calls attention to
the partiality of the images and makes it possible to see them as bearing testimony. Frames
are understood as a broad concept, ranging from Leon Battista Alberti’s view on perspective
and the frame of the pane as a window through which he saw the world he wanted
to depict, to Erving Goffman’s view on natural and social frames, and to conceptions in
art and film theory of the frame as both the image context and the material context. 134
Framing has both a structuring and an enclosing quality, hence the classical contrast in film
theory between the frame and the window – the filmic frame and the window to the world
as discussed by among others Bazin and Heath.135 The frame structures the image both
conceptually and materially, in the moment when the image is created and in the moment
when it is interpreted by the viewer. Thus, frames constitute the border of the image in a
both literal and metaphorical sense, referring to the substance of a singular shot as well
as to the screen or material containing the image. Ira Konigsberg designates the frame as
simultaneously being “the borders of the image on the screen that enclose the picture like a
frame on a painting” and “the entire rectangular area of the image projected on the screen.”
The frame both contains the image and allows it to go beyond its confines. It structures
what is seen in the image: it is the intermediary, which is realized in the montage of moving
images. Stephan Heath writes:
Frame describes the material unit of film (“the single transparent photograph
in a series of such photographs printed on a length of cinematographic film”,
“twenty-four frames a second”) and, equally, the film image in its setting, the
delimitation of the image on screen (in Arnheim’s Film as Art, for example,
frame and delimitation are assumed as synonymous). Framing, determining
and laying out the frame, is quickly seen as a fundamental cinematic act, the
moment of the very “tightness” of the image: framing, that is to say, bringing
the image to the place it must occupy.137
Heath puts forward two understandings of the concept of frame, according to the division
proposed above of material and structural frames. In regard to the three films which
I analyze, both factors are crucial, as I dwell upon both the material history of the footage 42 43
and the conceptual reframing. In another essay, Heath holds that “frame, framing is the
very basis of disposition – German Einstellung: adjustment, centering, framing, moral attitude,
the correct position.” This idea is connected to Eisenstein’s notion of mise-en-cadre,
the “pictorial composition of mutually dependent cadres (shots) in a montage sequence.”139
Thus, the structural understanding of frame is closely related to montage: the reframing
is achieved through montage. The montage comes per default after the production of the
footage, and the argument for the use of the concept of frame in relation to montage is, as
described above, the tension embedded in the term – as an integral part of the footage and
as reaching beyond it. Judith Butler suggests that a photograph can in fact be an interpretation
in itself.140 The image thus contains its own frame. Therefore, interpretation cannot be
regarded solely as a subjective act: an image does not depend upon the individual viewer,
but rather the photograph itself becomes a structuring scene of interpretation.141 The photograph
is not simply a visual image awaiting interpretation; instead the image in itself is
actively interpreting. For Butler, this practice is sometimes even compulsive, as if the image
commands the viewer to interpret what is shown.142 The image possesses its own image
operation (frame) and the wish to control the photograph can never be completely fulfilled.
The frame encompasses the situation – the moment of the making of the photograph, the
historical moment in which it was taken – but also reaches beyond it.143 The frame frames
a specific moment, a moment which also exists beyond the frame of the image. The two
concepts of frame and resituating are deeply interconnected, and this connection is crucial
for my reading of images. Ariella Azoulay writes: “the photograph bears the seal of the photographic
event, and reconstructing this event requires more than just identifying what is
shown in the photograph.” 144 The situating of the photograph entails a move beyond representation,
and the resituating achieves more than a reconstruction. The two temporalities
of the making of the image and the later regarding of the same can be explicated further
by considering the external and internal factors of the work. In relation to photographic
images, the internal aspect, then, would be the representation and the external photographic
situation, or as Azoulay argues in relation to what is shown in the image, “what was
there is never only what is visible in the photograph, but is also contained in the very photographic
situation, in which the photographer and the photographed interact around the
camera.”145 The duality of what is shown and what is hidden fits into the notion of the situation
and its relation to frame. I would argue that to account for the photographic situation
is to perform a multiple analysis by regarding how the exclusion is included in the frame,
and the possible consequences of this on the level of representation. Film always reframes,
changes the frames through montage by precisely playing with inclusion and exclusion.
Judith Butler describes the notion of the normative frame as key to reading images, since it
does not offer a clear inclusion and exclusion, but rather emphasizes an active instability or
a pendulous motion between the two poles. Hence, there is no clear outside, since what is
excluded becomes encrypted in the very frame.146 The photograph is not limited to its physical
frame – it extends beyond its representation as well as its materiality. Didi-Huberman’s
productive reading of the visual consequences of their conditions of production for the four
photographs from Auschwitz is similar to how I perceive the situation as a constituting
fact of the frame. What is striking about Didi-Huberman’s claim is precisely how the gap
is bridged between the material conditions of the image production, the snatching of the
real, and the contextual situating of the images within the discussions of the agency of
the image, representation, and witnessing. Beyond the specificity of the four images from
Auschwitz, his proposition can be seen as methodological and thus extended to a general
image theory, which would then be founded in an understanding of the conditions of
production as a major factor constituting the frame of the image. The different archival
material that makes up each of the three films at hand is varied in kind, yet they can be
read through their respective conditions of production – their situation and re-situation –
their frames. Such a reading deepens the understanding of how images can give testimony,
when not solely regarded as excerpts of the real, but as situated matters with the ability to
speak in manifold voices. A Film Unfinished and Respite, produced as Nazi propaganda in
the Warsaw Ghetto and in a Dutch transit camp respectively, tell us something else today.
They are not snatched in any sense, nor do they reveal suffering in terms of what they represent.
However, the framework of conditions of production as a means of conceptualizing
Holocaust representations is decisive. Similarly, an edited sequence from the Eichmann
trial, combining several testimonies, must be read against the background of the witness
tradition. The notion of frame thus counters the idea of unrepresentability, as discussed, as
well as offering another way of approaching images, in line with how I perceive the image
as able to bear witness.


A Theology of the Image   Br Alain Arnould OP     Måndag 8 oktober 2018  19.30

Br Alain föreslår istället för en text att själv söka en bild framställd under de sista 50 åren som varit av andlig betydelse för en själv personligen.  - Denna uppgift är personlig och inget som redovisas i Filosofisamtalets sammanhang.
/ Br Alain asks, instead of a text, that we each one look for an image made the last fifty years that had a spiritual  importance for you personally.  - This tast is personal and will not be taken up in the frame of Filosofisamtalet.


Musik och mystik. Erik Scüldt     Onsdag 21 mars 2018

Att återigen lyssna igenom Philip Glass Metamorfoser, pianosviten i fem delar från år 1988, det väckte en rad gamla minnen till liv.  Det fanns nämligen en tid för ungefär tio år sen då jag bokstavligen levde med den här musiken dygnet runt. Den gången var det Philip Glass själv som satt vid flygeln på en tidig inspelning.

Särskilt Metamorfos nr 2 – det stycket jag tänkte att vi skulle lyssna till alldeles strax, ja särskilt den musiken strömmade genom mina hörlurar när jag promenerade fram och tillbaka från jobbet i Radiohuset i Stockholm, men inte bara då, utan även så fort jag skulle läsa nått eller skriva eller tänka, eller… ja de var nog så att jag under några månader var helt marinerad i just det här enkla pianostycket.

Sanningen är att jag hade kört fast på så många olika plan… jag hade gått vilse, tappat den röda tråden, och som så många andra i liknande situationer kom jag fram till ungefär samma slutsats – jag visste inte vem jag var, jag visste inte vart jag var på väg.

Egentligen var jag bara säker på en enda sak:
…musiken som jag lyssnade på dygnet runt, den var nått, kanske det enda, som gick att hålla fast vid.  Den var ett öppet fönster, nått fullt igenom verkligt och meningsfullt… ja varje gång dom inledande tonerna i den andra metamorfosen drog igång så kändes det som att bli visad fram till det där fönstret, ett fönster som Philip Glass tålmodigt hade lyckats bända upp för att den större världen skulle kunna skina in.

När jag nu återvänder till samma musik långt senare, så inser jag att jag egentligen aldrig funderat över titeln på det här stycket.
Visst kan man läsa på skivkonvolutet att delar av pianosviten är skriven som musik till ett framförande av Kafkas pjäs Förvandlingen, men jag tror att det finns en ännu djupare innebörd gömd i den till synes barnsligt enkla musiken.  Den är ju nästan helt stillastående, likt det mesta annat som Philip Glass komponerat.  Det är ett mycket begränsat tonmaterial som upprepas gång på gång på gång i ungefär samma tempo. Ja, jämfört med den klassiska musikens alla andra stora förvandlingsnummer ter sig denna metamorfos närmast som en parodi.

Först nu, tio år efter min första stora lyssningsupplevelse, ja först nu när jag återvänder till metaforfoserna (och då i en tolkning av pianisten Nicola Horvath), ja först nu klarnar det. Det är inte musiken som utgör förvandlingen, den är bara en fixstjärna på den mörka natthimlen, den riktiga förvandlingen den är det vi lyssnare som står för. För när jag efter många år nu kommer tillbaka till den musik som under en period i livet var så viktig, ja då är det uppenbart att jag inte är samma person längre.

På notpappret ser musiken lika dan ut, men i mina öron har den fått fördjupad betydelse. För allt som det öppna fönstret lovade, det visade sig stämma.  Det fanns verkligen en värld där ute, den var fylld av skönhet och allvar, och det var från den världen som musiken kom ifrån. Även om det ännu är omöjligt att fullt ut överträda den gräns som fönstret utgör, så är jag ganska så säker på att det går att föra samtal just där, i draget från det öppna fönstret. Kanske är detta grunden i den förvandlingsprocess som verkar finnas i alla mystika traditioner världen över.
Ropa – tystna – lyssna.


Text till samtal med Cecilia Sjöholm  måndagen den 27 november 2017

Att njuta skönhet

 Av Cecilia Sjöholm


Skönhet och lust

  Det finns, skriver Levinas, något ont och egoistiskt och fegt i njutandet av konsten. Det finns ögonblick då man kan skämmas över den, som om man frossade i tider då pesten härjar.1 Vad kan vara mer skambelagt? Sätter inte Levinas fingret på just exakt det som gör att vi känner ett styng av skam inför den frivola njutning som hör till konsten?


I vår egen tid är idén om njutning kanske alltför sammanlänkad med idéer om kropp och sexualitet. Den sorts njutning Levinas hänvisar till här har ingenting med sådana begär att göra. Snarare handlar det om att konsten låter oss njuta av ett sken, en simulaker, i ett ögonblick då vi inte längre behöver känna gravitationens kraft. Skönhet är det begrepp som historiskt använts för att beskriva en sådan njutning. Kanske tycks hela begreppet höra till något förgånget, liksom den skamfyllda njutning som Lévinas beskriver. Men i själva verket är skönhetsnjutningens skamfyllda ögonblick en oavvislig del av konstens självbild, inte minst i det sätt på vilket konsthistorien utmanats av avantgardet på 60-talet.


Allt sedan estetikens födelse som en särskild kunskapsgren på 1700-talet har konsten förbundits med njutning. Vi njuter av det sköna, och därför njuter vi också av konst. Konsterna, menade Charles Batteux, förenas av det sätt på vilket vi njuter av dem, snarare än av hur vi använder dem.2 David Hume beskrev vår njutningsfyllda upplevelse av skönhet som en rent fysisk upplevelse.3 Skönhet har att göra med färger och former, och vår förmåga att uppskatta dessa har en fysisk inverkan på vår egen kropp. Men den tidiga estetiken talar inte bara om form och färg. Njutningen gäller inte bara visuell konst, och inte heller enbart blickens omfamnande av det sköna. Hos Baumgarten blir uppskattandet av det sköna till en sinnlighetens festival.4 Lyssnande är poetiskt. Välljud är poetiskt. Versmått och meter skänker lust. Herder beskriver också hur skönhetens begrepp har sitt ursprung i en erfarenhet som till en början är visuell, men som sedan har utvecklats till att täcka allt som ”har en njutningsfylld effekt på själen.”5



Denna sammankoppling mellan sinnena, skönheten och njutningen är speciell för 1700-talet. Då Kant skriver sin Kritik av omdömeskraften utgör dessa tre begrepp grundpelarna i hans resonemang.6 Njutandet av det sköna beskrivs i tidsliga termer: välbehaget är något som vill hålla oss kvar, ett tillstånd vi vill stanna i. Skönhetsupplevelsen är lustfylld — det är lusten som gör att vi hänger kvar i betraktandet av det sköna. När vi dröjer med blicken, örat, känseln i det sköna är det för att vi upplever lust. Men vi kan egentligen inte styra vår lustupplevelse. Den drabbar oss, liksom utifrån, och vi kan bara förstå den som att något vill hålla oss kvar i den. Kvardröjandet är egentligen det enda som kan mäta vår upplevelse. Vi kan till exempel inte bestämma oss för att en del föremål är vackrare än andra och därför mer benägna att ge oss lust. Lusten kan inte vara apriori. Den är inte kausal. Vi kan inte sluta oss till vad som ger oss lust på intellektuell väg. Den handlar om erfarenhet, a posteriori.


Lusten är kontemplativ och har inget mål utöver sig själv. Erfarenheten av den formella ändamålsenligheten i en föreställning blottar sig genom lusten själv. I ett reflexivt estetiskt omdöme rör tanken vid sig själv i en lustfylld kontemplation av det sköna. ”Vad är livets största börda?” frågade sig Immanuel Kant. Svaret blev, inte oväntat: inte den olust som infinner sig vid varje förhindrad tillfredsställelse. Den största bördan är snarare den fysiska tillfredsställelsen som sådan. För Kant var mötet med skönheten den enda tillåtna lusten, det enda undantaget. Han såg inte skammen.


Att vända blicken

 Med Kant, säger den modernistiska traditionen, gjordes konstverket autonomt, objektifierades, särades från det betraktande subjektet. Uppdelningen mellan subjekt och objekt, betraktare och betraktat, är dock inte någon självklar teoretisk och filosofisk grundpelare vare sig för estetiken eller för konsten. Inte minst har man frågit sig varför blicken som njuter har kodats som aktiv och viril medan föremålet för njutningen följdenligt tolkats som underdånigt och passivt. Den nakna kvinnokroppen är visserligen en klassisk bild för estetisk njutning. Tänk på de många framställningar där vi liksom i hemlighet inbjuds att låta blicken hänga vid den nakna kvinnliga kroppen, att liksom tjuvkika på den: Susanna i badet, Olympia, Frukost i det gröna, Demoisellerna från Avignon... Samtidigt är det som om den konstnärliga traditionen sjäv bearbetat frågan om hur denna betraktande njutning ska tolkas. Manets Olympia, naken liggande på en bädd, visades först 1865 och var då förhatlig för den borgerliga publiken eftersom målningen presenterade en kvinnlig naken prostituerad. Men den nakna kvinna målad av Manet som äter frukost med påklädda män i gröngräset, Le déjeuner sur l´herbe, är inte enbart ett offer för vår blick. Hon ser tillbaka, möter vår blick och skapar ett slags förtrogenhet med oss åskådare. Därmed gör Manet denna ikoniserade kvinnliga nakenfigur delaktig i vår egen blick.


 Det estetiska konstnjutandet förutsätter inte ett tydligt subjekt och ett tydligt objekt, en implicit fördelning där betraktaren är en man som njuter av det kvinnliga objektet, den nakna kroppen. Konsten har länge varit medveten om att njutandet är en fråga om perspektiv, betraktande och förhållningssätt. Vad händer då blicken riktas tillbaka ur framställningen,konsten inte bara är ett objekt för kontemplativ njutning?


Just det var ju frågan när 1964 Carolee Schneeman gjorde verket Site tillsammans med Robert Morris i en parafras av Manet´s Olympia. Schneemans och Morris performance Site är tableau, teater, dans och skulptur. Verket uppfördes 1964 på olika dansscener i NY. Morris bär vit, mask och svarta handskar. Han bär plankor fram och tillbaka över scenen. Hela tiden brölar en bandspelare i bakgrunden. De olika elementen på scenen skiftar relationer till varandra kontinuerligt. Målning blir skulptur, skulptur blir dans, dans blir musik. Samtidigt anspelar verket på konsten som ett slags handfast hantverk och försöker komma över idén om att konsten skulle vara ett statiskt och slutgiltigt objekt. Konstens arbete syftar inte längre mot avtäckandet av en ikon eller en fetisch.


Det har ofta hävdats att den filosofiska estetiken, som utgår från njutning, lust och skönhet som alldeles självklara begrepp, har saknat verktyg för att förstå den installations- och performance-konst som 60-talskonsten innebar. Man tänker sig då att de begrepp som estetiken använt har utgått från just en given relation mellan ett betraktande subjekt och ett objekt. Men vad 60-talet framför allt iscensatte var ett slags medskapande som satte konstnjutandet i centrum.


Medan det modernistiska projektet hade vilat på viljan att utforska medvetandeströmmar, jaget, subjektet, objektet et cetera, kom de kvinnliga performancekonstnärerna att sätta kroppen, och då främst den kvinnliga kroppen, i fokus. Konstnärer som Hannah Wilke, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneeman and Vito Acconci utmanade den traditionella konstnärliga estetikens iscensättanden av rum och tid, subjekt and objekt, blick och framträdande, jaget och den andre. Men de nya genrer som uppstod på 60- och 70-talet skapades inte bara för att de ville utmana idén om att vara objekt för den manliga blicken. De motiverades också av att inte vilja vara objekt på en marknad. Att skapa verk i former som immaterialiserades och försvann var ett sätt att utmana konstens kulturella och ekonomiska värden. Konstnärerna såg att samma personer som stödde deras konst också stödde och finansierade kriget i Vietnam. Därmed blev performancekonsten en väg mot en alternativ konstform, en estetisk praktik som vägrade att låta sig kapas, som både undvek att bli en del av etablissemanget och att skapa objekt i form av kommoditeter. Här kan man se ett uttryck för en vilja att komma bort från den njutning som Levinas talar om: det skamfyllda njutande som handlar om ett festande i pestens tider. Konstens nya fokus på kroppen kommenterar fetischiseringen och kommodifieringen, som en kritik av ett kapitalistiskt system som kapat själva konstnjutningen


1960-talets performancekonstnärer ingår i en större allmän kritik av och revolt mot det kapitalistiska systemet. Genom att publiken tilläts interagera med konstnären i verket ifrågasattes distinktionen mellan privat och offentligt, ditt och mitt. Publik och konstnär deltog i ett gemensamt rum, i en gemensam handling, som inte kunde återskapas eller egentligen överföras någon annanstans, och framför allt inte säljas. Flera feministiska konstnärer använde också sin kropp för att på ett väldigt påtagligt sätt bryta ner gränsen mellan intimt och offentligt, ett brott som givetvis också kan kopplas till feministisk aktivism.


De här verken är inte bara relevanta för konst- eller teaterhistorien. De är högst relevanta för de frågor som vi ställer inom estetiken idag. Användandet av levande kroppar, som i sårbar position exponeras för publikens ögon, skapade ett nytt sätt att presentara konst. Kropparna etablerade en intimitet mellan åskådare och konstnär som bidrog till en estetisk vändning. Och det är kanske inte en slump att det är just kvinnliga konstnärer som använder estetikens rum på detta nya sätt. Handlar inte 60-talets performancekonst främst om ett kidnappande av njutningen? Om att ta tillbaka den från exploateringen hos de kapitalistiska samlarna, om att återerövra den från den exploaterande blicken, om att försöka rädda den från ett ständigt festande i pestens tider, till att bli mer integrerad i våra liv, mer tillgänglig och mer omedelbar? Kan det vara så att det inte bara handlar om ett återtagande av den kvinnliga kroppen, men att det som de kvinnliga konstnärerna nu vill ge oss är njutningen av det konstnärliga verket, fast bortom skammen, och genom ett helt nytt slags frossande och festande?


Är det inte så att de här verken inte bara återtar den kvinnliga kroppen från den manliga blicken, utan att de dessutom skapar ett helt nytt slags, och skamlöst frosseri. Ett frosseri i nakenhet, njutande, könslighet, av konst, kropp, blick. På sätt och vis är det kanske här inte bara fråga om en feministisk gest. Det handlar inte bara om att visa den kvinnliga kroppen på kvinnans villkor, eller om att vända på den förmodade relationen mellan objekt och subjekt. Det är också fråga om ett återtagande av det skamlösa njutandet som sådant, om en tillåtelse att faktiskt frossa i konstens egen njutning. Att rengöra den från att stå i tjänst hos andra intressen, att våga återta skamlösheten och ställa den i kroppens, gemenskapens och konstens tjänst.



1 ”Reality and its shadow”, The Levinas Reader, utg. Sean Hand, London: Blackwell, 142.


2 “Charles Batteux: “The Fine arts reduced to a single prinicple”, in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Aesthetics, ed Joseph Tanke and Colin McQuillan, London: Bloomsbury, 2012, 142


3 David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, ed L.A. Selby-Bigge, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, 299.



4 Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Aesthetica, red. Benedetto Croce, Bari 1936


5 Johann Gottfried Herder: selected Writings on Aesthetics, ed and transl J.G.Moore, Pronceton: Princeton University Press., 2006, 212-229


6 Immanuel Kant: Kritik av omdömeskraften, övers Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Stockholm: Thales, 2003, § 12.



Text till samtal med Max Liljefors, Jagets murar faller, konst och förvandling,  onsdagen den 25 oktober 2017


Öppningar till det numinösa projektbeskrivning Max Liljefors m fl

Skärningspunkter mellan religion och estetik i det sekulära samhället


 Syftet med det här forskningsprojektet är att filosofiskt och idéhistoriskt analysera släktskapet mellan två grundläggande mänskliga erfarenheter – den religiösa och den estetiska upplevelsen – inom ramen för dagens sekulära, mångkulturella samhälle.
Utgångspunkten är den tidigromantiska filosofins tanke om en väsenslikhet mellan den andliga och den estetiska upplevelsen. De har en gemensam grund, enligt detta synsätt, i människans inre förmåga att förundras och överväldigas, en grundval som existerar fristående från konfessionell dogmatik.
Projektet vill utveckla detta perspektiv vidare för att kasta ljus över skärningspunkterna mellan andlighet och konst i vår egen tid. För detta kommer vi att inlemma nutida rön från neurovetenskap och medicinsk humaniora, samt nyare utvecklingslinjer inom estetik, teologi och religionsfilosofi. Genom detta flervetenskapliga angreppssätt vill vi förnya förståelsen av religionens och konstens beröringspunkter idag.
Genom att tyda religion i termer av estetiska erfarenheter är vår målsättning att öppna nya sätt att tänka kring olika religioners kulturella och idémässiga arv och den funktion de fyller i människors liv idag.


 Sverige beskrivs ofta som ett av världens mest sekulariserade länder. Det ligger en hel del i det. Människors institutionella religiösa engagemang har befunnit sig i stadig nedgång under det senaste århundradet och kyrkbänkarna ekar på de flesta håll tomma. Med ett undantag. När Bachs passioner eller Händels Messias sätts upp fylls i regel den största domkyrka till brädden. Några år före sin död kommenterade författarinnan Birgitta Trotzig denna dubbelhet genom att framhålla att detta ingalunda handlade om andlig ytlighet, utan tvärtom vittnade om ”en mycket bred allmänhets känsla för vad det sakrala verkligen är”.

Vad Trotzig antyder är att det finns en väsenslikhet mellan den andliga och den konstnärliga upplevelsen – att den estetiska erfarenheten rentav förmår förmedla en känsla för det outsägliga på ett sätt som religionens traditionella språk och former inte längre gör.

Trotzig tangerar här en tanke som formulerades redan under den tyska romantiken, men som kom att trängas undan av en mer rationalistisk diskurs kring religionens vara eller icke-vara. Så kunde exempelvis den romantiske teologen Friedrich Schleiermacher hävda att religion, precis som konst, ytterst handlar om att ha ”sinne och smak för det oändliga” – att kunna förundras, beröras och överväldigas. Denna föreställning genljuder i termen Kunstreligion som Schleiermacher myntar och som sedan utvecklas till ett nyckelbegrepp i den tidiga romantikens filosofi.

Romantikens tanke om konsten som ”själens vingar” lever sedan vidare i många varianter under modernismens brokiga mantel. Konstnärerna Vasilij Kandinsky, Hilma af Klint och Mark Rothko hör till de mest kända exemplen. Under postmodernismens banér kom emellertid kopplingen mellan det estetiska och det sakrala nästan helt att överges (se Elkins 2004). Istället kom konsten att inramas av abstrakta och texttunga teorier, som inte sällan fick rollen som konstverkens ”facit”. 1

Kravet på avancerad teoretisk beläsenhet – ett slags dogmatik – har fjärmat nutidskonsten från många konstbetraktare. Vad som lämnas därhän, närmare bestämt, är betraktarens möte med konstverket i ett delat här och nu. Själva den estetiska upplevelsen försvinner därmed ur sikte bakom teorierna. Och ändå är det just fördjupade estetiska upplevelser – sådana som Trotzig kommenterar ovan – som många människor söker i konsten.

Vad ovanstående beskrivning visar är att såväl religionen som nutidskonsten har hamnat i ett slags isolering – i dubbel bemärkelse. De har fjärmats från den breda allmänheten, men också från varandra. Det är den sistnämnda isoleringen som projektet vill utmana genom sitt flervetenskapliga perspektiv.

 Tidigare forskning

 Vi vill här lyfta fram rön från två forskningsfält som indikerar att det finns skäl att på nytt aktualisera relationen mellan konst och religion.

Det ena är neurovetenskaplig forskning som pekar mot att estetiska och andliga upplevelser har en gemensam neuronal bas i hjärnan, exempelvis i form av aktivitet i default mode network (DMN) som även förknippas med självreflektion och empati. Vissa forskare tolkar detta som att religiösa upplevelser av att uppgå i något större utgör en intensifierad variant av det som i mindre stark form erfars som en estetisk upplevelse (d’Aguili & Newberg 2000). Andra menar att det är individens kognitiva tolkningsramar som avgör om en upplevelse erfars som estetisk eller andlig (Stange & Taylor 2008).

Det andra fältet är medicinsk humaniora, där forskning visat att estetiska och konstnärliga upplevelser har positiv effekt på såväl kognitiv förmåga som existentiellt välbefinnande hos personer med neurodegenerativa sjukdomar, t.ex. Alzheimers och Parkinsons, och/eller demens (Wikstrom 2002; Kinney and Rentz 2005; Cohen et. al. 2007; Mittleman & Epstein 2009). Medsökande Liljefors leder för närvarande ett sådant projekt inom Linnémiljön BAGADILICO (2008–2018), i samarbete med Minneskliniken på Skånes Universitetssjukhus samt Malmö konsthall och Malmö museer (Rosenqvist & Suneson 2016).

Inom medicinsk humaniora relaterar det estetiska till den dimension av hälsa som WHO och andra aktörer sedan något decennium benämner ”andlig hälsa” (spiritual health), vid sidan av fysisk, mental och social hälsa (Larsson 1996; Nagase 2012; Chirico 2016). Begreppet ”andlig” ska här förstås helt oberoende från religiösa konfessioner: det pekar mot individens upplevda existentiella förankring i tillvaron (Anandarajah and Hight 2001; Hyun 2016). Forskningen visar att estetiska erfarenheter kan ha en stark fördjupande effekt på detta plan, exempelvis genom att inge lugn eller uppfylldhet och känslor av närvaro, tacksamhet och förundran.

Rön från neurovetenskap och medicinsk humaniora kommer att inlemmas i projektets idéhistoriska och filosofiska undersökning. Därmed vill vi på ett metodiskt nydanande sätt överbrygga klyftan mellan empirisk forskning och humanistisk reflektion. Den förra kommer att bidra till projektets förnyande av frågeställningarna kring konst och religion. Den senare kan falla tillbaka på en flerhundraårig tradition av filosofiskt tänkande kring konstens och religionens väsen och har därmed unika redskap att relatera dagens rön till ett existentiellt ramverk. 2

 Teoretisk grund

En viktig utgångspunkt för projektet är som nämnts den tidigromantiska synen att andliga och estetiska erfarenheter är befryndade. Detta synsätt växer fram i ett historiskt skede då såväl konstbegreppet som religionsbegreppet i hög grad erhåller sina moderna bestämningar, det vill säga under 1700-talet. Det är också en tid då gränsen mellan konst och religion i flera avseenden luckras upp. Detta har bland annat att göra med att båda sfärerna påverkas av de framväxande naturvetenskapernas ideal för sanning och vetande (Buntfuss 2004; Müller 2004).

Mot denna bakgrund uppkommer en diskussion om huruvida det slags erfarenhet som såväl konsten som religionen rymmer utgör sfärer av insikt i egen rätt, skilda från både vetenskapens och moralens områden. Schleiermachers Tal över religionen från 1799 utgör i detta sammanhang ett nyckelverk (Grove 2004). Skriften återspeglar det växande intresset för känslans, förnimmelsens och erfarenhetens betydelse vid den här tiden (Ferry 1990). Nära förknippat med denna utveckling är också föreställningen att konsten, liksom mytologin, förmår uttrycka erfarenhetsdimensioner som inte låter sig fångas i ett begreppsligt eller propositionellt språk (Frank 1997; Schuback 2005; 2011).

Ett skäl till att den tidigromantiska reflektionen kring religionens väsen fått ny aktualitet är att även vi befinner oss i en tid då den vedertagna förståelsen av begreppet religion håller på att omprövas. Så har exempelvis en rad teoretiker påvisat hur det moderna religionsbegreppet tagit för givet en rad gränsdragningar (religiöst–sekulärt, tro–vetande, materialism–andlighet, etc) som tenderar att förenkla en betydligt mer komplex verklighet (se t.ex. Dubuisson 1998; Fitzgerald 2000; Assad 2003; Masuzawa 2005).

Som belysande exempel på de vedertagna gränsdragningarnas otillräcklighet kan nämnas en artikel av idéhistorikern Sven-Eric Liedman med den tankeväckande titeln ”Den förtrollade materialismen” (2008). Utan att på något sätt frångå sin ateistiska grundövertygelse formulerar Liedman här sin känsla av förundran inför tillvarons sinnrikhet, samtidigt som han framhåller det främlingskap han känner inför den aggressiva tvärsäkerhet som utmärker den så kallade nyateismen. Liedmans artikel har i sin tur kommenterats av tänkare med religiös anknytning som framhållit att de känner sig betydligt mer befryndade med Liedmans attityd av förundran än med den tvärsäkerhet som utmärker den egna religiösa traditionens mer högljudda förespråkare.

Enligt religionshistorikern David Thurfjell (2015) är den hållning Liedman ger uttryck åt representativ för många som upplever ett andligt djup i erfarenheter av konst, musik eller natur, utan religiös terminologi. Mot bakgrund av detta nya landskap menar vi att det är relevant att ta utgångspunkt i själva erfarenheten av det numinösa, obunden av konfessionella övertygelser.

När det gäller det estetiska ger filosofihistorien långt före det moderna konstbegreppets uppkomst exempel på att den estetiska erfarenheten genljuder av det numinösa. I Platons Gästabudet (ca 385 f Kr) återger Sokrates den undervisning som hans lärare, den kvinnliga filosofen Diotima, har gett honom om skönhetens väsen. Människan börjar med att älska skönheten i enstaka fenomen, säger Diotima, och höjer sig därifrån till att känna igen det sköna i det abstrakta och det själsliga. Till sist blickar hon ut över ”skönhetens vidsträckta hav”, evigt och oföränderligt. Vad Diotima här lär ut är att den estetiska erfarenheten är ett slags ”hjärtats fostran” som på djupet kan omstöpa människans förhållningssätt till tillvaron, bortom enskilda föremål. 3

Nutida filosofer har försökt ringa in särarten i den estetiska erfarenheten i termer som, liksom hos Diotima, ekar av det numinösa och som sträcker sig längre än till det enskilda konstföremålet. För Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht (2003) är kärnan i det estetiska en upplevelse av intensifierad närvaro, som i princip kan uppkomma närsomhelst. Martin Seel (2004; 2014) menar att det instrumentella tänkandet i sådana ögonblick faller undan, då den estetiska upplevelsen aldrig söker ett syfte bortom sig självt. Seel tar ytterligare ett steg. I det estetiska ögonblicket träder själva det egna jaget tillbaka för att ge rum åt ”något annat” – manifesterat av konstverket – och finner i detta självupplåtande en ny frihet. I liknande anda talar filosofen och romanförfattaren Iris Murdoch (1993) om att ”jagets murar faller” i det estetiska, i en process hon benämner unselfing.

Till sist några ord om vår relation till och avgränsning mot befintlig religions- och konstvetenskaplig teoribildning.

Vi skiljer oss från det idag växande forskningsfält som kallas teologisk estetik, med dess premiss att det sanna konstverket pekar mot en gudomlig verklighet. (se t.ex. Hart 2004; Clark 2008; McCullough 2015). Likaså avgränsar vi oss från sådana konstvetenskapliga perspektiv som definierar estetiska och andliga motiv som attribut till klass, eller rangordnar konstuttryck eller -upplevelser som olika mycket ”äkta” eller ”rena” (se Bourdieu 1984; Clark 1999; Elkins 2004).

Vi vill istället öppna upp frågan om släktskapet mellan religiösa och estetiska erfarenheter i samma radikala anda som de tidiga romantikerna: inte för att befästa dogmatik eller kategoriska verklighetsbeskrivningar, utan med ett fokus på erfarenheten i dess egen rätt i syfte att ompröva själva förståelsen av det numinösa (Bowie 2009).

Detta innebär inte att vi avgränsar oss mot teologisk forskning som sådan – många goda exempel finns på kritiskt burna studier i tvärsnittet mellan teologi och konst (se t.ex. Bahr 1965; Taylor 1992; Pattison 1998; Bergmann 2009). Likaså relaterar vi till adekvata nyare utvecklingslinjer inom estetisk teori (se t.ex. Carlson 2008; Saito 2010; Berleant 2012; Shusterman 2012; Han 2015).

Sammanfattningsvis vill vi med detta projekt inte uppställa några dogmer, varken religiösa eller estetiska, utan tvärtom möjliggöra ett öppet filosofiskt utforskande av en genuint mänsklig erfarenhetsform – erfarenheten av det numinösa.

Utförande och förmedling

Projektet kommer att kombinera och vidareutveckla teoretiska och metodologiska perspektiv från religionsvetenskap och från konstvetenskap. Härigenom avser projektet att vara såväl metodologiskt som teoretiskt nydanande. Vidare kommer projektet att innehålla ett antal fallstudier av nutida svenska konstnärskap.

Resultaten från projektet kommer att spridas inom ramen för den humanistiska forskningens traditionella former, såsom vetenskapliga och populärvetenskapliga artiklar, avhandlingar och akademiska forskarseminarier.

Projektet vill dessutom bidra till kontakten mellan akademin och det bredare kulturlivet. Denna föresats återspeglas i ett planerat samarbete mellan Centrum för Teologi och Religionsvetenskap (CTR), Institutionen för Kulturvetenskaper och Skissernas Museum. 4

Aktiviteterna vid Skissernas Museum kommer att bestå i seminarier och symposier, vissa med ett snävare akademiskt fokus och andra med ett mer populärvetenskapligt upplägg. I det förra fallet handlar det om tvärvetenskapliga temaseminarier, där forskare inom neurovetenskap och medicinsk humaniora möter forskare inom religionsvetenskap, filosofi och konstvetenskap. I det senare fallet kommer företrädare att bjudas in från såväl konstarternas som religionernas sfärer för samtal om bredare ämnen, till exempel ”konstens roll i religionerna”, ”religionens roll i konsten” och ”sakrala upplevelser i en sekulär tid”.
Genom dessa aktiviteter vill vi skapa en återkommande kontaktyta mellan den forskning projektet genererar och den intresserade allmänheten – vilket är särskilt relevant, då forskningsfrågan ytterst rör allmänmänskliga erfarenheter. Skissernas Museum, som nu befinner sig i en intensiv utvecklingsfas, menar vi kommer att vara mycket lämplig som en sådan mötesplats.

När projektet löper mot sitt slut kommer en internationell konferens att förläggas vid Skissernas Museum. Konferensen ska synliggöra projektets resultat i en internationell akademisk kontext.

 Projektgruppens sammansättning


Projektet bygger på ett integrerat samarbete mellan företrädare för konstvetenskap, religionsvetenskap samt Skissernas Museum vid Lunds Universitet.

Projektet kommer att ledas av Jayne Svenungsson, professor i systematisk teologi vid Centrum för Teologi och Religionsvetenskap (CTR). I projektet ingår vidare Max Liljefors, professor i konsthistoria och visuella studier vid Institutionen för Kulturvetenskaper. Skissernas Museum kommer i projektet att representeras av dess nuvarande chef, fil. dr Patrick Amsellem.

Utöver de tre seniora forskarna kommer projektet att inrymma en doktorand. Doktorandtjänsten kommer att utlysas inom systematisk teologi, dock med en tydlig tvärvetenskaplig karaktär som korresponderar med projektets övergripande målsättning. Förutom förkunskapskraven för att antas som doktorand i systematisk teologi, kommer därför även en kandidatexamen inom konstvetenskap att krävas.


Utöver projektets vetenskapliga värde vill vi peka på två områden där resultaten har potential för en vidare samhällelig signifikans.

Det ena har att göra med att religionen har fått en ny synlighet i takt med att den etniska och kulturella mångfalden har ökat i det svenska samhället. Som den redan nämnde religionshistorikern David Thurfjell visat i sin uppmärksammade studie Det gudlösa folket. De postkristna svenskarna och religionen (2015) har detta inneburit att ”religion” i många etniska svenskars ögon blivit något som förknippas med vissa minoritetsgrupper, men som man ser sig själv befriad från. Motsatsparet sekulär–religiös har därmed kommit att sammanfalla med och förstärka kategoriska gränsdragningar mellan grupper av olika etnisk härkomst. Genom att anlägga nya perspektiv på vad religiös erfarenhet är – i termer av estetik snarare än konfession och dogmatik – menar vi att projektet har potential att luckra upp sådana motsättningar och bli en utgångspunkt för nyansering och dialog.

Det andra området rör den estetiska erfarenhetens välgörande effekter på det som ovan har benämnts ”andlig hälsa”. Genom att öka medvetenheten om detta, kan projektet bidra till att upprätta kanaler mellan redan existerande infrastrukturer i samhället: å ena sidan konstinstitutioner som museer, konsthallar och konstföreningar och å andra sidan samhällsinstitutioner som dagligen handskas med människors hälsa och välbefinnande, till exempel vårdinrättningar och skolor. Projektet kan härvid bidra till utvecklandet av en konstpedagogik som tar särskilt sikte på den existentiella potentialen för läkande, som forskningen visat finns i den estetiska erfarenheten.

Till sist vill vi framhålla projektets betydelse i den lokala lundensiska kontexten. Inte sällan har forskningsanslag en tendens att försvinna in i den akademiska världen utan påtaglig utdelning för den omgivande kulturen. I motsats till detta är vårt projekt, genom samarbetet med Skissernas Museum, redan från början utformat för att på ett unikt sätt nå utanför universitetets väggar och komma stadens invånare till del. Genom samverkan mellan forskningen och museet hoppas vi ge ett vitalt bidrag till Lunds kulturliv. 6



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Text till samtal med Andreas Carlgren, Den ekologiska krisens mänskliga rötter,  måndagen den 15 maj 2017

ur LAUDATO SI´- LOVAD VARE DU -Påve Franciskus encyklika angående omsorgen om vårt gemensamma hem

1. "LAUDATO SI´, mi´ Signore" - "Lovad var du, min Herre". Med orden ur denna vackra hymn påminner oss den helige Franciskus av Assisi om att vårt gemensamma hem är som en syster med vilken vi delar vårt liv och som en vacker moder som öppnar sina armar för att omfamna oss. "Lovad vare du, min Herre, för vår syster, moder Jord, som när oss och vakar över oss och låter alla arter av frukter och prunkande blommor och gräs växa fram".1

2. Denna syster ropar nu förtvivlat mot oss till följd av den skada vi har åsamkat henne genom att oansvarigt bruka och missbruka de gåvor med vilka Gud har försett henne. Vi har kommit att uppfatta oss själva som hennes herrar och härskare med rätt att skövla henne efter behag. Oron i våra hjärtan, skadade av synd, återspeglas i de sjukdomssymtom som marken, vattnet, luften och livets alla skepnader uppenbarar. Därför är jorden som sådan, tyngd och förhärjad, bland de mest övergivna och misshandlade av våra fattiga; hon "ropar som i födslovåndor" (Rom 8:22). Vi har glömt att vi själva är av jordens stoft (jfr 1 Mos 2:7); våra kroppar består av hennes element, vi andas hennes luft och hennes vatten ger oss liv och styrka.

Ingenting i denna värld är oss likgiltigt

3. För mer än femtio år sedan, när världen stod på randen till en kärnvapenkris, skrev påven S:t Johannes XXIII en encyklika som inte bara förkastade krig utan erbjöd förslag till fred. Han adresserade sitt budskap Pacem in Terris till hela "den katolska världen" och förvisso "till alla män och kvinnor av god vilja". Nu, ställda som vi är inför den globala miljöns försämring, vill jag vända mig till varje människa på denna planet. I min apostoliska uppmaning Evangelii Gaudium (Evangeliets glädje) vände jag mig till alla Kyrkans medlemmar i syftet att stärka en fortgående missionsförnyelse. I denna encyklika vill jag gå i dialog med alla människor angående vårt gemensamma hem.

4. 1971, åtta år efter Pacem in Terris, refererade Salige påven Paulus VI till den ekologiska oron som "en tragisk konsekvens" av ohämmad mänsklig aktivitet: "Till följd av en obetänksam exploatering av naturen löper mänskligheten risken att förstöra den och, som en konsekvens, bli offer för detta förfall".2 I liknande termer talade han inför FN:s livsmedels- och jordbruksorganisation (FAO) om en potentiell "ekologisk katastrof till följd av den industriella explosionen" och underströk "den brådskande nödvändigheten av radikal förändring av mänsklighetens beteende" eftersom "de mest anmärkningsvärda vetenskapliga framsteg, de mest häpnadsväckande tekniska möjligheter, den mest förvånansvärda ekonomiska tillväxt utan tvekan kommer att vändas mot mänskligheten om det inte åtföljs av tillförlitlig social och moralisk utveckling".3

 5. S:t Johannes Paulus II blev i tilltagande grad engagerad i denna fråga. I sin första encyklika varnade han för att människan vanligtvis "inte förefaller se någon annan mening i naturen än den som tillgodoser omedelbar användning och konsumtion".4 Följaktligen efterlyste han en global ekologisk omvändelse.5 Samtidigt uppmärksammade han att ansträngningen varit blygsam när det gällt att "säkra de moraliska förutsättningarna för en autentisk mänsklig ekologi".6 Miljöförstöringen är extremt allvarlig, inte bara därför att Gud anförtrott världen åt oss män och kvinnor, utan därför att mänskligt liv som sådant är en gåva som måste försvaras mot olika former av förnedring. Varje ansträngning för att skydda och förbättra vår värld för med sig grundläggande förändringar i "livsstil, produktions- och konsumtionsmönster och de etablerade maktstrukturer som i dag styr våra samhällen".7 Autentisk mänsklig utveckling har en moralisk beskaffenhet. Den förutsätter full respekt för människan, men den måste också vara angelägen om världen omkring oss och "ta hänsyn till varje varelses natur och dess ömsesidiga samhörighet i ett ordnat system".8 I enlighet med detta måste vår mänskliga förmåga att förändra verkligheten fortskrida i linje med Guds ursprungliga gåva i allt som är.9

 6. Min företrädare Benedikt XVI föreslog på samma sätt "ett avlägsnande av strukturella orsaker till den dysfunktionella världsekonomin och ett korrigerande av modeller för tillväxt som har visat sig inkapabla att tillförsäkra respekt för miljön".10 Han konstaterade att världen inte kan analyseras bara utifrån en aspekt, därför att "naturens bok är en och odelbar" och omfattar miljön, livet, sexualiteten, familjen, sociala relationer och så vidare. Därav följer att "försämringen av naturen är nära förknippad med den kultur som formar mänsklig samexistens".11 Påve Benedikt manade oss att erkänna att miljön allvarligt skadats av vårt oansvariga leverne. Också den sociala miljön har lidit skada. Bådadera är i grunden en följd av samma onda: föreställningen att det inte finns några odiskutabla sanningar som vägleder våra liv, följaktligen är den mänskliga handlingsfriheten gränslös. Vi har glömt att "människan inte bara är frihet som hon skapar åt sig själv. Människan skapar inte sig själv. Hon är ande och vilja, men också natur".12 Med faderlig omsorg uppmanade oss Benedikt att inse att skapelsen skadas "där vi själva har sista ordet, där allting helt enkelt är vår egendom som vi använder bara för oss själva. Missbruket av skapelsen börjar när vi inte längre erkänner någon högre instans än oss själva, när vi ingenting annat ser än oss själva".13


101. Det skulle knappast vara hjälpsamt att beskriva symtomen utan att erkänna den ekologiska krisens mänskliga ursprung. Ett särskilt sätt att förstå människans liv och aktivitet har slagit fel med påföljden att världen omkring oss allvarligt skadats. Skall vi inte stanna upp och betänka detta? I detta skede föreslår jag att vi fokuserar på det dominerande teknokratiska paradigmet och människans och det mänskliga handlandets plats i världen.


102. Mänskligheten har nått en ny era i vilken våra tekniska framsteg har fört oss till en skiljeväg. Vi är förmånstagare till två århundraden av enorma förändringsvågor: ångmotorer, järnvägar, telegrafen, elektriciteten, bilen, flygplan, den kemiska industrin, modern medicin, informationsteknologi och, nyligen, den digitala revolutionen, robotteknik, bio- och nanoteknik. Det är rätt att glädja sig över dessa framsteg och att bli förväntansfull inför de många möjligheter de öppnar för oss, ty "vetenskap och teknologi är underbara frukter av den Gudagivna mänskliga kreativiteten".81 Modifiering av naturen för nyttiga syften har präglat den mänskliga familjen från början; teknik som sådan "ger uttryck åt de inre spänningar som driver människan att gradvis övervinna materiella begränsningar".82 Teknologin har funnit bot mot oräkneligt ont som skadade och begränsade människor. Hur vore det möjligt att inte känna tacksamhet och uppskattning för detta framåtskridande, särskilt inom områden som medicin, ingenjörsvetenskap och kommunikation? Hur skulle vi kunna undgå att uttrycka erkänsla för det arbete många forskare och ingenjörer åstadkommit för att förse oss med alternativ som gör utvecklingen hållbar?

103. Teknikvetenskap - när den är välriktad - kan producera viktiga verktyg för att förbättra människors livskvalitet, från användbara hjälpmedel i hushållet till stora transportsystem, broar, byggnader och offentliga platser. Den kan också åstadkomma konst och göra det möjligt för män och kvinnor upptagna av den materiella världen att kliva in i en värld av skönhet. Vem kan förneka att ett flygplan eller en skyskrapa kan vara vackra? Värdefull konst och musik använder sig nu av ny teknologi. I den skönhet som eftersträvas av den som använder nya tekniska instrument och i kontemplerandet inför sådan skönhet sker ett genombrott, ett förverkligande som är unikt mänskligt.

104. Dock måste det också vidkännas att atomenergi, bioteknologi, informationsteknologi, kunskapen om vårt DNA och många andra av de färdigheter vi har uppnått, har givits oss oerhörd makt. Mer precist: de har givit dessa som har kunskap, och särskilt de ekonomiska möjligheterna, att bruka den, en överväldigande dominans över hela mänskligheten och hela världen. Aldrig tidigare har mänskligheten haft sådan makt över sig själv, ändå finns det inget som säkerställer att den kommer att användas förståndigt, särskilt inte när vi tänker på hur den används just nu. Vi behöver bara tänka på atombomberna som släpptes i mitten av 1900-talet, eller på den stridsteknologi som nazismen, kommunismen och andra totalitära regimer uppbådade för att döda miljontals människor, för att inte tala om den växande arsenalen av dödsbringande vapen som finns tillgänglig för modern krigföring. I vilkas händer ligger all denna makt, eller kommer den händelsevis att upphöra? Det är extremt riskfyllt för en liten del av mänskligheten att äga den.

105. Det finns en tendens att tro att tillväxt av makt är detsamma som "en tillväxt av ´framåtskridande´ som sådant", framsteg för "säkerhet, användbarhet, välfärd och kraft ... ett införlivande av nya värden i kulturens ström"83, som om realism, godhet och sanning strömmar fram ur teknologisk och ekonomisk makt i sig. Faktum är att "nutidsmänniskan inte har tränats att nyttja makten väl"84, därför att vår enorma teknologiska utveckling inte har åtföljts av ett uppövande av mänskligt ansvarstagande, av våra värderingar och vårt samvete. Varje tidsålder tycks ha bara en klen medvetenhet om dess egna begränsningar. Det är möjligt att vi inte begriper allvaret i de utmaningar som nu ligger framför oss. "Varje dag ökar risken för att människan inte kommer att använda sin makt som hon borde"; i själva verket "bedöms makt aldrig i termer av ansvar för de val som ingår i friheten" eftersom dess "enda normer springer fram ur påstådd nödvändighet, gällande antingen användbarhet eller säkerhet".85 Men mänskliga varelser är inte helt och hållet självstyrande. Vår frihet förbleknar när vi lämnar över den till det omedvetnas blinda krafter, åt omedelbara behov, åt egennytta och åt våld. På så sätt står vi nakna och exponerade inför vår ständigt växande makt, utan medel att kontrollera den. Vi har vissa ytliga mekanismer men vi kan inte hävda att vi har en sund etik, kultur och andlighet som är genuint kapabel att sätta gränser och lära oss klarsynt självbehärskning.


202. Många kursändringar är nödvändiga men framför allt är det vi människor som behöver förändras. Vi saknar medvetenhet om vårt gemensamma ursprung, om vår ömsesidiga tillhörighet och om en framtid som skall delas av alla. En sådan grundläggande medvetenhet skulle göra det möjligt för nya övertygelser, attityder och livsformer att utvecklas. Vi har en viktig kulturell, andlig och kunskapsmässig utmaning framför oss och den kommer att kräva att vi ger oss åstad på förnyelsens långa väg.


203. I sin strävan att sälja sina produkter tenderar marknaden att gynna extrem konsumism, varför människor lätt kan fångas in i en virvelvind av onödiga inköp och slöseri. Tvångsmässigt köpbeteende är ett exempel på hur det teknologiska och ekonomiska paradigmet påverkar individer. Redan Romano Guardini förutsåg detta: "De prylar och den teknik som den maskinella produktionens och den abstrakta planeringens mekanismer tvingar på oss, accepteras ganska lätt av masskonsumtionens människa; de kommer att bli livet självt. I större eller mindre omfattning är masskonsumtionens människa övertygad om att hennes likriktning är något både förnuftigt och rätt".144 Detta paradigm förleder människor att tro att de är fria så länge som de har den skenbara friheten att konsumera. Men de verkligt fria är den minoritet som utövar ekonomisk och finansiell makt. Förutom denna förvirring har den postmoderna människan ännu inte nått en ny självinsikt som förmår vägleda och ange riktning, och den identitetsbristen utgör en källa till oro. Vi har för många möjligheter och bara några få dåligt underbyggda syften.

204. Den nuvarande globala situationen framkallar en känsla av instabilitet och osäkerhet, något som i sin tur blir "en grogrund för kollektiv själviskhet".145 När människor blir självcentrerade och inneslutna i sig själva ökar deras girighet. Ju tommare en människas hjärta är desto mer behöver hon saker att köpa, äga och konsumera. Det blir praktiskt taget omöjligt att acceptera verklighetens gränser. Med en sådan syn försvinner också en verklig känsla av det gemensamma goda. Efterhand som sådana attityder blir allmänt förekommande respekteras samhälleliga normer bara så länge de inte krockar med personliga behov. Följaktligen kan våra omsorger inte inskränka sig till att gälla extrema väderförhållanden utan måste vidgas till att omfatta de katastrofala konsekvenserna till följd av social oro.

205. Ännu är inte allt förlorat. Människan är visserligen kapabel att göra det värsta men har också förmågan att höja sig över sig själv, att åter välja det goda och börja om på nytt, trots sina själsliga och sociala förhållanden. Vi är förmögna att uppriktigt betrakta oss själva, att erkänna vår djupa otillfredsställelse och att ge oss ut på den verkliga frihetens väg. Inget system kan helt och fullt undertrycka vår öppenhet för det som är gott, sant och vackert, eller den förmåga vi fått av Gud att reagera på hans nåd som verkar djupt i våra hjärtan. Jag vädjar till var och en i världen att inte glömma denna vår värdighet. Ingen har rätten att ta den ifrån oss.

206. En förändrad livsstil kan åstadkomma hälsosamma påtryckningar på dem som utövar politisk, ekonomisk och social makt. Sådant kan uppnås av konsumentgrupper som bojkottar vissa produkter. De kan visa sig framgångsrika när det gäller att få företag att ändra sig genom att tvinga dem att ta miljömässiga hänsyn och begrunda sina produktionsmönster. När det sociala trycket påverkar deras förtjänster måste företagen helt enkelt hitta andra sätt att producera. Sådant visar oss att det finns ett stort behov av social ansvarskänsla i konsumentledet. "Det är bra att människor blir medvetna om att inköp inte bara är en ekonomisk transaktion utan alltid även en moralisk handling".146 I dag, med ett enda ord, "utmanar oss frågan om miljöförstörelsen att granska vår livsstil".147

207. The Earth Charter, den internationella deklarationen, uppmanade oss att lämna självdestruktionens period bakom oss och börja om på nytt, men ännu har vi inte utvecklat den utbredda medvetenhet som behövs för att uppnå detta. Jag vill återge den modiga utmaningen här: "Som aldrig tidigare i historien, tecknar vårt gemensamma öde åt oss att börja om på nytt ... Låt vår tid bli ihågkommen för uppvaknandet för en ny vördnad för livet, den fasta beslutsamheten att uppnå hållbarhet, påskyndandet av kampen för rättvisa och fred och det glädjefulla högtidlighållandet av livet".148

208. Vi är alltid förmögna att gå ut ur oss själva i riktning mot andra. Om vi inte gör detta erkänner vi inte andra skapelsers sanna värde; vi bryr oss inte om att visa omsorg om andra, vi misslyckas med att sätta gränser för oss själva för att undvika andras lidande eller förstörelse av vår miljö. Oegennyttigt intresse för andra och att motstå varje form av självcentrering eller självupptagenhet är nödvändigt om vi verkligen vill visa omsorg om våra bröder och systrar och för vår natur. Sådana attityder anpassar oss också till det moraliska imperativ som får oss att utvärdera följderna av alla våra handlingar och personliga överväganden när det gäller världen omkring oss. Om vi kan övervinna individualism kommer vi i sanning att göra det möjligt för en annorlunda livsstil att utvecklas och därigenom åstadkomma verklig skillnad i samhället.


209. En medvetenhet om allvaret i dagens kulturella och ekologiska kris måste omvandlas till nya vanor. Många människor är medvetna om att vår nuvarande utveckling och detta att bara ägna sig åt saker och nöjen inte är nog för att ge mening och glädje åt människohjärtat, ändå finner de det omöjligt att avstå från det marknaden erbjuder dem. I de länder som skulle kunna förändra konsumtionsvanorna mest har unga människor en ny ekologisk känslighet och generös anda, och en del gör beundransvärda insatser för att skydda miljön. Samtidigt har de vuxit upp i en miljö med extrem konsumism och rikedom, något som gör det svårt att utveckla nya vanor. Vi står inför en utmanande utbildningsuppgift.

210. Miljöutbildningen har breddat sin målsättning. Om den från början mest koncentrerade sig på att ge vetenskaplig information, att höja medvetenheten och förekomma miljömässiga risker, tenderar den nu att inkludera kritik av "modernitetsmyter" med basen i ett nyttotänkande (individualism, obegränsad utveckling, konkurrens, konsumism, den oreglerade marknaden). Den försöker också att återställa olika nivåer av ekologisk jämvikt, att skapa harmoni inom oss själva, med andra, med naturen och andra levande varelser, och med Gud. Miljöutbildning borde underlätta språnget till det transcendenta, som ger ekologisk etik dess djupaste mening. Den behöver pedagoger som förmår utveckla en ekologins etik och som kan hjälpa människor att genom effektiv undervisning växa i solidaritet, ansvarskänsla och medkänsla.

211. Ändå begränsas denna undervisning, ämnad att resultera i ett "ekologiskt medborgarskap", ibland till att ge information men misslyckas med att bibringa goda vanor. Lagar och regler är i det långa loppet otillräckligt för att hindra dåligt handhavande, även när det finns effektiva påtryckningsmedel. Om lagarna skall ha möjlighet att åstadkomma markanta, långvariga effekter måste samhällets majoritet känna sig tillräckligt motiverade att följa dem och personligen beredda att svara mot dem. Bara om människor utvecklar sunda dygder kommer de att osjälviskt kunna ta ekologisk ställning. Den som har råd att spendera och konsumera mer men går in för att nyttja mindre uppvärmning och sätter på sig varmare kläder, uppvisar den sortens övertygelse och attityd som bidrar till att skydda miljön. Det finns något ädelt i föresatsen att värna om skapelsen genom små dagliga vanor, och det är underbart att undervisning kan resultera i påtagliga förändringar av livsstilen. Undervisning om miljömässigt ansvarstagande kan uppmuntra handlingsmönster som omgående och eftertryckligt påverkar världen omkring oss, till exempel att undvika att använda plast och papper, att minska vattenkonsumtionen, att sopsortera, att bara tillaga den mat som rimligen behövs, att visa omsorg om andra levande varelser, att använda allmänna kommunikationer eller bilpool, att plantera träd, att släcka onödig belysning och alla möjliga andra åtgärder. Allt detta återspeglar en generös och värdig kreativitet som tar fram det bästa i människan. Om man i gott syfte återanvänder något istället för att omedelbart kasta bort, kan det utgöra en kärlekshandling som uttrycker vår egen värdighet.

212. Vi skall inte tänka att sådana ansträngningar ändå inte kommer att förändra världen. De tjänar samhället, oss ovetande, därför att de framkallar en godhet som även om den inte märks ofrånkomligen har benägenheten att sprida sig. Dessutom kan sådana handlingar återge oss känslan av självaktning; de kan göra det möjligt för oss att leva mer helt och att känna att livet på jorden är värdefullt.

213. Ekologisk utbildning kan förekomma på olika ställen: i skolan, i familjen, i medierna, i katekesen och på andra håll. Bra undervisning planterar frön i de unga som sedan kommer att bära frukt livet igenom. Här vill jag dock understryka familjens stora betydelse, "den plats där livet - Guds gåva - på ett riktigt sätt kan välkomnas och skyddas mot de många attacker för vilka det exponeras, och där det kan utvecklas i enlighet med det som utgör autentisk mänsklig mognad. Gentemot den så kallade dödskulturen utgör familjen hjärtat i livets kultur".149 Det är i familjen vi först lär oss hur vi skall visa kärlek till och respekt för livet; vi lär oss hur vi skall hantera saker, ordning och renlighet, respekt för det lokala ekosystemet och omsorg om alla varelser. I familjen får vi en integrerande undervisning som möjliggör för oss att växa harmoniskt i personlig mognad. I familjen lär vi oss att fråga utan att begära, att säga "tack" som ett uttryck för genuin tacksamhet över det vi har fått, att kontrollera vår aggressivitet och snikenhet, att be om förlåtelse när vi har orsakat något ont. Dessa enkla tecken på uppriktig hövlighet bidrar till att skapa en kultur av delaktighet och respekt för vår omgivning.

214. Politiska institutioner och många andra grupperingar har också anförtrotts att vara delaktiga i att öka människors medvetenhet. Detta gäller också Kyrkan. Alla kristna gemenskaper har en viktig roll att spela när det gäller ekologisk utbildning. Det är mitt hopp att våra seminarier och våra utbildningsinstitutioner kommer att lära ut hur man på ett ansvarsfullt sätt förenklar livet, detta i tacksam begrundan inför Guds värld och i omsorg om de fattigas behov och skydd för miljön. Eftersom insatserna är så höga behöver vi institutioner med makt att utdöma straff för dem som åsamkar skador på miljön. Men vi behöver också sådana kvaliteter som kommer av självbehärskning och vilja att lära av andra.

215. I detta hänseende "kan man inte bortse från sambandet mellan en god estetisk utbildning och upprätthållandet av en hälsosam miljö".150 Genom att lära sig se och uppskatta det vackra lär vi oss att tillbakavisa egennyttans pragmatism. Om en person inte har lärt sig att stanna upp och beundra något vackert bör vi inte bli förvånade om han eller hon behandlar allt som ett objekt som kan användas eller missbrukas utan skrupler. Om vi vill åstadkomma djupgående förändring måste vi inse att somliga sätt att tänka i högsta grad påverkar vårt beteende. Våra utbildningsansträngningar kommer att bli otillräckliga och ineffektiva om vi inte strävar efter att främja ett nytt sätt att uppfatta människan, livet, samhället och vårt förhållande till naturen. I annat fall kommer konsumismens världsåskådning att växa ytterligare - med hjälp av medierna och marknadens högst effektiva sätt att fungera.


216. Den kristna andlighetens stora arv, frukterna av tjugo seklers individuell och gemensam erfarenhet, har något värdefullt att bidra med för mänsklighetens förnyelse. Här vill jag ge kristna människor några anvisningar för en ekologisk andlighet som grundar sig i våra trosövertygelser, eftersom undervisning utifrån Evangeliet får omedelbara konsekvenser för vårt sätt att tänka, känna och leva. Mer än för idéer eller begrepp intresserar jag mig för hur en sådan andlighet kan motivera oss att bli mer lidelsefullt angelägna om att skydda vår värld. Ett åtagande som syftar så högt kan inte upprätthållas av doktriner utan en andlighet som förmår inspirera oss, utan "inre impulser som uppmuntrar, motiverar eller ger näring och mening åt det vi gör som individer och det vi gör gemensamt med andra".151 Det måste erkännas att kristna inte alltid har tillägnat sig och uppövat de andliga skatter som Gud skänkt Kyrkan, där det andliga livet inte är något som är avskilt från kroppen eller naturen eller från världsliga realiteter utan något som levs i och med detta, i gemenskap med allt som omger oss.

217. "De yttre öknarna i världen växer därför att de inre öknarna har blivit så vidsträckta".152 Av den anledningen är den ekologiska krisen också en uppmaning till djupgående inre omvändelse. Det måste bli sagt, att det finns hängivna och bedjande kristna som, med realism och pragmatism som ursäkter, har en fallenhet för att förlöjliga olika uttryck för omsorg om miljön. Andra förhåller sig passiva; de väljer att inte ändra sina vanor och blir följaktligen inkonsekventa. Vad de alla behöver är en "ekologisk omvändelse" genom vilken konsekvenserna av deras möte med Jesus Kristus blir synliga i deras förhållande till omvärlden. Förverkligandet av vår kallelse att skydda Guds verk är oumbärligt för ett dygdigt leverne; det är inte en valfri eller underordnad aspekt av vår kristna erfarenhet.

218. Genom att hålla den helige Franciskus gestalt i minnet inser vi att ett sunt förhållande till skapelsen är en dimension av en personlig helhetsomvändelse som innefattar erkännandet av våra misstag, synder, brister och misslyckanden, något som leder till uppriktig ånger och längtan efter förändring. De australiska biskoparna har talat om vikten av en sådan omvändelse för att vi skall kunna försonas med skapelsen: "För att nå fram till en sådan försoning måste vi granska våra liv och se hur vi har skadat Guds skapelse genom våra handlingar och vår underlåtenhet att agera. Vi måste nå fram till en omvändelse eller en hjärtats förvandling".153

219. Likväl är en sådan individuell utveckling inte något som ensamt kan bli botemedlet i den extremt komplexa situation vi möter i dagens värld. Enskilda individer kan förlora sin förmåga och frihet att undkomma nyttotänkandet och falla offer för en oetisk konsumism renons på social och ekologisk medvetenhet. Sociala problem måste tas om hand av samhälleliga nätverk och inte endast av de samlade individuella goda gärningarna. Den uppgiften "kommer att kräva så enorma insatser av mänskligheten att den inte kan fullgöras genom enskilda initiativ eller ens genom samlade ansträngningar från många olika individuella inslag. Uppgiften att styra över världen kräver att man samlar färdigheter och förenar framsteg som sedan kan växa genom en förändrad attityd".154 Den ekologiska omvändelse som behövs för en varaktig förändring är också en samhällelig omvändelse.

220. En sådan omvändelse förutsätter attityder som tillsammans kan fostra en anda av generös omsorg full av kärlek. Till att börja med innebär det tacksamhet och frivillighet, ett erkännande av världen som Guds kärleksfulla gåva, och att vi är kallade att ödmjukt efterlikna honom i självuppoffrande generositet och goda gärningar: "Nej, när du ger allmosor, låt då inte vänstra handen veta vad den högra gör. Ge din allmosa i det fördolda. Då skall din fader, som ser i det fördolda, belöna dig" (Matt 6:3-4).

Det innebär också en kärleksfull medvetenhet om att vi inte är avskilda från övriga skapelser utan förenade i en storartad universell gemenskap. Som troende ser vi inte på världen utifrån utan inifrån, medvetna om de band med vilka Fadern har förenat oss med alla varelser. Genom att utveckla vår individuella kapacitet given av Gud, kan en ekologisk omvändelse inspirera oss till större kreativitet och entusiasm när det gäller att lösa världens problem och när det gäller att offra oss själva för Gud, "som ett levande och heligt offer som behagar Gud" (Rom 12:1). Vi tolkar inte vår överordnade ställning som något som ger oss personlig ära eller rätt till oansvarig dominans utan snarare som en annan sorts kapacitet som, i sin tur, innebär en djup ansvarskänsla som har sitt ursprung i vår tro.

221. Olika trosövertygelser, som jag redogjorde för i encyklikans början, kan hjälpa oss att berika innebörden av denna omvändelse. Bland dessa finns medvetenheten om att varje varelse reflekterar något av Gud och har ett budskap att överbringa till oss, liksom tryggheten i att Kristus själv varit en del av den materiella världen och, uppstånden, nu är djupt närvarande hos var och en med sin kärlek och sitt ljus. Där finns också insikten om att Gud skapade världen och att han gav den världen en ordning och en dynamik som människan inte har rätt att ignorera. I Evangeliet läser vi att Jesus apropå himmelens fåglar säger att "ingen av dem är glömd av Gud" (Luk 12:6). Hur skulle vi då kunna behandla dem illa eller orsaka dem skada? Jag ber alla kristna att vidkännas och helt och fullt leva denna omvändelsens dimension. Må den kraft och det nådens ljus vi har undfått också bli påtagligt i vårt förhållande till andra varelser och till den värld som omger oss. Därigenom kan vi hjälpa till att värna det sublima broderskap med hela skapelsen som den helige Franciskus av Assisi så lysande förkroppsligade.


222. Kristen andlighet erbjuder en alternativ förståelse av begreppet livskvalitet och uppmuntrar en profetisk och kontemplativ livsstil med djup glädje och frihet från konsumtionsbesatthet. Vi måste återfinna en gammal lärdom från olika religiösa traditioner, också den bibliska; det är övertygelsen om att "less is more" - ju mindre desto bättre. En oupphörlig flod av varor kan förbrylla våra hjärtan och hindra oss från att uppskatta varje ting och varje stund. Genom att vara ogrumlat närvarande i varje situation, hur obetydlig den än kan te sig, öppnar vi oss för mycket vidare horisonter när det gäller förståelse och personligt förverkligande. Kristen andlighet erbjuder en utveckling som kännetecknas av måtta och förmågan att lyckligen nöja sig med lite. Det är en återgång till den enkelhet som gör det möjligt för oss att hejda oss och uppskatta de små tingen, att vara tacksamma för de möjligheter livet erbjuder oss, att stå andligen fria från det vi äger och att inte duka under av sorg inför det vi saknar. Det faller sig då naturligt att undvika maktens dynamik och ett ömkligt hopande av njutningar.

223. En sådan besinning, när den är frivillig och medveten, är befriande. Den innebär inte ett mindre liv eller ett liv med mindre intensitet. Tvärtom är den ett sätt att leva fullt ut. De som njuter mer och som bättre kan uppleva varje stund, är i verkligheten de som har givit upp detta att ta för sig och att alltid vara på jakt efter det de inte har. De erfar vad det vill säga att uppskatta varje människa och varje ting och lär sig att känna förtrogenhet med det enklaste föremål och hur man kan glädjas åt dem. På så sätt kan de kasta av sig otillfredsställda behov, minska ett tvångsmässigt beteende och sin leda. Även om de lever på lite kan de leva mycket, framför allt när de odlar andra nöjen och finner glädje i ömsesidiga möten, i tjänstvillighet, i utvecklandet av sina gåvor, i musik och konst, i kontakt med naturen, i bön. Lycka är att veta hur man begränsar sådana begär som bara förminskar oss, och att vara öppen för de många olika möjligheter som livet kan erbjuda oss.

224. Besinning och ödmjukhet var inte något som skattades högt under det förra århundradet. Förr eller senare, när i det personliga livet eller i samhället en viss dygd kollapsar, erfar man hur detta orsakar ännu mer obalans, en miljömässig obalans inkluderad. Därför är det inte längre nog att tala bara om ekosystemens integritet. Vi måste våga tala om det mänskliga livets integritet, om behovet av att främja och förena alla höga värden. I den stund vi förlorar vår ödmjukhet och blir trollbundna av möjligheten att gränslöst härska över allting, då slutar det oundvikligen i att vi skadar samhället och miljön. Det är inte lätt att främja en sådan sund ödmjukhet eller lycklig besinning när vi ser oss som självstyrande, när vi stänger ute Gud ur våra liv eller ersätter honom med vårt eget ego och tror att våra subjektiva känslor kan definiera vad som är rätt och vad som är fel.

225. Å andra sidan kan ingen leva ett måttfullt och tillfredsställande liv utan att vara i harmoni med sig själv. En fullgod förståelse av andlighet består i att klargöra vad vi menar med fred, vilket är något mycket mer än frånvaron av krig. En inre fred - frid - är något nära förbundet med omsorgen om ekologin och det gemensamma goda därför att den, om den levs tillförlitligt, återspeglas i en balanserad livsstil jämsides med beredskapen för under, något som leder oss till en djupare förståelse av livet. Naturen är full av kärlekens ord men hur är det möjligt för oss att lyssna till dem mitt i allt oljud, alla ändlösa och enerverande distraktioner eller all denna dyrkan av uppträdanden? I dag känner många människor en djupgående obalans, något som driver dem till frenetisk aktivitet och känslan av att vara upptagna, i konstant brådska, något som i sin tur får dem att fara fram hänsynslöst mot andra. Också detta påverkar hur de behandlar miljön. En odelad ekologi innebär att ta sig tid att återvinna en sådan rofylld harmoni med skapelsen att den kan prägla vår livsstil och våra ideal, och att begrunda Skaparen som lever ibland oss och omger oss, vars närvaro "man inte får tvinga fram utan finna, liksom under ett täckelse".155

226. Vi talar om den hjärtats inställning som närmar sig livet med klar uppmärksamhet, som förmår vara helt närvarande inför någon utan att tänka på vad som står på tur, som accepterar varje stund som en gåva av Gud som skall levas i fullhet. Jesus visade oss på en sådan inställning när han föreslog oss att betrakta liljorna på marken och fåglarna i himlen, eller när han mötte den rike unge mannen och förstod hans rastlöshet och "såg på honom med kärlek" (Mark 10:21). Han var helt och fullt närvarande i mötet med andra och med allt, och visade oss därigenom hur vi kan övervinna sådan ohälsosam ängslan som gör oss ytliga, aggressiva och konsumtionsberoende.

227. Ett uttryck för sådant beteende är när vi slutar att tacka Gud före och efter våra måltider. Jag ber alla troende att återvända till denna vackra och meningsfulla vana. Den stunden av välsignelse, om än kort, påminner oss om att våra liv beror på Gud; det stärker vår känsla av tacksamhet för skapelsens rikedom; det ger erkänsla åt dem som genom sitt arbete förser oss med bordets gåvor och det påminner oss om solidariteten med dem som befinner sig i störst nöd.


228. Omsorg om naturen är en del av en livsstil som innefattar förmågan att leva tillsammans i inbördes samband. Jesus påminde oss om att vi har Gud som vår gemensamme Fader och att detta gör oss till bröder och systrar. Broderlig kärlek kan bara vara frivillig; den kan aldrig vara ett uttryck för att återgälda vad andra har gjort eller kommer att göra för oss. Det gör det möjligt för oss att älska våra fiender. Samma frivillighet inspirerar oss att älska och acceptera vinden, solen och molnen trots att detta är utanför vår kontroll. I den meningen kan vi tala om ett "universellt brödraskap".

229. Vi måste återfå insikten om att vi behöver varandra, att vi har ett ömsesidigt ansvar för varandra och för världen och att godhet och anständighet är något värt. Vi har haft nog av omoral och vrångbilder av etik, godhet, tro och ärlighet. Det är tid att inse att sorglös ytlighet inte har gjort oss något gott. När samhällslivets fundament fräts sönder får det som följd att motsatta intressen strider mot varandra, nya former för våld och brutalitet uppträder liksom hindren för framväxten av en genuin kultur av omsorg för miljön.

230. Thérèse av Jesusbarnet (av Lisieux) råder oss att slå in på den kärlekens lilla väg där man skall vara observant på varje vänligt ord, ett leende eller varje liten gest som kan utså frid och vänskap. En fullödig ekologi uppstår också genom sådana enkla vardagsgester som bryter logiken hos våld, exploatering och själviskhet. Till slut blir en värld av tilltagande konsumtion på samma gång en värld som misshandlar livet i alla dess former.

231. Kärleken, överflödande av små gester och ömsesidig omtanke, är också medborgerlig och politisk och den ger sig tillkänna i varje handling som syftar till att bygga en bättre värld. En kärlek till samhället och hängivenhet för det gemensamma goda är utomordentliga uttryck för en medmänsklighet som inte bara påverkar relationer mellan individer utan också "makro-relationer - samhälle, ekonomiska grupperingar, politiska sammanhang".156 Därför håller Kyrkan upp en "kärlekens civilisation" som ett ideal för världen.157 Samhällelig kärlek är nyckeln till en tillförlitlig utveckling: "I avsikt att skapa ett mänskligare samhälle, mer värdigt människan, måste kärlek i det samhälleliga livet – politiskt, ekonomiskt och kulturellt – återvinna värde och bli konstanten och den högsta normen för all aktivitet".158 Inom ramen för detta, jämsides med betydelsen av de små dagliga gesterna, kommer den samhälleliga kärleken att få oss att finna större strategier för att stoppa miljöförstörelse och för att uppmuntra en "omsorgens kultur" som kan genomsyra hela samhället. När vi erfar att Gud kallar oss att ingripa i en sådan samhällelig dynamik bör vi inse att också detta är en del av vår andlighet, en övning i medmänsklighet som i sig själv får oss att mogna och som helgar oss.

232. Alla är inte kallade att personligen engagera sig i politik. Samhället är rikt på organisationer som arbetar för att främja det gemensamma goda och försvara miljön, både i naturen och i städer. Några visar till exempel omsorg om offentliga platser (en byggnad, en fontän, ett övergivet monument, ett landskap, ett torg) och strävar efter att skydda, restaurera, förbättra eller försköna detta såsom tillhörigt alla. Runt sådana samhällsaktiviteter kan relationer utvecklas eller återupptas och ett nytt samhällsmönster uppstå. Så kan en gemenskap bryta igenom den indifferens som konsumismen skapat. Sådant handlande får en ömsesidigt delad identitet att växa och bli en berättelse som kan ihågkommas och föras vidare. På det sättet kan man sörja för världen och livskvaliteten för de fattigaste i en känsla av solidaritet som samtidigt bär på en medvetenhet om att vi bor i ett gemensamt hem som Gud har anförtrott oss. Sådant samhällsagerande, om det är ett uttryck för självutgivande kärlek, kan också bli starka andliga erfarenheter.

Text till samtal med Marcia Cavalcante Utan gräns,  onsdagen den 15 mars 2017

Walter Benjamin: Capitalism and Religion

 In capitalism one has to realize a religion, e.g. capitalism serves essentially to satisfy the same kind of sorrows, misery, unrest, which formerly the so called religions provided with an answer … […]
We cannot pull the net, we are standing in, but later on there will be a view of it.

 But there are three features, that are even now about to be realized concerning this religious structure of capitalism. For the first capitalism is a plain cult religion, maybe the most radical which has ever been. Everything in it has meaning only immediately referring to cult; it knows no special dogmatics, no theology. The utilitarianism (“everything for the happiness of the most”) gains its religious color under this point of view.

 With this gaining of concreteness there is connection to a second feature of capitalism: the permanent duration of the cult […] there is no weekday, no day, that wouldn’t be a holiday in the dreadful meaning of unfolding of all sacred pomp, the utterly strain of the worshipper.

 This cult is, for the third, running into debt. Capitalism is probably the first case of a non-expiative but indebtive cult. In here this religious system is standing in the collapse of an immense movement.

An immense  sense of guilt, which has no notion how to de-expiate, grasps for cult, not to expiate in it, but to let it become universal, to hammer it into consciousness and finally and above all to include God himself into this debt to at last have him being interested in the expiation of the debt. […]
It is in the essence of this religious movement, which is capitalism, to endure until the end, until the finally entire indebtedness of God, the reached world condition of desperation, which is just still hoped for.

 The historical outrageous of capitalism is lying in this, that religion is no longer the reformation of being but its smashing. The extension of desperation into a religious world condition out of which the salvation is to expect. Gods transcendence has fallen. But he is not dead; he is embedded in human fate.

 This passage of the human planet through the house of desperation in the perfect isolation of its orbit is the ethos that is determining Nietzsche. This human being is the “Übermensch” (Superman), the very first beginning to meet capitalistic religion by realization.

 The fourth feature is, that its God has to be concealed, may not be articulated until reaching the zenith of his indebtedness. The cult is celebrated in front of an unmatured deity. Every imagination, every concept on her hurts the secret of her maturity [ …]

 The concept of the “Übermensch” transfers the apocalyptic “jump” not into turning back, expiation, purification, penance, but into the apparent constantly, but in the last space of time bursting intermittent increase.  […] The Übermensch is that historical human that has without turning back arrived by growing through heaven.

 This blasting of heaven by increased humanity, which is and remains religious […] indebtedness …

 Capitalism is a religion of naked cult, without dogma. Capitalism has parasitically emerged […] on Christianity in the occident in such a way, that finally its history in essence is the history of its parasite, the capitalism.


(Walter Benjamin, Ges. Schriften, VI, S. 100, Frankfurt/M., 1991)

Text till samtal tisdagen den 13 december 2016:

The Dignity of Creation – a conversation with Pope Francis’s Theology

Tina Beattie
Professor of Catholic Studies, Director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing

University of Roehampton, London

Dignity, Difference and Rights

 – A feminist Thomist dialogue with Pope Francis’s theology


The principle of human dignity has been a recurring theme in Catholic theology. However, rarely has it played as central a role as it does today. This reflects a wider trend, which can be dated back to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The opening words of that declaration read:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world …[1]

This ushered in an era when the language of rights would eventually displace nearly all other terms of reference for addressing complex moral dilemmas and questions of social justice.

In Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris,[2] the United Nations (UN) and the UDHR gained official support from the Catholic Church, and the language of human dignity and rights has been a key feature of conciliar and postconciliar documents. Pope John Paul II summarises what this means when he writes that


The recognition of the dignity of every human being is the foundation and support of the concept of universal human rights. For believers, that dignity and the rights that stem from it are solidly grounded in the truth of the human being’s creation in the image and likeness of God.[3]


Nevertheless, the concepts of universal human dignity and rights are contested, with continuing debates as to their foundations and coherence.[4] Since the 1990s, these debates have become polarised with the increasing prominence given to the language of sexual and reproductive rights. On the one hand, a secular rights-based rhetoric is producing an ever-more fragmented, diffuse and individualistic notion of rights in response to the politics of identity and gender which have come to dominate much public debate in the western democracies.[5] On the other hand, the Holy See, using its permanent observer status at the UN, has in the past joined forces with a number of Muslim, evangelical and conservative political campaigners to condemn so-called gender ideology and to block any attempt to make sexual rights part of the official discourse of the UN.[6] Pope Francis has done much to soften the tone of such debates, but he repeatedly condemns what he calls ‘gender ideology’, and there has been no substantial change in the Church’s position.

These are some of the issues that form the context of this paper. What role does the language of dignity and rights play in the teachings of the postconciliar church, to what extent can this be underpinned by an appeal to tradition, and how are church teachings on dignity and rights applied when it comes to questions of women’s rights in the postconciliar church, up to and including Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’? I am focusing on Thomas Aquinas as representative of tradition here, though this is only one of many possible foci within the rich diversity of Catholic theological tradition(s). If, as many feminists argue, the generic term ‘man’ privileges the male subject as normative and the female and nature as other, to what extent can the concept of ‘the rights of man’ be extended to incorporate a more diverse and inclusive understanding of dignity and rights, consistent with Catholic teaching and responsive to the challenges of our times?


Thomas Aquinas on Human Dignity


As Fergus Kerr points out, there have been many versions of Thomism in the last century, and Thomas has been appropriated by conservatives and liberals to support their positions.[7] When we approach Thomas from the perspective of a modern understanding of human dignity, we must do so mindful of the vast social and epistemological differences between our world and his. According to Servais Pinckaers, the term ‘dignity’ (‘dignitas’ in various Latin forms) occurs more than 1,700 times in Thomas’s works, but he offers no analysis of what the concept means.[8] Most of these references apply to different social roles and responsibilities, while some refer to Christ’s dignity. Only a few can be interpreted as referring to human dignity as such.

Pinckaers argues that we must approach Thomas’s understanding of ‘dignity’ from the perspective of his account of the person. This is a complex task, because for Thomas ‘person’ refers primarily and perfectly to God in the three persons of the Trinity, and only derivatively and imperfectly to the human made in the image of God. However, in order to speak analogically of the personhood of God, we must begin with the human person, because for Thomas, following Aristotle, all our understanding is formed through intellectual and contemplative reflection on our experiences of the material, sensory world. We are therefore only able to speak about God in human terms, but we must remember that ultimately we are speaking of a profound and incomprehensible mystery. In Thomas’s widely quoted aphorism, ‘What God is not is clearer to us than what God is.’ (ST I q.1, a.9)[9] However, as Pinckaers points out, this means that Thomas’s analogies of divine personhood ‘provide us first of all with a definition of the human person’.[10]

To summarise a complex argument, dignity is for Thomas the defining attribute of personhood, and it derives from our rational nature. It is insofar as we are free to act in accordance with our reason and our will – we act rather than simply being acted upon – that we acquire the unique dignity of the person, and this dignity is perfected in the intelligence, will and mastery of the divine persons. It is worth adding that Thomas, with reference to Boethius, develops these ideas in the context of the understanding of ‘person’ in Greek theatre.[11] The human person acquires dignity from the vocation to union with God in whose image he or she is made, but also stands in need of redemption. Christ restores and increases the dignity that was degraded through original sin.

James Hanvey traces Thomas’s understanding of human dignity back to its Augustinian roots, pointing out that ‘Augustine’s insight was to see that the imago Dei of Genesis had now to be read as the imago Trinitatis if Christian revelation was to be coherent.’[12] Hanvey argues that Augustine’s understanding of the imago Trinitatis in terms of the mental capacities of memory, understanding and will is not static but is rather ‘something which we live’ through directing our whole being towards the love of God. He goes on to argue that ‘If we think of dignity in this context, then it is not only a quality possessed or attributed but a manifestation of our person in our way of living.’[13]

This argument is strengthened if we bear in mind that, notwithstanding subtle differences between the Trinitarian analogies of Augustine and Thomas, they both situate these in the context of love.[14] In Book 9 of De Trinitate, Augustine uses the analogies of ‘the lover, the beloved, and the love’ (De Trinitate 9.2)[15] and of ‘mind, love and knowledge’. (De Trinitate 9.4)[16] Thomas writes of the ‘principle of a word, word, and love’. (ST I, q.93, a.6). The centrality of love to the personhood of God and therefore to the dignity of the human person emphasises a point that has been neglected by much post-medieval theology and all but abandoned by modern philosophical theism, though it has been a significant feature of feminist theology – namely, that personhood is essentially relational. The person comes to be through the dynamic giving and receiving of love which is awakened and sustained by an other who is not the self – initially and primarily God, who arouses our desire through the beauty and goodness of creation. Also worth nothing here is the extent to which Augustine and Thomas use maternal analogies of conceiving and begetting to speak of the Trinity. Relationships within the persons of God are like (and not like) the process by way of which a mother conceives and gives birth to a child.[17] The weaving of the Word or Logos into Trinitarian theology means that, for Augustine and Aquinas as for modern language theorists, language itself is essentially relational. Human knowledge is constituted by the inherent relationality as well as the rationality that comes with the formation of concepts and categories, and the self thus conceived expresses itself in loving and communicative relationships with God and with others.

The theological focus of traditional and modern Catholic concepts of dignity calls into question the coherence of Enlightenment claims about the foundations of dignity in human rationality and autonomy, particularly when approached from a relational Trinitarian perspective. In the Catholic theological tradition, while dignity arises from the freedom of the human person, this is not the freedom of the autonomous subject of modern individualism. It is a creaturely freedom, dependent on God, interdependent on others, and constituting the freedom to seek to do good and avoid evil. Similarly, rationality is not an attribute that sets the human mind over and against nature, including human nature, but is rather a characteristic that enhances our desire for God by enabling us to recognise and interpret the rationality, order and beauty of creation, all of which bears some Trinitarian likeness to the creator.[18] The natural law discernible to human understanding is an intimation of God’s eternal law that sustains the universe in being. This eternal law is the source from which all human values, laws and institutions derive their meaning insofar as they are just, virtuous and orientated towards the good of each and all. The theologians of the Reformation rejected the Catholic theological premise that grace perfects nature, ushering in a more dis-graced theology of creation in the context of original sin. This paved the way for modernity’s dualistic conflict between nature and reason, and the post-Kantian rupture between reason and revelation,[19] though many feminists would argue that the seeds of this dualism were sown when patristic and medieval theologians sought to reconcile Greek philosophy with Christian theology.[20]

With this preamble in mind, let me consider how we might flesh out what we mean by ‘dignity’ in a Catholic theological context, before asking what happens if we introduce a wider concept of dignity and rights into the discussion. I begin with Thomas and move on to more recent treatments of the theme of dignity in church documents.


Thomist Perspectives on Dignity, Being and Doing


Thomas’s understanding of dignity is both ontological and teleological. It is an aspect of what we are (our being), and of who we are (our doing). Hanvey refers to these as the intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions of dignity, but we could also use the language of essential and inessential dignity. Our essential dignity belongs to the very nature of the human made in the image of God. The word ‘person’ implies ‘dignity’. To quote Pinckaers, ‘Natural human dignity … subsists beneath sin.’[21]

Ontological dignity is the gift that is bestowed upon us by God by virtue of the kind of being we are – a rational and relational creature made in the image of the Trinitarian God. We could describe this as a naked dignity, as yet unclothed by any personal characteristics or contexts. It is unaffected by any of the contingent factors of human existence, and can never be destroyed.

Teleological dignity is what each of us brings to our particular personhood as we develop and mature. It is the clothing of our naked human dignity in our own personal narratives – that weaving together of memory, understanding and will which issues forth in the loving activity of a life well lived, and communicates itself in the language and gestures of human interaction. It emerges and grows in proportion to the diligent and creative use of our rationality and freedom.  Unlike ontological dignity, teleological dignity is contingent, contextual and diverse in its degrees and characteristics. It can be nurtured and developed, and it can be squandered and violated by our own freely chosen decisions as to how to live. Teleological dignity flows from the primordial dignity of the creature made in the image of God, but it is ethical and vocational rather than ontological. To quote Pinckaers again, ‘Human dignity is dynamic. It tends to grow, but it can also diminish and be lost, and then regained through penitence.’[22]

We might see the importance of differentiating between these two aspects of dignity if we consider Thomas’s problematic discussion regarding the death penalty.[23] He argues that unrepentant sinners can be killed by legitimate authorities because they have lost their dignity and been reduced to the level of worse than a beast:


[I]f a human be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he or she be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since ‘a little leaven corrupteth the whole lum’ (1 Cor. 5:6) By sinning a human departs from the order of reason, and consequently falls away from human dignity (dignitate humana), in so far as the human is naturally free, and exists for himself or herself, and falls into the slavish state of the beasts, by being disposed of according as he or she is useful to others. … Hence, although it be evil in itself to kill a human so long as he or she preserves their dignity, yet it may be good to kill someone who has sinned, even as it is to kill a beast. For a bad human is worse than a beast, and is more harmful. (ST II.II, q. 64, a. 2 and 3)[24]


Thomas here seems to be suggesting that not only the teleological dignity of the human, but also his or her ontological dignity can be lost through sinful acts. We can lose our human status and become worse than beasts. In our own time, we know the unthinkable consequences of reducing people to the status of vermin and beasts in order to kill them, and we might detect a distant precursor to that mentality in Thomas’s argument. Even making allowances for historical differences in context and culture, Thomas’s justification for killing other human beings is inconsistent with his more general understanding of the ontological dignity that derives from the Imago Dei and the Incarnation.

Pinckaers tries to rescue Thomas from this quandary. He acknowledges that there would appear to be a ‘flagrant’ contradiction between this text and Thomas’s assertion that ‘the first and principal foundation of human dignity’ is to be found in ‘the very principles of human nature with its properties, that is, our rational nature with its faculties. … These goods cannot be destroyed, nor even diminished by sin.’ (ST I-II 85). The human creature is by nature endowed with reason and will being made in the image of God, and this predisposes us to virtue. Sin can diminish but cannot destroy this disposition, nor the rational nature associated with it. So, argues Pinckaers, ‘Sin, … however grave, does not destroy the dignity of the human person but diminishes it by blocking its dynamism’.[25] He suggests that, when Thomas discusses the death penalty, he is speaking at a different level, on a social rather than a moral level, but he acknowledges that this is not an entirely satisfactory solution.

I would argue that, whatever the inconsistencies in Thomas’s understanding of the nature of dignity, there is a strong case for upholding a distinction between the ontological dignity of the human made in the image of God, and the teleological dignity that pertains to the virtuous life. This would preclude Thomas’s justification for the death penalty, however grave the crime or sin that person has committed, which would be more in line with recent church teaching.[26]

With this in mind, let me turn now to the question of woman’s human dignity in the context of Thomas’s thought. Once again, we have to extrapolate from the contexts in which he uses the term to gain some insight into the meaning he attaches to it.

 Woman’s Dignity according to Thomas

 If Thomas’s account of human dignity is ontological insofar as it pertains to the divine image with which male and female are fully and equally endowed (Genesis 1:27), the teleological dimension of dignity was and remains implicitly and profoundly gendered. Thomas was a man of his time, but he was also socially conservative. He found in Aristotle a potent philosophical resource for rationalising the hierarchical socio-sexual order of medieval society. When American presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed that Pope Francis was a political man (not intended as a compliment), Francis’s response was to thank God, ‘because Aristotle defined the human person as an 'animal politicus' (a political animal). So at least I am a human person.’[27]  If being political is a sign of being a human person, then a question mark hangs over the personhood of women in the Church and in society, in our own time no less than in Aristotle and Thomas’s time. Thomas would almost certainly have rejected the idea of a ‘femina politica’ (cf. ST II-II, q.47, a.11).

Prudence Allen, in her book The Concept of Woman, argues that the rise of Aristotelianism in the medieval universities, and its popular dissemination by way of the Church’s preaching and teaching, had devastating consequences for women. By their exclusion from the universities and the separation of male and female religious orders, the Aristotelian view of women as inferior and subordinate to men became a cultural reality. She writes that ‘Aristotle had argued that women could not be wise in the same way as men; European society became structured in such a way that this theory inevitably became true.’[28]

We know from some of the debates in Thomas’s works that searching questions were being asked regarding the role of women in thirteenth century Europe. Thomas consistently responds in a way that upholds the status quo by appealing either to scripture or to an Aristotelian model of social and sexual hierarchies based on the paternal character of divine form and the maternal character of matter, even as he asserts – contra Aristotle – the ontological dignity of both male and female made in the image of God.[29] This means that, even if women are ontologically equal to men in dignity, teleologically they cannot possibly be equal. Teleological dignity is tethered to our roles, responsibilities and status in society. Women have been deemed subordinate by nature and inferior in wisdom, and they are therefore never able to attain to the greater dignity that comes with more elevated social and ecclesiastical roles.

To illustrate this, let me focus more closely on Thomas’s representation of woman’s dignity, in ST II-II, q.164, a.2. Thomas’s interlocutor offers a number of objections to the scriptural account of the punishments meted out to Adam and Eve in Genesis. First, pain in child-bearing cannot be punishment for sin because it is a natural part of the female disposition. Second, the subjection of woman to man is part of the natural order because man is by nature more perfect than woman, so it cannot be punishment for sin. Third, and we should note this well:

 that which pertains to a person’s dignity does not, seemingly, pertain to their punishment. But the ‘multiplying of conceptions’ pertains to a woman’s dignity (dignitatem mulieris). Therefore it should not be described as the woman’s punishment. Further, the punishment of our first parents’ sin is transmitted to all … But all ‘women’s conceptions’ are not ‘multiplied,’ nor does ‘every man eat bread in the sweat of his face.’ Therefore these are not suitable punishments of the first sin.

 Modern translations of Genesis tend to refer to God multiplying the woman’s pain in childbirth. However, the Hebrew hārōn means conception, not birth, and I want to bear that in mind for later. This last objection sees multiple pregnancies as part of what it means to be a woman – to say that it pertains to a woman’s dignity is to say that it constitutes a good and purposeful way for her to live in accordance with her role in life. This would suggest that a woman’s dignity increases according to the number of children she conceives.

Thomas responds to these objections by arguing that the man and woman receive bodily punishments according to their sex – the woman ‘in respect of two things on account of which she is united to the man’, that is, childbearing and domestic life. So a woman experiences weariness in pregnancy and pain in childbirth, and she is subjected to her husband’s authority. The man, who has responsibilities to provide for the family, is punished through the struggle to produce food from the earth. Thomas quotes Augustine to the effect that childbirth in the state of innocence would have been free from pain, just as sex would have been free from ‘lustful desire’. Woman’s subjection is not punishment because ‘even before sin the man was the “head” and governor “of the woman”’. However, the punishment comes from ‘her having to obey her husband’s will even against her own.’

At the very least, Thomas’s response would suggest that, in the community of the baptised, the alleviation of suffering associated with pregnancy and childbirth, and the rejection of all forms of male domination, would be signs of redemption. The restoration of freedom of the will to women, equal to that of men, would be an aspect of the restoration of the full human dignity that was lost in the fall but redeemed and enhanced in Christ. The Christian community would be counter-cultural insofar as it would not only seek to liberate sexual desire from lust (as it consistently has in its theology of marriage as well as in some of its more repressive attitudes towards sexual pleasure), it would also seek to free women from the negative effects of reproduction. I shall come back to that suggestion. As for the man being ‘head and governor of the woman’, this is a clear example of where a Pauline injunction (1 Cor. 11:3) is legitimated and upheld through an appeal to Aristotle, in a way which overrides the more egalitarian and inclusive model exemplified by the teachings, relationships and practices of Jesus in the Gospels, and some Pauline teachings that invite a more egalitarian interpretation (cf. Gal. 3:28).

So against this Thomist hinterland, let me now turn to consider recent church teaching. How has the doctrinal understanding of dignity and rights developed during the last fifty years, and what questions does this raise with regard to the dignity and rights of women?

 Women’s Dignity in the Church Today

 Pope John Paul II adopted the innovative theological doctrine of ‘complementarity’ as a way of rejecting the traditional sexual hierarchy of male authority and female subordination.[30] Complementarity asserts that the sexes are equal in dignity but different not only in their social roles and responsibilities, but in their psychosomatic natures. This has resulted in a highly romanticised and essentialist theology of sexual difference associated particularly with the theology of the body movement.[31] It is a theological account of sexual difference that rejects what Popes Benedict XVI and Francis refer to as ‘gender ideology’, as well as homosexuality, feminism, contraception and abortion, even as it claims to assert the full and equal dignity of male and female. However, notwithstanding the more problematic aspects of theology of the body, John Paul II dedicated more time and thought than any other modern Pope – including Francis (so far) – to questions of women’s dignity and freedom.

John Paul II addresses the question of women’s dignity most fully in his 1988 apostolic letter, ‘On the Dignity and Vocation of Women’ (Mulieris Dignitatem).[32] While he affirms that every woman, from the beginning, ‘inherits as a woman the dignity of personhood’,[33] it is clear that he understands women’s dignity in the context of the vocation to motherhood, revealed and personified in the divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary, which ‘determines the essential horizon of reflection on the dignity and the vocation of women’.[34] Motherhood and virginity thus constitute ‘two particular dimensions of the vocation of women in the light of divine Revelation’.[35] Those who renounce marriage and physical motherhood practise ‘motherhood “according to the Spirit” (cf. Rom 8:4).[36] Woman, made in the image of God and equal to man, conquers the sinful inheritance of Genesis – male domination – by following the path of femininity within which she comes to ‘understand her “fulfilment” as a person, her dignity and vocation’.[37]

However, a close reading of Mulieris Digntatem reveals that there is no form of dignity particular to women, other than biological motherhood. That cannot be a uniquely human dignity, for it is common to the female of every sexually reproductive species. As John Paul II acknowledges, there is a ‘personal-ethical’ as well as a ‘bio-physical’ sense to mothering.[38] Yet when we consider the attributes that translate the biological into the personal and the ethical – in other words the characteristics that transform the animality of mothering into the human activity of mothering – it becomes clear that these are not uniquely female. This is particularly true when sexual difference is used as an analogy for the nuptial relationship between Christ and the maternal Church, where femininity becomes the inclusive attribute of the whole Church, while Christ’s maleness is used to affirm the essential masculinity of the priesthood.[39]

 John Paul argues that

 Rereading Genesis in light of the spousal symbol in the Letter to the Ephesians enables us to grasp a truth which seems to determine in an essential manner the question of women’s dignity, and, subsequently, also the question of their vocation: the dignity of women is measured by the order of love, which is essentially the order of justice and charity.[40]

 He goes on to assert that ‘A woman’s dignity is closely connected with the love which she receives by the very reason of her femininity; it is likewise connected with the love which she gives in return.’ The person created in God’s image, finds himself or herself ‘through a sincere gift of self. … This ontological affirmation also indicates the ethical dimension of a person’s vocation. Woman can only find herself by giving love to others.’[41] So we have here again an affirmation of ontological and teleological dignity. Ontologically, woman is created in God’s image. Teleologically, a woman accrues dignity by giving love to others. In his closing remarks, John Paul II concludes that ‘In the Spirit of Christ, in fact, women can discover the entire meaning of their femininity and thus be disposed to making a “sincere gift of self” to others, thereby finding themselves.’[42] All this begs the question: if women’s teleological dignity is ‘measured by the order of love’, how is men’s teleological dignity measured?

The invocation of femininity in this context makes some sense if applied analogically to the Church as Bride and Mother, but it cannot in any literal sense constitute a vocation to dignity that is unique to women. The giving of self through the giving of love is the essence of the Christian vocation for all the baptised, and therefore the teleological or ethical dimension of the vocation to love cannot be particular to one sex. So apart from a biological capacity for motherhood, woman has no unique or particular dignity that might constitute her personal telos as different from or complementary to that of man. The fulfilment of a biological function cannot in and of itself be a source of personal dignity, and it is clear in Mulieris Dignitatem that whenever John Paul II elaborates upon the ethical attributes of motherhood, he is describing virtues that are not and should not be particular to women.

For all its inspiring insights into the potential of nuptial and maternal analogies of love, Mulieris Dignitatem offers no substantial account of a gendered aspect of human dignity that would be unique to women. In seeking to explain the concept of complementarity in a way that would affirm the personal dignity of women while also affirming the exclusive masculinity of the priesthood, John Paul leaves us with a model of essential man (only men can be priests because the Bridegroom is masculine)[43] and inessential woman (all are called to be the Church as Bride).[44]

I move on now to consider dignity in the thought of Pope Francis, again with a particular focus on women’s dignity. Pope Benedict XVI was more preoccupied with ‘gender ideology’ than with the woman question, and he did little to challenge or change the legacy of his predecessor.

From the outset Pope Francis has acknowledged that the Church lacks a theology of woman. Yet this is in my view the greatest weakness of his papacy so far. Let me consider by way of example his response to a journalist’s question about women priests on the flight home from his visit to the United States in September 2015. Here is his response:


Regarding the question of women priests, that is not possible. St John Paul II said so clearly, after much study. Not because women do not have the ability. In the Church women are more important than men, because the Church is a woman. It is ‘La Chiesa,’ not ‘Il Chiesa.’ And the Madonna is more important than popes, bishops and priests. But I must admit we are somewhat late in an elaboration of the theology of women. We have to move ahead with that theology.[45]


This short throw away comment summarises all that Francis has said in his more considered reflections, and it highlights the problems with his understanding of women.[46] First, who is this ‘we’ and what does it mean to say that ‘we are somewhat late in an elaboration of the theology of women’? The Church has a far more developed theology of women than it has of men, because ‘man’ is normative and ‘woman’ is the exception. So the theological tradition is primarily about the human (‘man’), and woman. What we really lack is a theology of man as male. Consider for example the 2004 Letter to the Bishops issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the signature of the then Joseph Ratzinger, ‘On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World’.[47] That letter says nothing about men. It is primarily a warning about the dangers that women who are influenced by gender ideology and feminism pose to the family.

Moreover, while the quest for a theology of woman might ring alarm bells insofar as it sounds like a call for a male hierarchy – ‘we’ – to once more objectify woman as the problematic other that proves resistant to thought, there is no lack of theologies by and about women. From the women saints and preachers of the early Church to the vernacular theologians of the Middle Ages and the women biblical scholars and theologians of the postconciliar Church, there is a vast corpus of women’s theological writings that could be incorporated into church teaching, quoted in papal documents and used to inform the development of doctrine, but even under Pope Francis women remain the silenced others as far as official church teaching is concerned – spoken about but never invited to speak.

In everything that he has said about women at the time of writing this, it is clear that Francis belongs within that long tradition that recognizes women’s dignity primarily in the context of motherhood. The female body has evaporated into a romanticized miasma of gendered roles in which ultimately the male body can perform the maternal feminine role of the Church as well as the masculine role of the priesthood, and woman remains a biological body in search of a fully human, sacramental narrative. Francis has most decidedly reanimated the vision of Vatican II, but he has yet to rehabilitate women in a way that is coherent with the development of that vision. It remains to be seen whether his appointment of a commission to investigate the possibility of women deacons will bring about a more substantial change,[48] but let me give one example to support these claims.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis writes about homiletics under the title ‘A mother’s conversation’.[49] The church ‘preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child’. The Christian faith must be communicated in ‘our “mother culture,” our native language’, in a setting that is ‘both maternal and ecclesial’. This inculturated preaching requires a synthesis that comes from the passionate heart of the preacher, rather than ‘ideas or detached values’, argues Francis. But surely, the idea of a priest speaking as a mother, in a role that female bodies are prohibited from occupying, is a somewhat detached idea?

With this in mind, I turn now to consider more closely the implications of identifying the difference between the sexes, and the unique dignity of women, with the capacity for biological motherhood, bearing in mind that, while church teaching denies this is simply a question of biology, that is the only aspect of mothering that it does not also apply to men. Today as in Thomas’s time, women’s dignity is bound up with reproduction, and the more children a woman has, the more she increases the dignity particular to her as a woman. This is a suggestion that I believe derives some justification in the context of Humanae Vitae’s prohibition against artificial birth control.


Women’s Human Dignity and Reproductive Rights


As I mentioned earlier, the Church, represented in the international policy-making community by the Holy See’s delegation to the UN, has proved highly resistant to attempts to include sexual rights among the growing number of individual rights that proliferate under the umbrella of universal human rights. Part of this resistance might arise from a conflict between a theological understanding of the bodily self as a gift from the creator, and a modern rights-based concept of the body as the possession of the autonomous individual. This notion of the autonomous self lacks the ethical perspective necessary to reflect upon the complex duality of the maternal body and its claims upon the individual woman.

However, the Catholic tradition acknowledges that human beings do have sexual rights, in the medieval concept of the marriage debt.[50] Neither a husband nor a wife can take a vow of celibacy without the consent of the other. One could therefore argue that the Catholic Church embraced the idea of mutual sexual rights long before the language of sexual rights entered UN debates. For the sake of consistency with its own tradition, rather than denying that such rights exist, the teaching magisterium might rather ask about the nature and extent of such rights. This might include questions such as, what happens in a marriage when a husband refuses to comply with the disciplined demands of natural family planning, or when his violent and abusive behaviour makes marital sex a violation of the wife’s dignity. In such a situation, is the right to sex in marriage overridden so that the wife has the right to refuse, or, as has most often been the case in practice if not always in doctrine, should she suffer through repeated pregnancies, even when her own well-being is seriously jeopardised, and accept abuse as Christ accepted the cross?

My concern here, however, is with the vexed question of reproductive rights. If a woman’s telos is not reducible to her maternal capacity, how might a woman develop her personal dignity whether or not she has a vocation to or indeed a capacity for motherhood, bearing in mind that not all women want children and many women who do want children cannot have them?

I have argued elsewhere that postconciliar documents are a rich resource for developing a theology of human dignity that would encompass women’s reproductive rights.[51] What follows is a brief summary of those arguments.

Chapter 1 of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes focuses on the Dignity of the Human Person.[52] The ‘exalted dignity proper to the human person’ brings with it certain ‘universal and inviolable’ rights and duties necessary for ‘leading a life truly human’. These include ‘the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family’, as well as the right to ‘appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one’s own conscience, to protection of privacy and rightful freedom even in matters religious.’[53]

This would suggest that women have a right to information and freedom of conscience with regard to the state of life they choose. That must include decisions not just about the right to found a family, but about the right to seek the conditions within which they can transform the biological function of reproduction into the virtuous human activity of mothering, including the number of children they choose to bear, or to choose a different state of life which is better suited to their gifts and abilities than motherhood. Unless such distinctions are made and such freedoms are respected, women’s dignity will remain tethered to their biological capacity, in a way that diminishes their capacity to develop their personal dignity through exercising their particular gifts, abilities, rights and responsibilities. To say that every woman expresses these individual characteristics first and foremost through the vocation to motherhood is to diminish the opportunities through which women might develop and express their human dignity in ways particular to who they are. Conversely, though less doctrinally controversial, the Church must continue to defend the rights of women to have children, in the face of Malthusian population control policies imposed by rich nations on poor communities.

Let us remember, in a faithful Hebrew translation of Genesis, the multiplying of pregnancies is a punishment for sin, not a blessing or a vocation. If a woman is to develop her human dignity through education, employment and the freedom to follow her conscience, as Gaudium et Spes affirms, then she must be able to exercise some control over her reproductive capabilities. An adolescent girl, pregnant through rape, incest or other forms of sexual coercion, forced to abandon her schooling to care for her child and often shunned by her community as a result of her pregnancy, is not fulfilling her teleological dignity simply by virtue of giving birth to a child. While her ontological dignity remains inviolable, her capacity to develop her dignity teleologically has been trampled upon, degraded and stolen from her. Yet Mulieris Dignitatem would invite us to conclude that none of this matters, because in bearing a child she is attaining to the unique and sublime dignity that constitutes the vocation of woman. Less dramatically but no less importantly, a married couple must also be able to decide upon how many children they are able to care for well, because good parenting is an ethical way of life pertaining to our teleological dignity.

Central to all these arguments is the shift in Catholic teaching during the twentieth century to a position in which freedom of conscience is recognised as the sine quae non of the rights and duties that flow from the first principle of intrinsic human dignity. This is a radical teaching whose full implications are still debated and contested. A crucial paragraph in the Council’s 1965 document on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, reads as follows (I have feminised the translation):[54]

 It is in accordance with their dignity as persons – that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility – that all women should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, women cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in her very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.[55]


Note that here again there is an implicit distinction between ontological and teleological dignity. Our ontological dignity demands certain inviolable freedoms, even if we exercise those freedoms in a way that violates our teleological dignity by failing to ‘live up to [our] obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it’. The caveat that such failures must not constitute breaches of public order has always been part of the reasoning which differentiates between legality and morality.[56]  

Thomas is clear that only in exceptional cases should the law be used to prohibit widely accepted cultural norms, and that laws can and should change in accordance with custom. (ST I-II, q.97, a.3) Given that statistics suggest that the majority of Catholics worldwide practise some form of artificial birth control[57] – a practice that is almost universally accepted among secular cultures – this would suggest that any attempt by the Church to impose its objection to artificial birth control by seeking to influence politics and law violates its own teaching on freedom of conscience. Intimate personal questions of sexuality and procreation have profound moral significance, but even if one believes that contraception is immoral, that is not in itself a justification for making it illegal.

Some conservative Catholics lay the blame for many of the ills of modern society at the door of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, including the invention of the contraceptive pill. Yet this pessimistic evaluation fails to take account of the fact that many Catholic couples have decided in good conscience to reject the Church’s teaching. There is also abundant evidence that, when women are educated and when infant mortality is reduced, women find effective ways to limit the number of children they have. Providing women and girls with the means to fulfil their potential (i.e. to develop their teleological human dignity), is an end in itself. It can never be made into a means to a more functional end. Nevertheless, it brings with it the added social benefit of reducing population growth not through coercion but through promoting women’s dignity through education and social justice.

Here, it is worth noting Leslie Griffin’s argument that, while the affirmation of dignity and freedom of conscience in Dignitatis Humanae protects the rights of the religious individual against the state, it does not protect the right to religious freedom of individuals within the Church.[58] In this context, it is worth noting that the principle of religious freedom was invoked by a number of Catholic organisations in the United States seeking exemption from the legal requirement to provide contraception to employees under the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as Obamacare). Given evidence of the widespread use of contraception among American Catholics, this would seem to be a clear example of where the appeal to religious freedom violates the freedom of many individuals within the Church, while upholding the principle of religious freedom to defend church institutions. The Church invokes the right to religious freedom to oppose the right to access to contraception, but the Church does not recognise women’s religious freedom if they choose to practise contraception.  Yet that passage from Dignitatis Humanae makes clear that the recognition of human dignity means that women must be free to take ethical responsibility for their own reproductive decisions, even when the Church believes their decisions to be morally wrong or misguided.

Turning to possibly the most politically radical of the postconciliar documents, PopulorumProgressio[59] argues that integral human development ‘involves building a human community in which people can live truly human lives, … free from servitude to others or to natural forces which they cannot yet control satisfactorily.’ For the vast majority of the world’s women and girls, freedom from servitude to others and freedom to satisfactorily control the natural forces of pregnancy and childbearing in order to live truly human lives is still a distant and impossible vision.

For the final part of this paper, I want to consider how an engagement with feminist maternal ethics might provide a resource for further reflection on the teleological aspect of dignity, as this pertains not only to women as mothers but also to the maternal Church. We have already seen how Mulieris Dignitatem has an inclusive understanding of maternal characteristics as these pertain to men as well as women in the context of the Church as bride and mother. I focus here on Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’.[60]

 Laudato Si’ and Maternal Feminist Ethics

      In Laudato Si’, Francis calls for ‘a bold cultural revolution’,[61] but this is as much a theological and ecclesiological revolution as a cultural one. Weaving together a Franciscan celebration of creaturely communion, with a Thomist affirmation of the participation of all creation in the divine being, Francis offers a vision that is radical in both senses – it is deeply rooted in scripture and tradition, and it is revolutionary in its potential to transform the relationship between the human species and the rest of creation.

Laudato Si’ calls for a delicate balancing act between respecting the ‘intrinsic dignity’ of all creation, and respecting the unique and equal dignity of the human. This marks a decisive shift away from post-Kantian concepts of dignity as exclusively human, and removes any ambiguity within the Catholic theological tradition as to the dignity of non-human creatures. It merits far closer attention than I can offer here, so I continue to focus on the implications of various shifts in the Catholic understanding of dignity for the full recognition of women’s human dignity. In this context, Laudato Si’ cries out for an engagement with feminist thinkers, and particularly with maternal feminist ethicists.

The maternal, Marian Church is at the heart of Francis’s theology. In Laudato Si’, he extends this maternal imagery to Mother Earth. In the first paragraph he refers to Saint Francis of Assisi who ‘reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.’ He goes on to quote Francis of Assisi’s canticle: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.’[62]

For some liberal feminists, this association of the female body with the maternal and nature is deeply problematic. In the writings of romantic feminists, it becomes an eco-fantasy redolent with unsustainable claims about women’s natural goodness and affinity with nature. My own position is that rather than rejecting the language of Mother Earth and Mother Church, feminist theologians should insist that we have something to offer with regard to developing a sustainable maternal ethos capable of informing church teaching.

There are many resonances between a maternal theological ethics and Laudato Si’. These include a critique of modern anthropocentrism with its dualism, its individualism, and its alienated approach to embodiment and nature; an insistence upon the inseparability of social justice and care for the natural world, and a move beyond philosophical concepts of divine omnipotence, omniscience and aseity, to a more merciful and tender understanding of God incarnate in the humanity of Jesus, in the communities and cultures of history, and in the fragility and wonder of creation.

Francis dedicates a section of the encyclical to ‘The Crisis and Effects of Modern Anthropocentrism’ which compromises ‘the intrinsic dignity of the world.’[63] Part of this ‘distorted anthropocentrism’ lies in a misrepresentation of Christian anthropology, so that ‘Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about.’[64] As a result, human power has become unleashed from any constraints or sense of humility, so that ‘we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it … we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.’[65] Feminist theologians have been arguing this for the last forty years and more, in what is now a vast body of theological literature from many different cultures and contexts.

If we want to see how far a certain Promethean mastery has shaped Catholic social teaching, we might compare the human subject of Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical, Populorum Progressio,[66] with the human subject of Laudato Si’. Populorum Progressio is a document of its time, for all its enduring insights about social justice. Its underlying ethos is of man seeking to assert his will over an inert material world in order to further human progress. It offers a politicised understanding of the earth in terms of nations, societies and international relations, with little acknowledgement of the organic interconnectedness of a graced creation. This is androcentric as well as anthropocentric, for its image of the human is thoroughly rooted in the post-Enlightenment concept of the autonomous man of reason forging his destiny in the world:

 Endowed with intellect and free will, each man is responsible for his self-fulfillment even as he is for his salvation. He is helped and sometimes hindered, by his teachers and those around him; yet whatever the outside influences exerted on him, he is the chief architect of his own success or failure. Utilizing only his talent and willpower, each man can grow in humanity, enhance his personal worth, and perfect himself.[67]

That is indeed a Promethean vision of mastery. Francis shares Populorum Progressio’s radical approach to social justice, but he invites us to adopt a different anthropological perspective and a more creation-centred ethos, redolent with maternal values.

Populorum Progressio was written in an era when Marian devotion and the idea of the Church as mother were at a low ebb in the modernising aftermath of the Council. This prompted a backlash in the form of the lavish sentimentality of a maternal Marian ecclesiology inspired by the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar and popularised by John Paul II.[68] If Francis’s emphasis on the maternal is not simply to perpetuate these nostalgic romanticisms, then women need to be liberated from bearing the burden of an archaic yearning associated with the maternal relationship, in order to play a full and equal role as persons in the Church. Of course, the maternal body is female, but not every female is maternal, and a mother is a person before she is a mother. There is a complex and ambiguous relationship between the female person and the maternal function, which is not sufficiently acknowledged in church teaching. Woman is not synonymous with mother, and neither of these terms is synonymous with Church.

As Sara Ruddick argues, ‘Actual mothers have the same kind of relationship to maternal practices as scientists have to scientific practice, as believers have to religious practice.’[69] To return to two kinds of dignity, good mothering is extrinsic and not intrinsic to being a female person. It is teleological, not ontological. A woman who biologically bears a child is not necessarily maternal in her ethical and existential understanding of who she is. Rather than a romantic celebration of maternal nature, Ruddick invites reflection on the practices and moral qualities that constitute good mothering. She observes that ‘achievement, in maternal work, is defined by the aims of preserving, fostering, and shaping the growth of a child; insofar as one engages in maternal practice, one accepts these aims as one’s own.’[70] In particular, Ruddick appeals to Simone Weil’s concept of attentiveness. This is ‘a special kind of knowledge of the individual’; it is an ability to ask ‘what are you going through’ and an ability to hear the answer.[71]

Many women are unprepared for motherhood as a mature and ethical vocation, because they have never been allowed to develop an ethical sense of self independently of their usefulness and responsibilities to others. In 1960, Valerie Saiving wrote a gendered analysis of sin which, with hindsight, has been recognised as a pioneering work in feminist theology. Saiving writes


A mother who rejoices in her maternal role – and most mothers do most of the time – knows the profound experience of self-transcending love. But she knows, too, that it is not the whole meaning of life. … [A] woman can give too much of herself, so that nothing remains of her own uniqueness; she can become merely an emptiness, almost a zero, without value to herself, to her fellow men, or, perhaps, even to God.[72]


If we raise our daughters to see themselves only in terms of marriage, motherhood and service to others, without developing in them a sense of personal dignity and selfhood, we leave them lacking in the inner resources they need to live as mature and responsible adults in the world. In other words, we deprive half the human race of its personal capacity to grow and develop in the dignity that is proper to a human adult.

The teleological dignity of good mothering entails virtues that are the hallmark of every Christian life. Maternal love is the telos of the Christian character, insofar as it means a willingness to be defined by the quality of our care for the vulnerable, the dependent and the weak, by our ability to negotiate different needs and demands, and to put an attentive concern for the well-being of the other before our own needs and desires. The Christian life is maternal insofar as it is, in the words of John Paul II quoted earlier, ‘measured by the order of love’. The child in this case becomes a metaphor for all those to whom we owe a duty of care in the world. Raising children is not a gendered activity. A good father needs the same qualities as a good mother, for a child’s needs are the same, whether they are met by a man or a woman. The duality of the stern, law-giving father and the tender, forgiving mother sometimes distorted the medieval cult of the Virgin, when Mary was portrayed as a protective mother shielding believers from the wrath and judgment of God the Father. Such gendering of maternal and paternal qualities distorts the relationship between a child and those who care for it, and it has been rendered anachronistic by feminism’s exposure of its patriarchal ideological underpinnings. Any adult who has had full responsibility for raising a child knows that it is a vocation that needs all the resources and characteristics traditionally divided between the paternal and the maternal.




Church teaching has yet to fully reflect the fact that a woman’s teleological dignity – her human vocation, gifts and abilities – cannot be conflated with her biological capacity for childbearing, any more than a man’s desire to achieve his full human dignity can be reduced to his biological capacity for fatherhood. The Catholic hierarchy has yet to accept that there are ways of being a fully human female without being either a virgin or a mother. The attempt to justify the exclusion of the female body from sacramental significance and magisterial authority is impoverishing the Church’s ability to create a culture wherein each and every person can develop his or her human dignity free from repressive stereotypes rooted in anachronistic models of masculinity and femininity.

Let me end with a quotation from Catholic writer Dorothy Sayers: ‘The first thing that strikes the careless observer is that women are unlike men. They are “the opposite sex” (though why “opposite” I do not know; what is the “neighbouring sex”?) But the fundamental thing is that women are more like men than anything else in the world.’[73]


© Tina Beattie 2016


[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations website: (last accessed 3.10.16).

[2] Pope John XXIII, Encyclical Letter, Pacem in Terris (On Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty), 1963.

[3] Pope John Paul II, Letter to Mrs. Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the Fourth World Conference on Women of the United Nations, 26 May, 1995, section 2, available at the Vatican website: (last accessed 3.10.16).

[4] Cf. the collection of essays in Christopher McCrudden (ed.) Understanding Human Dignity (London and Oxford: British Academy and Oxford University Press, 2013).

[5] Cf. Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991) for a study primarily concerned with these issues in the context of American law and politics.

[6] Cf. Tina Beattie, ‘Whose Rights, Which Rights? – The United Nations, the Vatican, Gender and Sexual and Reproductive Rights’, Heythrop Journal, Vol. 55, Issue 6, 2014: 979-1112; Buss, Doris and Didi Herman, Globalizing Family Values: The Christian Right in International Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 2003).

[7] See Fergus Kerr, After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Malden MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), and Kerr, Twentieth-century Catholic Theologians: from Neoscholasticism to Nuuptial Mysticism (Oxford and New York: Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

[8] See Servais Pinckaers, ‘Aquinas on the Dignity of the Human Person’ (1987) in John Berkman and Craig Stevens Titus (eds), The Pinckaers Reader: Renewing Thomistic Moral Theology (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2005): 144-63, 146. Pinckaers is referring to the number of occurrences of ‘dignitas’ and its derivatives in the Thomist Index of Father R. Busa.

[9] References are to the parallel Latin/English text, St Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947), available online at (last accessed 7.11.16).

[10] Pinckaers, ‘Aquinas on the Dignity of the Human Person’, 146.

[11] For the discussion on the divine persons, see ST I.1, Q. 29.

[12] James Hanvey SJ, ‘Dignity, Person and Imago Trinitatis’ in McCrudden (ed.), Understanding Human Dignity: 209-28, 217.

[13] Hanvey, ‘Dignity, Person and Imago Trinitatis’, 219.

[14] In the discussion that follows, I am indebted to a short but densely referenced paper by Dunstan Robidoux OSB, ‘Aquinas on Memory and Consciousness in St. Augustine’, available to download from the website of the Lonergan Institute: (last accessed 3.10.16).

[15] Augustine, On The Trinity, ed. Gareth B. Matthews, trans. Stephen McKenna (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 25-27.

[16] Ibid., 27-28.

[17] Cf. Tina Beattie, Theology after Postmodernity: Divining the Void – a Lacanian Reading of Thomas Aquinas (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013): 66-70, 343-363; Tarsicius Jan van Bavel, ‘Maternal Aspects in Salvation History According to Augustine’, Augustiniana, Vol. 47, No. 3-4: 251-290.

[18] Cf. Jean Porter, Nature as Reason: A Thomistic Theory of the Natural Law (Grad Rapids MI, Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005).

[19] Cf. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

[20] Cf. Beattie, Theology after Postmodernity.

[21] Pinckaers, ‘Aquinas on the Dignity of the Human Person’, 159.

[22] Pinckaers, ‘Aquinas on the Dignity of the Human Person’, 159.

[23] ST II.2, Q. 64, articles 2 and 3.

[24] Space precludes a discussion of the dignity and rights of non-human creatures here. However, see Judith A. Barad, Aquinas on the Nature and Treatment of Animals (San Francisco: International Scholars Publications, 1995) for an analysis of inconsistencies in Thomas’s understanding of animal dignity.

[25] Pinckaers, ‘Aquinas on Human Dignity’, 159.

[26] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Three, Life in Christ, Section Two, Chapter Two, article 2267, at [accessed 31.10.16]. It is also interesting to note that Thomas argues that only lawful authorities can put a human to death (ST II.II. q. 64, a. 3), but clerics cannot because they are called to imitate Christ and ‘are entrusted with the ministry of the New Law, wherein no punishment of death or of bodily maiming is appointed’. (ST II.II, q. 64, a. 4).  The Second Vatican Council decisively rejected this idea that only the clergy are bound by the ministry of the New Law, when it affirmed the apostolate of the laity. See Pope Paul VI, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 1964; Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Catholicam Actuositatem, 1965. This would suggest that no Catholic may in good conscience support the death penalty – a suggestion that is perhaps implicit in recent church teaching. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter Two, No. 2267, available at the Vatican website: [accessed 23.11.16].

[27] Gerard O’Connell, ‘Aboard plane home, Pope Francis Responds to Questions on Donald Trump’, America, February 18, 2016, at [accessed 29.2.16].

[28] Prudence Allen RSM, The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 B.C. - A.D. 1250 (Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 415.

[29] Cf. Allen, The Concept of Woman; Beattie, Theology after Postmodernity; Kari Elisabeth Børresen, Subordination and Equivalence: the Nature and Role of Woman in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1995); Richard J. McGowan, ‘Thomas’s Doctrine of Woman and Thirteenth-Century Thought’ in Mark D. Johnston and Samuel M. Riley (eds), Vol. 2, 1985, available to download at [accessed 23.11.16]

[30] Cf. Mary Ann Case, ‘The Role of the Popes in the Invention of Complementarity and the Vatican’s Anathematization of Gender’, Religion & Gender, 2016 (forthcoming).

[31] See John Paul II, Original Unity of Man and Woman: ‘Catechesis on the Book of Genesis’ (1979-1980) on-line, [accessed September 2013]. See also Christopher West, Theology of the Body Explained: A Commentary on John Paul II’s ‘Gospel of the Body’ (revised). (Boston MA: Pauline Books and Media, 2007 [2003]).

[32] Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, Apostolic Exhortation on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, August 15, 1988, at [accessed 28 February 2016].

[33] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 13.

[34] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 5.

[35] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 7.

[36] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 21.

[37] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 10.

[38] See Mulieries Dignitatem, n. 19.

[39] See Mulieris Dignitatem, Part VII.

[40] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 29.

[41] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 30.

[42] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 31.

[43] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 25 and 26.

[44] Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 27.

[45] Gerard O’Connell, ‘Pope Francis: Some Final thoughts on the Flight Home’, America, September 28, 2015, at [accessed 29 February 2016]. He used almost exactly the same words when he answered a Swedish journalist’s question about women’s ordination on the flight home from a visit to Sweden in November 2016 – see [accessed 24.11.16]. It has been pointed out to me that the noun for Church in Polish is masculine, so Francis’s gendered analogy breaks down at this point. Perhaps a more in-depth study of gender theory would help him to avoid some of these pitfalls!

[46] For a detailed analysis, see Tina Beattie, ‘Transforming Time: The Maternal Church and the Pilgrimage of Faith’, Ecclesiology, Vol. 12, Issue 1, January 2016: 54-72.

[47] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ‘Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World’, May 31, 2004, at [accessed 29.2.16].

[48] See Joshua J. McElwee, ‘Francis institutes commission to study female deacons, appointing gender-balanced membership’, National Catholic Reporter, Aug. 2, 2016 at [accessed 24.11.16].

[49] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, 24 November 2013, No. 140, at [accessed 29.2.16].

[50] Cf. John T. Noonan Jr. (trans.), Marriage Canons from the Decretum of Gratian and The Decretals, Sext, Clementines and Extravagantes, C33 1967, at [accessed February 29, 2016]. See also Jean Porter, Natural and Divine Law: Reclaiming the Tradition for Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids MI and Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 208.

[51] Tina Beattie, ‘Dignity Beyond Rights: Human Development in the Context of the Capabilities Approach and Catholic Social Teaching’, Australian eJournal of Theology 22.3 (December, 2015), at [accessed November 1, 2016].

[52] Pope Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965, section 26, at [accessed February 29, 2016].

[53] Gaudium et Spes, No. 26.

[54] Pope Paul VI, Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, December 7, 1965, at [accessed 29.2.16].

[55] Dignitatis Humanae, No. 2.

[56] Cf. ST I-II, q.96, a.2: ‘[H]uman laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained’.

[57] Cf. the results of a worldwide poll of more than 12,000 Catholics conducted by Univision, which found that 78% of Catholics worldwide support the use of contraceptives, and this rises to 86% in Europe and 91% in Latin America: [accessed 24.11.16]. See also Julie Clague, ‘Catholics, Families and the Synod of Bishops: Views from the Pews’, The Heythrop Journal, Special Issue: Faith, Family and Fertility, Vol. 55, Issue 6, November 2014: 985-1008

[58] See Leslie Griffin, ‘Dignitatis Humanae’ in Kenneth R. Himes (ed.), Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005): 244-65.

[59] Populorum Progressio, No. 47.

[60] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home, 24 May, 2015, at [accessed 29 February, 2016].

[61] Laudato Si’, No. 114.

[62] Laudato Si’, No. 1.

[63] Laudato Si’, No. 115.

[64] Laudato Si’, No. 116.

[65] Laudato Si’, No. 105.

[66] Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, Encyclical on the Development of Peoples, March 26, 1967, section 47, at [accessed 29 February, 2016].

[67] Populorum Progressio, No. 15.

[68] See Tina Beattie, New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).

[69] Sara Ruddick, ‘Preservative Love and Military Destruction: Some Reflections on Mothering and Peace’ in Andrea O’Reilly, Maternal Theory: Essential Readings (Bradford, Canada; Demeter Press, 2007), Kindle Loc. 3218 of 23407.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Valerie Saiving, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” in Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow (eds), WomanSpirit Rising – A Feminist Reader in Religion (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992): 25-42, 43.

[73] Dorothy Sayers, ‘The Human-Not-Quite-Human’ in Martha Rainbolt and Janet Fleetwood (eds), On the Contrary: Essays by Men and Women (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), p. 10.



Text till Filosofisamtal Kärlek och Hopp
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onsdag 11 maj 2016 19.30

Werner Jeanrond

Death and Love

 Werner G Jeanrond, Master of St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and former Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow.

 As the church celebrates the feasts of all saints and all souls in the dying of the year, an eminent theologian finds new perspectives on death in today’s culture.

 While the biological fact that all life must die has not changed over the centuries, human approaches to death have changed radically in more recent times.  While our Christian forefathers and foremothers prayed to God to protect them from a sudden death, we are more likely to pray to God for a sudden death.  While they were constantly and directly threatened by death in their day-to-day lives (in childbed, from epidemic diseases, from hunger etc.), we today are mostly confronted by death through the media: daily news of deaths as a result of airplane crashes, car accidents, war, terror, family drama, but also endless numbers of deaths staged in popular television series and films.  Our experience of death is mostly mediated and hence less real.  Elvis still sings on our screens.  Alas, the King is alive!

 Moreover, we rarely are present when our loved ones physically die, since their death very often occurs in medical institutions (care homes, hospices, hospitals etc.).  In some western cultures, such as Sweden, death begins to be treated as basically a medical problem – hopefully overcome soon by scientific progress, death as a challenge not yet fully mastered by scientific evolution.  Hence, a number of people desire to be frozen when dying in order to be revived later when science will have conquered death once and for all.  In a way death has lost quite a bit of its reality impact for our generation and for our children whose computer games provide them no longer only with one but with numerous lives to play with.  Strange as it may sound, today we have to convince ourselves of the actual fact that we are all going to die and that death remains the physical limit to our existence and power.

 Ever increasing numbers of people wish to decide for themselves when their death is to occur, to plan their death, or at least to decide how their death ought to be experienced by their loved (and hated) ones.  Thus, they leave minute instructions as to which hymns to sing and which tunes to play at their funeral services, where and how they wish to be buried, and how their death should be announced or not.

 Not only the perception of the reality of death has changed in our western cultures, also our interest in an afterlife has cooled off.  We consider our present life here and now as our only opportunity to do something meaningful.  What comes thereafter, if at all, is of no concern to us right now.

 Obviously, many aspects of traditional Christian proclamation and faith praxis do not make sense any longer against this changed approach to death and dying.  While the church promises eternal life, we are keener on immortal existence.  Instead of longing for heaven in the insecure environment which our ancestors faced, we enjoy life and therefore want a longer life and, if death is genuinely unavoidable, a quick and painless passing.  Rather than praying for the dead and their transmortal migration from purgatory to heaven, we pray for a fulfilled existence on this side of death.  While our life is exciting, their heaven seems boring.

 A proclamation of the gospel that starts with references to our physical death seems doomed today.  Rather than longing to be prepared for the next world, people seem more committed to this world.  Salvation from death is no longer a burning issue.  What might move us to listen to and reflect on the Christian gospel of life?

 Medieval Christians were predominantly concerned with how to reach salvation from sin and damnation, modern men and women asked questions of existential meaning.  However, postmodern men and women today are chiefly concerned with relationships – not just on Facebook, but also in everyday life.  Am I loved?  Do I have enough friends and supporters?  Am I suitably known if not famous?  Does one recognise my potential?  How can I increase my health, my beauty, my profile, my lovability?  Which products should I buy to raise my relational stakes?  Which networks may I enter to be properly and promisingly connected?  What do I do when I fail in my relational pursuits?  Where should I turn when I am kicked out of X Factor or sacked by Lord Sugar?  Social death is a much more threatening reality to many today than physical death.  We want to be part, to belong, to be seen and recognised, to be loved.  Who can save me from social death, from exclusion, from loneliness here and now?

 There is no point in moralising and complaining over the fact that people today no longer feel like previous generations of Christians when reflecting upon death.  Cultures change and expectations vary.  However, the fear of social death opens new perspectives for us even with regard to approaching the gospel.  Looking through a perspective of social death on the accounts of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament we may see afresh that Jesus was in fact less concerned with what comes after this life than how we could live this life in love with each other, with God, with God’s creation and with our own emerging selves.  This dynamic network of loving relationships is the place where God’s transforming presence is at work.  Love, not as romantic sentiment, but as attention, respect and care for the other was promoted by Jesus as key to participating in God’s creative and reconciling project here and now.  The Parables of the Kingdom illustrate God’s universal invitation to all men, women and children to take part in this transformative movement of creation and reconciliation.  Jesus confronts people with the option for new life, not with a plan for a proper death.  He urges liberation from all sorts of oppression – all forms of external and internal bondage are to be resisted and overcome.  He invites us to share in the abundance of God’s grace and care for each one of us.  Jesus preaches the gospel of life; he invites us to choose between the path of life and the path of death.

 That Jesus ultimately accepts his own violent death on the cross does not imply a divine option for death; rather God accepted Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice for the sake of eternal life.  However, God did not desire the death of Jesus; rather God accepted it and manifested his divine affirmation of life in the resurrection of the so violently murdered Jesus.

 The resurrection of Jesus represents God’s ultimate victory over the power and terror of death, though not God’s undoing of death as a mark of the life of all creatures.  The resurrection does not establish an after-life for us, but it opens the horizon of eternal life – a divine quality that wishes to transform all human beings already here and now into a community of love.

 We are still facing physical death.  As human beings we remain limited by time, space, and language.  However, our human limitations are no longer our enemy but the graced matrix in which we can live a life of eternal transformation in love.  In God’s community of love eternity is present already in time.  As reliable fact and boundary, our death opens time for us and thus makes our acts of love possible in the first place.  Death, thus understood, could be welcomed as a gift to love.  ‘Love is strong as death’ (Song of Solomon 8:6).  Death opens a framework for our love and frees us from the destructive power game of controlling, instrumentalising and dominating others – fellow humans, God, God’s creation and our own selves.  The mystery of human mortality might lie in the encouragement to love.

 The recent concentration on social death in western culture may thus be welcomed as a timely reminder of what we can reasonably expect from God’s salvation in Christ: not one more world after this, not liberation from physical death and hence from our creatureliness, not immortality, not liberation from this world which is God’s loved creation and the place for human love, not a heaven in terms of an anti-world.  But we can expect to participate in God’s eternal community to which Jesus Christ has invited us – a community characterised by dynamic and mutual love relationships.  In this human-divine community eternity has already broken in, has interrupted the normal course of things: of never ending power games, oppression and exploitation.  Surely, such a community of liberation could become the salt of creation as the gospels illustrate so powerfully.  Such a community will enjoy openness to God’s transforming presence, trust in God’s forgiveness and healing of the wounds we have inflicted on one another and on our own selves, and hope for the fulfilment of God’s eternal gathering of his loved ones in the transformation afoot here and now.  This community already enjoys ‘heaven’ though not yet in its fullness.  Much more is to come.  Welcome to Advent.  Heaven is open.



Referenstext till Filosofisamtal 19 november 2015

Om ikonstriden i Bysans på sjuhundra- och åttahundratalen av Per-Arne Bodin


Vilka ståndpunkter intog nu de båda lägren – ikonoklasterna och ikonodulerna, ikonfienderna och ikonvännerna? De förra ansåg att den vördnad som de senare visade de religiösa bilderna helt enkelt var ett utslag av avgudadyrkan – man kysste ju ikonerna, bar runt dem, väntade sig under från dem, precis som hedningarna gjorde inför sina beläten. Innebar inte ikonodulernas uppträdande att de egentligen ansåg att bilden var identisk med guden, på samma sätt som gudabilderna understundom uppfattades i Aten och Rom under antiken? Det ikonoklastiska kyrkomötet år 754 stadgar:

 Det är inte tillåtet för kristna, som ställer sitt hopp till uppståndelsen, att imitera demondyrkarnas vanor och håna helgonen skinande i stor ära, genom vanlig död materia.

 Att skildra helgonen med hjälp av död materia, det vill säga med bilder, var alltså att håna dem.

 Ett av ikonoklasternas starkaste argument var hämtat ur Andra Mosebok 20:4 där det heter i en kommentar till första budet (i den ortodoxa traditionen är texten det andra budet): "Du skall inte göra dig någon bildstod eller avbild av någonting uppe i himlen eller nere på jorden eller i vattnet under jorden". Bibeltexten närmar sig ett generellt bildförbud, men ikonoklasterna hade aldrig något emot profana bilder, hela deras kamp var riktad mot den föreställande religiösa bilden, mot ikonen.

Ikonoklasternas viktigaste argument var alltså hämtat från Bibeln. De hänvisade också till traditionen och menade att det inte fanns några belägg hos kyrkofäderna till försvar för användningen av bilden. En annan av deras invändningar var av logisk art: Hur kan någon avbilda det gudomliga när ingen har sett Gud – och hur skulle man kunna göra en bild av det gudomliga som inte har någon form eller begränsning, eller som man uttryckte det med ett begrepp hämtat från geometrin, som var oomskrivbart. Om man ändå tänkte sig att avbilda Kristus så ledde det till följande problem: Genom att avbilda Kristus gör man honom till människa och enbart människa, det vill säga man gör sig skyldig till det arianska kätteriet, att framför allt se Kristus som människa. Om man istället försöker avbilda Kristi gudomliga hypostas (om det nu över huvudtaget skulle vara möjligt) gör man sig skyldig till det monofysitiska kätteriet, det vill säga man anser att Kristus bara har en natur, den gudomliga. Ikonoklasterna menade att Kristi båda naturer – sann Gud och sann människa – var omöjliga att återge i en och samma bild. Den enda Kristusbild som var möjlig för dem var brödet och vinet som symbol för Kristi lekamen och blod, och den enda bild man kunde godta på kyrkans väggar var korset, utan den korsfäste. I protokollet till kyrkomötet år 754 heter det vidare:

Den enda tillåtna symbolen för Kristi mänsklighet är, emellertid, brödet och vinet i nattvarden. Denna och ingen annan form, denna och ingen annan typ, har utvalts för att representera inkarnationen. Bröd befallde han att man skulle komma med, inte en avbild i mänsklig form, så att avgudadyrkan inte skulle kunna uppstå. Och på samma sätt som Kristi kropp görs gudomlig, så görs också symbolen för Kristi kropp, brödet, gudomligt genom Den helige andes nedstigande/.../

 Ikonvännernas argument utarbetades framför allt av två teologer: Johannes från Damaskus på sjuhundratalet och Theodoros Studiten på åttahundratalet. Johannes bodde alltså i en stad som behärskades av en islamisk kalif och kunde därför skriva sina traktater till stöd för ikonerna, skyddad från den ikonoklastiske kejsaren, medan Theodoros, som bodde i Konstantinopel, i kejsarmaktens omedelbara närhet, utsattes för förföljelser. Det bildfientliga islam fungerade paradoxalt nog som ett värn för den kanske störste av de två stora ikonteologerna. Johannes och Theodoros framförde en lång rad argument och invändningar mot ikonoklasternas ståndpunkter.

 De två teologerna använder termerna eikon och prototypos (eller arketypos) för att beskriva förhållandet mellan ikonen och vad den representerar. Johannes skriver:

 Men eftersom det handlar om bild och vördnad vill vi klargöra innebörden. En bild är en avbild som återger urbilden men
skiljer sig något från den; bilden är inte lik urbilden i allt.

 Johannes börjar alltså med att det finns en grundläggande likhet mellan urbild och avbild för att sedan övergå till att analysera skillnaderna mellan dessa. Skillnaden är framför allt av ontologisk art: urbilden är orsaken, avbilden är verkan. Johannes skriver vidare att det finns ett dynamiskt förhållande dem emellan:

 Så kan man inte heller visa vördnad för dessa materiella ting i sig, men om den avbildade är full av nåd får vi del av nåden i mått av vår tro.

 "Dessa materiella ting" avser i citatet i första hand ikoner men också till exempel korset som föremål i gudstjänsten. Det är egentligen det teologiska begreppet synergia, det reciproka närmandet mellan Gud och människan, som uttrycks i synen på ikonerna i den ortodoxa kyrkan. Det gudomliga stiger ned till jorden och därmed blir det materiella gudomliggjort. Begreppet theosis (gudomliggörande) appliceras alltså på ikonteologin och inte bara på antropologin, det vill säga synen på människan.

 Förhållandet mellan urbild och avbild i denna ortodoxa bildsyn är alltså inte en fråga om identitet - som det kan vara i schamanistiska föreställningar. Det är inte heller endast fråga om ett mimetiskt förhållande. Det är något mitt emellan, ikonen får något av urbildens kraft utan att därmed bli identisk med den. Det finns både en likhetsrelation, en metaforisk relation, och en metonymisk, då det gudomliga blir närvarande i ikonen.

 Ikonodulerna höll med om att ingen skådat Gud – men det gällde enbart Gamla testamentet där man endast hörde honom. I och med Nya testamentet har man ju sett Gud – i Jesus Kristus – och därför kan man nu avbilda honom. När Kristus kom till jorden och blev människa tog det gudomliga form och blev omskrivbart och avbildbart. Det som inte går att avbilda är Gud Fader själv.

 Om man förnekar ikonernas berättigande förnekar man också själva inkarnationen, Guds människoblivande, menade ikonvännerna. Ikonerna är vittnesmål om inkarnationen, eller som det heter i besluten från kyrkomötet i Nicea år 787 om användningen av ikoner:

 … en tradition nyttig i många avseenden men särskilt genom att Guds ords inkarnation visas fram som verklig och inte som en fantasi.

 Det var alltså detta kyrkomöte som återupprättade ikonerna och bannlyste ikonoklasterna.

 För ikonodulerna betydde ett bejakande av ikonerna också ett bejakande av denna världen. Johannes uttrycker sin inställning som en apoteos av skapelsen:

 I gamla tider kunde Gud, som är okroppslig, inte alls avbildas,
men när Gud nu har visat sig i köttet och umgåtts med människor,
avbildar jag det synliga hos Gud. Jag tillber inte materien men
jag tillber materiens skapare, honom som blev materia för min
skull och som gick med på att bo i materia och utverkade min
frälsning genom materia, och jag upphör aldrig att vörda den
materia genom vilken min frälsning har utförts.

 Genom materien går det att få erfarenhet av och kunskap om det gudomliga, menar Johannes från Damaskus. Ikonen har alltså också en kenotisk innebörd, bilden är ett tecken på att det gudomliga har uppgivit något av sin gudomlighet och tagit materiell gestalt för att människorna skall bli gudomliggjorda. Athanasios den store uttryckte detta gudomliggörande i följande provokativa sentens som ofta citeras av ikonanhängare under olika tider: "Gud blev människa för att människan skall bli gud".

 I ett annat sammanhang uttrycker sig Johannes ännu mer konkret om sin syn på materien. Han jämför sin inställning till den i stort och till ikonerna i synnerhet med en älskares åtrå till sin älskades klädnad. Han beundrar den, kysser den, just därför att den finns i närheten av den älskade. På samma sätt blir materien för Johannes en Guds klädnad, får helighet genom närhet och möjlighet till en viss grad av identitet.

 Ikonodulerna försvagade ikonoklasternas argument från Gamla testamentet genom att påpeka att det till och med där talades om avbildningar, till exempel av serafer. När det gällde invändningen att det saknades ikonvänliga yttranden hos kyrkofäderna svarade Johannes med att påpeka att inte allt som kyrkan tror på finns nedtecknat. Dessutom angav han en rad citat just från kyrkofäderna som visade en positiv syn på användningen av bilden.

 Vördnaden som ikonodulerna visade ikonen uppfattades av ikonoklasterna som avgudadyrkan. Ikonodulerna jämförde här den vördnad som de visade för Kristusbilden med den vördnad som visades kejsarporträtten. Ingen, vare sig ikonodulen eller ikonoklasten, menade ju att porträttet var identiskt med den som avporträtterades även om det hade samma namn och erfors vördnad på samma sätt som den avporträtterade. Samma förhållande gällde ikonen, även om kejsarbilden helt gällde ett immanent förhållande.

 Hos alla bildteologer som vi här diskuterat finns två likartade frågor hela tiden närvarande: å ena sidan skapelsens och naturens förhållande till Gud och det gudomliga och å andra sidan konstens och gudstjänstens förhållande till den himmelska verkligheten. I den ortodoxa bildsynen får inte bara gudstjänsten och bilden utan också skapelsen som sådan en funktion av ikon. Världen är en himmelrikets ikon. Den kristna ortodoxa traditionen står alltså mycket långt ifrån gnostisk eller manikeisk dualism. Det finns ett nära band mellan himmel och jord, ett samband som konsten har förmågan att uttrycka. Förhållandet mellan himmel och jord mellan himmel och ikon, mellan Gud och människa blir genom inkarnationen egentligen detsamma.

 Som i nästan alla teologiska dispyter i Bysans gällde frågan närhet eller avstånd till Gud. För ikonvännerna fanns en större närhet till det gudomliga, som inte bara gick att avbilda utan också enligt deras åsikt fanns manifesterat i materien och påtagligt synbart efter Kristi människoblivande. För dem var då inte nattvarden någon symbolisk bild, som den var för ikonoklasterna, utan Kristi omedelbara och direkta närvaro på jorden.



Vad är mystik?

Antoon Geels

Mystik är en samlingsterm för erfarenheter av ett möte med en yttersta verklighet, oftast tolkad som gudomlig. Vill man innesluta den äldsta buddhismen kan man byta ordet gudomlig mot ”tillvarons grund”. Det omedelbara mötet med denna verklighet förekommer inom alla världens religioner.

Ett ständigt återkommande problem är att de olika religionernas mystiker menar att språket är otillräckligt för att beskriva det obeskrivbara. På dedikationsbladet till sitt kända arbete om zenbuddhismen skriver Alan W. Watts att boken tillägnas Tia, Mark och Richard, förmodligen hans barn, ”som kommer att förstå boken desto bättre därför att de inte kan läsa den”. En muslimsk mystiker som heter Abu Said, skrev att första steget på den andliga Vägen är ”att kasta bläckhornet och att riva sönder böcker”. Även om andra inte skulle uttrycka sig lika radikalt som denne excentriske mystiker håller de flesta i grunden med honom. Det väsentliga i muslimsk mystik, sufismen, undflyr boklig lärdom. Sufismens essens är ett slags ”närvaro” eller ”insikt” som endast kan förmedlas direkt från mästaren till den receptive lärjungen.

Mystikerns skepsis mot det talade och tryckta ordet gäller då som nu. Under mitt fältarbete med en sufi-orden i Istanbul upprepades gång på gång att min beskrivning av de rituella handlingarna bara är ett yttre skal, vars insida jag möjligen kunde förstå om jag låter mig initieras.

Men även sufi-mästarna använder sig av ord, vårt viktigaste kommunikationsmedel. För dem, liksom för majoriteten andra mystiker, har orden, handlingarna och även vissa föremål en yttre och en inre mening. Ord och handlingar skall både uppenbara och dölja, liksom symboler. Islams och andra religioners mystiker ser därför oftast en djupare mening i yttre religiösa handlingar som tidebönen, fastan eller pilgrimsfärden till Mecka. Och språkets gränser måste tänjas till det yttersta, ibland överskridas till det omöjliga, det paradoxala. Kan man tala om en ”fruktbar öken” eller ett ”bländande mörker”?

Mystikernas relation till den egna religionen är ofta ansträngd. Men då skall man komma ihåg att de asiatiska traditionerna knappast vittnar om sådana svårigheter. Inom hinduismen t.ex. saknas en instans för läromässiga granskningar. En hindu kan praktiskt taget tro vad han vill men kan knappast göra som han vill. Istället för ortodoxi eller ”rätt lära” betonas ortopraxi eller ”rätt handling”. Problem med den ”rätta läran” hör samman främst med de stora teistiska traditionerna – judendom, kristendom och islam.

                             Om vi stannar inom islam har sufiernas yttranden ofta granskats av rättslärda. Ibland har det lett till en dödsdom. Sådana granskningar förekom dock också bland kristna mystiker. Året var 1310 när Marguerite Porete, en av de verkligt stora kvinnliga mystikerna, brändes på bål, anklagad för att sprida irrlära i skriften De enkla själarnas spegel. Ortodoxins representanter kunde inte acceptera att andlighetens virtuoser skrev om den mystika föreningen som en absolut enhet mellan människan och Gud, inte bara ett möte ”ansikte mot ansikte”. Judiska mystiker har inte på samma sätt drabbats av slitningar med rättslärda.

                             Frågan om judiska mystiker upplevt absolut enhet har diskuterats. Yngre forskare har på ett övertygande sätt visat att det visst kan vara fråga om en sådan enhet. Ett exempel är Abraham Abulafia (1240–ca 1291), som skriver att människan kan uppnå fullständig förening med Gud. Om mystikern har känt den gudomliga beröringen, då ”är han inte längre skild från sin Mästare, och se: han är sin Mästare och hans Mästare är han; ty han är så intimt förenad med Honom att han inte på något sätt kan skiljas från Honom, ty han är Han /–/ och det finns ingen åtskillnad mellan dem /–/.”

                             Många mystiker, både i öst och i väst, betonar att upplevelsen av gudomlig närvaro förutsätter jagets frånvaro. Men mystik består inte bara av erfarenheter bortom jagets och personlighetens olika skrankor. I många fall är mystikern i högsta grad medveten om det gudomligas överväldigande närvaro. Jag syftar på texter som uttrycker syner och röster från en värld som inte är tillgänglig för envar. Abulafia hade många visioner, liksom hans andalusiske föregångare Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), en av den muslimska mystikens viktigaste företrädare. När dessa och andra mystiker sedan skall ge ord åt den Gud vars närvaro på olika sätt upplevts är det ofta en spegelbild av den Gud som kan erfaras. Så skiljer Abulafia i god kabbalistisk anda mellan ein sof, som betyder ”utan slut” – en dold Gud – och de gudomliga utflödena i de tio s.k. sefirot, beskrivna som gudomlig krona, visdom, barmhärtighet, rättvisa, m.m. De representerar Guds makt i världen och de befinner sig närmare skapelsen.

                             Ibn Arabi, och många med honom, skiljer mellan Guds Väsen (dhat) som är Ren Existens, om vilken man bara kan tala i negationer, och Guds attribut eller egenskaper (sifat) samt verk (af‘al). Guds egenskaper antyds genom de nittionio ”sköna” namnen, t.ex. Liv, Kunskap, Makt, Tal, Givmildhet och Rättvisa. Dessa egenskaper speglas i universum. Guds verk kommer till uttryck i exempelvis hans ”Makt”, som passivt existerar i allt som Han har skapat och aktivt i olika typer av verksamhet, från solens energi till vulkaners utbrott och binas surrande.

                             Inom kristen mystik skiljer mäster Eckhart (1260-1328) mellan Gudomen och Gud. Gudomen eller ”avgrunden”, kan man inte tala om. Det är en Gud bortom Gud, namnlös, bottenlös, en ”icke-gud”. Om Gud talar man i positiva termer, till exempel makt, vishet, godhet, etc. När Eckhart provocerande utropar: ”O Gud – befria mig från Gud!” så betyder det alltså att den gudomliga grunden finns bortom allt vi kan föreställa oss. Liknande distinktioner görs inom hinduismen. Där skiljer man mellan Brahman och Ishvara, det Absoluta som bara kan uttryckas i negationer och Herren som kan uppenbara sig i världen.

                             Vägen till den dolde eller uppenbarade Guden är dock kantad med svårigheter. Alla mystika traditioner föreskriver bestämda övningar för att uppnå målet – unio mystica, den mystika föreningen med tillvarons Grund. De flesta traditioner förutsätter asketiska förberedelser, läsningar av heliga texter och specifika övningar.  Den judiske mystikern kan använda sig av visualiseringsövningar, meditativ bön (kavvanah) och att kombinera bokstäver. I många religioner använder man sig av repetitiv bön, att ständigt upprepa vissa gudsnamn eller heliga stavelser. Den grekisk-ortodoxa mystikern ber jesusbönen om och om igen, sufiern upprepar vissa gudsord eller böneformler, hindun kan ägna sig åt liknande övningar, liksom den japanske buddhisten.

                             Ytterligare en gemensam nämnare för världsreligionernas mystik är att skrifterna berättar om olika stadier på vägen till målet. Teresa av Avila (1515-1582) – och en rad andra kristna mystiker – talar t.ex. om sju stadier i skriften Den inre borgen. Lika många stadier möter man i en av sufismens handböcker: Boken som belyser sufismen, av Abu Nasr as-Sarraj. Det börjar med det nya livet, omvändelsen, som åtföljs av avhållsamhet och försakelse, fattigdom och tålamod. Sarraj återger en dialog mellan en man och känd sufi som heter Shibli. Mannen frågade: Vilket tålamod är svårast för den tålmodige? Först svarade Shibli tålamodet i Gud. Mannen svarade: Nej! Därefter föreslog Shibli tålamod för Gud och med Gud. Mannen svarade i båda fallen med ett eftertryckligt nej. Då sa Shibli: Men du, vad är det då? Mannen svarade: Tålamod (uthärdande) utan Gud. Shibli reagerade med att utstöta ett skrik så att han nästan gav upp andan. Det sjätte stadiet är gudsförtröstan, som leder till förnöjsamhet.

                             Alla dessa övningar och prövningar görs och uthärdas med det yttersta målet i siktet – den mystika föreningen. Kristna mystiker talar om det andliga äktenskapet, sufiern skriver om ”försvinnandet” (fana) i Gud och den efterföljande förblivande (baqa) fasen i gudsupplevelsen. Den judiska mystikern beskriver ”fasthäftandet” (devekut) vid Gud. I asiatiska traditioner används begrepp som samadhi, den hinduiska beteckningen för frigörelsen från återfödelsernas kretslopp. Zenbuddhisterna betecknar tillståndet som satori, theravada buddhister talar om nibbana (utslocknande), mahayana buddhister föredrar termen shunyata (tomhet).

                             De stora världsreligionernas mystiker skriver också om frukterna av denna långa och mödosamma process – den förvandlade eller pånyttfödda människan. Sufierna har ett särskilt uttryck för detta tillstånd: al-insan al-kamil, den fulländade människan. För sufiern är Adam själva prototypen för fulländning. Var han inte ren och obefläckad från början? Det är människans mål att återvända till detta rena tillstånd. Kristna mystiker hänvisar i detta sammanhang gärna till Paulus. Den fulländade människan är den som i sitt liv och sin gärning förverkligat orden ’jag lever, fast inte längre jag själv, det är Kristus som lever i mig’ (Galaterbrevet 2:20). Kabbalisternas motsvarighet till andlig fulländning är det profetiska tillståndet. Zenbuddhister beskriver det andliga livets frukter i termer av ”att komma hem och sitta i lugn och ro”. Efter ett långt liv av sökande återvänder mästaren till byn och delar med sig till det samhälle som har stöttat honom i sökandet. Om en sådan mästare säger diktaren:

”Han rör vid de döda träden

och se! De slår ut i blom.”


orsdagen 7 maj kl 19.30

Jayne Svenungsson, professor i systematisk teologi i Lund


Som gemensam referens till samtalet används:
Ur René Girards ”Syndabocken”: Appolonius av Tyana förfärliga mirakel


Apollonius från Tyana var en berömd läromästare under andra århundradet efter Kristi födelse. I hedniska kretsar ansågs hans mirakel överträffa dem Jesus hade utfört. Det mest spektakulära är säkert det där han botade staden Efesos från en pestepidemi. Vi kan läsa om det tack vare Philostratos, en grekisk författare som levde ett sekel senare och skrev Apollonius från Tyanas levnad. Efesierna hade drabbats av en epidemi som de inte kunde bli kvitt. Efter att utan framgång ha försökt en mängd botemedel vände de sig till Apollonios som på övernaturliga vägar var hos dem i en blink och förutsade ett omedelbart tillfrisknande:
“Redan idag ska jag göra slut på den epidemi som plågar er.”
Med dessa ord ledde han hela befolkningen till teatern, där skyddsguden fanns avbildad. Här såg han ett slags tiggare som klippte med ögonen som om han var blind och som bar en påse med en brödkant. Mannen var klädd i trasor och hade något frånstötande över sig. Apollonius ställde efesierna i en ring runt honom och sade: “Samla ihop så många stenar ni kan och kasta dem på denne fiende till gudarna.” Efesierna undrade vart han ville komma. För dem var det en chockerande tanke att man skulle döda en okänd och uppenbart ömkansvärd person som tiggde och bad att man skulle ha förbarmande med honom. Apollonius insisterade och drev på för att efesierna skulle kasta sig över honom och hindra honom att ge sig av. Så snart som några av dem följde rådet och började kasta sten på tiggaren, vars blinkande ögon fick honom att verka blind, kastade han plötsligt en genomträngande blick på dem och visade dem ett par lågande ögon. Då förstod efesierna att de hade att göra med en demon och stenade honom så grundligt att det bildades en stor gravhög omkring hans kropp. Efter en liten stund uppmanade Apollonios dem att ta bort stenarna och betrakta det vilddjur som de hade dödat. När de hade fått fram den varelse de hade slungat sina stenar mot, kunde de konstatera att det inte var tiggaren. I hans ställe fanns där ett djur som liknade en gårdvar men var lika stort som det största lejon. Det låg där framför deras ögon, förvandlat till slarvsylta av deras stenar och med fradga runt käftarna som en hund med rabies. Därför reste man en staty av skyddsguden Herakles just på den plats där den onda anden hade fördrivits.
Här har vi det förfärliga miraklet! Om författaren hade varit kristen, skulle man säkert ha anklagat honom för att förtala den hedniska religionen. Men Philostratos var en militant hedning, fast besluten att försvara sina faders religion. Mordet på tiggaren tänkte han sig skulle kunna stärka moralen hos hans trosfränder och deras motstånd mot kristendomen. I ett “massmedialt” perspektiv tog han inte miste. Hans bok blev en sådan succé att Julianus Apastata gav ut den igen på trehundratalet som en del i ett sista försök att rädda den hedniska religionen.
Hur otroligt Philostratos berättelse än slutar, innehåller den alltför många konkreta detaljer för att vara ett rent fantasifoster. Miraklet består i att släppa loss en mimetisk smitta av sådan kraft att den slutligen samlar hela stadens befolkning mot den olycklige tiggaren. Efesiernas inledande motstånd är den enda strålen av ljus i denna mörka text, men Apollonius gör allt han kan för att släcka den, och han lyckas. Efesierna går till verket med sådan frenesi att de till slut hos sitt offer ser vad Apollonios säger åt dem att se, upphovsmannen till alla deras lidanden, “pestdemonen”. som staden måste befrias från för att tillfriskna. För att beskriva efesiernas beteende när de väl har börjat steningen frestas man att ta till ett modernt uttryck som- kanske därför att det stämmer så bra- är riktigt motbjudande, nämligen avreagering. Ju mer efesierna lyder sin läromästare, desto mer förvandlas de till en hysterisk folkmassa, och desto bättre lyckas de avreagera sig på den olycklige tiggaren. Ett annat vanligt uttryck – lika motbjudande och precis lika tydligt som det första – gör sig också påmint, nämligen metaforen varböld, ofta använd under den komparativa religionsforskningens glansdagar. När Apollonius kanaliserade den våldsamma smitta som han utlöst hos efesierna mot en allnänt godtagbar måltavla,  tillfredsställde han en svårväckt aptit på våld, som bara vaknade för att dämpas med stenkastning mot det offer läromästaren hade utsett. Efter att de hade “avreagerat” sig, efter att den på konstlad väg uppkomna bölden hade spelat sin roll till slut, fann efesierna att de var befriade från epidemin. Det finns en tredje metafor, denna gång inte modern utan antik, katharsis eller rening, använd av Aristoteles för att beskriva tragediernas inverkan på åskådarna. Till att börja med betecknade den effekten på deltagarna i rituella offer, blodiga offerhandlingar …
Miraklet är mättat med en lärdom av helt religiös karaktär som skulle undgå
oss om vi betraktade den som inbillad. Långt ifrån att vara en avvikande företeelse, främmande för allt vi känner till om grekernas universum, erinrar steningen av tiggaren om vissa mycket typiska religiösa fenomen, exempelvis pharmakoioffren, sannskyldiga kollektiva mord på individer som utgör en motsvarighet till tiggaren i Efesos. Jag ska snart återkomma till detta.
Apollonius prestige är ännu hemskare, eftersom han troligen inte enbart har tillskansat sig den med list. Steningen betraktas som undergörande, eftersom den sätter punkt för efesiernas veklagan. Men, invänder läsaren, det handlar ju om pest. Hur skulle mordet på en tiggare, hur enhälligt det än utförs, kunna göra slut på en pestepidemi?
Här befinner vi oss i en värld där ordet “pest” ofta används i en betydelse som inte är strikt medicinsk utan nästan alltid öppnar en social dimension. Ända fram till renässansen rubbas de sociala relationerna överallt där de “verkliga” epidemierna dyker upp. Överallt där relationerna rubbas kan idén om en epidemi dyka upp. En sammanblandning sker mycket lätt, då den ena typen av “pest” är lika smittsam som den andra.
Om Apollonius hade ingripit i samband med en verklig, bakterieburen pest, skulle steningen inte haft någon inverkan på epidemin. Den listige läromästaren torde ha hållit sig underrättad och visste då att staden var ett offer för inre spänningar som troligen skulle urladdas mot vad vi själva kallar en syndabock. Denna fjärde metafor betecknar ett ersättningsoffer, ett oskyldigt substitut för de verkliga antagonisterna. I Apollonius från Tyanas levnad, kort innan det egentliga miraldet inträffar, finns en passus som bekräftar vår förmodan.
Evangelierna har sagt oss att drivkraften för det kollektiva våldet är mimetiska rivaliteter. Om steningen av tiggaren i Efesos tillhör samma kategori av företeelser som Jesu lidandes historia, bör man i Philostratos berättelse kunna finna, om än inte allt det vi har funnit i passionshistorien, så åtminstone tillräckligt med indikationer som kan underlätta och berättiga en jämförelse med evangelierna.
Dessa indikationer finns faktiskt. Kort före berättelsen om den undergörande steningen befinner sig Apollonius i en hamn med några förtrogna, och åsynen av ett fartyg som lägger ut ger honom anledning till några intressanta yttranden om ordning och oordning i sarnhällena. Apollonios ser i fartygsbesättningen ett kollektiv vars framgäng eller misslyckande betingas av relationerna mellan dess medlemmar:


Om en enda medlem av detta kollektiv försummade sin uppgift … , skulle resan sluta illa och alla dessa människor skulle själva förkroppsliga stormen. Om de däremot sporras av en sund tävlingsanda, om de bara tävlar i effektivitet, var och en i pliktuppfyllelse, gör de sitt fartyg säkert, vädret håller sig vackert och Hirden blir lätt. Genom att ha herravälde över sig själva uppnår sjömännen samma resultat som om Poseidon, den gud som stämmer havet vänligt, ständigt vakade över dem.


Det finns kort sagt god och dålig rivalitet. Dels finns den sunda tävlingsandan hos människor “som bara tävlar i effektivitet, var och en i pliktuppfyllelse”, dels den osunda rivaliteten mellan dem som “inte har herravälde över sig själva”. Långt ifrån att bidra till samhällenas förkovran gör denna otyglade rivalitet att de försvagas. De som ägnar sig åt sådant förkroppsligar stormen.
Det är inte yttre fiender som förgör samhällena, det är gränslös ärelystnad, tygellös tävlan som söndrar människor i stället för att ena dem. Philostratos definierar inte de mimetiska konfliktema så utförligt och eftertryckligt som Jesus gör med det han säger om skandalerna, men han talar uppenbarligen om samma typ av konflikt, och han gör det med odiskutabel kompetens.
Tidigare antydde jag att pesten i Efesos sannolikt inte var bakterieburen. Det var en epidemi av mimetisk rivalitet, en sammanflätning av skandaler, en allas kamp mot alla, som tack vare det offer som Apollonios med djävulsk list utväljer “mirakulöst” förvandlas till ett sonande alla mot en. Läromästaren gissade sig till det onda som efesierna led av och framkallade på en arm stackares bekostnad ett våld, där han förväntade sig en kathartisk effekt vilken skulle överträffa den som uppnåddes vid vanliga offer eller vid de tragiska skådespel som förmodligen gavs på teatern i Efesos under andra århundradet av vår tideräkning.
Att man i denna varning mot mimetisk rivalitet ska se en introduktion till miraklet förefaller mig ytterst sannolikt, eftersom de båda texterna följer på varandra utan minsta övergång. Den passus jag just nämnt kommer omedelbart före avsnittet om den undergörande steningen, det som jag har citerat utförligt i början av kapitlet.
Steningen är en offermekanism, liksom historien om Jesu lidande, och ännu effektivare vad våldet beträffar, eftersom den sker helt enhälligt och kollektivet genast tror sig befriat från sin “pestepidemi”.


Den förste store kyrkohistorikern, Eusebios från Caesarea, Konstantins vän och medarbetare, var medveten om den skada som Apollonius från Tyana levnad vållade kristendomen och skrev en kritik av denna bok, men moderna läsare finner där inte det de söker. Eusebios vinnlägger sig särskilt om att visa att Apollonius mirakel inte på något sätt är speciella. Han finner aldrig det upprörda tonfall som vi väntar oss för att fördöma den fasansfulla steningen. Liksom läromästarens anhängare förenklar han debatten till en mimetisk rivalitet mellan mirakelmakare.  Under läsningens gång förstår man bättre varför Jesus försöker vända bort vår uppmärksamhet från de under han gör …
I sin kritik går Eusebios aldrig till botten med den grundläggande motsättningen mellan Apollonius och Jesus. I fråga om seden med stening är Jesus raka motsatsen till Apollonius. I stället för att uppmuntra den gör han allt han kan för att hindra den. Eusebios säger aldrig just det som lyser i ögonen på en modern läsare. För att visa inställningen hos de båda andliga vägledarna på denna punkt kan man jämföra det “mirakel” som Apollonius kokade ihop med en text som inte är mirakulös på något sätt, nämligen den där Jesus hindrar steningen av en kvinna:


De skriftlärda och fariséerna kom då dit med en kvinna som hade ertappats med äktenskapsbrott. De ställde henne framför honom och sade: “Mästare, den här kvinnan togs på bar gärning när hon begick äktenskapsbrott. I lagen föreskriver Mose att sådana kvinnor skall stenas. Vad säger du?” Detta sade de för att sätta honom på prov och få något att anklaga honom för. Men Jesus böjde sig ner och ritade på marken med fingret. När de envisades med sin fråga såg han upp och sade: “Den av er som är fri från synd skall kasta första stenen på henne.” Och han böjde sig ner igen och ritade på marken. När de hörde hans svar gick de därifrån en efter en, de äldste först, och han blev ensam kvar med kvinnan framför sig. Jesus såg upp. och sade till henne: ‘1Kvinna, vart tog de vägen? Var det ingen som dömde dig?” Hon svarade: “Nej, herre.” Jesus sade: “Inte heller jag dömer dig. Gå nu, och synda inte mer.” Joh 8:3-11


Tvärtemot efesierna, som i början har en fredlig hållning och är avvisande till stening, är det en aggressiv folkbop som för äktenskapsbryterskan till Jesus. I båda texterna fokuseras handlingen på ett problem somJesuenda yttrande gör explicit, medan det aldrig formuleras tydligt av Philostratos, problemet med den första stenen.
I Apollonius “mirakel” är den första stenen synbarligen läromästarens största bekymmer, eftersom ingen efesier kan bestämma sig för att kasta den. Det är lätt att spåra detta bekymmer, fastän det aldrig uttalas. Till slut lyckas ApolloniUs bemästra svårigheten i den riktning han önskar, men han får slita som själva den djävul han också är. Även Jesus övervinner de svårigheter han konfronteras med men går åt motsatt håll och använder sitt inflytande för att mota våldet. I sitt enda inpass nämner Jesus uttryckligen den första stenen, han lägger tonvikten på den, eftersom han nämner den allra sist, man skulle kunna tro i syfte att låta dess eko ljuda så länge som möjligt i åhörarnas minne: “Den av er som är fri från synd skall kasta första stenen på henne.” Den moderne läsaren, som alltid är skeptisk och stolt över sin skepticism, misstänker en rent retorisk effekt: den    första stenen är allmänt känd. Kasta stenen, kasta första stenen, det är ett sådant där uttryck som alla har på läpparna.
Handlar det i detta fall verkligen om en enkel språklig effekt? Man får inte glömma att den text vi läser, historien om äktenskapsbryterskan som räddas från stening är den som har gjort första stenen till ett ordspråk. Att denna mening hörs överallt än i dag, i alla de språk som kristna talar, beror naturligtvis på vår text, men också på dess utomordentliga relevans, vilken understryks av parallelliteten i våra två berättelser.
När Apollonius befaller efesierna att kasta de stenar han har bett dem att samla ihop på tiggaren, vägrar dessa aktningsvärda människor att göra honom till viljes, och Philostratos är troskyldig nog att nämna inte bara denna vägran utan också de argument som motiverar den. Efesierna kan inte med berått mod massakrera en av sina likar, hur eländig, motbjudande och obetydlig han än är.
De argument som motiverar deras vägran har sin motsvarighet i det Jesus säger. De är i samklang med de första orden i hans yttrande: “Den av er som är fri från synd … ” Efesierna anser sig inte ha rätt att kallblodigt mörda en mänsklig varelse som de inte har något att förebrå.
För att nå sitt mål måste Apollonius avleda deras uppmärksamhet från den handling han ber dem utföra, han försöker få dem att glömma steningens fysiska verklighet. Med ett högtravande språk pekar han ut tiggaren som en “gudarnas fiende”. För att möjliggöra våldet är det nödvändigt att demonisera den man vill göra till offer. Och slutligen lyckas läromästaren, han får det han önskar, den första stenen. När den väl är kastad, kan Apollonius sova sött, våldet och lögnen har vunnit. Samma efesier som för ett ögonblick sedan hyste medlidande med tiggaren ger i den våldsamma tävlingen prov på en hetsighet så avlägsen från deras ursprungliga attityd att vår överraskning tävlar med sorgen.
Långt ifrån att vara rena retoriken är den första stenen avgörande, eftersom det är den som är svårast att kasta. Men varför är den så svår att kasta? Därför att den är ensam om att inte ha någon förebild.
När Jesus gör sitt yttrande, är första stenen det sista hindret för steningen. Genom att dra uppmärksamheten till den, genom att uttryckligen nämna den, gör Jesus vad han kan för att förstärka och förstora detta hinder.
Ju tydligare de som tänker kasta den första stenen får klart för sig vilket ansvar de skulle ta på sig genom att kasta den, desto större är chansen att den faller ur deras händer.
Behöver man verkligen en mimetisk förebild för en så enkel handling som att
kasta stenar? Beviset för att det förhåller sig så är efesiernas inledande motstånd. Det är säkert inte i en fientlig anda gentemot sin vördade läromästare som Philostratos avslöjar hans svårigheter.
När första stenen, tack vare Apollonius uppmuntran, väl är kastad, kommer den andra ganska fort, tack vare det exempel den första har satt. Den tredje kommer ännu fortare, då den har två förebilder i stället för en, och så fortsätter det. Ju fler förebilderna blir, desto mer drivs takten i steningen upp.
Att rädda äktenskapsbryterskan från stening, som Jesus gör, att förhindra
en mimetisk stegring i våldets riktning är att utlösa en annan, i motsatt riktning, en stegring utan våld. Så snart en första person avstår från att stena äktenskapsbryterskan, drar han med sig en andra och så vidare. Till slut överger hela skaran, ledd av Jesus, sin ursprungliga plan.
Våra två texter är varandras raka motsatser och ändå har de en märklig likhet. Deras ömsesidiga oberoende gör denna likhet mycket betydelsefull. De får oss att bättre förstå gruppdynamiken, som inte går att definiera enbart som våldsam eller fredlig utan bara med efterliknandet, mimetismen.
Att det Jesus säger fortsätter att bland oss spela en allmänt förstådd metaforisk roll i en värld där den rituella steningen inte längre existerar, antyder att mimetismen är lika stark i dag som i det förflutna men i allmänhet tar sig mindre våldsamma former. Symboliken med den första stenen förblir begriplig- även om steningens fysiska handling inte finns kvar – eftersom den mimetiska  definitionen av kollektiva beteenden är lika giltig som för två tusen år sedan …
För att visa på den enorma, oanade roll som mimetismen spelar i den mänskliga civilisationen tar Jesus inte till några av de abstrakta termer som vi knappast kan klara oss utan, imitation, mimetism, mimesis etc. Första stenen räcker för honom. Detta unika uttryck gör det möjligt för honom att beteckna den verkliga grundorsaken inte bara till antikens steningar utan till alla massfenomen, antika och moderna. Det är också därför som bilden med den första stenen fortfarande är levande.
Apollonios måste förmå någon av efesierna, vem som helst av dem, att kasta första stenen men utan att dra alltför mycketuppmärksamhet till den, och det är just därför som han aktar sig för att nämna den uttryckligen. Han spelar alltså dubbelt. Han är tyst av orsaker som är symmetriska till och omvända mot dem som tar Jesus att öppet nämna första stenen och ge den så mycket genklang som möjligt.
Efesiernas inledande tvekan och slutliga upphetsning är alltför karaktäristiska för den våldsamma mimetismen för att inte väcka tanken att våra två berättelser båda stämmer överens med steningens dynamik, eller kanske snarare “mimetik”. För att främja det kollektiva våldet måste man göra det mer omedvetet, och det är vad Apollonios gör. För att däremot slå ned samma våld måste man sätta ljuset på det och visa hela dess sanna ansikte. Det är vad Jesus gör.


Som många minnesvärda yttranden karaktäriseras det Jesus säger inte av den sorts originalitet som den moderna människan uppskattar, den som hon kräver av sina författare och konstnärer, det vill säga originalitet i betydelsen något som aldrig sagts, aldrig hörts, till varje pris något nytt. Hans svar på utmaningen är inte originellt i den bemärkelsen. Jesus kommer inte på iden om första stenen, den hämtar han i Bibeln, han inspireras av sin religiösa tradition. Vår upphöjda “kreativitet” utmynnar nästan aldrig i verkliga mästerverk.
Den av lagen sanktionerade steningen liknar, hur arkaisk den än är, aldrig det godtyckliga mord som Apollonios manipulerar fram. Lagen föreskriver stening för väl avgränsade brott, och för att försvåra falska angivelser tvingar den angivarna, som måste vara minst två till antalet, att själva kasta de två första stenarna.
Jesus överskrider Lagen men följer själva innebörden av Lagen genom att stödja sig på det som är mest humant i dess föreskrifter och mest främmande för våldets mimetism, nämligen tvånget för de två första som kommit med anklagelsen att kasta de två första stenarna. Lagen berövar angivarna mimetiska förebilder.
När de första stenarna har kastats, måste hela kollektivet i sin tur delta. För att upprätthålla ordningen i de arkaiska samhällena, finns det ibland inget annat medel än den våldsamma mimetismen, den mimetiska enhälligheten. Lagen tillgriper den utan att tveka men så försiktigt och sparsamt som möjligt.
Jesus har visserligen för avsikt att överträda det eventuella våld som Lagen förutser – och på denna punkt är han ense med en god del av sin tids judendom -men han handlar alltid i den bibliska dynamikens riktning och inte mot den.


Episoden med äktenskapsbryterskan är en av de sällsynta framgångar Jesus rönte med en våldsam folkmassa. Den framhäver hans talrika misslyckanden och i synnerhet hopens roll i hans egen död.
Om folkmassan i evangeliets berättelse om äktenskapsbryterskan som togs på bar gärning inte låtit sig övertygas av Jesus, om steningen ägt rum, hade Jesus också riskerat att stenas. Att misslyckas med att rädda ett offer som hotas av en kollektiv död, att firma sig ensam vid offrets sida, det är att löpa risken att drabbas av samma lott. Det är en princip som man finner i alla arkaiska samhällen. Under den tid som föregick korsfästningen undkom Jesus enligt evangelierna flera försök till stening.
Han kommer inte alltid så lindrigt undan, till slut intar han rollen som tiggaren i Efesos och lider det straff som reserveras för de ringaste av de ringa i  Romarriket. Mellan honom och tiggaren ryms det en likhet i döden och även en likhet före döden, en likhet som konkretiseras i deras uppträdande inför den hotande massan.
Innan Jesus svarar dem som ber om hans åsikt i fråga om tvånget att stena kvinnan, ett tvång som finns inskrivet i Mose Lag, böjer han sig ned och ritar med fingret i markens damm.
Enligt min åsikt böjer sig inte Jesus ned för att rita, det är därför att han har böjt sig som han ritar. Han har böjt sig för att undgå blickarna från männen med blodsprängda ögon.
Om Jesus hade gengäldat deras blickar, skulle de upphetsade männen inte ha sett hans blick så som den verkligen var, de skulle ha förvandlat den till en spegel för den egna vreden. Det hade varit sin egen utmaning, sin provokation som de hade läst i Jesu blick, hur fridsam den i själva verket än hade varit, och de skulle i sin tur ha känt sig provocerade. Då hade konflikten inte längre kunnat undvikas, och den hade troligen medfört det som Jesus anstränger sig att förhindra, steningen av offret. Jesus ger således inte anledning till en skugga av provokation.
När Apollonios ber efesierna att beväpna sig med stenar och ställa upp sig i ring
omkring tiggaren, reagerar denne på ett sätt som påminner om Jesu uppträdande inför den uppretade folkhopen. Tiggaren vill inte heller ge de hotfulla männen intrycket att han trotsar dem. Till och med hans önskan att tas för blind – även om den är helt och hållet “professionell”- motsvarar, tycks det mig, det Jesus gör när han ritar i dammet.
När stenarna börjar regna, kan tiggaren inte längre hoppas klara sig genom att låtsas att han inte ser vad som händer omkring honom. Hans manöver har misslyckats. Alltså tvekar han inte längre att se runt omkring sig i ett fåfängt hopp att i muren av angripare hitta en lucka som ska göra det möjligt att fly.
I den blick av jagat djur som tiggaren då riktar mot dem ser efesierna en sorts trots. Då först tror de sig i sitt offer känna igen den demon som Apollonios uppfunnit. Scenen bekräftar och rättfärdigar Jesu försiktighet:


Så snart som några av dem … började kasta sten på tiggaren, vars blinkande ögon fick honom att verka blind, kastade han plötsligt en genomträngande blick på dem och visade dem ett par lågande ögon. Då förstod efesierna att de hade att göra med en demon …


Steningen av tiggaren tvingar oss att tänka på korsfästelsen. Jesus rycks slutligen bort av en mimetisk effekt som har sin motsvarighet i steningen av tiggaren. Den effekt han lyckas vända i äktenskapsbryterskans fall kan han inte undvika i sitt eget. Det är detta som folkmassan förstår på sitt sätt när den samlas vid korsets fot: man driver med Jesu oförmåga att för sig själv göra det han gjort för andra. “Andra har han hjälpt, sig själv kan han inte hjälpa.” (Mark 15:31)
Korset är motsvarigheten till steningen i Efesos. Att säga att Jesus identifierar sig med alla offer innebär att han identifierar sig inte bara med  äktenskapsbryterskan eller den lidande Tjänaren utan också med tiggaren i Efesos. Jesus är denne olycklige tiggare.