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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: November ::
Re: Apocryphal/"Gnostic" Gospels
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2057  Tuesday, 23 November 1999.

[Editor's Note: As one who contributed to this thread, I wonder if we
are now not straying too far from the stated objectives of this list?
-Hardy]

[1]     From:   Benjamin Sher <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Nov 1999 09:00:34 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2044 Apocryphal Gospels

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Nov 1999 09:58:38 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2044 Re: "Gnostic" Gospels

[3]     From:   Judith Matthews Craig <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Nov 1999 17:04:17 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2044 Re: "Gnostic" Gospels


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Benjamin Sher <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Nov 1999 09:00:34 -0600
Subject: 10.2044 Apocryphal Gospels
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2044 Apocryphal Gospels

Dear friends:

I wish to thank all of you who have mentioned the Apocryphal Gospels and
the Apocrypha in general. The Harrowing of Hell was quite a revelation,
indeed.

In view of the fact that "gnostic gospels" should really have been
"apocryphal gospels", I thought it only right to change the subject
header so as to end this confusion.

Looking forward to more apocryphal writings.

Benjamin

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Nov 1999 09:58:38 -0800
Subject: 10.2044 Re: "Gnostic" Gospels
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2044 Re: "Gnostic" Gospels

Graham Bradshaw writes:

> So far as the basic issue is concerned, it seems to be, whether "God"
> conforms with our notions of "good". Of course people like Calvin reject
> that question altogether, but it still troubled people like Erasmus (in
> his dispute with Luther), or Donne (in "Satyre III"), or Milton (in
> setting out to "justifie" the ways of God to man).

I would also reject the question, but I think that the problem it poses
remains, at least for a lot of orthodox thinkers.  Luther's whole Krisis
has to do with how God can not only be just but also save sinners, a
problem only solved by rejecting the Latin meaning of justicia,
corresponding to Luther's society's view of "good".

> It didn't trouble
> some people so much, who weren't so much concerned with OTHER people's
> appalling sufferings (e.g. George Herbert, whose universe was, despite his
> interest in proverbs or folk wisdom, rather thinly populated:
> usually, there's just God and George). Robert Burns and James Hogg are
> good on this!

Actually, I would tend to think that those who were willing to believe
that God might not conform to their own ideas of justice are most open
to the idea of alterity-i.e., God can be different, not only from me,
but from my ideas of him.  To believe otherwise would be to fall into
some sort of intellectual idolatry.  And I find it hard to believe that
someone who can't recognize the alterity of God (assuming that they're
deist, of course) can recognize the otherness of other people.

> So was William Elton, in "King Lear and the Gods". Elton provides
> copious evidence of the existence, in Shakespeare's lifetime, of that
> anti-providentialist position which, in the later seventeenth century,
> Browne would call "secondary atheism": the idea that God withdrew, from
> and after, creation...

Yes, but this just eliminates Providence, not God.  Kierkegaard has
something to say on the distinction, which, I think, would make eminent
sense to the Reformation mind.  All "secondary atheism" does is
emphasize the distinction between God and sinful man, reinforcing the
importance of salvation.

> So, going back to the Gnostic heresy, it can seem most heretically
> attractive because it dismantled the orthodox trinity and supposed that
> God the Father was in conflict with Jesus.

It's also attractive, it has been argued, because it borders on
polytheism, which, in turn, allows for a deification of political
leaders.  A God who stands over and against our social and political
views, on the other hand, is subversive, and subversive not only of
political structures (the banal sense of the word) but also of the agent
who thinks about them, as well.

> This is William Empson's
> territory: what is the moral nature of a God whose lust for vengeance
> (the destruction and damnation of most of his own "creation") could be
> appeased only by the agonising self-sacrifice of his only begotten son?

It's also Luther's territory, or Calvin's, in doubting the mercy of
God.  And Faustus's pride, in claiming himself beyond salvation.  I
would say that the real question has to do with whether we go about
producing a self-righteous theodicy about how God is a nasty person, and
we're all right, or concentrate humbly on how sinful we are.

> Sorry to take up so many kilobytes, or whatever they're called. But the
> whole issue seems terribly important.

I agree.  It seems to be the fundamental question of the Shakespearean
canon.

> Not least because so many people
> (post-Honigmann, and the famous conference) are getting absorbed by the
> question of whether Shakespeare was ONCE (in those romantically-named
> "lost years") a Roman Catholic. Might the critically interesting answer
> be, of course he was, once-for a while!--before he, like Donne, Ben
> Jonson, William Chillingworth, and countless others beyond those
> overlapping circles, gave it up?

Are you saying that all of these figures ceased to be orthodox?  If so,
I'd have to disagree.  If not, then it would seem that the whole
question of Shakespeare's Catholicism is rather secondary to his
orthodoxy, which he need never have abandoned.  This isn't to say that
he is orthodox, but simply that determining his gnosticism requires a
little more than brushing aside his Catholicism.

> Isn't it the case that in Shakespeare's tragedies Christianity often
> figures as a source of further terror, but never-ever-as a source of
> consolation? How do we explain that?

Actually, I'd say that Hamlet takes comfort in the providence which is
behind the fall of a sparrow.  In any case, the choice of tragedies seem
prejudicial.  Finally, I would argue that while, say, King Lear doesn't
end with a prayer, it does end with a fascination with the Other, the
very opposite of the self-contained egomania of Lear's opening scenes,
and the opposite of the pridefulness which is the root of sin.  Othello,
likewise, ends in a realization of his own sin, and that he deserves
punishment.

Rather than trying to fit these endings in a consistent Catholic or
gnostic schema, it seems better to simply leave the question of
Shakespeare's personal beliefs up in the air, and point out that the
plays engage with and meditate upon many of the theological and
philosophical issues which were central to the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries.

Cheers,
Se

 

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